A personal story about being a Christian kid, by [Makeesha Fisher]

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A personal story about being a Christian kid, by Makeesha Fisher:

I grew up in a conservative evangelical world of the pentecostal variety. We weren’t as extreme as the snake handlers, but I spent a large percentage of my time at Sunday service (sometimes morning and evening), mid-week service, youth group, and revival meetings; as well as summer camp, and conferences where there was speaking in tongues, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, prophecies, and more. All things equal, my childhood was good. My parents loved me and I knew it, no one beat me, I had a broad and supportive community and a deep and sincere faith. I talked to God and I believed God talked to me. I had convictions and behavior guides that kept me grounded and helped me make decisions. I am still friends with members of my youth group and I had great ethics and morals.

The dark side of being a religious child is the fear that is an almost constant companion for many. Most conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christian kids are taught implicitly and explicitly that “The World” is a threat. “The World” is everything that isn’t “of God,” and when Christians engage in worldly things, they run the risk of being led astray, down a path away from Jesus. Some of the Bible passages that guide this belief are:

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.

and John 15:19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

In the tradition in which I grew up, there was the added component of a belief in the spirit realm. We believed in a literal, and very active Satan and demons. We believed that the mind is the devil’s playground and that we needed to use our “spirit” (which was cleansed by the Holy Spirit, one of the three aspects of the Trinity.

As you can imagine, this made it very important to protect and shelter ourselves, and even more so, the children in our community. Anything that wasn’t explicitly Christian – and more specifically, our “brand” of Christian, was seen as a possible threat and tool of “the enemy.” I was worried about books, movies, other kids, music, and even my own thoughts. I was already an anxious child; needless to say, this made it even worse. And then of course, when I had panic attacks, the solution was to pray, and I was frequently told that the source of my problems was one of those things I was worried about in the first place.

We were also afraid of science and were pretty sure anything that sounded contrary to Biblical teaching was a conspiracy from the "liberals." We had our own version of science education to counteract anything we might hear in school.

Religious children often grow up to be young adults who have deep-rooted fears in things that aren’t familiar. Even when they apply common sense and realize there’s no reason to be afraid of reading a book that isn’t Christian or listening to “secular music” or having an atheist friend, there’s still a little nagging fear that it might make them lose their faith or make God unhappy.

As I got older, I realized what was really going on. If kids were exposed to science, music, books, etc. that weren’t religious, they might start to think independent of the religious teachings. In the end, conservative religious leaders are right - it is a slippery slope. And for atheists, that’s a beautiful thing. We don’t need to de-convert Christians, all we need to do is introduce nuggets of rationality, skepticism and critical thinking to get the ball rolling. Ultimately, this is a much easier approach than eliminating religion because there can’t be religions without religious people.

Those of us who are also parents are faced with the task of equipping our kids; not equipping them to toe the atheist line but to equip them as critical thinkers, to help them engage actively with the world around them. It’s not hyperbole to say that the future of humanity depends on how we educate the next generation.

Atheists can also fall into the trap of wanting to protect our kids from those things we don’t believe, to shelter them from the absurdity of religion. But if we truly believe religion has no power except what we give it, then we should empower our kids, not shelter them.

What were your experiences with religion as a child, or as a parent? Do you have any advice for atheist parents? Reply to this email and we might share it on our website. Please let us know if you wish to remain anonymous.

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(Jacob) #2

I think the attitude that there is the spiritual (explicitly religious) and everything else is worldly (questionable at the least but probably sinful) is something some Christian sects inherited from the Puritans. Although I imagine the Puritans saw themselves as purifying the church of empty formalism and hypocrisy.

Growing up Lutheran, I didn’t really have such conflicts. Yes, some things were considered sinful but there was not such a spiritual vs. the world divide. Lutherans have a well-developed doctrine of vocation. In a sense, being a good dentist or truck driver or teacher could be spiritual too, if that was your calling. You normally are called to be in the world in some capacity, not to be just like whatever is corrupt in the world and to conform to that but nevertheless to still be in the world.

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(Ashwin S) #3

I Was not raised a Christian. My dad was an atheist as I grew up… mom was a religious Hindu.
I was taught to think critically by my dad. I gave up on moms religion when I was 12… gave up on dad’s world view when I was 18 and I am now a Christian.

My advise to atheist parents is the same as to all parents… something I learned as I recently became a parent. Kids won’t listen to what you say. They will imitate how you live. So as a parent I am spending a lot of time examining my lifestyle and what it communicates. It’s scary and I am trying to change myself to be more like what I want my kids to be.

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(Herculean Skeptic) #4

I grew up in church, but walked away from it in my teens, only to return when I was nearly 30. I never experienced any of the issues that Makeesha is experiencing / has experienced, but there are certain aspects of Christianity (and probably all religions as well) that, if there’s too strong of an emphasis, can manifest as Makeesha has described.

When we were raising our kids, we signed them up for parochial school. About three weeks later, before school even began, we changed our minds. We decided that we wanted our children to experience the real world, and to, ideally, be good influences in it as well.

We exposed our kids to the Bible and allowed them to draw their own conclusions. We tried to not penalize them by not allowing them to experience the popular culture through books, movies, and music. We told them when we agreed with the content and when we did not.

Sample sizes here are too small to draw any conclusions, but our children are really well-balanced adults, of whom we are incredibly proud. One of the four (the oldest) went through a rebellious period of almost ten years. It was incredibly difficult, but we continued to state what was right and what was wrong. When this period ended, he thanked us for our persistence and said that it was very much appreciated and formative for him.

Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” If our faith in him is overwhelming in this way or others, there is some sort of misapplication that hopefully can be sorted out by Makeesha.

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#5

Very good advice.

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(Jacob) #6

I’ll expand on what I wrote earlier. I guess I was fortunate I grew up in a church and a family that didn’t make all these distinctons between what was okay and what was “of the world.” Of course there were rules. I wasn’t taught that science was an enemy of the Bible. The home I grew up in was pretty conservative but not fundamentalist. I think the moderate brand of Lutheranism was a pretty healthy environment.

My parents saw that I had plenty of books. I was especially interested in science (a lot of astronomy) and history. They got me my first telescope. I would have neat kitchen table discussions with my father. I remember him describing how color television works, that the colors are divided into RGB channels, discussions about distant stars and the speed of light, a lot of things. He owned an airplane so there were discussions about aerodynamics and navigation. I was fortunate I grew up in a family where it was encouraged to ask questions and be interested in things and it wasn’t seen as somehow a threat against faith.

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