5 Signs You’re Forcing Your Religion (or Atheism) on Your Kids…and 5 Signs You’re Not

5 Signs You’re Forcing Your Religion (or Atheism) on Your Kids…and 5 Signs You’re Not

Since my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, came out in March, I’ve been blessed to receive 75 five-star reviews of it on Amazon. To all who have taken the time to leave those reviews, thank you! It means a lot!

In addition to those 75 reviews, I’ve also received 2 one-star reviews…from people who haven’t read the book.

One headline says, “How to brainwash and indoctrinate your child instead of letting him/her think for themselves [sic]”. This is followed by his review, which simply says, “This whole concept is a little upsetting to say the least.”

The other one-star review says, “If you don’t trust your children to follow your religion on their own (without constant reinforcing) then either you don’t trust in your kids or in your religion.”

Clearly, neither of these commenters have read the book and are simply rating the idea of doing something—anything—to “keep your kids on God’s side.” I probably receive at least one blog comment to that effect every week: If you’re raising your kids with a Christian worldview, it automatically means you’re forcing your religion on them.

This is, frankly, nonsense.

Let’s take a minute today and consider what “forcing” your religion—or atheism—on your kids would actually look like…and what it wouldn’t.

 

5 Signs You’re Forcing Your Religion (or Atheism) on Your Kids

 

1. You encourage them to have a blind faith, whether you realize it or not.

A blind faith is one where a person accepts certain beliefs without question. I’m pretty sure that if you asked most Christian parents if they want their kids to have such a faith, they’d answer with an emphatic, “No!” Theoretically, everyone wants their kids to have a faith more meaningful than that.

But what many parents don’t realize is that you can inadvertently raise your kids with a blind faith by encouraging them to “just believe” in Jesus.  Is this a heavy-handed or malicious forcing of religion? No. But it has a similar effect—it leads to kids having a faith that exists just because yours does.

Atheists who encourage their kids to reject God without question (because believing in God is just so ridiculous) are effectively doing the same thing.

 

2. You answer your kids’ questions about God with disapproval.

When kids ask questions about God, it’s the Christian parent’s privilege and responsibility to take the time to offer accurate and thoughtful answers. If your kids’ questions are met with disapproval, however, you’re teaching them that they should just accept what you believe for the sake of believing it. Again, is this a heavy-handed or malicious forcing of religion? No. But, again, it leads to kids having (some kind of) faith just because you do.

Atheists who are determined to make sure their kids don’t fall for the idea of God and show disapproval when their kids express interest in religion are guilty of the same thing.

 

3. You trivialize other worldviews.

I’ve heard far too many Christians condescendingly laugh at the idea of evolutionary theory, the fact that Mormons have special underwear, or that Muslims believe virgins are waiting in heaven for faithful martyrs. We don’t need to believe that every worldview is true (that’s not even possible), but we do need to make sure we don’t trivialize the beliefs of others by treating them as intellectually inferior. When we do, we’re effectively pushing our beliefs onto our kids by trying to make other beliefs look “small.” Instead of issuing snide remarks, we should be focused on teaching our kids to fairly evaluate the evidence for the truth of varying worldviews.

Atheists who teach their kids that Christianity is an absurd belief system for uneducated or gullible fools should take the same advice.

 

4. You threaten them with hell when they question the truth of Christianity.

If your gut reaction to a child expressing doubt about the truth of Christianity is something like, “You better not stop believing or you’re going to hell!”, you’re strong-arming them into belief.

Yes, hell is a reality spoken of repeatedly in the Bible. Yes, kids must understand that there is real judgment that awaits all people. But trying to make kids believe in Jesus out of fear won’t lead them to a true relationship with God. Parents should meet kids’ doubts with an open willingness to talk about questions…not with threats.

Atheists get a pass on this one since they don’t believe in hell.

 

5. You tie them down with ropes and repeatedly yell, “You will believe the way I do…OR ELSE!”

This is what it would look like to literally try forcing your religion or atheism on your kids. Obviously, that’s not happening. But people will keep using the word forcing anyway.

 

And 5 Signs You’re NOT Forcing Your Religion (or Atheism) on Your Kids

 

1. You encourage them to have beliefs rooted in good reason and evidence.

The opposite of raising your kids with a blind faith is raising your kids with a faith that’s deeply rooted in good reason. It’s helping them discover the evidence for God in nature—things like the origin of the universe, the design of the universe and of living things, and the origin of morality. It’s helping them understand that all religions can’t point to the same truth. It’s helping them learn the historical evidence for the resurrection. It’s helping them understand the intersection of faith and science. By teaching them why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true, you’re making sure their beliefs are their own and are not just being pushed onto them from you.

