Sinister Children’s Hymns

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I managed to get through the gathering last night, but by the end of it I needed to get out of there. The whole event struck me as something grim. When the pastor opened things up with a prayer, I was the only person besides some of the kids on stage who didn’t bow my head or close my eyes. The whole tone of the evening was set by the pastor in one line: it’s never too early to teach people to be disciples.

Hymns I used to sing weren’t as uplifting as I remember them.
The children sang one medley of “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus Loves Me.” For those who aren’t familiar with the songs, here’s the first verses of both:

Amazing Grace
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Jesus Loves Me
Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

These songs are staples for children to sing, to get parents and family members to ooh and aah over a small person repeating the words back to everyone. I get it. I’ve seen these things as a Christian and as an atheist. I know the purpose and goal is just to have a nice moment to watch kids do stuff at a precious age.

Sitting in the balcony in my old church, I felt awful for the kids who didn’t want to be there. Several of them cried hysterically. Most of them were just looking at the daycare teachers for instruction. Enough of them were singing to provide some semblance of a recital. I highly doubt any of them fully understood why they were there singing songs devoting themselves to their invisible deity.

The hymns and songs themselves are not very uplifting if you don’t believe in any of the religious precepts involved. Some Christians reading this might not understand. To them, I’d ask them to imagine teaching a bunch of kids to sing a hymn devoting their souls to Satan. Sit through it quietly while their parents smile and record the whole process, eventually praising them for being such good devil worshipers.

True story.

In short, the literal meaning of what was going on disturbs me.
I would feel about as strongly if those kids were forced to sing songs against religions or parrot some sort of other indoctrination. Children at that age have their hands full learning how to speak, eat, and not soil themselves. The cosmos and eternity aren’t exactly on that list.

Yet the literal words of those songs involved kids calling themselves wretches and proclaiming they were the property of Jesus. The seeds of faith are getting planted, and it isn’t being done by accident. Some of those kids are going to grow up believing all of it, taking it to heart, and getting hurt in the process. My only comfort last night was that some of those kids hopefully won’t take it all as seriously as their parents might.

There is such a thing as too young for indoctrination.
Even if a child asked me if I believed in Jesus or any other religion, I’d want to change the subject. The last thing I want to do is force a kid to ponder the philosophical underpinnings of reality when he or she still tries to eat glue. Handling the glue issue is far more pressing than deciding where one’s soul goes.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to any religious ceremony again, either. Watching this happen in front of me wasn’t healthy. I want to respect other people’s views, but I don’t want to be held hostage by them either.

I wish the whole thing didn’t bother me as much as it did. There’s no guarantee that any of these kids are going to grow up to be completely fundagelical. Then again, if anyone saw me at that age singing praise hymns, they wouldn’t have known what I was going to go through, either. Nobody knows what monsters come out inside the minds of religious indoctrination. It all just happens with the assumption that everything will work out just fine.

Especially when it doesn’t work out at all.

11 thoughts on “Sinister Children’s Hymns

  1. SB, while reading your post an imaginary conversation between me and a pregnant believer started in my head. I commented, “You’re taking quite a risk there. Suppose your child chooses to reject your faith. Or, according to Romans 9, God has chosen to make your child a clay pot made for dishonor and an object of his wrath?” When I was pregnant, I refused to even consider the possibility that I was carrying a person destined for Hell. We willfully ignored so much, didn’t we, back in the day of belief?

    My daughter told me that she was shocked (at about 5) when she realized I believed that all the fairy tales from the Bible were actually true stories. She loved me and waited patiently for cognitive dissonance to do its work. Be encouraged to know that not everybody who is forced to drink the cool-aid dies from the poison.

