Christian Response to “Why I Raise My Children Without God” – Week 7 – God Teaches Narcissism

blog - God Teaches NarcissismLast week, I addressed the sixth of the seven reasons Deborah Mitchell cited in her controversial CNN article “Why I Raise My Children Without God.”

Mitchell’s 7 Reasons “Why I Raise My Children Without God” were, as follows….

  1. God is a bad parent and role model.
  2. God is not logical.
  3. God is not fair.
  4. God does not protect the innocent.
  5. God is not present.
  6. God does not teach children to be good.
  7. God teaches narcissism.

Final Week: 7) God teaches narcissism.

Mitchell writes:

“God has a plan for you.” Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control. That gives kids a sense of false security and creates selfishness. “No matter what I do, God loves me and forgives me. He knows my purpose. I am special.” The irony is that, while we tell this story to our kids, other children are abused and murdered, starved and neglected. All part of God’s plan, right?

When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth—we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machine–whether that machine is nature or society–the influence we have is minuscule. The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.

I understand why people need God. I understand why people need heaven. It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we—along with the children we love so much—will cease to exist. The idea of God and an afterlife gives many of us structure, community and hope.

I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs. It’s a personal effect, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. It’s not something to be used or worn by strangers. I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair—not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.

NOTE: Mitchell says so much in this section that it’s hard to comment on all of her assertions in a general way.   Therefore, I’m going to isolate some of the phrases that capture the spirit of what she’s saying here and give an evaluation as to why I think each is either fundamentally incorrect or perhaps truthful, but misguided.

What About This Statement Is Wrong?

Mitchell’s entire first paragraph mirror’s everything else she’s said to this point – that she simply cannot comprehend how the idea of a “loving” God could possibly be reconciled with all of the pain that exists in the world.  I’ve addressed this ad nauseum in recent weeks, so I’d recommend going back and reading those first if you’re curious about how to respond to such a criticism of God.

Moving on….

“We are no more special than the next creature.”

I’ve met many people who believe this.  I have never in my life met one person who believes this consistently.

Here’s the example I always run to: I know a lot of young people who have fully swallowed the theory of evolution as fact.  They accept the basic tenets of natural selection and survival of the fittest.  So, I’ll ask them how they feel about the oppression going on in the Middle East or portions of Africa or elsewhere.  And almost invariably they’ll respond by talking about how unjust it all is.  And then, honestly, I’ve got them.  I’ll respond by saying that if we humans, just like the animal kingdom, operate according to the principles of natural selection and survival of the fittest, then no one ever has any right to get upset about a more powerful nation with a bigger military and better weapons swallowing up and enslaving or destroying a smaller nation.  After all…..survival of the fittest, right?  This, after all, would only be for the propagation of a more advanced species.  If we’re merely animals, this is not only fair game, it’s natural and good.

I’ve never had a young person respond to that without pausing and saying…….“Hmmmmmm.”

Too many people walk around with the obvious inconsistencies in their head such as aborting humans is okay but wearing animal skin is immoral.  That inconsistency needs to gently but firmly be pointed out.

Finally, either humans are only animals OR they’re special.  Which is it?  If we’re merely animals, then let’s put the lower intelligence, lower functioning of us in cages and on leashes and force them to do our manual labor.  If we’re not animals, then let’s not refer to human life as “no more special than the next creature.”

“The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.”

I’m going to default to the wisdom of the great C.S. Lewis here, who, in one of the most brilliant insights I’ve ever heard, said, “Humility is neither thinking more of yourself or less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” 

Thinking that you’re a nobody doesn’t make you humble.  It makes you a self-centered person with a low perception of yourself as opposed to a self-centered person with a high perception of yourself.  In both cases, you’re dangerous to this world because in both cases your life is all about you.  In both cases, it’s STILL narcissism – the very thing that Mitchell is trying to blame belief in God for!

People who think they’re insignificant rarely accomplish anything worthwhile.  People who think they are significant might accomplish more, but don’t hesitate to step on people in order to get there.  Isn’t there a third option, C.S. Lewis’ option?  Couldn’t someone believe they are special, unique, gifted, and talented but that their life (and gifts) should be used to benefit others, not self?

“I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs.”

This is spoken as someone who doesn’t understand some of the basics of Christianity.

The word “gospel”, in the original Greek language of the New Testament, literally means “good news.”  Inherent in the concept of good news is that it begs to be told.  Otherwise, almost by definition, it’s not really all that great of news.

Let me give a quick illustration: For someone to say that they’re fine with Christianity but that they don’t like Christians trying to convert anyone, it’s sort of like saying that they like everything about ice cream except its frozenness.  If you took the “frozen” component out of ice cream, you’d still have something there – same amount of calories, grams of fat, and basic ingredients – but you wouldn’t really have ice cream, would you?

For someone to say that Christians shouldn’t try to convert others, they’re demonstrating that they don’t realize “good newsing” is part of the DNA of the Christian faith.  Or as atheist comedian/magician Penn Gillette has accurately and eloquently put it, “If you really believe people could be going to such a place as hell……how much do you have to hate someone not to proselytize?!” 

“I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair—not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.”

I love (read: go nuts to the point that a vein pops out in my forehead) when people make statements about God or Christians or the Bible being illogical, without any attempt to qualify such statements.  Part of my goal in the past 7 weeks of posts has been to demonstrate that Mitchell’s argument has little to do with logic, presenting my own logical counterpoints to her reasons against God.

I personally believe that God is not illogical, but that there are many elements of Christianity that are indeed supralogical, and therefore are not or cannot be understood entirely by finite humans.  But I don’t think this is an issue of logic.  I think it’s an issue of personal bias.  I have personal reasons for wanting God to exist.  But I’m honest about that. Mitchell clearly has personal reasons for not wanting God to exist.    I’m not convinced she’s honest with herself or the world about that.

So, we have two adults seeking to present logical philosophical arguments.  Unless they’re unlike anyone else in world history, they both have bias.  So who are you going to believe?  It’d seem to boil down to evidence.

And at this point I’d again defer to the argument of Christian Apologist C.S. Lewis, who popularized what is sometimes called the “Trilemma of Jesus,” which states that Jesus is either “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord” but he’s not “just a good teacher/man” as so many modern thinkers feel.  In other words, if Jesus actually believed he was God (which the Gospels record) but he wasn’t truly God, he’d be a Lunatic and unworthy of following.  If Jesus claimed to be God but knew that he wasn’t God, then he’d be a Liar, and therefore an unethical teacher.  Or, the third option was that he believed he was Lord and, in fact, actually was God.  If that’s not the correct option, then you have to somehow account for the fact that either an insane man or a brilliant magician has duped literally billions of people in the past 2000 years into believing he was God, to such a degree that they would sacrifice incalculable quantities of time, money, and even their lives not just to follow his teaching, but to worship him.

What About This Statement Is Truth?

“God has a plan for you.”

While this statement is true, if that’s the only message that we present to kids, it absolutely can cater to a self-centered spirit.  Phrases like this seem to suggest that you are still the center of your own universe.  Children will only gain spiritual health if they instead recognize that Jesus is appropriately the center of their universe, contrary to our egocentric default.  “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16) is the standard operating principle in the kingdom of God, but seems totally contradictory to human intuition.  Therefore, we need to be careful that we’re not teaching God as a means to an end – a tool to help get you to your true passion, rather than your true passion himself.  I’ve certainly heard this taught incorrectly in the Christian world and apparently Mitchell has too.

“It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we—along with the children we love so much—will cease to exist.”

That is a terrifying thought.  And it’s true that many people want to believe in God in the same way that many people want to not believe in God.  One suggests that we don’t have to fight our way through this world alone.  The other says that we can be our own person without having to answer to anyone.  Both are, in their own ways, appealing.

But let me just point out the flaw in Mitchell’s logic here: just because I want to believe something doesn’t lessen its chances of being true.  This is actually the same logic used by many atheists, perhaps most famously by former MN Gov. Jesse Ventura, years ago, in a famous interview in which he claimed religious people were “weak-minded” because they need a god.  Aside from the obvious – be advised when accepting spiritual advice from a guy who made most of his money shoving a roided up body into pink tights, I’ll say it again: wanting something to be true does NOT make it untrue.  A teenage boy might pine for a girl to like him.  He desperately wants it to be true.  She may not like him OR she may actually like him.  Wanting her to like him does not lessen the odds that she might also have feelings for him.

How Is the Gospel of Jesus More Beautiful Than This Belief?

Not only does God not teach narcissism according to the Bible, but Jesus himself, if the Bible is true, is literally the only being in the history of mankind who is, in fact, not a narcissist.

If the Jesus of the Bible is real (which I obviously believe he is), then he literally is better than you and me in every way – he’s not only smarter (John 21:17) and more powerful (John 2:7-9; John 11:43-44; Mark 6:41-44; Mark 4:39; Mark 1:34), but he’s also more holy (Col. 2:9) which has all sorts of practical applications, such as he’s purer, he’s kinder, he’s gentler, he’s more generous, etc.  This, by the way, is part of the reason why even few of the non-Christian religions in world history have ever dared to speak poorly of Jesus.  Even the demons themselves in the Gospels, for that matter, refuse to talk badly about him.  There is NOTHING you can say against the God-man and come out sounding reasonable.

And despite his perfection, he didn’t come to earth to earn your admiration but to humble himself and get tortured and killed to save and serve your soul.

Do me a favor and read this: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-5)

Come on.  Does that sound like a narcissist to you?

Three Summary Points to Consider:

1) Is it possible that belief in God – and that we humans are the crown of his creation – if processed correctly, could actually lead humans to be humbled by such love and good fortune?  In other words, could recognition of God’s grace possibly make us less narcissistic, not more?

2) Many truly do desire to be loved by God.  Does it really make sense that such a desire would lessen the potential for God to exist?  Or, as Aristotle, and later Thomas Aquinas, reasoned, does the mere intellectual conception of an Unmoved Mover seem to argue for his existence?

3) The Bible paints Jesus as many things.  Most anyone who has ever read the Bible, of any faith background, would NOT suggest that “a narcissist” is one of them.  Therefore, when the Bible states that God originally created his people to live like him and desire what he desires (Gen. 1:27), does the claim that the biblical “God teaches narcissism” sound accurate?

Christian Response to “Why I Raise My Children Without God” – Week 6 – God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good

blog - God Does Not Teach Children to Be GoodLast week, I addressed the fifth of the seven reasons Deborah Mitchell cited in her controversial CNN article “Why I Raise My Children Without God.”

Mitchell’s 7 Reasons “Why I Raise My Children Without God” were, as follows….

  1. God is a bad parent and role model.
  2. God is not logical.
  3. God is not fair.
  4. God does not protect the innocent.
  5. God is not present.
  6. God does not teach children to be good.
  7. God teaches narcissism.

This Week: 6) God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good.

Mitchell writes:

 A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It’s like telling a child to behave or Santa won’t bring presents. When we take God out of the picture, we place responsibility of doing the right thing onto the shoulders of our children. No, they won’t go to heaven or rule their own planets when they die, but they can sleep better at night. They will make their family proud. They will feel better about who they are. They will be decent people.

What About This Statement Is Wrong?

The reasoning that Mitchell provides here to support her point really doesn’t follow.  Her stated point is that God does not teach children to be good, but her support suggests that “God” (or at least the human conception of him) does command people to be good and moral (e.g. the 10 Commandments), but that he uses fear tactics – threats of punishment and hell – to motivate people.

So, for starters, Mitchell would probably have to clarify her statement.  Does God teach people to be good or not?  Most everyone on the planet would suggest that the Bible, in fact, does teach a certain amount of common decency and universal morality. You cannot read through Paul’s great chapter on Love (1 Cor. 13) or his encouragement towards Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5) or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) or the official giving of the Moral Law (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) and suggest that the Bible is not guiding people to be “good” by almost any definition of the word.

Now, it’s true that some people would say the Bible does only that – appeals to moral rightness.  Christians would say that the Bible does significantly more than that.  But Mitchell’s basic point sounds like the Bible doesn’t do any of that, which would indicate that either 1) she has never actually read or understood any of the world’s more influential spiritual guidebooks (esp. the Bible) OR 2) her real issue is with the Bible’s approach towards motivation for good behavior.

What About This Statement Is Truth?

This issue – motivating good behavior – is a tricky one.

There are many ways to motivate people.  Fear can do it.  Appeals to pride can do it.  Guilt is perhaps as effective a force for good behavior as any.  But none of these is what the Bible principally appeals to regarding good behavior.

Here’s a quick illustration: Some of you may remember the once famous Jerry Lewis’ telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).  I recall a comedian once gently mocking Jerry’s motivation techniques.  The comedian mentioned how Jerry would look into the camera, tell a heartfelt story, and then ask the people if they wanted to be able to get up the next morning, look themselves in the mirror, and think, “Yeah.  I’m a good person.”  Now, see what a statement like that would do to your psyche?  You’ll either be motivated to give money towards the cause by fear of guilt and being a bad person if you don’t OR you’ll be motivated to give money because then you can consider yourself a good person.  It’s the basic drives of fear & pride, which account for a great majority of human behavior.  The comedian wasn’t suggesting that the telethon wasn’t for a good cause.  It was.  He was merely pointing out the obvious – if you’re not going to motivate people with the grace of the gospel, you’re going to have to motivate them through a means that many might consider manipulative.

