It's (Not That) Complicated by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin
A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing?
Posted February 10, 2012
Dear Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin,
I’m 16 years old, I’m home schooled and (surprise) I love to read . I’ve always read ANYTHING I can my hands on from Jane Austen to Stephen King to John Steinbeck to Anthony Burgess and back again. My Mom and Dad, never prohibited me from reading anything, from the time I was about 11 years old, I pretty much took control of my reading censorship, and I’m not afraid to say I’ve had a awesome time with it.
My Mom and Dad are good God fear people who put a great love of Jesus in me, and I don’t want you to think they haven’t given me guidance, because truly they have. In fact, I think by giving me that intellectual freedom, they gave me “so much more” than if they had only allowed me the “proper” or “age appropriate” literature. I’ve been exposed to ideas and opinions few people encounter until collage. Some of them made me doubt my Christianity, for a short time I considered myself somewhat of an agnostic. But in the end that doubt made my faith stronger,
as it says in 1 Peter 1:7 So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Basically what I’m trying to say is, I think you may be doing a disservice to the young women reading your blog. By telling them to so carefully guard they’re hearts, you end up turning them from learning. If your Faith is true, it will survive any false opinion, idea, or doctrine. Instead, you should more vehemently encourage curiosity about the world and its ideas. I realize young minds can be pliable, but only through the observation and study of things, can we understand them. I.E. We cannot understand redemption unless we understand sin. We can’t understand what it is to be saved if we’ve never been in trouble.
God Bless the both of you.
Your sister in Christ
Thank you so much for your thoughtful email! Anna Sofia and I really appreciate hearing from girls with the self-discipline and gumption to take their educations by the horns, and much of what you said struck a personal chord with me. Like you, I’ve always been a bookworm, and also like you, I was blessed with parents who encouraged me to read widely. I also liked Animal Farm better than Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, so I think I know where you’re coming from.
When you saw our post about our new audio message, “Jane Austen and Vampires: Examining Girls’ Literary Appetites and Literary Eating Disorders,” you might have been concerned that we were warning girls away from books that would expose them to a broader world of ideas than found in standard “safe” girls’ literature. Maybe even to stay in the safe realm of books about bonnets and dollies and far away from the danger zone of the war of ideas. If your point is, “You’re not getting a full or useful education if you only read Amish princess novels or Victorian sermonettes,” Anna and I couldn’t agree more.
In fact, one of the key points to this message is that it’s time to re-think the merit of what most consider “proper” or “age-appropriate” literature for girls. Young women have a long history of insulating themselves from the reality of the spiritual warfare around them with fantasies of a world all in pink – a world made up entirely of chick lit. components (romance, girlfriend rivalries, love triangles, clothes/parties/feminine pastimes, etc.) instead of the things that actually make the world go ‘round (war, politics, economics, agriculture, theology, etc.) And from Green Gables to Mansfield Park to Forks, Washington, this is the world most girls’ literature takes place in.
This is not the real world. The Bible gives girls a thumbnail sketch of the world as God sees it, and it’s a pretty robust saga of tyranny, slavery, economics, warfare, jurisprudence, and crime, which includes very few bonnets. Besides being infallible on all other points, it’s the perfect model for the breadth of universe girls should immerse themselves in.
The premise of this talk is that girls need to read books that will equip them for this real world, rather than mentally loll in a safe, pretty, imaginary world of dainty hobbies and romantic fantasies. This is why I would be more likely to give my daughter One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch than Daddy Long Legs, and it would be because of the gritty realism of the content, not in spite of it.
The problem with Twilight, for instance, is certainly not that it shows girls too much of the big bad world. Its problem is that it plunges them more deeply into a world that doesn’t line up with the rules of reality. And in this way, it’s not that much different from Amish romance novels (except for the buttons) — both let us wallow in an extremely artificial world instead of dragging us into reality – a world of duty, consequences, and people at war with our faith.
I’ve always admired John Milton’s summary of “a complete and generous education,” as “that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.” But why stop with men? Women also have vigorous roles to play, both in public and private, in peace and in war; any woman who wants to discharge her duties on the world stage is going to need an education with teeth. If we’re going to be useful in the great fight of faith, we have to understand the terms of the fight, and the weapons of our – and the enemy’s – warfare. We have to know about the ideas that have been warring against Christianity through all history. But more importantly, we have to know how to identify them and how to combat them, or we’re going to be worse than useless soldiers. We may end up on the other side.
This is because ideas aren’t neutral. Every idea is either true or false; every thought either lines up with God’s truth or defies it. And every time we come in contact with a book, as we point out in this message, we’re not just coming in contact with a story – we’re coming in contact with another mind, a mind with its own worldview and religion, a mind that’s either with Him or against Him (Luke 11:23). The question for us is: Which mind will be the dominant mind? Are we grounded enough in our knowledge of the Lord’s mind to see where the other falls short? Or will this new mind become the standard by which God’s mind will be weighed in the balance and found wanting?
I’d love to know more about your story. You say that some of the ideas you encountered in your reading made you doubt your Christianity. Do you mean that you were a believer, and then you stopped believing, and then started believing again? Or that through your reading you came to realize you were not a believer, and were cut to the heart and born again? What exactly did you doubt, and what convinced you to believe? When your books made you doubt God, did God come make Himself more real to you, or did the books make Him more real to you? What was it that proved to you “that He exists and that He rewards those who seek him”? (Heb. 11:6)
If false ideas force us to acknowledge our lack of a spiritual foundation and drive us to Scripture to find our footing – wonderful! But if we know we aren’t grounded enough in the Word to know how to process confusing new ideas, the answer is not to drink more deeply of those wells. If our faith is weak, Romans 10:17 tells us what Book to read to strengthen it: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
On the strengthening of our faith, you quoted 1 Peter 1:7 (one of my favorite verses) – but there’s a difference between embracing the trials and tests God sends to try our faith (James 1:2-4), and willfully flirting with ideas that we know will undermine it. Experimenting with dissenting beliefs until we realize that we don’t know what’s right anymore may sound intellectually fair and scholastically noble, but it’s not a virtue; at least, not in God’s eyes. The Bible actually does tell us to avoid chasing certain kinds of ideas. I didn’t say it; 1 Timothy 6:20,21 did. “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.”
Willful doubt is not one of the steps to higher faith or higher wisdom. “[T]he one who doubts,” according to James 1:6-8, “is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” We may need to doubt whether we “are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5), but if we doubt that God is real and His word is true, we’ll never find truth.
Getting familiar with His Word – the field guide to every heresy in the world – is square one. After all, our job is to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) The right attitude isn’t, “If you see a false idea, pretend it isn’t there and maybe it will go away” (or even “If you see a false idea, close the book!”). The attitude of someone fighting firmly on God’s side is to recognize a false idea, see it with God’s eyes, call it out, and prove it false. There is no alternative option; at least, not for someone who wants to claim, “I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113)
In other words, I believe every girl should know the Bible’s answer to agnosticism, to existentialism, to transcendentalism, feminism, chauvinism, socialism, fascism, racism, mysticism, Darwinism, Zoroastrianism, Rastafarianism, Swedenborgianism, and every other notion books have to offer.
The point is that our minds, as well as our hearts, as well as our bodies – have to bow the knee. Our minds must acknowledge that Christ is Lord of the world of ideas. Our minds, howsoever intelligent or rational, must accept that they are not the standard – the mind of Christ is.
“Man must think God’s thoughts after Him if he is to know anything,” wrote William Blake in The Foundations of Christian Scholarship. “How does one know whether he is thinking God’s thoughts? To the extent that God’s thoughts are revealed to us in Scripture, to this extent can we think His thoughts after Him.” The goal, as John Calvin put it, is to “give up our own understanding, and renounce the wisdom of the flesh, and thus we must present our minds to Christ empty that He may fill them.”
There is indeed a verse (Prov. 4:23) that tells us to guard our hearts “with all vigilance.” Does that mean shielding our hearts from knowledge? Proverbs 15:14, 18:15, 22:17, and 23:12 all say to do the exact opposite. We just don’t have the option of leaving our hearts open to loving the things God hates. In other words: If you felt like you needed my permission to read Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book, you have it. If you want God’s permission to love it, you don’t.
