The girl on my doorstep was about seven years old and was accompanied by her mother. They were promoting a “free public event” regarding A World Government and who should rule it. I knew it was a religious pitch, and I was ready to deliver my normal abrupt response, but I was taken aback when the spiel came not from the adult but from the child. I listened patiently until she finished her short speech and thanked her for the pamphlet she handed me, but I was quietly dismayed. The mother undoubtedly knew that people are inclined to be kind to sweet little girls, and she was using her child to bypass my resistance to her message.
I frequently have children at my door and they may be selling cookies for girl scouts, taking orders for apples for a school fundraiser, asking for empty bottles to recycle for a sports team, or offering to cut my grass. Most of these are one-time events or at least only annual events, and I buy the cookies, donate the bottles, and weigh my personal need for the other goods and services. These don’t bother me in the same way that I was bothered this morning by the child who made her mother’s sales pitch for her.
Parents have the right to provide religious instruction to their children, and families have always utilized the labour of children either in the home, the family farm, or the family business. So, when I encouraged my children to cut the neighbour’s grass or to babysit for pocket-money, I felt morally justified.
We all want our children to help out, to contribute, and to understand the value of hard work. That’s fine. Somehow, though, I feel that teaching children to proselytize is crossing a line, but I can’t say why. The girl who was at my door seemed quite happy and proud to have remembered her lines, so she did not appear to be doing this against her will.
Perhaps it is because I consider religion (or the absence of it) to be very personal. If it is to be debated at all, it should be with adults. I can relatively easily reject an adult’s invitation to a religious event and to discuss it with them. But how can I tell a child that I disagree with her beliefs and some of the things she has been taught by her parents? I can’t. So, I let her let her leave my doorstep not knowing. That is probably what bugs me. I was dis-empowered.
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It’s the same reason you feel uncomfortable when you see a child sexualized in the media – there are some things that require adult reasoning to make the choices regarding them informed and ethical. It is also a very passive-aggressive control mechanism on the part of the adult chaperone. Who’s going to be mean to a sweet little girl?
I tend to agree, LBMM, but it’s a fuzzy line between what we do encourage children to “sell” and what we consider unethical.
I admire your ability to separate your dislike of the reason the people were at your door but to still see the child as just that, a child. When we lived in our house groups of people would regularly come to the door with their pamphlets and tracts. Many would bring young people with them and some groups did not even speak English. I am heartless I think because I either would respond to the knock on the door via our kitchen window, “not interested”, or open the door, realize who was there and close the door without a word. My rationalization was that, not unlike telephone solicitors, I did not ask these people to intrude in my privacy so I did not have to acknowledge them. I doubt that what I did was socially acceptable, yet I really didn’t lose sleep over it.
This mother made you feel disempowered, but what about the person who isn’t kind and polite…what about the person who is rude and even vicious. To me the mom is subjecting this child to a possible bullying. It’s a lose, lose, lose situation if you ask me, you, the child and the message whatever that is, becomes secondary and possibly even lost. I would likely disagree with the message in any case, but certainly would under the circumstances. Even if the child begged for the chance, moms should protect them from as much cruelty as possible….which, I imagine, is sure to come.
That’s a good thought, Sally. There must be householders who are more outspoken than I with people who knock at their door!
I know you well enough to know you are not heartless, Mary Beth! It’s an awkward situation. The more I think about it, the more I can see how the girl guides, sports teams, and others benefit from knocking on my door. I cannot, though, see how the children of religious evangelicals benefit from evangelizing, except to the extent that they please their parents.