Do even Christians inappropriately misuse/abuse motivators sometimes?  Uhhhhhh……routinely.  Parents regularly screw this up when teaching their children about God.  Pastors regularly screw this up when teaching their members about God (mea culpa).  Jesus is much older, much fitter, and much more gracious than a fat, self-indulgent Santa who interacts with people on the basis of “naughty or nice” behavior.  Consequently, we probably shouldn’t teach about God the same way some teach Santa.  God does not simply respond to our faithfulness as Santa does.  Rather, God initiates faithfulness and mercy in the face of our unfaithfulness.  “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14)

Mitchell seems to understand that motivating people to live morally “because your Father is watching” is an incomplete, merit-based, fear technique.  As a Christian, I would suggest that it’s sometimes necessary to communicate the truth that God is indeed watching.  And that he does demand perfection (Lev. 19:2; Matt. 5:48).  I’m in good company here with the Spirit, who also apparently felt such truth communicates something important about God (Jer. 23:24).  That said, it’s still fear-motivation and should not be our primary motivation.

Similarly, I’d also say that pride motivation also should not be our ultimate motivation.  This is what Mitchell seems to be advocating though.  She says that when you teach children to be good, “They will make their family proud. They will feel better about who they are. They will be decent people.”  But do you see what she’s doing?  She has said that the Bible motivates through fear, i.e. “God is watching,” but that pride is a purer motivator, i.e. “my family will like me and I’ll like me.”  To that, I’d say, “Do you honestly think causing people to feel more self-righteous is going to make the world a better place?”  If so, I’d encourage you to read Lauren Slater’s NY Times piece on the societal danger of inflated self-esteem.  In other words, if we teach our kids to be “good, moral people” because then they’ll like themselves, do you know how they’ll feel about others who perhaps don’t behave as decently as they do?  They will look down on others as inferior.  And if they ever stumble across someone who behaves, dare I say, more decently, you know how they’ll feel?  They’ll think that person is superior and subsequently fall into despair.  Fear and pride are very similar in the sense that they’re both really about me.

Any time I define my value on my “internally structured” performance, by virtue of the fact that I’m not the only individual on this planet, I’ll run into either arrogance or condescension when I approach others.

How Is the Gospel of Jesus More Beautiful Than This Belief?

Christianity is not about our performance, but about Jesus’ performance.  Any Christian who is teaching otherwise is teaching his/her own gospel, not the gospel of the Bible.

While morality is good, Christianity is not about morality.  Christianity is about life through Jesus.  Morality is still important.  In fact, it is an inevitable fruit of faith.  But in the breath of Christian life, good behavior is not the oxygen, it’s the carbon dioxide.  Good behavior doesn’t give you life.  Rather, it’s a sign that you, in fact, are alive.

Your life and breath as a Christian comes from the resuscitation performed by a gracious God who, for no other reason than that he loved you (Eph. 2:6-8), breathed  his Spirit into you and made you alive (Eph. 2:1-5), at which point you were able to truly become you.  And even that spiritual exhaling (Eph. 2:9-10) is no more your own conscious doing than the involuntary expansion and contraction of your lungs are in physical breathing.

Every non-Christian religion in the world commands good performance from humans for salvation.  But according to the Bible, God does not demand performance from Christians so that he may love us.  Instead, he just loves us.  Those who are aware of such love are moved to say ‘thank you’ in a way that may look like performance.  But really, it’s just a no-strings-attached ‘thank you’ much like his no-strings-attached forgiveness.  The Bible teaches that the grace of God is a gift, not a wage, and therefore our corresponding work (good behavior) is volunteerism, not slavery.

Three Summary Points to Consider:

1) Does God (or the Bible) really not teach people to be good?  Would the majority of humanity agree with that statement?  Would 10% of humanity agree with that statement?  Has that 10% read the Bible?

2) Christians and Non-Christians alike are guilty of using fear and pride as primary motivators.  Do the qualities of fear and pride, in general, seem to create a better world or a worse one?  What about if the world was simply motivated by gratitude?

3) Should love be given on the basis of performance?  If so, who’d love babies?  Isn’t love more beautiful if it’s free to the recipient but costly to the giver?  If that’s the case, who is better, more loving than Jesus himself?