The last thing I want is for my kids to someday join the throng who are walking away from the church. That’s why I don’t want my kids to grow up with a nominal religious practice that’s simply handed down by Mom and Dad and easily shed as they reach adulthood. Instead, I want them to become adults who own their faith—who end up with a faith that’s theirs rather than mine. This means I’m doing my best to raise them to think for themselves when it comes to matters of faith—to grapple with tough questions, test out ideas, and even to learn about belief systems like atheism or other religions.

But unlike what some in our culture propose, this does not mean spreading out a buffet of belief-system options and simply inviting my kids to sample various ideas and settle on what tastes best. Yes, I want them to think for themselves—but I want that thinking to be grounded in truth.

Real Answers to Tough Questions

A few years back, a mom who went by “TXBlue08” penned an essay that set the Internet buzzing: “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” An atheist, she outlined several reasons why she had decided to stop perpetuating what she sees as the “illogical legend of God” with her kids. While some found her article offensive, I think her critiques of religion are important to listen to. Several of her questions are good ones, and many of her criticisms are valid.

Yet ultimately, I believe the claims of atheism ring hollow. Unlike TXBlue08, I’ve chosen to raise my kids within the church and Christian tradition. And, unlike what some may suggest about Christian faith, it’s not because I’ve been fooled by a myth or because I simply need a “crutch” like God or a fictional heaven in order to feel good about life.

So why do I raise my kids to believe in God?

Because we are more than blood and bones. Atheism offers us this inevitable conclusion: we humans are ultimately nothing more than blood and bones, animated matter, carbon and water and nitrogen. Our sense of “self” is merely a perception caused by the snapping neurons of our brain. But this naturalist view of the world discounts what cultures worldwide, on every continent and throughout the centuries, have all acknowledged through various expressions of religion, mythology, poetry, and art: there is a spiritual side of life. We humans are more than mere matter, and this life is one of joy, longing, beauty, and a searching after truth. I raise my children with God because I affirm what they inherently experience to be true: life is imbued with meaning that strict naturalism cannot even come close to explaining.

Article continues below

Because of human dignity. I raise my kids with God because I want them to deep-down-in-the-gut know that every human life is sacred. From the fetus in the womb to the physically or mentally disabled to the elderly and infirm, Christianity affirms the essential dignity and significance of every human life. This pro-life understanding is about much more than opposing abortion; Scripture’s radical assertion that all humans are made in the image of God is what led people such as Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow civil rights activists to fight against racist Jim Crow laws and Mother Teresa to tend the sores of outcast, “untouchable” lepers. It’s what mobilizes throngs of Christians today to actively combat human trafficking and what unites environmentally-concerned Christians in an effort to fight climate change and its devastating effects among the world’s poor and marginalized. This belief in human dignity is particularly critical as I raise daughters in a world still fraught with sexism. As a follower of the Christ who boldly confronted sexist cultural taboos, I aim to raise my daughters with confidence in their own God-given value.

Because we need to face ourselves. No matter how much we may try to evade or ignore it, the reality is that each of us will experience moments in which we’re horrified by ourselves. We’ve lost our patience, acted selfishly, profoundly hurt another, or done something we’re deeply ashamed of. Though I believe essential God-made good exists in every human being, a worldview that lacks an acknowledgment of what Christianity calls sin is inconsistent with actual human experience. Along with the message I repeatedly share—that God deeply loves them—my kids also need to know that Scripture speaks the truth about the human condition: we’re all broken, prone to self-centeredness, and in deep need of grace.

Because Christianity compels us beyond ourselves. TXBlue08 and other skeptics rightly critique narcissistic religiosity . . . but of course so does the Bible! God invites us, over and over in Scripture, to forego selfish ambition, to live in humility, and to focus on serving and caring for the needs of others. In a sickeningly me-me-me world, Christianity demands we see that life is not all about us, or about accumulating the most toys, or winning the rat race. Instead, God calls us to help those in need, to speak out for victims of injustice, to offer compassion to the hurting, to welcome the stranger. And so I aim to keep journeying, with my children, on the path away from self-centered living ever toward a more Christlike way of being.

Article continues below

Because I love my children, I share my faith life. I could elucidate dozens more reasons why I reject the conclusions of atheism, but instead I’d point you toward philosophers and apologists like Plantinga, McGrath, Horn, Chesterton, Pascal, and countless others for a more rigorous discussion. But ultimately, I choose to raise my children with God because it is the truest way of sharing who I am and what I’ve come to believe about this world.

I agree with atheists like TXBlue08 in their rejection of pithy or noxious expressions of religion. I too think that parents should not feed their children a superficial myth or what Christian theology professor Roger E. Olson, in his book Questions to All Your Answers, calls “folk religion”—a pop Christianity based on cheesy, over-used clichés and feel-good, seemingly spiritual hogwash. I, too, refuse to pass on to my children a two-dimensional folktale faith that can’t stand up to the test of real life.

But there’s more—much more—to Christianity than the folk-religion stereotype perpetuated in the media and critiqued by popular atheists. There’s a robust intellectual tradition, a compelling history of profound contribution to the liberal arts and the sciences, and a philosophical and theological canon that does not turn a blind eye to the tough questions but rather engages them with biblical acumen, rigorous scholarship, and spiritual honesty.

I believe in God in faith, but certainly not blind faith. Unlike the stereotype of unthinking, unquestioning automaton believers that atheists and agnostics rightly reject, the God I believe in welcomes honest human questioning and is present in this world with divine fingerprints all over it. The God I believe in doesn’t ask us to fear or reject science but rather to welcome and pursue scientific discovery as an avenue of learning more about God and about God’s world. And the God I believe in does not offer superficial pat answers to the deepest of human sufferings but rather is present with us in our suffering and offers us a real spiritual hope.

Why do I raise my kids with God? Because in a world of pain and confusion, echoing with questions but also brimming with wonder and beauty, I find Christianity to be the sonorous ringing answer to the deepest questions of the human condition, resonating with truth where secular humanism rings hollow.