Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism

The sin within us


I have always struggled with christian teachings of sin. Namely, with original sin. I thought it was unfair that God would let us all suffer for a sin that we aren’t guilty of. And yet, in christian belief, we are born sinful beings.

The teachings of sin in Christianity lead to a whole rat-tail of behaviour. Among them is the child abuse the Pearl’s teach. Being born a sinful being means that babies are not pure. They are hunks of meat full of original sin and the parent’s job is to teach them morals and values that they naturally do not possess. “Negative” or “annoying” behaviour in children therefore is not – or only partially – caused by the parents, mainly it is due to their sinful nature. Cleansing this sinful nature to a point where it can be controlled by the child at an older age is the goal of christian parenting via the Pearls. You must make the baby/kid understand that it is evil and bad and that only belief in Jesus as well as strict discipline can limit this sinful nature to a degree where you can actually find salvation. Though they acknowledge the fact that we’re all sinners and will always sin, discipline is the first and foremost way to cage this sin so that a logical, moral way of thinking becomes possible for the person in the first place.

Being born in sin every act of so-called selfishness is due to unlimited freedom of the sin within the young child. If it doesn’t want to share his or her toys, it’s not because that’s a phase or because the child might be afraid to lose its dear possession, it’s due to the sinful urges of selfishness, putting self in the first place with the others and God following behind. Practically a child can be punished for pretty much everything that doesn’t suit the parents in some way and hence leaves the door wide open for domestic abuse.

As a matter of fact the belief of original sin doesn’t exist this way in Judaism. There, babies are born without sin, pure beings. They are corrupted only by their own sin, not by any other. Thought the “seed of evil” exists in every person, brought into the world by Adam and Eve, it’s not the same. Adam caused death and pain in a material way but did not destroy or corrupt the pureness and goodness of every human soul and therefore sin isn’t a pre-existing condition in a human being but an acquired disease if you will.

Why does that make a difference? Because when a child cries at night to be fed, some fundamentalist christian leaders actually recommend not to follow the child’s pleading, as it is sinful, the child wants to control the parents and gain authority over them (three months olds are really mean snakes to some people…). They recommend putting the babies on a feeding schedule that suits the parent’s needs, not the child’s. Funny enough, that isn’t selfish behaviour by the parents.

And then again, we have the Muslims, very closely related to the jews and christians, and they too do not believe in original sin. There, too, a baby is born without sin, pure and good.

I’ve been wondering where this belief in original sin comes from. The jews didn’t believe in it, so it must be something the christians came up with. Maybe at some point, some people got it all wrong and wrote down wrong dogmas?

I know that the teachings on original sin vary even within the christian denominations. I don’t want to go around generalizing christians, I want to point out the very screwed up beliefs among some groups and movements, where a child isn’t born as a little lamb but as an almost demonic animal, wanting to control everybody around; self-centered and wicked. As an example I want to point your attention to an article by Libby Anne. The child in this story obviously isn’t old enough for a reflected decision and simply acts as some children would in certain phases for various reasons. It is being treated as if it was an evil demon, hungry for control and sin. It just reminds me of my own upbringing, where everything a child did was full of sin and evil if it didn’t suit our parent’s wishes. We were born evil, sinful by nature – and in our family, that lead to a whole lot of abuse.


24 thoughts on “The sin within us

  1. My mom used to say ALL of those things. She called children “little fools” and babies “little bundles of sin.” Like, literally.

    I have a toddler now. Sure, she may often be selfish and sometimes throw tantrums to get her way, but she’s also loving, tender, and kind. The whole sin thing? That whole being born evil thing? Yeah, I don’t see it. All I see is a precious little girl trying to work out her way in the world and figure out how things work. I’m not there to train her, to spank her or break her will, but simply to guide her as she grows so that she can reach adulthood in one piece and ready to go out into the world and find her own way. Those things my mom used to say, that she got from Michael Pearl and others like him? I really don’t get it.

  2. The doctrine of original sin was pretty much developed by Augustine of Hippo in his book The City of God, though the antecedents were there from the beginnings of Christian theology. It’s related to the explanation of why Christ was supposed to have had to be born and be sacrificed. (Which is part of the reason why such a concept doesn’t figure in Judaism or Islam.)

