Wednesday, August 14, 2013

kids, Christianity and cultural Christianity

I saw a Facebook post making the following assertion: if no one knew about Christianity until they turned 18, no one would embrace it. The assertion seems potentially reasonable on its face. But it assumes a certain definition of Christianity and relies on a static analysis. Let's take those one at a time.

First, this claim surely assumes a "cultural" (rather than a "religious" form) of Christianity-- and in this, it is probably correct to a large degree. (Note that religious observances and rites can be largely cultural.) In fact, it's not a particularly remarkable claim. To the extent that one eliminates large-scale cultural and other factors-- especially in the more formative years-- it's reasonable to assume that those factors would have diminished influence or would even fail to appear at all. We can imagine this in many realms-- from elements of knowledge to matters of belief (based on knowledge); from religion to arbitrary social norms; from hobbies to inventions.

Second and more interesting: what would it be like to have thoughts of God absent until 18? A few thoughts here.

1.) In a sense, this occurs already to a degree, naturally. Children have a (far?) more limited conception of God in practice. Yes, children can have an impressive, child-like faith. But working out faith as part of one's life is largely an adult journey.

2.) This also occurs in a different direction. Children often walk away from whatever child-like faith they had-- and more often, whatever religious practices they've followed as dependents in a religous household. (This takes us back to the initial confusion between religious belief and cultural practices masquerading as religious belief.) Some young people leave home and then begin to wrestle earnestly with matters of faith and practice-- and find it wanting or decide to go their own way.

3.) But here's the most intriguing possibility-- and I think it gets to the root of the matter: Let's try to do some dynamic analysis. If people were not exposed to Christianity until 18, their first look at it would be much cleaner, unclouded by the cultural counterfeit. As such, the truer version would be more attractive than the current conflation between culture, politics, and religion. If God reveals himself through nature (Rom 1), conscience (Rom 2), the love of faithful believers (Jn 15), etc., then a cleaner look at God might result in more believers. (This is related to the thought that Americans are actually disadvantaged in terms of embracing Christianity-- compared to the prototypical tribesman in Africa.) 

One other thought: If the original hypothesis of pre-18 indoctrination is correct, why would some really smart people (e.g., C.S. Lewis) embrace the faith, often through a relatively intellectual approach? 

Not that I'm any rival to Lewis, but I should probably add my own testimony here. I was raised in a nominal Christian home by parents who divorced-- the sort of background that often leads kids to walk away from a nominal or non-existent faith. My discipleship with Jesus and the empowerment of Holy Spirit started as a teenager and began in earnest when I was 20.

What does this mean for us? For professional skeptics, nothing. For thoughtful skeptics, a call to reconsider the truer forms of Christian faith and practice. For Christian parents, a call to aim for something more than rote memory and behavioral conformity. For the Church, a call to discipleship with Jesus, not just "conversion" or attendance.


At August 15, 2013 at 9:39 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Very interesting observations. It leaves me asking myself, "How many people have yet to encounter Christ(ianity) yet think they have?" And, more challenging, what part have I played in that - for better or worse?


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