a swing set abandoned in wintertime with snow everywhere
Reading Time: 9 minutes (Todd Trapani.)
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Some years ago, I discussed a blog post by Natasha Crain. She’s an apologist–in fact, she’s one of the few evangelical-approved women active in apologetics. Natasha Crain occupies one specific niche within that industry, too: apologetics aimed at Christian parents seeking to keep their kids indoctrinated for life. But like all apologists do, she offers suggestions that can’t possibly work, and she does so with the rock-steady assurance that comes from knowing that her target market will never figure that fact out. Today, let me show you one of Natasha Crain’s most grievous offenses–and what’s so wrong with her advice.

a swing set abandoned in wintertime with snow everywhere
(Todd Trapani.)

The Most Inevitable Niche of All.

Besides Christian weight-loss systems, the cottage industry of youth-retention apologetics was more inevitable than death and taxes, especially with Gen Z coming out so secular.

As this blog has documented for many years, Christian groups are having a huge problem with retaining their youngest members. Every single new generation grows up more secular and less religious than the one before it. At this point, only about 17% of Americans overall count as white evangelicals. When we look only at Americans under the age of 30, Millennials and Gen Z (see endnote for terms), white evangelicals’ numbers drop to 8%.

Making matters worse for Christians, not one reputable survey house out there thinks that they’ve even hit their decline’s bottom yet, much less have any chance of reversing that decline.

So I suppose what Christians face is not so much a problem as a catastrophe. And the best part? There’s really nothing whatsoever that any Christian group anywhere has been able to do to stop this hemorrhage.

Enter Natasha Crain, one of evangelicals’ last great hopes for stemming the hemorrhage of young folks from Christianity. 

The 5 Regrets.

Evangelical parents feel a great deal of fear about their children’s eternal fate. They ache for a game plan that works to keep their kids indoctrinated.

Luckily for them, Natasha Crain is here to help! Here, she identifies “5 Regrets You Don’t Want to Have If Your Kids Walk Away from Faith.”

In her view, parents didn’t:

  1. Give their children a deep enough understanding of Christianity.
  2. Expose them to the claims of skeptics.
  3. Make enough time for conversations about faith.
  4. Develop their spiritual life.
  5. Thoroughly indoctrinate them, instead choosing to concentrate on passing down good values and ethics.

She’s quite the salesperson, ain’t she?

The main problem Crain’s work has is that it’s not quantifiable or qualifiable. There’s no endpoint specified and no finish line, not even a baseline to measure against. She flings a lot of words around, but doesn’t ever paint a clear enough picture to put her words into action.

Let’s go through her listicle one by one and I’ll show you what I mean.

One: Kids Lack A Deep Understanding of Christianity.

How deep is deep enough? What kind of understanding? Plenty of people go their whole lives without having a deep understanding of Christianity–even what most folks would consider a downright childish understanding of it–and many of them still manage to maintain their faith for a lifetime (we call those folks evangelicals).

She ends that first section with this:

If my kids reject their faith, I want to know that they accurately understand what they’re rejecting.

She’s demanding that her kids learn all about her religion before she will consider their rejection of it valid. However, as we’ll see, this saleswoman-for-Jesus does not actually ever consider someone’s rejection of her religion valid.

All someone has to figure out in order to reject Christianity is that the product doesn’t do what its salespeople claim.

That’s it. Nobody needs to get an M.Div. to notice that truth. That’s all that deconverted me when I was a wee little Space Princess of 20-and-4. The more I learned about Christianity after that night, the more knowledge strengthened my position.

And don’t think I didn’t notice that her big solution to this possible regret is that parents need to buy apologetics materials like what she peddles to cram down their little darlings’ mouths.

Two: Exposure to Skeptics’ Claims.

What a dishonest load of codswallop we have in this potential regret. Remember, she didn’t actually learn apologetics until a bunch of atheist commenters on her mommy blog challenged her further than her vague Christian upbringing could answer. So she’s likely speaking from experience here when she talks about how challenging skeptics can be for a Christian, especially an evangelical.