    The truth is that humans are neither sinful nor pure by nature. What we are, are animals. We have the instincts of animals for survival. We want to acquire and protect our stuff just like our rodent cousins and our territory, just like our closer relatives the chimps. At the same time, since we’re social animals, we want to help and look after others in our social group and protect them from outside dangers. We have an evolved sense of fairness or justice, which has both good and bad effects. We want control over our own futures, which also has both good and bad effects.

    But the whole idea that we are born sinful creatures is really a dehumanising, vile notion.

  3. It is worth watching for, and articulating, what “too far in the attachment parenting direction” can look like. Some babies don’t get on regular comfortable schedules without help, and some people wind down better if they scream/cry/let it out.

    There’s a huge distance between scheduled cry-it-out at bed time at three months of age, and doing the same thing at 15 months… and I would say that the child of 15 months may be genuinely hungry in the night, if he’s accustomed to sleeping next to his mother and nursing whenever he wants. It’s less about whether the hunger is real, and more about what’s developmentally appropriate.

    (One of my two children seems to only be able to wind down with a tantrum, if he gets sufficiently over-tired or upset. There was an age when he’d be asleep in 10min if he was parked in his crib and ignored, but the problem would go on all night, if I held him and fussed over him. My cultural bias was towards humoring the baby always, and when I finally went with the leave-him-alone-to-deal-with-it, it was because my own frustration was at boiling point, and I was worn ragged by nursing him every two hours or more.)

    • Oh I’m not against scheduling a day in a reasonable manner. I too think that a 15 month old is capable of being used to food scheduling. All my siblings ate with us at the table at that age and got snacks like an apple in between or a sandwich if it was a tiring, energy-consuming day. And then a before-bed milk bottle if they took it. But doing that to a newborn to three month old is just wrong, when the body is just learning how to deal with food and the servings are tiny, I do think that a baby should be fed on demand and not “every three hours because it suits me”. Sure it might work for some babies, but for others it doesn’t. It’s a try and learn sort of situation and forcing something onto the kid which doesn’t work alongside it’s natural needs is plain cruel.

  4. My disabled 3 year old woke up at 1.30 am last night screaming for food. He was hungry for some reason, so I gave it to him. He ate, and then stayed up and played for a little while, and then he finally got tired and went back to sleep. That’s how we are supposed to treat our precious little ones, by providing for their needs instead of expecting a disabled little boy who is frustrated to remain frustrated because “it isn’t time to eat”.

  5. I was reading about one Pearl method for teething babies who bite while nursing. They advocated yanking the baby’s hair as punishment.

    My son is teething and he bit me once. I yelped and pulled him away from my breast. He fussed a little and I latched him back on. This was over a month ago and he never tried it again. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this probably doesn’t work with all babies, but the Pearl’s don’t even want you to try that first. You mustn’t ever trust that babies are generally nice people who don’t want to cause pain but do it sometimes because they don’t understand. Instead, you must leap directly to punishment.

    And like you said, there’s no room there for temporary, development-based behaviours. Like when my son first learned how to shake rattles and he was bashing them into everyone’s faces. Once he got over the initial excitement of his new ability, he stopped doing it at people. Children want to be happy, and most children feel happiest when they can make others happy. With a little love and respect, reminders that some things they are doing make others unhappy, most will correct their behaviour on their own. To jump straight to punishment, and corporal punishment at that, betrays a complete lack of respect. It’s also lazy parenting, ruling by brute force instead of growing up together as a loving family.

    • Incidentally, I wrote this blog post about the Pearl’s while I was very hugely pregnant:

    • On top of that I would say that a nursing baby might not even have an idea of its’ physical ability to bite. It didn’t have teeth before and Mom never complained. The baby probably doesn’t understand that when it starts teething, it can hurt his or her Mom. I doubt there is any intention to bite at such an early age. It’s simple unawareness of how your body (aka teeth) functions.
      And I do think that the rattle and accidently beating people with it is a mix of excitement and a lack of motoric abilities. Small kids just can’t control hand and feet movements yet.
      Punishing kids for something they can’t control or understand is just wrong. Especially funny because the Pearls advocate against punishment for bedwetting, which obviously too can’t be controlled by the child. They use two different measures for the same thing.

