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Teaching Children About Sin

January 13, 2019     Time: 19:58
Teaching Children About Sin


Dr. Craig interacts with a blogger who claims that teaching children they are 'sinners' is damaging to them!

KEVIN HARRIS: “Why my innocent son will never learn about sin.”[1] Dr. Craig, this is a blog called “Without a Crystal Ball” by Katie Paulson. I need to say from the outset that she is addressing her Catholic upbringing which she apparently rejects, but we're addressing the broader issues that she's bringing up and not making it all about Catholicism. This is how she begins the blog. She writes,

When I was a child, I will never forget the first time I had to go to confession. At seven years old, a Priest instructed me that I was born a sinner. Naturally, I wanted to know what made me a sinner. The Priest bluntly told me I was a sinner by being born. Next, he instructed me to confess my sins to him. I remember feeling confused by his request. At age seven, I didn’t have a laundry list of sins to admit. He instructed me to tell him anything that could make God upset. Instead of confessing to him, I lied and said I was mean to my brother. Confession taught me how to lie. More importantly, confession taught me about sin. As a child, I understood sin to mean that I was an unworthy person.

The indoctrination of Catholicism shaped every facet of my upbringing. I have absolutely no fond memories from mass, catechism class, or from completing any of my sacraments. In fact, as I moved further through the sacraments, I became insecure and filled with guilt.

Learning I was a sinner made me feel completely inadequate in every part of my life. I distinctly remember feeling completely unworthy of love or friendship. If God thought I was flawed and bad, why would anyone like me?

As a result, I spent my childhood and adolescence trying to prove everyone wrong including God. I became a people pleaser. In school, I studied and worked hard in class. I wanted to be the best pupil. When I played sports, I used this drive to compete and excel.

By my senior year of high school, I had a 3.7 GPA and dozens of accolades for my college resume. I applied for early admissions to only one school. When I was accepted, I should have felt proud. Instead, I minimized my accomplishment. Despite everything I accomplished, I still felt broken, unworthy, and insecure.

Understanding my foundation in Catholicism has taught me a lot about how I want to parent my son. Teaching a child about sin is one of the most damaging lessons adults can teach a child. Instead of teaching them about their possibility, we teach them how to be broken, flawed, and insecure. We tell them by being born; they were born broken. I don’t have to imagine what that does to the psyche of a child. I lived with the guilt and shame for more than two decades of my life.

So far, this is pretty grim.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, it's obviously someone who is carrying a lot of emotional scars from her Catholic upbringing, and rather than rectify the mistakes, she is in complete rebellion against Christianity. She is evidently an atheist because later in the blog she refers to God as a “mythical creature in the sky,” and she refers to the Bible as a book “written by a bunch of random guys in the first century” showing that she has very little understanding of the Bible. So this is a person that is emotionally hurt and in emotional reaction against the Roman Catholicism that she was brought up in.

What I found ironic about the passage you just read is that it wasn't her parents who taught her about sin. She at least describes the experience as going to a priest – at going to confession – and there learning for the first time what sin is and needing to confess and and didn't seem to have any parental input. But then she applies this to how she ought to parent her son in terms of teaching her boy about sin and that she ought not to do that. Now, to me, that's mixing apples and oranges. The lesson to be learned from her experience with the priest and going to confession is that that's not the way to teach a child most effectively about sin. Rather, it's most effectively done in a one-on-one parent-child relationship at home. There's no reason to let the shortcomings of the priestly experience translate over to denying the obvious and undeniable fact that your little son or daughter does bad things on occasion – things that are really wrong and really mean or nasty – and needs to be disciplined for those things and needs to be corrected about those things. That doesn't mean shaming the child or saying that he's bad or that he has no worth. Of course that’s not what a loving parent does. But it is to say that when you deliberately hit your sister and hurt her, that was wrong and you need to ask her to forgive you and you should ask God to forgive you for hurting your sister. The child needs to be taught the difference between right and wrong, and by sheltering them from that you're going to create a monster if you never correct the child and say that you have done something wrong; that all you teach him about is your possibilities. So I think it's important to emphasize God's unconditional love for your child, but then also the fact that some of the things that that child does are wrong and need correction.

