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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
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[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
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There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010
1004: Christian Parenting Decisions: Spiritual vs. Religious Superstition
My wife and I received a godly friend over yesterday for a visit. In the course of the visit my youngest daughter came in, all giggles, and shared her (latest) favorite scene from Nickelodeon's Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Our guest was a little shocked, because the characters in the cartoon live in a world that has been modelled after a fantasy medieval Asian, where reincarnation is not only believed, but a reality, where there are spirits who influence the world, and where there are people with supernatural abilities to manipulate either water, fire, earth, or air. The main character is fashioned after a young Buddhist monk, and is expected to save the world from the king of the Fire Nation, known as the Fire Lord.

Sounds like a regular pagan party doesn't it? I mean, seriously, reincarnation, spiritism, then the whole savior thing. One might ask, "What were you thinking exposing your little ones to this sort of influence?" I mean, even if it seems harmless, the argument is that it will erode good Christian teaching, since it exposing young minds to (albeit cartoon-ized exaggerations of) pagan mythology.

The question I have had to ask myself before I allowed my children to watch this stuff was whether or not that was a both a valid portrayal, and again a valid argument.

Now, I want to say this up front. This shock from our friend set my thinking in this direction, as I found myself justifying the choices I had made as a parent, and in thinking them through I thought it would be a good thing to set the process out here, for others to benefit from, or in the case that I am way out in left field, correct me.

Consider the argument, in its distilled form: Any parent who exposes his children to people (or depictions of people) who practice other (false) world religions is doing something wicked and evil.

That is, I believe, what the argument comes down to. I have heard it argued that Satan uses such things as inroads into darker things - like drug dealers push the relatively harmless drugs on people first (i.e. marijuana), then later, when they are comfortable with the idea of doing illegal drugs, they are more open to try harder substances.

Now who in their right mind is going to deny that entry level drugs lead to darker things? No one with a sober conscience and any exposure to these things. I personally have seen many of my friends and family disintegrate over the years as they moved away from the (relatively) harmless "beginner" drugs, and into darker things. It happens, and there is no sober way of denying it. There may be exceptions, but no argument is very sound when it depends upon the exceptions. So on the outset when this kind of argument is imposed on the idea of watching shows with fictional cartoon depictions of a hodgepodge of pagan notions, it seems rather reasonable, and even convincing for many.

I mean, seriously, once that argument is given, if it is challenged, the fall back would naturally be that it is wiser to avoid it, "just in case" - I mean, why take chances on this stuff ...right? Surely no good parent would knowingly put their child in harms way. In the same way, one ought not to expose their little ones to anything that could possibly be used as an inroads into spiritism and paganism.

Now, before I attend to that thought I want to say that I respect that. If a parent is convicted that letting their child watch a cartoon wherein the characters are not Christian, on the grounds that their children may be influenced to abandon Christ by a quirky and fun cartoon depiction of non-christians doing things together, then I don't want to say that they are bad parents or even over-reacting. To their own master they stand or fall, and it is not my place to judge their actions, especially if their hearts are focused on Christ. In other words, what I write here is not intended to suggest that they are wrong in what they do, provided what they do is being done in the service of our Lord.

The question I have had to ask myself is whether it is okay for my children to be entertained by the adventures of cartoon characters living in a mythical cartoon world based loosely on medieval Asian culture, given that such things as reincarnation, and good/evil spirits are presented as real in the cartoon setting.

I remember this one lady who claimed to be a Christian. She sent her children to a Christian school, and they were not allowed to read any books or watch any television, or see any movies or hear any music that had anything whatsoever to do with such things as magic or spiritism, or paganism or anything. I never would have known this except I chanced to strike up a conversation with her daughter one day, and was amazed to learn that she was not allowed to read, "the Hobbit" because the book had a dragon and a wizard in it (or something like that).

This girl knew the difference between real and make believe; but her parents didn't want her to be influenced by anything that was both make believe and supernatural.

