The One Thing Christian Parents Aren’t Doing

The One Thing Christian Parents Aren’t Doing October 26, 2014

Today, let’s look at an awful bit of advice circulating around lately. This listicle aims for Christian parents, and promises to show them how to keep their kids Christian for life.

Interior of the house of a Palestinian Christi...
Interior of the house of a Palestinian Christian family in Jerusalem. By W. H. Bartlett, ca 1850 (Wikipedia)

More Accusations For Parents.

The other day this post by Jeff Strong popped up in my FB feed. It consists of accusations about the mistakes Christian parents make that drive their kids from the religion. An ex-Christian parent included an interesting comment attached to it. The comment concerned something big the listicle writer had forgotten to include.

Her comment fed into what I was thinking earlier about control. Indeed, in Christianity panicking parents and elders do their best to slow the hemorrhage of teens and young adults from churches!

I’ve talked before about how quickly young people are leaving Christianity. Indeed, one doesn’t need to search far to find article after article talking about it.

Yes, absolutely, young people are leaving Christianity. They either fully deconvert or do what one site called “disengaging” (I do love that word). In disengagement, people pull away from the actual practices of the religion like praying, going to church, witnessing, studying the Bible, etc. Pope Francis disdainfully called disengagement “practical atheism.”

Deconversion and disengagement rates go from “whoa” to “holy shit” from 0 to 60 seconds. Some surveys discover that a third of Christian youth disengage; others head into the nosebleed 90%+ percentages.

The Usual Suspects.

The usual suspects get blamed.

Colleges are soooooooo meeeeeeeean to Christianity and young people are “inarticulate and uninformed.” Colleges are sooooooo attractive to kids today, but they’re filled with “rabidly anti-Christian” educators eager to tear apart those kids’ faith like the meanipies they are.

Here’s a youth pastor who thinks that the problem is that young people are “illiterate” and that’s why they’re leaving. That link is especially useful because it lists a variety of books and studies, all of which paint a downright dramatic picture of a church that slowly ages in place.

It must be hard to be Christian parents in this climate and know anything about these statistics. For what it’s worth, I sympathize. Given how many Christians demonize and vilify ex-Christians and atheists, and given how little most folks–especially fundagelical parents–know about either group, and most of all given how poorly most Christian denominations understand real love, I can totally get why parents might worry about the state of their kids’ spiritual health. It’s misplaced, but it’s still there.

Advice For Fearful Parents.

Parents tend to love their children. That doesn’t really change no matter what religion someone is. So of course they want to guide their kids as best they know how. And of course their leaders will take advantage of that desire.

Thus, resources abound for Christian parents eager to ensure that their offspring stay Christian through those risky early-college years.

As you can also imagine, those resources range in value from “useless” to “guaranteed to backfire in the most hilariously catastrophic manner possible.”

(Dennis Jarvis, CC-SA.)
(Dennis Jarvis, CC-SA.)

Everything is Better in Lists.

Take this bit of wankery seen in the wild a few months ago that tells us all about “3 Common Traits of Youths Who Don’t Leave the Church.” Are you already wondering what Brian Orme those traits might be? Well, here they are:

  1. They are converted.
  2. They have been equipped, not entertained.
  3. Their parents preached the gospel to them.

To which I can only say–before Christian parents heave a huge sigh of relief because they think they’re doing these things already–I know any number of ex-Christians who could easily say they once fit into all three of these categories.

I myself fit them to a certain extent. Not that it’s difficult to fit into them. Like a lot of other blather one encounters in fundagelical Christianity, not a single bit of these guidelines is actually supported by objective reality. They are just words, words, words–like “submission” and “true Christian.” They don’t mean anything. The author of them not only lacks citations for what he’s asserting but also any concrete proof that it works; it’s just his observations and intuitions.

As even he concedes, after blaming everybody for not indoctrinating kids well enough and lauding those parents who “made” their kids go to church (because that always makes kids super-fervent Christians who love Jesus and not simmering cauldrons of resentment eager to flee the second they’re able to do so), “it’s not a formula.” Still, he insists–absent any evidence whatsoever–that “it’s also not a crapshoot.” Now that’s optimism!

And he forgets to talk about the most important thing a parent can do to ensure a child moves in the direction the parent wants.

More Listicle Advice.

On the other hand, this site’s got a list of things not to do:

  1. Falling into the temptation of using religion to control their children through guilt and shame.
  2. The parents seem to be afraid of the world, instead of empowered to live in it.
  3. Children do not see the parents drawing any joy from their faith.
  4. The children are discouraged from finding answers to their questions.
  5. The children believe they have nothing to offer the Christian community.

Again, this advice produces ex-Christians as often as it might Christians. The author of it, Yaholo Hoyt, advises parents to be “inspired” by Jesus. This “inspiration” will in turn inspire their children. However, the author never describes exactly how parents will know they are being inspired by their Savior and not just getting a wild hair up their own asses. Or how to tell if they’re being inspired the right way. Or how to tell they’re being inspired enough.

