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Why Even Atheists Should Teach Their Children about God


One of the questions being asked today is, “Why depression and anxiety are so common among children and adolescents?”

One explanation—almost surely the most neglected—is declining interest in God and Jesus.

Psychiatrist, psychologist, counselors see the consequences of this in their practice almost every day. 

A 2018 Harvard study involving 5,000 people examined how being raised in a family with religious beliefs affects the mental health of children. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/religious-upbringing-adult-health/

The study found that kids who attended a church service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness.

Weekly attendance was also associated with higher rates of volunteerism, lower probabilities of both drug use and early sexual initiation, and a sense of purpose.

Yet, despite all the evidence that church involvement leads to positive behaviors, Gallup reports that the U.S. has seen a 20% decrease in attendance at church services in the past 20 years. In 2018, the American Family Survey revealed that nearly half of adults under 30 do not identify with any religion.

For mental wellbeing, this is not a good trend. 

Nihilism—the belief in nothing—is like Miracle Grow for anxiety and depression. By contrast, the belief in God and Jesus—who loves us—is an invaluable source of support and comfort.

There are parents who ask the question, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?” 

“Fake it.”

There are many things you don’t tell your children the full truth about.  For instance, if your children hear about a tragedy that has occurred in your community, you tell them that it will never happen to them. We don’t have a crystal ball and cannot know that bad things will not happen to our children, yet we reassure them with a hopeful narrative.

The same applies to believing in God and Jesus and Heaven.

Even if you believe that when your life ends, your bones turn to dust and you are gone for eternity, such beliefs don’t help children. They only scare them and create anxiety over death and dying. Belief in a benevolent God and a heaven does help children with their fear. 

In our current age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence, and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope. It is far better for kids to use their imagination constructing something positive—such as a God who cares about us—than the dark, nihilistic idea that there’s no creator and protector, and no purpose to our existence.

Parent also ask how can they instill gratitude and empathy in their children. Again, the best answer is involvement in a Bible and Jesus believing church. The Bible encourages gratitude and empathy as antidotes to entitlement and selfishness. These are the building blocks of strong character. They also protect against depression and anxiety.

Additionally, the body of Christ provides children a chance for community. Being with people who share their faith can act as a buffer against the emptiness and isolation of an ever-shifting modern culture. This is more necessary than ever in a world where teens can have hundreds of virtual friends and few real ones.

And the Bible helps teach children mindfulness, a sense of self-control, and discipline. Your young children might not be aware they are entering a house of worship, but they do know they’re supposed to act in an appropriate manner when they are there. They have to relax their bodies and calm their minds.

It is true that if you feel ambivalent about God and Jesus your children will likely follow your example.  However, if you went to church or send your children to a church school knowing it is good for them, you might surprise yourself and get something meaningful out of it too.  In other words, your children may bring you back to faith. It’s certainly worth an extended experiment for their sake and for yours.

Consider one more argument: if you take the idea seriously that your children should be free to choose or reject God and Jesus, they need to be exposed to God and Jesus. How else will they be able to make a free and informed choice?

We live in a competitive, stressful society that idealizes materialism, selfishness, and virtual rather than real human connection. Having a church and believe in Jesus is the best antidote to all of that.

Whether children choose to continue to follow as adults is something you cannot control. But at least give them a chance to believe and find comfort in their Creator.

They deserve it.

Erica Komisar psychoanalyst (edited by John Maier)

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