We humans are a remarkable species

It hit me today that we humans are a remarkable species:

We choose to try, even though we all know the sting of failure.sunlight-1

We choose to explain, thought we all know what it is to not be understood.

We give, not knowing if it will be appreciated.

We plant trees, literal and metaphorical, that will only be grown when we are no longer there.

We know the limits of our talents, but we sing or paint or write or build anyway.

We know rejection, but we still love.

You see, today someone called me an inspiration – while I was just doing my best within my limitations. At first, I thought I did not earn the compliment. Now I know that I do. We all do.


Good news clubs and their critics, part 4: My conversation with Eric Ceynar: Intrinsic Dignity is an opponent of the Gospel message itself, not only these clubs


I propose that Eric Ceynar, who writes under the name Intrinsic Dignity, has a problem with the gospel message itself, and therefore with CEF, as they give the gospel to children.

For evidence I will link to a blog entry where me and Eric (Intrinsic Dignity) converse in the comments. About the article there, the blog I will link to, No Longer Quivering, is for escapees of a cultic religious group, but some of the articles is on other things said and done by religious people. I find the article misleading: The worst problem is a link to Bible.org, not a CEF-related page at all, and calling it CEF teaching. It also seems to have several sources, but almost all can be traced back to Eric Ceynar (Intrinsic Dignity) and his claims. As such, I do not link to it for agreement, but because I and “Intrinsic Dignity” starts a conversation in the comments. (The conversation is shortened here, but you can follow the link for the rest.)

Me: 1) it seems that the article links actually covers very few original sources of criticism. Most websites and video clips seem to trace back to Intrinsic Dignity.
The link to a written lesson of Saul’s incomplete slaughter have no relevance to CEF – it is not a CEF lesson.
2) on the accusation that GNCs are out to influence what is legal in regards to separation of church and state: CEF was founded way before the school prayer and church/ state controversies in America. There is nothing in CEF material that say clubs should be held in schools, not elsewhere. CEF clubs are held in more than a 100 countries, only one of which has that particular separation of church and state view.
3) The “information” on goodnewsclubinfo and its video clip is even more slanted. It gives the impression the clubs are about sin, but every Good News Club lesson, without exception, talk of God’s love and of salvation. Every message about sin ends with sin being trumped by what Jesus did.


Intrinsic Dignity:
I’ve heard Retha’s response before. It is to the effect that all the talk of sin, obedience, punishment and Hell are perfectly justifiably as long as it is “balanced” with a 1:1 ratio of salvation, forgiveness, redemption, and grace. Of course, there isn’t an easy way of quantifying the alleged “positives” when they are tied so closely to a put-down. To the effect of: “Even though you don’t deserve it, God’s loves you…”
But the very notion of “balance” making it OK is a total sham. Is it OK to tear somebody down if you subsequently build them up? There’s a name for this: “traumatic bonding.” It’s how cruel people maintain control over their victims — by alternately abusing them and showing affection to them…


Me: I think the most telling part of your message is: “But the very notion of “balance” making it OK is a total sham.”
From what you said, I get the impression that you do not just find the CEF methods focused on the wrong things. You seemingly dislike the basis of the salvation message, seeing it as “traumatic bonding.”
But for traumatic bonding to take place, some abuse need to take place. It is not abuse for the doctor to tell someone that he has a dangerous disease and need a certain medicine. It will be traumatic bonding if the doctor infects him with diseases and heals him from them.
Likewise, if the teller of the gospel story causes children to sin so they need forgiveness; or if (s)he lies and no sin stand between us and God, then the teller of the message is doing traumatic bonding to herself or himself when (s)he is alternatively nice to the children and alternatively causing them to sin and blaming them. But if the message is true, regardless of what the teacher does, then it is not traumatic bonding.

Is the message of being made by God (100% positive) in His image(100% positive), loved by Him(100% positive), doing sin(negative, but changable), Jesus thinking that we are worth everything to rescue ((100% positive -He thinks we are to die for), and this rescue meaning that His followers will be sinless again one day with him(100% positive, positive trumping negative), a 1:1 “balance” of negative and positive messages? Not in the least. It starts positive. It ends positive for eternity, which is way longer than the partly negative middle. The middle is only partly negative, because we are still worth the life of Jesus even then.
As I said on my Afrikaans blog: “A Ferrari that is not in running condition, and will cost several thousand dollar to repair to perfect, is not a piece of junk. It is something worth spending thousands of dollars on. We were worth spending the life of Jesus on.”
If you see that message as essentially negative and harmful, that makes one of us. If, on the other hand, you affirmed that the message of creation, sin and salvation is good, but the CEF way of telling it is not always wise, we could have agreed.
You are also the only one, between the 2 of us, who see the message of obedience to God as essentially negative.
How many of the video clips in the article above can be traced back to Intrinsic Dignity?


