Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Will you be joining ATI?
Several months ago, X-er was asked by an interesting question by an acquaintance who happened to be an ATI mother. "Since you were raised in ATI, worked for IBLP, and are now a grown adult, will you put your own children in ATI?" she asked.
My immediate, horrified (and unspoken) response was, "Good Lord, no!" but I took some time to think before replying. At that point in my life I hadn't considered the question very carefully. I knew that I wouldn't--that Christianity is possible without Bill Gothard--but I could not articulate why. In fact, her question was some of the motivation behind starting this blog.
While I am grateful for some things I learned in my ATI years (discipline and love of Scripture, for instance), in no way do I believe that the program is necessary to produce good children. Which is one of the major selling points of ATI: "do things this way and you'll have children who are mighty in spirit!" Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
The emphasis on performance--on outward behavior and appearance--does not produce holiness. Rather, it produces those who are very good at looking the part, pretending they are in line with all the standards rather than risk going against the tide. Not that all ATI students are fakes; that is not the point. But the system produces more than its share of young people who go along with things outwardly without having an inner commitment to the standards and convictions that are taught. And sadly, many students resist the outward "standards" as being phony, and in the process reject Christ.
There are usually three sorts of ATI students: those who blindly agree with all that is taught, those who disagree and express their disagreement from time to time, only to comply for the most part, and the silent dissenters. The silent dissenters are the ones who violently disagree with the flavor of Christianity with which they are presented, but they know it will do little good to object while under their parents' roof. So they think to themselves "I can endure this for several years," and live in silent rebellion until they are out on their own. At which point all efforts to conform to the ATI ideal are discarded.
And we've seen so many "good" ATI students wash out on their own because they were never taught how to make wise decisions. Their parents demanded only obedience, without proper training in WHY they should obey or believe. Without that personal element, ex-ATI students often turn out as bitter agnostics.
Christianity is freeing because of the grace Christ has bestowed on us. ATI, however, is made up of a list of rules, commitments, standards and behavioral guidelines. The emphasis on outward appearance, on listening to good music, and on exhibiting character distracts young people from the true essence of Christianity: a relationship with Christ. There is nothing wrong with "rules," but if the rules are followed in order to improve one's relationship with God, Christ's sacrifice is in vain.
ATI tends to produce stilted, boring people. This is a gross generalization, but the tendency is there because of the emphasis for all families to live up to a pre-determined standard of behavior. And I don't mean the program produces non-creative people, because there are some incredibly creative people within the program; someone had to write all those Children's Institute songs! My point is more fundamental: that ATI folks approach life and think of God in a restricted fashion. Life is organized neatly into categories, steps of action, and principles. Instead of living life freely, many ATIers spend all their time thinking about what they "ought" to do. Conforming to an outward standard instead of experiencing Christ's transformation reduces the variety and uniqueness of the individual. Perhaps some parents want their children to be well-behaved clones, but that's not my desire.
Bill Gothard overemphasizes the human spirit. Those in ATI are encouraged to repress their physical desires, to not yield to their emotions. But the spirit is expressed through physical desires and emotional outlets. Our beings are not so easily divided between spirit, soul and body. To eliminate any part of our being is to suffocate the spirit. Of course, there is a need for self-control and balance. I am not advocating the uncontrolled gratification of every whim. But our physical desires and emotions are God-made and can be enjoyed within the boundaries he has created. As C.S. Lewis might say, these are folks without chests: all head and no heart.
Families in ATI tend to be over-sheltered. It's an insular community. ATI folks seek to associate with those of like mind, and they often have difficulty fellowshiping with other Christians--rejecting those with different convictions as being "worldly." It's the nature of a subculture to seek out and fellowship with those who talk the same talk and share the same standards, but combined with the self-righteous piety of the ATI program, the ATI subculture seems especially aloof.
Which produces children who are over-sheltered and incapable of functioning in the real world. As laudable as it is for ATI parents to want to shelter their kids from sin, at some point they have to grow up. Not that it's a parent's responsibility to expose a child to sinfulness, but ignoring sin does not make it go away and makes it all the more shocking when the student finally has to get a job or move out on his own.
When the woman asked me if I would raise my family in ATI, these were some of the reasons I listed for why I would not. My perspective, of course, is based on personal experience. There are other, better, more theological explanations of the short-comings of the program.