Deborah Mitchell recently wrote an article for CNN iReport titled, “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” The essay is now more than two-thirds the way to a million views, and has already received the most comments of any submission on the citizen journalism platform on CNN’s Belief Blog. Additionally, Mitchell’s post not only generated a great deal of feedback, but it was the tone of the feedback that is particularly noteworthy. Mitchell clearly raised the ire of many Americans who flagged her article as “inappropriate” so many times that the CNN iReport producer had to issue a public disclaimer stating why the article hasn’t yet been taken down, as it does not meet the CNN criteria for violation of Community Guidelines. This reminds me of an old saying in preaching (and general communication) – that if your content lacks substance, yell like hell. Similarly, it appears as though many Christians vehemently dislike Mitchell’s article, but don’t quite know how to intellectually debunk it, get frustrated, and react with internet yelling, i.e. CAPS LOCK and “flagging as inappropriate.”
Furthermore, many responders commented on how brave Mitchell’s post was and how they share her sentiments about Christians and Christianity and religion in general, supporting the recent research that overt religious practice in America is on a pretty rapid downward trend.
Closer to home, I’ve had more than a few members bring the article to my attention, so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to address the 7 reasons Mitchell states for why she raises her two kids, now teenagers, without God.
Each week moving forward, I’ll tackle one of the 7 reasons. Each week, I’d encourage you, like the Bereans, to “receive the message….and examine the Scriptures….to see if … (it) is true.” (Acts 17:11)
Mitchell’s 7 Reasons “Why I Raise My Children Without God”
- God is a bad parent and role model.
- God is not logical.
- God is not fair.
- God does not protect the innocent.
- God is not present.
- God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good
- God Teaches Narcissism
This Week: 1) God is a bad parent and role model.
If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. “He has given us free will,” you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.
What About This Statement Is Wrong?
Without making this a semantics argument about what “good” or “bad” truly means, I still think it’s important to point out the obvious – what one person deems “good” or “bad” does not make it such. For instance, what exactly is a “good” parent? Do “good” parents allow their children to drink pop or not? You’d find many, many parents who would categorize themselves as “good” who might fall on either side of that debate. So from the start, to dismiss “God” on the basis of a relativizing statement seems a bit hollow.
None of the statements that Mitchell makes here are axiomatic or even grounded in anything. If you’re going to debate something, you must cite some source outside of yourself, or you fall into the post-Enlightenment trap of arrogantly suggesting that your personal feelings and your personal logic are the ultimate authority. And what’s to say that your feelings or logic are more authoritative than mine. Pointing to yourself as authoritative is far more narrow-minded than any Christians pointing to the Bible as authoritative. Let me show you.
Take the statement, “Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others.” On what basis do you make that claim? Does that mean that a parent could never allow their child to enter the armed forces to protect our country because that child might actually end up having to kill someone in defense? Does that mean that a parent should not tolerate a son physically defending a girl who is being sexually abused? Is it always wrong to punch someone? The moment you use words like “wrong” or “good” or “bad” you’re suggesting that there is some higher authority out there OR that you yourself are indeed “god” and determine what is truly right or wrong for everyone.
Mitchell says, “Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse.” Again, without this being entirely a semantics argument, how is she defining “horrible acts” and “innocent (people)” and the idea that God would “condone violence and abuse” here? She’s not taking such unqualified assertions from my Bible. I’d be curious to know exactly how many Bible studies Mitchell has participated in throughout her life. In fact, the doctrine of Judgment Day in the Bible says that no one gets away with anything in the end. Every sin, from genocide to white lies, from rape to dirty thoughts, will be accounted for. Everyone will answer to God.