(All of these subjects are covered in my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith. If you need help discussing these things, please check it out!)

Atheists can do the same by not simply expecting their kids to reject God, and by talking about the actual evidence they believe points to an atheistic universe.

 

2. You not only invite your kids’ questions, you raise questions they haven’t even thought of.

Parents shouldn’t see themselves as a Q&A machine. We need to be able to answer our kids’ questions, but we also need to teach them about the questions others raise about Christianity. As I’ve said before, if our kids are someday shocked by the claims of skeptics, we didn’t do our job. By proactively sharing those challenges, we demonstrate that truth has nothing to fear and that we’re not “forcing” them to see only one side of the picture.

Atheists should do this as well, by sharing with their kids the challenges theists raise to their worldview.

 

3. You proactively teach them about other worldviews.

It’s one thing to share the challenges to Christianity with your kids (point 2, above). But it’s another thing to study worldviews in their entirety. For example, you might address the common atheist challenge that miracles aren’t possible, but that doesn’t give your kids a comprehensive understanding of what the atheist worldview is and what its implications are. It’s important that kids get that bigger picture for the major worldviews today so, once again, they never feel we’re forcing them to see only one perspective.

Atheists…you knew it was coming…should be doing this too. If atheist parents just nitpick at Christianity by teaching their kids random snippets of Christian belief and never take the time to offer a comprehensive picture of the Christian worldview, they’re just as guilty of passing on a one-sided perspective.

 

4. You deal with your kids’ doubts by helping them find meaningful answers to their questions.

Parents who address doubts by helping their kids find meaningful answers to their questions—rather than personally threatening them with eternal consequences—are giving their kids the tools they need to make their faith their own.

If atheists have kids who are doubting their atheism, they should equally work to address those questions rather than casually brushing them off.

 

5. You DON’T tie them down with ropes and repeatedly yell, “You will believe the way I do…OR ELSE!”

Ironically, given those one-star reviews, my book is all about why parents need to not push a blind faith onto their kids…and how to, instead, help them make their faith their own.

It definitely doesn’t suggest we should effectively or literally force religion upon our kids. No ropes. No yelling. No threats. Not even a one-sided presentation of Christianity.

But the claims will continue to come, because too many people don’t stop to think about what it actually means to force religion on kids…and what it doesn’t.

Fortunately, I now have this post to share and help them out.  I’m sure they’ll be very grateful.

15 Comments

  1. Rebecca on October 6, 2016 at 7:30 AM

    Thanks for this post! I also wanted to say thank you for causing the page to jump to where the email left off when I want to continue reading. It was thoughtful of whoever planned it that way, so we don’t have to scroll all the way to where we were reading and spend time looking for where we left off. It’s a small thing, but I really appreciate it.



  2. Kim B. on October 6, 2016 at 7:33 AM

    This post is EXCELLENT, Natasha! Wow! Do you have any recommendations for “Worldview” books that are written on an elementary level and on a teen/high school level? I’d love to have something that I can read with my kids directly. I know there are a bunch of books for adults on this topic but then it requires me being able to relate that info to my kids on their level and as a homeschooling mom of 3 who doesn’t have a lot of extra time, that is tricky! Thanks so much!



  3. Larry Cloyes on October 6, 2016 at 7:47 AM

    Yesterday, I had a conversation with a christian friend concerning outside influences on the path of our lives. We both noted the power of these influences coming from parents, teachers, peers, and society as a whole. Simply living within a religious society produces pressure to be religious. I was caught in this web.

    As a young Marine standing on a mountaintop overlooking a battle in a massive valley, I watched people die who were trying to escape. In the war I felt like a hapless leaf at the mercy of the influence of the wind. I realized this wind, though much weaker, was always present in my young life.

    This wind provided my belief in god. I was a Christian because I was born in a Christian nation and in the religious south. Being saturated by Christianity, I embraced the frame of mind bonding warm romanticism to a faith in god. After the war, I broke this bond. As years passed, my faith in god was like a beautiful cloth being slowly unraveled by a single thread. This was terrifying. Yet I discovered with this thread I was also weaving a new cloth that was more vibrant, warm, romantic, and more authentic for me.

    After my long story, my advice is to live authentically. If a faith in god provides true comfort then strongly embrace god: love, pray, and attend a wonderful church. However there is no reason to stay locked in a faith in god. Outside of god, an amazing world resides with unchained soaring concepts like equality and warm perspectives like the love of open discovery.

    As parents we should prepare our children to live authentic lives by nurturing our children’s talents and interests. We should be respectful of their paths. We should listen and ask questions. Then we should act on the feedback.

