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Mr. Rogers, the Failed Minister

By Carl S ~

I watched the PBS special documentary on Mr. Rogers the other day. I also went online to read some comments about him. One thing I noticed was emphasized, he was a Presbyterian minister. Let me explain how he was a failure as a Christian minister.

On his TV show, Mr. Rogers did not talk about God, Jesus, angels and devils. He did not frighten children with threats of hellfire, or offer the phony consolation of heaven. He was grounded here, with real children and their thoughts, feelings, and situations. He calmly talked about death, fears, feelings, without any reference to faiths. He practiced secular humanism, but without its boring philosophizing.

Mr. Rogers is famous for telling each child, on every program, “You are special.” He told children it's okay to feel angry, frustrated, and sometimes disappointed with themselves. He made a point of saying adults also felt the same sometimes. A child could depend on him to say, “I love you just the way you are.” That's an anti-Christian message. No minister worth his salt would veer away from the doctrine of original sin: the child is bad by nature from birth, and must be controlled away from natural bents. Christianity teaches children to suppress normal anger; that human nature itself is “sinful.” In religions, “Just the way you are” is the wrong message. God and Jesus don't like you the way you are unless that means never questioning them. Even then, you still must change.

Mr. Rogers made sure he kept the World of Make Believe as a separate part of his program. Religions would never do that, since they depend on mixing their chosen fantasies with the real world. Mixing them only confuses the child's mind and outlook on life. Fred Rogers realized that the child is naturally inclined to tell the difference between the two when it is respectfully pointed out.

The great success of Mr. Fred Rogers depended on the fact that he didn't lie to childrenThe great success of Mr. Fred Rogers depended on the fact that he didn't lie to children – something all ministers must do. He didn't force the traditional dogmas he was raised with down a kid's throat. If anything, he was rebelling against them. He was passionately for the child. He was sensitive about what it meant to be a child in a very large new world with its information to be learned, its confusions and contradictions to deal with.

He spoke to each child personally, perhaps in much the same way as he knew himself as a child. He saw the child's own world of fantasies as necessary to interpret the world in new, personal ways that lead to their inventions, discoveries, literature, art, music, etc. Fred Rogers was open to enjoy and share those fantasies. He encouraged children to respect themselves and to create.

Mr. Rogers spoke to our fears and doubts, our apprehensiveness and hopes, our ability to change our minds. He said to appreciate where you are in life, whether as a child, growing up, or as an adult. A very down-to-earth man. No Gods to deal with, to make excuses for, to try and comprehend. No, it's you and life as it's experienced; that's all there is. And it's enough. Those are anti- Christian attitudes.

Why did Mr. Roger fail as a minister, why does he succeed as a human being? Because he was very sensitive in understanding children and the child in all of us. Sensitivity, in case you haven't noticed, is absent in religions. Just take a close look at evangelical ministers, for example. Jesus, God, Martin Luther, St. Paul, all of them, are crude, mean, nasty, judgmental, and maudlin sentimentalists like Nazi death camp operators. There are those who say Mr. Rogers was “Christ-like.” They aren't thinking: go back, take a good look at what the gospels tell you about Jesus. He was no “failure,” like Mr. Rogers.