Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why Christian School Drove Us to Suicide [REVISED AND EXPANDED]: Question 31

I was raised in a Christian school and, like many of my friends there, was suicidal.  Two of my friends succeeded in committing suicide.  My closest friend was suicidal only in the ninth grade but managed to get through it.  Other friends from there just simply abandoned Christianity for atheism.  

Why were we so unhappy?  I think it had to do with the Christian approach to education:  don't think for yourself, just accept everything we tell you.  Listening quietly was seen as a virtue and asking questions was seen as rebellious.  Also, they were a little short on practical advice.  Specifically, relationship wisdom.  A lot of my friends were confused and miserable about relationships and many are now divorced.  

In contrast, the Jewish method of education is found in Deuteronomy 6:7 (v'shinnantam l'vanekha, teach/sharpen your children) and in Ephesians 6:4 (paideia kai nouthesia, discipline and instruct).  

Shinnantam from shanan (sharpen) connotes learning through heated, oppositional interaction somewhat like the dialectical methods of the Greeks (e.g. Socratic method).  The illustration is iron striking iron, opposing against each other, sometimes growing heated, but always ending in a sharpening of the metal until it shines like a sword with a razor sharp edge that can cut through virtually anything, fully capable of defending the one who wields it.  

In Jewish schools, this process of sharpening involves machloket (arguing) in chavrutot (learning partnerships).  The chavruta challenges his chavruta to ensure that their reasoning contains no weaknesses.  

But machloket is dangerous.  It is not peaceful.  In fact, you could look at it as an exception to the principle of shalom.  Argument is separation;  Shalom is unity.  So why argue?  Because the narrow exception is that arguments for the sake of Heaven (just like a loving rebuke) are done with the intent to eventually bring about shleimut and shalom.

I believe that Ephesians 6:4 is a reference to the v'shinnantam l'vanekha of the Shema.  The two aspects of shinnantam (i.e. physical and mental correction through oppositional process) are captured by the two terms paideia kai nouthesia, discipline and instruction.  

Paideia denotes training by chastisement (which reminds one of the Tochechah of the Shema) which involves training by action;  Nouthesia denotes training instilling lessons directly into the mind via words.  So there is a physical correction and also mental correction involved here that is analogous to the concept of shinnantam.  

So in Jewish schools the students gather around tables and discuss, they challenge one another, exchanges get heated, but, at the end of the day, the separation of machloket (conflict/argument) yields greater shleimah (wholeness).

The other aspect of shinnantam is derived from the context of the Shema:  learning the mitzvot.  This involves talking about Torah all day long, when you arise in the morning and when you walk about during the day and also before going to bed.

The third part of the Shema (Numbers 15) explains that men have a special need when it comes to education.  They have a weakness in that their eyes will constantly be drawn towards women.  So Torah says they must wear tzitzit so their eyes won't wander.  If eyes wandered back in ancient times when women covered themselves in modest garments, how much more will male eyes wander in today's culture in which women reveal their figures?

In mentioning this, Torah addresses a specific need for men (and women) to have guidance when it comes to relational matters.  And so Judaism developed an entire culture to respond to this need.  Very specific guidelines are provided to men and women, explaining what is expected.  Gender roles are clearly established.  There's no confusion about when or how to date.  When the man is financially stable, it's time to date.  The "how" to dating is established by the community. Everyone makes sure that the men and women are never alone together (yichud)--and even the classrooms are segregated according to gender.  The men and women do not touch prior to marriage (shomer negiah).  The length of the courtship is typically very short---there's no dating for years on end.  The dating is purposeful and marriage-oriented.  And, by the way, all of these things also protect women.  These communities don't have to worry about things like date-rape, teen pregnancy, emotionally tumultuous break-ups--they eliminate these things by making sure single men and women are never alone together.

