• Phineas 12-Gage

Who Owns Your Kids?

Updated: Mar 26

Last year Answers in Genesis posted something from Ken Ham asking the question of who owns children. This response is fairly late but I am nothing if not unpunctual.

Arm with brown bracelet holding plant toward the sky.

The piece starts by asking if you own your children or if the government does and proceeds to announce that if you’re not Christian you have no absolute (read: objective place) from which to reason to an answer about who has responsibility for your children. We’ve addressed axioms on the podcast but I’ll give it a quick touch here:

An axiom is the underlying assumption of the argument that prevents the conversation from sliding into infinite regression. The idea of something being axiomatic is to be an assumption (generally used as a premise) so basic that to deny it is to give up your status as a reasonable person. This is why Evangelicals continue to beat the value-of-the-thing based drum the way they do, and the way that Ham does when he, both in the introduction and later, assumes a supernatural and objective place from which to reason.

If you don’t believe in the correct, Christian, God, then children have no value to you. They’re “…just biological machines, the product of millions of years of evolution. They aren’t given to parents they’re just a “choice” the parents made.” He then makes the argument that if children are a gift from God it’s clear that you should take the responsibility seriously and ceases to address the question of who owns children.

I think he does this to dodge stating that in his mind you own your children in the short term, but in the long term God owns your children. It makes sense, everything is given to us by God and we own it but only while we’re here and then we’re taken away to a magical land where everything is wonderful and we’ll see those kids after they’ve died if we did our duty to turn them into proper Warriors for Christ.

It also fits in with the general theme of the rest of the piece. In Ham’s mind things can only have value if they’re given value. There’s no intrinsic value to human life (the fact that if we use human as a way to measure value everyone is worth exactly 1 human-value-unit regardless of the conversion rate is another topic for another day) and so your kids are valueless fuck-spawn and no one gets to say who owns them in a secular world.

My question, then, is why should we regard it that way at all? I would present to Ken a third option: People shouldn’t own people. We had a big war about it and everything (I’m not hundo p on what Ken thinks the Civil War was about so I’m just taking a guess he’d be on board here.) What if the question is a non-starter not because I’m a filthy atheist and so my children are valueless bio-robots that it was decided would be constructed in the meat factory of the equally valueless incubation unit that mean nothing, but instead the question is meaningless because I don’t own my children because my children are people.

People shouldn’t own people.

What parenting in the Evangelical mindset is is authoritarian. You are good because if you don’t follow the strict rules you are punished. You follow the rules because they are prescribed that way. Because I said so. The truth is, the parenting styles of Prager and Ken and all the Sunday Funhouse Gang is real ‘OBEY’. This, to me, is not good parenting.

I reject both the premise that someone owns my children and the mindset behind it, I don’t OWN my children because they’re a gift. I am responsible for my children, I am responsible for teaching them about the social contract, for exposing them to different cultures and ideas, for teaching them different ways of thinking and how cool the world is, for showing them the wonder of observing the Milky Way, for teaching them ethics and morality, for teaching them the rules and what to do when the rules aren’t moral. I don’t own my bio-robots, I guide them, I coach them and I teach them and I take responsibility for them because they’re a choice, and we take responsibility for those.

That takes a lot of work, and when I compare to how I was raised or how parenting expectation and philosophy has evolved in the last 200 years since Ken was a child it feels a lot like parenting on hard mode to read the books and take the classes. That is where authority comes from.

Authoritarianism, on the other hand, comes from the threat of violence. Honor your father and mother! Not while you’re under my roof! Because you have to be an upstanding Christian! It requires that children be reduced to property, because otherwise you have to deal with the fact that authority towards your children comes from a place of forced coercion (a lot of what ‘violence’ in social structures means is this) when you flex your sense of being in charge of tiny people who depend on you for safety, sustenance, and love. I don’t know how Ken parents, mostly because I’ve never been parented by him and don’t trust people in his circle to clearly report anything he does, but it stands to reason if he is not authoritarian in his parenting, it leans a lot on a book with strong themes of listening to, and respecting, and honoring your parents or you’ll burn in hell. Which is a pretty intense threat of violence.

Personally I’m just going to keep not owning my kids and learning how to do the best I can.

Growth mindset Ken, growth mindset.

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Originally published Jan. 31, 2021 I have a subscription to, and occasionally read, Philosophy Now. In the November issue Doug Groothuis tries to defend a conservative Christian view of gay sexuality