Little ManAt my sister’s wedding about 8 or 9 years ago an argument broke out between friends of my mum and dad about which of my parents I was most like. From the debate I learnt: I’m too tall to be like my Dad but I have his receding hairline. I have both my mum’s introversion and awkwardness in larger social gatherings mixed with her vicious temper when provoked. I look naturally quite sullen, like my mum. I’m a bullshitter who loves to argue simply for the sheer hell of it – like my dad, and like him I don’t particularly give two hoots what anyone else thinks of me. My arrogance is from my dad, my insecurities from my mum. My dad instilled in me a love of intellectual pursuits, whereas my mum lead me to believe that anything was possible if I wanted it.

I guess I owe them a lot. But despite all the similarities I share with them there are things which cannot be traced to either of them. I’m a libertarian: My dad is quasi-socialist, whereas my mum doesn’t really give a toss. I’m a theist, one time Evangelical: whereas my Dad is atheist on a bad day, agnostic on a good day and my mum doesn’t really know what she is.

But similarities and differences aside I can firmly acknowledge how good they both were, and still are. My childhood in particular was a great time thanks largely to the people I call Mum and Dad. Unfortunately I only started to appreciate my parents once I left home when I suddenly realised how lucky I was to have them. I don’t mean just for dinners, cleaning, washing, tidying, bill-paying, and university funding. I discovered that I now appreciated them as people.

Alas not everyone is so lucky. I was unfortunate enough to watch a TV documentary last Thursday called “Baby Bible Bashers” that made me feel a deep sense of repulsion. The last time I felt as sick as this was when I nearly drowned a few years ago. The programme followed the stories of three kids who were Christian preachers.

(1) Samuel

Samuel was a little 7 year old kid from Mississippi who was gloriously saved by Jesus when he was three. Now, I studied theology for three years at university and I’m not sure how anyone that age can properly accept any religion in any relevant sense. When I was three I believed in Santa and fairies: the former brought me presents while the latter lived in the garden helping my mum’s plants to grow well. It was all very nice and pleasant. The only scary thing was naturally occurring thunder and lightning but my dad kept me safe and ensured me I had my own guardian dragon (not an angel, he was an atheist) – called Iddriss – to watch over me until the storm passed.

Little Samuel’s first few years weren’t as nice. His enthusiastic parents told him all about Hell – where his flesh would burn and where he’d be eaten by worms (presumably worms wearing some kind of fire retardant suits). He asked his dad, “will I go to Hell?” only to be asked, “have you sinned against God?” Sinned against God? His dad continued: “have you ever disobeyed your mom?” Yes of course he had, thus he had sinned against God, therefore he would be in Hell with flames and flame-resistant worms. So, he promptly “accepted Christ” as any 3 year old scared shitless by such maniac theology would do. He spoke several times about this, trembling: “you don’t want to be eaten by those long worms.” No, Samuel. You don’t.

He’s now a street preacher with his dad. Sometimes he stands outside abortion clinics yelling at people not to murder their unborn children (and what will happen to them if they do); and on occasions he wears a sandwich board that talks of “fornicators,” “adulterers,” and “homosexuals,” amongst others, burning in the lake of fire (no worms mentioned). What on earth is a 7 year old doing knowing words like “fornication?” His dad justifies it all on the grounds that in the Bible God spoke through a donkey so why not through a kid? Seemingly talking donkeys are still with us.

Most Americans seem to find the spectacle of a 7 year old street-preacher boy funny, more of a side-show than anything to be taken seriously. But when Samuel and his Dad went to NYC they got a reaction they never expected. On one occasion they were ejected from private property by a policeman who, after a bit of arguing, informed them that “God told me to tell you to go the Hell across the street before you get arrested!” A prophet if ever there was one, eh? But later that day Samuel’s father got into a verbal that nearly spilled over into fisticuffs. As the debacle progressed Samuel got confused, then worried, then scared: and then started crying for his mummy. I nearly cried for mine watching it.

He later explained the episode in terms of Satan fighting against his ministry. Demonology was a strong theme in another one of these kids: a 12 year old girl from Brazil.

(2) Ana

This little girl was genuinely disturbed, and yet from the age of three has been a preacher who now reaches millions through TV. She spoke regularly of battling with the Devil and describes her meetings as being surrounded by angels with Satan and his minions looking for a weak point to get in and devour. Ana engages regularly in words of prophecy which almost always involve the themes of being in a great spiritual battle against dark forces, how the Devil uses normal people to do his work, and how she fights him in her sleep all night. People genuinely believe her to be a warrior against Satan. Someone call a psychiatrist, or two, or ten.

Standing behind her is her father, who to my mind is a manipulative creep. He choreographs all of her stage performances, including how she should move, speak and show excitement. So, just like Samuel, Ana has a strong parent figure standing behind her pulling the strings. And the same goes for our third Baby Bible Basher.

(3) Terry

Think of any black charismatic gospel preacher/healer you might have seen on a bizarre religious channel you happened to flick past while on your way to the porn, then imagine them a bit smaller and younger and you’ll get what Terry is. His behaviour, like that of Samuel or Ana, is clearly learned and copied from those around him. He doesn’t behave that way because he’s “filled with the Spirit” as his admirers say; he behaves that way because those around him are filled with bullshit. Behind him stands his domineering Granny, a huge matriarch of a figure, and Dad. His Granny raised him because his Dad was young and didn’t want to know. Until now. Terry – “the little man of God,” as he is dubbed – is big business. You can get hats, t-shirts, signed posters, all for a reasonable fee, and his Dad is bent on global domination with the “little man of God” brand. He frequently speaks of building an “empire” out of his son’s ministry, dreams of being “renowned” and “internationally recognised.” The lack of humility (a chief Christian virtue) extends to his son who brags: “I’m famous, I’m known all over the world.” Fuck off! So’s Adolf bloody Hitler! When he makes millions I only hope the loss of his sons childhood was worth it.

All of these kids shares a fear of the devil, a loss of childhood, a system of clearly learned behaviour, and most importantly a highly questionable parent figure moulding them to their twisted will. When I watched this programme I felt desperately sorry for these kids.

It certainly puts the negative traits I got from my parents – a receding hairline and a short fuse – in perspective.