Perhaps the keenest insight in Jewish education is that gentile entertainments should be forbidden.  This is because, just like children, young adults learn from observing.  Whatever they see will become normative.  So if young adults are allowed to watch a lot of movies depicting premarital sex as something casual, this becomes their norm.  Judaism prevents this by establishing clear standards:  no gentile entertainments.

To sum up, shinnantam is about communal learning (chavrutot) with the focus of guiding men and women toward healthy relationships.

Some traditional Christian schools probably share these values in certain ways.  But in my experience they fall short.  The good news is that, with the growth of the Hebrew Roots movement, Christian school systems may eventually get exposed to the Jewish approach.  My hope for the Hebrew Roots movement is that it will truly become a counter-cultural force.


What are your thoughts on the educational system you went through?  Did you have positive or negative experiences?


  1. Peter, I want to be very sensitive to what you and your friends went through, but I doubt it has anything to do with Christianity. I spent 9 years in a Soviet school system where both my teachers and but especially my fellow students exhibited antisemitism (discriminatory, verbal and sometimes physical) toward me personally and to other Jewish kids in the school. I have not considered suicide, nor have any Jewish friend of mine (or any of my Russian/Ukrainian schoolmate for that matter - and I keep up with many of them online).

    The Soviet school system, as you might imagine, was not exactly conducive to expressing your disagreements with the curriculum.

    Perhaps it was the school YOU went to.

    1. "considered suicide, nor have any Jewish friend of mine "

      Just wanted to clarify - I *don't know* if any of my classmates considered it as a result of their experience in their school. I just don't know of any who have attempted or committed suicide because of their schooling (or otherwise).

    2. Gene,

      Shinnantam is the path to shleimah and shalom. What is the opposite of shalom? Evil, because it says:

      "…who makes peach (shalom) and creates evil (ra)" (Isaiah 45:7).

      Therefore, the Christian method, while it may not always lead to suicide, will most certainly lead to evil. This is my point, Gene. And I know that deep down you must agree with me.

    3. "Therefore, the Christian method, while it may not always lead to suicide, will most certainly lead to evil. This is my point, Gene. And I know that deep down you must agree with me."

      Peter, don't take offense, but that's just not a very wise assessment to make. Every community must have stability in their rules and beliefs and no community accepts everything someone wants to introduce, otherwise it will disintegrate in a short order. You mistake the Jewish method of teaching through discussion with wholesale acceptance of ANY belief. Many Jews have been tossed out on their you know what for thinking differently. Also, there are differences in cultures, not just religions, that must be taken into account. Some cultures are more accepting of division and violence than others.

    4. Gene,

      Have you ever noticed that it's the Derek Lemans and the James Pyles that censor comments the most? You don't censor very often I've noticed. Nor do I (in fact never). Why? Isn't it because we don't take offense at opposing viewpoints? This is a CULTURAL value, yes? You of all people should appreciate the rarity and specialness of this value

    5. Peter, I sometimes censor a Jew Dan Benzvi and assorted antimissionaries, while Gentiles have a free pass on my blog:)

    6. "Peter, I sometimes censor a Jew Dan Benzvi and assorted antimissionaries, while Gentiles have a free pass on my blog:)"

      I get a free pass, its game time! :P

    7. Just be the way you've been thus far (i.e. don't be like Dan), and you get to say whatever you want. Just don't write novels:)

    8. Gene,

      Cajun just made me think more about the cause of the problem. As I thought more about it, I realized that Christian teachings on sexuality were a much larger part of the problem. Or at least the fact that the teachings left us ill-equipped to establish healthy relationships in such a relationally-misguided culture.

    9. Peter, sounds like you are not sure about the true reasons, but still trying to pin it on Christianity or Christian education... somehow. Being sexually repressed = suicide?

      Perhaps I may suggest some of the more common reasons for being suicidal among children - unhealthy self-perception (viewing oneself as worthless), being aimless (not seeing future prospects), being shunned by friends or bullied for various reasons, sexual, mental or physical abuse from figures of authority or family, depression. Sometimes, suicides [attempted or "successful"] are a cry for attention.

