Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist – Vlog – When Your Children Reject God

I’m back with week 2 of vlogging about Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist. Still feel very uncomfortable in front of the camera, but figuring out a good process for me and learning a bit more editing. Please continue to have lots of grace while I practice this publicly. (Also, I never realized how a-symmetrical my face is. I apologize for that as well. Plastic surgery not a priority.) Today I address many comments from readers who have adult children who has chosen atheism.

Here is the text from the quote I read from the Mom who has a 16 year old son who is an atheist:

The thing is, I never loved someone who was not a believer until my son became an atheist. Sure, I “loved” others in the way we say we do – abstractly and without much in the way of personal sacrifice. But he has taught me what it really means to love like Jesus told us. To love without expectation. To embrace his anger and my disappointment. To determine to not hold back love because of differences. To be willing to look at the log in my own eye. His lack of faith has made me re-examine my own (another scary journey!) and I am intrigued to realise that he makes me a more authentic follower of Jesus.

Check out the first vlog on how to undo damage already done.

Read the Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist series Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 & interview with Peter Enns.

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  • Jo S.

    Dear Cindy,

    Some weeks ago I discovered your series about non-fundie upbringing, a subject of great interest to me as I was raised quite fundie (but officially “evangelical”) which made me subsequently lose my faith, then get into a charismatic church and see that the grass wasn’t that much greener on that side of christianity. Later I studied theology for one year (never felt so liberated!) and now I’m… I don’t know, I consider myself some kind of Christian, if I honestly told my family what I believe they would call me at least a liberal… I think they would sincerely feel betrayed!

    In the last month I have been completely deconstructing (that is asking myself “what did actually happen to me when I was young”) my fundie childhood. Your series confirmed a lot of my own findings and I was simply very happy to see someone else sees the same issues as I do. Keep on!

    I want to share one more aspect that is particularly important to me and that troubled (and sometimes still troubles) me the most – that is the issue of how does a fundie indoctrination make fundie kids behave towards others.

    If you are made believe that nearly everyone else in your class and neighborhood (in my continental Europe fundies are a minuscule minority) is quite possibly doomed to spend eternity in hell (because “non-Christian” in a fundie sense) if they died on the spot or if Jesus happens to come back (even if rapture would happen later – quite probably they wouldn’t “have found Jesus” in the meantime) you only have two possibilities:

    a) you try as hard as you can to “bring them to Jesus”
    b) you tell yourself “at least I’m saved myself”

    Children are human and have some degree of innate humanity, so they start with a) but this does hardly work because for some reason people don’t see the point (in sharing fundie beliefs and getting fundie themselves!!) so easily. Children might try harder and harder but to avoid getting mad/depressed/suicidal/traumatized they quite automatically switch to b). But then there’s still the problem of those others who are not saved. A fundie kid inevitably must finally conclude that those others deserve to got to hell (as it’s God who sends them there and God is always right). In the mind of a child, someone who deserves punishment must be kind of bad. As a fundie kid is fundie it therefore must be good. Result: I (the fundie raised kid) am better than those others. This is what I unconsciously started to believe and guess what – it made me become an little arrogant asshole!
    My “Christian” education fostered my bad character traits – not my good ones (and anyway, fundies don’t expect to find much good in children, people or anywhere but God/Bible/fundie church). I’m ashamed of what I’ve done to others at that time. I’m getting so angry about all that when I only think of it.

    A little anecdote in this context:

    When I was 10 years old my father died after at least half a decade of illness. This – as far as I can remember – didn’t trouble me that much (at least on the surface) as I knew he was in heaven now and delivered from his sufferings. Half a year later we (the rest of the family and me) went – as the years before – to a family holiday camp at a quite fundie Bible school where children had their own program. I don’t exactly recall what I did (I think I suppressed that out of deep shame) – I kind of heavily bullied a fellow child. Then the leaders of the children’s program – a quite old couple – took me to their home to talk about what I’ve been doing. I don’t even remember what they told me about my action, but I remember that they asked me about my family background. Because I felt extremely miserable (about what I had done and – perhaps even more – about being trapped like that) I couldn’t hold back my tears when I told them that my father had died.
    I remember quite clearly that I smelled (fundie experience of a 11-year-old!) that the only way to get out of there quickly was to “give my life to Jesus” once again (don’t know how many times I had already done that, always had had the impression “it hasn’t worked” every time I behaved kind of ungodly afterwards), this time in the presence of this couple!!! And the best of it: As I felt that I only would be saying that conversion prayer in order to get out of there, I told myself – and God – “This doesn’t count anyway, I will repeat this later on my own, but for real!” So I officially gave my life to Jesus (the only time in my life without meaning it!) and was finally “released” (from their home). I don’t even remember if they asked me to say sorry to the child I had bullied…

    Now guess – did their action prevent me from bullying again? OK, I didn’t do that anymore at that place but I remember the most efficient lesson I ever got in that respect – that was some years later at school when a bigger and stronger boy than me was fed up with my “jokes”, gripped me and banged me that hard against the wall behind me that I couldn’t breathe any more for 20 seconds or so. How had I been raised that physical violence was the only language I actually was able to understand?!?

