Bad Advice to Atheist Parents

Or

The Uncomfortable Truth About Religion

As badly as atheists want religion to go away, even though that is a religious belief that they actually possess, as I demonstrated in this series, the facts are that religious participation at least generates numerous positive benefits contrary to what the anti-religious would have anyone believe. If one digs strictly into the superficial effects of religious activity, one cannot help but see that there’s more to participation.

As one source reports, in the US alone, religious organizations contribute over $1 trillion in economic value to the economy, between congregations, schools, and religiously centered businesses. The economic value of congregations puts almost $84 billion into local economies through the purchase of cleaning services, flowers, and video and sound production equipment and services. Religious schools employ hundreds of thousands, and generally have a 95% graduation rate compared to public schools. Moreover, among minority students graduating from private and religious schools are more likely to seek a college education and achieve a degree.

Far from societal benefits, religious participation is tied to better health outcomes including lower blood pressure and emotional and mental resilience.

Of course, there are those who try to make arguments against religion for whatever reason, however those arguments often come off just as irrational and baseless as what they’re arguing against, not to mention that the fact that they can come off sounding petty, arrogant, and anti-historical.

That’s why when I saw this post from the Stormbringer’s Thunder blog, which directed the reader to this episode of The Briefing with Albert Mohler, I knew that this was something worth looking at.

In the episode, Mohler discusses an interesting opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal by psychological therapist Erica Komisar. In the article, titled, “Don’t Believe in God? Lie to Your Children,” she begins by writing,

“As a therapist, I’m often asked to explain why depression and anxiety are so common among children and adolescents. One of the most important explanations —and perhaps the most neglected—is declining interest in religion.

She goes on to note that a study from 2018 demonstrated how religious involvement has definite, positive effects both personally and to the community in general, then she goes on to write,

“Nihilism is fertilizer for anxiety and depression, and being “realistic” is overrated. The belief in God—in a protective and guiding figure to rely on when times are tough—is one of the best kinds of support for kids in an increasingly pessimistic world.

The unfortunate fact is that the vast majority of atheists are not, in fact, nihilistic, even though there are some atheists who are willing to be consistent with their beliefs and admit it. So, I think that Komisar is somewhat jumping the shark here to make a point, but it is nonetheless valid: there is a concerning correlation between professed non-belief and certain emotional and mental disorders. Interestingly, I would note this attitude plays itself out in the political sphere as well in that as people move from belief in a sovereign God, to a belief in a sovereign state, it’s not that people become less religious or less fundamentalist, it’s that the impulses begin to get cranked up to 11. When God is not the source of justice, and the state merely the elected arbitrator between persons; rather the state becomes both the source of justice and the arbitrator of it, then the state begins to push into realms where it has no business, such as the moral concerns of its citizens and their thought life. But I digress, Komisar plunges headlong into a concern that she sees with parents and children in this age of un-religiousness:

“I am often asked by parents, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?”

As a parent, but also as a believer, I have had to contend with this question from my own children. Fortunately, I had believing parents who answered my questions, and answered them from the authority of Scripture. What is Komisar’s answer to those queries?

“Lie.

She explains.

“The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children. Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss. In an age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope.

Now, that sounds, initially like good advice. The problem is that, if you listen to some atheist “deconversion” stories, there’s often an assertion that people felt lied to, and that it’s in uncovering the “truth” of some belief that they were propelled into atheism. Mohler, in his analysis of Komisar’s piece, latches onto the recognition that she is promoting a “functionalist” view of religion.

He notes, from the transcript, explaining this view

“It means that they understand religion as being basically a man-made construction that has many social and personal benefits. The functions of religion are to provide a sense of divine oversight and guidance, a sense of comfort, an understanding of life after death, an explanation of morality.

Indeed, if you go back to my essay on religion, I noted that religion is seen as a vehicle by which certain norms are conveyed through the culture. This is why I could demonstrate that if atheism was used as such a vehicle that it could necessarily be understood as a religion. However, if one talks to atheists individually, they will necessarily assume that they have no religion, even though they will necessarily embody certain assumptions, beliefs, and practices that cannot be classified as anything less than “religious”. It’s why Komisar advocates for the “fake it to make it” position, out of pure pragmatism. It’s why Mohler is correct when he asks,

“When you consider what’s at stake here, we have to ask the question, does a functionalist view of religion come even close to explaining what religion is?

The simple answer to the question is, of course, a resounding “No.” As my essay demonstrated, it is very easy to apply the functionalist (ie scientific) view to religion and draw true conclusions about something that flies in the face of those who hold a particular position (eg atheists), which is why Mohler can say, and I agree,

“(…) [A] functionalist view of religion would tell us it doesn’t really matter. If the religion provides the function, then who cares what its belief system is.

If truth isn’t the fundamental and primary issue then it doesn’t matter which religion one takes up. To that end, Mohler continues,

“But for Christians operating from a biblical worldview, the prior question is truth. We don’t want to have anything to do with any religious system that isn’t true regardless of its functionalist effects. We’re not looking to Christianity as a coping mechanism. We believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ because we believe it is true. We look to the Bible as our ultimate authority in life because we believe that it is true, that it is the Word of God, and every word of God is true.

If atheists are truly concerned about truth then they should reject Komisar’s advice. If they accept Komisar’s advice, and follow it, then they prove that it doesn’t matter what you say you believe because it has no real effect. Atheists are proving that religion has positive benefits just as a socializing function in a particular culture and society.

Such a position demonstrates that atheists have a difficult choice to make. If what they believe about the world is true, then they are better off embracing and perpetuating what they think is a lie when it comes to their children’s health and overall wellbeing. However, that brings the beliefs themselves into question, as Mohler writes,

“Frankly, if we’re going to turn to dust and that’s all there is, then what does it even mean to speak the truth or lie?

If truth truly matters though, then we come back to the perennial philosophical question “What is truth?” That is why I close this with Mohler’s final comments and echo his plea:

Whatever you do, don’t lie to your children. Find out the truth about God. Find the true God, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Find Jesus Christ who described himself as the way, the truth, and the life. Find Jesus, find the true living God, and then tell your children the truth about the God of all truth.

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