The following is excerpted from , out today from Regnery Publishing.
I never, ever dreamed I would become a “person of faith.” My secular atheist childhood offered me no God, no church, no temple, no prayers, no heaven, no hell. It was like living in the song “Imagine,” but without Yoko Ono. Although we had lovely Christmas trees and all the trimmings, there was no God but Santa, and Rudolph was his messenger.
When I say we were atheists, I mean it. My mother kept a folder in her desk labeled “Religion.” She used it to store newspaper articles about church buses filled with pilgrims plummeting off cliffs. She would shake her head as she filed yet another clipping about missionaries raped and murdered by natives. The “why do bad things happen to good people” argument was her bedrock belief. “Why do little kids get brain cancer? What kind of God lets that happen? He wants it to?”
Both my mother and father were raised in the happy afterglow of postwar America in middle-class households that considered religion a dirty word. It was a backward thing their first-generation ancestors had shucked off as soon as they debarked at Ellis Island. The ones back in the old country, well, just look what happened to them: mowed down by Cossacks, chased by Vikings, persecuted by Anglicans, pogromed out of their villages, strafed by Germans—where was God then, huh?
Religion, to quote my Eastern European great-grandmother (who lived until she was well over one hundred years old), was “a big vaste of time.” When, newly widowed and grieving the death of her first child, she spotted the Statue of Liberty as she sailed into New York Harbor, she said she “threw religion into the vater. You don’t need it in de new country.” When asked her opinion of the afterlife, she would always say, “Ven you die, dey bury you and your body rrrrots!”
My great-grandmother and the other non-religious matriarchs in my family led daily lives of extreme domesticity, at advanced expert levels that no longer exist in our era. They were “scrub the floor with sponges strapped to your knees”–level domestic. “Three days making homemade dough for one thousand dumplings”–level domestic. Even my mother, despite her complete lack of faith, was a domestic extremist in every other way.
Because my European-American female ancestors overwhelmingly rejected traditional religion, within three generations their culture of extreme female domesticity was lost. When you look at grainy videos of European immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, hope shining on their faces, remember that every single one of them has an unmarried bisexual great-great-granddaughter on long-term birth control and SSRIs.
The secularized, sanitized home of my childhood left me to grope my way in darkness. I was baptized in the Church of MTV. Pop culture was my religion, and I dutifully prayed the Gospel According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—that is, Matthew Broderick, Mark Wahlberg, Luke Perry, and John Taylor from Duran Duran. We revered Madonna—not the virgin, the one like a virgin.
In the great black vacuum left by the absence of religion, a child will fill it with whatever cultural detritus is lying around. Maybe you’re a staunch nonbeliever, but you’re politically conservative, so you think that’s enough, right? Maybe you think that if you just teach your kids to reject contemporary feminism and vote Republican, all will be well.
I know a lot of right-wing nonbelievers, and it’s true, some have successfully indoctrinated their kids to mostly reject woke culture. But what happens in high school when their kids are invited to the polyamorous clothing-optional BDSM-themed prom? What page in the MAGA handbook tells you how to handle this? Will your subscription to Fox Nation be enough to guide your children through the minefield?
And at the end of the day, politics, even the “correct” politics, will not suffice to inoculate children against the seductions of modern culture. It won’t keep your kids off the pole, so to speak. The other side is offering your children a lifetime supply of guilt-free promiscuity, 24/7 on-demand porn, and abortion safety nets. That’s a tough offer to top. “Because I said so!” is unlikely to get them to delete Pornhub and Tinder off their phones—or never download them in the first place.
What can you, a mere mortal, do to give your children the best chance at a satisfying and happy life? Simply raise them to know they are not alone in the darkest times, that it’s not just you and your spouse, alone in a house. There are guardian angels and saints to pray to, and bedtime prayers, and stories to learn and read together. There is an ocean of comfort and resilience built into children who grow up knowing God loves them.
I didn’t have this opportunity, and folks, I made it through by the skin of my teeth. My more fortunate children will not have to cling to the sheer cliff walls above the abyss for as long as I did. Fortunately, I found God while there was still just enough time for me to execute Operation Extremely Domestic, punch in the cheat codes, respawn a few more times, and win the game with a life to spare. Please check back later to see how my dozens of grandchildren and hundreds of great-grandchildren are doing.
Recently, a true miracle actually occurred in my family. My sister, a devout secular atheist her entire life, suddenly decided to convert to Catholicism. This was a woman who rolled her eyes when I told her years ago that I was converting. “Really? You? You actually believe that stuff?” She reacted to my announcement like I’d told her I was selling my worldly possessions to join Heaven’s Gate and hitch a ride on the Hale-Bopp Comet. And yet here she was, a pagan, religion-scorning modern woman, telling me she had started reading the Bible with her children at night and was planning to start the conversion process.
For my sister, faith had appeared as a lifeline after two horrid years living under COVID restrictions in a dark blue state. Several years before the pandemic, she had suffered a catastrophic medical injury caused by a rare reaction to a commonly prescribed medicine. It caused life-altering, permanent side effects, and she must now avoid many other medications, including COVID vaccines. She’s better now and lives a mostly normal and happy life, but it shook her to her core and plunged her into a deep depression. Maybe because of that, and because of the two long years she was treated like an “anti-vax” pariah by her liberal “friends” and neighbors, her suffering finally delivered salvation—in the form of a sudden and overwhelming belief in God.
I can’t take credit for her revelation. Her children were the ones who first suggested their whole family convert. I was as shocked by this as she was when I dropped my own Jesus bomb on her. Now her kids, along with mine, will be raised with the great gift of faith.
When you raise children to believe in God, they have a final authority to answer to. Not you, not the president, not even their favorite YouTube personality, can fully control them. This is why the people in charge bleat so loudly about the dangers of “Christian nationalism” and “religious fundamentalism.” They are afraid of you laughing in their faces when they attempt to impose their dumb rules on you. Children raised to believe in God just wave these haters away. When your values, morals, and rights come from the divine, they are not up for discussion or debate. They cannot be repealed or replaced. God cannot be canceled.
Children who believe this will naturally be skeptical of politicians who make dumb decisions. They will intuitively understand that unborn children deserve to live. They will live by a moral code more compelling than anything man could ever legislate. They will be forces for good in a world breaking bad. They will be better able to resist the urge to join the mind-flayed lemmings flinging themselves by the thousands into Trans Canyon. They will have more willpower to refuse the first offer of a dangerous drug. They will be better prepared to resist the temptation to indulge in harmful sexual behaviors. They will cherish their own lives.
Faith gives children ballast. Faith gives them confidence that even while suffering, even after they die, they will be okay. Best of all, children who believe in God are much more likely to raise their own children to believe in God, thus perpetuating goodness and decency—and grandchildren for you.
Nothing is foolproof, of course. There is no guarantee that a devout child will thrive.
But it’s the best we’ve got.
Peachy Keenan is an American Mind contributing editor.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.