Note: Earlier versions of this post were edited and proof-read by Mary and Dina, whose help I greatly appreciate.
I noticed this article that was mentioned on the latest Reasonable Faith podcast. The article is written by a liberal ex-Catholic woman whose 7-year-old daughter is an atheist. What I want to focus on is her own article on Babble.com, but I really recommend that you listen to Bill Craig’s commentary on it as well.
First the biography of the author:
Carolyn Castiglia is a New York-based comedian/writer wowing audiences with her stand-up and freestyle rap. You may recognize her hip-hop alter ego Miss CKC from Comedy Central, VH1 and MTV2. Carolyn’s web vids have been nominated for an ECNY Award and featured in two issues of EW magazine. She’s appeared in TONY, The NY Post, The Idiot’s Guide to Jokes and Life & Style. You can find Carolyn’s writing elsewhere online at MarieClaire.com and The Huffington Post.
Look at what she wrote:
I was raised Catholic, and like most people my age who were raised Catholic, I no longer attend church on Sundays. We’re “recovering Catholics.” That’s what so many of us call ourselves. We’re still disgusted with the Church for the way it covered up the sex abuse perpetrated against my generation and roll our eyes at the Church’s stance on things like abortion, gay marriage and women’s rights.
[...]I learned a lot about being a Good Person from the things I heard in church… I wanted to be a Good Person, not just because only Good People go to Heaven. I just liked the idea. The meek shall inherit the Earth. It sounded right. Somehow all this shit I’m swallowing now, it’s gonna pay off later.
I’m pretty much agnostic now (sometimes believing more strongly, other times thinking the concept of God is kind of a joke), but I value the way the idea of God has gotten me through the rough patches. And that has been the payoff. Somehow this notion that there is a giant man in the sky with long hair and a big robe who will hug you from heaven if you need it and carry you on the beach when you’ve had one too many wine coolers to walk without falling down and getting sand all up in your bikini has been very comforting to me. The image of Jesus but as God but totally as a bro (a homeboy, if you will), there’s something righteous about it, if you know what I mean.
But the way I imagine God has changed over the years — He’s gone from being a person, a man, to being more of a Thing, a notion. Goodness. The Oneness of the Universe. With something female in there. The energy that keeps the whole thing afloat. God as I know it now when I know it is kind of a cocktail made from a shot of Buddhism, a shot of feminist activism and a splash of ginger ale (because that, my friends, is something you can always count on).
Now the Christians who are reading this will be cringing because we know that these beliefs are not taken out of the Bible. She seems to be speaking more about her opinions rather than what is true. She doesn’t seem to be focused on finding truth, but more on being a “good person” and having God as a crutch to pull out if she falls down while pursuing her own plan.
She’s wrong that “good people” go to Heaven. Only people who accept Jesus as their leader (Lord) and accept his death as a sacrifice for their rebellion against God (Savior) are resurrected to eternal life. If she is a relativist, then I guess what she means by being a “good person” is that she thinks of herself as good and that the people around her think of her as good. However, the main purpose of Christianity is not to be a good person, or to have people like you or to be happy and comforted. The main goal of Christian living is to puzzle about the truth about God’s existence and character, and then to re-prioritize your life based on who God is and what God has done. So the focus in Christianity is on truth, and that’s what her church should have taught her from a young age.
In my opinion, the Catholic church is NOT a good place to learn the full story about what the Bible says about God, nor to learn the importance of searching for truth over and above being a “good person”. It’s not surprising to me that she would catch the idea from Catholicism that God is more interested in humans being good to other people than in having true beliefs. In my experience, Catholics emphasize doing good works more than they emphasize having true beliefs that are rooted in evidence rather than church tradition and authority. Catholics believe many things that are not in the Bible or history based on authority.
For example, Jesus strictly forbids calling church leaders “Father” in Matthew 23:1-12, as well as having elaborate garments for church leaders. But the Catholic church has an entire hierarchy of titles from Father to Holy Father, as well as special uniforms for church leaders up to and including elaborate costumes for the pope. Catholicism claims that Jesus has no brothers and sisters, but the Bible (and history!) says he had brothers and sisters, including James, whose role in the early church is solidly attested by history. Catholicism says that Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven, but there is no record of that tradition in history for 700 years after Jesus died. The earliest records even have a burial location for her. Catholics also embrace inclusivism, which is the idea that you can be made right with God by being a sincere adherent of a religion that does not teach the truth about who Jesus was and what he did. So clearly the emphasis there is not on having true beliefs.
Those are just a few examples. The Catholic focus is more on doing good deeds, and they do a lot of that, especially on opposing abortion, promoting adoption and defending marriage. But there is a disadvantage for people raised with a focus on good works compared with a person who is focused on developing true beliefs. In Protestantism, each person is responsible for reading their own Bible and for testing and debating everything against science and history. Protestants prefer people like William Lane Craig and Mike Licona, because they study things using evidence outside the Bible and church tradition, and then debate outsiders to see what is true and false. Catholics are more likely to prefer people like Mother Teresa, who do lots of good things, but then on the other hand they encourage Hindus to be good Hindus and Muslims to be good Muslims. This is not what Jesus actually taught about the exclusivity of salvation. Catholics care about doing good actions. Protestants like good actions, too, but those good actions are secondary in importance to loving God. See Jesus’ own words in Matthew 22:36-40. And in order to love God, you first have to have accurate beliefs about who he is and what he’s done. That’s what Protestants emphasize.
