Why We Raised Our Kids to Believe in God

This is a guest post courtesy of Dr. William Lane Craig, Christian philosopher, theologian, and founder of Reasonable Faith. Dr. Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of  Theology in La Mirada, California. You can follow Reasonable Faith and Dr. Craig on Facebook and Twitter and access articles, podcasts, and other resources for defending the Christian faith at www.reasonablefaith.org. He and his wife Jan have two grown children.

This post is a response to a CNN.com post from a Texas mother entitled Why I Raise My Children Without God that has been viewed more than 750,ooo times.

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 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?

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.


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  • LW

    Dr. Craig says, “Christians have led the way in the fight against slavery, poverty, disease, ignorance, and the manifest evils of our world.”

    I think a more honest appraisal is that SOME Christians have fought against slavery, poverty, disease, and ignorance, while others have fought–and are STILL fighting–to preserve the status quo and deny that Christian doctrine is the cause of many of the manifest evils of our world.

  • Jennifer

    Ok. I’ll bite. If “The whole question then is: Is Christianity true?” then I am failing to see how the author answers this question. I freely admit that this could be a lack on my part and am open to education!

    The basic divider seems to be the absence in atheism of an objective moral source. How does this prove a Christian God and not, say, Allah? Or any other God who commands certain behaviours? I’m not even sure it proves any God – it’s something I really need to think more about.

    Otherwise This post reads like a basic “she said,/he said” without much proof of anything on either side. Saying, for instance, that God is not Santa Claus and is not required to be fair (is Santa fair?), or that we can trust God to know what’s right does not prove the truth of a Christian God any more than saying “God isn’t fair” proves that God doesn’t exist.


    • Kevin

      The author doesn’t answer the question ‘ Does God exist?’ in this response. However, if you are interested, the author has published works in defense of Christian Theism.
      The motive of the original post was that God doesn’t exist. Hence, it is not necessary to show that the Christian God exist; just that the generic ‘god’ exists. However, since no logical arguments ( in the form of premises and conclusions ) were given in the original post, none are present in the response.

      • Well said, Kevin. The context was a specific response to a specific argument. Dr. Craig was repsonding to the point of that argument.

        • Jennifer

          I guess – since I am a parent working on trying to discover and articulate my own belief in God while at the same time raising a child – that I was disappointed in this post. My son was one of the reasons I started taking my belief in God seriously. Not only because I thought this was the “right” thing to do, but because my son himself gave me a reason for God. Why do children want to know so much more than right and wrong? Why do they believe in magic? Why did my three year old persist in asking about souls? Why did he ask WHY things were right or wrong? Why did he tell me he could see God even though we did not go to church and he had no contact with “religious” people? Why did he assume angels existed and seemed to know that fairy tale creatures were “maginary”. It was downright huge and scary and I often felt as though his questions were breaking open something inside of me.

          I happen to agree that children should be raised with God but I am not far enough along in my “quest” to be able to articulate a great argument for it. So… I was hoping this post would be more than it was.

      • Jennifer

        I was commenting on the authors question as stated in his post: “Is Christianity true?” and his stated intent to look at and (I assumed – wrongly in your opinion) discredit the reasons offered by the mother that Christianity is not the truth. He suggested as much by saying, “let’s look at the reasons given…” and by calling his reasons for bringing up his children as being based on truth and hers on falsehood. If his intent was simply to say, “she’s wrong because I have a different belief” then he succeeded.

  • Steve Ruble

    William Lane Craig is a dishonest sophist. He does not care whether the things he says are true or consistent, so long as they sound persuasive to his audience. For example:

    “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.”

    Right, since any parent who saw their adult child killing someone would just stand by and watch. And no parent would help their adult child if they got sick, or warn their adult child to get out of the way of a tornado, or prevent their adult child from driving drunk. After all, once a child is an adult they must be allowed to make their own free decisions without interference. Seriously?


    “Life is not fair. Get used to it. God is not under any obligation to be ‘fair.’ – William Lane Craig

    “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” – Abraham, Genesis 18:25


    “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.”

    Yahweh and Jesus command any number of things that neither WLC nor any other Christian would dream of teaching their children. If God’s commands are the standard of what is right, by what standard is WLC choosing which of God’s commands to respect?


