How “End Times” Beliefs Harm Children

I am one of the many people who chuckled at news stories about Harold Camping’s prediction that the world was going to end on May 21st. I heard about the tongue-in-cheek rapture parties and the celebratory post-rapture looting. And I, like so many others, found myself often shaking my head, wondering how could so many Americans buy into a nonsensical idea.

But I have noticed something else that is not a laughing matter: how the actions of some rapture-seized parents could, unintentionally in most cases, harm their children.

Think about it. How many news stories have you heard where people said they were convinced that they no longer needed earthly goods, and so they gave away everything they owned? In an NPR News story, Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports how Harold Camping’s predictions have inspired people to quit their jobs and leave their families. As one 27-year-old mother told NPR, “Knowing the date of the end of the world changes all your future plans.”

That mother, Adrienne Martinez, went on to say that, based on her belief about the impending rapture, she canceled plans to go to medical school. Instead, she and her husband quit their jobs and moved from New York City to Orlando to devote their lives to worshiping, proselytizing, and spending time with their two-year-old daughter. The couple is expecting another child next month, whom one can assume the Martinez’s believed would be born in heaven.

“My mentality was, why are we going to work for more money? It just seemed kind of greedy to me. And unnecessary,” Martinez told NPR. Her husband added, “God just made it possible—he opened doors. He allowed us to quit our jobs, and we just moved, and here we are.” Said his wife, ”We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left.”

Now that the prophesy has failed to come true, what is to become of this family and the countless others who also bet away their futures? In this economy, we can only assume that they will have a difficult, long read ahead, as they try to rebuild their lives. But, of most importance to me, how will the choice to risk flinging a family into a state of poverty affect their children? Furthermore, how will those children be affected, as their parents potentially suffer with psychological trauma, trying to come to grips with the realization that their high-stakes belief is untrue?

In my book, Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, I talk about the emotional difficulties children face when they are taught such notions as Armageddon and the Second Coming. A number of people I interviewed spoke about how, as children, they lived in a perpetual state of fear, because they were convinced that doomsday could arrive any day. Now, this latest threat—that hell would literally break loose on May 21st—brings to light new forms of child abuse and neglect.

Consider what happened on May 20th, the day before the world was predicted to come to an end: Lyn Benedetto of southern California allegedly slit her daughters’ throats and wrists and then her own to avoid what she believed was the coming “tribulation.”  Benedetto reportedly used a box cutter and paring knife in an attempt to kill her 11- and 14-year old daughters and then herself. Thankfully, the three survived. The girls were hospitalized and released to child protective services, and their mother was taken to jail.

We can wonder what kind of mental health syndromes or problems plague parents who jeopardize their children’s lives based on their religious beliefs. We can blame Harold Camping and some media outlets for propagating nonsense. We can laugh at those who take such nonsense as gospel. But, as I point out in Breaking Their Will, it is even more important to step back and question all religious ideas that are generated by, and spread, fear. Such ideas have the potential to lead parents to abuse and neglect their children.

[ADDENDUM: As you will see below, this blog generated numerous comments by individuals who described how the terrorizing "end times" religious teachings of their childhoods were emotionally abusive. The mother I write about, Adrienne Martinez, also commented, stating that her children were not negatively affected by her and her husband's decision to give up material wealth in anticipation of the world coming to an end. On October 28, 2011, Camping's website published a statement, saying that "it seems embarrassing" that Campings predictions were wrong, and he apologized for telling people that those who doubted that that the rapture would take place on May 21 probably had not been saved.]

Comments

  1. Trish Taylor says:

    This blog post was of special interest to me. You could probably write a whole book on just this subject.

    I was raised a Baptist, with lots of stories about the “End of the world” dished out at me from an early age. I was already a very anxious child…in fact, I am being treated for anxiety disorder now. So these messages had a profound impact on me, and influenced my life since. They made me susceptible to the message of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that had a huge detrimental effect on me.

    If you decide to write that book, let me know…. I can give you an earful.

    • I was raised in a 4 square church and was guilted into every choice I made as a child (by my mother the religious fanatic who never followed he own religious orders). I also ended up becoming a very anxious child and adult. I’m in my 30s now and have just begun to control my anxiety without medications. After a considerable amount of education and separation from my mother, I have realized that she was/is crazy and I am an atheist. My children are raised in an atheist house hold and are free to make their own religious decisions without criticism.

      • Thanks for sharing your personal story, Rebecca. I’m sure many survivors could learn from your experiences both as a victimized daughter and as a mother who wants to give her children what she was denied.
        Janet

  2. While I understand fully the wording, “Thankfully, the three survived.”, I am not sure I find it preferable that the girls survived their mother’s delusional attack. I can’t help but think of the lifetime of psychological trauma they girls will have to endure from their mother’s example of fanatical, delusional religious beliefs, and especially from the memory and emotional scarring of the experience of being cut with a box cutter by their own mom. I also imagine kids will be forcibly separated from their mom who committed a crime by doing so, and even though that is an appropriate consequence for the mother’s action, their separation from their mother will be experienced as a trauma by the children also.
    Ughh, the power of delusion, especially fear inducing delusion is such an awful thing. Those who spread it by to the masses willingly like, Harold Camping, all the way down to Billy Graham and other evangelical Christians, commit a most wicked act.

