Last week, the world’s first ever all-atheist TV channel officially launched. According to the press release, “Atheist TV brings consistent, quality, superstition-free programming for children and adults, on the air and on-demand, right from your regular television” (emphasis mine).
I saw a link to the press release posted in several Christian Facebook groups and watched the responses with interest. When I commented that this is a good opportunity for Christian parents to watch in order to better understand what atheists are saying to our kids, I was surprised by some of the responses.
One person commented that “we can’t fight every battle.” Several commented that they would just make sure it’s blocked from their kids. Others said there will always be non-believers, so we need to accept it and move on with teaching our kids the Bible.
While there is certainly truth there, I think these casual responses are missing an important point:
Atheism is not just one more possible challenge to our kids’ faith. It is THE most likely challenge today.
With this post, I’d like to raise awareness of why Christian parents should care so much about understanding atheist views and why we should proactively address these specific challenges to Christianity with our kids. Here are four key things you should know.
1. The number of Americans identifying as Christians is steadily declining, while the number of atheists and agnostics is steadily rising.
According to the 2012 Pew Forum survey of religious affiliations, the percent of Americans identifying themselves as Christian or Catholic has decreased 6% since 2007. Meanwhile, the percent of people who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” has grown by 4.3% (the survey results group these together under the heading “unaffiliated”). When you look at the survey result graphs, you can easily see that the decline in Protestantism corresponds to an increase in the unaffiliated groups.
As the number of atheists and agnostics in America continues to grow, our kids will encounter their influence more and more. Atheists especially are often passionate about their worldview and are ready and willing to engage in discussions about the reasonableness of Christianity. Whether our kids are equally ready and willing to respond lies greatly on our shoulders as parents.
2. Atheism is especially making inroads with young adults.
38% of atheists are 18-to 29-years old, compared with 29% of the general public. College, in particular, has become a time when kids not well equipped with a deep understanding of Christianity lose faith.
In 2012, the Fixed Point Foundation launched a very interesting nationwide campaign to interview college students who are members of Secular Student Alliances or Freethought Societies. These college groups are the atheist equivalents to Campus Crusade for Christ. They meet to fellowship, encourage each other, and even proselytize.
Researchers found that most of these students had attended church and had not chosen their beliefs from neutral positions, but rather in reaction to Christianity. The research showed in particular that “the mission and message of the churches they attended had been vague; they heard “plenty of messages encouraging ‘social justice,’ community involvement, and ‘being good,’ but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.” Since they didn’t see that integrated meaning, they found little incentive to stay when difficult questions arose.
When the time comes for our kids to step out the door to college, these are some of the strongest (if not the strongest) voices waiting on the other side.
3. The internet has enabled atheists to have a disproportionately loud voice – one your kids are certain to hear.
Even given the steadily rising numbers, the total percent of atheists and agnostics remains only about 5% in America. I believe that’s the single biggest reason many Christian parents shrug their shoulders about atheist influence – they consider them a fringe group that makes the news each Christmas when they protest manger scenes on government property.
That 5% number is highly misleading, however. Atheists and agnostics represent much more than 5% of the voices heard online because many are actively engaged in spreading their worldview – something the internet now facilitates in ways never before possible.
In fact, one of the key findings of that Fixed Point Foundation study of college atheists was that the internet factored heavily into believers’ conversion to atheism. When participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion, they most often made “vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums.”
Check out this website of atheist memes for a good sample of the kind of stuff getting passed around. It’s sad but true that young people especially are challenged by such caricatures.
4. More atheist parents means there will be more atheist kids to influence your own children at a younger age.
It’s not just online or in college that our kids will encounter the influence of atheists. With more atheist parents in this generation, there are more atheist kids at school…and at church. Just yesterday in the Christian Apologetics Alliance Facebook Group, someone posted the following:
I’m the director of kids’ ministries at my church. Yesterday, we had an 8-year-old girl tell one of our helpers that she doesn’t believe in God – she believes in science. Her dad appears to be an atheist. Her mom brings her to church.
Just as Christians teach their kids about their beliefs, atheists teach their kids about theirs. Our kids will undoubtedly grow up hearing this false dichotomy of science vs. God ad nauseum.
So what does all this mean?
Does it mean we should fear the atheist worldview or those who adhere to it? Of course not. If Christianity is true, there are answers for every challenge (we just need to understand them).
Does it mean we should read every atheist book, watch every atheist program on the new TV channel and follow every major atheist blog? Of course not. There’s not enough time in the day.
What it means is that we need to acknowledge the significance of the atheist challenge to Christianity, understand the atheist’s core claims, and proactively talk to our kids about the atheist worldview. In my next post, I’ll talk about how to do that.
Have your kids encountered the atheist worldview at school or church? I’d love to hear your stories!