By Ben Swift
‘Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ (Proverbs 22:6)
For those of us who have grown up playing Monopoly, having the patience and competitive willpower to see the game through to the end, the concept of monopolization becomes clear. The player with the greatest real estate portfolio dominates, eventually bringing the other consumers to their knees with the words, “I own this space, so pay up!”
In recent years, following extensive research in the area of neuroplasticity, it has become widely accepted that the human brain works in a similar way to a game of Monopoly. It turns out that our brains are much like parcels of land that have been prepared for subdivision, either into large estates or multiple, smaller residences and just like the property market, monopolization is the name of the game. Interestingly, Merzenich -an expert in the field of neuroplasticity- suggests that whenever we learn a bad habit, it takes over a brain map and each time we repeat it, it claims more dominance over grey matter real estate, preventing the use of that space for mapping good habits. For this reason unlearning is far more difficult than learning, highlighting the importance of early-childhood education. (Norman Doidge, MD, 2010)
From a Christian perspective this raises important questions. How can we best help children to subdivide their grey matter for Christ? As the children of today are bombarded with more information than any previous generation, will their minds be mapping the truth of Christ or building neural pathways to secular wisdom?
Many years ago, Disney released the film, ‘The Fox and the Hound’. This film may have been produced for children but no doubt it was written to pull at the heart strings of anyone with strings to be pulled. Two playful animals, brought to life with human-like emotions, the young fox and hound are the best of friends before the hound is eventually reprogrammed to hunt and kill his old, one-time best mate. But doesn’t this film ring true for so many human stories of conflict and hate?
What brings a human being to strap a bomb to themselves with enough hatred towards strangers that they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the kill? How is it that young children become actively engaged in white supremacist rallies, following in their parents’ footsteps until they are old enough to implant their hate into the hearts and minds of the next generation?
‘The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Surely, the discoveries made in neuroscience associated with mind mapping have much to say when it comes to these questions. If children, having sponge-like minds just waiting to be mapped, are constantly fed with messages of hate, their neuropathways will eventually solidify, entrenching these feelings deep within the psyche of the individual, enabling them to act accordingly when the time comes. Perhaps it could be said that neuroplasticity leads to cardioplasticity as the head infects the heart; a heart no longer consisting of flesh but of stone.
While it’s true that the juvenile brain can be mapped with evil in mind, the reverse is also true. The idea of Kindergarten Apologetics is not one of ivory tower debates between Christians and atheists but rather one that aims to immerse the minds of children in God’s Word; the mind of Christ. Surely there is a link between the time spent in God’s Word, reading, discussing and reflecting on it, letting the Holy Spirit work through it, and the mapping of our brains, especially in their most plastic years.
In the footsteps of students of the Tanakh who sat at the feet of their teachers, memorizing and contemplating Scriptures centuries ago, Kindergarten Apologetics means helping the youngest in our Christian families to know their Bible and the truth about who they are in Christ. It involves equipping them with answers to the questions they have about life, the blessings, the hardships and the comfort they can have in being held ever so tightly in the hands of their loving God. It involves helping them to set up real estate within their minds that is built on foundations of rock and not the shifting sands of emotion and popular opinion.
Whitney Houston once famously suggested, the children are the future but it’s mature Christians who need to lead the way, teaching them where to find the beauty they can possess inside; the love that they have been created to experience and reflect back into the world. This is the heart of Kindergarten Apologetics.
‘Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the spirit desires.’ (Romans 8:5)