Ready for Real Life: Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture
Ready for Real Life: Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture
HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. Part Four of this series was originally published on October 14, 2013.
Also in this series: Part One, Botkins Launch Webinar | Part Two, Ready for What? | Part Three, Are Your Children Ready? | Part Four, Ready to Lead Culture | Part Five, Science and Medicine | Part Six, History and Law | Part Seven, Vocations | Part Eight, Q&A Session | Part Nine, Concluding Thoughts
In this part of their “Ready for Real Life” webinar, the Botkin family discusses the role of the arts in homeschooling, contending that parents must train their children to appreciate Christian-friendly art and music instead of worldly arts. The webinar amused me in its disdain for Bratz dolls, jazz, ragtime, Picasso, the Frankfurt School, and Jimminy Cricket, but disturbed me with its advice on constraining children’s tastes.
The Botkins’ approach to the arts struck me as a constricted and passionless, focused more on supposed Biblical principles than creativity, expression, and expansion.
Geoffrey Botkin began the webinar with a prayer asking for God’s wisdom, reminding his audience that they were living in “such a dark and crooked and confused and perverted and twisted generation”. As with previous webinars, Botkin depicted the modern world as a depraved place that Christians must resist.
A listener submitted a question regarding how much school work to do with children versus how much time to spend on skill-building for real life. Geoffrey Botkin replied that as young Christians, he and Victoria quickly realized that homeschooling parents cannot make a distinction between academic and real-world studies. If academic materials do not prepare children for the real world, parents should discard it, he said. The Biblical paradigm teaches that all of life is training for living in the world, he claimed.
Victoria Botkin chimed in, encouraging homeschool mothers to be flexible and take advantage of opportunities for their children to learn. Anything a mother does with children can be education, she claimed, as long as a parent is talking with them about it. She explained that real life offered her children learning opportunities that were sometimes better than the academic tasks she’d planned for the day. For example, one day she and the children found an injured lamb that fell off of a truck, and they spent the day butchering the lamb.
Geoffrey Botkin spoke at length about culture from a fundamentalist Christian perspective.
He defined culture as the “secondary environment” superimposed on nature by “man’s creative effort”. Another definition of culture he offered was activity by man (the image-bearer of God) that fulfilled the mandate to exercise dominion over the earth. Dominion involved bringing order to the world as God designed it, Geoffrey Botkin explained, adding that human activity must reflect a relationship with the divine. “Man’s essential being is expressive of his relationship to God, or it will be expressive of his relationship to rival gods like Satan,” he said at the 11:38 mark.
The purpose of humanity is to teach all the nations and obey everything Jesus commanded, thereby bringing order to the world and glory to God. He quoted Isaiah 9:7 (“Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end”), citing it as the essence for teaching culture to children.
At the 13:24 mark, he envisioned a goal in which God’s government and peace were everywhere, with no “enemies” to get in the way.
“If we’re doing our duty to obey Jesus Christ because we love him, and we’re seeing the increase of his government, we’re extending the reign of the king, then we are enculturating the world in a way that it need to be enculturated. Your children need to know how to do this. How do we increase his government and peace so that there’s no end of it, no interruption to it, no enemies who get in the way?”
Christians are called to impose order through culture, even while living in a “disorderly generation”, and even to the most “disrupted, degenerate places and corners on planet earth”. Children must develop zeal for their father’s business and for Jesus Christ, he insisted
All culture is religiously oriented, Geoffrey Botkin claimed. We can “dress” culture according to what God wishes, or conform to a world which “disintegrates” culture. Christians must “dress” culture with meaning, he stressed, rather than inject culture with meaninglessness or madness as many poets, musicians, and filmmakers do.
“Culture is being formed by people who are either on God’s side or working against his will,” he said at the 17:54 mark, dividing cultural contributors into godly and ungodly. Geoffrey Botkin described his son Isaac’s visit to Egypt, where he found “an irreligious people worshipping a false religion, and they’re tearing the order of the world down by what they do.”
