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Bad Parenting Tip: Teach Your Kids to Believe Whatever the Hell They Want

Profanity alert! Sarcasm alert! Alert, alert!

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Millennials have been vocal about the shitty job us Boomers did in raising them. I mean, how else can you explain our kids’ mass defection from bad-parenting-10organized religion and their embrace of social liberalism other than as a reaction to their evangelical parents’ soft, shallow, narrow-minded,  altogether wacky faith?

For the record, my wife and I are Boomers. Evangelicals. We have raised four kids. Compound this with the fact that they are all PK’s from a typically religious conservative environment and we have all the makings for mass defection.

Problem: Our kids are all grown, married, and very much believing.

Obligatory  disclaimer: There are no perfect 1.) Parents, 2.) Parenting strategies, or 3.) Children. Nevertheless, for Christian parents, there’s still a pretty clear set of things biblical child-rearing seems to involve. Namely, passing on a set of truths and values to the next generation. Things like

  • Believing in God
  • Meditating on God’s laws
  • Following God’s laws
  • Helping others do the same

You know, stuff like that.

But you wouldn’t get that listening to some Christian parents. Especially, some of the Millennial bracket. Like author, father, and HuffPo columnist, Ben Irwin in his recent blog post, Nurturing your kids’ faith when you haven’t figured out your own. Irwin confesses:

I don’t have my own faith figured out.

It’s not for lack of trying. I keep searching, wondering, fumbling in the dark. I used to be more confident in what I believed (and in the importance of being confident in what you believe), but then, you know… life.

Irwin’s religious “searching, wondering, fumbling in the dark,” is rather typical of today’s nomadic Millennial. Problem is, that type of gauzy, incoherent approach to religion can be a bitch when it comes to raising kids.

We’ve been told good Christian parents instill rock-solid faith in their kids, the implication being that if we project even the smallest doubt or the slightest hesitation when they ask difficult questions, their faith will melt away faster than you can say “evolution.”

We’re afraid they’ll see uncertainty as weakness, as a sign of something deficient in the faith we (aspire to) profess and live.

But what if our fear is misplaced? What if they see something else in us when we admit to not having all the answers? What if they see authenticity? Honesty?

What if we don’t have to figure out our own faith before we can pass it on to a new generation?

What would happen if we modeled a different kind of faith, one that leaves room for uncertainty? What if we gave our kids permission to be inquisitive, to wonder, to even doubt?

Would it really be the end of Christianity as we know it? Or is it possible our kids will find an inherently inquisitive faith to be more attractive than the kind that insists on having all the answers?

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but the idea that we SHOULD raise children with an “inherently inquisitive faith” requires a set of beliefs and a method to teach said beliefs. In other words, we must assume healthy faith should  look more open-ended, less dogmatic. But on what grounds do we assume this? Biblical grounds? Anecdotal grounds? Furthermore, are there any parameters to modeling “a different kind of faith, one that leaves room for uncertainty”? Or are we more or less releasing the rugrats into a philosophical free-for-all?

The big problem with trying to pass on faith to the next generation before you’ve figured yours out, is that you will pass on THAT type of faith: unresolved, open-ended, self-styled faith.

Unless you ARE assuming biblical faith has parameters.

And this is the rub. The idea of “rock-solid faith” and raising kids to have it, has its problems. But at least it implies a foundation. Foundation-less faith has more in common with jello than concrete.  And unless you don’t mind your kids growing up to be Wiccans, Atheists, or Scientologists, pouring some concrete parameters for your kids’ faith seems like a biblical thing to do.

It’s one thing to teach kids to ask questions and to think through what they believe. It’s entirely something else to teach them to believe whatever the hell they want.

Photo courtesy of Funny Dumpster.

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Heather Day Gilbert March 7, 2014, 9:18 AM

    I agree, Mike. I’ve seen the whole “I’m not going to share my beliefs with my kid” idea played out–in professing Christian homes. The results are often tragic. I can’t imagine getting to heaven and realizing my kids aren’t there b/c I never shared why I believe what I believe with them. It just seems the most unloving thing in the world to do.