Christians talk like this, using terms and words that totally lack concrete qualities and which cannot be objectively tested or measured, when they want to sound very deep and Jesus-y.

And it, like the first piece, misses mentioning the most important thing possible that parents can do to keep their kids Christian.

Pretty Much of a Muchness.

I’ll spare you the rest of my research; it’s all pretty much of a muchness. I doubt you’ll find anything in the Christ-o-sphere that is markedly different from what I’ve outlined here. There, you’ll find lots of nebulous bullshit promising results, or equally nebulous warnings of what not to do. None of it is very useful. However, it ticks all the boxes that Christians like to see ticked.

More importantly, all these listicles give other Christians someone to blame when things go hideously wrong.

And it’s all so pointless. It’s not hard to find Christian parenting advice focusing on making sure kids are either so insulated from “the world” that they can’t possibly encounter anybody or anything challenging to their faith, or else so hugely indoctrinated that a ready apologetics answer springs from their lips the second they encounter an opportunity to use a talking-point.

They seriously think they can doubt-proof a kid using those two methods.

The Coping Strategy of People Who Can’t Cope With Reality.

However, I didn’t see a single post or article that used any real-world science-type citations at all for their advice or reveal exactly how they could objectively demonstrate that their advice was better than the rest or worth following.

It’s like Christians are partway through a massive social experiment on their own kids. The results are in, amigo; what’s left to ponder?

Christianity, despite this proliferation of words, words, words about keeping kids Christian, loses its youngest members in droves anyway.

I’ve noticed that when Christians see themselves failing somehow, their response is to drill down harder on a false message and backfired tactics.

Drilling Down.

They think that the problem is either not doing things hardcore enough, or not communicating their ideas just perfectly.

We see this going on right now with the Republican Party’s constant attempts to “rebrand” that only seem to drive target groups further and further away from their viciously sexist, racist, classist banner.

But the problem isn’t the way Christians are communicating their message. No matter how they try to rebrand their overreach, it’s still a pretty bad message at heart. Even so, not all of them even agree that rebranding is even needed.

Even where they can be made to agree on something, all they can do is try to whitewash and conceal their bad message. And the failure of that message certainly isn’t going to be fixed by being more disapproving and restrictive, or even by ever-more-savagely oppressing themselves and whoever else they can.

A Sharply-Limited Toolbox.

So I don’t hold out a lot of hope that Christian parents are going to start questioning this conventional wisdom about how to raise kids who stay Christian once they’ve flown free of Mommy and Daddy’s power. Control is the only real tool most Christians have in the ol’ toolbox at this point.

Indeed, a number of panicking Christian parents are currently cheering on an evangelical abstinence-only lecturer, Pam Stenzel, who openly deceives and shames students about sexuality and contraception because she’s soooooo “moral.” That link is about how a school board was wasting taxpayer dollars to invite this overtly religious person to come preach to kids in an attempt to shame and terrorize them out of having sex, because that always works, right?

Since then, a private business decided to handle Ms. Stenzel’s fee, but it seems that even they’re ashamed of doing so; nobody’s saying which business it is, not even Ms. Stenzel herself–so much for Christian bravery! Remember during the Dover trial where Alan Bonsell got caught telling a bald-faced lie by a federal judge about how he got Creationist books into his town’s public classrooms?

Objective Morality: Looks Subjective To Me.

It’s mind-blowing, considering that one of Christians’ big bugbears is “subjective morality.” I don’t know what could be more subjective than “the ends justify the means” and “it’s okay if I’m the one doing it.” Lying to and deceiving kids is fine, as long as it’s for a good cause.

Thus, Ms. Stenzel can’t possibly tell kids the truth, because–why? Is she scared they’ll have sex if they’re given honest and accurate information about their bodies (which is completely untrue)? Or because people who get lied to about their bodies never have non-marital sex (like my mother did to conceive me, after she’d received a purely abstinence-based sex education)? Would she rather kids wreck their lives with disease or pregnancy than to protect them, or does she prefer to terrorize and keep kids ignorant because that’s how kids stay Christian (holy cow, that’s downright evil!)?

Whatever her reasons for fearing the truth, Ms. Stenzel informs Christian audiences that she doesn’t care if abstinence-only education has been shown time and again to be hugely ineffective. Her goal is very clearly making and keeping kids Christian, not helping them stay safe, which is why she refers to what she’s doing as a ministry and not as education.

A Point on the Trend Line.

In this story about Pam Stenzel, I see a microcosm of the entire approach Christianity is using on youth.

And that approach isn’t going to work. Ms. Stenzel and her peers are making a lot of assumptions about young people that simply aren’t true.

They’re not like how we were at that age. I mean that in the best way possible. Of course, there are always awful or dipshit kids, get offa my lawn, whatever. But overall, these are smart, caring, compassionate people coming of age now. I hear what they talk about, and it just staggers me to see the level of self-awareness they bring to bear.

