The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

How to Not shelter your kids from ideas: Teach alternative worldviews fairly

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(Note: this is part 2 in a 3 part series. Part 1, Part 3)

In my previous post, I argued that one reason that many of our youth walk away from the faith is that they haven’t been properly exposed to alternative ideas. My concern is that we tend to send our kids to a college campus with a superficial confidence and this creates a crisis. In this series, I am offering 3 strategies that I think would help prepare our kids for this inevitable moment of exposure. The first strategy was to teach our kids how to think well. The second strategy is to teach alternative worldviews.

Teaching alternative worldviews

We of course need to teach our kids the Christian worldview (this will come in strategy #3). But when this is all that we teach them, they can be blindsided by the many alternative views in the world. Sometimes we teach them alternative worldviews, but we teach a thin shadow of the real thing. Or we merely disparage the views as if there is something wrong with people who hold those views. If Christianity is true and rational, we don’t need to be afraid of alternative views. We don’t need to game the system and make Christianity look like the only rational option in the world. We can show our children that there are real people who hold these real views. We can do it fairly and we can show them the most plausible versions of these views.

This of course needs to be done in an age appropriate way. The risk here is confusing a kid with too much too soon. It is hard enough to begin to think about a worldview and even harder to begin to think about other worldviews. But the basics, it seems to me, can be understood at a rather young age. It’s common for kids to think that everyone’s home is just like theirs. But it is an important thing to help your kids to see that not everyone follows Jesus and this can be understood early on. As the child matures, there will be opportunities to fill in the details. They should be able to understand that some think that there is no God at all and that Jesus didn’t do the things that are claimed in the Bible. They should be able to understand that many people in the world follow different teachings that are completely different from the teachings of Jesus. Others still follow Jesus’s teachings but add other writings (e.g., Mormonism). As they hit the preteen years and beyond, you can fill out more specific details of these views.

It’s really important that we spend time presenting these first without evaluation. We have, as a culture, lost the art of charitably understanding an opposing view. We tend to decide whether or not we agree with a view before we have even thoughtfully considered it. We seem to be afraid of this because we know it may cause us hard intellectual work, saying you’re not sure about something, doubts, or even to change one’s mind. We tend to do this exactly backwards. We tend to only want enough of an alternative view so that we can disparage it.

But here’s the payoff. When one has fairly presented a plausible version of a view, then I think one has earned the right to fairly criticize the view as well. This is, to me, what it is to teach. A teacher is not a mere presenter of views. As parents, we are called to guide. We are called to impart knowledge. This means, among other things, we show reasons for and against.

Is this indoctrination?

Now this is not mere indoctrination or brain washing. To see why, see strategy #1. We are teaching our children, as a first priority, how to think. Then, in strategy 2, we model what it is to think well in helping them consider contrary views. That way, when we charitably present ideas, both for and against, the kid doesn’t simply adopt what we say even if she does go on to adopt the view. They own the view. They’ve made it their own.

With this sort of approach will kids tend to adopt the views of their parents? Yes, they often will. But this is not evidence of bias or indoctrination as long as they thoughtfully believe these things for good reasons. This is also no different from most teaching situations. We tend to adopt the views of the teachers we’ve come to trust. This is how it was in my household growing up, in the seminary that I attended, and my Ph.D. program at the University of Iowa regarding certain philosophical views. This is also how it goes for kids who grow up in secular settings, go to public school, and attend a secular university. They tend to adopt the views of those they have come to trust. The point is that when someone is passionate about a view and presents the view and points out what they take to be mistakes of alternative views, this can be quite persuasive. And that’s precisely how it should be.

But if we’ve taught our kids to think well, then there will be disagreement. And we’re going to have to be okay with that. If you’ve taught your kids well, they will not be mere clones of you. They may go on to not embrace your version of Christianity and they may even not embrace Christianity. This can be very difficult for parents to accept. But what’s the other option? Keep our kids sheltered from other ideas and hope for the best when they encounter them? As I said in the first post, this is largely how we’ve gotten here.

A far better strategy is to teach them to think well and present the case for and against Christianity in a fair and thoughtful way. They’ll make their decisions, but the discussion, no matter what the decision is, should be lifelong.

In the final post in this series, I’ll say what sort of case needs to be made for the truth of Christianity.

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