Why All Christian Parents Should Teach Their Children About Other Religions

I started teaching my twins the alphabet when they turned two. Yes, I know that is a bit extreme. But, truth be told, I was a little bored with “non-productive” play time and wanted to do something even marginally goal-oriented with them.  By the time they were two and a half, they both knew all their letters. (I’m both embarrassed and proud to say that my daughter could also name every state on the map at that age.) I have since slowed way down with the learning curve, but still spend a couple of afternoons per week teaching them “early preschool” lessons (they are now three).

I recently started a book for them with various alphabet exercises in it. On each page, a letter is shown in the context of several other letters and the child is supposed to circle all the correct upper and lower case instances of it – for example, circle the “O”s in this picture:

 

Despite having known his individual letters for almost a year, my son was absolutely confused by the page above. He simply could not distinguish the Cs from the Os. Thinking something was horribly wrong, I grabbed the “C” letter magnet we have and asked him what it was. “C,” he said, no problem. Then I showed him an “O” letter magnet; “O,” he said, again no problem. But presented with a bunch of Cs and Os together for the first time, he could no longer distinguish between them.

This little preschool exercise gave me pause to think about the bigger truth that context makes all the difference in a person’s understanding of a subject.

As an intentional Christian mom, I am striving to provide my children with the strongest (Christian) faith foundation possible before they leave my home someday. I think about ways to develop their prayer life, how to teach them what the Bible is and isn’t, what to tell them about God’s nature, the importance of going to church, and the list goes on.

But with all of these things, my mindset is on teaching them an individual, isolated “C,” in this case representing Christianity. If they leave home someday only understanding this “C” by itself, however, they could easily be led astray by the “O”s of the world – belief systems that look similar to Christianity but in reality are vastly different.

The difference between C and O is the difference between words that mean something and words that don’t: cake versus oake; call versus oall; cradle versus oradle. That small little curve that converts C to O leads to vast changes in meaning. “Small” differences between belief systems also lead to vast changes in meaning.

Take this article with an atheist’s version of the Ten Commandments as an example (a friend happened to send this to me today). In format, it’s like the Bible’s Ten Commandments. At a cursory level, the topics are similar to the Bible’s Ten Commandments. But the Ten Commandments minus God are completely devoid of their original meaning and purpose. The seemingly “small” change of removing God references represents a completely different (atheistic) worldview.

The world today would like everyone to believe that all religions are “basically” the same and that atheists believe in many of the same values, just not the same God. If our children are to eventually navigate this highly inaccurate view, they need to understand precisely what other major religions believe and precisely how those beliefs differ with Christian beliefs (here is a giant chart as one example of types of comparison points). In other words, as Christian parents, our job description needs to be more than teaching “C” … we need to be prepared to teach “C” in the context of “O”s. This is something I’m not necessarily prepared for yet myself, but today I realize more than ever how important gaining that better understanding and sharing it with my kids will be. In light of this, you can look forward to some coming posts with key points for teaching your kids the differences between major religions!

How have you talked to your kids about other religions? Have you taken them to other churches? What was your experience?

9 Comments

  1. Jeannine Melville on April 12, 2012 at 9:59 PM

    Great topic! Can’t wait to see the follow up discussions.



    • Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts on April 15, 2012 at 1:40 PM

      Thank you! 🙂



  2. Lynn Kaufman on April 13, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    Love your symbolisms & analogies.



    • Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts on April 15, 2012 at 1:41 PM

      Thanks so much!



  3. David Crain on April 13, 2012 at 8:16 PM

    Among other things, thanks for the “Big Chart” you reference–very useful and informative. I am shocked to see how few Christian Scientists there are. My grandfather was said to be a part-time Christian Scientist. Also, unless I misread the chart, it is interesting to note that the number of Jews in is about the same as the number of Mormons world wide.



    • Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts on April 15, 2012 at 1:44 PM

      There are definitely more religions on there than I will be informed about, but I thought it was interesting too! I rarely hear of Christian Scientists anymore, but where I grew up there was a large church of them. They seemed to be a much bigger religion in my mind at the time because of it, but ever since being in California I’ve hardly seen anything of them.



