Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Lesson From Alice Miller


For some time, I have thought about quoting Alice Miller on this blog.  She was a psychologist in Europe, living in Switzerland for some time, and she passed away earlier this year.  She wrote about the “poisonous pedagogy” or the “black pedagogy” as it translates from German, a term which describes oppressive practices that people use when raising children.  She defines this term as “the kind of parenting and education aimed at breaking a child’s will and making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt or cover coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail” (from the preface of The Truth Will Set You Free).

I don’t agree with her on some points, and I don’t like the anger that I discern when I read sections of her work, particularly other books.  Yet at the same time, she was a brilliant, brilliant diagnostician in terms of developmental growth and patterns of family dysfunction.  She also struggled with aspects of Christianity including aspects of the gender debate, and though I don’t always share her conclusions about all of these matters, she was honest and fair to read and consider the Bible.  I have great respect for those who do not share my religious opinions but have honored me by thoughtfully considering my own.  She brings a valuable perspective that I think Christians would be wise to heed.

I have also been reluctant to bring her name up on my blogs because she has worked as an anti-child abuse activist, contributing to the UN’s initiate regarding children’s rights.  At this point, I’ve been called so many things from Communist to lesbian, I don’t really care anymore.  I quoted Stalin in a paper that I wrote, something I cited from a book by Donald Howard, so I guess this is proof that I am a Marxist?  My quoting her does not mean that I think that the UN is a terrific organization or that I am some Communist that wants to give our country to China and other third world nations.  (I think that this has already happened in many respects.)  I have read the literature and mailings concerning groups like HSLDA’s activism against the very causes that Alice Miller advanced.  This does not mean that I support any of these groups.  If you like, consider my cause for citing her as what PG Wodehouse once placed in the literary mouth of his Jeeves character when he said “It is best to know what tunes the devil is playing.”  I don’t feel at all threatened by the cogent things she had to say, and it is my hope that we can learn from her wisdom.

On the night of what I understand was originally scheduled as a pre-trial hearing for Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz after the events that you can learn about elsewhere, I thought it would be fitting to quote Alice Miller since so little accountability for all of this matter has been shown by the Christian community.  Caesar will apparently keep us honest, or will make fools of us for burying our heads as a Church, the group that should set ethical standards, not be shamed by secular ones.  I think that we can learn, at least, from her honesty and from her compassion for wounded and hurting children.  I wish I could quote more of her book here.  I think that though many of those who are healing from “Botkin Syndrome” would also not agree with her on some points, I believe that many would find it insightful and validating.

I believe that, from the epistemology through which I best make sense of the world (How we know what we know), that truth is transcendent.  Some say that all truths must come from the Bible first, and that what our senses tell us about the world is a lower order of truth.  I am often criticized for being too much of an evidentialist, putting too much emphasis on worldly facts as opposed to Godly wisdom.  In short, I do not think that these types of knowledge compete with one another, but I see them as “coherent” and “corresponding.”  Statements from unbelievers can that bear truth can be very true in this sense, if they correspond to what is real.  I am going to agree with Winston Churchill about truth who sums it up quite eloquently:  The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.”  I don’t think that he would be intimidated by Alice’s statements either, because “here they are.”  I think they stand on their own merit.

This section appears in “The Truth Will Set You Free” in the epilogue entitled “From Ignorance To Knowledge and Compassion.”  (In my edition, this section appears starting on page 190 and concludes with a section appearing on page 195.)  The book speaks of “generational faithfulness” as old patterns of dysfunction, of how parents unknowingly use their children to medicate their old pains of the past.  The whole chapter speaks respectfully of the Bible, but it draws into question the traditions of men. 

The figure of Jesus confounds all those principles of poisonous pedagogy…  Long before his birth Jesus received the greatest reverence, love and protection from his parents…  His earthly parents saw themselves as his servants… Would it not make eminent sense to encourage believers to follow the example of Mary and Joseph and regard their children as the children of God (which in a sense they are)?

[T]he members of the upcoming generations will have the courage to call evil by its name…It is high time to relinquish the destructive models and to mistrust the principle of obedience.  We have no need of docile children brainwashed by their upbringing to be ideal targets of seduction by terrorists and lunatic ideologists, ready to fall in with their commands even to the extent of killing others.  Children given the respect they deserve from their earliest years will go through life with open eyes and ears, prepared to fight injustice, stupidity, and ignorance with arguments and constructive action.  Jesus did this at the age of twelve, and the scene in the temple (Luke 2:41-52) demonstrates eloquently that, if need be, he could refuse the obedience his parents asked of him without hurting their feelings.

With the best will in the world we cannot truly emulate the example of Jesus.  None of us were carried by our mothers as the child of God; indeed, for far too many parents, children are merely a burden.  What we can do, provided we really want to, is learn from the attitude displayed by Joseph and Mary.  They did not demand docility from their son, and they felt no urge to inflict violence on him.  Only if we fear the confrontation with our own histories will we need to have power over others and cling to it with all our might.  And if we do that it is because we feel too weak to be true to ourselves and our own feelings.  But being honest to our children will make us strong.  In order to tell the truth we do not need to have power over others.  Power is something we only need in order to spread lies and hypocrisy, to mouth empty words and pretend they are true.


I hope that we are not too pious as a Body to fail to honor and learn from her words before it is too late.

Please pray for the Schatz family and everyone whose lives have been touched by them.  I don’t even have words to express my great sorrow or to find words to pray.  What confidence that I have in Him, for He understands groans.