Raising children as Christians is a liberation not indoctrination

A baby is baptised Photo: PA

Following on from my blog of April 24 on Richard Dawkins and not “indoctrinating” our children with our own religious beliefs, Geoffrey Sales, a devout (and very knowledgeable) Baptist, has written very sensibly on the same topic in his recent blog post on All Along the Watchtower. Indeed, he is so obviously more reasonable on this vexed topic than the famous evolutionary biologist that I think it is worth reproducing what he says.

He relates that he has five adult children, three of whom are active Christians, one who is an occasional attendee “and the fifth, the youngest girl, well, she just can’t see the point.” All the young Sales children “got dragged off to chapel twice on Sunday.” They also had morning prayers at home and “they went along to Bible study on Thursday when they were old enough.” Sales asks, “Did they complain? Yes. Did we take any notice? Yes. But we explained that this was what we did and that we thought it was good for them. But we also made a promise, which was that if, when they reached 16, they didn’t want to come, they could stop.”

The rationale for this, he explains, was that if they decided at 16 not to carry on with any religious practice and then changed their minds later – as can happen – “they’d know what it was they were going back to.” He relates that the three oldest were baptised in due course (Baptists believe in adult baptism) and have continued in their faith; the youngest boy goes to church “on high days and holidays”, while the youngest girl “has always gone her own way on these matters.”

Many Catholic parents will recognise this scenario: some children take on the faith for themselves as they grow up; some rebel and then return, often when they have children themselves; yet others “just can’t see the point”, as Sales says. He concludes, “That’s all you can do as a parent. You can show them the way, but for the rest, it is God who gives the increase. “Sales then poses the critical question: “If we had not done this, then I wonder what chance there would have been that three to four of the children would be Christians? Those who think we should have given them a choice need to think instead of wobbling with the brain. What choice would they have had if no-one had taken them near a church? How would that have been a choice? No more than the rest of us can children choose what they do not know exists.”

He concludes, “Not giving your child the experience of something which has helped to shape our world and culture for so long is to deprive them of a real choice and to imprison them in your choices.” He also raises the question, “How many out of five children of atheists would somehow end up in church, and how they’d get there or have some understanding of it?” Sales adds, “Those of us who are Christian parents have a responsibility to bring our children up in the faith…This is not going to mean you brainwash them…Rather it is about having an informed choice – one that is not just formed by the prejudices of the modern media.” Or, one might add, formed by the prejudices of a particular Oxford professor.

The Russian poet, Irina Ratushinskaya, was raised an atheist in the then Soviet Russia. She became a Christian, by her own account, because her teachers repeated the mantra that there was no God so often that it led her to think the opposite: there must be a God if the authorities were so keen to deny His existence. Mind you, I somehow think it might have been easier to come to faith under that grim and oppressive ideology than in the West these days, where everything is relative, nothing is objectively true and where “wobbling with the brain”, to quote Sales’s own ironic phrase, suggests a pseudo-tolerance: the wish to present to young people a smorgasbord of different intellectual and spiritual sensations – just as long as they don’t commit the ultimate sin of conversion to Christianity.