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.