To give an example, in our children's series What is God like? we have a booklet on “God is All-Loving.” In that, there's a dialog between Charity and John and the Papa Bear where it said that even though you've done something wrong God loves you. I remember one mother who read the book to her child, and at that point in the book the child disagreed and said, No, if I do something wrong God doesn't love me anymore. And the mother was shocked to hear this coming out of her child's own lips. It was evident that this little boy had a terrible misunderstanding of what God is like. He thought that God's love was conditional upon his performance. That is such a valuable insight for this mother to gain at that point because now she can help to correct the little boy and to help him realize that God's love is unconditional even when he does something wrong.

We don't want to inculcate a message that children are evil and bad and God doesn't love them, but we can say that they do things wrong that merit disciplinary correction and that one should ask forgiveness for.

KEVIN HARRIS: The same thing occurred to me. Just from reading this at face value, she's thrust into the confessional booth with the priest, and at that point he's just kind of doing his job. I mean, he can't take the time to go over with her the doctrine of original sin . . .

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and, of course, remember these are the reminiscences of an adult woman of her seven-year old experience. We don't know exactly what was really said in that confessional. We're hearing one side of the story many, many years later. It's hard to know. This was not the place to learn about sin for the first time.

KEVIN HARRIS: She continues,

When we give our children lessons about life, they use these lessons to shape their identity and self-worth. As parents we don’t tell our kids they are stupid, unkind, or evil. Why do we allow a church to teach our children they are sinners?

DR. CRAIG: Again, as I say, we don't inculcate into the child these negative self-images, but we don't sugarcoat things either by saying that the child can do no wrong and that everything the little boy or girl does is good. That's just obviously false, and that will be self-destructive to that child as well. We need to correct them when they do wrong and to identify these things as wrong.

KEVIN HARRIS: She continues,

By allowing our children to learn they are sinners, we are allowing other adults in their lives to destroy the fabric of their self-esteem. As they grow, the church continues to hammer away at their self-worth by shaming every single choice they make.

DR. CRAIG: Here we see the exaggeration that comes that is an expression of the emotional hurt she feels at the church. Shames “every single choice they make.” That's obviously not right. That's obviously wrong, and it's an expression of the deep hurt that she feels.

KEVIN HARRIS: She continues,

We allow the church to tell our children that sex before marriage is sinful. They learn that cohabitating with a partner outside of marriage is sinful. If they have a child outside of marriage, they are sinning. Every single part of sex is destroyed by the fear and wrath of upsetting a mythical creature in the sky.

DR. CRAIG: Here, again, this issue of sexual ethics raises its head. It is amazing how over and over again when you get below the surface it turns out that people have a problem with Christian sexual ethics. She thinks it's just fine to have sexual relationships outside of marriage. Again, you see the exaggeration: “every single part of sex is destroyed” by this mythical God, when in fact God has set the secure parameters of marriage for the full enjoyment and celebration of sexual activity. This is the way to sexual fulfillment – by this monogamous commitment to another person and keeping yourself pure from others to be devoted to that single love of your life.


Instead of learning about birth control or responsible sex, we teach them the impossible task of abstinence. Boys are told to push down their sexual feelings.

DR. CRAIG: Just look at those sentences – “the impossible task of abstinence.” Is this really impossible? Well, of course not. It's not impossible. In fact, you've got to go to some real efforts to find a place to have sexual intercourse with someone. I was not a Christian as a teenager, but I was sexually abstinent. It's not difficult. And she says, “boys are told to push down their sexual feelings.” Are we to teach teenage boys not to control their sexual urges? Are we to treat them like animals? I remember as a teenager reading a book by Ann Landers, a columnist, about sex. She said we shouldn't treat teenagers as though they're just animals that do not have a rational faculty that can control their passions. I think we really demean our teenagers when we treat them like animals in heat that cannot abstain from sexual relationships. That is a very, very low view of them as persons and of ourselves as rational persons who can control our animal urges and instincts.

