Yesterday I talked to yet another mom whose child went off to college and decided that he’s an atheist. I don’t know if this is an epidemic or if I just hear about a lot because people know about my conversion, but it seems that not a month goes by that I don’t hear about some child of a friend or family member giving up their faith after they leave the house.
Probably the most disturbing aspect of this trend that I’ve noticed is that, quite often, the parents I talk to seem hesitant to say anything about it. Not that I think they should be starting dinner-table arguments or badgering their children — since, as I wrote about here and here, I finally clued in to the fact that prayer and simply living our Christian faith are by far the most important tools for evangelization — but a surprising number of the parents I’ve talked to have not said anything at all to their children.
The mom I talked to yesterday took this route (I’ll call her “Liz”), telling me that she hasn’t said much to her son about his departure from the church. When I asked her why, she danced around the issue for a while but finally admitted that her son’s loss of faith has made her worry about her own faith. “Honestly, ” she said, “I don’t want to have a conversation with him about it. The atheists have some good arguments these days, and I just don’t want to ‘go there’. My faith means a lot to me and I’m happy to keep it that way.” When she said that, I remembered that some of my other friends, acquaintances and family members have hinted that this is also the reason why they’ve shied away from discussing the topic with their own children.
When I told Liz that I’d gone the other way, finding God after a life of atheism, her eyes lit up and she immediately wanted to know more about that. I recommended some good books to read and gave a quick (OK, rambling) summary of my conversion story, and strongly encouraged her to, as she put it, “go there”. I told her that, from my experience as a person who asked all the tough questions simply because I was too ornery to accept Christianity on faith alone, she should absolutely be asking the tough questions and scratching the surface on her beliefs. She smiled for the first time in the conversation when I said, “Don’t worry. It’s all true.”
To the fact that other intelligent people have come to different conclusions, I don’t know what to say. As we know from looking at the world around us, smart people can be found in pretty much every belief (or nonbelief) system. All I can offer is my own experience, which is this: I lived my whole life as an atheist. My godless worldview, which relied on science and observation of the material world alone to explain everything, conveyed accurate information. But when I paused to give the benefit of the doubt to the idea that perhaps my information was incomplete, when I took a hesitant peek at what some of humanity’s great thinkers have had to say about that entire realm of human experience that cannot be measured in a laboratory, I found myself — at first unwillingly — on the fast track to Christianity.
Not wanting to be “one of them, ” those religious people who I spent so many years disliking, I asked every tough question I could think of. I read book after book after book, waiting to find at least one question for which atheism had a better answer. The problem is, I found none. In fact, I found that Christianity, the Catholic Church in particular, took what I already knew about the world as an atheist and added to it abundantly. The more questions I asked, the more my faith grew. The more I dug deep to really ponder the hard questions, the better I understood myself and the world around me, and the closer I got to God. An analogy I often think of is that atheism gave me a photograph of a chocolate cake, and Christianity has given me the actual icing-smothered item to taste and savor.
I share my experience in case it’s helpful to parents like Liz or to any other Christians who might be hesitant to scratch the surface on their faith for fear of what they might find. In the opinion of this former atheist, by asking questions and seeking answers you have absolutely nothing to fear, and everything to gain.
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