In my last guest post (And They Will Not Depart From It), I addressed those who criticize raising children in religious truth. One person commented about how she is raising her children to follow whatever religion they believe is “right for them”. I already briefly addressed this in a previous post (Forcing Religion on Your Children), but it deserves some further discussion.
I want to be clear at the outset that I’m not criticizing a parent’s right to raise her children in the way she thinks best. My goal is to help parents understand that abandoning a child to grope in the darkness of metaphysical options, with all its pitfalls, is, in fact, not what’s best for a child.
The initial question is whether it is a rational practice to “choose” a religion because it is “right for you”. After all, it may be my personal preference that my checking account has a million dollars in it, but would the bank hand me the money based on what I feel is “right for me”? It’s not likely. What they’ll first do is look to see if what I feel is “right for me” corresponds to reality, i.e., is the money actually in my account?
My point should be obvious. God’s existence, His nature, His purpose for us, etc., are no more a matter of personal choice than the sum of 2+2. One should not approach religion the way one approaches options at a buffet (“That looks good. I’ll have some of that. Hmm, that doesn’t appeal to me, so I won’t touch it.”). A rational person acquiesces to the evidence — whether or not it has any personal appeal. Faith is not a blind leap into the absurd (2 Peter 1:16). Faith is believing, trusting, and hoping based on good reasons and evidence (1 Jn.1:1, Ps.19:1-3, Rom.1:20, Heb.3:4). Faith is not opposed to reason (Isaiah 1:18). Faith is only opposed to empiricism, i.e., “seeing is believing” (Jn.20:24-29), because “we walk by faith, not by sight” (Rom.8:24, 2 Cor.5:7). Either God exists, or He does not. Either the Bible is true, or it is not. Either religion “X” is true, or it is not. The reality of these things is not subject to our choosing.
In relation to raising children, parents should teach children the truth about these issues (Deut.6:7). But what if a parent simply does not know where the truth lies? Should a parent allow his child to make blind or ignorant choices simply because he, the parent, is uninformed or uncertain? How do responsible parents handle such a problem regarding less important matters? A responsible parent investigates what foods is best for his child and then prepares a meal accordingly. A responsible parent finds out what kinds of medicine is good or bad for his child and acts accordingly. And if the parent doesn’t have 100% certainty about a matter, he still makes the best judgement based on the results of his diligent research and raises his child based on the best information he could find (Proverbs 11:14). If transient, temporal things like food and medicine are important enough to do right by one’s child, then isn’t something like the eternity of a child’s soul and moral well-being something worth getting right (Matt.6:25-34)? And speaking of moral well-being…
Some parents mitigate their child’s lack of religious instruction by noting that they at least teach their children moral values, and I certainly would commend any such a parent for attempting to instill morality into her child. The problem arises when the child asks the obvious question: “Says who?” Yes, you can coerce your child into conformity, but kids are not stupid. A child will eventually realize that he has no obligatory moral duty to obey finite, temporal human beings lacking ultimate authority. The child may put on an act and conform when the parent is looking, but the child will reach an understanding that, as long as nobody is looking and/or he doesn’t get caught, he’s not really doing anything wrong (Psalm 14:1, Proverb 1:7). I’m not suggesting that all children without religious training will become little monsters. I’m only noting that an intelligent child will see through the absurdity of arbitrary moral commands which have no objective ground. Why, after all, is it wrong to bring harm to others or to cause them suffering? Why not simply live for one’s own selfish pleasure while avoiding any social consequences, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25)? Why not anarchy or nihilism?
Finally, I am not suggesting that children not be exposed to other world views. Yes, please teach your children about other people’s beliefs. However, your children need to be made aware of the fact that, just like any multiple-choice quiz, there’s only one correct answer.