      Here's a nice Gallup stats on suicide rates around the world:

      Notice that there more religious [and thus more sexually conservative] the country, the less is the suicide rate. Note the Muslim and Catholic countries on the list.

    10. Gene,

      Wendy Shalit, an Orthodox Jewish author, explains in chapter 11 "Pining for Interference" in the book "A Return to Modesty", that the sharp incline in suicide rates is connected to the sharp decline in communally imposed boundaries when it comes to relationships.

      She advocates for Orthodox Jewish boundaries which, unlike the Christian view (which she condemns for treating sexuality as sinful), are based on the idea that educators must teach that sexuality is both sacred and healthy (i.e. non-evil). Some of the manifestations of the Jewish approach include single-gender classrooms, traditional courtship approaches to dating, etc.

      So Gene when you argue that Christians have it right then you must, necessarily, be arguing that Jews have it all wrong and that the Rabbis, the transmitters of thousands of years of tradition, are morons. Since you value the Rabbis and Tradition, stop acting like there's nothing wrong with Christian education. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

      Your racial biases are showing, Gene. You want gentiles to remain racially segregated--you want them to want to stay in church so that they don't start hanging out at the Jewish synagogue. So you act like Christianity is perfect so that they'll stay in it. And you'll reject all evidence that certain things in Christianity are unhealthy so that you can promote this lie. What a shame. How about taking a stand for Jewish relationship wisdom? You know there's no difference sexually between gentiles and Jews and yet you persist in spreading the lie that Jewish relationship wisdom is only beneficial for Jews and not gentiles. Such racism.

    11. "Your racial biases are showing, Gene... Such racism. "

      Peter, calm down. I am white/Caucasian. Are you a different race than I am?

    12. "So Gene when you argue that Christians have it right then you must, necessarily, be arguing that Jews have it all wrong and that the Rabbis, the transmitters of thousands of years of tradition, are morons."

      You broad-brushing Christianity and its approach to sexuality. The attitudes you are describing (viewing sex as evil instead of a gift of G-d to be safeguarded within marriage and enshrined in modesty) is a caricature of what most Christians believe. Incidentally, Jews are often mocked for their their supposed suppression of sexuality (does "sex through a hole in the sheet" fable sound familiar?).

    13. What does your intent to racially segregate the Body have to do with my ancestry?

    14. Gene,

      Re: "You broad-brushing Christianity and its approach to sexuality. "

      Did you know that the divorce rate is higher in the Christian church than it is in secular society? Let's start addressing the problem.

    15. "What does your intent to racially segregate the Body have to do with my ancestry?"

      Because you are making a false and libelous charge and I am showing you how wrong you are. Jews are not a race. We come in all sort of colors, any race under the sun. Converts from any race can and do convert to Judaism. This proves the falsehood of your accusation of racism.

      Also, you believe in Two House and TH theology holds that Gentile believers (many if not most of them) are really lost Israelites. So, what charge of racism can you level if you believe that we are all the same race to begin with? A false charge.

    16. "Did you know that the divorce rate is higher in the Christian church than it is in secular society? Let's start addressing the problem."

      False and biased media reporting. Look it up - the studies include nominal Christians who do not regular attend church.

      Date on divorce rates from General Social Survey (GSS, 2000-2004)

      58%, non-frequent Black Protestants
      54%, non-frequent Evangelicals
      51%, no religion (e.g., atheists & agnostics)
      48%, non-frequent, other religions
      47%, frequent Black Protestants
      42%, non-frequent, mainline Protestants
      41%, non-frequent Catholics
      39%, Jews
      38%, frequent other religions
      34%, frequent Evangelicals
      32%, frequent mainline Protestants
      23%, frequent Catholics

    17. Gene,

      First, libel has to be false. And it's a fact that you believe in racial segregation. Here's why:

      (1) You believe that a Jew is determined by race. Race means ethnicity. And you've said on your blog that a Jew is a Jew because of his ancestry (i.e. ethnicity).

