ZOMBIES, CHILDREN & RELIGION: GRUESOME AND VERY FRIGHTENING AFFAIRS

Previously published on October 26, 2014, a few musings on Halloween, sin, disease and death. For other truly terrifying Halloween-related issues, see my October 31, 2012 post on the Protestant Reformation


We recently received the following e-mail from Kid1’s teacher:

IMPORTANT NOTICE: I am suggesting that you avoid downtown this Saturday. The now annual Zombie Walk Contest and Race is happening throughout most of the day and into the night. It is a gruesome and very frightening affair for young children. I do not want these awful images living in your children, or coming into the classroom.

Young children trust that the world is true. They take fairy tales to heart in a real way recognizing archetypal truths. A child can be told that something is pretend, then parrot that back to the adult. The truth for them is more that everything they encounter is real and they are in some way part of the encountered things or events.

Please shield your children from this zombie nonsense while they are so young, receptive and imitative.

The last sentence of the e-mail really stood out to me:

Please shield your children from this zombie nonsense while they are so young, receptive and imitative.

You could easily replace zombie with any number of things, as it is not just fairy tales that children take to heart in very real ways. They are quite observant little creatures and you should be mindful of the behavior you are modeling as well as what you say.

The idea of shielding children is not new, they’ve popped up time and time again in parenting books, and in Science and Health, Ms. Eddy reminds us that “children should be allowed to remain children in knowledge (Science & Health, p. 140). If Ms. Eddy was writing the e-mail today, she would likely replace zombie with the Christian Science Trinity of Doom — sin, disease and death — because really, isn’t that what Halloween is all about?*

I am not going to expose my children to the Christian (or Christian Science) notion of sin. The idea that without God they are nothing is harmful, the idea they are born sinners is ridiculous, the complex dogma that has grown around the mythology of a 2000 year old Jewish carpenter who may or may not have existed, and that has been translated and reinterpreted numerous times is not something I plan to expose my children to until they are old enough to realize it is a story, just like the stories of Zeus and Hera in Greek mythology, or the numerous other stories explaining creation.

Disease is a tricky one, there is a line between exposing children to things they are not ready for, and acknowledging that they are not feeling well. I am not going to tell my children about the Ebola outbreak in Africa (that would worry them unnecessarily), but I will comfort them when they are congested and can’t sleep well at night. When the children have questions, I will do my best to answer them in an age-appropriate way: Kid1 saw a photo of some men in hazmat suits cleaning up after some ebola victims and asked what was going on. My husband explained the men were wearing “special suits, like firemen wear” and they were “helping people” — both of these things were true, and Kid1 was satisfied with the answer. I’m sure my answers will change as they grow older, by then I hope to have gained more insight into how to answer difficult questions.

Ms. Eddy goes out of her way to emphasize the unreality of death. There are nearly 100 references to death in Science and Health, and she includes a definition of it in the Glossary. On p. 531, she defines death, as

An illusion, for there is no death; the unreal and untrue; the opposite of God, or Life.

Ms. Eddy goes on to rail about matter, unreality and the flesh, and I lose interest. Ms. Eddy and I live in two very different worlds: Ms. Eddy has returned to the universe, and I am still here. The children have asked a few questions about death, and I have tried to be honest with them. No, [the deceased] is not coming back. We will only see them again in photographs (and possibly on video), we will always have our memories of them, and we can honor their memories by living a full life.

When they are a little older, I will share with them the piece from NPR’s All things Considered: Planning Ahead Can Make a Difference in the End that talks about why you want a physicist to speak at your funeral. I will also share with them the piece by Rev. Michael Dowd, Death: Sacred, Necessary, Real, which beautifully touches on the theme of the positive role of death in the Universe without being creepy.

Young children trust that the world is true.

The children have already been exposed to “zommies” — they’ve watched my husband play Minecraft, but those are very different than zombies walking down Main Street, SmallTown USA. They know the zommies in Minecraft aren’t real, that would be silly, the world is not made of pixelated bricks!

image via http://www.planetminecraft.com/project/zombie-arena-1244230/

This zombie is OBVIOUSLY NOT going to be walking down the street any time soon.  image via http://www.planetminecraft.com/project/zombie-arena-1244230/

Why do they know these things? Mommy and Daddy told them so, and they’ve seen for themselves — they don’t look like Minecraft characters. There is the grey zone, with things like Santa Claus, and angels — I’m still sorting out how to deal with those, but I feel quite strongly that I will not pile upon my children the burden of nonsense that sin, disease, and death are somehow their fault. I will not fill their nightmares with images of zombies, the false idea that sin brings sickness, or the confusing mental gymnastics required to pretend to comprehend unreality of matter.

