A lot of people don’t like the idea of Christian parents bringing their children up as Christians. I have to admit, I don’t fully understand this. Perhaps it’s simply because those people dislike Christianity and want to stop it spreading into future generations as much as possible, but I don’t think that’s fair to the people who actually hold this view. I may be wrong (as I am not one of those people myself), but it seems to me that those who don’t want children to be brought up as Christians are worried that these children will turn into ‘dyed in the wool faith heads’, to borrow a phrase from Prof. Richard Dawkins. Essentially, there is a worry that if children are brought up as Christians, they will not be able to think rationally or critically about their religion, will reject the progress of the sciences and be narrow-minded about their faith. I’m not completely guessing with this – the topic has been in the back of my mind for a while now as a result of conversations I’ve had and things I’ve read about it. I’m going to be frank and attempt to show that there is no reason why parents cannot bring their children up as Christians.
Before I go further, let me clarify my angle on this. I am not a parenting expert; my qualifications to talk from that perspective amount to an A in AS level psychology which included a unit of developmental psychology. My angle on this is that of a teenager who was brought up as a Christian by two Christian parents. If you think that makes me narrow-minded and unwilling to examine anything within Christianity, then please go away and read the rest of my blog before re-evaluating that assessment. If you think that my parents have done something wrong by being open about their Christianity and exposing me to elements of Christian teaching throughout my childhood, then please read on.
From a very early age, I loved reading. My parents read a lot with me and I read all sorts of books. Over time, it became clear that I loved fantasy fiction, but that wasn’t all that I read. I also read a lot of science books, particularly those on animals (including dinosaurs) and space. Shock horror. What’s more, they weren’t science books written by Christians – they were just children’s non-fiction books written to encourage a love of science and to teach children about the physical world. I loved dinosaurs and was fascinated by fossils; for a large part of my childhood I wanted to be an archaeologist (though looking back, I think palaeontology was more what I wanted to do). In my childhood naivety, I never imagined that there would be any sort of debate about issues like dinosaurs, particularly concerning the age of the earth. As far as I can remember, I happily managed to accept that God created the world in 6 days and that the dating of the fossil records was completely correct. However, that reading was important as I got older, because when I started to look into the debate, I immediately struggled with young-earth creationism and was much more open to the interpretation of six periods of time as opposed to six days.
As for other areas of science such as astrophysics, there was never any reason for that to come into conflict with my faith and, to be honest, I still don’t see that there is any reason for there to be much of a debate around astrophysics in terms of its relationship with Christianity. I learnt about the big bang theory and subsequently wasn’t surprised when I found out that this doesn’t bother most Christians. All that stuff about stars and planets and galaxies just fed my sense of wonderment, as it still does. In fact, though I know I’m not a parenting expert, I would recommend that parents of any faith give their kids books about space, because it’s so awesome.
In terms of Christian literature, I don’t remember everything that I read. I remember having a children’s study Bible around my primary school years, and I remember reading things like God’s Story with my parents (for those who don’t know, God’s Story is the majority of the Bible, but written as a flowing, connected story). I didn’t really read any books that taught me about Christianity from what I remember, but I went to church every Sunday and that included Sunday school, which is where I really learnt about Christianity. I do remember the first time that I told my Mum I wanted to be a Christian (I don’t know how old I was, but I think I was under 8) and she made sure that I knew how serious the decision was. I think it’s really great that she didn’t just say ‘yes’, because it meant that I knew from early on that making that sort of decision is an important part of my life, also, it shows that my parents weren’t pushing me into it at every opportunity – they knew that it was a decision that only I could make. I am very grateful for that.
I hope that those last three paragraphs have given you a sense of what my upbringing by Christian parents was like. In a way, I think that one of the lasting consequences of that is that I am a confident believer that religion and science do not have to be at loggerheads. I suppose my childhood demonstrates that it’s healthy to have a knowledge of both, but also that each doesn’t need to try and explain the other’s sphere of knowledge. Science taught me about the way that the natural world works and Christianity taught me about God and why the natural world is here at all.
Needless to say, I am still a Christian, but the way I was brought up has allowed me to be more secure in my faith, as well as more secure in talking to other people about my faith. Although I have now chosen to follow the path of English at university, I grew up loving the sciences. To conclude, I do think that if Christian parents don’t expose their children to some level of scientific literature, then those kids are really missing out on some fantastic stuff, but also, if Christian parents don’t teach their children about their religion as well, I think it would be very easy for those children to become confused in the future. I am so grateful to my parents for bringing me up in the way that they did, and I hope this demonstrates to some extent that bringing a child up as a Christian doesn’t have to be a bad thing.