Friday, April 30, 2010

Poisoning My Children's Well

"Poisoning the Well" is a fallacy that involves presenting your ideological opponent's argument yourself, and then giving your response to it.  It might sound something like this.  "Your parents are going to tell you that God created the world.  But they are remnants of an old way of thinking and we now know, because of science, that our existence is due to evolution."  This is effective.

My first exposure to this sort of fallacy occurred during a prolonged encounter with Jehovah's Witnesses. These poor souls have already been taught exactly how Christians will respond.  So as Christians do respond as predicted, it makes their leaders appear to be almost prophetic and thus further entrenches them in their beliefs as it causes them to resist, in their hearts and minds, what they are hearing.

I came to appreciate the power of this tactic, and so I developed a similar technique in teaching my own children in ways that help insulate them against the lies they're certain to hear.  My goal is one of firsts.  I make it my business to be the first to present the messages of our culture, and again first to help them evaluate those messages in light of scripture, logic, and objective truth, and also the first to provide a response to those messages. In this way I am the one setting the table for my children's future worldview discussions with others.

Anti-Christ cultural apologists do the same things as do the JW's.  They employ their own concept of "firsts" by presenting a particular cultural issue framed by the culture's mindset.  Then they  provide the anticipated Christian response in a caricatured or absurd way followed by a more "reasonable" sounding response.  This, in effect, poisons many children's Well against their own parent's teaching. Everything the parent teaches has already been taught by their teachers, and a response implanted.  The parents are then seen by the child through the lens of a silly caricature.  But if I, on the other hand, am the first to make the world's case, then I can also be the first to give a response to why their views and arguments are flawed.

Francis Schaeffer understood this problem in the early sixties and had this to say in the book, "Escape From Reason", published in 1968:
"The reason we often cannot speak to our children, let alone other people's, is because we have never taken time to understand how different their thought-forms are from ours. Through reading and education and the whole modern cultural bombardment of mass media, even today's middle-class children are becoming thoroughly twentieth-century in outlook. In crucial areas many Christian parents, ministers and teachers are as out of touch with many of the children of the church, and the majority of those outside, as though they were speaking a foreign language."
C.S. Lewis also, in "The Abolition Of Man", spoke of the school boy who had had the seed of indoctrination planted in his mind early in his life:
"It is not a theory they put into [the school boy's] mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all."
Parenting as a Christian in a culture hostile to Christianity requires that one be, among other things, proactive and intentional. If the Christian parent is not the first one to introduce the views that oppose the faith that the parent is attempting to instill, he likely will discover later that the very act of articulating those same views will lend credence to those who oppose his views.  The parent will indeed be fulfilling "prophecy" by actually saying exactly what the child was told that they would say.  This makes the "prophet" look really smart and the parent look predictable... even stupid, kind of like the caricature.

When my children are confronted with such opposition, my hope is three-fold. First, that the issue will already have been settled in their minds. Second, that their father's credibility will be enhanced in hearing exactly what he he warned them they would hear. And third, that they will be critical thinkers.

It is naive to think that our children's well will not be poisoned if we do not take action to prevent it. Fallacious arguments against the Christian's worldview, and what we teach our children, are very much an integral part of our culture, which not only includes institutions of education, but also entertainment. Unless the prent is proactive in preventing it, those arguments will take hold. The parents one day will simply find one day that their children have rejected their worldview and faith.

To avoid the poisoning of the hearts and minds of your children consider a few thoughts:

  1. The younger our children are, the more open they are to an adult's teaching. As C.S. Lewis alluded, we must plant the seeds into our children's hearts early, then be vigilant in guarding against the birds who desire to steal them.
  2. Understand the tools and methods that will be used against your teaching, poisoning the well is but one. To learn how these tools are used, we ought to engage the world; think critically about its messages; and learn to refute the arguments if they are untrue. This will require work and critical thinking on our part. As someone once said, parenting is not for cowards.
  3. There is a temptation to wait until our children are older when they will better be able to understand. Wisdom is in order here but do not wait too long.  Many of the concepts are fundamental, like a thing can't be both true and untrue at the same time, or both black and white.  Develop the means early in simplistic forms while they are still open. God did not design them to always be under your protection and roof. They become their own persons much earlier than this culture and society would have you believe. The world knows this as is shown by the pro-homosexual messages and agenda being carried to elementary schools.
  4. Avoid ad hominem attacks (that is attacks on the character of the opposition as opposed to the merit of their viewpoint) against those who hold differing views. While this is effective when used by anti-Christian forces (because those attacks will constantly be reinforced by culture and society) it is antithetical to a Biblical worldview. Moreover, if you are successful in teaching your children to think critically, it will only be a matter of time before they put what you have taught under that same microscope. Don't discredit your own teaching in the future minds of your children by teaching contradictions and falsehoods.  Study study study.
  5. Immunize rather than isolate. Learn to find the hidden messages in entertainment and then teach your children to seek and find the good and bad messages hidden in popular media themselves. Remember one mistake does not determine your child's future, nor does one success. With this in mind, teach your children to interpret movies and literature, to think critically about propaganda/news stories themselves and to keep their guards up.  You should then challenge them by openly playing devil's advocate.
  6. Bring in real life events and issues as they get older. I have found You Tube a great resource for this. A point can be made and examples can be shown and re-shown.
  7. Have fun. Eventually picking out fallacious arguments and assertions can be like egg hunts, and the people who are making them begin to look ever more ridiculous in light of critical thought.
  8. The truth never hurts the truth. Keep in mind that anti-Christian forces are not the sole proprietors of fallacious arguments. Fallacy and truth are mutually exclusive no matter who engages in them. Truth should reign supreme.
  9. Teach and live scripture. This does not mean teach and live perfection. A common well poisoning tactic is to make a strawman attack on Christians as not living what they preach. The Christian knows that this is impossible because he preaches that everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God. So then, when we as parents fall short, we repent and apologize as necessary, including to our children, and according to how we teach. Point out that any time a standard exists, people who hold to that standard will fall short. Inquire as to what standard the person making this accusation of hypocrisy may be falling short of.
  10. Above all, pray without ceasing that our Father in Heaven will guide the steps of our children into His service and into His glory. Pray that He will capture their hearts at an early age. Pray that they would always seek His face, and His will for their lives and that he would make it plain to them what that will and plan is. Pray for wisdom-as a parent-that the wiles and schemes of the Evil One would be plain. Pray for their salvation and for their eternal destiny.
  11. Last but not least, teach the fear of God.