    I am lucky. The wind dropped me on a mountaintop when I was a young Marine. Sadly the wind also dropped an Iraqi young man in a valley. This young man never had the opportunity to truly identify, criticize and potentially remove the influence of the wind.



  4. Amy on October 6, 2016 at 7:55 AM

    You always say exactly what I’m thinking, except you do it with such eloquence and sound logic. I appreciate that you take the time to educate and not indoctrinate. Thank you for sharing your insights with the world.



  5. Dick DiTullio on October 6, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    Wow, this is a topic I seldom see addressed, and never as thoroughly and effectively as you have done! Excellent job!

    This is especially needed today for two reasons. One, atheists are intentional in finding ways to discourage young Christians and to get them to doubt their beliefs. After 9/11 they have concluded (incorrectly) that “religion” is the root of all evil and suffering in the world, and they lump Christianity in with all religion. Christianity is actually the cure.

    Secondly there is a mountain of information, and mostly misinformation, at the fingertips of our children once they access the internet, and they will most certainly be confronted by anti-Christian sentiments when they go off to college. But they are getting whiffs of it in high school and even earlier these days.

    All children initially inherit their parent’s faith but when testing comes they will not have nearly as much confidence in an accepted faith as they will in a faith they have developed on their own. And they develop their faith by challenging and questioning what they believe and why they believe it.

    Your book is a well-laid-out resource for this. It starts with how we can know God exists, which provides a foundation to answer all other questions, and it also includes a section on how we know the Bible is reliable. Once those two concepts are understood everything else falls neatly into place.



  6. Jim on October 6, 2016 at 8:32 AM

    Great article!
    I’ve always thought that it would be a strange class room, indeed, where the teacher would tell the kids to discover on their own the information that the teacher had in his head. We’re meant to guide our children toward truth.
    I have to admit that I often poke fun at other worldviews(Dang! I wish evolution WERE true, cuz’ I could sure use a prehensile tail ’bout now…. My sister is Mormon and I’ll ask her if she remembered to put on a clean pair of magical underwear.) But we also laugh at things people say about our faith.(Think Monty Python and the holy grail). Maybe I failed that section…….but we don’t laugh when we discuss seriously the ramifications of being lead astray……there’s nothing funny about hell.
    Thanks for the insight and keep up the good work!



  7. Deb Poole on October 6, 2016 at 9:17 AM

    Thank you for this great article. My college aged daughter is just now beginning to feel that Christianity was forced, and is still being forced, on her. Even though we’ve always encouraged questions and studied tons of apologetics this hasn’t been enough. Her main need now – as she states it – is that she wants to study other world views. We have several things were doing to help her with this, but I’m just wondering if you have any suggestions that wouldn’t be necessarily a Christian resource? This might seem like a strange thing for me to be looking for, but I believe that she’s had enough education (we’ve homeschooled her K-12, AND she’s presently doing college online through College Plus/Lumerit Education) to readily come up with logical objections to most worldviews. Looking forward to your response!



  8. Pam Watts on October 11, 2016 at 5:25 AM

    This was wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing. I have passed on to my own readers. I also wanted to pass on a resource we have found extremely helpful in discussing other religious world views with our children:
    “So What’s the Difference? A Look at 20 Worldviews and Religions and How They Compare to Christianity” by Fritz Ridenour.
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LA9G9FU/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1



  9. Debra Seiling on October 12, 2016 at 11:59 AM

    Thank you, Natasha, for sharing these tips to help assist the young ones. This post is timely, because one of them brought up a topic you mentioned. I need to go back and readdress it, because I’m not totally sure that I fulley answered their question. Thanks!



  10. Ana on November 1, 2016 at 6:50 AM

    I have no idea how I got here but I’m so very thankful. I’ve been married for 10 years to my dear athiest husband whom I love. Religion wasn’t much of an issue until my oldest daughter (4) told him one night that she prayed and prayed but still had nightmares. Things started to get ugly and now he doesn’t want me to talk about faith or take them to church so I’m struggling with that issue. He says we shouldn’t talk about faith and simply pretend it’s not an issue. So this blog is perfect for me! Now I feel strong enough to talk about this again with him and let him know that his actually in the path of forcing his atheism on our kids. How didn’t I see this clearly before? Thank you!!



  11. Tracy Yi on December 13, 2016 at 8:56 AM

    Many people have already said what I want to express so I will just say thank you. I am so grateful for your insights and challenges to help raise children with solid foundations and encourage them to find evidence and reason for what they believe. Again, thank you.



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  13. Shay Pauley on October 15, 2017 at 12:27 PM

    Hi. I see that you teach your children about the evidence of God. Could you please share that with me. My children keep asking me for real evidence and I don’t know what to tell them.