Hi everyone! I finally finished my book and am now back for regular blogging. It won’t be out until February, but I’ll keep you posted as it gets closer to release. Thanks so much for sticking with me while my blog was quiet.
A couple of years ago, the Fixed Point Foundation launched a nationwide campaign to interview college students who are members of Secular Student Alliances or Freethought Societies. These groups are basically the atheist equivalents to Christian clubs. They meet regularly, encourage one another, and even proselytize.
The Foundation found that most of these students had not chosen their worldview from neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity. They had grown up attending church and had heard all the “traditional” church messages.
But something completely shifted their view of reality.
The researchers wanted to find out what factors had so much influence in that shift. Here’s what they discovered:
“When our participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism—people, books, seminars, etc.—we expected to hear frequent references to the names of the ‘New Atheists’ [well-known atheist authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens]. We did not. Not once. Instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums.”
These were the things that ultimately had more influence on these students’ faith than the years they spent in their Christian homes and at church.
That should sound pretty ludicrous. But, having encountered a lot of atheist content online (in YouTube videos, forums, blogs, and more), I can absolutely see why.
Here are four reasons why the internet may influence your kids’ faith more than you…and what you can do about it.
1. Most kids aren’t well grounded in theology, so they can easily fall prey to really bad internet distortions of what Christianity is about.
Consider this YouTube video, for example. In the video, a skeptic poses a “One Question Challenge” to Christians: “Why does blood sacrifice make anything better?” He compares Jesus’ death on the cross to a tribe taking a virgin and tossing her into a volcano to appease the wrath of the volcano gods.
A kid who isn’t well grounded in the nature of the atonement (how Jesus’ death on the cross pays the penalty for our sins) could easily be swayed by this pop logic (“Hey, that’s true, we should be more civilized than thinking we need to sacrifice to a god!”).
The internet is filled with similar theological distortions that make Christianity sound nuts. This can make kids start believing that mom and dad must have been clueless (something they’re naturally predisposed to thinking anyway!). If kids don’t know basic theology, they won’t be able to identify why the distortions are so off-base. If they’re going to reject Christianity, they should at least understand what they’re rejecting.
What you can do: Don’t assume your kids will learn theology at church. Most don’t. They learn basic Bible stories and Christian values. Take the time and study theology at home. Numerous books are available to help.
2. The internet brings the most challenging parts of the Bible front and center.
Have you read God’s command for the Israelites to kill all the men in battle but “keep the women” for themselves (Deuteronomy 20:10-14)? What about the rape laws that say the rapist has to marry the victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)? Have you read the story about Jepthah sacrificing his daughter because God gave him victory in a battle (Judges 11:29-40)? Are you aware that God said the Israelites could own foreign slaves “as property” and pass them down to their sons “as a possession forever” (Leviticus 25:44-46)?
These examples just scratch the surface of tough passages in the Bible. Atheists are well aware that most Christians don’t have a clue how to respond to these challenges and are eager to “educate” you and your kids about them (see www.evilbible.com as an example).
Kids can be shocked to encounter very different parts of the Bible than they hear about in Sunday school and church sermons—and can easily feel they were fooled by those around them.
What you can do: At an age-appropriate time, be the one to talk to your kids first about tough passages so they know what to do with them. If your kids are old enough, use the evilbible.com website as a topical guide to the problems atheists have with the Bible and work through the passages with them. And (shameless plug), get my book when it comes out in February—I spend three chapters covering what you need to know about slavery, rape, and human sacrifice in the Bible.
3. The internet exposes kids to a “treasure trove” of uncritical thinking that sounds right.
I have no way to quantify this, so I’m just going to state it based on observation: Many people have never thought very critically about their beliefs, but they’re more than happy to share what they think online.
For example, how often have you seen simplistic comments like these on social media:
Jesus is all about love, so you shouldn’t judge anyone.
God is all about love, so there can’t be a hell.
All religions are basically the same, so they’re all equally valid paths to salvation.
The problem is that underexamined beliefs often sound right because they’ve been arrived at based on personal preference (what people would like to be true) rather than critical investigation. If kids have underexamined Christian beliefs, they can easily be swayed. What do you think they’ll go with—the “unattractive” beliefs of mom and dad or the “attractive” beliefs that are accepted by an ocean of online peers?
What you can do: The best protection against other people’s underexamined beliefs is making sure your kids don’t have underexamined beliefs. The more you’ve invited them to ask questions, and posed tough questions they haven’t yet thought to ask, the more they’ll be prepared to identify and resist uncritical thinking.
4. The internet is a disaster waiting to happen for kids who haven’t been taught how to critically conduct research on spiritual subjects.
Let’s say your kids are having some spiritual doubts, but rather than coming to you with questions, they decide to Google, “Is Christianity true?”
On the first page of search results, they’ll see articles called, “How I figured out Christianity is not real,” “Why Christianity can’t be true,” “20 Reasons to abandon Christianity,” and “40 Problems with Christianity” (amongst a variety of Christian resources).
What will they do with all this? The sky’s the limit…unfortunately. If they haven’t had any guidance on how to do research with a critical eye, the results can be disastrous. (For the record, this goes both ways – they shouldn’t uncritically accept every Christian article, either.)
What you can do: Give your kids some research projects so you can talk through the process with them. For example, you could ask your kids, “How do we know Jesus existed?” Ask them to find both Christian and non-Christian answers online. Also ask them to keep track of their process: What did they do first? What kinds of sites did they end up visiting (blogs? ministries? discussion forums? news articles?)? What differences in information and views did they find between these sources? Which source(s) did they end up trusting for their answer, and why? Projects like this will give them much-needed practice in spiritual discernment.
Your turn: How have you seen the internet influence your kids’ faith? I’d love to hear. Please share in the comments.