There’s No Nobility in Neutrality
Why “My Parents Let Me Decide For Myself” is a Tragedy
Are We Sure We Know Why We Know What We Know, You Know?
An Example in Teenage Girls
The book “The Fault In Our Stars” was released in 2012 to the delight of teenage girls worldwide. The internet star and writer John Green was not unaware of what he was doing. He knew exactly how to play the heartstrings of adolescent females. The plot of the book (as per my skimming of wikipedia) is a romance of two sickly teenagers who read books and travel to Amsterdam in whimsy and heartache. In other words, the novel is exactly what you would expect, a grossly lustful, sappy romance between kids with waterfall inducing, convoluted tragedy, intended to engage who else, but teenage girls.
I, as I would assume many men may attest to, have not found any interest in these fictions and have avoided even the appearance of such in order to preserve my dignity and set apart masculinity. We have our own stupid tendencies after all. It is with all sincerity that I thank God He made men and women so radically different.
This book wasn’t written for me or any other adult with a Y chromosome. Pridefully provocative high school Matthew capitalized on this fact by pretentiously explaining to my female classmates how it was no surprise that they liked the book. It was written expressly with them in mind. They were the target demographic.
I relished slighting their autonomy. They hated the insinuation that capitalism had figured them out, preying on their instinctive tendencies to make a profit. Subconsciously, though irrational, there was a desire to believe that they enjoyed this book primarily for its fine literary qualities and beautifully composed plot and characters instead of its cliche tropes. Even if that were true, it still doesn’t sufficiently explain their infatuation with One Direction. They’ve definitively been had (as have I in my own ways).
People want to believe that they can objectively possess a ‘view from nowhere’ from which they can evaluate phenomena. To them it is a violation of their free will, intellect, dignity. and pride, to suppose that they do not always make values-based assessments. The neutral perspective is esteemed.
Theology in Art
I feel blessed to have had the opportunity of growing up in a Christian school. The freedom to point every learning opportunity to God was invaluable. One example of this was how in art class one day (although I am sure it was not the only day) the teacher shared with us her testimony of coming to faith in Christ. I remember her story better than I should because of how confused my emotions were after it. She had made a point to describe how her faith came from a careful evaluation of several religions. Eventually she chose to follow Jesus. (If you are familiar with schools of apologetics, this process may ring of an evidentiary or classical approach where one believes that the existence of God can be proven with evidence or rationally. Excuse my brevity which profanely disservices these extensive schools of thought. I mention them to highlight a possible relation I do not explore here).
Praise God she — or any of us — came to faith. However, something didn’t fully sit right with me at the time. The weird thing was less about what she said, but perhaps how I heard it. I was jealous. I envied, even at such a young age, a lost authenticity. My pride was injured by the fact that my witness felt tainted by knowledge. My coming to faith felt less glamorous. Being surrounded by family, friends, church, and school which taught the truths of the Bible, I had submitted to them. That seemed less authentic than a careful evaluation of all possible options. In retrospect, I see all of that childhood guidance as a cause for rejoicing. Every sliver of sin leaves destitution in its wake, and the wise decisions of others had put welcome guardrails on my errant ways. However, in the moment, my childish pride was injured because my story wouldn’t feel as cool or genuine.
About a decade later…
My freshman year of college I felt a similar tug as in that elementary school classroom. I was having a conversation with an atheist friend regarding Christianity, telling him about why I followed Jesus, and his response has stayed in my memory. It was with such blithe confidence that he dismissed my faith as a product of my family and cultural background. To him it was tautological given my background that I would grow up as a dedicated Christian (if only that were true for everyone I grew up with). In his view — regardless of the faith’s validity — my relationship to it would be the same. What is curious is that he might also say the same thing for himself, that his non-relationship was environmentally determined in an infinitely regressive plea to pluralistic relativism. However, in my experience, people often rush to defend their objectivity, and one phrase is consistently tied to that position. I have heard it from scores of believers and non-believers as they boast in their parents not ’forcing it on them’.
On a fundamental level, I do not know what that means.
Define it For(ce) Me
There are a whole host of idiosyncratic experiences tied to the phrase ‘being forced’. Maybe it is strict control over the type of media consumed and the friendships held. Maybe it is nights of intense conversations regarding the behavior of a child. There are versions of all those things which are beautifully fruitful, based in wisdom, but I would also agree that some manifestations could be prideful and abusive.
I don’t mean to cover every possible situation connoted under ‘being forced’. There are some devastating stories attributed to it. My guess, however, would be that the majority of the time it is not such nefariousness, but something far more benign, like parents making their kids come to church. If you are fortunate, maybe it meant your parents taught you directly of the Bible’s truths as they led you into maturity. All of that has, at some point, been put under the label of ‘forcing it on someone’. I know some people have felt I was forcing Christianity on them by simply quoting a Bible verse when describing my faith.
But people can’t force you to believe something. Martyrs under immense persecution have refused to recant, and — on the opposite end of the spectrum — college freshman are all too willing to give up Christianity once they discover alcohol. Environment can certainly shape us, but the position of our faith is on a spiritual dimension which supersedes our circumstances. In that sense, no person can force us to believe anything.
So the question then arises, what are we lamenting when we decry parents ‘forcing something on us’?
The Fallacy of Neutrality
We wish that a human could be neutral. Many believers, myself included, have been awful of that which does not exist, desiring to recover the positionality of a pre-fallen Adam who had both possibilities of sinning and not sinning. The veneer of his unique position is what motivates our belief in neutrality.
When I tell kids they definitely would have eaten the forbidden fruit of Eden, they typically respond with a chorus of rejection. It seems so simple to not eat from just one tree. How hard could it be? This comes from an ignorance of their own hearts. They are not aware of how deep their depravity runs. We made a bad deal. We exchanged the glory of the immortal God for cheap, substitute idols (Romans 1). We traded our inheritance for lentil soup (Genesis 25). You aren’t on the sideline of this game. You are either for or against God.
In Chosen by God, Sproul is perplexed by the insistence that Christians claim, “they know people who are searching for God but have not yet found him … People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.”
Neutrality isn’t noble. It is ardent opposition to God while seeking what only He provides. Until God has regenerated you, there is no such thing as neutral because your search is self-indulgent and horizontal. It is clinging to sin and looking for salvation outside of God.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” Prov. 22:6
The Bible’s command on this is clear. We should teach the truth to children often. Anything else is a cause for mourning. Obviously no person can force somebody to believe something, so when we hear people say that “my parents let me decide for myself” we should not envy the supposed authenticity of their belief. We should grieve that they were not taught the truth and — perhaps even moreso — that there is pride in that neglect of parental duties. (See above for qualifications to that statement.)
Proverbs was largely written for the express purpose of teaching children so that they would follow in obedience (Douglas Wilson dedicates a whole appendix for this argument in Future Men). The parental perspective of “this is what we believe, but you should figure it out for yourself” is almost incomprehensibly unbiblical. That pluralism might be welcomed in our postmodern generation, but doing so offers the parched child a rats nest of confusion when you claim to have faith in the living water who said ‘I am the Truth’ (John 14:6).
I speak to this as someone who has regularly taught ‘forced’ kids who did not want to be there. Yes, they were quite difficult. They took much time and attention. They would sometimes try and sabotage the group. If they don’t want to be there, their frustration directly led to disobedience and flippant irreverence. I think there are many situation-dependent approaches for how to serve that kid and the other children appropriately. That being said, I really love the opportunity to talk to them, because there is a humility required when someone actually cares about you instead of tolerates you. We know that at the core these kids are lost. Adulthood doesn’t provide clarity. It often just makes people more skilled at suppressing the truth of the Gospel. That means we shouldn’t bet that they will ‘figure it out on their own later’. Listen to them, and call them to repentance and forgiveness at the cross. That is something we should boast in.
We do not know if, how, or when, God has ordained the Holy Spirit to cut to their heart, but we do know our charge; “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation,” (Mark 16:15) and, “how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7).
TL; DR Take a side. Don’t be Switzerland.