“You’re going to trust him? Why? He works for the enemy! They have attacked us at every turn!” The young boy demanded an explanation for his mentor’s apparently foolish choice of trusting the bad guy.
“He inspires loyalty in his men and always has their backs when things get tough. He keeps his word because he is an honorable man. We can trust him.” The young boy’s mentor told him. Another friend chimed in with this thought: “The character of an individual is more important than the group he (or she) belongs to.”
I admit to still watching cartoons after all of these years. I love how they explore morality in all of it’s facets, from both sides. Turns out it was just in time – recently a newspaper article was published that indicated that religious children are meaner than secular children. In particular, they were less willing to share when there wasn’t enough to go around and more willing to demand that other children get harsher punishment.
I can see how that’s so in Christianity, I grew up as an example of perfection, always well-behaved, never giving into sin and temptation, and I always knew that the other children who couldn’t live up to my standards of perfection were spiritually inferior to me. It took me awhile to realize that I had been molded into a modern pharisee who had no concept of what ‘compassion’ meant.
So when I heard that quote – that an individual’s character is more important than the group they belonged to – I just knew I had to talk about how that thought was one that was missing for a lot of us. In church, it was always assumed that the group the person they belong to shapes their character. ‘One rotten apple spoils the whole bushel’ is the saying, isn’t it? ‘We are known by the company we keep.’ Is another.
That’s why Christians feel justified in not providing money to feed children when the charity that feeds children also decides to hire a same-sex couple. That’s why Christians feel justified every time they’re told to boycott this or that because of this’ or that’s support for charities that support people they consider to be sinful. To us, the group to which a person belongs to is more important than their individual character. Some groups are worse than others – and other groups are superior to others. Which is why we like Christians who are just like us and we can’t stand Christians who are nothing like us. Which is why we’ll overlook the faults of certain Christians while we magnify the faults of sinners, criminals, and anyone else we don’t like. These ideas exist in Christians of all ages, but perhaps young children manifest them more readily as they lack the experience and tact that allows teenagers and adults to be better at hiding their feelings about others.
If the children’s reality is shaped by what they are taught, then the results that show that religious children are meaner than others shows that those teachings are either wrong or are being taught in the wrong way. This problem isn’t a new one – it’s the spoken reality of a long-standing unspoken truth. So we can look back at the previous generation to see the results – whatever children have been taught, a great many grew up to leave Christianity. Since it’s likely that the last generation and this generation and the next generation are being taught the very same things – I think it’s safe to say that the generational gap in Christianity has become a colossal chasm. It’s not just about ages, but values. A whole generation has decided to reject the values that they grew up being told were very important. So most of those mean Christian children will reject their values and walk away from being mean and for many of them, that includes walking away from being a Christian. I think it’s long past time that we change what was being taught so that the next generation has a better outcome. The survival and the future of the faith depends upon it.