Spirituality: The Crisis Within The Childfree Community

This article was written with a predominantly childfree audience in mind. For that reason, the vast majority of people reading this will already be familiar with the term "childfree" and will furthermore be presumed to have a basic working knowledge of the childfree lifestyle. If a further explanation regarding the childfree (CF) movement is required, there are a number of excellent resources available online.

I’ll address these issues from a predominantly Christian perspective--but I trust that my points will certainly apply to other religions as well. Many Jewish childfree individuals have also been turned off by the child-centric approach of their religious community. I've heard frequent complaints from Pagans that the "alternative" religious community is no better than Fundamental Christianity in terms of addressing the needs of its childfree practitioners. Any religion that excludes the childfree can easily be inserted here in lieu of any reference to "the church" or "Christianity".

This article is not particularly friendly toward children or their handlers. This is primarily due to the fact that kow-towing to breeder culture is no more appealing in the religious sector than in any other facet of life.

Keep in mind that this is an article by a childfree author written for a childfree audience. If you feel that this offends your delicate sensibilities, it’s probably time for you to exit this site and explore the wonderful world of disney.com.

* * *

It is readily apparent that a crisis of faith exists among religious individuals within the childfree community. As religious organizations continue to gravitate toward all things "family-friendly" (at the paradoxical expense of childfree families), people are finding themselves increasingly alienated from the religion of their choice. For those childfree people who wish to maintain religious affiliations, the situation appears increasingly bleak. There is much frustration among those individuals who happen to be both childfree and religious. Many childfree people have turned their backs on organized religion due to the regrettable fact that the church has become incapable of addressing their basic spiritual needs. With everything increasingly geared toward parents and their offspring, childfree members of the congregation are simply left behind. It's as if childfree churchgoers are invisible. And the sad thing is that they actually are, if one is to believe the extensive pro-family propaganda churned out by today's religious institutions.

You'd think that children are the only segment of the population to ever attend church. Pick up any church brochure. Look at any church billboard or advertisement; view any church's listing in the Yellow Pages. Chances are, the church will proudly outline its "family-friendly" nature, as well as scores of children's programs. Note that there will be approximately 20 diversions for children to every one meaningful activity for adults. But wait, what about the adults? Well, their activities have all been made family-friendly, too. Lo and behold, the only adults the church wishes to cater to are parents.

Which leaves the childfree parishioners where, exactly?

Nowhere.

In other words, right where the church has been pleased to keep them for centuries.

* * *

The family-friendly trend in modern worship leads to a phenomenon that I like to call the “Disneyfication of religion". When children become the focal point of a church, you'll find that the liturgical pickings get pretty slim. Everything becomes ridiculously over-simplified. Before long, you'll notice that the accomplishments of the 12 Apostles have been reduced to a panoramic display made out of Popsicle sticks. You'll learn to suffer along with one lamentable "children's pageant" after the next, enduring such presentations as the all-singing, all-dancing Laws of Moses. Christ will be reintroduced to the congregation as a sock puppet, and the entire book of Job will be boiled down to a non-offensive ten-page coloring book. The average parent, of course, will gleefully wallow in this dummied-down theology. Traditional families tend to eat up this nonsense with a spoon. A bad church is like a poorly-managed classroom, in which information is chronically pitched to the slowest pupil. Anybody who actually joined a congregation to learn something will be in for a rude awakening. The kids will be learning, though. They'll learn that St. Paul was a pretty swell guy, that it's okay to color Abraham's beard green, and that Jehovah is a jolly Santa-Claus type of figure who'll give you a Cabbage Patch doll if you just whine hard enough.

As for the rest of us, we'll be bored out of our skulls. But remember, we don't count.

It's all about the children.

* * *

The Disneyfication doesn't stop there. The nationwide trend is for children to become increasingly visible participants in the church service itself. Many services now feature an obligatory rounding up of the children in front of the church. We've got to include them in the services (as if they haven't already been "included" at every turn). Naturally, this is a major waste of time and adds absolutely nothing of merit to the service.

But the pastor's not stupid.

He or she fully understands that most parents--the bulk of their congregation--are hopelessly vain attention-hounds. They're on a constant quest for fawning adoration over their substandard offspring, whether they deserve it or not (and they usually don't). And, of course, the folks paid $150 for little Bratley's church outfit, so it simply must be shown off before he outgrows it next week. If you think these garish parental displays are about God, you're deluded. Those kids are no more thinking about God than the man in the moon. And the parents are thinking about the kids, which means that they're not thinking about God, either. Now, YOU might be trying to think about God, but Heaven help you--because you're about to be bombarded with infantile drivel from the mouths of babes. Never mind that the so-called "cute" questions children ask about God would be considered rank blasphemy if uttered by an adult. It's considered perfectly adorable when some child starts spewing vulgar nonsense about the heavenly host.

