What happens when Christian children and atheist adults have a conversation about god?

The other day I was visiting a friend. We play in a band together. She has an 11-year-old daughter who, after spending some time with the grandparents, is currently going through some sort of religious awakening to Christianity. The mother, on the other hand, is what I will call a non-practicing Christian by practice. Meaning, she identifies herself as Christian, but she doesn’t believe in Christianity, and she doesn’t go to church.

Anyway, without any provocation on my part (it might seem far-fetched, but it’s true), the girl began the ritual of evangelical “truth” spreading. I bit my tongue for as long as possible until she wandered into the domain monopolized by the scientific method and, thus, permanently divorced from millennia-old religious doctrine.

I’ve never in my life been so blunt to an 11-year-old girl.

I explained to her how the universally accepted theory of evolution means that there was no first man and woman who passed their “original sin” onto the rest of the human population. Without this there was no reason for Jesus to die to save us. She brushed that aside and said “That’s not true. The bible says god created the world, the humans, the animals, and the plants. Adam and Eve are real.” I said “Your bible is not science. It never went through a peer review and couldn’t survive one if it did.” She then made up some stuff that’s not in the bible. Her new story goes like this:

God created Adam and Eve and millions of other people. Dinosaurs too, even though she “doesn’t believe in dinosaurs” (for real, I’m not making that up). But they became evil so god sent the flood to wipe them out, save Noah. Since Noah can trace his lineage back to Adam and Eve, Adam and Eve are merely the first humans in the surviving human gene pool, the de facto first humans, not the first humans by design.

Nothing like this is in the bible. So she just made it up (or, more likely, heard it from her grandparents). This was a good segue into the malevolent god problem. I asked her how she could justify god killing thousands of innocent babies and children in the flood when he has the power to zap evil out of the world? I asked her about Joshua’s genocidal rampage. How was that morally justified? God of the bible and Joshua are literally worse than Hitler (if we count the corpses in their trail of innocent victims). What about Numbers 31? She’s (presumably) a virgin. If this were biblical times she’d be ripe for sexual slavery.

“If your god exists he’s the definition of evil, and I don’t know why anyone would worship him. Believing in god is one thing, but the God of Abraham deserves no respect.”

The conversation went on for about another 30 minutes. Before long we drank some beers (the adults only, of course) and the conversation moved onto other areas. When I got home I received an email from the mother. This was when I learned that she’s a non-believing Christian. She thanked me for talking some sense into her daughter. She explained that she was raised ultra-conservative Christian and felt trapped in Christianity her entire life. Even as an adult, she can’t seem to shake off the Christian identification, even though she doesn’t believe in Jesus (she does believe in god, however*). She doesn’t want her daughter to go through the same torment that plagued her growing up and into adulthood.

I was relieved to receive such a note. I’ll admit that I was a little apprehensive about speaking about such matters with a child. The average Christian parent would’ve probably kicked me out of their house, perhaps even called the police. But what about what the mother said? How evil does Christianity have to be if it has the power to instill torment into the minds of young children and adults alike? I was never a Christian, so I don’t know what being raised Christian is like. There must be something from which she’s trying to protect her daughter. I hope that in time she’ll explain to me how Christianity damages the minds of young children.

Then again, I’m pretty sure Dawkins wrote an entire chapter about this. So I could just go read what he has to say.

Anyway, the moral of this story is… I don’t really know. I just felt like sharing it with you.

*It’s unclear what her current religious views are. I think she’s a spiritual deist. But she has not articulated her beliefs to me.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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