The child of an Anglican priest, I was raised in the church. During the 1990’s, we were involved in the charismatic movement. That was a time of great popularity for Graham Kendrick and the ‘March For Jesus,’ for those familiar with the ‘Jesus freak’ movements that really hit their stride in the 70’s. As a child and into my adulthood, I was a bona fide child of God – a hands-in-the-air, on-fire for Jesus evangelical. My parents were great parents who raised well-rounded, happy children and I love them dearly. I wouldn’t change a thing about those beautiful memories, although my current religious beliefs differ a great deal.
I entered university at the age of 26, a Christian. I graduated at the age of 30, conflicted. At the age of 32, I left the church and abandoned faith altogether. After a lifetime of belief, this was terrifying for me; yet all of a sudden life became infinitely more precious. The world around me seemed brighter, more wonderful. My empathy, compassion, and acceptance of others grew. Negative judgment and stereotypes melted away, and I became a happier, more socially aware and content person.
Stepping away from the church in adulthood is fairly common, but I know of many parents who have turned around and gone back once having children. Some people figure that the church is an important tool in providing a good moral foundation for their kids. While I agree that a good moral foundation is absolutely necessary, I reject the idea that the church is the place to find it. I have a multitude of reasons for this, but when it comes to my children one stands out as the frontrunner … the doctrine of hell.
I have two primary objections when it comes to the doctrine of hell. (1) Religious doctrine is inherently exclusionary. The belief in hell requires believers to think terrible things about those who are different, based on whatever interpretation of scripture they adhere to. Believing that God will burn others for eternity for … you name it … is not something I want for my children. (2) How many times have you heard “believing in God keeps me moral?” If this is indeed true, if the reason you don’t go out raping and killing is fear of hell, then please continue to believe. I, however, have no inclination to rape, kill, or otherwise hurt another human being. If this is my only shot, and I suspect it may be, then I have every reason to want to leave this world a little better than it was when I came into it. We do, after all, have a choice to be happy or miserable, and I should think that inflicting intentional harm is the behaviour of someone who is quite unhappy. I am accountable to the other 7 billion + people on this planet. We are here together, we are responsible for each other, and that is what I teach my children.
As upset as you may be at this point, none of what I’ve just said is meant to insult Christian parents. I strongly believe in freedom of religion, so your decision to raise your children with or without faith is entirely up to you. My reason for writing about this is that I know there are parents who feel the way I do, but may be afraid to say so. There is a lot of social and familial pressure that keeps people from being open about the fact that religion is not for them, and the vast majority of parenting blogs I have read are written by people of faith. I personally have no need of a God, nor do I see any evidence for the existence of one. That being said, every person’s journey is different. My children have access to a plethora of religious texts and information, and are encouraged to engage their curiosity when it comes to personal belief. For my part, I won’t raise them with it … but I won’t keep them from exploring it either.