    That said, I am so happy to see my children (10, 8 and 5) behave – generally speaking – like the opposite of my former self. Why do they do that? I don’t know, but I hope it is also because (I just pin down what’s coming to my mind)
    – my wife has been raised less fundie, but especially with a lot of love and acceptance
    – I hate how I’ve been raised and don’t want my children to be raised the same way
    – if our children don’t behave as we want, we tell them that we don’t want them to behave like that (not that God doesn’t like it)
    – if they hurt someone we make them aware of the fact that the other is hurt
    – we ask them to say sorry to those they have hurt (without prior conversion prayer)
    – we never link God to any of their moral failures
    – we try to be a good example
    – we accept their (mis-)behavior to a certain point depending of their age, development, character and current mood
    – we don’t actually teach a lot of Christian/Bible stuff (almost nothing, actually…)
    – they are free to go to church with us or stay at home (trying to force them resulted lately in everyone (!) staying at home, me particularly grumpy)
    – we don’t keep them away from “bad influence” (in a fundie sense), other people with different faith/opinions
    – we don’t think in terms of “conversion” regarding kids raised in a Christian family (from what would they be turning away anyway?)
    – we know we might be wrong about some points and choices

    This is no recipe, it’s perhaps the result of thinking “it’s always better to have atheist (or whatever), but happy children than raising them fundie”.
    I really hate fundie education and try to convert this hate into “just relax about all that and let Jesus call them now or later in their life (whatever that will look like)”.

    So, hey – thanks for your blog and especially this series!

    Yours,
    Jo

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story and experiences – I’m thankful for the way you are raising your children un-fundie!

  • Craig Anderson

    Thanks so much for your blog. Thanks, specifically, for responding to the many comments you have had from parents of adult children who have so far not decided to embrace Christian faith. Well said. Keep it up. My wife and I are part of a weird subset in that we have children who self identify as Mennonite (my denomination and chosen identity and my wife’s upbringing, denomination and identity) but not as Christian. Since we’re the liberal kind who drive cars, wear “worldly” clothes, drink, dance (usually poorly!), and try to be welcoming to LGBTQ siblings in Christ, I would have thought our Faith and our culture could pretty much be separated, but alas–for my kids at least–they identify with one part but not the other. Loving and accepting them is no problem at all, but it does cause me to ponder how well we have articulated our faith, including verbally.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Craig. You sound like you have a very fascinating family! Would love to hear more of your story.

  • Suzanna Turner

    Jo S. You really do bring a point home that I don’t want to deal with in my own life and that is the judgement I had towards all the people in my life who were not Christians when I was young. Part of this issue was my family didn’t want me to associate with “non-believers” so I didn’t even how to treat outsiders of my faith tradition. Most of my friends I had were from my church in youth group and school functions were not encouraged to participate in. Cindy thank you for bringing some encouragement to those who have adult children who call themselves atheists. Even though you are in a different place with your kids being young you obviously hit a nerve to those who feel we have done Christian parenting wrong. Maybe because the very fact that some of us did not want to parent unfundie that the possibility of them not believing was even an options in the first place. I want my son to chose God for himself and not so that he just fits into the family system. So maybe even in our discomfort we may have done it right all along because our own painful experience of growing up fundie. BTW (change of subject) Cindy I do relate to the culture thing. As a child I was so embarrassed to be German that I didn’t want people to know it. I wanted to be “American” like my other friends. My father loves America and has been here since 1955 but…he still has never truly embraced the American culture of freedom and play. So here am, I didn’t want to be German because of shame, for many reasons, and being a real American well that wasn’t quite right either. Only now do I find myself all of a sudden talking in German and watching movies about Germany or in German. Movies or documentaries about WW II are still way too close to home for me to watch.

    • Interesting Suzanna, thanks for sharing.

  • Lee

    This issue exists because we, as products of modern “Christianity”, don’t know God as he truly is. Consider what this well known passage has to say about love: 4Love is patient, love is kind.

    Love does not envy,

    is not boastful, is not conceited,

    5does not act improperly,

    is not selfish, is not provoked,

    and does not keep a record of wrongs.

    6Love finds no joy in unrighteousness

    but rejoices in the truth.

    7It bears all things, believes all things,

    hopes all things, endures all things.

    8Love never ends. Now, put “God” in place of all the “loves”, and read it again. Can you agree with the new text? If it bothers you, there is something wrong with your theology. It seems to me that thoughtful folks who see the image of a retributive God, which we hold up for them, and they turn from it in disgust; are simply being faithful to the unwritten knowledge of truth we have all been given. It seems to me, that God simply doesn’t do control. He gives us the great respect of allowing our turning from the only source of life. He/They patiently wait for us to reach the end of ourselves, and anxiously scan the horizon, waiting for the prodigals to return. When we read the Bible, we see the honest dialog between God and a blinded mankind. Slowly, we are coming to see him for who he truly is, especially since we now have the life, and sayings, of the God-Man to digest. When we read the Old Testament, we read sincere understandings of men who didn’t have a complete image of the real God. Jesus said he and the Father were one; did God really command the annihilation of women and children…did he command the inquisition? Does he really torture the ignorant, endlessly, for making some poor choices in this short life? Can’t we as mere parents, relax, and have confidence that our loved ones are safe in the arms of a fellowship who never give up on anyone. True, they warn of the suffering which is sure to follow any who haven’t figured out where the source of abundant life is found, but God has plenty of time to wait for all. Jesus also warned that it is necessary to love him, before you can obey him. Are we making that nearly impossible with our caricature of God? Who is worse off…the atheists, or believers in an uncaring, unlovable god?

    • Yes! Thank you for sharing Lee!

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