One thing young folks aren’t, though, and that is patient with deception. They live and move through a world filled with adults’ dishonesty and manipulation. What marks them more than any other generation, I think, is their desire for authenticity and truth. They may not always know how to get there, but they know that’s what they want.

And they’re going to get the truth whether their parents like it or not.

The Universe In Our Pockets.

Speaking of which: right now, many people carry in their pockets a little gadget that can access for its owner very nearly the sum total of human knowledge and experience. With that gadget, anybody can debunk a pastor’s talking-point on a Sunday morning before the altar call is even given. People can destroy an entire homeschooling curriculum in one otherwise-empty Saturday afternoon, or they can even undo an entire Vacation Bible School’s rah-rah with one YouTube comment war.

With the possible exception of the most insulated of young people, most folks know at least one person nowadays who isn’t Christian. What they can learn from that dissenter can absolutely destroy the lifelong work laid into them by their well-meaning authority figures.

Sooner or later, Christian kids encounter information that connects with them. When that day occurs, all the apologetics chirping they’ve learned will disintegrate.

Sooner or later, those young people will run across a a gay person, or a feminist, or a Wiccan, or an atheist, or whatever else his or her church demonizes. When that happens, they’ll realize that what their church teaches about those enemies is totally wrong. Maybe they will then begin wonder what else is wrong.

What They’re Really Doing Wrong.

So… did you guess what all of these advice sites and speakers and writers forgot to include in how to keep kids Christian?

DON’T TEACH KIDS STUFF YOU CAN’T PROVE.

USE FACTS.

BE HONEST ABOUT WHAT IS OPINION-BASED OR MIGHT BE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

Isn’t that weird stuff for all these Christian writers to forget?

Reality Reinforces the Truth.

See, if something’s true, then it stands on its own. It won’t use fear or manipulation to sell itself.

People support true claims with objective facts. Anybody with any belief can double-check a true claim. People teaching truthful facts refuse to lie or use weasel words like “from a certain point of view” (goddamned Jedi). Sure, lies sometimes swamp the truth, but it comes out eventually.

Anything that can be destroyed by the truth deserves to be.

Instead of teaching the truth, Christian parents rely on indoctrination. Indoctrination plants untruths in kids’ minds in much the same way that apologetics explains why reality never conforms to Christians’ expectations.

The more Christian parents insulate their kids and drill down on these deceptions, the worse it’s going to be when those kids get a tiny glimpse of reality.

Why They’re Leaving.

Young people walk away from Christianity not because they want to bonk like bunnies, nor because they’re religiously illiterate, nor because adults entertained them too much or too often.

Other non-causes: not being insulated enough from “the world;” not being forced to attend church often enough; parents’ “inspire” too little (WTF?).

No, they leave because Christianity’s truth claims are not true and their groups are too awful to put up with if their ideology isn’t true. 

Christianity’s message itself is flawed because it’s not the truth. And Christians’ retention tactics malfunction because Christians base them on manipulating and strong-arming kids to accept stuff that isn’t, at heart, true. These tactics work for a short while on most very young children. Once they get older, they notice cracks in the brick wall.

Recovering From Indoctrination.

Those kids will then have to unravel the truth, at great personal cost and with much emotional pain and devastation, when they get older. It’s a brutal process. Indeed, I’ve seen a number of ex-Christians go through it. Teaching kids pseudo-science and junk history squashes their curiosity and destroys their sense of wonder.

Worst of all, young people who awaken to the truth will then struggle to recover from that strange sort of metallic shame they learned to feel regarding emotions that just about every human on the planet has felt since before we even became humans.

D’you think that those making that cruelly unnecessary journey will look back at their onetime religion and feel anything but anger and disgust for what it’s done to them?

At this point, Christian parents and pastors are the best allies that anybody could ever want in making kids disengage from Christianity.

It’s almost as if that’s what Christian leaders wanted all along. If they wanted to see legions of young people struggle and stumble and stagger out of their religion, they couldn’t have gone about that goal in a more direct and straightforward way than what they’ve chosen.

The question is whether they’ll realize it before they destroy their religion.


Endnotes.

I’m getting interviewed on radio by a member of Minnesota Atheists next Sunday, November 2nd, at 9am-10am CST! It’s my first radio interview so I hope I won’t suck at it. If you’re not in the listening area (950KTNF AM), you can still hear it by heading to http://www.am950ktnf.com/, clicking the “listen” tab, and using “55412” as your ZIP code. I’m super excited.

This group impresses me so much! Their YouTube series with Dr. Hector Avalos about Biblical archaeology really helped me learn about the topic, and they’ve had Robert Price and Dale McGowan on their podcasts in the past. That’s some very august company, and I’m very honored to be invited to join them for a little while. I’m not normally even awake at that hour, so this ought to be a lot of fun!


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