* I’m being sarcastic there. I don’t have any problems with Halloween, but I do feel it can be a Bit Too Much for small children so we stick with very low-key celebrations.

Misunderstood Dragons

Musings on Michaelmas, inner darkness, and dragons

This fall marks three years since I was first introduced to the festival of Michaelmas, and I find myself processing my feelings around the issue. My children love stories about dragons, and most of the books we have on their shelves come to a harmonious conclusion where the dragon(s) and people can live together, or at least have a truce.

This is all well and good, but the knight is good, the dragon is evil. Evil must be defeated, right?

Yes, but not all dragons are evil, let’s not make generalizations. Some dragons are good, some grow gardens, others come to the aid of princesses, some plow farm land, and some open BBQs with the knight that tried to kill them.

If dragons and knights (or angels in the case of the Archangel Michael) are used in stories to acknowledge that people have inner struggles between their “dark” and “light” sides where do the alternative stories leave us?

Instead of defeating evil lets have it over for lunch, perhaps we can work through the evil and come to realize it isn’t really that evil after all. Where do we draw the line? Is attempting to kill the knight an irredeemable offense? What about kidnapping a princess or torching villages? At what point has the dragon gone too far? What if the dragon isn’t really evil, what if it is merely misunderstood? It might be a good dragon.

Do good dragons do bad things? Does that make the dragon bad? Are dragons inherently bad, or just misunderstood?

How does this apply to us? Outside the zoo you are unlikely to encounter a dragon in your day-to-day so these dragons must be allegorical. In nature, light may triumph over darkness, at the Winter Solstice, but good triumphing over evil is far more subjective. Don’t rush to judgment, talk and try and work out your differences. Try to be guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience.

Maybe I’m over-thinking all this.

SOS: Lecture 4: Devachan

This is one of a series of posts discussing Rudolf Steiner’s Founding a Science of the Spirit: Fourteen Lectures Given in Stuttgart Between 22 August and 4 September 1906. Visit the tag Science of Spirit for all posts on this topic. 

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In skimming through my past posts I’ve realized I haven’t touched on this since April, this is unsurprising, Steiner is not a quick read, and once again I’ve bogged down in the esoteric miasma of Steiner’s work. I fought my way though the purgatory state of Kamaloka so now I’ve arrived at the higher world. Right. What does Devachan hold for me?

The concentrated remnants of my astral body, and my previous astral bodies, which combine to create a newer richer astral body/a new element in man. Yeah, I’m going to need to re-read that a few times before I can fully wrap my head around this.

Devachan seems to be the transitional state between death and reincarnation. The diligent note takers cite three stages:

  1. The human corrects previous shortcomings, and gathers the fruits from his former lives as he prepares for his next incarnation
  2. “Life pulsates through reality, as through rivers and streams” … I’ve got nothing on that… the human uses this force to animate the fruit he gathered in step 1?
  3. The human objectively views his previous life’s passions, and incorporate particular qualities into the soul that will inhabit the body formed/fruit gathered in step 1

As I read it, Devachan is our chance to work through and understand our previous life experience, as people work toward a new incarnation. Interesting. It sounds like the Circle of Life for the Soul.


Additional Reading

Mommy, what is church?

We were driving somewhere and Kid1 spoke up from the backseat: “Mommy, what is church?”

While I’ve done a lot of reading (see relevant book list below) on how to talk to the children about religious issues, I still felt caught off guard by the question. They like to ask these questions in the car when I can’t escape or easily change the topic — last time it was “how many gods do we have?

Kid1 continued “Grandma goes to church.”

Yes, I acknowledged, both grandmas, and other extended family, go to church. I left out that they go to Christian Science churches, “church” can be generic for now.

“Why do people go to church?” Kid1 was not going to let this drop. “We don’t go to church.”

“No-oh-o,” Kid2 agreed. “We no go to church. No.”

The questions hung in the car. The children were silent, waiting for answers.

A church is a group of people who gather together, usually on Sunday mornings, to hear a lecture about their perspectives on god. I started.

“Do you believe in god?” asked Kid1. “Why do people go to church?”

“No god!” piped up Kid2 from the backseat.

No, I continued. I do not believe in a god… People go to church for a number of reasons, often is is because the are seeking community with people who share the same views as themselves. 

“Why don’t we go to church?” asked Kid1.