  4. Grace on April 14, 2012 at 12:54 AM

    Natasha, I read your post with great interest. I must disagree with your conclusion though. I believe that if you teach your children the Biblical Christian way of life thoroughly, they will have no trouble recognizing anything that stands in opposition to the Scriptures. In other words, they will recognize the truth versus the non-truth. A person doesn’t need to go to all the other churches and seek to understand other religions to recognize for themselves a false religion if they are well versed in the Bible and what it teaches. We don’t need to use drugs to know that they are harmful for us. When your children are old enough and have questions of their own, they can learn enough about other religions to discuss intelligently with others then but always making their answers from the Word of God. God’s wisdom doesn’t come from learning about the philosophies and religions of this world. It’s more important to teach them well the Scriptures and how to live as Christ followers. That’s my opinion.



    • Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts on April 15, 2012 at 1:39 PM

      Hi Grace, Thanks for your comment! I have to say that I agree with you in theory, but I have experienced something much different in seeing paths of various friends in the past and friends today. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we teach our kids equally about Christianity and other major religions. As you said very well, God’s wisdom does NOT come from learning about every other philosophy and religion of the world. I agree completely. But I have seen many Christian friends grow up and turn away from God in various ways because they weren’t grounded in an understanding of Christianity in a wider context. I’ve known many Christians turn agnostic or atheist; I’ve seen Christian friends convert to other religions “just” because their spouse was of that religion; I’ve seen Christian friends claim that they are both Buddhist and Christian; and I’ve known quite a few Christians who have turned to the philosophy that every religion points to the same God and while they personally choose Christianity, they don’t believe in the need to witness to others.

      Now, one could ask if this is because they just weren’t grounded enough in God’s Word to begin with or if it is actually because they didn’t understand Christianity in a comparative sense. I don’t believe you can really isolate those effects. Surely, the more grounded you are in God’s Word, the more obvious the differences will be when they are presented. But that begs the question of how much grounding you can really provide your kids. I hope, pray, and plead that my kids will leave home grounded in God’s truth. And I will pour out my life in the process. The whole purpose of my blog is to help both myself and others be more intentional about the faith foundation we give our kids. At the end of the day, however, there are limits to what we can do. People who are not as gifted by nature with faith (like me!) need more context. By teaching our kids about other religions (and atheism), we are simply giving them one more tool to stay strong. You’re right – some may not need that tool; they may have the insight by nature. I would just suggest that we don’t know what our kids will and won’t need faith-wise (we are all very different people!), so we need to give them all we can.

      Teaching them God’s Word is first and foremost our responsibility! But an understanding of their faith in the context of other faiths can only make them stronger (not to mention able to witness to others in those religions!).

      Thanks for your comment! I appreciate your opinion!



  5. Jenni on May 6, 2015 at 11:52 PM

    I have a kindergartener and 1st grader. This topic leads me to think about cross-cultural ministry. I was required to take the class to graduate Bible college, therefore I believe it may be important enough to talk about it with my kids. Both of my kids seem to be rooted in faith and we openly talk about the differences in people, this includes, male/female, personalities, learning styles and even how God (uses) people in different ways.
    I believe a really good tool we could present to our kids, is a bridge method.
    Can we connect with people we meet who don’t believe what we believe?
    Would we be able to establish trust, acceptance and possibly be able to share what we believe with people who believe something different?
    I have not received a sign from God telling me to become a world-missionary. However, mission trips and being exposed to cultural-differences would honestly help teach cross-culture ministry. Furthermore, exsposure could help our children apply the bridge we desire to make with people of different beliefs or lack of belief.
    In conclusion, I plan to get a children’s religion picture book and do a summer report/project on what other people believe. The book has maps, explanations and pictures.
    I plan on visiting the major religious places of worship, (in my local area) to show my kids what a particular religion may look like.
    I can’t go to all the countries where a religion is the majority, but I can show them America I can teach them about the religious freedom in the US.
    This also means freedom to worship and believe in our own Christian beliefs. In Christ, we trust, that while my kids and I learn about others, we pray that, opportunities arise to tell people about the good-news of Christ Jesus, our Lord.