But then, we should also ask, to what end do we read books like this? This is where I got it wrong in my reading habits as a girl. If we read to amuse ourselves, to get away from it all, or to make ourselves feel smart, then we should ask ourselves how well we’re doing at “taking every thought captive” and “redeeming the time.” When I was in my mid-teens, I became convicted that I needed to be much more deliberate about what I put into my mind and why. Our goal, I realized, should be to look for the books that are the most profitable, the books will equip us to be a more faithful soldiers of Christ. And the goal is also to grow in our appreciation for the perfection of God, God’s reality, and God’s law – and how far superior that is to any invention of man.
You say, “We cannot understand redemption unless we understand sin. We can’t understand what it is to be saved if we’ve never been in trouble.” True – the fact is, we’re born already knowing sin and in trouble. It’s not something that should require much further study. And every girl saved by grace understands that she is sinful enough to be justly condemned for ever, without needing to study sin or experience new varieties of trouble to know that she needs a Savior. She sees enough blackness in her own heart to know that what she needs to pursue is the light. The other fact is, we clearly still don’t understand redemption if what we mostly want to understand is sin. We clearly still don’t understand what it is to be saved if we prefer trouble. “And this is the judgment, declares John 3:19: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
I’d like to send you a copy of the “Jane Austen and Vampires” message. I think you’ll find that the heart of it is to “vehemently encourage curiosity about the world and its ideas” – and more importantly, to encourage girls to see that world and those ideas with God’s eyes. I’d love to hear what you think – please write and let me know. And again, I very much appreciated your email and your concern. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to clarify a message very close to my heart.
May God bless you richly as well…
Your sister in Christ,
[By the way, congratulations to Leah C. for winning the giveaway for a copy of "Jane Austen and Vampires"! We hope the message is a blessing to you.]
What Will You Read this Year?
Posted January 13, 2012
Our friend Howard Phillips has often quoted to us the maxim, “You will be the same person each year except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
This concept had a pretty big effect on both of us. Obviously, we don’t want to be the same people this year that we were last year. This is why we’re beginning this year (as we do most every year) by plotting out some major goals for ourselves, including relationships we want to develop and books we want to read.
As we both change and grow each year, the books we read and appreciate change each year as well. We both grew up loving to read, and voraciously devoured all books of all ilks and genres. Some we loved. Some we hated. Some we loved and shouldn’t have. Some we hated for bad reasons. Some we positively binged on. Some we tasted and spat out. And along the way, we’ve realized that girls’ natural literary tastes cannot always be trusted.
Last year we revisited some of these beloved and be-hated books from our childhoods and did a brief study on women’s most popular literary choices, and then put together a message for a conference we were speaking at. We titled it, “Jane Austen and Vampires: Examining Girls’ Literary Appetites and Literary Eating Disorders.”
What do handsome heroes, bonnets, and vampires have in common? Not much, but they’re all pieces of the most famous and influential girls literature of all time — literature that has revamped the way thousands of young women view reality, the world, themselves, and romance. In this audio message, we attempted to analyze authors from Jane Austen to Janette Oke to Stephanie Meyer, and lay out the basics of a healthy literary diet. (Click here for more information.)
Well, to celebrate this whole new year we all have been given to read books, study, and nourish the little gray cells, we wanted to give a copy of this message away to one of you! To enter the draw, simply write to us (damselsATvisionarydaughtersDOTcom) and tell us three books you’d really like to read this year. Giveaway ends January 20. (By the way, congratulations to Brielle, winner of a copy of It’s (Not That) Complicated ! We pray the book will be an encouragement to you.)
And just for fun, we’re going to give you a peek at all the great cover ideas schemed up by our sibling design team. We liked them all so much it was hard to choose a winner. Which one do you like best? You can enter the giveaway a second time by writing and telling us your immediate reactions to each cover (e.g. #1 is the most punchy, #4 gave me the willies, etc.). We’d love to hear your thoughts!
What will you be reading this year?
Introducing “Voices From the Past”
Posted October 16, 2010
When we Botkin children were little, our mother would read aloud to us for a couple of hours each day. We loved the sound of her voice, and we loved the books she chose to read. She had a knack for finding books that would be both educational and exciting — not the twaddle that insults a child’s intelligence — and dramatizing them in a way that riveted us and imprinted them on our memory.
