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Discussion 2 to Ask the Patriarch 184
Place your “faith” in reason and encourage it in your children

by: Paul W. Sharkey

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Dear Jason,

I do not have much more to add to what our Patriarch has already suggested except to say that no matter how young or how old your children may be, it is never too early or too late to introduce and encourage them in rational and critical thinking.[1] But be prepared to have them use it in evaluating whatever you may tell them as well.

As any and every honest parent knows, we cannot direct and dictate completely, if at all, the beliefs and behaviors of our children. Those who attempt to do so frequently find their efforts met with just the opposite of their intent. My wife and I have found ourselves in exactly the situation you describe and so we know the frustrations, uncertainties, and insecurities you face. Parenthood is without a doubt one of the most difficult tasks one can undertake. However, a mentor of mine once said that our job as parents is simply to keep our children alive until they can do it for themselves. This may seem a minimal and perhaps cynical description of the responsibilities of parenthood, yet there is, unfortunately or not, much truth in it. Once we reach an age at which we can begin to take responsibility for ourselves, we must do so; otherwise we remain children forever.

How does one encourage self-responsibility? Well, at least part of it is encouraging clear, rational, and critical thinking. For my own part, I feel that I was very lucky to have had a mother who read me fables, fairy tales and nursery rhymes when I was a child, always encouraging me with the question: “What do you think is the moral to the story?” and a father who constantly encouraged me, regardless of the subject, to ask (sometimes to his own chagrin): “Is that true? Why would/should anyone believe that?” That, together with the eventual study of the principles of formal and informal logic, provided the tools which eventually – and perhaps inevitably – have lead me to where my understanding of truth, knowledge and belief is today.

If your children are armed with the tools of clear, rational, and critical thinking, they will not be deceived by the temptations of any superstitious or supernatural offerings they may find at a “Sunday School” – at least not for long. If they feel safe, secure and encouraged to ask questions, especially of why they should believe something to be true or of what kind of values are being taught, they will at least have been given the foundation to learn for and about themselves and become independent responsible human beings. More than that, we cannot hope – and certainly cannot control.

As far as countering “invitations” to Sunday School is concerned, there are all sorts of possibilities, some of which our Patriarch has already mentioned. Make Sunday mornings a time of interesting, engaging and valued activities for your children and they won’t want to go somewhere else to forsake them. As far as those who offer such “invitations” is concerned, you can simply teach your children (as you yourself may do) to politely thank them but decline their offers with no further comment or, if you wish, by explaining that they (you) are otherwise occupied at that time celebrating your own beliefs and values with your family. There are no secret or absolute solutions to the situation you describe and face. My experience as a parent, teacher and counselor has shown me that these things can be very complicated and the best “solution” depends so often on the particular circumstances, setting, and comfort level of each individual, making it almost impossible to suggest any really helpful “advice” unless one knows them. If, however, you place your “faith” in reason, as evidently you do, you cannot go wrong with encouraging it in your children as well.


  1. This is hardly new or novel advice: See Epicurus’ Letter to Menoeceus: “Let no one hesitate to study philosophy while young nor tire of it when old for it is never too soon nor too late to devote oneself to the well-being of one’s soul.”