Monday, October 14, 2013

The Botkins' "Ready for Real Life" Webinar: Part III (UPDATED)

Introduction: Botkins Launch Webinar on Making Kids "Ready for Real Life"
Part I: Ready for What?
Part II: Are Your Children Ready for Real Life?
Part III: Arts and Culture
Part IV: Science and Medicine
Part V: History and Law  
Part VI: Vocations
Part VII: Q&A Session

12/7/13 UPDATE: Recently, controversy erupted over Geoffrey Botkin's remarks about Christian rap at the Word of God conference. Some readers have expressed interest over Geoffrey Botkin's thoughts about other musical genres. I have updated this post with a quote from the 37:45 mark of this webinar, in which he talks at length about jazz and ragtime.

In part three 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. At the 37:45 mark, Geoffrey Botkin spoke at length about the American music scene's descent into "uninhibited immaturity".
"The 20th century -- 300 years prior of good, solid, Christian, Biblical nation-building -- and now in the 20th century, American culture begins to succumb to an antithetical urge in musical creativity, something different from nation building. It was fueled by--in a New York neighborhood known as Tin Pan Alley, they produced just thousands and thousands of songs every month, and were putting them out there. So many of America's hard-working nation-builders now have children and grandchildren who had leisure time, some money to spend. They were buying the sheet music. They were playing it, and we started running into a period of great prosperity. There was freedom, there was wealth, there were advantages, there were cities, there were automobiles, there was mobility, Roaring Twenties prosperity, and these printing houses and record companies were using music to create a genuinely original, very different cultural structure. 

We experimented with the music of uninhibited immaturity. Jazz is an art form, but what if the music begins to dissipate into uninhibited sensuality, dragging the patrons along? And jazz started doing this, 1905, 1910, 1915, 1920. Jazz and ragtime developed as a sloppy expression of mockery and criticism and covert protest against the triumphalism of the European traditions. And it wasn't just driven by black musicians, as some historians have suggested. It was rich white kids who were really in defiance of authority by misbehavior. They were ragging the old days. They were ragging the Founding Fathers. They were in defiance of that authority and that triumphalism."

Ragtime and jazz both emerged from the African American community, I recalled. Is Botkin making a veiled race commentary here? Even though Geoffrey Botkin claimed that "rich white kids" delighted in these musical genres, I was still uncomfortable with his statements, given jazz and ragtime's origins.

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 1812 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, warning 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.

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Part III 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, Part III 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 part IV 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.


  1. These turkeys with their "training" their children to "appreciate" only what they're supposed to, are setting them up to experience forbidden-fruit temptations in all directions. I'd love to see what kind of things the kids explore on the sly once they get old enough to be more adventurous.

    Art that is constrained to conform to the values of a particular ideology is invariably terrible. If people like the Botkins ever do succeed in imposing their values on our whole culture, any art that gets produced will be at least as shallow and godawful (pardon the expression) as the state-sanctioned art produced in the Soviet Union.

    You're doing the blogosphere a real service by producing all these detailed reports on what that Christian Right is up to.

    1. Infidel -- Thanks. The Botkin children who offer commentary during these webinars are all adults, and on the surface, they echo their parents' ideology. In private, though, I do wonder if they question and explore on the sly.

      By insisting that art has to conform to certain rules, the Botkins completely misunderstand what art CAN BE. They refuse acknowledge that the arts can be mediums of social commentary/protest (which by definition involves questioning dominant rules and values) and an outlet for creativity (which involved moving beyond current paradigms and developing new ones). The Botkins think they have good taste in art, but their taste is stagnant and rigid, just like the rest of their ideology.

  2. I am of those heinous photographers the Botkins talk about. I use do it both as part of my job and for enjoyment. Silly me, I thought my photos showed the glory of God's beautiful world, and captured memories for family and friends. Now I know I'm just being vain and selfish.

    I also am shaking my head at what they consider "art" and "music." I shudder to think what their homes and offices look like!

    The saddest part is hearing how they trained their kids in art while growing up. I bet they all had to draw lollipop trees, and check mark birds, and the sun was always in the corner. I'll bet these kids have never been allowed to express an original idea in their lives.

    1. Anonymous -- Thanks for stopping by. I too think that the Botkin children were discouraged from expressing any original ideas, or any ideas period that didn't jive with their parents' ideology. This realization is impressed on me every time I listen to a new installment of their webinar and hear how rigid their worldview is. What a suffocating life!

  3. Taking my very talented sister to an art museum was one of my favorite experiences with her. Even with that little voice in the back of my head saying "this isn't real art! It's not orderly!"

    You bet it isn't, 'cause life isn't, and you, Mr. Botkin, are a prime example of the grim, disordered parts of life you don't want to see depicted.

    1. Kristi-Joy -- Precisely. If art is going to capture all of the human experience, it has to capture the imperfections and negative things too.

      Loved the jab at Geoffrey Botkin!


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