  6. There’s something perverted about that doctrine, something very not Christ-like at all! Now, we were born with a sin nature, yes, but not original sin. We were born into a sinful world, but also born in innocence. Until we reach an age where we can discern for ourselves what sin is, and our personal need for a savior, we are not spiritually accountable. For a mother to refer to her child in demeaning ways like Libby posted about, I believe, is downright abuse, and adds fuel to the abusive fire. One more reason I’m convinced that people like the Pearls are perverts, and need to go to prison for child abuse.

  7. Actually Michael Pearl doesn’t believe or teach the doctrine of original sin. In fact, he likens babies and children to Adam and Eve who he claims were created with a neutral moral character, a “blank slate.”

    I have written about his heresies, as have David and C.L. Dyck and Catez Stevens, who wrote:

    “In his teaching tape on Romans 1 Michael Pearl clearly teaches we are not born with a sin nature, and he re-emphasises this in his message on Romans 5, where he also states that ‘a sinful nature is a non-entity. That’s something made up.'”

    And from page 10 of “Parenting in the Name of God” by the Dycks:

    “While Mr. Pearl does not expand here on his intended meaning of the theological phrase ‘moral government,’ his repeated use of the term in connection with his private interpretation of child development gives the appearance that modern moral government theology is a contributor to his ideas. As the doctrine website puts it, ‘Moral government theology claims that man is born morally neutral and is always capable of choosing whether or not to sin, and his moral character is determined by his choices.'”

    Michael Pearl combines his denial of original sin with a variation of gnosticism–that sin works only in our bodies. This explains his heavy emphasis on teaching babies and children bodily self-control. If a baby/child can learn, through behavior modification applied by his parents, to discipline his fleshly urges he will be well on his way to righteousness. I agree with you that this is complete hogwash. But the root of the problem isn’t the doctrine of sin nature or original sin, a doctrine which MP denies; the problem is the works-based righteousness and biblical misinterpretation espoused by MP. On page 24 of their book, the Dycks conclude:

    *Pearl claims that Christ was born morally neutral, without a moral character, and had to develop moral character.
    *Pearl claims that children are not born sinners, but must be trained to follow Christ’s example in order to foster character development before salvation.
    *Pearl claims that parents must enforce this development in order to communicate their faith to their children.

    • I hadn’t heard that before.
      But reading this makes me wonder even more if the Pearls actually know what they believe. On their website as well as in their infamous book on child education they state several times that a child’s intentions are to control their environment in a “sinful” way. Thought he doesn’T use the word “sinful” as his book is directed to non-christians as well, with a fundamentalist understanding of what sin is you can only come to this conclusion. Let me quote: “[…]crying in order to manipulate the adults into constant servitude should never be rewarded. Otherwise, you will reinforce the child’s growing self-centeredness, which will eventually become socially intolerable.” (He is talking about newborns here) This quote implies that there already is a “seed” of sinful behaviour inside the kid – the self-centeredness.
      Having no understanding for moral is, at least in the environment I grew up in, pretty much equal to sinfulness. Partially this is based on Romans 2-3, I can’t tell you the exact verse off the top of my head but it says that even without knowing God’s laws, you will be held accountable for breaking them. A knowledge of biblical definitions of sin and morals is not needed in order to be judged for sins. Yet, Paul explains in Romans, people follow the laws of God and can go to heaven without ever hearing of the bible because God’s law is inscribed into our hearts. This makes the decision to sin an active act against God, whether you know the God of the bible or not, and since it’s in our hearts, it’s always been there ever since we were born. My Dad once explained to me that is it the same with children: A child subconciously knows the Laws of God without ever hearing of the bible. If it acts against them, it must be held accountable for it, at a young age by its parents, before it reaches an age where God will recognize its moral abilities. A sinning child might not go to hell but that’s not the point, much rather that this inherit sinfulness, this acting against God’s word even when it’s in your heart will let the child grow into a sinful adult.
      I think the reading of the Pearls materials strongly depends on the interpretation of the Bible you believe in. Just like technically, you can’t really derivate child abuse from the Pearl’s writings, yet it leads to just that when in the hands of radical, fundamentalist people.

