Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mommas don't let your children grow up to be atheists...

Christians often act as if the surest way to keep your children Christian is to hide them from the world, to keep them from being exposed to the world's thinking or values, and to fill their minds instead with religious doctrine (unquestioned and sacred).  The reality is that this is a guaranteed way to make sure that your children will grow up suspicious of the things you have taught them, doubting of the doctrine they were taught from childhood, and vulnerable to the impressions and urges that overcome reason and belief.

Rod Dreher has written a piece on how to make sure that we do not raise our children up to be atheists.  You can read it all here.  He pleads for Christian parents not to isolate or insulate their children from the world but to make sure that their children have the other side of the story.  We live with many impressions that are false but are fueled by both the stereotypes of Christian believers and the factual portrayals of the extremists more fueled by their fears than their faith.  Christian parents need to make sure that their children hear the facts the contradict those secular viewpoints and inaccurate descriptions of Christian faith and Christian people.

I particularly like the idea of showing our children that faith is not against knowledge, that, in fact, a great number of the most gifted scientists were people of faith.  For Lutherans, one need go no further than Johannes Kepler.  A German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. A key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, he is best known for his eponymous laws of planetary motion, codified by later astronomers, based on his works Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome of Copernican Astronomy. These works also provided one of the foundations for Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation.

During his career, Kepler was a mathematics teacher at a seminary school in Graz, Austria, where he became an associate of Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg. Later he became an assistant to astronomer Tycho Brahe, and eventually the imperial mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II and his two successors Matthias and Ferdinand II. He was also a mathematics teacher in Linz, Austria, and an adviser to General Wallenstein. Additionally, he did fundamental work in the field of optics, invented an improved version of the refracting telescope (the Keplerian Telescope), and mentioned the telescopic discoveries of his contemporary Galileo Galilei.

The Lutheran Bach of science, Kepler was also one more thing.  Kepler was a Christian and not just a Christian in name only.  He was dedicated and practicing Lutheran Christian.  Kepler also incorporated religious arguments and reasoning into his work, motivated by the religious conviction and belief that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through the natural light of reason.

Our children need to know that science is well populated with people of faith, that you do not need to sacrifice your intellect in order to be Christian, and that some of the giants in the areas of human achievement were moved and motivated not by skepticism or doubt but by religious conviction and Christian faith.

One more thing.  Our children take their cues from their parents.  If we laugh at and put down matters of faith, then they learn early on not to take too seriously the Church, their teachers in the faith, or the Scriptures that inform our belief.  I know how many times parents will freely share with their children their doubts about this or that in Scripture or among the cardinal truths of Christian faith and yet they are not so quick to share what it is they believe fervently and without doubt.  We do our children no favors by an unhindered expression of the things that trouble or confuse or confound us without on the other hand letting them know this is what we believe.  Period.  I have had parents contradict the teachings of the faith in their children's catechism class and openly admit their doubts about this or that.  Yet those same parents do not expend much effort to say what it is they do believe and confess.  So their children get the impression that catechism is a rite of passage, a burden to be borne because previous generations had to do it also.  They learn to believe from us that when they become adults they will have the right to pick and choose what it is that they believe and to reject the things that they do not like.  We create cafeteria Christians and we give them permission to treat lightly the things of God.

No, if you want your children to be equipped to resist the press of secularism, you must speak positively of what it is that you believe, teach and confess.  You must speak positively of the Church and the Pastors who represent her (not to put them on pedestals but to honor the office of the Ministry).  You must be ready to tell the stories of the great Christian martyrs who remained faithful amid great persecution and even death.  You must be ready to hold up the great examples of those Christians whose faith was an aid and an impetus to explore and explain the natural world created by God's hand.  You must enter into faith conversations with them -- not the contrived ones with you agenda but the spontaneous ones in which issues or questions are raised that offer you the opportunity to link faith and values.  Do not hide your kids from the world but equip them to meet the world with the tools necessary to answer the challenges and overcome the stereotypes of Christians as unthinking, weak, wounded, and fearful.  Only by doing these things will our kids be prepared for the onslaught of challenges and conflicting ideas and ideals which the world is waiting to offer them.  

BTW if you are reading this on Sunday morning in your pajamas and have not gotten the family ready for Church, you have failed the first test..... Go to Church... with your kids... and Sunday school as well!!


Anonymous said...

More like

Dads, don't let your kids grow up faithless.

Kids follow dads more than moms.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous....while what you say is true, it sure is disheartening for a mom who faithfully prays with her son every day, takes him to church and Sunday school every week, reads Bible stories frequently and plays hymns in the car and in the home. I often wonder if my efforts even matter, since my husband is infrequent in his church attendance and does not seem to live as a Christian. If the children really do follow the father's actions, then perhaps I should just give up now?