(This post answers question #12 in my “65 Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Learn to Answer” series. Sign up to receive posts via email to make sure you can answer each one!)
One day last week, I had been busy upstairs for an extended period when I realized how suspiciously quiet it had been downstairs. When three kids ages five and under are quiet for too long, you know there’s a problem.
I arrived downstairs to find my 5-year-old twins at the kitchen table making an underwater volcano from their science kit. I was quite surprised because in the past they’ve only used the kit with me instructing them. Before I could ask what was going on, Kenna explained, “Mommy, we can read the instructions on our own now! The parts we don’t understand, we’ll just figure out.”
Both of my twins became confident readers this year, so in a flash of parental ambivalence I agreed to let them continue while I finished laundry.
Fast-forward 15 minutes. I returned to find a floor covered in colored water and crystals – the unfortunate result of “figuring out” a few things on their own.
The Limits of Common Sense
Like my twins, most people have a tendency to want to figure things out on their own without overthinking it. Precise philosophical definitions aside, we casually refer to this as using our common sense.
Common sense is “sound judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” It’s an important part of our daily lives. For example, common sense tells us to not walk into the street when we see a car coming.
We run into problems, however, when we attempt to make common sense-type judgments about matters that require more understanding than a simple perception of facts.
For example, no one would try to conduct surgery on another person without medical training. We accept that the ability to do surgery requires a deeper knowledge of medical facts and not just simple perceptions about what makes sense when we cut someone open.
Religious belief is in this same category of complex things that require a different type of knowledge than simple common sense. Yet, one of the most frequent attacks on Christianity is that it doesn’t make sense (see this article as an example). These claims can look very compelling to people (especially kids) not well-grounded in their faith. They are typically emotion-laden, out-of-context caricatures that are written to make a person feel utterly stupid for being a Christian.
Inappropriate appeals to common sense don’t only come from extreme atheist positions. More and more people are claiming they are “spiritual but not religious,” and retain the parts of Christianity that happen to make the most sense to them. This is an equally dangerous problem. When our kids feel they can subjectively figure out what does and doesn’t make sense about Christianity, it’s like subjectively figuring out what does and doesn’t make sense when building an underwater volcano – the result doesn’t even resemble what it was intended to be.
How “Common Sense” Can Lead People Astray
In case you don’t encounter these issues personally, I wanted to give you an example. I wrote the following commentary from the perspective of a fictitious person, but it’s very representative of the type of thought process I often encounter online. You’ll see why it can be very compelling to a young person. I’ve color-coded these statements about Christianity from green (most people think this makes sense) to red (many people do not think this makes sense).
God loves you.
Yay! This one gives me warm, fuzzy feelings. I love that God loves me. Awesome.
God wants you to love others.
Yeah, that totally makes sense. I know it’s important to care for other people. Sure, it can be hard sometimes, but it’s the right thing to do.
Humans are sinful by nature.
Hmm. I’m a pretty good person. I mean, I see your point that all humans do bad things once in a while, but overall I would say I’m good. It’s starting to freak me out a little that you want to label me a “sinner.” Let’s not be so dramatic.
There must be a consequence for our sins.
Double hmm. I’m sure that a great big God has more important things to be concerned about than whether I yelled at that crazy guy who cut me off on the freeway yesterday. I hope there are some big consequences for people like Hitler, but do I really need to believe that there has to be a consequence for all the day-to-day bad things the average person does?
God sent Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins so we can be reconciled to God.
OK, now this is getting weird. Why would God need to send Jesus to die a horrible death on a cross just so He can forgive us? That sounds an awful lot like the ancient human interpretation of Jesus’s death. Talking about sacrifices in 2014 doesn’t make sense to me.
Believing in Jesus is the only way to God.
Are you aware that pretty much everyone thinks Christians are intolerant? This is why. You think Jesus is the only way to God! That’s ridiculous. You are arrogant.
Those who do not believe in Jesus will be separated from God forever in hell.
I’m done talking now. If you believe the same God who loves everyone is going to torture people forever in the fires of hell, you are hopeless.
Ground Your Kids’ Faith the Right Way
These arguments from what people appeal to as universal common sense don’t sound very unreasonable on the surface, do they? I’m sure you can see why such judgments are compelling to young minds.
Our kids need to know that our understanding of truth should never be grounded in whatever we happen to think makes sense (whether that is Christianity or anything else). This is why it’s so important for us as parents to equip ourselves with an understanding of apologetics and to train our kids accordingly. When we ground their faith in evidence, they’ll be able to spot nonsense a mile away.