When I was very young I asked my mother about the Holy Trinity. I wanted to know how three persons, beings, entities, whatever, could all be one single thing, and at the same time three separate things. "There are some things we're not meant to understand," she said. To a little child, that's tantamount to saying, "Don't worry about it. That's just the way it is."
Only in later life have I reflected on the effect such pronouncements may have had. Vivid in my memory is the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son, Isaac, only for God to call it off at the last moment. Thinking back now, I remember feeling distinctly uneasy about the story. This is a loving God? But it's in the Bible, and I'd been told the Bible was true. A small child, however, doesn't dwell long on such matters, and I had other things claiming my attention.
But a child's mind is a clean slate; what is first written thereon is likely to endure, colouring the worldview taking shape in that putative personality. Even seemingly insignificant snippets of inculcation can have profound effect. How much greater effect, then, if you immerse a young child in an alternative reality, to the exclusion of everything else?
I've held off writing about the recent Channel 4 Cutting Edge TV documentary Baby Bible Bashers until it was available to view uninterrupted. You can see it as a series of short clips on YouTube, but now BitTorrent-enabled users can find the whole thing here:
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DP-s3AV9Kzs
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klZXuytDtrk
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGoMfrOSLAY
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zAHEn3UbSw
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9PBb2ef4JM
There's been plenty of discussion over at RD.net, but I particularly want to mention that the film made a point about the manipulation of these kids by their parents. Whether or not the film's slant accentuated this, it can't be denied that all three of these young 'preachers' have been influenced (to put it mildly) by their parents, who appear to believe that their god-filled worldview is real. The children, however, had no choice in the matter.
The three families, overly fundamentalist, are by no means typical - otherwise film-makers would not want to document them. But recent polls have shown that there are vast numbers of people who, though less extreme, have similar values, and are raising a similarly skewed generation of faith-head offspring.
It's clear that seven-year-old Samuel lives in fear of going to Hell - his responses direct to camera contained references to descending into Hell and being eaten by worms. This idea came from his father, who admitted telling his son (then only three) about eternal damnation. Samuel's only option, apparently, was to be baptised and have his sins washed away. At that point he began his 'ministry', preaching his first sermon in church, standing on an upturned plastic crate, still aged only three. (Samuel's fire-and-brimstone performance was captured on home video.)
This film pressed a lot of buttons. It was sad, and enraging. Watch it.