And back to those children's clothes--if parents actually wanted their kids to sit still in church, they'd dispense with the starchy, unnatural clothing and permit the child to wear something normal. But no, that will never do. Because allowing the child to wear something reasonable would mean that the parents can no longer engage in an ostentatious game of one-upsmanship. They like to drag their little charges to church attired in the most costly clothing available. Of course, if the parents truly cared about the church, they'd take the extra money they routinely waste on fancy clothes for toddlers and drop the funds into the charity plate. But, you see, that would mean that they actually cared about something outside their own little family unit—and more importantly, about something other than themselves.

* * *

And now that the entire church has been encouraged to worship children in lieu of God, it's time for the children's "choir" to come tromping in. Heaven knows we couldn't have gotten through the service without hearing a glob of sticky-fingered children yowling hymns like a pack of tortured dogs. Have you ever met a child who could actually sing? No? Neither have I. Their voices are annoying enough when they're just talking. Three notes into it, and most sane people will be ready to commit justifiable homicide. Then it's time for the wee ones to recite their weekly Bible verse. Hooray. So the runt can quote a ten-word Bible verse capable of being regurgitated by any random simpleton in a mental institution. Let us give thanks.

And now, it's time for the sermon.

Just pretend that you can actually hear it.

* * *

After the obligatory Herding Of The Children in front of the congregation, the service finally begins in earnest.

And now you're really in for it.

After the sermon's been rolling for approximately five minutes, it's time for the Anvil Chorus of whining to begin. Which is followed by screaming. Which is followed by head-spinning hysterical fits, all while Moo and Duh (a.k.a. Mom and Dad) sit there like brain-dead logs, completely oblivious to the outrageously annoying distraction their offspring are causing.

Hint for the brain-damaged: a child who repeatedly bangs toys on a pew is NOT having a "religious experience". They are creating a serious disturbance and should be removed immediately. No excuses and no second (and third and fourth) chances. Remember, church is not all about YOUR child having a dubious religious encounter…but I can see where the average parent would make this classic error, because in their minds, everything is all about them--MY child, MY church, MY experience. It's all about ME. The whole world revolves around ME. Meanwhile, the kiddies throw toys and hymnals, stamp upon the pews like cattle and generally disrupt every single aspect of the service in process. So little Ghastlee wants to play peek-a-boo with you. Isn't that cute? Of course, this game will be accompanied by the usual patented Brain Dead Parental Smile (TM).

"Isn't my child cuuuuute?" the parent will inevitably be thinking.

No, ma'am. Your runt isn't cute. And if you had done your job as a parent and REMOVED the little noise-maker from the service half an hour ago, I'd still be concentrating on the service rather than daydreaming about using your child’s malformed head as a soccer ball. There's a church service in progress here. You remember what that is, right? Church? Hello? The reason we all presumably came here? Oh, but you forgot all about that. Because you'd rather fish for attention and try to get people to look at your child instead of listening to the reverend.

Because, of course, it's all about YOU.

* * *

There IS such a thing as being too young to attend church. The odds of a parishioner who's still wearing diapers having a quality religious experience are virtually zero. This should be obvious even to an idiot. Of course, the same louts who drag their shrieklings into church are usually the same type that will drag them into movie theatres and restaurants, as well. A screaming brat in a theatre is considered a public nuisance. A yowling child in a restaurant is simply unendurable. A screaming brat in church is infinitely worse than these dual aggravations combined. In the theatre and restaurant, at least people’s time with God is not being imposed upon. How abysmally, unbelievably rude of parents to keep their screeching children in a church service when the rest of the congregation is trying to worship. The only motive I can think of offhand is that the "parent" is so starved for attention that even the nasty glares from other parishioners will be greedily absorbed like some pathetic, grasping sponge.

Attending religious services should be a privilege. Standing in the House of God is a rite of passage that occurs when one is old enough to sit still and behave like a human being. If this is, indeed, the House of God, then act like it. Would you let your children act like wild animals in the house of a beloved relative? No? Then why is it happening in the purported dwelling of the Creator Of The Universe? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if children are incapable of sitting still in church, then they needn’t be there at all.

