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#302 Why We Raised Our Kids to Believe in God

January 26, 2013

Dear Dr. Craig,

Thank you for all the work you do in the name of Christ. I was disturbed by a very "front and center" article I found on CNN.com news website from a mother in Texas entitled: "Why I raise my kids without God." The article has already been viewed by over 500,000 people on the website. I posted her reasons below and wondered if you might comment on it (I know this is not typical, but the response she's received has been eye-opening):

  When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.

  For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn't believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn't want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn't make sense, stories that I didn't believe either.

  One day he would know this, and he would not trust my judgment. He would know that I built an elaborate tale--not unlike the one we tell children about Santa--to explain the inconsistent and illogical legend of God.

  And so I thought it was only right to be honest with my children. I am a non-believer, and for years I've been on the fringe in my community. As a blogger, though, I've found that there are many other parents out there like me. We are creating the next generation of kids, and there is a wave of young agnostics, atheists, free thinkers and humanists rising up through the ranks who will, hopefully, lower our nation's religious fever.

  Here are a few of the reasons why I am raising my children without God.

God is a bad parent and role model.
  If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don't allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don't stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don't condone violence and abuse. "He has given us free will," you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.

God is not logical.
  How many times have you heard, "Why did God allow this to happen?" And this: "It's not for us to understand." Translate: We don't understand, so we will not think about it or deal with the issue. Take for example the senseless tragedy in Newtown. Rather than address the problem of guns in America, we defer responsibility to God. He had a reason. He wanted more angels. Only he knows why. We write poems saying that we told God to leave our schools. Now he's making us pay the price. If there is a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves his children, does it make sense that he would allow murders, child abuse, wars, brutal beatings, torture and millions of heinous acts to be committed throughout the history of mankind? Doesn't this go against everything Christ taught us in the New Testament?

  The question we should be asking is this: "Why did we allow this to happen?" How can we fix this? No imaginary person is going to give us the answers or tell us why. Only we have the ability to be logical and to problem solve, and we should not abdicate these responsibilities to "God" just because a topic is tough or uncomfortable to address.

God is not fair.
  If God is fair, then why does he answer the silly prayers of some while allowing other, serious requests, to go unanswered? I have known people who pray that they can find money to buy new furniture. (Answered.) I have known people who pray to God to help them win a soccer match. (Answered.) Why are the prayers of parents with dying children not answered?

  If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally. Why is a good man beaten senseless on the street while an evil man finds great wealth taking advantage of others? This is not fair. A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind's existence has not created a fair game.

God does not protect the innocent.
  He does not keep our children safe. As a society, we stand up and speak for those who cannot. We protect our little ones as much as possible. When a child is kidnapped, we work together to find the child. We do not tolerate abuse and neglect. Why can't God, with all His powers of omnipotence, protect the innocent?

God is not present.
  He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes.

God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good
  A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It's like telling a child to behave or Santa won't bring presents. When we take God out of the picture, we place responsibility of doing the right thing onto the shoulders of our children. No, they won't go to heaven or rule their own planets when they die, but they can sleep better at night. They will make their family proud. They will feel better about who they are. They will be decent people.

God Teaches Narcissism
  "God has a plan for you." Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn't really matter because God is in control. That gives kids a sense of false security and creates selfishness. "No matter what I do, God loves me and forgives me. He knows my purpose. I am special." The irony is that, while we tell this story to our kids, other children are abused and murdered, starved and neglected. All part of God's plan, right?
  When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth--we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machinewhether that machine is nature or societythe influence we have is minuscule. The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.

  I understand why people need God. I understand why people need heaven. It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we--along with the children we love so much--will cease to exist. The idea of God and an afterlife gives many of us structure, community and hope.

  I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs. It's a personal effect, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. It's not something to be used or worn by strangers. I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair--not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.

Thanks again, for all your hard work.



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Dr. craig’s response


Jan and I raised our kids to believe in God, indeed, to believe in the Christian God. Why? Because we wanted to teach them the truth. For the same reason, Jan and I did not lie to our children about Santa Claus. We told them that Santa Claus (or Père Noël, as they were raised in Belgium) was a fun, make-believe figure we could pretend brought presents around Christmas time. It was all in good fun, and no big deal. Christmas was mainly about the birth of a historical person who really lived, Jesus of Nazareth, who revealed to us what God is like, died for our sins, and rose from the dead. We were prepared at the drop of a hat to discuss the reasons why we believe these things, should they want to ask. No question was off limits, and open inquiry was encouraged.

We think Christianity is true. So how could we not teach our children about it? That would be the worst form of child abuse conceivable, to try to shield one’s children from the love of God and eternal life. The fundamental mistake of the mother who wrote the column above is thinking that when “we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth.” Do we? I think, on the contrary, that we thereby lead them astray into falsehood. The whole question, then, is: is Christianity true? Well, what reasons does this mother offer for thinking that it is not? Let’s look at them briefly one at a time.

