I have a confession: I love watching crappy TLC shows. I have no shame about it. Say Yes to the Dress, Sister Wives. I am all about it. Lately I’ve been binge-watching 19 Kids and Counting, a show about an extremely religious family that subscribes to things like purity culture, homeschooling, and missionary work around the world. And while I find this as entertaining as the rest, there are a few trends in the show that I feel need to be called out as real trends that people in these traditions tend to follow. Many of these involve acting in ways that they feel make them a “good person”, or at the very least that portray them as such to others, however many of them seem to me to be completely irrelevant to goodness or morality.
The first one of these has to do with gratitude. In 19 Kids and Counting, the youngest daughter, Josie, was born nearly 4 months premature. The family wasn’t certain if she would survive infancy. She did, and throughout the season of the show that I was watching they were continually expressing gratitude for her life. This seems wholly appropriate. However what seemed odd to me was that they were expressing gratitude to God without once expressing gratitude towards the doctors and nurses who clearly worked incredibly hard to keep their daughter alive. No mention of the NICU where she stayed, no mention of the good people who helped her or their family, no mention of the hard work that scientists have done to allow a baby like this to survive. These are people who are living with their daughter on oxygen every day so that she can remain alive and healthy, and they choose to say nothing about the other human beings who made this possible.
Of course if you believe in God it makes sense to be grateful to God, but if you want to be a good person you should also express your gratitude towards the people who have helped you, people who could hear and NEED to hear about the difference they’ve made in your life. It seems odd to me that these people can express such deep gratitude to their God and ignore the time, sacrifice and effort that other human beings have made for their family.
A similar example comes in their service work. The Duggars speak often about the value of service, and how they want their children to enjoy serving others. This is a great value! I applaud it. However all the examples that I have seen of their “service” are simply proselytizing. They volunteered for a local aid organization, however the only aid that this organization provided was Christian materials dropped from planes. They went on a trip to Central America to help remote villages without water or electricity, however instead of bringing much needed supplies or helping build a well, they brought Christmas presents, Bibles, and put on a Christmas pageant.
“Service” is not just doing something abroad or for a nonprofit. Service has to involve actually helping other people…serving them. You have to do something that they need or want in order for it to be service. You need to actually be providing a service to someone, not simply forcing things on them that they don’t want. Proselytizing is not service, and acting as though it is will give your children an extremely skewed vision of what it means to be a good person.
Choosing God over other people does not make you a good person. The Bible has a lot of bits about loving your neighbor in it, and it seems to me that if you want to show love for God you should do more than simply talk about your gratitude to him and actually go out and do something for other people that helps them. I realize that for some people, exposing others to God is something that helps them, but maybe we could show them some mercy and gratitude in this life too.