* * *

There's an old myth that children are naturally curious about religion. Well, it might actually be true, in the case of a particularly gifted child (and I'm not talking about the average over-rewarded "gifted and talented" children that today's substandard schools seem to be cranking out like defective widgets, but the honest-to-God rarity of an ACTUAL intelligent child). But then again, kids are also interested in molten crayons, dead earthworms, bubble gum on the sidewalk, and dogs screwing in the street. A kid will be pretty much interested in anything--in thirty-second intervals. After the thirty seconds have expired, then it's time to whine, scream and disrupt again. For every unusually sensitive child who might actually benefit from the religious experience, there are a thousand other kids upon whom the entire point will be lost.

It scarcely matters how many flashy programs churches trot out to keep the children "entertained" (and since when is entertainment part of a worship experience?) You can rest assured that the children will still find reasons to fidget, fuss, moan, whine and scream. On the whole, they'd rather be at home playing with Hot Wheels cars--and the bulk of the congregation wishes they'd have done just that. Eventually, the church service becomes enjoyable for no one, not even the child.

People blather on about the importance of bringing children to church, but think about it for a moment. Which is the more useful component of a congregation--a person with a mature and rational mind who will truly benefit from the worship experience, or some cranky tantrum-throwing three-year-old? I think you know the answer. Yet, everything is geared toward the children--the most patently useless segment of the church. And they are useless. They disrupt services. They cannot comprehend religious profundities. They add nothing of merit to the worship experience. If anything, they’re a perpetual liability to the spiritual community.

Children, if permitted to attend church at all, should be kept in services geared toward children. It's doing both the adults and the children a huge favor. Children cry and scream during services because they cannot handle the situation. It's not their fault. If the children are kept busy with activities more appropriate to their own age group, then both they and the adult congregation will benefit greatly.

* * *

Not all families contain children. Please repeat this phrase like a mantra.

Quote it like Scripture.

Naturally, organized religion doesn't want to acknowledge this point. If they did, they'd finally be exposed for being what they really are--blatantly hostile to families. The average church is about as friendly to childfree families as arsenic.

Everything revolves around breeding and breeders. Let's make a bet that the average church has a 20-to-1 ratio of activities for children versus activities for adults. But wait...those other adults are also considered "families", because they've each spawned half a dozen kids, and their activities are "family-friendly" (revolving around their roles as parents). There are senior groups, teen groups, singles groups and so forth--but childfree groups? Good heavens, no. That might offend somebody. How DARE anybody suggest that children aren't the be-all and end-all?

This child-centered nonsense is being layered on so thick that I've even heard of churches praying for the "rights of the unborn". So nowadays, even the rights of a fetus are being exalted over those of a childfree parishioner--a living, breathing parishioner who is NOT a make-believe, nonexistent church member (like the fetus), but a real, caring, vital member of the spiritual community.

How tragic.

* * *

Church attendance can often become a living nightmare for the childfree. This is particularly true in the case of women. I can't begin to tell you how many horror stories I've heard of childfree women being badgered into church daycare or nursery duties against their will. It's assumed (and not just in church) that if a human being happens to have female anatomical fixtures, she's automatically interested in children.

Wrong answer.

If other women aren't actively shoving babies into an unwilling childfree woman's hands, they're busy clucking like a bunch of old hens over "the poor childless thing" (right, poor thing...she made intelligent choices and kept her income, career and personal life free of the parasitic, resource-sucking drain of children. What a pity).

I've also heard quite a few stories about women being harassed about their childfree status by other members of the congregation. This happens much more often than you'd think. Of course, this simply makes the church a microcosm of the larger "worldly" society, in which a woman only has value in terms of her childbearing capabilities. You'd think that a church--a place which openly claims to be loving and accepting--could do better than that. But no. It's the same old story. People who remain childless by choice are routinely ostracized like lepers.

How sad it is when a childfree woman donates years of her life to a congregation, only to find out that in the end, her ultimate value to the church is just that of another potential walking uterus. Her sole value becomes linked to her unwilling role as a potential mother--an incubator for babies. And if those babies aren't forthcoming, then she will be treated as an oddity and a freak, often by the most devout members of the congregation.

* * *

Most typical "church ladies" sit around gabbing about nothing but their own children. How vulgar. If I spoke of only one thing all day long, I'd be justifiably classified as the world's biggest bore. But let a parent blather on endlessly about their offspring, and they're suddenly candidates for sainthood. Voila, they've become "concerned parents" (not concerned enough, mind you, to keep their hellions from running amok all over the church, but concerned nonetheless, in some vague, superficial way). They're probably also concerned that if they stop talking about their kids, they'll have nothing left to talk about, because they have no accomplishments of their own--and then whoever will pay attention to the poor dears?