KEVIN HARRIS: The whole thrust of the #MeToo movement about not sexually harassing people is about getting yourself under control! Does she not want men or women to get control over this? Like you said, these things are so powerful (because if it wasn’t powerful, it wouldn’t be very good – it wouldn't have the potential of power and beauty and love that it has), and so since it's so powerful, you have to have a container for powerful things. And she said, No! Throw all that off. No, if she were to stop and think about that, that's not the case. Boy, there is confusion in this area. There's so much we could talk about here.

DR. CRAIG: You know, she says later in the blog, “purity is an impossible mountain to climb.”

KEVIN HARRIS: It's called “purity culture” these days.

DR. CRAIG: They've just given up the goal of living a pure life – a life that is chaste – because they think it's impossible, which is untrue. That is perhaps the greatest falsehood of our times.

KEVIN HARRIS: She does say,

Yet, despite teaching these practices, kids still have sex. They know nothing about protecting themselves from disease or pregnancy. Because of what they learned about sex from the church, they are afraid to ask rational questions about sex.

DR. CRAIG: She is again blaming the church and that reflects her background.


Right and wrong dictate nearly every aspect of childhood. If girls wear clothing that is revealing, they are enticing men and being sinful. If young boys lust or fantasize about girls, they are wicked.

In fact, every single thing adolescents naturally want to explore is wrapped in sin.

Foul Language.





What's the difference between your plumbing working (that God gave you) and lust? Because they're not the same thing. In other words, you can have sexual desires. People don’t understand this; Christians don't understand this. The difference between God-given natural desire, but when does that cross over into lust?

DR. CRAIG: Billy Graham once said it's the second look that is lust. That is an interesting way to think of it. The first look is temptation; the second look is lust. I think it is a real discipline to learn to control your eyes so that you just turn away or you close them rather than indulge in this. The sort of (I don't know what to call it) acquiescent attitude that she has – Oh, just give in to drinking, foul language, lust, sensual . . . Just give in – I don't see how that's conducive to a happy and flourishing lifestyle.

KEVIN HARRIS: Lust is objectifying another person. You don't want to treat another person as an object for your use. That's another component of lust that takes it beyond God-given desire. Anyway, on top of page three she says, “purity is an impossible mountain to climb.” You addressed that earlier.

When we frame everything around sin, we create a youth that learns how to lie. Instead of talking to their parents about their choices, they lie and pretend they are pure. We teach them how to feel shame about the beautiful and natural aspects of human existence.

That doesn’t have to be either.

DR. CRAIG: No, especially with God. You teach yourself to be honest with God and to confess your sins. That's what confession is about. It's not about going to a priest. It’s about going to God and saying I acknowledge that what I did was wrong; I have done something that was immoral and I ask your forgiveness. And God is eager to forgive. He loves you and wants to help you to overcome these weaknesses in your life. The person who lives in the way she describes – acquiescing to passions and animal desires – is a weak person, not a strong person. He's not a person who's in control of himself.

KEVIN HARRIS: The last paragraph she says, “I firmly believe the indoctrination of faith in young children is abusive.” I have to stop there. I think Richard Dawkins said something quite similar.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that's right. If you really, really thought that (as Dawkins has said) then that would mean that parents who teach their children religious belief should be arrested and the children should be removed from the home because they're in an abusive situation. That would be a horrible thing – to give the state the power to take children out of religious homes because the children are being abused. I think, again, we see here the sort of exaggeration and hyperbole that is a manifestation of the terrible emotional scars that this woman bears from her Catholic upbringing.

KEVIN HARRIS: There's obviously a lot of bitterness and a total misunderstanding of what Christianity teaches. As we wrap up today, do you want to go over what she's missing about original sin and being born in sin?

DR. CRAIG: I think her final sentence is interesting:

Finally, my child is not a sinner.

He’s a little boy that loves dinosaurs, kitties, puppies, and giving hugs.

She just needs to wait a few years until this little boy becomes a teenager, and she will see then he sure is a sinner. There's no masking that or concealing it. You can be guaranteed that he's going to be doing things that are wrong. I think that a much more realistic view is that he is a sinner, and that when he does wrong we need to teach him that this is something that needs to be forgiven and corrected, and that God still loves him but that he is not being the type of person that he should be or that God wants him to be.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 19:58 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)