How do you teach your kids about Jesus but also teach them to think for themselves? Christians are often accused of brainwashing their kids by atheists. But even with all their emphasis on critical thinking, atheists seem not to realize that they too are brainwashing their kids.
We will all “brainwash” our kids. We are mimetic; we imitate. There is no way around it. I read an article a few years ago about a summer camp for atheists, an alternative to the religious camps that Christians go to every summer. They interviewed the woman who lectures the campers daily on religious history and she said, “I feel really strongly these kids shouldn’t be indoctrinated.” Many of the campers, who range in age from 8 to 17, “don’t know what they are” yet when it comes to beliefs.”
But in her lectures every day, she is indoctrinating the campers. She can’t help it. It’s inherent in every act of communication from every system of authority.
And it’s not just atheists. I have talked to several friends who have felt tricked by religion into believing that things are black and white when they are often various shades of gray. They still love Jesus but they don’t want to do that to their children. A very noble goal. But in their attempt to protect their children from the deceit of the religious system, they often swing the pendulum the other way by “not indoctrinating” their children – which really means either allowing someone or something else to indoctrinate them (peers, family, or culture in the form of television and advertising) or indoctrinating them with a doctrine of “no doctrine.”
For our family, we have decided that we are Christians and that we will raise our children as Christians. But along with our personal beliefs and the Christian tradition, we will indoctrinate them with a Christian faith that (1) respects religious diversity, (2) respects Christian diversity, and (3) humbly accepts they might be wrong.
First, we teach our children that not all people are Christians. I am not sure why Christians parents don’t often teach their children about other religions. Perhaps it’s out of fear that Christianity won’t be as attractive or perhaps it’s just out of ignorance of other religions. But we want to make it clear to our children that there are religions out there besides Christianity. And we should love and respect every belief system. And that we are Christians because we choose to be and because we believe it’s the truest story, not because everyone who is not a Christian is evil. That is, we want to teach our kids to respect religious diversity.
Secondly, we teach our children that not all Christians believe the same thing. We want to expose our kids to the beauty of Methodism, Presbyterianism, Evangelicalism and Catholicism. We want to them to learn to appreciate the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox and the innovation of the non-denominational. Most importantly, we want them to love all of their family members in Christ, no matter how different their practices or beliefs may look. We all worship the same Christ.
Thirdly, we teach our children that our beliefs are always changing. We don’t have all the answers, which is why we need wise people, the Scriptures, and our own relationship with the Spirit of God in our lives to constantly be challenging us, changing us, humbling us. We want to teach them the beauty of reading the Bible carefully, not being afraid either of questions or of the “I don’t know.”
How else do you try to raise critically thinking and respectful Christians who are both firmly rooted in the Christian tradition and yet freely challenge that tradition?
5Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! 6-9 Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.
-Deut 6:5–9, Msg