God is a bad parent and role model. This charge assumes that God is supposed to serve as a model for parenthood. But while there are analogies between God as our heavenly Father and a human parent, the disanalogies are so great as to undermine the assumption that God is to serve as a role model for human parents. For one thing, the analogy should be between us and our adult children, and in that case we do let them make their own free decisions without interference. But even then the analogy is not tight. For we and our children are equals; but God is our Creator and Sovereign. A human father who thought of himself as the end-all of his children’s existence would be egomaniacal. But the infinite God, who is the locus of goodness and love, is the appropriate end of all beings (even of Himself!), the summum bonum (highest good). I am charged with the moral and spiritual education of my children; but God is involved in drawing all people freely to a saving knowledge of Himself. It is not at all improbable that only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the optimal number of people freely come to know Him and His salvation. I am bound by certain moral obligations and prohibitions vis à vis my children (e.g., not to harm them); but God (if He has moral duties at all) is not bound by many of these (e.g., He can give and take life as He pleases). God may ask me to bear terrible suffering (though not without recompense!) in order that others might freely find eternal life.

God is not logical. This mother is obviously not aware that the logical version of the problem of evil is recognized as bankrupt even by atheist and agnostic philosophers today. (See the discussion of the problem of evil in my Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.) When we say that we do not understand why God has permitted a specific instance of suffering, it is not because we refuse to “think about it or deal with the issue.” Rather it is because we recognize that we are not in a position to make with any sort of confidence guesses as to why God permitted this specific incident. His morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of suffering might not emerge until hundreds of years from now or perhaps in another country. Every event sends a ripple effect through history such that its consequences are impossible for finite persons limited in time and space to predict. Thus it is the better part of intellectual humility to say that we do not know the specific reason why God permitted some instance of suffering. What we can show is that the occurrence of such suffering is neither inconsistent nor improbable with respect to God’s existence, as the atheist presumptuously asserts.

Obviously, no one is advocating that we should abdicate our responsibility for mitigating or eliminating the evils that afflict our world. On the contrary, Christians have led the way in the fight against slavery, poverty, disease, ignorance, and the manifest evils of our world. What have atheists done for us lately?

God is not fair. This is just childish whining. Life is not fair. Get used to it. God is not under any obligation to be “fair.” (God is not Santa Claus, remember?) That does not imply that God allows “luck to rule mankind's existence.” No, it is God’s sovereign providence that rules the affairs of men. God neither promises nor provides an equal lot in life to every human being. What God does do is give sufficient grace for salvation and eternal life to every person He creates. The inequities and shortcomings of this life are not even worth comparing with the glory that God will bestow upon us in heaven. He sovereignly orders the world so that His plans will be achieved, and we can trust Him to do what is good.

God does not protect the innocent. Right! Nor is He under any obligation to do so. He did not protect His only son Jesus Christ, who was the most innocent of men, from the horrible death on the cross. But God rightly orders the world so as to achieve His good purposes for the human race. Christ’s innocent death, in particular, brought about the redemption of mankind.

God is not present. How do you know? Because we “cannot see, smell, touch or hear” God? If you could, he would be a finite, physical object, an idol, in effect, not God. Modern physics teaches us that there all sorts of realities that are not accessible to the five senses (QoW #273). Should we not believe in them? But we have indirect evidence of their reality, you might say. Indeed, and in the same way we have similar evidence for God.

God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good. This is not an argument against God’s existence but just an alleged reason not to teach your children about God. I agree that we should teach children to do what is right because it is right. But the reason it is right is because God commands us to do it. By contrast on atheism there is no basis for moral obligation or prohibition. It’s wonderful that this mother wants to teach her children to do what is right, but on naturalism there is no objective right or wrong. If her children eventually see through the sham, they may become relativists in spite of her. She can only hope that they will “make her proud” and “become decent people” because once they see through the baseless morality she has taught them, there’s no reason that they should do so.

God Teaches Narcissism. What nonsense! Jesus taught us not only to love our neighbors as ourselves but even to love our enemies. I challenge anyone to produce even one psychological study showing Christian children to be narcissistic. To the contrary, a number of studies show religious people to be psychologically better-balanced and happier than non-religious people.

Finally, although this mother claims that she doesn’t want religious belief to disappear from people’s private lives, the thrust of her whole column is quite the opposite. She already has the freedom to teach her children whatever she wants. So what more is she angling for? She wants to convince readers of her column not to teach their children to believe in God. In other words, she is trying to eliminate religious belief in the private, not merely public, sphere. She is thus a part of the aggressive New Atheism.

- William Lane Craig