Intrinsic Dignity: (Note that he does not answer how many of the links in the article can be traced back to him. He repeats the misleading idea of overstating the sin messages, and not mentioning the other messages)

Retha, there is a profound difference between telling someone that they have a terrible disease and telling someone that they are a terrible person. “Your heart, the real you, is sinful….” CEF deliberately diminishes children and strips them of their dignity, and then says that they can become worthwhile only if they internalize a sin-obsessed formulaic creed (you know it — the “ABCs of salvation”). This is traumatic bonding, not medical treatment! “Even though you don’t deserve it, I love you. Love me back, or I’ll punish you!”… [misleading arguments by giving numbers of references to sin, by every time he can relate the topic to sin in his imagination, compared to exact mentions of the word grace – not all the times that the topic relate to God’s grace and love in the mind of someone who understands the gospel.]


Me: You seem to make 2 separate arguments, which almost contradict each other:
The one is the proportional argument, made by comparing the amount of times the word sin appears with the total amount of words, or with, for example, appearances of the word grace.
The other is the argument that proportion does not count, any mention of sin should be counted as putting down the child regardless of what message surrounds it.
On the first argument, I find you utterly misleading:
[I gave evidence, available in the page comments, why I find him misleading. This I fleshed out in other parts of this series.]
On the second argument, I flat-out disagree. This is not an argument against CEF, but against the simple message of salvation. Sin erasing or even damaging our intrinsic worth is simply not a Christian idea. We dislike it when a valuable thing is treated badly, because it is a valuable thing. Even more so with sin: Every human has a very valuable life, and some are lived far from right, and in ways that damage other valuable lives.
And in all those things you cannot see, from the first lecture I had in the first session of CEF-related training (they had me memorize Matthew 18:1-14 before I learned the wordless book), to the practices of the CEF 3 months trained people (starting quality affordable preschools and after-school care centres –in my country schools come out between 12h00 and 14h00 depending on the age of the child, but many parents work to 17h00 or later –, helping a child who was out of school for months to catch up, warning children and parents and speaking to the police about a suspected paedophile in the neighbourhood…) who taught me to work with inner city children, I learned to value and respect children. To put it in your words, the CEF-trained people taught me to respect their intrinsic dignity.

In short, Eric Ceynar hates and puts down CEF because he hates the gospel, and sees it as “traumatic bonding.” For Eric Ceynar (Intrinsic Dignity), the one way the Good News Clubs would satisfy him is if they stopped talking of Jesus, salvation, and following Christ. He is against children hearing the gospel.


>> Good News clubs and their critics: Part 5: Katherine Stewart

Good News Clubs and their critics: Introduction

If you ask me who, in my adult life, was my biggest role model, I will struggle to boil it down to one person. But I can boil it down to two in a heartbeat: Tania and Werner Schultz.

You won’t know them, but I will always remember this couple fondly. They showed me how to have a purpose, a mission. I discovered, with their help, that I have a gift for teaching and caring about children.

Tania and Werner were missionaries in inner city Pretoria (a South African city, in case my reader do not know). They organized Bible Clubs, based on CEF Good News Clubs. They motivated one of my team mates (he stayed there while I moved on) to start a hobby project to introduce boys in the bad neighbourhood to positive male role models, and to teach them to find their identity in building, not breaking. They started preschools and after-school day care centres. (Schools in South Africa have classes only until about 12h00 or 14h00, depending on the age group; while a working parent tend to work to about 17h00 or even later.) The goal was to give high quality care options to parents who are mostly rather poor. They even raised money to help poor parents afford day care for their children. They spent so much time listening to children and caring about them that on several occasions, the people from PEN (Pretoria Evangelisation and Nurture) was able to intervene in situations of child molestation, and even raise money to get psychological help for molested children.

Tania also taught the CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) TCE (Teaching Children Effectively) course. Their ministry had  a lot of CEF material for use at the weekly Bible Clubs.

I hear CEF is criticized wildly these days for allegedly not having the welfare of children at heart, for allegedly teaching “a dark message of shame and fear indoctrination“, for being full of “authoritarian themes“, for telling children they “deserve to … go to hell“, for the absence of  “salutary themes such as the Golden Rule“, for promoting “a negative self image“, etc. (The quoted words in this paragraph comes verbatim from the writings of such critics.)