Egypt’s Islamic religion shaped Cairo’s culture, he claimed, including its women’s dress and its dirty streets (!).
Culture is not neutral, he emphasized, nor is culture the mere “flavor” of a place or time. Words such as “diversity” and “multiculturalism” frame culture as different flavors of living, ignoring the role of culture in exercising godly dominion. He contrasted the art of Johannes Vermeer with that of Picasso, a “truly a degenerate man, an impure man” who cursed his father, ran away, and lived in a brothel which “deranged his mind”, Botkin insisted.
Victoria Botkin stressed the importance of talking to children about what they see and hear in the world. For example, Victoria sees a little girl feeling drawn to a Bratz doll in Wal-Mart as a “red flag”. Something in a child’s heart causes them to gravitate to the messages that a Bratz doll communicates, she explained, and parents must redirect their children’s hearts. Victoria added that the Botkin household had a constant running commentary on the outside world, and if one of her children gravitated toward the “wrong” parts of culture, the parents had a duty to redirect their tastes.
Geoffrey Botkin argued that a battleground exists in every discipline, including science. In every discipline contains people who worship and obey God, alongside others who present new, unbiblical theories. At the 30:22 mark, he elaborated on such battlegrounds, lamenting that Christians lost the battles for control of political science and government.
“One of the great dramas that our children have really loved talking about is when we as parents … say here is a subject we’re going to study, biology or astronomy or chemistry. What is the battleground in this science and in this discipline? What is the battleground in the queen of the sciences, theology? What is the battleground on political science? Every single one of these disciplines, there has always been a raging battle, which is called the antithesis … It’s a battleground. There are people who will worship and serve the creator, and try to organize things and study things and proclaim things that are correct and true, and there will be others who say, ‘no, we have a new theory on biology, the origin of man. We have a new theory the way society should be run. Our political science is scientific secular statism, for example. It’s a new authoritarian organizational method that we’ve come up with and we think it’s better.’ And so, one of the greatest battles of the 20th century was in this sphere of political science and government and governance, and Christians truly lost this culture battle in America, in the 20th century.”
Geoffrey Botkin reserved special ire for Wilhelm Reich and the Frankfurt School, depicting them as ungodly forces that wanted to win battlegrounds in academia.
“They worked very hard, these Frankfurt school revolutionaries masquerading as academic to insert what they called … a complete social revolution to overthrow Christianity with decadence and cultural disintegration,” he said at the 34:21 mark, caricaturing Frankfurt School thinkers as anti-Christian libertines. Botkin preached that an overthrow of Christianity would culminate in tyranny. “”It’s such a simple formula. If you can eliminate the knowledge of God, then you have a perfect opportunity for tyrants of totally centralized regulatory government to rule,” he insisted at the 33:38 mark.
His depiction of Wilhelm Reich was equally hysterical. He accused Reich of wanting to rid the world of Christianity and replace it with behavioral control via mass psychology. At the 35:20 mark, he claimed that Reich wanted to reduce society to permanent adolescence by promoting “polymorphous perversity”.
“That’s what your children have been born into, and this polymorphous perversity means you just do what you want when you want to. You justify it any way you want, any kind of misbehavior but especially sexual misbehavior. You justify and rationalize according to the tools this modern culture is giving to young people.”
On the topic of music, Geoffrey Botkin caricatured early American music as devout, in contrast to modern music that he decried as chaotic and debauched.
At the 35:51 mark, he pined for an earlier era characterized by songs of God and nation-building.
“For three-hundred years, Americans wrote music about nation-building, bringing order to a culture, building culture the way it should be built, honoring the Lord’s design, his architecture for it. The very first music sung in this country were Psalms … We fought a war over the freedom that we wanted to have so that we could continue building the foundations around proper Biblical culture, and we sang about them. We built music around it. We had lyrics around the Christian foundations of culture, both black and white. For four-hundred years, Americans have expressed themselves through music, and until the 20th century, the lyrics and instrumentation was very orderly and very Biblical. And so, you need to teach your children that music is theology, both externalized and internalized, because music is one of the most theologically influential arts there are.”