    • Janet Heimlich says:

      Dear Kat,

      A friend responded to my blog the same way, saying maybe it was not such a good thing that the children who were injured by their mother survived. I can understand the desire to save those kids more agony. But there is another way to look at this: Sometimes tragedy puts an end to abuse, because outside authorities take notice that something awful is going on in a household. And while child protective services makes mistakes–usually a result of being underfunded–they frequently do a good job to keep victims connected with their biological family members/abusers while also keeping them safe. (I also understand that the injuries to the girls were not serious.)

      Secondly, these kinds of extreme cases publicly shed light on problems that society tends to be blind to–the fear-mongering of religious leaders, mental illness that is ignored because the individual is simply considered to be intensely religious, and, as you point out, the potential for the public to become deluded into believing outrageous ideas because those ideas are infused with religion.

      I will follow this case to see how things ends up and report back. But, for now, I wanted to share what I see as potentially positive outcomes.

      Best,
      Janet

  3. In a world where religion is so important to people, I know to tread lightly. However, I wonder how many adults really think about those Bible stories both old and new testament. From the time before I could speak, my parents read me all the Bible stories. I was horrified that God killed all the animals in a flood. They never did anything to God. Then there was all the wars that resulted in God’s people slaughtering women, children, and animals. I was horrified. I asked my father one day if he’d offer me as a sacrifice like Isaac was will to do with Jacob. The answer left me terrified–he wasn’t sure. I was about six. Then there was “We’ve all been left behind” movie shown at Church when I was about seven. I had nightmares about that for years and years after wards. When I grew into my womanly body, there was Paul and all the other followers of Christ who had nothing uplifting to say to me.

    I could go on and on. I’ve always wondered if anyone else faced a mountain of anxiety, night terrors, and depression for after these and other Biblical stories. I thought maybe I was just weird. It was such a relief to leave conservatism or fundamentalism or whatever you want to call it. I no longer live with a constant wonder if the end is now and hearing “I’d wish we’d all be ready. There’s no time to change your mind. The time has come. And, you’ve been left behind.” It’s been 33 years and I can still hear that song playing over and over again. Sometimes it’s the wounds no one else sees that eat you up inside.

    • I wont get into floiding the earth and chikdren being killed because its clear why he did tgat, everyone of the the world was completely horrible. But as far as night terrors yes, i had them about end of times and bad anxiety. it wasnt until i set out on my own path searching for the truth and finding it that i have beat that anxiety. there is way more proof that God is real over anything else abd to deny it makes me scratch my head wondering why peopke can be stared in the face with proof and still deny it. but once i understood the end of times from the bible i was no longer scared, it became something i looked forward ti.

  4. oh pleeeease!! lol you are trying to categorize MYSELF & MY HUSBAND as bad parents? meanwhile, you coyly throw you book titles in the midst of this rubbish, hoping people will be so appalled at the exaggerated made up and TEXT BOOK diagnosis’s you seem to have reckoned by the “story” you may have heard or read. with out knowing me personally, you assume i’m plagued by jeopardizing issues that could put my babies, my GOD given blessings, at risk??? lol this is a joke dude. i hope you enjoy the profit you make off this garbage… and for an update for all you people who may be wondering, my family is doing wonderful by Gods grace. He has truly been showing us to TRUST in HIM, ALONE, by providing for us. The Biblical timeline does end on Oct. 21, but, if He does NOT return on that date, it’s okay. He is STILL God. And this time we do have a plan ‘b’. My baby boy, Michael is a very happy, beautiful, joy!! And we still play Bible reading to them and hymns. No one was wrong with May 21. The part that was wrong was US, humans trying to figure out how it was going to happen and putting an hour on it and telling ppl there will be suffering etc. God proved He is merciful and takes NO pleasure in the deathof the wicked. If you are NOT saved, your reward is here…so live it up. May 21 was the END of Salvation. The door was SHUT. Oct 21 is the fulfillment of the Feast of Ingathering. It will all happen suddenly, no one will witness anything. Therefore there is NO point to tell anyone about it. But, what I’ve learned from May 21, is that I must entertain the possibility of ‘what if’… solely because I am NOT GOD, and cannot dictate or expect Him to do anything based on what I say… Oct. 21 is just another significant date that seems to be the last day. And, I mean, LOOK around!!! does anyone REALLY think the world can sustain itself for even another 10 years??? i don’t think so. but, yeah, for the record, we were not “proselytizing” & my blessings (children) are the happiest babies you will ever meet. What kids can say they’ve had mama & dada 24/7 for their whole life??? thanks for wondering about me… if it was mal intentioned or not.