If you take the word of the critics …ahem …uncritically, you will believe Good News Clubs are downright evil and bad for the welfare of children. But nobody I met ever cared more about the welfare of children than Tania and Werner Schultz, and they were trained at CEF and used Good News Club material among others.

However, when I read the Good News Club critics, I could not judge their words on the merits of Mrs. and Mr. Schultz. The complaints had to be taken on its own merit. As someone who used CEF material since 1994 and taught Good News Clubs for about 5 years in the first decade of this century, I have the knowledge to investigate the truth of the claims. I even still have some CEF lesson material.

The rest of this series of posts are based on what I concluded from looking at both the critics of Good News Clubs on one side, and my actual experiences and the lesson material on the other side. Stay tuned for an approach that looked at both sides, and finds something to defend in both CEF and their detractors. Expect my first post no earlier than Saturday.

>> Good news Clubs and their critics: Part 1

The immigration supporters who could not answer questions: The question transgender people do not answer

One day, Joe asked wannabe immigrants: What does Mexico represent to you, and what does the US represent? Why do you want to live in the USA? Before they could answer, others did. They dragged Joe to lectures about the border, and how there are places where you are not even sure if you are on USA or Mexican soil, so it is very hard to define Mexico.

Joe said that is not an answer, he wants to know what being Mexican and being a US citizen mean to the wannabe emmigrants.

Others said Joe is mean: Does he not care that some Mexicans very much want to be US citizens? His patriotic upbringing makes him unwilling to accept anyone who is not a born citizen like him. He is really hurting wannabe immigrants.

Still others chirped in that a US citizen does not mean someone whose citizenship is granted by the US goverment. The best way to know if someone is a US citizen is to ask – nobody will lie about it.

Joe said he still don’t know what they claim to be if they call themselves US citizens: “Define a US citizen.” They: “Anyone who say they are a US citizen.” Joe: “Anyone who say they are what?” They: “A US citizen.” Joe: “Define a US citizen.”

They told Joe Mexico and the USA are more than 2 countries, because of those places on the border and because you can get Mexican food in the USA. Joe should stop thinking of it as a binary.

Dammit, said Joe, stop feeding me poop and answer my question!

Look what a bigot Joe is, said his opponents! Now he even swears at immigration supporters! What is so horrible about immigration, what does he have against it?


I had more than one nonversation1 (not a spelling mistake) like that recently. I was Joe, and the question was: When transgender people say they are (fe)male, what do they mean? When they say they are not (fe)male, despite being born with the body of one, what do they mean?

Anyone who say they are (fe)male is (fe)male” is not a definition. (What does “fdjegwr” mean? – Anyone who say they are a fdjegwr is a fdjegwr. That doesn’t clear up the meaning of “fdjegwr”.)

This questioning is not aggression: I don’t care if you wear lipstick and nail polish or not, whether you have a job that society traditionally called masculine or feminine, how you style your hair or the clothes you wear. Regardless of your biology, you should be free to do or not do these things, without discrimination. Nobody should be hated, discriminated against or purposefully hurt for not acting within an artificial role imposed by society. But driving a truck does not make anyone a man, and lipstick does not make anyone a woman. tg2

Here are the questions I would have liked to ask trans people, but have given up on because of diversions and personal attacks:

1) I realize you, like many people who are not transgender, feel strongly about being (fe)male. How do you define “male” and “female”? People usually are able to define the things they feel strongly about: Devoutly religious churchgoers know what they think of God, feminists know what kinds of oppression they see as a problem, etc. So transgender people will know what they think is male and female.

2) I have heard some of you say, for example: “Having a uterus does not make you a woman.” If I and the majority of women call ourselves female based on having all the body parts that goes along with a uterus, do you want us to stop seeing ourselves as female, if we do not match the definition you gave in point 1? Are we female as is, even if we do not comply?

3) Optional: There have always been perfectly useful words for people with certain genitalia: The words woman/ female/ girl and man/ male/ boy. Why should we rather use them for the definition you gave?

3.1) Optional: If you feel we should let go of these terms because some people feel bad to be excluded: Should we let go of all descriptive words which does not describe every human on earth, because someone may feel excluded? Is nobody old or young any more, when someone wish to be younger or older? Is nobody long-haired any more, when someone wish he was not bald? Is nobody white or black any more, when Rachel Dolezal wishes she was black? (Of course, this one could be answered, depending on your answer in point 3, with “I don’t believe that feeling excluded is a reason to let go of terms.”)