Music allegedly declined in the 20th century, Botkin claimed, when American culture succumbed to an “antithetical urge” that drew its music away from nation-building themes. As young people had more free time and disposable income to buy sheet music and records, music houses experimented with “uninhibited immaturity” in their craft.
Geoffrey Botkin held 20th century music styles such as jazz and ragtime in utter contempt.
He dismissed jazz and ragtime as “discordant, unplanned collisions of harmony”, calling them “sloppy” forms of “covert protest” against older European music traditions. Jazz in particular was “infantile”, he argued, as it allegedly celebrated moral dissipation and misbehavior.
Ragtime and jazz both emerged from the African American community, I recalled. Is Botkin making a veiled race commentary here?
Such music was part of a larger “dissipating culture”, Geoffrey Botkin maintained, arguing that Hollywood too was contributing to a changing moral tone in America. For instance, he cited the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” in the 1940 animated film Pinocchio as an example of the “superstition theology” taking over America.
Really? Duke Ellington and Jimminy Cricket contributed to America’s decline? I thought.
Victoria Botkin told listeners that she and her children listened to classical music at home, listing “Peter and the Wolf”, “The Nutcracker”, and “The 1912 Overture” as examples of pieces that her children enjoyed. Victoria trained her children to appreciate music that was good and “orderly”, she explained, discouraging any taste in “bad and ugly, chaotic, discordant music”.
This broke my heart.
By restricting her children’s exposure to different musical styles, Victoria Botkin denied them so many tastes of innovation and beauty.
I couldn’t imagine my youth without heavy metal, or summer vacation trips with my father without classic rock playing in the car. Not only were the Botkin children fed revisionist history and a rigid, fundamentalist worldview, but they weren’t even allowed to explore their own musical preferences. How can someone blossom as an emotionally mature person — fully alive, fully self-aware, fully engaged with the world around them — if they aren’t even allowed to explore their own tastes, to savor many kinds of paintings, photos, and songs?
Benjamin Botkin, son of Geoffrey and Victoria Botkin, argued that the world should come to Christians to learn about music, not the other way around. The assumption, it seemed, was that Christian values and aesthetics would create superior music. The idea that musical talent takes many forms, and that people of all belief systems can produce quality music, was not considered.
Geoffrey Botkin used the music discussion to expound on children’s gifts, arguing that gifts can become obstacles to serving God.
He argued that gifts are entwined with service to God, and that some gifts have to be put aside sometimes so as to best serve God. Botkin cited his daughter-in-law Audrey as an example, telling the audience that Audrey had been a gifted cellist, but understood that marrying Benjamin Botkin was far more important that playing cello.
How many other women in your movement have been forced to put aside gifts and dreams? How many were pressured into nigh-mandatory marriage and motherhood while their gifts atrophied? I thought.
At the 49:07 mark, Geoffrey Botkin warned against children using undesirable gifts, or allowing gifts to instill too much pride. His comments about cheerleading were very revealing.
“The two greatest spiritual battles that you and your children will face between the ages of 10 and 20 are related to parental authority and how your children respond to that, and the emerging gifts. And this is one of the widest gateways to sin in our generation, because of the gifts they think they have. And you know, little girl thinks she’s totally, absolutely gifted in the ability to be a cheerleader. That may not be a gift that qualifies her to conform to the ugly conventions of our time. It may not be a God-given gift. It may just be a lustful desire on her part to be seen and noticed as a performer. And so the ability to mimic fools and show off foolishness is not a gift, it’s a vice.”
Botkin transitioned from music to art, complaining that modern art is supposedly atrocious.
At the 51:21 mark, he divided art into Christian and anti-Christian categories, arguing that bad art instills vices.