    • Erica June 25, 2014, 5:29 PM

      I agree, Heather.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller March 7, 2014, 10:52 AM

    The fact that the Bible gives a clear definition of faith sort of undermines this uncertainty-belivism or the agnostic Christian idea. The writer of Hebrews said, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). There’s not a lot of ambiguity in assurance and conviction.

    I find all the talk of authenticity interesting since that was the cry of my generation in our young adult years, too. Why is it that a younger generation finds an older one to be shallow, insincere, and artificial? I suppose that’s a question for a sociology paper, but I tend to think many, like me before them, don’t realize the faith struggles those now holding fast to the truth of God’s Word, experienced along the way.


  • Mark Skillin March 7, 2014, 10:58 AM

    I agree as well. One thing that is really popular now is to speak of “faith”as if it is not defined as certainty about God and His promise in Christ, when the Scripture describes faith as being certain.(Heb.11:1) That doesn’t mean we have all the answers, but it does mean we have some. And if we are certain trusting God is the difference between everlasting life and everlasting death, then we would hate our children to teach them anything different. “Know (for certain) the Lord your God!”

  • Jill March 7, 2014, 4:31 PM

    Passing the one sure part of my life–my faith–onto my children is the most important job I’ve been tasked with.

  • Karen P. March 7, 2014, 6:31 PM

    Growing up in a non-Christian home, I hope to give my daughter what I never had: faith in a bigger purpose in life than just myself i.e. a God-directed life, and security, from me and her father and also from God.

    I allow her to see that I don’t have all the answers for myself, that I sometimes struggle, doubt and fear, and that I get mad and make mistakes. In other words, I am human to her. That shows her its ok to be all these things. But it comes down to trusting The One who does have the answers, because He knows us and loves us better than we ever can.

  • Josh March 8, 2014, 2:58 AM

    As a millennial (I was born in ’82 so I straddle the line). I agree with you except for a caveat. I think the problem a lot of Christian millennials have is not necessarily with the faith but that churches have spent most of the time focusing on non-essentials making them into essentials. I know from experience that instead of engaging with aspects of culture, parents would look at it and make an assumption based on looks alone instead of asking deeper questions. For us, boomers have been at the forefront of bad Christian art, the overuse of phrases that have made Scripture seem almost cliched, politicizing the church, and trying to create a Christian subculture because of seeming paranoia of the world. I’m not saying all Christian boomer parents did this, but I’ve seen enough.

    I will teach my daughter the fundamentals of my faith, and I pray that she will be saved. That being said, I will also teach her to check what is told to her against the Bible as so many people have folk beliefs that are close to paganism – even in the church. I think this is healthy and in line with John’s admonitions.

  • Guy Stewart March 8, 2014, 6:29 AM

    Mike: I am an evangelical Christian. So is my wife. We talked about our faith. We worshipped with our family…until the kids hit the late teens and said they didn’t want to go to church any more. We respected that choice and didn’t force the issue while my wife and I continued to worship together.

    My son slid into a very loose lifestyle in high school, fathered a child before marriage (though married her after the baby was born and is still married). He KNOWS the tenets of Christianity — they just don’t appear (to me) to be important to him or his wife…He’s responsible, hard-working, a good dad and they go to church again. But FAITH doesn’t appear to be part of their lives.

    My daughter held her faith through high school and into college…and has now abandoned it; never goes to church, is contemplating living with her boyfriend and recently started birth control (I assume) so that she can become sexually active; she also started drinking at 21. She tolerates our faith, though I think the best way I can describe that tolerance is that we are “quaint”.

    My wife’s breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent fight (she is now 3 years cancer-free) may have driven my daughter out of faith, but I have no evidence of that.

    The point: I THINK we did everything right, but current evidence suggests we didn’t. To say my heart is broken would be an understatement. I can’t think of what we should have done differently. Right now I am hoping that this is a case of “…when s/he is old, s/he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6), but I have little hope in my heart right now.

  • Kat Heckenbach March 8, 2014, 7:41 AM

    So, I’m not a Boomer or a Millennial–I’m a Gen Xer. And what I read in the passage you quoted (no, I didn’t go read the whole article, just what you put up here) is that it’s okay for kids to have doubts about their own faith in God, within the context of a Christian home, and I happen to agree.