4) Optional: I’ve heard some of you say that you have been born (fe)male, that you have male vaginas or female penises. If you are already completely (fe)male, why would any of you want extensive surgery to change your bodies?


1Nonversation: My own word for talking past each other


Note: Several off-topic comments was left unpublished recently. The topic here is what male and female means to transgender people.

If you answer question 1 – what male and female means to transgender people – I will certainly publish your answer, whether I agree with the definition or not. If you want to, you can answer the later questions too, but without answering question 1 they are meaningless. You are welcome to speak for yourself too: “Others may think differently, but I say (fe)maleness is [x], which is why I (do not) identify with it.”

There is no use in talking around a topic without tackling it. Honest people say what they mean and mean what they say.

The most ironic unpublished comment said I must get to know someone with gender dysphoria. Asking what this (fe)maleness means to you <i><b>is</b></i> trying to know you, wanting to listen to your hearts.

Pro-lifers need to think bigger

In the abortion debate, I find it hard to give my support to anyone.

I believe the pro-lifers: we should not simply kill the unborn for being unwanted. I believe the pro-choicers: Sometimes, the circumstances of a woman is such that it is not in her interest, or the child’s, for her to become a mother.

I do not believe pro-lifers: They cannot reason that any woman who did not refuse intercourse should raise her children. Really? Should a slightly mentally handicapped 14-year old girl, who was pressured but not forced by her 16-year old boyfriend into the act, be given the task of motherhood? Should the abused

If we believe this is two people, we should consider the long-term well-being of both.

If we believe these are two people, we should consider the long-term well-being of both.

woman who don’t think she can make it on her own if she leaves her abusive boyfriend be made to raise children in that abusive home? Should a married couple who lost their jobs and cannot afford children right now refrain from intercourse? And what about fathers: Do they likewise believe any man capable of using his penis should be left with his children? Children are not a punishment for sexual activity. They are human beings whose best interest we should look out for.

I don’t believe pro-choicers: The best solution, when a pregnant woman has hard circumstances, is very seldom* an abortion.

I am in favor of life, but I think the rethoric if pro-lifers is too small. They curse darkness and do not put on lights. Life is not just about babies not being aborted.

Life is also about children groing up loved and wanted and provided for – materially and emotionally. Life is about mothers’ health, and everyone including mothers reaching their highest potential, living out their gifts, and raising children (if they have them), in a healthy, loving enviroment.

If we want a culture of life, we should talk about how to affirm life, provide for life, and care about life. The life of the unborn child, the born child, the mother and, depending on the circumstances, even the father or adoptive parents. If we make it hard for a poor mother to provide for her child, are we affirming the life of the mother and her little boy or girl? If pro-life conservatives shame the girl who get pregnant out of wedlock, are they not encouraging the next girl to rather get an abortion? If bosses make it hard for mothers at work, if they assume mothers have divided loyalties, do they affirm the value of her work input, her life and the life she is raising? If we make no way for women to get out abusive relationships, do we really care about the children born into the abusive home?

Do pro-choicers talk about how abortions is not really a “free choice” by the woman, but influenced by her circumstances, and by people like boyfriends and fathers? Do pro-lifers provide pregnancy care, and good, safe day care so mothers can go back to work? Do pro-lifers promote adoption as vehemently as they oppose abortion?

Do debaters (on both sides of the debate) notice that many of the Western nations where abortion is completely legal has lower abortion rates than many of the places where it is legal? It seems the best thing to do if you are against abortion is not to curse the darkness, but to turn on some lights. Forbidding abortion does not work as well as policies by which women have visibly better future options, for themselves and their children. Creating visibly better options? Options are choices. Better options are pro-choice. And pro-life.


* Very seldom: A tubal pregnancy is one example of when it would be very hard to reason that any better option than abortion exists.


Good News Clubs and their critics, part 5: Good News Clubs are not linked to American politics as Katherine Stewart claims

First, a few facts: Child Evangelism Fellowship was started in 1937. It teaches clubs in 170 countries, in homes, community centres, schools, or wherever children gather. America is one of those 170 countries. In America, laws about prayer on school grounds have existed since 1962. Good News Clubs predate American laws about religion in schools. The other 169 countries do not have America’s laws about religious expression in schools.

