forcing religion

from a reader:
Jenn
here's a Q for ya (I could wait for an Ask Abe Tuesday, but I won't...).

You both grew up in a VERY religious background (I'm assuming, here) & obviously, your faith is VERY important in your lives today.  Would you be "okay" if your child(ren) decided they wanted to quit the church? Or, explore other options?  The way I see religion (in general), parents tend to pick for their children what faith they want to raise their children as without really giving them any choice in what they believe.    

I grew up Catholic because that's what my mom was & that's the church she went to. I had no choice on what church I went to (nor, what faith I believed in for that matter); Catholicism was shoved down my throat.   Once given the choice to decide what "I" actually believed in, I am more on the Atheist end of the spectrum.

How would you feel if your children came to you some day & said I don't wanna go to church anymore?

this question was written last thursday (1/31/08). i’ll start with the short direct answer and then give further explanation. “would you be ‘okay’ if you child(ren) decided they wanted to quit the church?” at their current age - no. if you mean when they are older (teenage to adulthood) - yes, sorta.

let me explain. (and i’ll try to leave Scripture out of my reasoning simply for the fact that it doesn’t hold any “sway” with you as a professed Atheist.) so, i think that your claim about religion that most “parents tend to pick for their children” is obviously easy to see in the relationships around us. but then again why should it be any different. should you have kids someday don’t you think that you also would be either directly or indirectly raising your kids with the beliefs you hold? after-all if i didn’t hold to my beliefs strongly enough to feel compelled to share them with my own kids, then on what basis should i believe in them.

i “pick”/share my faith for my kids because i feel that they are the Truth. so at this time in their lives we will do all we can to instill that Truth into their lives. if anna should wake up this next sunday and say, “i don’t want to go to church, i think it’s all bogus.” would we “force” it on her and make her get ready for church? “YES, now hurry up and get out of bed!” both deb and i are actively involved in ministry at our church on sunday mornings so we’re expected to be there and we can’t leave our 7 year old home alone. but after church when we came back home deb or i (or both of us) would sit down with her and try to find out why she felt this way.

and so it will be when they are in jr. high or college. if/when they start to have doubts my desire is that we will have “engaged” our students enough that they will be able to talk to us about their doubts/concerns. and if they should choose to explore other belief systems that we will have instilled the TRUTH in them enough that they would be able to wrestle with their own beliefs and hopefully come back to “the TRUTH”. and if not then to at least realize that they are purposely rejecting the faith that they know is true. and not just because we say that it’s truth, but because it holds up against the arguments that either their own doubts, others’ influences, or other belief systems bring against it.

so if when they’re older they want to “explore other options” (i consider quitting the church to be another option) i would be disappointed, but i’d be “okay”. “okay” in the terms of letting them explore. “okay” meaning we wouldn’t disown them. “okay” meaning we wouldn’t “shove” our religion down their throats.

and on a slight tangent - if our religion is the only thing they are rejecting or want to rebel against but our faith is still strong in them the i would hope that i’m not so close minded to care. by religion i mean the “way” we express our faith.

our faith is this: Jesus Christ is God’s own Son. all humanity is born sinful and separated from God. God sent Jesus to pay for the penalty of sin for us to redeem us back to himself. and he was raised from the dead victorious over sin and death. we can know God by putting our faith in Jesus as our Savior. and he will return someday to take his “saints”/followers to Heaven where he has prepared a place for us. but until that day he has given us his Holy Spirit and his Word (the Bible) to lead, guide, and comfort us in our life while on this earth.

if our kids grow up and don’t like our “religion” (read traditions), they don’t like our church, or some other expression of our faith; but they still believe in the paragraph above. then i am TOTALLY okay.

so now i’ll take a turn. i have to say i feel bad that any child has a religion/faith “shoved down their throat”. but i’ll give you the reasons why i think that some parents do that.

reason #1: that is what happened to them as children. they thus believe what they’ve been taught is important, but the only way they know to impart that faith is the “shove down your throat” method.

reason #2: they believe what they’ve been taught is important; but they’ve never been taught (or explored for themselves) why they believe what they do. and so they can’t explain to their kids the why behind the beliefs or the arguments that refute their doubts. and so they don’t want their kids to “go to hell” (or whatever the “bad thing” is that happens in their particular faith) so they force their beliefs on their kids more out of love than anything else.

there may be other reasons, but from what i’ve observed most instances fall in to either of those to categories or a combination of them both.

my prayer for my kids is that we aren’t just “forcing” our faith on them but that even at a young age we are explaining to them why we believe what we do. and my prayer for you jenn is that this dialogue would challenge you to reconsider your parents motives and possibly their faith. (or at least the paragraph in bold face above.

but i encourage you (or anyone else) to feel free to ask me any more questions about faith in general or my particular faith, or parenting, or anything else. even if it isn’t a “ask abe tuesday”. :-)

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// today i'm thankful for:
1. being able to type fairly well
2. my kids being excited about church
3. Super Tuesday finally almost here
4. my warm winter coat
5. not owing any taxes this year :-)