A Book Review of "Their Name is Today" by Johann Christoph Arnold


By Vexen Crabtree 2014

#book_reviews #parenting

1. Book Review

#christianity #UK #USA

"Their Name is Today" by Johann Christoph Arnold is a book on parenting which is mostly personal opinion, waffle, rhetoric and a few nicely told stories, alongside some bits of good (but common sense) advise on raising children. But the book is mostly a trick. It purports to be 164 pages long, but it uses spaced out lines and wide margins on every page... in reality it is only, say, 100 pages long. The best bits are where the author reinforces elements of good parents that are common sense. The rest of it is unsubstantiated babbling. Don't buy this book.

Although it has been republished in the USA under this title, the whole book is USA-centric. The title shouldn't be "Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World", it should be: "Reclaiming Childhood in a Failing America". Nearly all the negative comments about the current world apply only to the USA. For example, the prevalence of school massacres and violent children is a problem which the author says is caused by children (and parents) playing too many violent video games. But there is nothing to back this up apart from personal opinion - the author cites none of statistics nor the large number of studies that have been done on this topic. It turns out, that the rest of the developed world, such as the UK, have exactly the same addiction to violent games, but, do not suffer the consequence of violent children. The problem, if it really does exist, seems limited to the USA. The cause of the problem isn't what Arnold says it is. The chances are, given the lack of references, the author simply doesn't know the facts - but is talking as if he does!

The author mistakes having a lifetime of practice with children to mean that all of their opinions about children, parenting and society are therefore correct. Much more fact-checking is needed, and a clear demarcation between social commentary (which the author is poor on) and parenting (which the author is good on).

For example, after a long whingey resignation letter from a teacher, published in the Washington Post, Arnold states confidently that "many other teachers feel the same". But that's not good enough. It is easy to look up opinion polls conducted amongst teachers in the USA, and use qualitive data to check how many teachers feel the same. Many may feel the same - but do most actually disagree? Without the data, the reader is tricked into thinking that the author is describing the true situation. But without referenced data - statistics - to back up the claims, it is actually just a combination of personal opinion, unchecked bias, and selection bias (which is where we notice confirming evidence, but nothing else).

The author lists "gangs", "sexual relationships" and "drugs" as three things that pose serious risks to children. But alongside those, he also lists "goth culture"1. That's right - in Johann Arnold's mind, the choice to dress in black is as bad as a child getting into heroin and having sex. As a committed Christian, perhaps he thinks it is his duty to police teenager's fashion sense as well as their wellbeing, but, I personally know two gothic Christian priests who would strongly disagree.

He makes many assertions which I think are correct. The book isn't just ranting. There is good advice, albeit a bit long-winded and indirect, on discipline2, and good warnings against lazy parenting and the mistaking of quiet and non-obtrusive children for good children3. Many lazy parents merely think that children are good if it means they have to do less. Arnold correctly points out that such parents are making things worse for themselves and their children in the long run. There are good comments on love, perseverance and a few nice stories in relation to those ideas. But it is all subjective anecdotes - you can read little stories like that all over the Internet, with just as little credence too, and for free.

Do not read this book. Instead, read "Paranoid Parenting: Why ignoring the experts may be best for your child" by Frank Furedi (2002)4, which covers all of the same topics, but, firmly attaches itself to the evidence before making claims, and is written by a qualified author who does know what they're talking about.

2. Overpopulation


Experts inform us that overpopulation is destroying the earth. I disagree: greed and selfishness are ruining the planet, not children. They are born givers, not takers.

"Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World"
Johann Christoph Arnold (2014) [Book Review]5

What an incredibly poor argument! Children, Arnold must surely know, grow into adults. And adults use resources taken from the planet. Overpopulation is a real issue - and the fact that you like children does not change the fact that it is simply irresponsible to tell people to disregard the increasingly serious problems that overpopulation is causing.

His comment is what we call a "strawman argument" - a false condition that is set up in order to make the author look correct, and designed to make readers think that those who think that children are destroying the earth are obviously ridiculous. Because children do no such thing - adults do. It is not greed and selfishness to want to feed your family (which much of the world cannot), obtain fresh water for cooking and washing (which many families cannot), etc, but all of those things use resources. Johann Arnold wishes to dismiss the very serious facts of overpopulation using an emotional "feel good" argument, which, unfortunately simply does not stand up to reality. Niceness is not a good substitute for responsibility.

If you doubt that the author is doing as I say, then here is another attempt, on page 6:

Despite what the "child-free" movement would have us believe, having children today is normal, good, and natural.

"Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World"
Johann Christoph Arnold (2014) [Book Review]6

Who can go against something that is "normal, good and natural"? Those child-free people must be crazy! But his ridiculous straw-man argument is false: the child-free movement does not want people to believe that having children is not-normal, or not-natural. That's why Arnold doesn't quote any of them, nor provide a reference for that statement - it simply isn't true. The child-free movement want more people to have no children, because of the seriousness of the growing problems caused by overpopulation. To argue against the child-free movement, you need to have a discussion about fertility rates, replacement rates, longevity and the ability of the land to support more people. Arnold has no such debate. He merely says that having children is natural and normal - therefore we can all have as many as we want.

You don't have to look far to realize why the author has this selfish stance: He reveals that "My wife, Verena, and I both grew up in large families. [...] My parents raised all seven of us children. [... And we] were blessed with eight children of our own. God gave us forty-four grandchildren [... and] we are thankful for each one of them"7.

This irresponsible, selfish and immoral advice on children - have as many as you want - is harmful and unfair to all future generations. We are responsible for our planet, and for the quality of life of the future generations. Human activity is injuring the planet, and reducing the ability of the planet to sustain any animal life. To dismiss all that because you like children is careless, and the author should be sternly reprimanded.

To read on these topics, see:

The pages just linked note the particular correlation between religiosity and a lack of birth control. In other words - most religions teach strongly against birth control, and, such a teaching contributes to the success of those religions because most children grow up and never change their religion. So it should not surprise you that Johann Arnold is a chaplain6 and "a senior pastor of the Bruderhod, a movement of Christian communities"8.

3. Anti-Academic, Anti-Exam

The author presents several arguments against testing children during their early schooling9, and against academic qualifications in general. The only positive thing he says is that they can lead to better wages10 - but that statement is part of one that describes children as "survivors" of parenting that emphasizes grades, learning, and exam results. Any normal child with normal parents manages to have parents who cares about grades and are fully functioning normal human beings. Arnold, in typical knee-jerk fashion, makes statements like "If as far as they can tell, what their parents really care about is their grades, they rebel"1 and "but what is the purpose of the best academic education if it fails to prepare children for life?"11 - those statements do of course contain truth, but the fact that some parents are like that does not mean it is worth jumping to the conclusion that we shouldn't press our children to do well at school.

The section above revealed the Arnold's ability to ignore overpopulation stemmed from his personal circumstances - he has 42 grandchildren, he tells us proudly12. With this author, we know that his "facts" are really born from subjective opinion. We learn the cause of his anti-academic stance on p31: "my grades were rarely exceptional...".

To make his point, Arnold needs to cite evidence showing that parents who drive their children towards academic success produce, on average, more dysfunctional children. Is there any evidence? There could well be! But as we know this author mistakes personal opinion for proof, we do well to distrust his statements unless he provides the evidence - which he doesn't.

4. The Modern World Is Broken and Video Games are Bad

#current_events #don't_panic #ego #psychology #USA

Johann Arnold, like most others, think that the present time is one in which Human society has, in general, lots its way. He writes that "we live in difficult times and many people have lost their joy in life. [...] There are more than enough books about education and parenting - books with gloomy statistics and dire warnings for the future of our society and its children"13. Also, "Teaching has probably never been as difficult as it is now. [...] Too frequently [children] come from broken homes into understaffed and underfunded classrooms"14.

It is very common for our egos to convince us that now, around us, are unfolding changes which are more important than those of any other time15. We think that we are witness to the ultimate decline of Human society and that brooding and significant upset awaits on the horizon. It seems to be a universal, negative human apprehension that we think we have noticed this coming catastrophe even while many others carry on regardless.

[The] media emphasizes the negative and pessimistic side of events and therefore creates perceptual crises of faith where no real crises exists.

"Global Trends 2005" by Michael J. Mazarr16

Professional sociologists have provided us with a long history of dire warnings. Ordinary folk also perceive that their own areas of interest are going through especially tumultuous times. For example, the children's worker Johann Christoph Arnold (2014)17 says "Teaching has probably never been as difficult as it is now. [...] We live in difficult times and many people have lost their joy in life. [We witness many] gloomy statistics and dire warnings for the future of our society and its children"18.

Book CoverHere are some more warnings, working backwards in time from the present. Bill Emmott in "The Fate of the West" (2017)19 says we are going through times of pessimism and disintegration of alliances. Before him, Alvin Toffler, an "influential political and cultural theorist... saw the 1980s and 1990s as a period of immense and cataclysmic change"20. A few decades earlier, the great economist Joseph A. Schumpeter21 warned at length about the collapse of capitalism as a result of its insurmountable issues:

The present generation of economists has witnessed not only a world-wide depression of unusual severity and duration but also a subsequent period of halting and unsatisfactory recovery.

"Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy" by Joseph A. Schumpeter (1942)22

Historian and public intellectual Gerald Heard thought the same about general humanity. He wrote:

No one can look at civilization to-day without the liveliest concern. That is a truism - a truism so painfully obvious that we have ceased to be able to respond to it. We turn impatiently away - away to our pleasures or our preoccupations, our amusements or our causes.

"The Third Morality" by Gerald Heard (1937)23

Publishing in 1918 and 1923, Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West stated that European-American culture is now due to slip into decline and, ultimately, to be replaced24. Although all such warnings do eventually come true, because no civilisation lasts forever, it seems that the concentration on current problems makes it hard to see the sources of resourceful adaption and survival, which it seems, cause consistently unpredictable resilience25 in Human cultures. One hundred years later, we're all still here.

And so back in history it continues. As long as we have written about current events, we have written that things are worse than ever. The ancient Dao De Jing is traditionally said to be authored by Lao Zi. He was convinced that civilisation itself was a mistake, which had diverted people from the Dao (true way) and people had become unethical as a result. "Laozi looked back to a Golden Age of agrarian simplicity, when people lived in small villages with no technology, no art or culture, and no war". The solution to the problems of Lao Zi's time was, he argued, to abandon the goal-directed ethos of civilisation, and therefore find The Way, and rediscover how things ought to be. Needless to say, not many sociologists have gone that far in their warnings against modern society.26

Pages 45 through 60 of Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World17 see Arnold criticize modern life - in particular, the prevalence of gadgets and devices which detract from physical activities and reduce some social involvements. But Arnold takes it too far. Never is anything positive said about them either as direct or indirect tools of education and cognitive development. Complex, symbolic and abstract principles are being mastered at a much younger age, and it is not hard to imagine that these skills blossoming into a new generation of particularly capable adults.

We know that physical health is affected by screen time - especially eyesight, hearing, and weight. But we also need to consider how it attacks a child's soul. Many children find themselves unable to communicate with a real person....

"Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World"
Johann Christoph Arnold (2014) [Book Review]27

Every new wave of media technology has inspired the same fears. So what is special about this one? Arnold cites no facts and no figures to back up his gloomy opinion. Ordinary computer and gadget usage does not affect people's health. In children, it speeds up development, both cognitive and in terms of fine motor control, and can even make children grow taller (you see - I can make up stuff too. It's easy to do as long I don't reference my comments). Let's end on the author's final cautionary and perfectly reasonable warning:

On many levels, an addiction to video games is as dangerous as drug or alcohol abuse. It can lead children compulsively into ever darker worlds, with no easy way back. It's no surprise that so many school shootings have been carried out by avid gamers.

"Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World"
Johann Christoph Arnold (2014) [Book Review]27

Source: The Economist (2005)28

We get it, we get it! Johann Arnold doesn't like video games! And because Arnold mistakes his own opinions for facts, this obviously means that no-one else should like video games either. The point about school shootings is particularly ridiculous: Video games are popular in all modern countries, including the USA. But only the USA suffers from frequent school massacres. The problem isn't video games - it is something to do with American culture. Because the author doesn't know how to fact-check nor think about these sociological problems in depth, they mistake their own local conditions for global truths, and he comes to faulty conclusions. The Economist, a respectable news outlet famed for its careful fact-checking, produced the chart on the right in 2005 during the last outburst by commentators about video games.

Despite the warnings of people like Johann Arnold - that the education system is collapsing, "teaching has probably never been as difficult as it is now", etc, public education is better than ever. In almost every country literacy and social stability have been improving consistently for a large number of decades. Violent video games, and the other bad-guys of Arnold's sermons, are simply not having the negative effects that he thinks they are - although perhaps they are in the USA, society elsewhere is perhaps a little more ordered.

By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Extreme poverty rates have been cut in half in the past 25 years. Child mortality is plunging. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2014)29

Crime rates are falling, large scale wars have apparently ceased to occur and other forms of violence are mostly decreasing30,31. From 1990 and 2015, "more than 1 billion people escaped extreme poverty"32. Literacy has been rising for hundreds of years, and technology and medical science are making astounding strides in preventing diseases (many of which are now gone for good). We are living longer32, and healthier, lives.33. Absolutely nothing is as bad as people say. The press thrive on bad news. Our egos trick us into thinking we are living in the most important times during our own lives. We're not. Those times are yet to come. The end is yet to come. Just remember to take a leaf from the British: Keep Calm, and Drink Tea.

"Don't Panic: The World is Not About to End and Western Culture is Safe: 4.1. Everything is Better Than You Think"
Vexen Crabtree

Further Reading: