Right before my lonely years in a public high school, my best friend and I had a final interaction. Memory plays its usual tricks and I do not recall ever seeing him again. The details unfold like a dream, jumping me from one location to another without any transition or travel.
We had been talking, as usual, about life, the universe, and everything. I remember a hill with a few small rocks protruding amidst the thorny grass and pike-tipped vegetation. He was exploring the crisis of faith that ultimately lost him deep in foreign territory. The only specific question I recall was about the apocrypha and why it was not considered canon by Protestants. Without Google -- let alone Wikipedia -- and being but 14 or so, I knew nothing about that topic. We decided to ask his pastor.
My impression is that we accosted the man outside somewhere, saying we had questions that troubled us. Would he be willing to address them?
"Absolutely," he replied with a smile. "Let's meet for lunch sometime. I'm sure we could get this all worked out in a couple hours."
That lunch never happened.
Even then I sensed something in his response that discouraged me from pursuing it further. I am convinced, however, that he would have gladly met with us and answered all our questions. For years I blamed our lack of follow through. But after my post on brainwashing, I think we were actively discouraged from hearing what he had to say.
In discussing how to help your kids not feel brainwashed, I gave you a list of things to do. But equally important is what you don't do. If you want your children to feel well grounded -- not ground into the gravel -- then you must validate their queries.
The pastor whom we sought out did not do that. Quite the opposite. He said to us, without meaning to, "Your questions aren't legitimate. There's no real issue there. Let's meet up sometime and I'll tell you how wrong you are in your thinking. Within two hours, you'll be set straight."
Want your children to reject your teaching?
Belittle their concerns. Mock their questions. Scoff at the lies, the foolishness, the absurdity of the other side. Do this, and your son or daughter will wander off in search of validation. Offer but ridicule and they'll latch on to that which offers acceptance.
Skepticism is popular not solely because it is easy. The skeptic says to your question, "That is an excellent point! What do we know about that? What can we know about that? Very good observation." This is the polar opposite of the religious hubris that says, "Ah, foolishness. See here, I have the answers of assurity. Doth thou question God Himself?"
Upon realizing I had missed this point in my previous post, I remembered the times I've tangentially blogged about this topic before:
- How plumbers undermine their profession by decrying other plumbers
- How the only stupid questions are those asked without any interest in an answer
- How we must become comfortable with questions
- Why the internet may pull people from faith
- Why it is so important that we learn to ask "why" and "how"
- And, ultimately, that we remember that our job is not to drive our children a certain direction
Do not belittle those who disagree, for their reasoning -- albeit flawed or incomplete -- is compelling and rooted in some element of reality. Recognize that your children are seeking answers, not asking dumb questions. Indeed, their questions are an indication that they are seeking to understand why the world is the way it is. ...but there is much to learn about all this; we may not fully understand the other side and be able to offer their best arguments. And we may, gripping too tightly, bounce our children off course.
I am only just learning this skill myself, the art of acknowledging the difficulties and affirming the questions. The fact that I have an answer is secondary. If I want my audience, be it my kids or my friends, to hear what I have to say, I must not lead with any indication that their current quandary is but nothing. It is where they are, supported by a great many puzzles and imperfections. And my own understanding is but through a mirror dimly.
I invite you to walk this path with me. Let us give credence to their questions -- for their questions are real. The answers are real as well. But learning them is much an act of invitation. May our teaching, then, be inviting.
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad
P.S. I feel the need to add this little bit: There are no guarantees here. Doing as I suggest will not ensure your kids will believe as you do. Making fun of the ideas with which you disagree will not necessitate that your children will reject your values. I am not promoting a system; I am recommending an approach. I am advocating grace.