Zombies, Children & Religion: gruesome and very frightening affairs

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.


the Unreal Little Pink Box of Common Cold

One of the blogs I regularly read recently had a post on “Spreading the Germs of Joy” which compared the Old Testament handling of leprosy in Leviticus with how Jesus handled it in the New Testament. In Leviticus, if you get leprosy you’re pretty much done for (unclean! unclean!), but if you’re lucky enough to be the leper who meets Jesus, you get healed. Awesome.

On one hand I was raised in Christian Science and told that contagion isn’t real, on the other, I’ve been on the unintended receiving end of my share of “unreal” contagious maladies.


see the little pink box containing the common cold?

One of my lasting memories from Sunday School is the morning we had Mr. Peterson for our temporary teacher (our primary teacher had a falling out with the Board and so we had a string of fillers). Mr. Peterson was a middle school teacher and did not treat the high school/college class with the respect we felt we deserved, he talked down to us, and on that particular Sunday he decided to lecture us on the unreality of the common cold. To prove his point we “created” the common cold in a little pink box, we sat around the table looking intently at the nothingness in the entirely nonexistent little pink box the center of it.

The next week we had a new teacher, Mr. Peterson was out with a cold.

I’m not sure what lesson Mr. Peterson had in mind when he set out to teach us about the unreality of the common cold, but I walked away  being reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 4:12 You shall not tempt the Lord your God. While the context is different, Jesus has been wandering in the desert for days and a tempter is reminding him that he can turn stones into bread, or jump off a cliff – the angels will catch him, the underlying take away is the same, don’t intentionally do something stupid.

Sorry Mr. Peterson, “creating” the common cold in a little pink box is pretty stupid.

So where is the balance? I don’t want to live my life in fear of the next contagious thing that might be going around, but at the same time I don’t want to be up all night with children coughing and congested.

I’d like to think I’ve worked out a reasonable system: I generally avoid reading terrifying headlines and I don’t watch omg-plague/illness/contagion movies (or the nightly news). I don’t tell my children if you do such-and-such “you’ll get sick” or “catch a cold.”

When my children aren’t feeling well, I do my best to keep activities to a minimum, keep them hydrated, rested, and at home. This is not out of fear of contagion, but because if you take a slightly snotty toddler to a grocery store you get really nasty looks (and remarks) from strangers. They also remain home from their regularly scheduled activities, no one wants an unhappy, congested child sitting in a corner wailing, or traipsing about leaving traces of snot about. We cancel play dates for the same reason.

While I don’t declare them to be unclean the way the Old Testament Priesthood does, I do give their bedding an extra wash. I find fresh linens and blankets are cozy and comforting when you’re not feeling well. I also don’t go all velveteen rabbit on their toys -some do occasionally get tossed in the wash, it is usually because of peanut butter.

Most of our play dates (year round actually) are held at the local park (weather not permitting we add more layers of clothing, or have it at one of our houses and hope they can go outside). We avoid the local indoor kinder gym (it is like Lord of the Flies for the toddler set), and every time we attend we seem to pick up the newest round of snot and sniffles.

Contagion may not be real to Christian Science, but the tempter also reassured Jesus that the angels would catch him (Luke 4:10-11). So remember, don’t tempt stupid, and be considerate of others who might not feel the same way about contagion as you do.