Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
In my part of the country, it's common to raise your kids to be "open-minded about religion." I know quite a few parents who are taking this route, and it seems to be a more and more popular choice every year. I've always respected the sentiment that drives this decision. The parents I know who want their children to be open-minded in this area typically seem to do so out of a desire to respect different viewpoints, and a hope that their children will think for themselves rather than blindly believing what their parents tell them to believe. The sentiment is admirable, but recently I've started to wonder:
Is such a thing even possible?
If being in a state of open-mindedness means that you're asking questions, seeking knowledge, and attempting to evaluate data without bias, it seems that that should be a transitory state: At some point, you either find answers, or determine that the answers are not findable. In either case you now have a defined belief system, even if it's agnosticism. At this point, while you may be open to hearing new perspectives, you are no longer "open-minded" in the sense of not having any opinions about matters of spirituality -- you've found your belief system.
The problem comes in when people speak of open-mindedness about faith as a long-term state of being. I recently heard about a local family where the son converted to Christianity in college, and it caused problems with his parents since they had raised him to be "open to all belief systems." The parents' and the son's two different interpretations of this directive led to painful confrontations: The son was surprised that his mom and dad reacted negatively to his conversion, since he thought that he was simply following the tenets of his childhood worldview to their logical conclusion. He explored the world's belief systems with an open mind, then, when he saw that one made more sense than the others, he became a member of that religion. The parents, on the other hand, were shocked, since the image of their son tearfully giving his life to Jesus Christ and playing guitar for a praise and worship youth group was not at all what they had in mind when they raised him to be open-minded about religion.
I would encourage modern parents to think about this issue carefully. As this concept increases in popularity, it's easy to go with the flow and become an "open-minded about religion" family without first fleshing out all the implications of that credo. If you believe that objective truth cannot be known, then you are in fact not open to the religions that say that it can be known. It may be possible to say that you're agnostic but taking bits of wisdom from various world religions, but to be truly open-minded about religion is always a short-term state.
To take it a step further, I would encourage modern parents to shun the concept altogether, and embrace the search for objective truth instead. You can guess where I think such a search would lead, but even if your conclusions are different from mine, I think that it would be more fruitful -- and would probably lead to a healthier family dynamic -- than aiming for near-impossible task of being in a permanent state of evaluating data without coming to any conclusions. I would love to see a change in the tone of the typical playground chit-chat about faith, when instead of saying, "We're raising our kids to be open-minded about religion," more parents would say, "We're raising our kids to seek the truth."