Teach Your Children Well
Several weeks ago Lucy
responded to this essay
with a very thoughtful comment
I don't happen to believe the same as you do and that doesn't matter. We each have to make up our minds as to how we believe and go with that. I do hope that you are teaching your children about God and Jesus Christ so that they can some day make their own choices on the matter.
Lucy’s concern about what children are taught about God and Jesus (and the Bible, religion, etc.) is one that I share; but given the nature of my “thoughts on church attendance” (versus my profession of faith and my relationship with Christ) coupled with my role as a single parent, exactly what
I tell my kids about theology may not be apparent. Therefore, I’ll try to articulate the “method of my madness”.
The timing of the cinematic version of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
(TLWW) could not have been better, in that the series (and movie) is obviously a Christian allegory aimed at children in the age range of my three. As it happens, my eldest son Kelsey (age 13) received a hardback copy of Narnia
last Christmas that contains the entire series. Unimpressed with the story, he didn’t finish reading it (he’s enamored with the Harry Potter
series as well as the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien and others in the “fantasy” genre). However, my middle son Levi (age 10), my baby girl Amaris (age 9) and I saw Narnia
at the theater (Kelsey declined) and we all enjoyed it (note: I’ve not read the books [yeah, I’m a product of the public school system] but my younger two just finished reading TLWW at school and they both loved it.)
I’m certainly not a literary or movie critic, so I’ll not attempt a review, but I will point out two others that have weighed-in on the issue. First, Scott Scheule at Catallarchy
was gracious to C.S. Lewis in that he gently took issue
(and Lewis). Conversely, Eric S. Raymond delivered a flurry of blows with his rather harsh critique
My interest here is not to analyze Lewis’s writing style, but his content and message. For his target audience is children; and by extension, their parents. And it’s an open secret that C.S. Lewis was an Evangelical that happened to be an author. Now, as a “determinist”, I have no quarrel with Evangelicals per se; I simply think that Evangelicalism
is somewhat misguided, i.e. it’s akin to trolling in the ocean with a large net, when what you’re after is a whale. In other words: the net is full of many things that aren’t the desired catch. Scott Scheule put it this way:
I recently heard that 94.6% of Americans believe in a higher power. Tolerant as I am, I remain amazed. Life is wondrous enough, for me at least, without fabrication.
I remember Narnia with fondness. And I remember God much the same way. But, though this is probably not the season to proclaim it too loudly, I grew up long ago, and I have no regrets for doing so.
That is quite brilliant in its simplicity. For no less than Jesus himself contradicted the ridiculously high percentage of so-called “believers” long ago: Matthew 7:13-14 ”Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it”
. Additionally, Scott admits that he “grew up”, which (I think) means that he’s outgrown the indoctrination of his childhood. I experienced the same thing before
my true conversion (more on that in a moment).
As I mentioned, Eric S. Raymond pulled no punches. Beyond his criticisms of Lewis the “fantasist”, Raymond slams his ineffectuality as a would-be Christian apologist.
I admire the Screwtape Lettersas a marvelous piece of writing, probably the most effective single Christian apologetic of the 20th century, but as an argument it completely fails to affect me; Lewis treats as deep mysteries issues that I think are obvious, and glides over or ignores entirely the questions I find most interesting.
I’ve met a number of Christians who are convinced his arguments should affect me, though, and seem genuinely puzzled when they don’t. The brutal truth is that Lewis was a primitive thinker, a fabulist who substituted spiritual/emotional passion for philosophical analysis and never clearly understood that he wasn’t achieving the latter.
While I’m not prepared to be as merciless as Eric Raymond, I too found fault with the apologetic that is TLWW. In fact, on the way home from the movie I felt obligated to quiz my kids about what they had just seen; not the visuals, but rather the meaning of the allegory. From previous conversations we’ve had, they’re already familiar with the Biblical account of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, so they recognized Aslan and his sacrificial death; but what’s more important is what
they think about the Bible generally and Christ specifically. Still more important is how
they think, and the teaching of which is one of my primary responsibilities as (essentially) their only parent.
Like Scott and Eric undoubtedly were, my kids are bright and precocious, so they would inevitably resist any force-fed indoctrination, particularly that which is mystical in nature. I certainly did; and it was not until my early to mid twenties that I my agnostism was reversed…instantaneously, in accordance with what the apostle Paul wrote: Ephesians 2: 8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
That passage of scripture has been memorized by many, but understood by few, so it might be instructive to define the terms therein (note: the following definitions are tied to a Biblical context).grace:
unmerited divine assistance or favor; the unearned and undeserved gift of God. works:
any meritorious human action.saved:
spiritual regeneration; the literal transformation of one’s nature, so that one may receive faith.faith:
Hebrews 11:1 ”Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”
(faith is not mental assent, hope, mystical theory, etc.—faith is imparted, but “unlearned” knowledge.
The components of salvation/justification are given at God’s discretion; they are not “low-hanging fruit” available to everyone for the taking as is often taught. Actually, Christianity is—hands down—more exclusive, more esoteric, more misunderstood than any other theological construct. Therefore, it’s not surprising that intelligent people, more often than not, reject the Bible’s authority and indeed the claims of Christ’s divinity. In fact, this is by design: I Corinthians 1:22-24 ”For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jew and Greek, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God
Indulge a little more anecdotal evidence: a commenter, Matt Cline, wrote
the following in response to another Eric S. Raymond post
[the] fact that Christians can string together phrases like “fully god and fully man” doesn’t mean anything. If “god” and “man” are mutually exclusive, then you have X-and-not-X again, and the term winds up meaning nothing.
Now, it *sounds* really good, really deep, like you’re a Zen master or something. But you don’t have to think very hard to realize that there’s no substance there.
The fact that I’m convinced that Matt is mistaken (as well as Scott and Eric) is beside the point, because humans naturally intuit that God and man are mutually exclusive (indeed they are; but paradoxically, Christ is
Theanthropis: the God-man). Furthermore, the idea of the supernatural, God, etc. is counterintuitive, as such is not testable by the “scientific method”. Neither I, nor any other theist is able to empirically demonstrate the existence of God; hence “mystery”. This is where faith
comes in. You’ll recall that faith
is knowledge (not belief or hope) that is nontransferable between humans; God reserves the right to “introduce Himself” to each one individually, which relegates Evangelicalism
to an empty gesture. I should clarify: the gospel of Christ “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes”
(Romans 1:16). However, as I said earlier, simply conveying the message of Christ does not a conversion make; God just happens to use the gospel to prepare one for regeneration: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”
(“hearing” in that context means: “understanding”).
I said all of that to say the following: I speak candidly with my kids (age appropriately of course). They know the particulars of my theological position, in addition to being fully aware of the fact that they don’t share my views. My kids are currently agnostic; they realize that and I’m not bothered by it, which should come as no surprise after having reached this portion of the essay. That said, I encourage them to cultivate a healthy skepticism about all things, not just theology. If they are blessed, at some point in the future, with the gift of regeneration through God’s grace, I hope to be the first to know. Regardless, I constantly remind them to think critically, rationally and with an open mind. It’s the least I can do.