A friend recently asked me this question. As a Christian, there are several reasons why I believe the answer is no.
This reminded me of an article I read a couple years ago by former NFL running back Arian Foster. In an article he wrote for Yahoo, Foster was talking about his parenting philosophy. When it came to faith, he said:
The flying spaghetti monster. There are billions of people on Earth with hundreds of religions and sects that trickle off each other. I will never tell her what to believe in. I know parents are very influential on kids’ spiritual beliefs and that can be a positive or negative thing. I can give her a basic understanding of religions when she starts showing interest and asking questions. But I will remain silent otherwise. How can I make a young mind believe this is the truth for them when they don’t yet have the capacity nor the cognitive desire to delve into something like this? If she shows interest I would advise her to fully investigate a religion and see if it fits her. And if she chooses none of the above, I’ll be fine with that as well. The values I instill in her should guide her to her decision. What’s most important, I believe, is to support her decision no matter what.
Foster argues that he doesn’t want to push religious beliefs saying “I will never tell her what to believe in” and “I can give her a basic understanding of religions…but I will remain silent otherwise.”
To raise a child without faith can be framed as “not telling them what to believe in.” However that’s clearly affirming and privileging a secular worldview. It’s raising someone with a default setting of irreligion.
Foster says that he’s fine if she eventually chooses faith (I don’t doubt his sincerity in that). But he argues that what matters more than raising someone according to a faith tradition is raising them with a certain set of values. That was similar to my friends question. Instead of raising someone according to religion, why not just raise them to be good/benevolent?
The gospel is predicated on the idea that a person can’t be good on their own. And faith in Jesus Christ is essential to the salvation of a person’s soul. For a Christian, that is part of why a hands off approach to faith does not harmonize with parenting. Any loving, Christian parent should raise their children in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. This isn’t unique to Christianity. It’s true of the major faith systems. There is no faith tradition (that I’m aware of) that says “Hey, raise your kids outside of this faith and see what they believe.”
I understand why someone who’s not religious would have such a view that undermines the role of faith in a person’s life. Christian faith is meant to be a parent’s source of meaning, morality. It’s meant to shape your life, your family, and your parenting. The idea of not passing that tradition onto one’s kids is fundamentally inconsistent.
Furthermore, the Bible constantly commands parents to raise their children to know the Lord. In the Old Testament, the Israelites failed to do this which was the source of a lot of their struggles.
The Book of Deuteronomy commands:
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
For Christian parents, it’s not meant to be an option. Ultimately no one can control what someone believes. But a kid needs to be given every chance to hear the gospel. It is faith in the gospel by which souls are saved. Also the flavor of the month in our society today is about letting kids dictate everything (faith, gender, etc). But they have to be raised with a foundation.
There’s also covenantal theology but I’ll save that for another post.
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.