People get all misty-eyed babbling on about the beauty of the prayers of a child. Well, the prayers of an adult are just as crucial--and in the case of an adult, at least God won't be constantly petitioned for jellybeans and Pokemon toys. The prayers of a childfree adult are just as important as the prayers of a mother of eight. The fact that a woman has cranked out a houseful of kids doesn't mean that she's one tiny bit holier than a childfree parishioner. Yet when they go to church together, the mother of eight will always be honored above the childfree individual. Show me a church where a childfree person is treated on absolute equal footing with the mother of a large family, and I'll show you the most rare congregation on Earth.

There is a verse in the Bible that is often used to justify letting children have their way during church services. It’s Mark 10:14:

Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.

Now, no matter how you choose to interpret the above verse, it was certainly not meant to suggest that children are to be indulged to the exclusion of all adults. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing a passage of Scripture following that particular verse that reads:

Thou shalt allow thy children to run about the church auditorium like decapitated chickens. Thou shalt permit thy children to scream and shout. Thou shalt indulge them in all things, for they are to be exalted as golden idols and held sacred above all other classes and groups of humans, angels, archangels, and the very Godhead itself. For lo, if they are not appeased every moment of the day, world without end, they shalt screech like the damned souls in Hell forever. Amen.

* * *

On a more serious note, the phenomenon of childfree individuals giving up on organized religion is becoming an international epidemic. Is it because they're uncaring, unfeeling souls who are no longer concerned about honoring God? Hardly. It's because they've been all but shoved out into the streets by churches that are positively obsessed with keeping up a "family-friendly" image (but naturally, the childfree families can hang from the highest tree).

Mainstream religion has a long history of falsely equating breeding with godliness. Because of this, there's a long-running assumption that a person who isn't interested in having children must be out of step with God. Why, such a person couldn't possibly have any religious needs. Religious needs are for FAMILIES, and to hell (literally) with anybody else.

Eventually, childfree religious persons will end up in precisely the same boat as other marginalized communities. For example, many gays and lesbians have started their own churches. Will the childfree be far behind? Pro-choice Catholics have their own support groups. Why not religious childfree persons? There are three primary choices that people within a marginalized group can make: they can separate themselves from the larger oppressive community; they can raise awareness to the point of integrating themselves within the larger community, or (more likely) they can just leave altogether in absolute frustration.

Leaving a church, for many people, is not an easy step. It's often emotionally painful.

Now, if childed people found that a church wasn't capable of addressing their needs, they would simply do the rational thing and find another church. But childfree people don't have that luxury. Just try finding a church that isn't brimming to the rafters with "family-friendly" garbage. I dare you. Show me that church.

You can't?

Oh, that's right. Because it doesn't exist.

* * *

Of course, I can just hear some parent now (or any given pastor or church official) saying, "Why don't those horrible childfree people try harder to fit in? Why don't they just forget about the whole childfree thing and stop rocking the boat?"

News flash: the childfree are not required to bow down to breeder culture. Not for one more minute. They've already been thrust headlong into a child-worshiping society that caters to the every imaginable whim of children and their handlers. Can there not exist ONE SINGLE ACTIVITY for those individuals who have been responsible enough not to burden an overpopulated planet with more children? The childfree, on a daily basis, are forced to put up with child-friendly stores, restaurants, hotels, workplaces and more. Does it really have to extend right down to one's own spirituality, as well?

A child-friendly church is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself--but churches need to be adult-friendly places, too. Children must not be courted to the exclusion of everything and everybody else. The childfree are being robbed of their spiritual heritage, largely due to the failure of most churches to make a simple and obvious admission--that there's nothing wrong with being an adult. It's not a disease. It's not something to be penalized for. And there’s nothing wrong with not having (or wanting, or liking) children, either.

I'm not saying that all children should be excluded from religious services forever. I'm just saying that a balance seriously needs to be returned to the church. Matters have gotten desperately out of hand. The childfree have historically been the most expendable component of any congregation. So in essence, the church is cutting off an entire segment of its population--a vital, concerned segment: the childfree population.

Perhaps things can change. In fact, they must change, if any real social and spiritual progress is to be made. It simply depends upon the level of activism and awareness raised by the childfree community itself. It's up to us to make these changes--and to speak up for such changes strongly enough that the rest of the world will be listening. Spirituality is serious business, and despite what your local church keeps telling you, it's not all about the children.

Just remember this: God hasn't abandoned the childfree community.

Only people are cruel enough to do that.






--Jandi Aznor


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