In the last few years, Mom has had many mothers beg her for tips on good literature for girls, when so much of what’s available is fluffy, saccharine-sweet, or unrealistic — especially, they ask, books with good role models for their daughters. Where are the figures young girls are supposed to be looking to for examples? Though much of it is re-told through a feminist lens, or simply not told at all, America has a history of great stories and great heroines — you just have to know where to look. After years of collecting little-known diaries, memoirs, and letter-books of such American heroines, our mother decided to combine her cache of good stories with her love of reading aloud, in this exciting new audio book series.
Introducing “Voices from the Past”
The Historical Heroines Audio-Book series by Victoria Botkin
This summer, our family dove into making Mom’s idea a reality. She wanted to produce high-quality audio books, drawn straight from the words of the historical heroines themselves, and enhanced with period music and sound effects. We previewed dozens of book options, chose four favorites to begin with, and spent the next couple of months working on researching, editing, recording, editing audio, arranging and composing music, and designing the cover art.
Anna Sofia edits the letters of Abigail Adams, and adds historical commentary.
The Voice, at work
17-year old Lucas placing the sound effects.
Elizabeth takes the maestro’s chair.
The most fun part was researching the popular tunes of each book’s era, arranging and recording them, and placing them into the most fitting places in the audio books. Our brother Ben, a gifted composer, was too busy preparing for his wedding and working on other projects to do the music, but he let us requisition his composing station for a couple of weeks. You can hear a few of our musical attempts here:
The Old Chisholm Trail
Duke of Kent’s Waltz
Johnny has Gone for a Diplomat
Projects like these always make us reflect on the diversity of opportunities that can be explored by girls that work with their families. Plugging ourselves into our family’s endeavors has opened up many new avenues and interests we’d never dreamed of. It also reminds us that femininity is not limited to the trends of generic “feminine” activities (baking muffins, knitting tea cozies), but can include any manner of activities that help and support one’s family in the context of the home. We’re inspired by our friends who, for instance, help out in the family concrete business, do bookkeeping, help run a family bakery, help research alternative energy solutions, do market gardening, and more. One of our favorite historical examples of this highly competent, dominion-oriented femininity is Eliza Lucas Pinckney, whose story made it into our audio book series (see below.)
And so — after a couple of rigorous months of family teamwork — here are the finished products.
Abigail Adams: Her Letters
The letters of Abigail Adams bear faithful and moving witness to one of the greatest epochs of world history: the American War for Independence. They also attest to the remarkable life of a wise and witty New England woman who was her husband’s chief adviser and war correspondent, who raised and educated four children, managed a farm on a war-time budget, and served her country as its ambassadress and First Lady. This spell-binding narrative takes the listener from the bustling hub of Boston, to Penn’s Hill, where Abigail stood with her son and watched the slaughter of her people and Charleston going up in flames, to the glittering courts of Europe, where she came face to face with the perpetrator of these crimes, King George III himself.
A Bride Goes West
A well-bred West Virginia bride begins the adventure of her life when she marries a young Montana rancher, who takes her back with him to share his life among the cowboys. Follow Nannie’s adventures in adapting, with grace and pluck, to her new life in the Wild West — one of the few white women there, trying to bring civilization to the range, amidst a host of rowdy cowboys, Indians, and outlaws. Colorful and unforgettable characters, cattle roundups, bucking broncos, Indian attacks, and pioneer spirit, make this a thrilling Wild-West-show of a story. Nannie T. Alderson’s tale is a true story of honor, courage, resourcefulness, and faith, on the range.
The Letters of Eliza Lucas Pinckney
When 16-year-old Eliza Lucas’s father was deployed to Antigua in 1740, he left the management of his household and three plantations in Eliza’s capable hands. In these lively letters, she describes her adventures handling her father’s affairs, cultivating and exporting indigo, educating her sister and the black children on the plantations, and helping to build up the economy of her fledgling colony through her many business schemes. Hear her words of encouragement and exhortation to four generations of men in her family, including her two sons, both Revolutionary War heroes, over the full and fruitful lifetime of this great mother of our country.
An English Family in the American Wilderness
In 1831, Rebecca Burlend, with her husband and five small children, said goodbye to their homeland of Yorkshire, England after years of struggle to survive as tenant farmers, and emigrated to America. Through her first-hand account of moving to a new country, we can feel the anguish of standing on the deck of a ship, watching one’s homeland disappear into the distance, the experience of traveling steerage on an Atlantic voyage, and then of the pioneer’s experience in what was truly a New World — the virgin wilderness of the interior of the continent — and their family’s struggle, ultimately, to prosperity. A true picture of the stark beauty, hard work, and hope of the pioneer adventure.
