Poisoning My Children's Well


The common assertion that Christians are narrow-minded, or anti-science is a logical fallacy called "Poisoning the Well". Well poisoning is a preempted ad hominem attack that attempts to pre-program, or especially in this case, to embed into society's thinking a predisposition against a particular point of view.

My first exposure to the effectiveness of this tactic-from the outside looking in-occurred during discussions in my home with Jehovah's Witnesses. It was here that I began to appreciate the persuasive power of this logical fallacy, and to develop a similar technique in teaching my own children in ways to help insulate them against this kind of mind poisoning by doing a little pre-poisoning of the well of their thinking myself. I hope to accomplish this by being the first to present the messages of our culture, except that I do so under the microscope of scripture, logic, and objective truth. In this way I am the one setting the table, so to speak, for the future discussions my children will encounter involving their worldview.

Not unlike the tactics used by the JW's and anti-Christ cultural apologist, as I teach my children I employ the key concept of "firsts." For example: when an institution or media is the first to present a cultural issue, and also the first to present my response to that issue as the closed-minded "Christian" caricatured stereotype, followed by pithy, high-browed, and cognitive dissonant response to that stereotype, then my children's Well becomes poisoned against my teaching. Everything I as parent subsequently espouse may then be seen through the lens of that stereotype. On the other hand, if I am the first to present the tenets of those opposing worldviews along with a logical and realistic explanation as to why they are flawed, then I will have been the one to achieved the objective of firsts.

Francis Schaeffer was attuned to this problem in the early sixties and had this to say in "Escape From Reason", published in 1968:

"The reason we often cannot speak to our children, let alone other people's, is because we have never taken time to understand how different their thought-forms are from ours. Through reading and education and the whole modern cultural bombardment of mass media, even today's middle-class children are becoming thoroughly twentieth-century in outlook. In crucial areas many Christian parents, ministers and teachers are as out of touch with many of the children of the church, and the majority of those outside, as though they were speaking a foreign language."
C.S. Lewis also, in "The Abolition Of Man", spoke of the school boy who had had the seed of indoctrination planted in his mind years earlier:

"It is not a theory they put into [the school boy's] mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all."
Parenting as a Christian in a culture hostile to Christianity requires that one be, among other things, proactive and intentional. If the Christian parent is not the first to introduce opposing views, later, the very act of articulating those views will augment the credibility of viewpoints opposed to that parent's by fulfilling the "prophesy" of what the child was foretold those views would be.

When my children are confronted with such opposition, my hope is three-fold. First, that the issue will already have been settled in their minds. Second, that their father's credibility will be enhanced by hearing the opposing viewpoints, as opposed to weakened. And third, that they will be critical thinkers.

It is naive to think that our children's well will not be poisoned if we do not take action to prevent it. Fallacious arguments against the Christian's worldview, and what he desires to teach his children, are very much an integral part of our culture. Unless something is done to prevent it, those arguments will take hold. The parents one day will simply find that their children have rejected their worldview.

To avoid the poisoning of the hearts and minds of our children consider a few thoughts:

  1. The younger our children are, the more open they are to an adult's teaching. As C.S. Lewis alluded, we must plant the seeds in our children early and be vigilant in guarding against the birds who desire to steal those seeds.
  2. Understand the tools and methods that will be used against your teaching, poisoning the well is but one. To learn how these tools are used, we ought to engage the world; think critically about its messages; and learn to refute the arguments if they are untrue. This will require work and critical thinking on our part. As someone once said, parenting is not for cowards.
  3. There is a temptation to wait until our children are older and will be better able to understand. Wisdom is in order here but do not wait too long. Develop the means early in simplistic forms while they are still open. God did not design them to always be under our protection and roof. They become their own persons much earlier than this culture and society would have us believe. The world knows this. Think the pro-homosexual parenting propaganda book, "Heather Has Two Moms".

  4. Avoid ad hominem attacks (that is attacks on the character of the opposition as opposed to the merit of their viewpoint) against those who hold differing views. While this is effective with anti-Christian forces (those attacks will be constantly reinforced by culture and society) it is antithetical to a Biblical world view. Moreover, if you are successful in teaching your children to think critically, it will only be a matter of time before they put your teaching under that same microscope. Don't discredit your own teaching in the future minds of your children.
  5. Immunize rather than isolate. Learn to find the hidden messages in entertainment, (Plugged In is an excellent resource for this.) and then teach your children to seek and find the good and bad hidden messages in popular media themselves. Remember one mistake does not determine your child's future, nor does one success. With this in mind, Teach your children to interpret movies and to think critically about propaganda/news stories themselves and to keep their guards up, then challenge them by openly playing devil's advocate.

  6. Bring in real life events and issues as they get older. I have found You Tube invaluable for this. A point can be made and examples can be shown and re shown.
  7. Have fun. Eventually picking out fallacious arguments and assertions can be like egg hunts, and the people who are making them begin to look ever more ridiculous, as they should to a thinking, as opposed to an emotional populace.
  8. The truth never hurts the truth. Keep in mind that anti-Christian forces are not the sole proprietors of fallacious arguments. Fallacy and truth are mutually exclusive no matter who engages in them. Truth should reign supreme.
  9. Teach and live scripture. This does not mean teach and live perfection. A common well poisoning tactic is to make a strawman attack on Christians as not living what they preach. The Christian knows that this is impossible because he preaches that everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God. So then, when parents fall short, we repent and apologize, including to our children, and according to how we teach. Point out that any time a standard exists, people who hold to that standard will fall short. Ask your children to consider what standard the person making an accusation may be falling short of.
  10. Above all, pray without ceasing that our Father in Heaven will guide the steps of our children into His service and into His glory. Pray that He will capture their hearts at an early age. Pray that they would always seek His face, and His will for their lives and that he would make it plain to them what that will and plan is. Pray for wisdom-as a parent-that the wiles and schemes of the Evil One would be plain. Pray for their salvation and for their eternal destiny.
It is my intention with our children to be the preemptive teacher with Jesus as our reference point. We look for teachable moments and object lessons in life, on television shows, and in books. We have discussions about evolution, objective truth, government, our purpose in life, who they are and why they are here, and many other topics in light of what the Bible teaches. It is in these discussions, and lessons, that I try to play Devil's advocate and give them the world's views and answers to these questions, and along with them, their associated problems.

Comments (2)

Man! I just figured out where to click to post comments here!
I've been perusing your "Field Notes" and love the organized way you present things. I have gotten/am getting so much from this blog. Please keep posting!
This post I'm commenting on has especially been helpful to me. I needed some reminders of the big picture of homeschooling. God bless you!

Hey Pam! Glad you figured out how to comment.

My husband, Danny, wrote that post. He is quite the deep thinker, and I really appreciate his heart in the area of our children.

I still have not finished everything on this blog, but I am glad it's helpful.

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