I was struck by the absurdity of these parents protecting their children from the influence of make believe stories. The question I asked myself at that time was whether it was godly zeal, or just empty religion for these Christian parents to presume upon the possibility that their children were so feeble of mind and understanding that they were in danger of blurring the distinction between real and make believe should they be exposed to the make believe sort of supernatural stuff that fuels most sci-fi fiction today.

I confess, My four year old has been influenced by watching Star Wars the Clone Wars™. Much of his play time involves whooshing around a plastic lightsaber, and making "Weearr, Weeoww" noises, often punctuated by holding his hand out in a gesture of pretend power and saying in his own fumbly English, "I use-the-force you!". Clearly he is being influenced by mythology of Star Wars, but is he confusing make believe for what is real? Does he really believe that there is such a thing as the force? Is he in his bed at night praying to the force? Frankly, let me say, that he isn't, and it would be a little more than frivolous to imagine that he was in any danger of doing so.

Likewise with Harry Potter. Oh my! There are witches and magic in Harry Potter! Listen, even children know that these witches and their magic are all make believe, and even though that is self evident, yet when I watched a Harry Potter movie with my children, I took time to explain the distinction.

You see, here is my concern: I don't want to protect my children from make believe things. I want my children to know what real witchcraft is - appealing to demons for information or assistance. I want them to understand that it is real, and evil, and that no-one who loves God would dare to dabble in that. I don't want to equate Harry Potter with witchcraft, because what Harry Potter does is not witchcraft, it is make believe. He isn't summoning demons, nor is using spells as a means to motivate demons (or if you prefer, "spirits") to obey him and perform supernatural phenomenon. He is using a make believe ability ("magic") and those who have this ability in the Harry Potter story, are called "witches" or "warlocks" etc. No sober person ought to confuse what takes place in those movies for genuine witchcraft.

Now, that is not to say that I think Harry Potter movies are all spiffy and okay. Frankly I am offended at the way authority is portrayed as clueless, pointless, and more often wrong. I am offended on all kinds of parenting levels - but the concern that my children are going to become interested in witchcraft after seeing such a movie is not one of them.

Herein lies the heart of this post. You see: we need to protect our children (and ourselves!) from real danger, and real evil influences, but we stand to injure our selves and those whom we protect if we fail to make clear and sound distinctions between the real threats, and those things which have the appearance of a threat but are in fact (more or less) harmless.

We do not honor Christ by presenting ourselves as incapable of discerning between real and make believe, or worse, as actually being incapable of discerning between real and make believe.

I want to qualify this, lest anyone imagine I am saying that there is nothing whatsoever to be concerned about in secular children's programming. There is much to be on guard about. The world is not neutral, but is pushing an agenda that marginalizes (if not ridicules) Christian thought, and influence. We must be on guard against the philosophy of the world - the mind set of the world, as it is beamed into our houses daily in everything from commercials, to entertainment to news. The media is biased towards the flavor of the moment, and pretty much all content we find in the theatre, the television, and the radio is silently evangelizing the secular philosophical cause, and this isn't even (always) intentional. The media just wants to be relevant and modern, and in tune with the values of the society in which it sells itself.

So I do not suggest for a moment that children's TV shows (such as The Last Airbender) or movies and books primarily aimed at children (such as the Harry Potter movies/books) are harmless because most children are capable of distinguishing between real and make believe. Far be it from me to suggest that these things are "just fine" because children are capable of making elementary distinctions. What I -am- saying is that make believe depictions of pagan religions are no more dangerous than actual depictions of genuine pagan/world religions. The way we guard our children against genuine false religions, is not by sheltering them from the reality of other faiths, but rather by preaching the gospel to our children, and educating them about the Christian faith.

I don't suggest, in saying that the main argument against letting your children watch something like the Last Airbender or Harry Potter is naive, unbalanced, and even invalid, that for this reason parents should let their children watch anything the world has to offer. Rather I am suggesting that such decisions must be made according to what is reasonable, rational and real.