The Bible suggests in no uncertain terms that God hates sin, violence, and death. “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” (Prov. 8:13) And yet, God still sometimes curiously allows it. He doesn’t cause it, but he allows it. Why? This gets to the heart of why God created mankind. God certainly could have created beings that did exactly as he programmed them to. They, however, wouldn’t have been humans. We’d call them robots. Robots have no choice. They do what they are told. But, as many science fiction movies have taught us, you can’t have real relationship with artificial intelligence. The Triune God of the Bible, who is a 3-in-1 relationship unto himself, loved the beauty of relationship and wanted it to expand, so he created more beings to have relationship with. But there’s one caveat. For these beings to be truly relational, they must have the capacity to resist relationship, including relationship with him (i.e. “unbelief”).
Mitchell is saying that God idly stands by and watches evil happen. She says this makes him a bad parent. She claims, “‘He has given us free will,’ you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.” I doubt it. Mitchell has two teenagers. I’m assuming they’ve done something to hurt others or themselves at some point. Is Mitchell a “bad” parent for not intervening? Possibly? But maybe not. Look at it this way: If Mitchell forced every behavior of her teenagers, would that make her a “good” parent? No one in their right mind would say yes to that because we all know that children need to grow, and forcing their every move does not provide them opportunity to do so.
The moment that you understand that a “good” parent is not a parent who simply forces their child’s behavior is the moment you realize that Mitchell’s claim here is false.
What About This Statement Is Truth?
God does not and should not fit the definition of a human parent or role model. That’s sort of like calling Jesus a bad football player – since he never intended to take on that exact human role, it’s a strange accusation.
If not primarily a parent or role model, then what is he? He’s God. For our benefit, the Holy Spirit often inspired writers of the Bible to paint God in relational human terms, terms we can understand. The Spirit even uses anthropomorphisms, such as “the right hand of God” of the “face of God” to help us understand him. Now, God, as a spirit being doesn’t have a right hand or face per say, but that type of language helps us understand the nature and qualities of God more deeply.
Similarly, through Jesus we are able to call God our “Father” because he possesses some of the tendencies of a wonderful earthly father – he provides, protects, supports, teaches, comforts, etc. But God is not an earthly parent. For starters, he’s not currently visible to us on earth – most would agree that this seems to be a general requirement for a good human parent. Additionally, while he came to earth in the form of Jesus and was perfect and guiltless, he didn’t come primarily to be a role model. For instance, shouldn’t a really good role model for flawed humans be one who graciously admits his/her mistakes and apologizes? Jesus never made a mistake and therefore he never really modeled repentance for us. Rather, Jesus primarily “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15) Teaching you and I to be really good people was not his main mission because he knew we could never be good enough to earn salvation. He came to save us, not present a role model for us.
How Is the Gospel of Jesus More Beautiful Than This Belief?
Let me propose this to you as a concept of “parent” and “role model” – would a perfect parent/role model not be someone who 1) does for you what you cannot do and 2) teaches you to do that which you can do, so that you may simultaneously both have guaranteed success and continued growth?
Is that not EXACTLY what Jesus does?! He changes places with you on the cross that should be your cross to redeem you to eternal life because you and I were incapable of that (2 Cor. 5:21) and then he sends his Spirit into us so that we can continue to develop into the people he created and destined us to be (John 15:26).
While in one sense God is not primarily a human parent or role model to us, in another sense, a far greater sense, he is the ULTIMATE parent and role model. Human parents and role models fail you. God has not (1 Chron. 28:20). Human parents and role models can lie to you. God cannot (Num. 23:19). Human parents and role models can leave you. God will not (Deut. 31:6, 8; Matt. 28:20). Human parents and roles models may put their own interests ahead of you. God does not (Gal. 3:13).
Three Summary Points to Consider:
1) If children have no freedom, but every decision is made for them by their parents and every action is forced by their parents, is that “good” parenting?
2) Is it even fair to grade God on our estimation of a “good” earthly parent or role model? Wouldn’t God, by definition, not fit into one of those limited human categories?
3) In general terms, the Bible paints God as one who does for you the things you cannot do and empowers you to grow to do the things that you can do. If that’s true, does such an individual not sound like a high quality candidate for parent or role model?