Here is how Katherine Stewart, writer of “The Good News Club: The Christian right’s s stealth attack on America’s children”, thinks about Good News Clubs:

How Christian fundamentalists plan to teach genocide to schoolchildren

Good News Clubs’ evangelism in schools is already subverting church-state separation. Now they justify murdering nonbelievers …
Pretty much every lesson that the Good News Club gives involves reminding children that they must, at all costs, obey. If God tells you to kill nonbelievers, he really wants you to kill them all. No questions asked, no exceptions allowed.” – Katherine Stewart

This whole accusation is a mis-characterization of one lesson out of the perhaps 150 CEF will teach over 6 years: Saul killing the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3) is part of the Bible, and since the group of lessons was about that period of Bible history, was included in the lesson series. The message the material taught from it was to obey God, while the writers of these books know God, in the new, covenant, does not ask people to kill. Therefore, obeying God (in the form of Jesus, the character most promoted in even Old Testament CEF lessons) will not lead to genocide. As far as I could know the minds of others, the possibility of God asking genocide of Christians is the furthest thing from the minds of club teachers. This “problem” is in Katherine Stewart’s mind.

Reese R Kauffman President of Child Evangelism Fellowship, answered her too. (In my opinion CEF should, however, learn one thing from Katherine: I would prefer them to mention the new covenant, and how God would not call Christians to kill, when they reprint the book.)

Public schooling, indeed the public at large, is an enemy [in the way CEF teachers allegedly think, according to Katherine Stewart] , a war is being fought, and the prize is the hearts and minds of children. Entire legal teams have been created to open the doors to these schools, and Supreme Court members such as Clarence Thomas have made it clear that the doors won’t be shutting anytime soon… I say it’s a must-read for anyone who wants to enjoy a deeper understanding of today’s political climate…- C. Schink in an Amazon review of Stewart’s book.

I do not live in the US of A. But if the clubs had a main goal of linking to American politics, they are pretty unsuccessful and very much side-tracked. Children in Mozambique, Peru or the Ukraine, or any of the 166 other countries CEF work in, cannot help the American religious right at all.

Of course, many of those Americans who want the laws regulating religion in schools to change will be in favour of Good News Clubs in schools. But such clubs don’t have to be – and often are not – held at schools. All in all, the biggest link between American church/ state politics and Good News clubs is that the Good News Clubs are, in one of the many countries where they happen, affected by it.

But Stewart soon discovered that the Club’s real mission is to convert children to fundamentalist Christianity … by a seemingly anonymous reviewer of Katherine Stewart’s book, repeated on several Internet sources to advertise her book.
While the point of the clubs are to convert to Christianity, I find the word “fundamentalist” spurious here, for two reasons:

1) The big problem that even I have with these clubs is that they spend too much time saying: “You should accept Jesus and therefore become a Christian, should accept, accept Jesus and become a Christian, become a Christian, you should, you really should, accept Jesus, accept Jesus and become a Christian…” This means they have too little time to talk about how to live as a Christian after accepting Jesus. That means that the club hardly promote “fundamentalism” or, for that matter, any other form of Christianity.
2)“Fundamentalism” is misleading, as it has two meanings. When people speak disparagingly of fundamentalism, they mean cultural fundamentalism. Most of the ideas of cultural fundamentalism are never taught in Good News Clubs at all. The confession of faith that Good News Club teachers sign is doctrinal fundamentalism. Almost all evangelical and Protestant believers agree, or largely agree, or at least know that the majority of believers around them agree, with doctrinal fundamentalism.

…and encourage them to proselytize to their “unchurched” peers, all the while promoting the natural but false impression among the children that its activities are endorsed by the school. – by the same seemingly anonymous reviewer of Katherine Stewart’s book, repeated on several Internet sources to advertise her book.

As I explain in my book, The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, the club exists mainly to give small children the false impression that their public school supports a particular creed. – Katherine Stewart

This claim is downright ridiculous. I have never heard of any good news club teacher promoting the idea that club activities are backed by the school. I have never seen anything in CEF teaching that tell anyone to try and promote said impression. It is not the mission either on paper or in practice. And since CEF is active in 170 countries, only one of which have that particular opinion of school/church division, and meet in many places like churches and private homes and community centres, and since CEF never even encourages – AFAIK – to rather gather at schools than other places, that charge could, at most, be laid before a few Americans who may be CEF volunteers, but have a different motive from CEF itself. I myself have often used CEF materials to teach in places that are not schools. If such clubs existed mainly to give children an impression about what the school teaches, CEF would have taught me to promote that impression, and discouraged me from teaching anywhere that is not a school.
Good News Clubs are not about modern-day American politics. It is not about genocide, nor even about “fundamentalism” in the sense people use the word nowadays. Katherine Stewart has, at most, a local problem about which she generalizes. I suspect that even my previous sentence gives her propaganda more honor than it deserves.