But skeptics don’t make claims. Rather, they demand support for Christians’ claims. There really aren’t any skeptic claims I can think of that she might be talking about (and she doesn’t specify beyond sneering that skeptics are “predictable” that way–more projection, methinks). What happens instead is that a Christian warbles about Jesus this or that, and a skeptic asks for receipts. Or a Christian chirps some silly Argument from X like Oh gosh y’all the sunrise was so pretty today! How can someone NOT believe in Jesus after seeing something like that? And a skeptic points out how irrational that logic is.

See what I mean? It’s not that skeptics are out there claiming anything. They’re just vocally pointing out that Christian salespeople’s sales pitches are fatally flawed, and Christian salespeople’s stated reasons for buying into Christianity are anything but compelling to non-Christians.

And Natasha Crain’s stated solution to that problem is to present children with defanged, properly vetted examples of pushback–and to answer that pushback with apologetics of the sort she peddles.

The problem there, of course, is that apologetics isn’t meant for people with serious doubts. Apologetics deployed against such people will only backfire. But she’ll have sold her books to those parents by then.

Three: Conversations About Faith.

Here, we have Crain once again offering advice without any clear guidelines about what it looks like in lived reality. She refers to some survey out of an evangelical book (expanded slightly here), but tells us nothing about how the survey was run, what question was asked, or how they found their respondents. This survey indicates that most teenagers don’t talk to their parents about religion or engage in devotions with their parents. And Crain thinks that if parents did that more often, their kids would stay indoctrinated.

Tons of Christian bloggers–particularly evangelicals–like this survey and mention it, since it landed in the 2011 book Sticky Faith. And what’s hilarious is how poorly-suited this survey is for their purposes.

First off, it’s from 1990. The respondents come from almost entirely mainline Protestant denominations (including PC(USA)). The survey designers only invited the Southern Baptists into the hot tub because they’re so gung-ho about Sunday School. And the survey did include 11,000 people, but only 3100 of them were teens–and almost entirely from a whole other part of the religion pool. All the same, evangelicals love this survey.

What, were there simply no other, newer surveys? I guess it’s not like it matters anyway. Evangelical research is like “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

Anyway, it’s not conversations about faith that Crain wants. It’s the correct conversations about the correct kind of Jesus-ing. And since productive conversations about religion rely on the teens in question wanting to talk about such things, she may be reckoning without her host here.

By the way, Crain peddles books specifically aimed at parents who don’t know how to start those conversations. I’m sure that’s just coincidental.

Four: Developing Children’s “Spiritual Life.”

Christians can’t win, can they? If they don’t Jesus enough at church, then they’re abandoning their faith community and that’s bad. But if they Jesus too much at church, then they’re eschewing their home responsibilities and that’s bad too.

In this case, Crain chides parents who think that sending their kids to church will properly indoctrinate the little darlings for life. No, parents must cram religion into their kids during the week, too!

Cuz she’s right: kids and teens don’t have busy enough schedules. I’m sure they just love sitting down to navel-gaze with their parents about their “development” in an imaginary realm of the mind that can’t be measured or tangibly perceived in any way, then talk very earnestly to the ceiling for a while when they could be doing homework or whatever they have to do nowadays that’s got them all so stressed out.

Luckily, Natasha Crain’s got everyone covered with apologetics stuff to fill all that nonexistent spare time.

Five: Don’t Worry About Non-Jesus-y Stuff.

This one made me see red. I admit it.

Natasha Crain advises parents not to worry about teaching their kids about compassion, kindness, charity, love, and all that other good stuff. Instead, she tells them to stuff indoctrination into their little darlings. The harder those kids Jesus, the more of those good values will come out in them. She sees good values as something that sprouts forth from a solid indoctrination.

