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White evangelicals desperately want their kids to have the same faith
70% of white evangelicals say it's important for their kids to share the same religious beliefs, twice as high as American parents in general
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Most parents hope their children will eventually follow in their footsteps. But when it comes to religious beliefs, there’s a vast difference depending on which group we’re talking about.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that white evangelicals, more than any other faith group, believe it’s vitally important that their kids share their religious views. 70% of white evangelicals say it’s extremely or very important that their kids believe as they do (with an additional 19% saying it’s at least “somewhat” important).
It’s a far cry from the 8% of religiously unaffiliated American parents who feel the same way.
That 70% of white evangelicals who don’t want their children to deviate from their preferred religious path is twice as large as Americans in general when it comes to faith. The numbers also, not surprisingly, go up when you look at parents who attend religious services more frequently:
Views on this question also differ by how frequently parents attend religious services. Parents who attend religious services weekly or more often are more than three times as likely as those who attend less often to say it’s important to raise children who will share their religious views (76% vs. 21%).
Overall, parents are more likely to say it’s important that their children share their religious beliefs as adults than to say the same about their kids’ political views. Just 16% of parents say it’s extremely or very important that their children grow up to have political views that are similar to their own.
All of this says a lot about parents’ priorities when it comes to faith.
Evangelicals are taught to believe that they’re bad parents if their kids don’t embrace their faith. There are names for kids who leave the fold, desperate and harmful attempts to make sure kids are never exposed to anything that might cause them to deviate from the preferred religious path, and countless resources for parents to make sure they can handle their kids’ religious doubts. Those parents believe their kids’ thoughts need to be protected. Censorship is a way of life.
All of it suggests Christian beliefs will crumble if kids aren’t properly taught how to fortify themselves against everything that threatens to pierce their bubble, whether it’s culture or facts.
Catholics have a similar model. Between CCD classes, religious schools, and Pre-Cana, along with cultural pressure to maintain the label, there are plenty of ways for Catholic parents to make sure their kids stay grounded in the institution.
This is anecdotal, but I just don’t see a parallel ethos among non-religious parents. (Not that we have much infrastructure either.) There’s certainly no demand to pressure your kids to adopt your non-religiosity. American Atheists isn’t sending members resources on how they can make sure their kids grow up to be godless.
Freethinking, for many non-religious parents, isn’t just a label; it’s a philosophy. You want your kids exposed to different religions. You want them to be decent people and goodness doesn’t come from God. You want them to discover their own purpose and meaning in life. And if, later on, those kids decide to “find God” on their own, well, it’s their life, not yours. Even books about atheist parenting (affiliate link) refrain from suggesting adults should push their views on their kids.
Religious indoctrination is very real. Non-religious indoctrination is just a figment of conservatives’ imaginations.
It’s almost comical to imagine atheist parents demanding that their kids never believe in God, or kicking them out of the house because they attended a church service, or scolding them after discovering a Bible under their bed. But we’ve all heard stories about (or personally experienced) devout parents who went ballistic after their kids expressed some level of religious doubt. That’s a problem to be fixed! (Indeed, one conservative wondered why only 70% of white evangelicals want their kids to believe as they do. What’s wrong with the other 30%?)
The irony in all this is that all those resources to keep kids religious haven’t worked.
In 2015, the Pew Research Center released data on religious “switching” and found that people were leaving Catholicism, Mainline Protestantism, and Historically Black Protestantism at a much faster rate than they were entering.
Similarly, people were “joining” the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated much more frequently than they were exiting. (Evangelical Protestants were growing, too, but at a much slower rate.)
There are plenty of reasons why people were leaving those religious, but even evangelicals, who put so much stock into keeping people in the faith, had very little to brag about. (A more recent analysis found that, if “switching” rates continued like this, with some caveats, the “Nones” would outnumber Christians by 2055.)
Going back to the survey at the beginning of this piece, it’s important to note that wanting your kids to think like you do is not the same as indoctrinating them, even if the former often leads to the latter. We shouldn’t confuse the two. But we should be asking why those white evangelical parents believe their kids need to hold the same religious views and why only 10% of them say they wouldn’t be bothered if their kids grew up to think differently.
Some of it is the myth of salvation; their kids need to be “saved” just as much as all strangers need to be “saved.” But I suspect some of it is also the false notion that not being the right kind of Christian means there’s something wrong with you—that you’re heading down a dangerous path, where morality is relative and progressive politicians start making sense.
Many of those white evangelical parents would probably say they only care about the salvation aspect. But, realistically, how many of them really just want their kids to be Christian because they’ve been trained to believe there are no other viable options?
(Image via Shutterstock)