      (2) You believe in Bilateral Ecclesiology. This false doctrine states that Jews belong in synagogue and gentiles belong in church. How many times have I heard you lament how few Jews there are in most Messianic synagogues.

      Secondly, your aim is to prevent gentiles from interfering with Jewish distinctiveness. Your methods are various and include trying to paint Christianity as a perfect religious system that gentiles would have to be fools not to accept without reservation.

      The truth is that Christians are our brothers, they are family. And if they're doing something unhealthy then we need to be able to talk about it. But you don't like this because it interferes with your goal of racial segregation.

    18. "First, libel has to be false. And it's a fact that you believe in racial segregation."

      Peter, you simply blew over my comment that showed that your whole racial construct is a house of cards (since Jews come in many races AND we accept converts from any race or ethnicity) and just proceeded with the usual race-baiting mantra.

      For you to prove that I am a racist or a "ethnocist", you'd have to show that I promote any sort of discrimination of Gentile converts to Messianic Judaism, i.e. people who are not of my "race" or my "ethnicity".

      The truth is, you simply have a problem with Judaism and the way I practice my faith (but especially who I consider a "Israelite/Jew").

  2. Peter,

    Gene only censor me when he has no answers...Like at the moment there are to comments of mine that are "awaiting moderation...." Which translates: "you got me..."

    Forgive him.....

    1. "Gene only censor me when he has no answers."

      No, only when you are being personal, obnoxious and condescending (all at the same time), Dan.

  3. Another excuse not to engage....

    BTW, it takes one to know one....

  4. My experience in "Christian Education" includes missionary boarding school as well as stateside standard ACE style. I found it very poor at teaching one to think. My wife and I run a private school now and try to overcome that tendency.

    1. Shalom Cajun,

      I'm sympathetic of educators because my mother taught French and then English in public school for many, many years. She was passionate about teaching, especially the method known as differentiated instruction.

      It's a tough job but it's more difficult now with the culture being in such an advanced state of decay. It's no longer considered manly to read books--what a pity. Many of the parents fail to take ownership of the child's development. Familial dissolution inevitably leads to behavioral and cognitive problems. And then there's sex, violence, and coarse language in the media.

      It seems to me that Christian teachings on sexuality might be a large part of the problem...Christianity implies that the sexual impulse itself is wrong and from the Devil. I can't tell you how much cognitive dissonance this caused for me and my friends. I highly recommend that you read a book by an Orthodox Jewish girl named Wendy Shalit entitled A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. No, I beg you to read it.

      May you be encouraged and blessed in your difficult endeavor!


  5. However, while in the Marines I also attended the Defense Language Institute where the suicide rate was considerably higher than the rest of the military which was, again, higher than the US civilian rate. As the apostle has been trying to tell us for two millennia (1 Corinthians 13:2), it's not about system or method. Do they know you love them?

    1. Amein, brother. And thank you for your service!

  6. In reference to your statement regarding Christian schools someday teaching about our Hebrew roots, our small school (30 students) does that now. We observe the Sabbaths and celebrate the Feasts. We have morning devotions that include teaching the rules of lashon hara. But we also have the kids work in the congregation's community garden to feed the poor, teach them to compost and harvest rainwater. And in jiu-jitsu classes we teach them to protect women, children and the weak. It's an odd school to be sure, but we like it.

    1. That sounds like the most amazing school I've ever heard of. Truly HaShem is beginning something extraordinary in our time. I can't tell you what an encouragement it is to hear about this. I must ask you a favor: could you write up something about how you developed this school? If you could talk about the background story and also the blueprint for how others can follow in your footsteps, I would absolutely love to put that in a special section of this blog where everyone can easily access it.