“Your children are so completely surrounded by really bad art, and the ugly art in our generation, like Picasso, like the art they see on billboards, the art they see surrounding them all over the place, on taxi cabs, on the sides of buses, it inspires men to rebellion. Selfish art inspires men to childishness. Undisciplined art destroys standards of discipline. Meaninglessness, meaningless art robs men of hope and vision … Art will be either Christian or anti-Christian.”
The Botkin daughters discussed artistic standards at length, critiquing artworks. Anna Sophia and Geoffrey Botkin discussed different pictures, criticizing pictures that struck them as unrealistic or stylized.
At the 1:10:43 mark, Anna Sophia Botkin scoffed at the idea of art as a vehicle for emotional expression or spontaneity, calling works that draw upon these forces “sloppy” and “mediocre”.
“The art world and the music world are both infected with the idea that the highest artistic expression is one that just comes from inside us, from our hearts, from our emotional impulses. They think it’s better if it’s more spontaneous, and less planned and worked out … Christian artists have taken this to a worse extreme by thinking that those emotional impulses are from the Holy Spirit, which makes their art inspired, and above rules and above criticism. And I believe this is why there is so much poor art and music and film-making coming out of the Christian community, and I believe that we take the Lord’s name in vain when we say that he or that his holy spirit is responsible for our sloppy, mediocre efforts.”
Elizabeth Botkin elaborated on her childhood, during which their parents frowned on “chaotic” forms of creative expression. At the 1:13:18 mark, she discussed the “discipline” and “good attitude toward reality” that her parents instilled in the Botkin children.
“Mom and Dad knew that whether we became artists or not, all of our lives, we’d be building a culture of art around us. We’d eventually be creating art anywhere we went, which is actually exactly what’s happened … They wanted to be really, really careful that they were guiding us toward more disciplined efforts and better taste in all of our creative endeavors, from the little people we made out of Play-Do, to the pictures we drew. And so, if we did something in a sloppy way or with a bad attitude, they wouldn’t say ‘Oh great job! You are so talented!’ Or if we seemed attracted to things that were ugly … or things that were smarmy or chaotic or had a bad view of reality, they wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, you’re just so unique, such a free spirit!’ They would keep trying to disciple our attitude back toward God, give us a Good attitude toward God’s created order, a good attitude toward reality, a good understanding of reality.”
Isaac Botkin joined the conversation from offsite, discussing photography as an art form. He used the photography discussion to preach against hobbies.
He warned that any activity performed purely for self-expression or self-gratification is selfish.
At the 1:17:24 mark, he had this to say.
“At the moment, photography is a very easy hobby to get into because cameras are so cheap. Pretty much every phone has a camera on it now. And so, photography is an easy way to very selfishly pursue self expression … This is a good opportunity to talk about the concept of hobbies, and the idea that Christians really shouldn’t have hobbies. And I’m not saying that they shouldn’t do work for free, but the idea of having a hobby that you do purely for self-gratification or for self-expression is not something that a Christian should be doing. Christians should be learning skills and desiring to express their creator.”
Isaac Botkin’s comments floored me. Is the Christian Patriarchy Movement so resistant to individuality that purely personal hobbies are considered sinful? Enjoyment and self-expression are necessary parts of life, not sins, and denying oneself these healthy outlets is a recipe for repression.
In typical fundamentalist fashion, the Botkins transformed natural human impulses into sins.
This part of the “Ready for Real Life” series contained many of the same themes as the previous two episodes, such as distrust of the outside world, binary thinking, and control over what information children absorb. However, this part also contained several themes related to the arts.
- Art as servitude to God. In the Botkins’ eyes, artistic expression should always serve God. Art for self-expression, emotional outpouring, or pleasure was frowned upon, as was any aesthetic that deviated from Botkin-approved principles.