    No, I don’t mean–and I did not take the passage to mean–that it’s okay to just leave it to your kids to figure out what they want to believe. I didn’t see that at all.

    I think you teach your kids all you know about God, study the Bible with them, take them to church, and, yes, admit you don’t have all the answers. But–and here is the big thing: You can question and doubt and still believe.

    I was brought up in a Southern Baptist church. When I started having hard questions, what I got back was basically, “the Bible says….” and was made to feel that any doubts, fears, anger, etc, meant I wasn’t a good Christian and FIRE! BRIMSTONE! Every bad thing is because you don’t have a strong faith! That drove me away from the church.

    So, no. Today, if my kids have a question and I don’t know the answer, I say I don’t know. I say I wonder about those things, too. I tell them God doesn’t always make sense to me. That yes, I get mad at Him sometimes. That yes, I have wondered about His existence, but then I point them back at the things that have kept me going in my faith. And I make sure they know they are still Christians, are still saved, even if they have moments of doubt. That if they go to God with those doubts He’ll help them find resolution, the way He’s helped me.

  • Nathan March 9, 2014, 11:06 AM

    I was born in ’80, so I’m not sure if I’m a Millennial or not…some people say “yes,” while others say “no.” Having said that, I’d really like to be more sympathetic toward Irwin, Rachel Evans, and others who are of the same mindset. A few years ago, I went through a massive crisis of faith that led me to almost quit God, Jesus, and Christianity as I knew it. I grew up in the Restoration Movement and developed a huge distrust for other Christian traditions; the Restoration Movement’s motto is “We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only” can sometimes be lived out more along the lines of “We’re the only right Christians”–depending on the particular church in which one finds oneself. One night, however, I had an encounter with Matthew 16:18 in which either the Holy Spirit spoke to me, or permitted the devil to give me doubt. Either way, I suddenly found myself trying to find the “one true church” and wondering how I could possibly believe a Jesus whose people had managed to create some 30,000+ different denominations! Even more difficult was wrestling with this question when I had friends and family telling my wife behind my back that I couldn’t actually be saved; if I was, this wouldn’t be an issue. What saved my faith was another encounter with God in which he revealed to me his ongoing faithfulness to Israel on account of his faithfulness to his covenants made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I realize this is a controversial view, and probably not everyone agrees with me, but this is what saved my faith–so I’m sticking to it! 🙂

    That being said I’d like to be more sympathetic to those like Irwin. I read Rachel Evans’ blog on CNN last year and had to sympathize with some of her musings on the evangelical tradition; having attended Orthodox liturgies during my faith crisis, I’m increasingly troubled by the evangelical tradition’s tendency to try to lead the world to Jesus…by imitating the world with concert-like worship atmospheres, etc. That being said, I have a hard time sympathizing with them because it doesn’t seem to me like they’re necessarily having difficulty figuring out their faith; rather, they understand their faith all too well, and upholding Jesus’ standards for holiness in our culture is perhaps becoming too costly for their taste. I suspect they’re trying to find a way to get to heaven while continuing to enjoy “the good life” here and now–a promise Jesus most definitely did not make.

  • truth seeker June 13, 2014, 4:18 AM

    teaching children there is a place called hell is the worst form of child abuse ever conceived by mankind….you are making your children live in fear and its this very fear that fuels people to blindly follow a book that condemns all other forms of thinking (religions). This only causes conflict and the worst wars in human history have been fought in the name of religion….let go of fear and live how god intended….free without judgement, when hes says he is alpha and omega that means he is ALL things we perceive as good and bad. God is good AND bad all the time! but dont worry, everyone will be balanced out by nature in this life or the next time you are reborn. We were not meant to live in fear, we were meant to enjoy life in all ways possible with a balanced state of being. FEAR NO MORE I SAY UNTO TO YOU!!!!

  • Reverend Veritas July 10, 2014, 7:35 PM

    You’ve got to program religion into kids when they’re young and still rely heavily on simple-minded intuition. Science is counter-intuitive and difficult for children to grasp, but using the cop-out answers like “God did it” or “Because God willed it” whenever you can’t explain something is dishonest and you’re just answering one question with an even bigger mystery. Try telling an adult who has a basic understanding of natural science about creationism and they’ll regard it as nothing more than a myth.

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