Should Children Be Taught Faith?

Richard Dawkins’s strongly held conviction is that children should not have an unthinking faith implanted in them, which “requires no justification and brooks no argument.” His view is that religion is a pernicious virus spread from one generation to another by zealous parents eager to pass on their beliefs. “Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a virtue primes them—given certain other ingredients that are not hard to come by—to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads and crusades. . . . If children were taught to question and think through their beliefs, instead of being taught the superior value of faith without question, it is a good bet there would be no suicide bombers.”

In spite of himself, Dawkins on this occasion actually agrees with the Bible. It encourages honest enquiry and questioning as to what it actually teaches, as opposed to what people sometimes think it teaches. The apostle Paul encouraged the minister Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, English Standard Version). Later in the same letter, he added, “You must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith. . . . All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete . . .” (3:14–17). To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

The way of life prescribed in the Bible is healthy and wholesome and, when properly understood, will never harm a child. It is a faith soundly based on a correct reading of the Word of God (Hebrews 11:1–3). The biblical directive to “bring [your children] up in the training and admonition [or instruction] of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) has nothing to do with crusades, jihads, martyrs’ paradise, or hating and warring with others. It has everything to do with being a peacemaker, loving and forgiving, and living a life fundamentally in service to and in harmony with, as far as possible, all others.

The God of the Bible encourages parents to teach their children about Him, the history of His involvement with humanity, and His revealed way of living (see, for example, Exodus 13:8; Deuteronomy 4:1–10; 6:6–7, 20–25; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4). At the same time, parents should beware of implanting impressionable minds with false, unbiblical ideas that later on may bear decidedly bad fruit.

Children should indeed be taught “to question and think through their beliefs.” This is not antithetical to true religion or belief in God but rather is conducive to a more accurate understanding and application of both.