CNN iReport recently published an article written by a mom from Texas. The article was provocatively titled, “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” I don’t want to be unfair to the mother who wrote the article. She put more thought into this parenting decision than most parents do.
But I found her arguments less than convincing. So I want to write a brief response to her seven arguments. I merely want to point out the problems in her reasoning. Please note that I am not trying to argue that one must raise her children to believe in God. I do believe that. But in this article I only want to show that her arguments for not raising her children to believe in God are flawed.
Argument 1: God is a bad parent and role model.
The author says:
“If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. ‘He has given us free will,’ you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.”
The author of the article uses and reuses the Problem of Evil in her article. How can God be good if there is evil? Her statement is a little more specific in this first argument – how can God be a good parent if he allows his children to hurt others? – but she is still using the Problem of Evil.
But many philosophers, including skeptics and atheists, have been convinced that the existence of evil does not contradict the existence of a morally perfect God. Why? The arguments on both sides get complicated. I am no expert in the topic. The gist of it, though, is that the atheist needs to show that there is no possible situation in which God could allow evils to exist in the world. And this has been more than a difficult task for the atheist and the agnostic. It has (seemingly) been proven impossible. As William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland write in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, “After centuries of discussion, contemporary philosophers, including most atheists and agnostics, have come to recognize this fact. It is now widely admitted that the logical problem of evil has been solved” (541).
This author simply assumes that the Problem of Evil shows that a good God cannot exist. She seems to conclude that God is either evil or non-existent. But since she doesn’t show that the Problem of Evil actually works – especially since there are some compelling arguments that it is not incoherent to believe in a good God while evil exists in the world – her use of the Problem of Evil is not convincing at all.
The author seems to know that theists often appeal to human free will to explain how evil exists in a world created by a good God. But, she says, this is no defense of God. A good father would “step in and guide” his children.
But Christians do believe that God steps in and guides His children. But He doesn’t do it by intervening in every situation. His guidance leaves a lot of room for mistakes or pain, but the Christian message is that God will restore all things. Greater good will come.
Many of this author’s arguments depend on the Problem of Evil. But, as I discussed earlier, it is not clear that the Problem of Evil actually works. So I don’t think her casual appeals to the problem of evil accomplish what she thinks it does.
Argument 2: God is not logical.
The author says, “How many times have you heard, ‘Why did God allow this to happen?’ And this: ‘It’s not for us to understand.’ Translate: We don’t understand, so we will not think about it or deal with the issue.”
I am a minister, so I am around churches and Christians more than most people. And I have rarely, if ever, heard a Christian use our lack of understanding to curtail thinking or action. Many Christians and churches are actively involved in relieving the suffering of this world. Whatever you think about Christians, you cannot deny that the church has been a powerful agent for social change in the world.
Plus, even if what the author said were true, why would it show us that God is illogical? It might show that His followers are not logical. But it does nothing to affect God’s logic.
She has another argument that is supposed to show that God isn’t logical. What could it be? You guessed it. Evil exists in a world controlled by a good God. That’s illogical, right? Again, there is a strong emotional appeal to the problem of evil. But this author’s repeated mentioning of it doesn’t overcome the problem that atheists have making the argument actually work.
This author falls far short of showing that God isn’t logical.
Argument 3: God is not fair.
Why does the author think that God isn’t fair? She has two reasons, and by this point you won’t be surprised to learn that both are versions problem of evil. I tire of pointing this out, so this will be the last time: the author needs to show why the notion that God is loving, good, just, or fair contradicts the existence of evil. She doesn’t do that. She doesn’t show that God cannot be fair and suffering exist in His creation. She just asserts that it is true, and I’m not rationally required to accept her assertions – only her sound arguments.
Argument 4: God does not protect the innocent.
The problem of evil again. Enough said.
Argument 5: God is not present.
The author simply assumes that God does not exist. I know that her article is intended to give the reasons she chooses to raise her children without God. I know that she isn’t trying to prove God doesn’t exist.
But I do want my readers to recognize that her fifth point is only true if God doesn’t exist, and she gives no compelling reason for a believer to change his or her mind.
Argument 6: God does not teach children to be good.
The author argues, “A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured.” Most Christian theologians and philosophers would never say that a person should be good only because God is watching. The question “Why should I be good?” is a complex question within philosophy, and Christian philosophers find it complex also. The discussion about this involves several concepts, including human flourishing, rationality, social obligations, God, the ultimate good, etc. What respectable Christian philosopher has ever said: “You must be good because God is watching. Enough said. Don’t worry about your internal motivations.” None.
Also, the Bible doesn’t teach that we should be good simply because God is watching. We are to be good because we are made in God’s image, to further God’s glory, to gain a reward from God, to have joy and pleasure from the goodness, to dwell in God’s goodness and mercy, etc. The author simply caricatures the Christian faith and then argues against the caricature. That’s not a fruitful form of argument.
And how does the author explain the existence of moral values in her naturalistic worldview? Can she? Many Christian philosophers and theologians have argued that the existence of God is the best explanation for the existence of moral values and laws. How would this mother explain to her kids why it is true that no one should murder or no one should hate? Just because? Because that’s what our society teaches? It’s noteworthy that she doesn’t attempt to provide a reason for her children to be good, and then she criticizes theism for not being able to do that.
Argument 7: God teaches narcissism.
The author saved her worse argument for last. She thinks that teaching children that God has a plan for them makes them self-centered. Why? Because they will come to think that they are special, and they will disregard their equality with other human beings.
But some of the most selfless people are the ones who have fully submitted themselves to God’s will. The history of social activism shows that many of the greatest fighters for equality have had a deep faith in God.
Christianity doesn’t teach that your plan is God’s plan – that is, whatever you want or desire is what God will do. That would be narcissism. Rather, it teaches the much more difficult idea that our wishes and desires ultimately do not matter. Only God’s will matters. As the Psalmist says, “For He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14). There’s nothing more humbling and anti-narcissistic than that.
Christian theism also provides a better foundation for equality than atheism. After all, Christian theism teaches that we are all created by God, that we are all made in His image, and we all depend on Him for our existence. Atheism cannot come close to providing this type of support for human equality. In fact, I struggle to see how atheism can provide a convincing foundation for human equality.
I appreciate this mother’s attempt to think through her parenting principles. I really mean that. Most parents never really think critically about how they are going to raise their kids – much less write an essay defending their views.
I don’t fault this mother’s attempt to reach conclusions about how to raise her children. I do find fault with the conclusion she draws, because her arguments leave a lot to be desired.
I hope she’ll continue to think through the issues she raises in this article. I hope she comes to see the need to raise her kids with God in their lives.