We are having a 20% introductory sale on the individual audio books and a 30% sale on the entire series. Go here for more information.
Should Girls Read Books Written for Boys?
Posted August 11, 2008
Our friend Joshua Phillips, of BallantynetheBrave.com, has received many questions on whether boys’ literature is appropriate for girls to read as well. Joshua asked if we could also write something addressing this question, from our own perspective as girls.
Why Girls Should Read Boys’ Adventure Literature
People often ask us to name the most important books we’ve read — books that have influenced our thinking the most. Our inclination is to list the books that educated and informed our already-matured minds (more impressive titles by well-respected thinkers, theologians and historians).
But the truth is that the books that have likely had the strongest effect on who we have become were actually the books we read as children.
Go to Ballantyne the Brave to read the whole thing.
Christian Romance Novels
Posted December 14, 2006
One of the chief intentions of Visionary Daughters is that it would provide opportunities for the older women to teach the younger women, in the spirit of Titus 2. Here is a sterling and timely admonition from a married woman.
Christian Romance Novels and the Dangers Therein
By Mrs. W. A. Carbone
I decided to write about this topic because I, like millions of Christian women, love to read; but did not know enough in the past to practice discernment about what I read.
I grew up in a worldly home and attended church for social reasons (Christmas, Easter) and an occasional showing because it was the proper thing to do. My parents did instill in me a love for reading, but did not direct me on those books I should read, and those that should be left alone. So, I immersed myself in a lot of worthless trash while developing a decent vocabulary.
After coming to know Christ as my Savior, I knew that what I was reading should change, though I still loved and wanted to read. I began to read romance novels written by some popular Christian authors and thought this was alright since these women were Christians, right?
After a few years of reading these novels, I found that my marriage was not as strong or as holy as it should be because I would begin fantasize so often after reading these novels. Nothing graphic, mind you, but things like:
“Why doesn’t my husband look like that?”
“Why doesn’t my husband act like that man?”
“Why doesn’t my husband say those things?”
“Why doesn’t my husband take me to these kinds of places?”
And the list goes on.
I finally realized that Christian romance novels can be the same as the soap operas and romance novels of the world, just sprinkled liberally with scripture verses in attempt to justify the content. In fact, I will boldly say that they are the same as the soap operas and romance novels of the world, just liberally sprinkled with scripture in attempt to justify the content. Though usually not rife with explicit sex, these books will give enough fodder for the mind to wonder and wander off the course of purity and holiness (Philippians 4:8).
For single women this is dangerous. This train of thought will lead to unrealistic expectations for a spouse. For married women this is dangerous. Thoughts will cease from praising our husbands as who they are and who God made them, to -Why aren’t they more like? Why can’t he be like? Why isn’t he like? – and we find ourselves wallowing in a pool of discontent and contempt for our men instead of thankfulness and gratitude for the mate God has given us.
We must test all things, cling to what is good, abhor what is evil. (1Thess 5:21-22)
It is evil to fill our minds with such things as turn our hearts and minds away from the Lord and His will for our lives as godly women. His will is for us is to love our husbands and help them to be the men God desires them to be. We cannot love our husbands or properly prepare for the spouse He would give us when we fill our minds with unrealistic stories which breed discontent, and sometimes lust for what God has not intended for us. We cannot do our future spouse good and not evil when we develop unrealistic expectations based on the world’s view of romance and relationships.
I have stopped reading Christian romance novels and begun to study my Bible and godly literature about how to be a godly wife and mother. My marriage has improved greatly. I have a realistic view of my dear husband and clear direction from God’s word on how I should affirm, encourage, and love him as the man God has given me. I love my husband more today than when we were first married and I am thankful to the Lord for His grace in turning me away from reading novels which pollute the mind and heart.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
Books I have recently read and recommend:
The Holy Bible
Homemaking by J.R. Miller
Emotional Purity by Heather Arnel Paulsen
So Much More by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin
Created to Be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl (I do not agree with all things here, but it has some good advice in its pages)
Raising Maidens of Virtue by Stacy McDonald ( I am studying this with my daughter and learning at the same time!)