  5. I am 25, and my parents were religious fanatics. They abused me, beat me me, and committed all kinds of atrocities in the name of Christianity. I became an Agnostic until I broke free of the chains of my past and faced the real problem. I think the problem here is not the religion, it is the sin and the ignorance. I am a Christian. I have children. I do not beat or emotionally traumatize my children in the name of Christianity or otherwise. Misinformation and manipulation are the root of the problem in regards to the story of the woman who slit her children’s throats to save them from the tribulation. I do not believe that any woman who calls on the name of God to excuse the murder and horrific attempt to slaughter her children was ever a Christian at all. There are loons, freaks, creeps, and fanatics everywhere. Ignorant crime does not negate the truth. People need to stop looking for an excuse to justify their weaknesses. I have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder because of my parents but I do not hide behind it. I refuse to let it dominate my life or rule me. It is a STATE OF THE MIND people. Grow UP!!!! Be responsible! Educate yourselves, you don’t have to go to college or school to educate yourself these days! Stop looking for excuses and prepare yourselves for the truth, only then will you be set free of your mindsets and past experiences.

    The Bible says that no man knows the day, or the hour of his return – which makes anyone who believed Camping either ignorant or unsaved.
    Your demeaning mannerisms and “tongue-in-cheek” summary of how End Of Times beliefs harm children was not only unnecessary but stupid. If you were educated on what you were talking about it might help your cause. The REAL harm is the dumbing down of the Church. The lukewarm teachings are overwrought with Political Correctness and over-run with the Liberal Agenda. Real Christians do not know the day, or the hour. Real Christians know that child abuse and murder are not only against the 10 commandments but against the moral fiber of the family unit and the Body of Christ. Real Christians will continue to get a bad reputation because of idiots like this woman, and from the looks of things will soon be undergoing great persecution by our newly established Muslim rule here in America. The great thing about Christianity is that no matter how much it is undermined, abolished, forbidden, hated, or mocked it will prevail. There is nothing that anyone, or anything, can do about that.

  6. I want to start by saying regardless of people agreeing or disagreeing. I felt as though i could sincerely relate to this article. Although my story never went as far as breaking news. In my opinion i was brought up on some serious unrealistic ideals that deeply affected how i viewed the world. It was pretty intense to say the least.

    A familiar statement I often heard in my youth was “you better have your heart right with the Lord, you never know when Jesus is coming back.” That statement scared the SH out of me. How do you know if your heart is right with the Lord? If i cant communicate with him or see him how do i know if were all good? I don’t believe a young mind can truly comprehend faith. I dont know if i understand it now. Either way, this statement created a sense of inadequacy, confusion but ultimately fear. I felt as though every person I loved was saved but me so i tried very hard to please God.

    When i was young we lived in a simple brick ranch style home, very midwest. My bedroom was on one end of the house and my parents was on the other. I can remember being about 7 or 8 years old and waking up in the night in panic mode thinking everyone had been “raptured.” I can remember my legs feeling numb and my heart thumping out of my chest as i walked from one end of the house to the other. Once arriving within a few feet of my parents bedroom door and faintly hearing my dad snoring a sense of relief would come over my body. Yet not enough for me to go back to my own room. NO, No.. I slept on my parents bedroom floor every night from around age 7 to 12. I can remember my dad getting me all settled on the floor and I would ask him to hold my hand as i slept just so i could just feel someone there. So he would hang his arm over the bed and i would hold it as i finally dozed off. My dad was very loving and kind he was just very sure of his beliefs. With that said it would probably be appropriate to question why your 12 year old daughter still sleeps on your bedroom floor.

    During my teenage years i was disheartened by the idea that we were in the “end times.” If we are in the end times that means i may never get to enjoy the gifts of this life time. I wanted to experience life. I wanted kids, to grow old, see the world. How would i ever be able to have these things if it was all going to end soon. How can someone ignore these wonderful earthly desires for an afterlife that no one really has experienced?

    After years of televangelical pastors screaming “THE MARK OF THE BEAST!! Armageddon is NEAR!!” in the background as i did my homework. I eventually moved on and started my adult life with the scars of religious fanaticism at its finest. After 27 years of this indoctrination I recently came to realize that organized religion is not for me. Letting it go has given me peace. I do believe in a creator. I do believe in reason, without it nothing is clear for me. If judgement is upon me from a divine being, I believe that i will be accepted for exactly who i am. From the messed up things to the wonderful things that have shaped me, i will not be left behind. I have good intentions, I am kind and I love others not because of religion but because that is what keeps humanity going. In that I am Free.

    I hope that anyone going through this fear or anxiety about doomsday can just take a deep breath and enjoy the here and now. Instead of worrying of Jesus’s return and if you are saved. Or, Instead of thinking of this as a “testing ground” think of this life as something to be cherished and live it fearless and open minded. Instead of doing something nice for someone to secure your eternity do it because it is a “gift to give.”

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