Should Unbelieving Parents Lie About God?

By Mark A. Kellner
Posted December 10, 2019

Atheist parents are receiving some stark advice from a psychoanalyst who has recently written an article about religion and child-rearing in The Wall Street Journal, one of America’s largest-circulation newspapers: 

Just lie.

Erica Komisar, author of Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters, tells readers, “I am often asked by parents, ‘How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?’ My answer is always the same: ‘Lie.’” 

Ms. Komisar isn’t advocating dishonesty as a general principle; rather, she’s pushing for the “passing down” of religious traditions to help kids cope with a stressful world. 

She writes, “Children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteering, a sense of mission, forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation.”

Being Realistic Is Overrated?

With a 20-percent drop in weekly worship attendance in recent years and nearly half of adults under 30 not believing in God, Ms. Komisar is concerned. In her experience, being raised without religion has negative implications for kids and for society. She states, “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.”

In reading Ms. Komisar’s arguments for religious participation, we can’t be sure she’s as serious about lying as the article’s headline suggests. She argues persuasively for the positive values of religious affiliation, drawing on her own practice of Judaism. The faith, she says, has taught her children the value of gathering with others, being quiet, and singing prayers together as “a buffer against the emptiness of modern culture.”

It has also offered a template for service to the community at large. Calling such service a “sacred activity,” she notes, “One of my sons cooks for our temple’s homeless shelter. The other volunteers at a prison, while my daughter helps out at an animal shelter.”

But Ms. Komisar’s most heartfelt argument, it appears, is what she believes faith will do for the children and young adults who participate: “Today the U.S. is a competitive, scary and stressful place that idealizes perfectionism, materialism, selfishness and virtual rather than real human connection. Religion is the best bulwark against that kind of society. Spiritual belief and practice reinforce collective kindness, empathy, gratitude and real connection.”

Modern Society Is Perilous for Kids

It’s difficult to argue against the benefits Ms. Komisar cites or against the notion that nihilism is stalking just about every corner of modern society. Alienation among young people may well be at an all-time high, as is evidenced by the rise in antisocial behavior and in risky behaviors, including drug use, vaping, and underage drinking. The recurring stories of young people—sometimes preteens—being lured away to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to meet an online “friend” who turns out to be a sexual predator speaks to the isolation and loneliness many kids and adolescents feel.

It’s equally true that sincere participation in a worship community can do a family good, from the parents down to the youngest child. The house of worship is where kids can learn to socialize apart from school and make connections with those of similar beliefs. Weekly Bible lessons and youth activities build character and an understanding of the world that will help them to face life’s challenges as they grow up. And participation in congregational worship is another important step in social maturing.

If, however, parents who don’t believe in God simply “go through the motions” for the sake of their children, an observer would have to wonder for just how long such a charade could be kept up. There have been countless stories of people—including many who have been helped spiritually by the ministry of Amazing Facts International—who soured on God because they realized that their mother or father wasn’t really into such a belief or didn’t believe at all. Is that a risk worth taking with kids today?

One also wonders how successful an appeal Ms. Komisar makes for the true God of the Bible. Her suggestion of lying is against the very nature of God Himself. The ends do not justify the means. Her essay has also sparked much disdain from atheists, further solidifying their opinion of believers as hypocritical propagandists. Worst of all, it promotes the idea that unbelievers can marginalize God to an imaginary placebo for the good of their children.

We as believers must forthrightly preach of the gospel. The good news is that there is a God, One who cares so much about you that “He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). If you were the only person who ever lived, God would have sent Jesus to die for you. It is this knowledge—not smoke screens, tricks, or deceit—that turns even the hardest heart toward accepting God’s gift of salvation through faith in Jesus.

In his presentation “Never Alone”, Pastor Doug Batchelor explains, through the account of the man healed by Jesus at the pool of Bethesda, how God is our constant companion and comforter. The Holy Scriptures help people to understand that there is, indeed, a God who cares about their lives—and their future! From there, parents and children can confidently approach this God for help and guidance in life.

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.
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