I haven’t blogged in the last couple of weeks because my family and I were on vacation. We went on a wonderful trip to the island of Grand Cayman! I successfully managed to avoid email while I was there, but that made for quite a backlog by the time I returned. As I started going through the emails to my blog address, I was struck by the nature of comment after comment left by atheists on various old blog posts while I was gone: one emotional attack after another and not a single discussion of evidence for/against the truth of Christianity.
I actually get such emails all the time and am very used to it. But seeing them all piled together made me realize how often the objective of skeptics is to shame Christians rather than to engage in fair-minded discussions about evidence—something highly ironic given how much skeptics talk in theory about how important evidence is.
Shaming can have an especially negative impact on kids, who are very susceptible to believing emotion-laden statements. But this, too, is something we can (and should) prepare them for. While shaming comes in all kinds of forms, I can roll 90 percent of skeptics’ comments into some version of three general claims.
Here is what your kids are most likely to hear…and what you can do about it.
1. “You’ve been indoctrinated.”
The Implied Shame Claim: You’re just parroting what your parents have drilled into your head throughout your childhood. You’ve been brainwashed and can’t even think for yourself. If you’re brave enough to look at [evidence/science/common sense] instead, you’ll see how crazy Christianity is.
I probably receive at least one blog comment each week about how I’m indoctrinating my kids simply by raising them in a Christian home. Skeptics love to say this. The problem is, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what indoctrination even means. As I explained in this post, indoctrination is “teaching someone to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions and beliefs.” In other words, indoctrination is a problem with how you teach someone something. It’s not inherently related to any particular belief system, though religion is one type of belief system where indoctrination is possible. Atheists can indoctrinate their kids as well.
So, unless a skeptic has been inside the homes of every Christian in America, seen how we are teaching our kids Christianity, and then had appropriate reason to conclude that we don’t collectively expose our kids to other ideas, it’s utterly meaningless to say that “Christians indoctrinate their kids.”
What Parents Can Do:
- Make sure you’re not actually indoctrinating your kids. Make sure you are teaching them what other people believe. That doesn’t mean you should teach them that what everyone else believes is true (that’s not logically possible)—it simply means you’re appropriately comparing and contrasting other ideas, opinions, and beliefs.
- Make it explicitly clear to your kids that you don’t want them to believe in Jesus just because you do. (Read why this is so important in my post, Six Scary But Important Words Every Christian Parent Should Say to Their Kids About Faith.) When you’ve actually demonstrated that it’s important for them to own their spiritual decisions, they’ll have no reason to later question whether they’ve been “indoctrinated” when someone suggests it.
- Teach your kids the evidence for the truth of Christianity (you’re going to see a recurring theme on this bullet point). In that very process, you’ll be comparing and contrasting truth claims from various worldviews and your kids will know first-hand that you didn’t “indoctrinate” them.
2. “If you allow yourself to think critically, you’ll see there’s no reason to believe in God.”
The Implied Shame Claim: Don’t you want to be a critical thinker? Someone who is rational, reasonable, and uses their brain? If you have faith, you’re throwing all that out the door. You’re choosing to believe something in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
“Critical thinking” is a buzz phrase today. Technically speaking, critical thinking is the “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue to form a judgment.” The funny thing is, skeptics always assume that such thinking necessarily leads to their own conclusions. The logic goes like this:
- Critical thinking means forming beliefs based on evidence.
- There’s no evidence for God.
- If you believe in God, you’re not thinking critically.
The problem with this logic is the second statement—the foregone conclusion that there’s no evidence for God. A more honest assessment would be that Christians and atheists disagree over what constitutes legitimate evidence for God. As much as many skeptics would like to make critical thinking their own domain based on this implied argument, the reality is that neither Christians nor atheists are willing to believe in something without evidence; Christians believe there is evidence for God. That’s why conversations about who’s thinking more critically than whom are absolutely pointless. There are Christians who think well and Christians who think poorly; atheists who think well and atheists who think poorly. This says nothing about the evidence itself.
What Parents Can Do:
- Be intentional in talking to your kids about definitions. So many times, Christians and skeptics talk right past each other with conflicting meanings of the same words. In this case, discuss the words critical thinking and faith (skeptics incorrectly assert that faith means believing something in spite of evidence—see chapter 8 of my book for help with this conversation).
- Discuss the implied argument of the three points listed above and explain that this is the logic behind skeptics’ claims that Christians don’t think critically. When you expose your kids to the thinking behind the shame claim, they won’t be fazed by it later.
- Teach your kids the evidence for the truth of Christianity (yup, here it is again!). It’s one thing to show them the faulty logic (see the point above)—it’s another thing to teach them how to combat a faulty premise themselves.
3. “Christians are less intelligent than atheists. Studies show it.”
The Implied Shame Claim: You’re stupid if you’re a Christian and that’s not just my opinion—it’s been proven.
You may be surprised to hear that a number of studies have found a negative relationship between intelligence and religiousness—in other words, they suggest that the more intelligent a person is, the less likely they are to be religious. Many passionate atheists are well aware of these studies and use them as ammunition for their arguments that religion is for the poor, ignorant, or unintelligent.
My professional background is in market research (I have an MBA in marketing and statistics) so I decided to personally review the studies that are constantly referenced by skeptics. I explained my findings in detail in my post, Are Christians Less Intelligent Than Atheists? Here’s What Those Studies REALLY Say, and further in Chapter 16 of my book.
Here’s the bottom line of what you should know: Over the last 80+ years, many studies have been done on the relationship between intelligence and religiousness. In 2013, researchers pulled together all the ones that quantified that relationship. Of the 63 studies they identified, roughly half showed no relationship at all. The other half showed at least some kind of negative relationship (the more intelligent you are, the less likely you are to be religious). That said, statistically speaking, it’s not very helpful to simply know there is “some kind” of relationship. You have to know how strong the relationship is to know if it matters. So researchers combined the results of all these individual studies to evaluate that question overall…and found the strength of relationship to be very weak. What do I mean by very weak? A -.17 or -.20 correlation is considered to be a trivial or negligible relationship by most statisticians. In other words, hardly worth mentioning. There is no reasonable basis for suggesting Christians are less intelligent than atheists according to this data.
What Parents Can Do:
- Give your kids an appropriate framework for considering this kind of claim before you even discuss specific studies: Even if we could reliability measure which group is collectively smarter (we can’t), the answer wouldn’t tell us anything about the truth of Christianity. Intelligence doesn’t equate to always having the right answer. The important question we must constantly point our kids back to is, Which worldview is an accurate picture of reality? (Not which worldview theoretically has the smartest adherents.)
- If your kids are teens, take the time to read my summary of these studies and findings and then discuss (links to my blog post and book above).
- Teach your kids the evidence for the truth of Christianity (I told you this would keep coming up!). How else will they know how to set aside distracting claims like this one about intelligence and answer the key question, Which worldview is an accurate picture of reality?
So, you must have caught the recurring solution that combats all of these attempts at shaming: Teach your kids the evidence for the truth of Christianity.
Consider for a moment why that in particular is the antidote for almost any shaming attempt. Shame by definition is “a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness or disgrace.” In other words, the root of shame is feeling inadequate.
In order for our kids to feel (more than) adequate when they encounter shaming attempts, they need to have the deep conviction that what they believe is really true. Only then will they be able to fully see these shame claims for what they are—shallow and baseless emotional attacks—and be able to say confidently with the apostle Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
If you need help talking to your kids about the evidence for the truth of Christianity and how to address secular claims with your kids, please check out my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith.