Why Parents Need to Teach Children to Question Their Religion
When I was growing up in the sixties, adults responded with a standard answer to anyone questioning God. Because the Bible says so, was the reply that closed off further discussion.
In a predominately Christian culture, this answer might work. The Bible, viewed as the supreme authority, could be cited as the final word in a debate.
But we are no longer in a culture that considers the Bible the supreme authority. Even as early as the sixties, the culture was changing.
Schools, at least in the South, had always opened with prayer piped into classrooms via the intercom. Then in two landmark decisions, Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), the Supreme Court established a prohibition on state-sponsored prayer, citing it as a violation of the Establishment Clause.
These rulings were early rumblings of the cultural transformation that would occur over the next few decades.
My mother and Christians of her generation believed if it was in the Bible, it was true. There was no room for argument. But those times have changed.
In 2018, best selling author and pastor Andy Stanley preached a sermon series on Why the Bible says so is not enough anymore. Traditionalists were quick to object to his sermons, but Stanley wasn’t implying a sudden disbelief in the Bible. He was talking about an effective response to skepticism and doubt.
He said, “The approach most of us inherited doesn’t work anymore. Actually, it’s never worked all that well. In a culture that had high regard for the Bible, the traditional approach held its own. Those days are over. They’ve been over for a long time.”
Backing up Faith with Reason
When my current partner and I were dating, he was agnostic and I was a Christian. But he was not an agnostic who had arrived at his views lightly. His readings encompassed a wide range of theological viewpoints, and because he was a great debater, his arguments against my Christian world view were persuasive and articulate.
This led me to read and study Christian philosophers and apologists who could help me back up my faith with reason.
Some people are afraid to examine their reasons for believing. They fear if they ask too many questions, their faith will dissolve. But if that’s the case, theirs is a shaky faith that will probably dissolve anyway.
It’s not uncommon for students brought up in Christian families to lose their faith when they leave home for college. Questioned and confronted for the first time by different beliefs, their responses are weak and ineffective because they never delved deeply into their reasons for believing.
There are a lot of valid reasons not to believe. Marrying an intelligent agnostic showed me this. The most common reasons mentioned by atheists are lack of evidence, the existence of suffering and injustice, a perceived confict with science and logic, and atrocities committed in the name of religion.
We might never have enough answers to satisfy skeptics, but admitting we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we can’t know anything.
We need to teach our children to examine their reasons for believing so their faith rests on a solid foundation. Otherwise, the first headwinds of doubt will crumble a flimsy, unexamined faith.
Faith and Reason
I discovered in my search for truth that there are sound arguments to be made for the historicity of Christ and logical explanations for apparent conflicts in the Bible. Rather than diminishing my faith, delving deeper strengthened it.
We won’t always find answers, because taking some things on faith is a necessary part of faith. But all people, even atheists, have faith in something. Declaring that God doesn’t’ exist requires faith that eye witness accounts, personal spiritual experiences and the traditions of millions of people throughout history have been wrong.
Where should Christians begin when they set out to either confirm or re-evaluate their beliefs?
The most obvious place is to examine scriptures. It surprises me how few Christians have read the Bible they claim to believe in. Maybe this is the reason so many Christians think being a Republican (or a Democrat) is synonymous with being a Christian. Yet familiarity with the Bible dispels the idea that God prefers one political ideology over another.
Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world. It’s a matter of the heart. Political systems and governments come and go, but the wisdom and comfort of Jesus’s words have reverberated through the centuries.
If the Bible seems confusing, The Message is a great, readable Bible translation by a biblical scholar and pastor versed in the Hebrew and Greek originals. My Message Bible lends clarity to passages that I had previously found confusing or conflicting.
Examining difficult passages with an open mind and studying various biblical commentaries about these passages should be part of every Christian’s religious education.
My daughter’s two college-age teenagers attended an apologetics camp designed to tackle hard biblical questions while bolstering their knowledge of scripture. Now when they confront different ideologies and viewpoints, their faith will be more firmly grounded.
In addition to studying the Bible, Christians should learn about different religions and faith traditions. It’s enlightening to discover the differences and similarities among religions, and learning what others believe should open our eyes to the things that unite us.
An examination of our beliefs shouldn’t be for the purpose of shoring up our debate skills. Our most effective witness is when we reach out, as Christ did, through love and not theology.
But when Christians have struggled through doubt, facing it honestly, they toughen their faith.
A seminary school professor said his goal was to knock the faith of his students to pieces and put it together for them again. “If I don’t, then the world will knock it to pieces,” the professor warned.
People should never be afraid to examine their faith. If they find there is no basis for it, they can discard it. If they discover sound reasons for their beliefs, their faith is strengthened.
In a passage described in the gospel of Mark, a religious scholar asks Jesus which commandment is the most important.
Jesus replies, “Love God with all your passion, prayer, intelligence and energy.” (Mark 12:28–31).
This implies that we are to love God not only with our passion, but with our intelligence. Religious faith should not be an illogical thing, devoid of reason. Since we are blessed with minds and the ability to reason, we should teach our children to examine their reasons for believing.
Then they won’t need to say, “I believe this because the Bible says it’s true.” They can say, instead, I believe this because experience, reason, tradition and scripture have convinced me this is the best path for me.