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  2. The poster struck me with it’s believe or suffer message and certainly far too many Christians preach this threatening nonsense. What they don’t understand is that the call of Jesus is an invitation not a threat. It is an invitation to a joyous wedding with Jesus through the Holy Spirit

    Liked by 1 person

    • What do you do when you see a room full of people who are eventually going to make sure they convey that threat to their kids? That’s basically what I was looking at. I wouldn’t feel so awful about this if I knew those kids were going to be left alone to make their own decisions.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s the nicey-nicey message that was drilled into me as a kid. But once I really started looking into what the religion really taught, that wasn’t what I found. Even when you downplay the threat, it is still there, underlying everything. And the basic message of “people are unworthy” was always there, even in the liberal tradition I was raised in.

      And those darn Sunday School songs get stuck in your head and won’t go away!

      “I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now,
      I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow,
      I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum,
      Pray hold me excused, I cannot come.”

      I have dozens of these things memorized, so many verses, and so many negative messages hidden in them. I have not taught any of them to my kids, and they have thanked me for this.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. They are definitely terrifying and detrimental messages to put into a child’s mind. If it weren’t for society’s uncanny respect for all things religious, the messages taught in Sunday school would be clearly labeled as abusive. In a world that (rightly) now views physically and emotionally harmful discipline as unacceptable, it’s strange that we’re still allowed to threaten our toddlers with a place called “hell.” In a world that is awakening to the damaging effects of bullying, ostracizing, and profiling, it’s odd that we’re okay with teaching our middle schoolers that the children of other faiths will be punished forever in that place called “hell,” but Christians will be rewarded for being “God’s chosen ones.” And the pain and confusion that awaits the teenagers, when they begin their perfectly natural sexual development. Everything outside of a conservative religious perspective is seen as ungodly, dirty, and worthy of punishment. No one comes through Christianity unscathed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you don’t read “Godless in Dixie,” you might want to pop over there to read Neil’s post on how Christianity breaks your “feelers” (read: emotions). One of the things he goes over is the idea of love bombing and then devaluation. I think those kids – and many like them – are in the love bombing stage.

      They’re too young to know what the word “wretch” means, or the idea of belonging to Jesus in the biblical sense (read: slavery). But they know that if they sing about Jesus, their parents will smile more and maybe buy them ice cream. So right now, things are fine.

      That message later on, the guilt, and the shame, is likely going to hit unless they go to some really laid back church which doesn’t really exist in my neck of the woods.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. My parents weren’t religious and yet they would drop me off every Sunday for children’s care at a Baptist church when I was around 4 years old. My parents wouldn’t attend the church themselves, so my guess was that they were looking for some free childcare for mommy/daddy time (they claim it was to teach me morals but I don’t buy that).

    They were ok with dropping me off every Sunday until I brought home some activity books that said if I didn’t believe in Jesus I would go to hell. My mom decided that was a bit MUCH to teach a preschooler. I remember the whole experience terrifying me and I never wanted to attend church again, and neither did my parents.

    I honestly believe that the memory of what I was taught stuck with me because I would occassionally get nightmares about Satan and hell. The nightmares stopped when later I converted to Christianity in my teens.

    My parents never helped me process what I was taught as a preschooler and I’m quite sure this had an impact on my seeing myself as a bad person, which I was NOT – I was the sweetest, kindest, best behaved kid!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s not much reason for parents to help their kids process threats of hell. Their kids become well-behaved on the outside, so there’s no problem. I was well-behaved too, but it comes at a very steep price.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t quite wrap my mind around how people think that terrorizing children is the right approach. Not only is an unethical thing to do, but it’s not practical in the long run. Terror leads to perpetuating more terror, does it not? And people making fear-based decisions is never a good thing.


      • To them, it’s not terrorizing. It’s showing LOVE for their children’s SOUL! “God” forbid the Debbil should get ahold of them in their tender (and totally innocent!) years … !!


      • Oh yeah…true. Sometimes I have trouble putting my Christian glasses back on to see from that perspective.

        Or maybe, if I’m honest, I never *fully* believed in Hell? I think that must be it because if I had I’m sure I would have terrorized my children as well. From that perspective, yes, that’d be even more important than saving a child’s life even, as the soul is eternal and goes on FOREVER.

        Hmm. Maybe I wasn’t a True Believer after all? Lol.

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