    “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.”

    In other words, she is doing the same thing WLC does for a living, only for the other side. How aggressive! Compared to the aggressive Old Theism, the “aggressive New Atheism” is pretty weak sauce. There are thousands of schools in America dedicated to teaching children to believe in one god or another, hundreds of thousands of churches with Sunday schools dedicated to the same thing, but WLC wants you to think that it’s the New Atheists who are the aggressive ones.

    Finally, “trying to eliminate” something by writing out and sharing your reasoned arguments against it is not a scary, aggressive thing – it’s exactly what should happen in a civilized society in which people disagree. Trying to portray this mother as “aggressive” is pathetic.

    • Jennifer

      As is being noted all over the Internet, Christan responses to those that disagree with them are frequently less than … pleasant.
      In WLC’s case I had to filter out several negatively loaded words and phrases in order to try to see what he was actually saying:
      “Atheist presumptuously asserts”
      “What have atheists done for us lately?”
      “That would be the worst form of child abuse imaginable, to try to shield one’s children from the love of God”
      “Obviously not aware”
      “Childish whining”
      “God is not Santa Claus, remember?”
      “See through the sham”
      “Baseless morality she has taught them”
      “What nonsense!”
      “What more is she angling for?”
      “Aggressive New Atheism”
      These words and phrases may (or may not) be technically true, but they contribute to a divisive disparagement instead of an attempt at understanding, truth seeking or dialogue.

      What are your thoughts on the issue of raising children with (or without) God, Steve?

      • Jen, WOW. I thought he was being abundantly pleasant as he always is. Is it the truth claims of the statements that offends or your perceived tone? As to comment s on the Internet, I see no comparison between the tow groups, but perhaps I am looking in the wrong spots –away from all the Christian “haters.”

        • Jennifer

          Hi Bill,
          Comments about Christian dialogue are frequently posted on the patheos website. These posts are usually from people who care very much about Christians and I would not consider them “haters” in the least.

          I do not know Dr. Craig and am thus at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing how his tone is meant to come across. Maybe he’s a lovely man to sit down to chat with. Some of his statements may be true, as I readily acknowledged, But the overall tone, as I perceived it, was disparaging. Try reading this as someone who does not know Dr. Craig might. Or as any Mom – not just the one in Texas – who doesn’t believe in God might. Really. Try it.

          • Did you read the original article?

          • Jennifer

            Hi Bill,
            There was no “reply” button under your post (we’ve exceeded the limit!), so I’m answering here that I did read the original article written by Deborah.. Did I agree with her reasoning? No. I don’t happen to think that a life full of rainbows and joy before we drop quietly dead in our sleep at 100 would have much point – or that this is necessary to prove there is a God. I don’t personally think that God is all sweetness and light. He is great love, yes, but a fierce and radiant love and not some watered down smarminess. An elemental love that includes, well, the elements of life. The most wonderful and fully human people I have known have ALL suffered. I’m inclined to believe that suffering has an incredible power to mold us into more fully realized human beings and do not think that a lack of suffering is necessary to prove God’s existence. Nor do I think that God is fair in the sense that everyone gets the same sized piece of cake and that we can only believe in a God that treats everyone equally. Good parents don’t treat their children equally, they treat them as individuals.

            So yes, i read the article and no, I did not agree with Deborah’s reasons. But I will not put her down or mock the beliefs that she has thought out in her attempt to raise her children in what she considers to be the truth. I will not remind her that God isn’t Santa Claus and thus treat her like an idiot. Or accuse her of childish whining. Or – and I hope Dr. Craig didn’t intend this – imply that she is guilty of the worst kind of child abuse conceivable by following her beliefs. If we were sitting down together or if I was responding to her post I would tell her where I disagreed and why. There is a way to do that with caring, however, and that is where I honestly believe Dr. Craig has failed.

          • Thanks, Jen. I belive what Dr. Craig was referring to was that if he believed in that God and denied that belief to his own chidlren — that such denial would be tantamount to child abuse — withholding what you believe to be good and best for your children.

        • Jennifer

          The following is asked in an attempt to understand Dr. Craig’s beliefs.

          Dr. Craig makes the statement that if we can see, hear or touch God than he would be an idol, in effect, and not God. Is he saying that Jesus was not God the Son?