- Antipathy toward anything deemed “ugly” or “chaotic. Art that deviated from the Botkins’ aesthetics was rejected as “ugly”, “chaotic”, or “sloppy”. First, such ad hominem attacks ignore the merits of art and music that the Botkins happen to dislike. In essence, the Botkins failed to recognize that art need not be realistic and perfect to express truths about the human condition. Second, real life contains things that are unpleasant and chaotic, and a refusal to countenance these things in art is a refusal to acknowledge all of reality.
- Parents molding children’s artistic preferences. The Botkins repeatedly told listeners about how Geoffrey and Victoria trained their children to like certain paintings, music, and film. The Botkin children were discouraged from showing interest in the “wrong” kinds of toys, music, and art. While there’s nothing wrong with parents teaching their children about high culture, children also have the right to explore their world and develop their own preferences. Many art forms capture beauty and convey truths about life, and to deny people these art forms is to deny them new perspectives.
Stay tuned for the next part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar series! In the meantime, I’ll be reading Alex Grey’s Transfigurations while listening to goth metal, out of spite.
To be continued.
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“Ethnocentrism” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Tell me about it. The Botkins’ narrow aesthetic excludes many schools of art from other cultures.
Would it be too much of a stretch to compare it to Socialist Realism in the USSR, constricted by GLAVLIT censorship and KGB enforcement into continual passionless spin spin spin for the Regime and its Ideological Purity?
At least two of those are RUSSIAN Classical. And kulturny favorites of GLAVLIT and the Soviet Regime.
It wouldn’t be a stretch at all. Authoritarian cultures aren’t too keen on free expression. Case in point: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24819441
Just like Swing a generation after Jazz, and R&B and Rock & Roll two generations later. (Don’t know about the origins of Ragtime, but it was a generation before Jazz.) You know what they were ALL denounced for? “Protect Our (White) Children, The Children, The Children.” Jazz, R&B, and Rock all originated in the Black community. (Even Malcolm X said “We got rhythm.”) Scrape the coat of paint off all of them, and the Morally Superior denunciations were actually against “N****r Music”. Because every White man knew those jungle beats (just like pot and cocaine) were driving those N****rs into a frenzy and We Must Protect Our White Wimmen(TM).
Too much like this for real:
This is what worried me when Geoffrey Botkin slammed ragtime and jazz. I hope his commentary was just a reflection of his music tastes and not a racial commentary.
“For example, one day she and the children found an injured lamb that fell off of a truck, and they spent the day butchering the lamb.”
This was by far my favorite part of this post. I actually laughed out loud when I read it. This pretty much sums up this twisted family. Wow.
The part about the lamb seriously creeped me out!
Its a conditioning webinar and a conditioned response.
Art *bad buzzword = bad
Music *goodbuzzword = good
You dont even have to think and evaluate this stuff for yourself.
“The Botkins are OBVIOUSLY a holy and godly family, and they spent so much time reviewing this stuff. So, in our family we will only listen to *goodbuzzword* music.” Black and white is so much easier when you have convenient buzz-words to place everything into black and white boxes.
Definitely. They’ve perfected their own form of Newspeak.
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Hobbies, sinful?? Where at scripture do the Botkins get that? The Bible I read says take a day of rest…and secular studies have shown how important resting is. Seeing as the how the definition of “rest” differs with each individual, and hobbies are usually part of that rest, I don’t see how it could be sinful.
The Botkins must be unaware of the various hobbies that people have started for their own self gratification and ended up helping people. Project Linus, master gardener and naturalist programs, and quilting groups come to mind. And what of the hobbies that have led to businesses?
It breaks my heart how people can be so mean and nasty to others.
Theirs is a cold, joyless ideology, for sure.
This made me want to cry for those kids, I swear. My friend’s mom made them listen to only classical and gregorian chants at one point…we just stole her older brother’s mix tapes that had rap and classic rock on them and listened to those. And country music, and my mom being all wistful about the Beatles…I can’t imagine life without music of all kinds.
Sounds like me too! The limitation of my music to classical and -gag- baroque isolated me from so many conversations with my peers.
