Can your child be too religious?

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Can your child be too religious?

April 2, 2013 -

That’s the title of an article now on Time‘s website.  It begins: “Religion can be a source of comfort that improves well-being.  But some kinds of religiosity could be a sign of deeper mental health issues.”  The article quotes a clinical psychologist who states, “Religion is related to the child having a higher sense of self esteem, better academic adjustment and lower rates of substance abuse and delinquent or criminal behavior.”

So much for the positives.  The rest of the article tells us all the negative ways religion could affect our children.  Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might rigidly repeat holy verses or focus on other rituals.  If so, such ritualistic behavior “in reality could be no more spiritual than fanatical hand washing or dreading to walk on cracks.”  Other children suffer from “scrupulosity,” a form of OCD that involves shame and guilt.  We’re told that “fastidiousness to religious practices may not seem so harmful,” but could lead to “extreme behavior such as delusions or hallucinations.”

The article recommends that parents “be alert to a sudden and pervasive shift in religious practice” and “model a healthy balance between religion and life.”  They should show children “how religion can co-exist with enjoying life” (note the juxtaposition, as though the two are mutually exclusive).  Their goal should be to help religion become “a comfort and a joy,” since “that’s the role that religion should have for people of faith.”

If my parents had read this article when I became a Christian, they might have concluded that it described me.  Our family never went to church before my brother and I trust Christ as teenagers.  Mark and I immediately became very involved in the faith—we attended worship every Sunday morning and evening, outreach on Tuesday nights, prayer meeting on Wednesday nights, and youth Bible study on Saturday mornings.  We joined the Christian Student Union, which met before class at our high school.  Within three years, we each made a commitment to go into vocational ministry.  (Today Mark is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Conroe, north of Houston.)

We don’t struggle with OCD, scrupulosity, delusions, or hallucinations.  But we believe that Jesus is to be far more than “a comfort and a joy” in our lives—he wants to be our King and Lord every day (Luke 9:23).  To me, the Time article is symptomatic of a cultural bias against true Christianity.  Religion in moderation is fine, but surrendering every dimension of life to Jesus is too extreme.

Author and teacher Kay Arthur warns: “If you do not plan to live the Christian life totally committed to knowing your God and to walking in obedience to him, then don’t begin, for this is what Christianity is all about.  It is a change of citizenship, a change of governments, a change of allegiance.  If you have no intention of letting Christ rule your life, then forget Christianity; it is not for you.”  Do you agree?

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