  • Will

    Oh my. If William Lane Craig truly is the best of the modern apologists (as I have heard him called,) I am very much relieved. I expected more than the usual silliness about how God works in mysterious ways, and therefore it’s all for the best if you get slaughtered by a madman or raped by a priest. What a Panglossian perspective. We go on to find that Craig either denies the divinity of Jesus Christ OR promotes a radical new theory of an invisible, non-corporeal, silent Christ who must have been rather a bore at the Last Supper. At least there’s a family resemblance with the latter possibility.

    Honestly, it’s not hard to see why people seem to want to take Craig seriously. He’s a commendably smooth writer and skips from leaky proposition to unfounded assertion with zest and flourish. What he doesn’t do is actually make the case that sensible people in our modern world should derive their morality from an ancient book of myths, poetry, laws, and drug-induced prophecy. He wants to know where I get my morals as an anti-theist atheist? From society, Dr. Craig. The same society that invented gods to give the rules some hard-to-question authority. We are social creatures; we make our morality and then make our gods to mirror it. Or perhaps it’s just coincidence that the Mormon God changed his mind about black people in the ’70’s? A particularly amusing illustration of a universal truth.

    Teach your kids whatever you’d like. Demographics say that for the most part, they’ll be on my side of things before they’re thirty, no matter what you tell them about Jesus. Pour it on thick; makes it easier for them to break out later.

    • Will, I could dismiss your comment with the same ad hominen attacks you employed, but I couldn’t help but notice that you did not respond to Dr. Craig’s arguments in any way except to insult him and Christianity in general. I will try to say this as lovingly as possible, but your comment reveals that in spite of the sincerity of your own beliefs, you really do not seem to know much about Christianity. You may continue to worship yourself if you choose. As for me, I know that approach couldn’t possibly end well.

      So that I may understand, is there anything that society would call good that you would think is not good? In other words, can society ever be wrong?

    • Jennifer

      Completely confused here…

      From your comments:
      Your view is that sensible people should not DERIVE their morality from made up stuff (myths/drug induced prophecies). This makes some sense – best not to base our lives on a lie.
      At the same time you believe that social creatures CREATE their own morality (they make up rules to suit them as a whole) and then go a step further to make up nonsense to make the rules hard to question. If this is true then the society you are basing your morality on is largely nuts.
      So are you saying that the atheist view is that we should just make up and live by rules of our choosing, but skip the step of making up a fictional justification for them? Are the rules so non-evident that we need to create fictions to explain them? Do we have any basis for morality other than “this is the way we do things”?

  • Duncan Faber

    Just as important as religion is morality. I find morality plays and fables to be very helpful to kids. I downloaded a great podcast of children’s fables for free at http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/stories-for-kids. Later, we talked about it as a family. Lovely.

  • Becca

    This is one horrendous response to the original article which I thought was perfectly reasonable.
    Both the original article and this answer to it are dealing fundamentally with the problem of evil. How could a god, who is all good, all knowing, and all powerful, fail to fit our ideals of a good parent so dramatically? Your answer shows that the classic problem of evil is far from “bankrupt.”

    You state that God doesn’t have to fit our ideal of a good parent: “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).”

    In saying this, you have, indeed, solved the problem of evil. This particular god is amoral. He doesn’t have to be good. He is all powerful, works in strange ways, whatever he does, be it genocide or damnation is good, and we, his creatures, have no right to question him, or have any expectations from him at all.

    That would be fine, if you didn’t then go on to contradict yourself by stating that God is good, and is the foundation for our sense of good and evil: “on naturalism there is no objective right or wrong.”
    That brings us back to the problem of evil: If God is good; if he CREATED good, how could he not fit in any way our ideal of what is good?

    Faced with this distressing situation, you state your faith: God is good, and all will be fixed in heaven. Problem is, you already attacked the original article for expecting God to behave like a good parent on earth. Now you turn around, and expect God to fit the role after we’re dead. This is another contradiction. Faced with such a God, you can have no certainty of any sort. Yes, you might have faith that it will all work out, but that’s your belief. You didn’t prove anything in the essay but the deep and abiding misery the problem of evil creates for apologists.

    I’m left wondering how anyone in their right minds could believe that teaching children this horror could possibly help them.