Am I protecting my child from a genuine danger, or am I blowing the whole thing out of proportion? Am I contending against the enemy, or am I contending against a straw man made to look like the enemy?

I believe that children are not stupid (mileage may vary here, I suppose, but in general). Children may be naive in their innocence, but any child who is receiving sound instruction in the word of God, and who sees that same word directing (and therefore transforming) the lives of their parents, is not going to confuse fictional religion, for real religion; such will not try to become Wiccans because they liked a Harry Potter movie (and I stress that I am making an apples and oranges connection here that even the dullest child would never make); likewise, such a child would not become a Buddhist because he hopes that in doing so he will be able to create fire in mid-air by thinking about it. Kids are simply not that stupid.

If a parent wants to restrict what their child is exposed to, I say amen and amen! I restrict what my children are exposed to. If there is something in as show or movie that leans on, or even exalts some world philosophy or religion, I am careful to discuss the same with my children so that they know, in no uncertain terms, the truth of what they are being exposed to.

I want my children to be strong in their faith, and that means they need to be able to distinguish between a real danger (look, there is a wild bear!) and the appearance of danger (Look, there is a poster of a real cartoon bear!). There is a danger, I think, and this is more pronounced in certain fundamentalist, and/or ultra-conservative congregations, of overstating the influence of pagan or secular philosophy and religion as it pertains to such things as books, and television shows or movies.

Can I be frank? Sure I can, it's my blog! I don't doubt that the enemy has found (manufactured?) a great tool in television. How better to lull the faithful into bed with the world than to inundate them with the message that worldliness is the norm, and good people are okay with it. How better to estrange the faithful from their Lord than by enticing them little by little through the veil of entertainment? They don't need to be told to be evil, they just need to be occupied with things other than Christ. Displace Christ in your life with anything, however small, and you injure the servant of the Lord.

The argument that this show or that show is especially bad is a tempest in a teapot. Look, if you, as a family, watch an hour or two of television a week, you are probably not displacing the Christian life with a secular one. But if you are watching two to six hours of television or movies each day (or if your poison runs in the direction of sports or hobbies) you are going to suffer loss. Loss in fellowship with the Lord, loss in growth, loss in assurance, and the work of faith (and the reward for that work). You will slowly grow cold, and it won't be because you have been influenced by worldly or secular philosophies, it will be because you have given yourself to gluttony, using your time to escape from, rather than pursue, the Lord.

But to guard against the thought that I am merely saying, X is only a little bad, and Y is very bad, so let's concern ourselves with Y before we concern ourselves with X - and thereby say that X is okay, because (relatively speaking) it isn't as bad as Y, let me say this: if anyone believes their children are going to turn in to Buddhists by watching the Last Airbender, or turn into Wiccans by watching Harry Potter - let them act accordingly. I don't suggest that because I let my kids watch such and such, that you're a bad Christian unless you do also. I leave room for this thought - that I may be naive in my thinking, I may be simply be justifying myself, I am a sinner after all, and like all sinners, if I can justify some sin, I am likely to continue in it, and boldly so. Perhaps I am just not spiritual enough to see this particular straw for the needle in the haystack it truly is. I leave room for the Lord to convince and convict me. But there will be proof in this pudding eventually; if my children turn into Wiccans and Buddhists on account of my having allowed them to watch cartoons depicting non-Christian characters in a make believe world, then I shall amongst all men, be most ashamed and filled with regret.

My position is not, therefore, that because there are bigger things to be concerned about, we ought not to consider soberly this particular thing. No, what I am saying is that in my estimation, there is no real substance to the idea that my children are going to be so influenced by cartoon versions of paganism that they will embrace the same or fail to see what is make believe or even false, for what it is.

