Suffer the not-so-little 12-year-olds

Another friend, at dinner.

“I don’t want to tell him what to believe. He has his own journey, and I respect that,” she said over appetizers. “I just want him to know what he’s rejecting before he rejects it!”

She has a 13-year-old son, a bright, engaging, thoughtful boy who happens to be best friends with my 12-year-old son, another bright, engaging, thoughtful boy. They call each other “brother.” That sounds right.

And the two of them — maybe because they are bright, engaging, thoughtful boys — have decided that God just doesn’t make “sense.” I haven’t been privileged to hear the 13-year-old’s arguments, but I have heard my son’s: Belief in God is an opinion. There’s no proof. The world is messed up. We’re little more than animals. Etc.

None of this is fresh, of course. I’m glad my son is thinking about the Big Questions, and thinking hard. I’m glad he has a good friend to talk about them. I know that true faith often emerges only after a desert trek through non-faith.

And yet we, the mothers, are tearing our hair out.

How on earth, how in heaven, how how how do we get our beautiful boys to even consider that God might exist? How do we teach them the broad swath of deep thinking about God and faith that has gone before, if they’ve already shut their minds?

How do we get them to church?

“I’m not very satisfied with the Religious Ed program at our church this year,” my friend said. I have news for her and for all the church leaders: No parent is ever truly satisfied with the religious ed program. A free tip from my pew-hopping so far. (Another free tip: If you want people to show up on time for worship, have a coffee urn in the entrance hall. Amazing how the promise of caffeine can motivate.)

That doesn’t mean religious ed can’t be improved. We didn’t get to the specifics of her complaints before the checks came, but mine are that our neck of liberal Christianity has stopped teaching Scripture and Jesus and turned to vague lessons about how “God loves you” and “you’re special.” And crafts, with snacks. As if our kids didn’t get enough self-esteem inflation at school. Or enough crafts, with snacks.

My friend’s plan of attack so far has been to try to drag her son to Mass (by the ear?) and to hope that her own deep faith might impress him. “And then my husband gives him ‘The God Delusion!'” she wails.

Well, it’s not like the boy can’t google “Richard Dawkins” on his own.

My son has read great swaths of the Bible without pressing from me  — his favorite book is Job — so I’m not worried unto death about the attack of the atheists. But I’m also not all that sanguine about my side’s chances with my boy, either.

What’s a poor mother of Godless to do?

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