A pretty shocking story has been making the rounds lately: Tim Lambesis, lead singer of Christian metal band As I Lay Dying, was convicted of attempting to hire a hitman to murder his estranged wife and recently confessed he had become an atheist. He and other band members had continued to claim they were Christians so they could keep selling albums to Christian fans.
Lambesis recently did a fascinating tell-all interview with Alternative Press magazine, in which he described (amongst many other things) his journey from Christianity to atheism. He grew up in a Christian family, went to a Christian high school, attended a Christian college, sang in a Christian band, married a Christian woman and later adopted three children from Ethiopia. It wasn’t for lack of exposure to Christian ideas that he lost his faith.
The eye-opening details he offered about his experience can teach Christian parents a lot. Here are seven important take-aways from the interview.
[Note that Lambesis is reportedly rethinking his atheism, so in some of these quotes you’ll see him reflecting critically on his deconversion.]
1. Kids need to understand the secular nature of the academic world before they get to college.
Lambesis: “I was a philosophy major in college. I thought it was something I’d enjoy that would help me grasp what people are thinking in order for me to help people better understand Christianity. I thought I would learn how to defend the faith. I was naïve.”
Freshman philosophy professors are notorious for starting the semester by announcing that there is no God. Lambesis went to a Christian college, so presumably the views would not be so skewed toward atheism, but clearly he wasn’t prepared for what he encountered even in that context. Academia is overwhelmingly hostile to Christianity and teenagers headed to college need to be prepared for where and how they’ll encounter that hostility before they get there. Sending kids to a Christian college is not a substitute for that preparation.
2. Kids need solid critical thinking skills to evaluate worldviews.
Lambesis: “I ended up touring, so I finished it up through a distance study program. I switched from philosophy to religious studies, as they wouldn’t let me do philosophy via distance learning. I’d get three pages of the traditional evangelical conservative point of view, then three paragraphs or sometimes even just three sentences from the atheist perspective. But even in just a few sentences, I’d think, “This point of view makes more sense,” even when it wasn’t being well represented. In the process of trying to defend my faith, I started thinking the other point of view was the stronger one.”
All of our children will eventually see Christianity side-by-side with other worldviews (if they haven’t already). Some, like Lambesis, will see these worldviews formally compared in an academic setting. Others will see the comparison play out over time in their day-to-day exposures to the secular world. But regardless of when and how the comparisons come, our kids will use some kind of evaluation criteria (consciously or not) to determine what is true. What criteria they use will make all the difference in the world for their spiritual outcome. In this case, Lambesis concluded the atheist point of view made more sense based on his (unstated) criteria at the time.
It is our responsibility as parents to not simply teach our kids about Christian belief, but to teach our kids the critical thinking skills needed to evaluate Christian belief in the context of other worldviews.
3. Kids need to have a crystal-clear understanding of the difference between what we desire to be true and what is objectively true.
Lambesis: “The first time I cheated on my wife, my interpretation of morality was now convenient for me. I felt less guilty if I decided, “Well, marriage isn’t a real thing, because Christianity isn’t real. God isn’t real. Therefore, marriage is just a stupid piece of paper with the government.” I thought of myself as super-scholarly at the time. “My academic pursuit has led me to this.” I was sincere to a certain degree, but we all hear what we want to hear to justify our actions.”
My 5-year-old son has a bad habit of licking his hands. I’m constantly telling him to stop. The other day he replied, “But it feels good!” His twin sister, overhearing this from the other room, yelled, “Just because something feels good, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do!” I had to laugh, but at the same time I was thrilled to see that my many reminders about the nature of truth and morality are sinking in: “Just because you like it, doesn’t mean you should do it…just because you want it to be true, doesn’t mean it is true…just because it makes you happy, doesn’t mean it is right.”
Lambesis was incredibly honest in admitting that he heard what he wanted to hear to justify his actions when he was falling away from God. The more we can consistently find opportunities in daily life to distinguish subjective desires from the search for objective truth and morality, the more alert our kids will be to the dangers of this common confusion.
4. Popular atheist authors have a powerful influence that parents should be eager to discuss with their kids.
Lambesis: “I interpreted the evidence how I wanted and felt it was intellectually dishonest to consider myself a Christian. I felt at best I could consider myself agnostic, and at least I would consider myself an atheist. That was my original twist on the whole thing. I read a lot of stuff from the people who are now more popularly known as the “Four Horsemen” of the atheist apocalypse.”
The “Four Horsemen” of the atheist apocalypse refers to the popular atheist writers Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. Each of these authors has written best-selling books lambasting religion. I’m currently reading Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion.” It reads as a 400+ page survey of the most common atheist propaganda your kids will hear about Christianity. Like Lambesis, many young adults are swayed by these writers and their atheist evangelists. If I had teenagers, I would be reading this with them immediately as an unparalleled opportunity to tackle atheist arguments head-on. Don’t run from this literature…run to it and address it with your kids while you still can. (If your kids aren’t teens, start by reading it yourself!)
5. Kids need to understand the nature of expertise and authority figures.
Lambesis [talking about the scientists he studied]: “Because they’ve so accurately and brilliantly described the science, they must be right…You know when you have that friend who’s just genuinely smarter than the rest of you? When he develops a theory about whatever, everyone’s like, ‘He must be right!’ But even that guy is still wrong about at least one in 10 things.”
This is a common problem today. There are a lot of “experts” competing for your kids’ attention and worldview loyalty. But just because someone is an expert in one area doesn’t make them an expert in all areas. And just because someone has a high profile title in a scientific field doesn’t mean they have an objective, unbiased view of the world. We need to proactively help our kids understand what expertise means and doesn’t mean.
6. Only presenting kids with the Christian side to worldview arguments is often a later death-blow to faith.
Lambesis: “At a Christian school, you’re presented with one argument…So later in life when a counter-argument surfaces, your whole world is thrown into shock, because you’ve been indoctrinated. I’m not blaming religion. But this was one of the factors that sent me into this massive moral decline.”
Whether your kids are in Christian school or not, this is a powerful testimony about the problems with only explicitly teaching your kids the Christian side of worldview “arguments.” What are those worldview arguments taking place today? Read Dawkins’ book and you’ll quickly learn! (Also, if you’re new to my blog, check out my post “65 Apologetics Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Learn to Answer” to get a good overview of today’s challenges to Christianity. You can also order my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, in which I give parents easy-to-understand answers to 40 of those questions for discussion with their kids.)
7. Just because something has a Christian label on it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s Christian.
Lambesis: “We toured with more ‘Christian bands’ who actually aren’t Christians than bands that are. In 12 years of touring with As I Lay Dying, I would say maybe one in 10 Christian bands we toured with were actually Christian bands.”
This story is a tragic example of how a Christian label can be slapped on anything for marketing purposes, but be meaningless in reality. We owe it to our kids to be vigilant in personally evaluating the words and messages behind the media they’re exposed to. We must decide for ourselves if that media warrants a Christian description.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts! What do you think of this story and the quotes from Lambesis?