Terror in dreamland
Now I lay me down to sleep 
I pray the Lord my soul to keep 
If I should die before I wake 
I pray my soul you'll take 
Keep me safely through the night 
And wake me up with morning light

When I was a young child I was taught to say the prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep" as part of my bedtime ritual. Like most other things my parents taught me, I didn't question it or give it a second thought as to what it was for or why my mother had me reciting it.

My mother, like most others that teach their children to recite the prayer, probably thought that she was doing her part in bringing up her child in the best Christian tradition. She probably felt that she was making the world a better place and raise me in a way that would help ensure my eventual place in Heaven. She probably also thought the whole thing was extremely adorable. When I see this prayer in print, it's usually next to a little boy or girl kneeling by their bed with their head down, looking oh so cute. Fluffy or Fido appears nearby studiously taking it all in. It's the very picture of innocence.

But with an adult's critical eyes, the prayer doesn't look quite so innocent. It is about big and abstract concepts--Christian concepts: souls, eternal life, God, and death. Pretty heady stuff for a little tot! It is a message to be memorized, rehearsed, and recited by children who cannot understand its meaning. Let's take a closer look at what the text really is saying to a little child.

  • A fate worse than death itself awaits me while I sleep. Worse, even, than the Bogey Man or the monster under my bed.
  • My soul (What's that? It must be important...) could be lost forever. Is that why I see pictures of little children on milk cartons at breakfast? I might never see my parents again. Sounds pretty scary.
  • But the Lord (who's that?) will protect me and keep me safe from harm. He'll watch over me and keep the Bogey man away. He must be a pretty wonderful and powerful guy.
  • All I have to do is say the magic words and it will all come true. Wow! Give me more!
  • I sure hope I said it right--with just the right amount of sincerity! I sure wouldn't want to make this Lord guy mad. There's a lot at stake here. What if I make a mistake? Am I doing it right, Mommy?
The prayer preys on the nighttime fears of children. Fears of what might be lurking in the dark. Fears of being away from their parents. Fears of death. To vanquish those fears, a child is taught to establish a fearful respect and appreciation of God and to beg for his intervention. Somehow this is supposed to happen magically, with no visible sign or feedback. The fear of the Bogey Man is simply traded for the fear of God. After all, He's the one you've really got to worry about, right? The prayer is a little mind game to threaten children into worshiping God. It's brainwashing in its purest form--all perpetrated on little children by their own parents! Meanwhile, the parents are oblivious as to what is really going on and the emotional harm they're doing to their child--they're convinced they're doing something good. And besides, it'll keep them out of trouble with the Big Guy.

What a perfect way for the Christianity Meme to begin to infect the innocent mind of a child. The child is completely defenseless with no means to reject the indoctrination. His fears are played upon and his parents' approval is called into question. It's as easy as stealing candy from a baby.