Mine!: Battling idolatry one toy at a time

February 10, 2015

“Mine!” is a declaration with which most parents are all too familiar. Parents often respond to fighting over toys and possessions by becoming referees and sorting out what happened in order to decide the fair way to proceed. The parent becomes an investigator to find out the facts of the incident: Whose toy is it? Who had the toy first? Did they know the other wanted to play with it? Were they actually playing with it or just keeping it from the other child? Don’t they want to play with their sibling’s toys sometimes? Can’t y’all just be kind to each other?

A gospel opportunity

The answer to the final question is an emphatic “No!” The “Mine!” problem is not simply an isolated behavioral glitch. It is a worldview problem that has behavioral implications. The parental battle in this situation is not to coax the child into being a bit nicer; it is a gospel opportunity to call them to repent of idolatry. When the parent adopts the posture of referee, he or she is actually reinforcing the child’s existing self-referential categories that are the problem—not the solution. When parents permit an attitude of entitlement about toys and possessions, they are discipling their children in an entitlement worldview.

What is the alternative? Could the gospel reshape our response to the “Mine!” problem? An entitlement attitude is the manifestation of self-justifying pride, and we know according to the Scripture, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5). Our hope is found in humility, thankfulness and grace, not in our own idolatrous self-determination about what we deserve. In fact, prideful self-determination is the root of both the rebellious angelic fall and the fall of humanity (Gen. 3; Is. 14). A parent should respond to “Mine!” with intentionality to create categories that help make the gospel intelligible.

An example of intentionality

Judi and I have eight children between the ages of three and eighteen years old. At some point, when our oldest was fairly young, we decided on how we would address the “Mine!” problem. Our plan was to teach our children that nothing in our house was theirs. They were not owners of anything, so “Mine!” was a nonsensical assertion. My wife and I bought the house, furniture, clothes, food, toys, and everything else, so they owned nothing though they had been freely given a great many things to enjoy. Even gifts from grandparents and other people ultimately belong to my wife and I because, apart from a place to store and care for them, our children would be unable to keep them.

We believe our children need to perceive themselves as stewards of an abundance of things given to them for theirs and the common familial good, but they are owners of nothing. Any time we hear “Mine!” there is no need for investigation or lengthy recounting of the facts, we simply say, “Whose is it?” to which the replay is “Daddy and Mommy’s.” If the problem persists at all, my wife and I take our toy (or whatever it is) and remove it, which sometimes means immediately disposing of the item in the garbage can.

A new worldview category

The items we provide to the household and receive into the household are there to create harmony and not division. As parents, we have the responsibility to oversee the possessions and make sure they are used to an appropriate end. Our goal is to create new categories for how our children view the world and not simply temporal behavioral change. If a child knows their parents have entrusted them to be a family steward of something, on what ground would they see it as something for their exclusive use? Or as Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

To some parents, this strategy will seem harsh at first glance, and if they are lording their ownership over their children as if they are begrudgingly allowing them to be stewards over possessions—it is. However, if the parents’ goal is to shape a worldview that makes gospel categories more intelligible, then they should be eager and glad-hearted givers to their children. It should be obvious to our children that, though their parents will not allow them to act as though they own toys and other possessions simply for their own purposes and selfish ends, their parents delight in providing them things to use and enjoy. Where this stewardship is understood, children become thankful and content with what they are given.

Thankfulness and humility will not grow in the toxic soil of entitlement. The battle is fought in the simple activities of daily life together. One of the rules in our house is that, with a family of ten, we do not allow special orders at the restaurant drive-thru. Simply ordering twenty double cheeseburgers with no other specifications is quick, easy and cheap. One day I was ordering at a fast food restaurant, and I knew one of my children really enjoyed a particular specialty burger, so I just decided to get it for him as a special treat on that day. When I brought it home and he saw it, he said, “Wow! Thanks, I was not expecting that.” Exactly. If he had felt entitled to the specialty burger, he would not have been thankful for it.

Addressing the “Mine!” problem properly helps create categories for your children to understand how you order your family life differently as followers of Christ. Parents should tell their children that they, too, are stewards and not owners of God’s blessings, and that fact shapes how they steward their resources as well. The family home should be seen as God’s gift for the purpose of showing hospitality to others. The family vehicle should not been seen simply as a tool to help the family get around but a tool to serve others. In so doing, the household reflects the body of Christ, “the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

The church is a community birthed by grace “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9). What a joy it would be if your children read about the church, “And all who believed were together and they had all things in common . . . distributing the proceeds to all as any had need” (Acts 2:43-44), and the first thing they think about is your home.

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24