We enjoy doing other things on Sunday morning, I replied,  and we find our sense of community elsewhere. 

This seemed to satisfy them.

“No church,” Kid2 said.

Kid1 agreed.


Related Reading

Books
Related posts

Straightforward & Honest

When I clicked on When A Mother Decides To Stop Cancer Treatment And Face Death I was not prepared for the onslaught of feels I was overcome with. It was another vaguely interesting article on my Facebook feed, and then a few paragraphs in I was hit with all the feels.

“We’ve always been straightforward and honest,” Lum said during an extensive interview in June. The kids “get the facts and the truth and it’s not ‘Mommy has a tummy ache.’ No, ‘Mommy has cancer.’ “

Straightforward and honest are not words I would ever use to describe Christian Science.

Using Christian Science logic, acknowledging that “mommy has cancer” would only empower mortal mind, and make the “issue” harder to overcome. Actually, you’d never get that far, because cancer would be a diagnosis, which would require going to a doctor (see all the other posts on this topic).

Christian Science wouldn’t even say “mommy has a tummy ache.” “Mommy” would be “resting” or “working with the books” or something even more vague. “Mommy” would be working to overcome something – including fear of the unknown and worst-case scenarios. In Christian Science, “Mommy” is expected to overcome or it is failure on her part.

Our society does a poor job handling the issue of death, and Christian Science adds horrible layers of shame and secrecy. I was reminded of Lucia Greenhouse’s book fathermothergod, which

touches on some of the elephants in the Christian Scientists living room: secrecy surrounding illness, the idea that Christian Science must be protected (from what, I’m still not sure), the tremendously large abstract concepts that young children are expected to understand and demonstrate. Mortal mind, error, protective work….

Reading about Greenhouse’s mother’s health challenges difficult, as was the family drama that played out around it. The line between respecting decisions — even when you disagree with them — and stepping in to intervene is a very fine. Regardless what you choose to do, you will be criticized by someone for your actions.

We are trying to be straightforward and honest with our children about medical issues, but it is difficult. When the eldest child asks “why can’t [still in CS family member] join us at the beach or keep up with us on a [moderate] hike?” we walk the fine line of respecting the family member’s choice and being honest with the child. They’re “not feeling well” (which is true), or they’re “not as young as they used to be” (also true).

My fellow former-CS and I have watched family members secretly succumb to illnesses, only seeking medical care and sharing diagnosis days before their deaths. We have watched them struggle with “situations” that, if they had been diagnosed or treated by modern medicine, could have been resolved, or mitigated. We have offered support as they refused to seek diagnosis, much less treatment. While this is their choice, and it is within their rights to do, the results are often horrible and frustrating.

For the Christian Scientists reading this (if there are any), please be honest with yourself, if a healing isn’t forthcoming, seek medical treatment. Please don’t isolate yourselves in your darkened bedrooms with your  periodicals and books. Please be honest with yourselves and your children, they want to know, they want to help.


“that’s not Christian Science” – yes, it is, this is how it is practiced

In case you missed it, Parade had an interview with Ellen — “Ellen DeGeneres Talks Feelings, Fun and Finding Dory” in which Ellen discussed her Christian Science upbringing, describing her childhood upbringing as:

… a very conservative home. My father was a first reader in the Christian Science Church, which is similar to being a preacher. There was no drinking, smoking or cursing. I didn’t see deep emotion from my parents. It was all very polite and very surface. I never knew how anybody was feeling. Because of that religion everything was fine all the time.

While her comments resonated with many in the ex-Chrsitain Science community, a member of the Committee on Publication, took it upon themselves to write a letter to the editor — not of, Parade, where the piece had been run, but to waxahachietx.com — simply titled On DeGeneres comments the author hauls out the tried-and-tried-again protest of “that’s not how Christian Science is practiced!” 

Maybe that’s not how you practice it, but shutting down Ellen and invalidating her experience does not help.

Reading Ellen’s experience reminded me of the book Filled Up Full, where children are filled up full with thoughts from God, so there is no room for mad or bad thoughts. I don’t know if Ellen ever read Filled Up Full — it was published in 1974, but it was quite prevalent in church childcare rooms, Sunday School, and children’s bookcases at home.

Is perhaps Filled Up Full an oversimplification of Christian Science? Yes, it is aimed at children, but it also hits on an attitude seen through out the religion, children should be happy and behave. Everything is fine because you won’t allow any other thoughts in, you’re standing Porter at the Door, only God thoughts are allowed.

Thank you Ellen for speaking up and sharing your story.

 

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