Blank Slates?

We see a lot of Catholic school kids come by our Summer Welcome table every summer. And by come by, I mean walk by.

Perhaps it’s because our group is primarily made up of Protestants (i.e., non-Catholics), but I don’t think that’s it. Typically, when they stop long enough to talk, they talk about how they’re just kinda done.

They’ve “had enough religion” for awhile, so “thanks, but no thanks.”

This isn’t a post to criticize Catholics—I’ve met plenty of Protestants with the same attitude. Rather, it’s about the question, How should we teach kids about God? As someone who will soon be taking these questions from the theoretical to the actual, this is more than just an exercise in armchair philosophy for me.

A relative of mine embodies one approach to this question in the form of the “Blank Slate” approach. At a family gathering a couple years ago, this relative told me that when their kids reach puberty, I can teach the kids about God so they can “decide for themselves” what they believe. On one level, I think there’s some value to this. After all, God made us free creatures who can choose Him or not. And force feeding someone God is a lot like force feeding someone anything—it will only make them sick to their stomach when they encounter it later.

The main problem is, my relative assumes that not talking about God is somehow the default position, that the kids will be blank slates when they talk to me at 13. But that’s not the case. From the very beginning we are imbibing messages about how the world works, who we are, what the good is, and what makes for a meaningful life. All those questions are intimately tied up in questions like, “Is there a God?” and, if so, “What is He like?”

A good way to think about it is to think about other things we teach kids. We would never refuse to teach our kids English until they were 13 since, A) we know that would be ridiculous, B) we know they would pick at least some of it up along the way, a lot of it wrong, and C) we know it would be incredibly detrimental to our child as they grew.

Teaching kids about God is like that too. God, like all sorts of other things, is intimately connected with… all sorts of other things. The decisions we make about how we teach our kids about God, whether by forcing them to take dry classes at their private Christian school or by “not” teaching them about Him—each is a choice we make for them. Either way we choose.

And I think it’s okay that we choose. That’s what parents and teachers and pastors are for. The kids will eventually make their own decisions, but those will be based on the messages we teach them and how we present them.

…which raises all sorts of other questions that I’m not qualified to answer since my son is still in Elisa’s belly.

But what about you? What do you think is the best approach to teaching kids about God?

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2 comments

  1. My kids have made me rethink my theology of children and soteriology (that’s the word for salvation theology, right?) it seems they were born with a relationship and they don’t just rely on us but are taught by the Spirit as well. As far as not talking about God, it would seem as odd as not talking about their grandparents. I think a big part is not being offended by the amazing questions they ask about God and especially the stories they hear from the bible.

    1. I like your $5 word. :)

      I’ll be really intrigued to see how having a kid affects my relationship with God, too. Something I’ve already encountered is seeing the parallel between the intended love I have for this baby I can’t see and the love for a God we can’t see.

      I really love the quote from Asante you posted about the resurrection being in 5 million years. I look forward to those sorts of conversations.

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