I think another problem with a Catholic upbringing is that there is too much dependence on authority figures to tell people what to believe. I once worked with a Catholic guy who dismissed my every question about what he believed with the same line: “whatever the Catholic church tells me to believe, that’s what I believe, because I’m Catholic”. This sounds similar to what happened the woman who wrote the article. We really need to make truth the main thing about Christianity. We really need to show people how to develop true beliefs by using the laws of logic and empirical evidence. It’s important for us to show our work and explain how we arrived at our beliefs instead of just picking and choosing what we like from what people around us (or over us) say.
But there is more to her story – her child has been affected by her problematic views of Christianity and God.
My daughter, on the other hand, at the ripe old age of 7, is convinced that there is no God. Not even a god. Yup, my kid’s an atheist. And she pretty much has been since she was 5.
It’s not for lack of exposure to God or god or even gods and spirituality, because she has attended Church and church and a UU “church” and it has made no impact. We’ve prayed together. I talk about God sometimes, in a good way. When I asked her recently why she doesn’t believe in God she told me, succinctly, “Because I know too much about science!”
Is it a good idea to take scientific advice from a 7-year-old child? Children who grow up fatherless are already predisposed towards atheism. I think that we should instead prefer to learn from scholars who research and debate issues in science and religion, and then teach the child based on what we have learned. Perhaps the woman could get the debate between Mike Behe and Keith Fox, or the debate between Stephen Meyer and Peter Ward, or the debate between William Lane Craig and Peter Millican and teach the child from that. This is why it was so important to emphasize how people arrive at true beliefs in the church. If she had done the work herself to arrive at true beliefs, then she would know what to say to her child’s presumptuous ignorance.
The other night over dinner my daughter looked up at me and said, “Who created the Earth?” And I said, “Well, some people believe that God created the Earth, and some people believe that nature is a creation unto itself.” My daughter replied, “I think nature is a creation unto itself.” I said, “You know, you’re pretty staunch about the fact that there is no God.” And she told me, “Well, I don’t think he exists. If he does, he’s a ghost, and that’s weird. I just don’t believe it. You know, there are Universes beyond our Universe. Once you get outside the Milky Way galaxy, there’s a lot more stuff out there.”
Wow. When I was 7 I didn’t know there was a world outside my town.
So the universe created itself? How could it create itself? It would have to have existed in order to do anything like create. So it would have to have existed… before it began to exist. That’s a contradiction, and so it cannot be true. It would be great if the mother had read books or sought out people who had thought about logic and science, so that they could advise her child about self-contradictory statements as well as the Big Bang cosmology. But she never did the work. We should be teaching people to do the work in church, not to just be spectators and then pick and choose what feels good. Nobody picks and chooses what feels good when it comes to chemistry lab or the stock market. In church, we need to show that religion is no different from anything else in life that can be studied. Truth is the main thing.
Oh sure, my mother thinks raising a child without religion is dangerous. “I understand you don’t think she needs God now, Carolyn. But you gotta give her religion so it’s there for her when she needs it later.” When the shit hits the fan, when everything falls apart. When you realize there is no one but God you can trust.
See, here is where she needs someone to point out that it’s not God’s job to help you through crises. It’s not his job to make you happy. It’s not God’s job to make sure that your selfish pursuit of pleasure ends well. It’s not God’s job to keep you free from suffering and evil. This is where it would have been great if she had taken some of her time to read the Bible, and real theology books. It would have been better if she had sought out real scholars instead of relying on her mother for theology. But again, that’s her decision, to believe the people who tell her that religion is a crutch, instead of seeking truth and then bending her will to fit what is true.
Don’t be that gal
One last point. You might be wondering where the father is, since it is the father’s responsibility to teach the children about spiritual and moral things in Christianity. That’s what Christian women should be taught to look for in a man, along with protecting and providing abilities. That’s what the church would be telling them to look for if the church was not thoroughly compromised by feminism and egalitarianism. In the case of the woman who wrote the article, she has separated from the father of her child. She says so in the article.
Did she pick a man who was good at theology, apologetics and moral issues? Well, we don’t know. But judging from her politics and her profession, I would say that she did not. If there is one thing that liberal feminists absolutely detest in men, it’s exclusive truth claims about religion and exclusive moral judgments. They tend to choose men who know nothing at all about God as he really is and morality as it really is. They want to avoid men who will try to lead them on moral and spiritual issues. Unfortunately, though, a man who does not know what he believes and why he believes about religion and morality cannot persuade anyone. And a man who cannot persuade cannot lead.
What happens to children when such women choose men who cannot lead on moral and spiritual issues? Men like that have no reason to stick around in a marriage, because they have no plan and no purpose for the marriage other than pleasure. A religious and moral man sticks around in a marriage because he has a plan and a purpose that is above his own feelings and needs. He is motivated to teach the children and to lead the wife, because he has definite spiritual and moral convictions, and he is able to persuade others to buy into them using evidence and arguments. Smart women choose men like this when they are looking for someone to fulfill the father role. Women need to know the duties of the married man, and choose the right man for the job.