      • I guess that depends on your definition of child abuse. Whacking a child with objects, deliberately baited them with things they want and then “switching” then when they go for it, both strike me as abuse in anyone’s hands. Treating children like mules to be “broken” rather than individuals to be nurtured strikes me as abuse.

        Then again, I haven’t actually read any of the Pearl’s books. Just to give you an idea of how different Canada is, my local library doesn’t carry any fundamentalist writings!

        • Exactly. Especially problematic is the fact that the Pearls constantly compare kids to mules, horses and dogs. They are a possession with no understanding for their environment and need to be trained to function properly.

      • You’re right–the Pearls don’t know what they believe! I agree with you that MP’s theology is a confusing mess and most of his fans add his child training advice to their own beliefs and don’t delve into his theological recordings/writings. His statement of faith and his beliefs “sound” very biblical and orthodox on the surface…he uses Christianese but when you root out exactly what he means by those words you realize that whatever he is teaching it is *not* Christianity. It sickens me to see how involved in missions NGJ is and that they are spreading their theological trash around the world.

        The Pearls get alot of followers of their child training advice. But then Pearl says the most important key to raising godly kids is having a heavenly marriage. This leads many of their followers to begin absorbing their marriage materials. Eventually some realize, despite their best efforts, their marriage isn’t heavenly and Pearls answer for that is that this couple doesn’t understand salvation properly…if they did, they wouldn’t be struggling with sin that is hurting their marriage. This is the bunny trail I followed the Pearls down. The harder I tried to be submissive and do everything in CTBHHM, the worse my marriage got; I just wasn’t doing it right! What was I missing?! These questions are what led me to begin exploring MP’s “Sin No More” teachings, which I never did understand or figure out how to apply in my life.

        Thankfully my husband has never liked MP very much. He went along with the ideas I was incorporating but it was like pulling teeth to get him to read any NGJ materials or watch any of their videos. He told me MP’s “sin no more” teaching on Romans was garbage when I finally got him to listen to it with me. Who knows what mess we’d be in today if my husband had jumped on the NGJ bandwagon with me?

  8. I love what Jesse said about everyone being born with a “sin nature” but not a SINNER. Why don’t we as christians just think more logically?? I have read the Pearl books….all of them, unfortunately. They terrify parents making them believe that their BABIES are manipulative little sinners. I truly think that young parents begin to believe them…so much so that they think their baby is punishing them or getting back at them. It’s crazy stuff I tell ya. But if you just step back from all the fear mongering and think logically, you would come to the conclusion that God created babies with the instinct to cry when they sense a need. That is their only means of communication. I mean really…what do you want…a bunch of silent babies who lay around and never make a noise or “inconvenience” us? Oh yeah, I forgot…that’s what the Pearls claim you can achieve. I think the one of the greatest dangers of this teaching about infants is that it denies them the ability to achieve one of the first developmental milestones! If anyone has looked at Erikson’s developmental stages you would find that from birth to 12/18 months the major milestone being met is the child’s ability to TRUST. If a child consistently has his needs met, the need to be fed when hungry, changed when wet, snuggled and loved on whenever needed…it develops the ability to TRUST. The crisis comes when a child is unable to get his needs met. We see this with children living in orphanages all the time…including my own daughter who lived in an orphanage her first year of life. Yes, they probably once cried for food, cried to be held, cried when uncomfortable or hurt…however, their needs were not met consistently and so they learn to NOT cry. They know that crying doesn’t help. They become despondent. Many develop life long attachment disorders. It’s a very REAL and sad thing. My daugther could fall and bang her head so hard we’d hear it across the house and she wouldn’t cry. It was heart breaking. She literally had to be “taught” to cry again. We had to literally meet EVERY SINGLE need immediately in order for her to start building trust again. I wonder what the Pearls would have to say about that. In reality, they are teaching a form of neglect. I’m sorry…I could rant forever on this topic. I just wish we would just use our brains. Anyone with an intellect should be able to figure out that a 5 day old isn’t crying because it is trying to manipulate you. In fact, it doesn’t even have a sense of SELF yet. It still thinks it is attached to the adult. But I’m sure that Pearl hasn’t studied any form of “secular” developmental theories…because it’s not in the bible. But c’mon people….use you own God given instincts. If beating your baby, starving him or leaving him to cry for hours goes against your instinct…then why the heck would you do it. Look in the bible…..never once does God/Jesus say to do this. NEVER ONCE!!! And guess what…I’m all for a schedule. REALLY! Just not one that is SET IN STONE!!!

