Candy evangelism

I do not worry too much about my kids and religion. I suspect that, if you give kids a good grounding in thinking for themselves, then they are unlikely to gravitate to religious belief. And if they do become religious, it’s less likely to be a toxic, anti-science, anti-equal rights, us-vs-them type of religion.

But there are some things that are off-limits. Basically, any kind of emotional blackmail, fearmongering, or bribery is unacceptable. That means threatening hell, promising heaven, that sort of thing. I know you may believe in these things very sincerely, but you are not entitled to scare my child into believing as you do. Period.*

What I would not have expected, but find equally repugnant, is what this group did, not far from where I grew up. Members of a Christian church in Edmonton approached a 9-year-old in a playground, offering her candy and religious quotes (with promises of more candy in the future).

It’s creepy and disturbing without the religion bit, and it’s just as creepy and disturbing with religion. Don’t do this, people. The kid may or may not be creeped out; their parents are more likely to be (whether or not they’re religious). If the kid is creeped out, your proselytizing has backfired (and you’ve made it more likely the kid will want to stay away from all religion in the future). If the kid’s parents are creeped out, you have at best turned a whole family a little further away from your message. At worst, you’ll get bad publicity that will make a whole community less receptive to your message.

How did the church in this case defend their actions? They say that they believed they had the okay from the city to do this.

Is it just me, or does this sound a lot like the people who argue that guys in elevators should be allowed to hit on lone women in elevators at 4am?**

Short answer: yes, it should be allowed by law, but it’s creepy, and it’s going to backfire (ie, you won’t achieve your goal – a woman in your bed or another soul in your flock). An appropriate response by the person being solicited (the woman in the elevator, or the kid’s parent on the playground) is to publicly criticise the act, and raise awareness in the community at large as to why this is not a behaviour we want to encourage.

I suspect that this particular type of incident – using candy to entice children without okaying it with the parents first – is rare. But it may be worth pointing out to the more evangelical folks out there (do I have evangelical folks reading this blog? If so, welcome!) that, from my perspective, evangelizing my kids with promises of heaven or threats of hell is just like evangelizing them with promises of candy, and for the same reasons. Only more so, because heaven and hell speak to even deeper hopes/fears than candy, and so are more powerful emotional manipulators.

(Thanks to PZ Myers for bringing the candy evangelism story to my attention.)


* I’m happy to say that almost all of the family and friends that will be in a position to influence our children much are well over on the atheist/agnostic/liberal religion end of the spectrum, so I don’t really worry about the issue of religious blackmail or bribery coming up. But I know it happens.

** I would love to produce an eloquent and persuasive post on the whole “Elevatorgate” palaver. But frankly, it’s an open-and-shut case for me. Of course there shouldn’t be a law against guys creeping women out, but of course it is reasonable to ask them not to do it anyway. If you want a more thoughtful, extensive discussion, read this, thisthis, this, or this. Follow the links in them. Think about it.


5 Responses to “Candy evangelism”

  1. David Says:

    Wholehearted agreement from an evangelical reader! Interesting that I was talking about raising my daughter with a friend this weekend, and found myself saying your first paragraph almost verbatim (before I’d read your post). I might have said the following:

    “I do not worry too much about my kids and religion. I suspect that, if you give kids a good grounding in thinking for themselves and model beliefs consistently and openly, then they are fairly likely to gravitate towards sharing your beliefs. And if they don’t, it’s less likely to be a toxic, anti-religion, anti-equal rights, us-vs-them type of worldview.”

    I’ve done a fair bit of work with young people in both religious and secular contexts, and that kind of underhanded bribery without parental encouragement (let alone permission) is just plain wrong.

    p.s. I have a strong pet peeve about the misuse of evangelical and evangelistic. They both come from the greek word for “good news” but mean very separate things. Evangelical is (near enough) an antonym for Liberal, and is usually held to mean orthodox and holding the Bible as central to faith (happy to talk at greater length about what this means for me), while “Evangelistic” means seeking to share faith. All evangelicals will seek to share faith in one way or another as a result of their beliefs, but not all those who do “evangelism” will do so with good motives or in a non “creepy” way. Fortunately, I know of no one who was bribed or argued into believing in God. All my friends who came to faith as children or adults did so because of the faithful, honest, humble, vulnerable witness of people around them who were convinced that they had found a good thing that was worth sharing as genuinely “good news”. (apologies for the “guest” posting – writing in a break at work and not able to use facebook or twitter)

    David (Scientist, Engineer, Christian, Human)

    • Timothy Mills Says:

      David, Thankyou for your thoughts. I hope I didn’t offend by my casual use of “evangelical”. I think I understand the distinction you’re describing – I even sometimes think of myself as an evangelist (by analogy with the “good news” root), eager to share my understanding of exciting things (science, evolution, running, Ursula Le Guin books) with other people.

      I don’t know how many people are “bribed or threatened into belief”. I have known one or two to cite Pascal’s Wager as an argument for belief, but I think most people instead come to belief in a more organic way.

      Having said that, there certainly are people who suffered great psychological anguish as children from the belief that their friends were destined for hell because they did not believe.

      • adlhancock Says:

        No offence taken at all. I agree that “evangelist” now has a much broader meaning that it once had. Part of my work is to be an “evangelist” for engineering, specifically for nuclear fusion research. When I worked as a science teacher, I was definitely an evangelist for science and reason too.

        The biblical image of God shows that the tension between his love for creation and his perfect justice causes him anguish (the idea of a suffering God is biblical, but strange to many). The central doctrine of Jesus suffering in our place is one part of this, but the grief over the tragedy of separation from him is what drives him to this sacrifice. “Good news” of reconciliation and rescue is meaningless without being reconciled after a division and rescued from something, and so to fully explain the Christian message, we must be balanced and include the “bad news”. I certainly think that I should probably spend more time dwelling on this, as I could do with a little more “psychological anguish” to remind me not only of the extraordinarily good news that I have to share, but also of the urgency of the message.

        A child’s understanding of morality, justice, love, conflict, and related complex concepts grows surprisingly slowly, and so I’m inclined to stick to “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so.” for as long as possible.

        back to work….

  2. susanne430 Says:

    I guess I would be one of those evangelical types reading your blog. Thanks for the welcome! 😀 And I don’t bribe people into any sort of faith…or I hope I don’t as it seems so wrong. It’s like converting to religion for the sake of marrying someone. I don’t really care for either.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Timothy Mills Says:

      Susanne, you’re quite right. I am glad (but not surprised) to hear evangelicals expressing the same sentiment I have.

      Comments like yours and David’s give me hope in a world that often seems to be hopelessly polarized along religious lines.

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