Reflections on things that matter.
Problem #2: Church kids are not allowed to ask questions.
The second problem church kids have is parallel in type to the first: just as they are not allowed to make mistakes, church kids are also not permitted to ask questions. Many children have asked a theological question that has stumped his superiors. Questions of an abstract nature are normal, but in the church, they are often ignored or completely shut down.
I had the misfortune of witnessing such a shutdown once, and at the time I didn’t know why it made me as angry as it did. A youth group had decided that it would be a good idea to have a panel for their junior high students. The youth leaders would stand before the students and field whatever questions the students had about God, Christianity, and the like. One child raised his hand and asked “what is God.” The question was quickly put down as being “disrespectful” because “God is not a what, he’s a who.” The question was then rather unsatisfactorily answered in its modified form.
It wasn’t until years later that I heard of a similar situation. A six year old asked his Bible teacher “what is God.” Instead of modifying the child’s answer, the teacher admitted that he did not know. That child pondered the question on into his adult years, making its elucidation the aim of his life. That man was St. Thomas Aquinas, and at the end of his life, he drew the conclusion that God was something beyond human comprehension, and thus worthy of worship.
The point of this anecdote is to illustrate how poorly the church handles questions. The Western church is notorious for its anti-intellectualism, and people with a natural affinity for high reasoning seem to have no place in the church. They are told to stop asking so many questions and to stop questioning God. They are told to “have faith” and “just believe” as if belief were something wholly separate from knowledge. Parents, youth pastors, and church leaders look upon inquisitive young people with a wary eye, assuming that their questions are an early sign of future apostasy, rather than seeing critical thought as a God-given trait that could, if fostered and nurtured, lead the student into a deeper and better founded relationship with God. Because these church kids are not allowed to ask questions they are left with two options: forfeit their minds or forfeit their faiths. As a result, many become religious rebels.
C. S. Lewis said that “The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us.” It seems that for church kids, this road is often denied them, and if is their appointed road, the church has set up so many road blocks, that they have no choice but to take detours that lead them away from God rather than too him. The result of this blockage is a mass exodus of critical thinkers from church. They begin to believe that there is no place in “God’s world” for thinking, and that as such, God must then be a fable for simple minded fools. This can account for many of the atheists and agnostics in the current generation.
The cure for this manifestation of Church Kid Syndrome is open-mindedness, humility, and compassion. Christians who show themselves to be unwilling to admit that they don’t know things perpetuate the perception that Christianity is for the ignorant. It also completely contradicts the reality of our finite existence. We cannot know all there is to know about God, and when we pretend we do by denying questions that scare us, we show our own ignorance and we misrepresent our faith to the younger generation that looks to us for answers.