    Lisa, I know you are not a parent yet. But I would encourage you to read Tim Kimmel’s Grace based parenting book. It will help to purge some of that Pearl stuff. There is a WHOLE DIFFERENT way to parent that is still able to guide a child without the use of corporal punishment and manipulation. And it is a beautiful thing.

    • Neglect is exactly right! And what happens when you set an infant up as an enemy to be conquered, instead of a dependent to be nurtured? What you get are cases like Lydia Schatz.

      And you’re right that crying is something that babies do to alert us that they have needs to be met. My son is at that stage where he’s starting to cry for wants too, and those wants don’t need to be indulged (like when he really really wants to eat cat food!), but that doesn’t mean withdrawing love and it certainly doesn’t mean punishing.

      I feel like this is all a bi-product of QF. When you have that many kids (or intend to), you need blind obedience. If you have to spend 20minutes with each child arguing about the importance of wearing underwear *under* your pants, you simply could not keep up. So instead of your focus being on parenting and nurturing, you put your resources into crowd control. Each of your children is sacrificed to your own personal godliness.

    • Good points Julie and I second Tim Kimmel’s book, which I just finished reading this week. Wow, what a difference from NGJ! I was a die-hard NGJ fan for nearly a decade and I have many regrets about that.

  9. Sounds to me like it’s a way to pacify the parents into having kids they don’t want. This whole QF bullcrap is all about having kids whether you want them or not, right? Pumping them out in mass quantities, like an assembly line. Well, not everyone wants them or is well-suited to be a parent much less a parent to a zillion kids. So what do you tell a woman who cannot stomach the idea of another baby in the house, who maybe isn’t suited for either motherhood or mass-motherhood.

    “Of course you hate raising them. That’s normal. They’re all evil and demonic. That’s just the way it is. Now have another one.”

    They are normalizing the hatred of child rearing because otherwise, and especially with the lousy way they do it, no one would do it voluntarily. In a normal world, if someone is utterly miserable and completely at loose ends as a parent, they’d at least stop at the first one. Can’t have that in QF-Crazyland though, can you?

  10. Pingback: Original Sin | Why Not Train A Child?

  11. Ughh, I HATE when people say babies are born sinful! Rather they are born into a world where there is a strong desire to detach themselves from God. A baby has no concept of God. They have no concept of right or wrong. The only concept they have of God comes from their parent’s behavior towards them. A baby’s cries are their only way to communicate their needs. How would an adult like it if they were crying out for someone and no one came, or better yet passed by them? It reminds me of the story where Jesus says “what you did for the least of these, you did it for Me.”

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  13. In my ‘sect’, which is Presbyterian, with a distinctly Canadian flavour, the word sin is less an indictment and more a basic description of the human condition. Sin in this view is synonymous with self-centeredness. And of course a baby is self-centered, what else could he or she possibly know besides themselves, and their own thoughts, feelings and needs. 99.9% of what I have taught my children amounts to teaching them to think about others and their needs and feelings and putting them on a par with their own. What else are we teaching them when exhorting them to share their toys, do not hit, do not call people name, and whatever else is needed. We are teaching them to move beyond the limited awareness of others that they are born with. And this is a very easy job with some children but much harder with others, even within the same family.

    But how can I do this for them if I don’t also model it by caring for them as lovingly as I would care for myself. My kids have spent many nights in my bed, even though I believe in sin.

    I think the meaning of sin has been twisted by those who like to control others.

    But every true evil is commited by someone whose self-centeredness has grown to monstrous proportions.

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