Be Radical! (And Hope Your Kids Don't Have a Functioning Bullshit Detector)

So, I'm reading this article about a minister, Kenda Creasy Dean, who's worried that "more teens becoming 'fake' Christians." Now, you know how I feel about those sorts of designations no matter who makes them, but I find it particularly amusing when it's a female minister wringing her hands about younger generations falling away from any particular brand of Christianity, because, well, you know.

But I digress.

The thing that really caught my attention was Dean's prescription to parents to discourage their teens from embracing a "mutant" and "imposter" faith and make them passionate about a more "conventional Christianity."
What can a parent do then?

Get "radical," Dean says.

She says parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips.

A parent's radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says.

But it's not enough to be radical -- parents must explain "this is how Christians live," she says.

"If you don't say you're doing it because of your faith, kids are going to say my parents are really nice people," Dean says. "It doesn't register that faith is supposed to make you live differently unless parents help their kids connect the dots."
I know I'm just an iniquitous heathen doomed to be consigned to eternal hellfire and all, but this advice strikes me as part of the reason so many young people are falling away from USian Christianity: It reeks of privilege and cynicism to suggest that the average Christian can, and should—after spending the first sixteen (or however many) years of your kid's life not living a life that suggests "how Christians live" is by making radical sacrifices—pick up and take off to work for a summer in Bolivia.

(And why Bolivia, and not Detroit? I think we all know the answer to that, and it isn't very Christian, ahem.)

The entire concept of doing something "radical" in order to get your kids excited about their faith is so contrived; I've no doubt that seeing one's parents be radically generous because altruism is a centerpiece of their faith can be inspiring to kids being raised in religious households, but not when their parents are putting on a show just to convince their kids to be god-believers.

Call me kooky, but I don't think eternal principles are meant to be conveyed with the same transparent impetuousness as getting dragged to a museum after Mom gets a bug up her ass that we all need more culture in this house, dammit!

That aside, I also think the message that being "a person of faith" and "a nice person" are mutually exclusive—or, if you prefer, doing something "because of your faith" as opposed to doing it "because you're nice"—is alienating to a lot of young people, too, particularly at a time in one's life when one is most disposed toward activism and optimism.

When I was a teenager, recasting any natural outgrowth of philanthropy into something that was obliged by faith/religion actually felt discouraging to me. I didn't give of myself because some absentee heavenly father demanded it in exchange for eternal life; I did it because I cared about the people, animals, spaces, and/or concepts to whom/which I was dedicating my time.

To do things because of religion felt the opposite of altruistic to me; I recoiled from the idea that I would care for something only in exchange for the personal reward of being welcomed inside the Pearly Gates by St. Pete himself one day.

I know not all Christians treat community service as a carrot-and-stick lead straight into Heaven, but I am continually amazed by the number who do. And I can't believe they think doubling-down on that premise is the key to retaining young people in the church.

Good luck with all that.

P.S. The next time you hear someone questioning whether Barack Obama is a Christian, just point hir to this post. He does fake radical to try to inspire faith among the increasingly faithless like nobody's bizness.

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