by: John Tyrrell
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In a recent Washington Post, there's a letter seeking advice from a mother concerned that her daughter has lost her faith, and I think the response to the mother's concerns is excellent - and probably not the advice she was looking for.
If you're short on time, just check out the link, but the mother's letter does bring a a couple of things to mind.
She writes: "I simply do not think a girl of 16 has the maturity to make such a life-changing decision."
I quite disagree, and I wrote about this long ago in Meditation 10.
I say that children are old enough to know that there is a genuine range of alternatives to their parent's faith just about the same time they learn the truth about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Is there a better time to learn the truth about the existence of God?
The other issue I'd like to discuss at a little more length is "Christian values." The mother wrote that she "has tried to raise my family under the same strong Christian values that I grew up with."
And I wonder, what were those values? People talk about "Christian values" as if there is some commonly accepted set of values which all Christians adhere to. And there is not. There's possibly as many set of values as there are Christian denominations. And very possibly the strong Christian values that the mother grew up with may have been a contributor to the daughter rejecting the faith.
I suppose the main Christian values I was brought up with in the '50s were largely"faith, hope, and charity" mixed with a dose of King and Country - subsequently Queen and Country. I've lost the faith and I'm probably less nationalistic than I was as a child, but I still hold on to the hope and charity as values.
I was also taught the standard "Love your neighbour as yourself" and "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you", both attributed to Jesus. I may have decided for myself that Jesus wasn't the first with those messages, but they are still reasonable values, inside and outside Christianity.
But generally, those are not values that would drive someone away from Christianity.
What "Christian values" could drive a 16 year old girl away from her faith?
Many Christian denominations have an article of faith along the lines of: The Bible is infallible and of unlimited inerrancy in the areas of creation, science, geography, chronology, history, and in all other matters of which it speaks.
If an intelligent young person is taught that particular article of faith is a required Christian value, then a little study of actual science, geography, chronology, and history could very well cause her to reject the religion.
Suppose opposition to homosexual activity is taught as a "Christian value".
Many 16 year olds today are bound to have a friend or acquaintance dealing with their sexuality. They are capable of judging on the person's merits whether they deserve to burn in hell. And if they decide a good person should not suffer eternal torment for innate sexuality, then the Christian value gets rejected, possibly along with Christianity in its entirety.
Suppose an absolute opposition to birth control and/or abortion are taught as "Christian values". A 16 year old girl is almost certainly capable of being aware of how this is impacting her friends and how it might impact her. She is capable of recognizing that an absolute prohibition is morally wrong even if she buys into an "in most cases" prohibition. Reject the "values"; reject the religion.
I read somewhere in the past few days (regrettably I didn't make note of a reference) that around 1/3 of the young people in the USA today have rejected religion. Perhaps it is those "Christian values" currently being pushed, not just by fundamentalist Christians, but by Catholics too.
The Pope at least has finally recognized that the over-emphasis by his two predecessors on homosexuality, birth control, and abortion has been misplaced. He apparently wants to return to an emphasis on hope and charity.
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