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Mary and Joseph - Parents to emulate. A Message for Christmas 2000

The figure of Jesus confounds all those principles of Poisonous Pedagogy still upheld by the Church, notably the use of punishment to make children obedient and the emotional blindness such treatment inevitably entails. Jesus was respected, admired, loved and protected, his parents saw themselves as his servants and it would never have occurred to them to lay a finger on him. Did that make him selfish, arrogant, covetous, high-handed or conceited? Quite the contrary.

Jesus grew into a strong, aware, empathic and wise person able to experience and sustain strong emotions without being engulfed by them. He could see through hypocrisy and mendacity and he had the courage to pillory them for what they were. He had no need of power over others because he was entirely at one with himself.

Yet for all that, no representative of the Church has ever, to my knowledge, admitted to the patent connection between the character of Jesus and the way he was brought up. Would it not make eminently good sense to encourage believers to follow the example of Mary and Joseph and regard their children as the children of God (which they are) rather than treating them as their own personal property?

It is time to relinquish destructive models and to mistrust the principle of obedience. We have no need of obedient children brainwashed by their upbringing to be the ideal victims for the empty verbiage and the blandishments of terrorists and lunatic ideologists and ready to fall in with their commands, even to the extent of killing others. We need children with open eyes and ears, children prepared to protest against injustice, stupidity and ignorance with arguments and constructive action. Jesus was able to do this when he was twelve years old and the scene in the temple demonstrates eloquently that he could refuse the obedience asked of him by his parents without hurting their feelings.

With the best will in the world we cannot truly emulate the example of Jesus. To do that we would need to have been through an entirely different kind of personal history. What we can do, as long as we really want to and are not thwarted by external authority, is to learn from the attitude displayed by Joseph and Mary. They did not need their son's obedience and they felt no urge to punish him. Only if we fear the confrontation with our own histories will we need to have power over others, and if we do that we will need more and more of it all the time. Parents want power and obedient children because they feel too weak to be true to themselves and their own feelings, too weak to admit those feelings to their children. But it is precisely this kind of honesty with our children that makes us strong. To tell the truth we do not need to have power over others. Power is something we need to spread lies, to mouth empty words and pretend they are true. It is for this that we require mindless gullibility from our children or from whole nations. And because such power can never be a substitute for the real strength of the truth, the insane logic of such a development is bound to culminate in wars and the dreadful toll of human life they invariably exact.

It is entirely realistic to imagine that if the wisdom of well-informed experts (like Frédéric Leboyer, Michel Odent, Bessem van der Kolk and many others) were to reach a large number of parents and those parents had the support of religious authorities in following the example of Mary and Joseph, the world would be a much more peaceful, honest and rational place for our children than it is today.