Some of my readers may be familiar with the work of Daniel Sulzbach, known online as MrRepzion. For those who aren’t, Daniel has been active on YouTube for most of the last ten years, and was a Christian until 2012 when he became an atheist by way of deism. He has made a number of videos on religion, both as a Christian and as an atheist, and what’s always interested me about them is how Daniel approaches the topic. Instead of just venting angrily in front of a camera for ten minutes, he’ll usually act more civilised and put forward honest yet convincing points. But if this recent video of his tells me anything, it’s that there are some parts of Christianity that can still set him off.
Let me start by saying that I can see exactly why Daniel sometimes comes across as pretty fiery when he’s denouncing Christianity here. Judging by what he’s said in this video and elsewhere, the faith in which he was raised gave little room for critical thought, promoted a black-and-white view of salvation, heaven and hell and other such issues, and discouraged him from questioning anything he was taught. I can tell that that is by no means a good understanding of Christianity, and I desperately pity anyone who was raised in a church like that. Being allowed to read books other than the Bible does not necessarily result in a loss of faith; ironically, the more we grasp this, the healthier our faith becomes.
That said, religious upbringings are very much a grey area – although some of them do take the approach Daniel criticises, not all of them do. I was raised in a deeply Christian household (my father became a pastor when I was 10, having previously been a lay preacher), and honestly, I see no reason to be bitter about it at all. While I may disagree with my parents on a few theological issues, I’m very grateful for the upbringing that I’ve been given, and I might not still be a Christian today if I hadn’t been brought up in the Church. It’s not that I’ve never questioned my beliefs, it’s more that I was given the chance to see the effects of Christianity (which I realise will be more negative for some people) and decide, based on that, if I wanted to carry on in the faith.
It’s always been a contentious topic whether or not parents should be allowed to raise their children in any sort of ideology, be it religious, political or anything else. Churchgoing parents are often accused of ‘brainwashing’ their offspring – for example, Richard Dawkins’ infamous statement about Catholic parenting, which I won’t repeat here. But if we think that any worldview is the truth, then it seems disingenuous to me not to raise our children in that belief. The fact is that whether we try to or not, we pass on our values to our children. At least in their early years, kids want to be like their parents – they have a lot of respect for them and assume that if Mummy and Daddy think something is true, then it probably is true.
Thus, if we want our kids to know Jesus, then it seems to me there’s no better way than to show that He makes a difference by how we live. This doesn’t just mean talking to them about the Gospel until their ears bleed; kids notice the small things too, the little things about our behaviour that distinguish us from the rest of the world. While it may be hard for the kids to realise, parents feel that they’re doing them a service by showing them the way to be freed from death and enjoy life in all its fullness. And even if they rebel against their parents when they’re older, they might very well turn back to the faith at a later point. It’s not a guarantee, but if they’ve already been introduced to Christianity in a helpful way, it could happen.
Ultimately, children are the responsibility of their parents, so parents have a duty to train them up in the ways they think are the best. To this end, I see nothing wrong with parents teaching their kids the Gospel if they’re convicted of its truth, as long as there is no force or coercion involved. Yes, if I ever have children of my own, I will probably want to raise them in the Church, but their upbringing will probably look quite different to that addressed by Daniel in his video. As my local vicar Steve Tilley wrote here almost 12 years ago, we shouldn’t give our children any less freedom than God gives us.