Nor can I. Music unlocks joy and dreams, and I would never limit a child’s musical exposure like the Botkins do.
Ahab, rock and roll quite literally saved one of the men who wrote a story for us. Look at Cain Burn in Case of Evil Pt. 2 or 3.
Country music gave me a whole different vocabulary and frame of reference to life. It was like a portal into a completely different America….
*country haters can use this as sarcastic ammo
Nick — Thanks! I pulled up his story — wow!
Warbler — Funny you should bring up country music. I’m working on the next installment of the Botkin webinar commentary, and they slam country music for its “very destructive, counter-Christian theology”. Heh heh!
I’m glad you found a breath of fresh air through country music. Anything that opens the mind and heart is positive.
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Like the Botkins’ taste in art, “acceptable art” according to Adolph Hitler was boring and dry, completely without human emotion.
Lois — The Third Reich’s contempt for so-called “degenerate art” (that is, art they didn’t like or didn’t understand) comes to mind.
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The Botkins obviously don’t realize that synesthesia, in which senses are “crossed” (so that people may, for instance, see a particular color and/or shape when they hear a sound, like a note from a musical instrument) is a real facet of the human condition. Synesthetes, or people who have synesthesia, have been known, when they hear any kind of music including classical symphonies or hymns, to see patterns of shape and color that look like modern art. In fact, it is possible that a well-known modern artist named Kandinsky, whose work was criticized as “degenerate” by the Nazis, had synesthesia, especially since he quite specifically “theorized” that a middle C on a brassy trumpet is yellow and that a musical conclusion is black. In other words, synesthetes would perceive chaotic, Kandinsky-like paintings, as a realistic portrayal of an orchestra piece. In fact, the main character of the book A Mango-Shaped Space (who is synesthetic herself) does a picture of the colors she sees during a classical symphony, fails to capture the shape and color of every note, and her teacher says that, while the work looks like Kandinsky’s, she “[goes] a little overboard in composition”. This really says something, particularly if you see some of Kandinsky’s paintings of Wikipedia. I myself don’t have synesthesia (at least to my knowledge; maybe some of my Asperger’s sensitivities count?)
Oh, and get this: The most common form of synesthesia is “lexical synesthesia”, which one of my parents has a very mild version of. This form of synesthesia is one in which every letter and number is associated with a color, and sometimes a shape or texture as well. Some of the most extreme forms of lexical synesthesia even involve seeing pictures associated with words, which, like many other synesthetic pictures, can look like modern art. In other words, some people will see the Bible itself as a riotously chaotic “modern-art piece”.
Imagine how badly the sermons of the Botkins may mess with the heads of these people. Oh, for those of you who have been homeschooled in one of these cults who find these things to be true, I have this to say: If you have the money, get yourself tested for synesthesia, but if you can’t write about these things anyway on this blog. I would say the same thing to those of my Autistic “brethren” who were trapped within these cults but find they want to do this. There are very few stories on this site from either type of person. Certainly the Autistic community welcomes those where self-diagnosed, and strong synesthetic perceptions are obvious, so don’t worry about being disingenuous by writing your stories. Oh, and, if you are not sure whether you are Autistic or not, check out sites written by autistic people, for autistic people, so as to help you figure out whether or not you are Autistic. “Ask an Autistic” videos are a good place to start. It may also be a good idea to take the “Aspie Quiz” which you register for for free and answer questions to see whether you are autistic or not. Also, please note that “lack of empathy” is not a real characteristic of autism, but rather a mistake that early psychologists made due to the fact that it is easiest for Autistics to relate to other Autistics, and hard for Autistics to show that they empathize even though sometimes we empathize with other’s feelings a little too much and have to develop defenses against our own empathy.
*Side Note: Myth Busters did a study to see which kinds of music make plants grow best and found that plants like talking, love classical music and LOOOVE death metal music ;-). And no, I don’t listen to death metal.
I know the Myth Busters study was done poorly, but I cite it because I know of no real scientific studies that explored these parameters.