The argument, as noted above, is truly about sheltering your children from non-Christian people, as opposed to simply non-Christian philosophy. I say this because just as their is no Christianity without Christ and without Christians, such that you cannot discuss Christianity without discussing those who bear the name, so also you cannot talk about sheltering your children from paganism without talking about sheltering them from actual pagans. The truth is they are going to meet people who have false faiths, and that these will likely make up the overwhelming majority of their acquaintances. Cartoons and movies that depict false faith, whether accurate depictions of real world religions, or just make believe stuff like magic and "the force" etc., are probably the least harmful way to introduce your children to the reality of the world in which they live and will live when you are no longer there.

If you are careful to explain the things you expose your children to, I do not believe you are committing a sin in watching a Harry Potter movie, or an episode of a show such as the Last Airbender (I am not talking about the movie by the way. I haven't seen it, and don't plan to).

My closing caution then is directed at those who tow the "Christian" line without ever having sat down and considered what it is they are doing. Yes we are to evil in our conduct, and cling to what is good in the same, but we can't use that scripture to isolate ourselves from the world in which we live. How can I abhor what is evil unless I learn what evil is? That isn't to say that I should indulge in evil in order to know what it taste likes, so that I can avoid it later - it is to say that in all things I must choose to abhor what is evil and cling to what is good.

Consider the rapist who pursues his own sexual gratification at the expense of his victim. Does the physical pleasure this man extracts from an act of violent violation make the physical pleasure of intimacy in marriage evil? Certainly not. There is nothing evil about the pleasure of intimacy - and yet there are some who in their zeal and ignorance, deny themselves the pleasure of intimacy in marriage for fear that they are sinning in enjoying it. Do we rejoice at their zeal? We are more likely to scoff at their ignorance.

In the same way, it is certainly wrong to take pleasure in abominable worship of false Gods, or portraying such worship as valid and spiritually acceptable. But it is not wrong to have a conversation with, or even (gasp!) befriend someone, who practices a false religion. It is wrong to think that a false religion is spiritually valid, but it is not wrong to recognize that false religion as culturally valid. We must live in this world without being of it, but some, in practice, go further than that. They so insulate themselves from the world, that they are not in it at all, but living in a cloistered Christian bubble, out of touch with the people in the world, as a matter of religious zeal, and think themselves to be doing the work of God in keeping themselves clueless.

Which is not to suggest, as some do, that we should all be worldly in order to reach the people of the world. You know, the whole church ought to be all coffee-sipping on comfy couches in ripped jeans while we have vague but interesting conversations about our selves in some religious context. I do not mean that we adopt some new, worldly scheme or way of doing church. I mean only that we have our houses next door to people who don't know Christ, and we work alongside people who do not worship their Creator, we live in this world wherein Christ is not exalted by His creation, and we are messengers to those who live here, going about the work of proclaiming what God has done, and living in the truth of it. Or at least we should be.

It is easy to try and press ourselves into various forms of religion, various images of righteousness, than to actually search out the Lord for ourselves. I know where I sin, and let me tell you, it happens in my heart, and not in my living room. I experience moments, as every parent does, where I am more concerned with entertaining myself and my family than I am with honoring God. I have moments where I am more concerned with my own time and how I spend it than I am with caring for my family. I am a sinner, and these are the things I take to the throne, and by faith overcome in Christ. Would that all His work was already completed in me!

But I cannot, in good conscience accuse my little one of sin when he pretends to be using "the force". I know the difference between make believe and reality, and I think my son does also. I do not believe that I am sinning in exposing my children to entertainment that makes use of science fiction or even imaginary people living on imaginary planets wherein there are imaginary personalities - some of which are not human, and wherein life and death have imaginary rules. I recognize that in many cases there will be real world philosophies and even false religions influencing these forms of entertainment, and when I see such things, I am as much on my guard as I know how to be, in order that I may faithfully guide my children around or through any worldly ideas as they are presented, with the end game being that they will themselves be able, in their faith, to navigate a sound course through and around the influences this world has to offer.

