Saturday, February 15, 2014

Age of Accountability Down the Toilet?

    CNN is reporting a study performed by Yale University that shows that infants as young as 3 months of age know right from wrong.
    A three month old can't accept the Christian gospel. So then if a 3 month old infant dies, he dies as one who has never heard the gospel.
    According to fundagelicals, this infant is headed for hell, because he knows right from wrong and is therefore accountable, but has never accepted Christ.
    This actually comports pretty well with some Christian fundamentalist teachings that urge parents to spank their newborns... if they have an innate sense of morality then they deserve to be punished for infractions because they obviously know what they are doing. In this way of thinking, babies really are little bundles of sin and they need it exorcised from their little bodies through rigorous discipline. This is all Biblical literalism 101.
    Ah but as you might of guessed, there is an entirely different way of looking at this. Consider that the way the Yale researchers proved that young infants know right from wrong is by giving them a choice between a puppet who behaved badly and a puppet who was kind, and the infants overwhelmingly chose the kind puppet. In other words, the average infant appears to be attracted to goodness, not meanness. This seems to invalidate the "little bundle of sin" hypothesis of literalist fundamentalism. Essentially, consciousness of something does not imply affinity with something. The knowledge of good and evil does not, in itself, guarantee an affinity with either good or evil. This basic truth can be seen in the average person who generally behaves well but sometimes lies or acts meanly when the right opportunity presents itself.
    Child training, then, is not about beating the sin out of the child (sorry King Solomon) but nurturing a tendency toward goodness. Surely there are punishments to be given for sustained or blatant offenses, but this is second-string parenting at best. First-line parenting is shepherding children toward right actions, thoughts, and tendencies. This is the prime directive and it involves first and foremost modeling right behavior, and then teaching right behavior. It also involves countering negative influences on behavior.
    Okay--back to salvation. We'll assume the fundagelical position that good works cannot bring salvation. Given that a child has next to no possibility of mentally understanding and assenting to gospel propositions until age 5-7 (and even at those ages it is dubious as to whether they can truly grasp the concepts they are being taught), the emphasis on strict infant and toddler discipline within fundamentalist circles is curious, if not inconsistent. The best answer given by proponents of these methods is that strict infant and toddler discipline prepares them to accept that they are worthless without God, and breaking their will so that they are prepared to submit to gospel at such a time as they are able to receive it. As a matter of fact, this is the only possibly consistent answer since even the best behaved 1, 2, or 3 year old, not having accepted Christ, is on their way to hell, according to fundagelicals.
    However, the concept that it is worthwhile to make your children feel their worthlessness in preparing for receiving the gospel is not only tragic and devastating to the psychological well-being of the child, but it is absolutely contrary to the gospel of Christ. For people who otherwise take the Bible so literally, they miss where Christ said that it is the Holy Spirit that convicts of sin and righteousness and judgement. Only the Holy Spirit can fully prepare one's heart to receive Christ.
    Meanwhile, these parents who break their child's will and try to make them feel worthless on their own are psychologically abusing their children. Ironically, these children may accept Christ and follow the leadership of their parents and pastor but how do you stand up against the principalities and powers with a broken will? There's no will left for Christ to transform. These are follower Christians who will work well within the system but will likely have a hard time standing outside of it.
With no time left before the age of accountability (except possibly the first three months of life) it is almost more loving for the fundagelical to believe in a works salvation. At least then if you can get your little child to behave well then they have a chance...