In the final analysis, we cannot, even if we tried with all diligence, truly isolate ourselves from the influences of the world, what we can do however, is not allow those influences to take hold in our lives. I think that is what we are called to do, as opposed to hiding ourselves and our children from them.

Of course, if someone wanted to, they could say that I am arguing that it is okay to expose our children to all manner of evil, but that would be to make a caricature of what I am saying.

There is a difference between allowing our children to watch a show that is otherwise harmless (provided the parent guides them through it), and allowing our children to watch things that will scar them for life regardless of whether or not we explain it to them.

I like to think that in the same way that any loving parent knows the difference between firmly padding a child's butt in loving correction and savagely and abusively beating a child in a fit of rage. So also most parents will recognize the difference between a show that is going to scar their child, and one that will not. Perhaps I have an overly developed sense of hope in parenthood. Time will tell.

Thus, Christian parent, if someone comes to you and says you are a sinner because you read a Harry Potter novel to your children, or because you watched an episode of Clone Wars, or the Last Airbender, or whatever - take that to heart. Examine yourself. Recall that this person is probably taking a chance in mentioning it - the chance that you might get angry or not like them anymore, or what have you. In other words, don't be offended if someone takes an interest in your spiritual health. Their interest, unless it is purely legalistic, is an act of love, if not towards you, certainly towards Christ whom they are trying to serve. Be honored therefore that they have counted you as faithful and are approaching you for your benefit, and not their own.

They, more often than not, want to err on the side of caution, as we all should. Perhaps it is nothing, but they refuse to ignore it, lest it fester unchallenged and hurt you and your family later.

At this point, if you are not soundly convinced from scripture and conscience that what you are doing is acceptable to God. STOP DOING IT, and thank your friend for calling this to mind.

If on the other hand you are convinced that what you are doing is not a senseless and selfish act of rebellion - but is in fact something you have reflected upon and embarked upon only after you have determined that in doing so you will offer no offence to your Lord, then patiently explain yourself (if time and circumstances allow) to the one who is concerned for your soul, and do so with thankfulness and humility - leaving yourself open to instruction, lest in pride you continue to sin.

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posted by Daniel @ 2:49 PM  
  • At 7:25 PM, July 27, 2010, Anonymous Edward D. Casey said…

    Well said. I especially love the line: "whooshing around a plastic lightsaber, and making "Weearr, Weeoww" noises". Brings back my childhood... what a hoot!

    I think you're right on with using our popular culture for teachable moments. After all, our children will grow up one day and they will have to judge everything the world throws at them. By instilling a critical mindset early, I think we set our children up for success much better than taking a "duck and cover" approach.

    Proverbs 2 is all about learning how to be wise and discerning. I'd much rather teach my child how to view our culture, sift out the good, discard the bad, and build her life around the profitable rather than teach her that a certain show or song is bad.

  • At 6:51 PM, July 28, 2010, Blogger David said…

    So, you're OK with my Yoda Pez dispenser?

  • At 10:20 PM, July 28, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    Ed: I think discernment is the key.

    The believer who is convinced that meat that has been sacrificed to an idol has picked up some sort of spiritual taint, and that anyone who thereafter eats it will become corrupted by that spiritual taint - this one will think they are doing good when they abstain from partaking of such meat, and that any believer who partakes of meat that has been sacrificed thus, is necessarily sinning. Their zeal does not make their claim right, but it isn't necessarily evil itself - it is just ignorance. The one who, in their ignorance, and the sake of their piety, keeps himself or herself from partaking, is doing so to honour God, even though their abstinence or indulgence has no spiritual value in and of itself.

    The one who is strong ought to strengthen the weak, or, in this case, educate the ignorant so that they do not weary themselves in empty rituals that have no spiritual value.

    David: That depends on whether you find yourself absently caressing it and calling it your precious or not.

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