Yes, because nobody’s ever known a gung-ho TRUE CHRISTIAN™ who’s done unthinkably cruel things or otherwise turned out to be a total hypocrite. And the Bible’s such an incredibly good teacher of morality that anybody could follow it and live a long and happy life full of love and companionship. Don’t worry about all those teens who don’t dare complain to their TRUE CHRISTIAN™ parents about their purely toxic or simply boring church youth groups.

Natasha Crain wants parents to think that her product matters way more than giving the future Earth responsible, compassionate, functional adults. She assures them that her product will solve both problems for parents by giving them well-indoctrinated kids who also possess and practice good values. But she can’t demonstrate that point.

Instead, she counts on it sounding Jesus-y enough that desperate Christian parents keep buying her products.

The Christian Cult of Family.

Consider Crain’s five “solutions” to all those regrets she offers. Put together, they combine to create a vision of the perfect Christian family in evangelicals’ minds. I call this vision the Cult of Family. From their earliest years, little evangelical girls get taught to yearn for that kind of family–as well as prepared to administer it. Evangelicals revere this vision even when hardly any of them can achieve it–and those who can fake it do so even to the point of ruining their children’s lives and their own peace of mind.

From Crain’s biography page, it’s crystal-clear to me that once she had children, she wanted to achieve the Cult of Family. That quest has shaped her entire post-pregnancy life. But adhering to that vision required quite a lot of work from her. She hadn’t grown up in a family like that. So she had to do a lot of catch-up work to become a proper Cult of Family mother.

Part of her catch-up involved starting a Christian mommy blog. Remember, at this point she still doesn’t know that much. She’s just a starry-eyed lady who yearns for the Cult of Family to be made a reality in her life. It’s only when atheists start peppering her with hard-to-answer questions that she realizes she needs to do something to better answer them:

For the first time in my unexamined Christian life, I had a front row seat to experience every imaginable challenge to Christianity.

And her solution to those challenges was to learn apologetics, not to find real answers. Ever since then, apologetics has been her only tool for dealing with challenges.

How Effective Is This Guff?

That’s why even Crain concedes that her apologetics arguments and indoctrination techniques have failed to persuade one of her very own children. In her own words, she and her son, who must be about 8 or 9 or thereabouts, have “several of these conversations regularly.” (I wonder which of them starts these conversations, and how they tend to end.)

Her son’s problem?

Nobody can see the god his mom insists exists and meddles constantly in the real world.

I seriously wish I’d had his understanding when I was his age!

Her advice in that situation is just as WTF and ridiculous as anything else she offers. If she’s talking to her own child in this paternalistic, condescending way and she’s telling him outright lies like she recommends doing in that post, then we don’t need to worry about him staying Christian.

For more evidence that her advice doesn’t work, just check out the comments on any one of her blog posts. They’re filled with heartbroken Christian parents. Some find solace and hope–and direction, oh ye cats those poor dears–in Crain’s writing, but nobody really seems to mention that her approach to parenting works to indoctrinate Christian children for life.

The One Thing Christian Parents Aren’t Doing and Can’t Do.

Crain, like her fellow apologists, remains convinced that if she can only persuade someone that her supernatural claims are true, then that person will immediately join her religion and stay a member forever.

She’s going at this thing bass-ackwards.

Because she’s starting from that wrong assumption from the beginning, all of her tips, books, and speeches fail to offer the one thing that parents actually need to keep their children Christian. But that one thing isn’t something they could get from apologists anyway.

What matters more than that is how believers engage with their religion’s lack of veracity–and how they treat each other and the people in the world around them.

With membership in Christianity growing more optional by the day, Christian parents need a lot more than pseudoscience, emotional manipulation, and logical fallacies to ensure that their children continue believing all the false ideas Christianity offers.

So ultimately, Natasha Crain and her fans can memorize all the canned, crusty apologetics arguments they want. None of it matters if their kids look upon Christianity and Christians themselves and don’t see either as anything they need or want in their lives.

And y’all, that’s the real “Good News.”

NEXT UP: Pumpkin Spice Super Special! See you soon!


Generation Terms: Gen Z consists of people born since 2000. They’re also the least evangelical generation in American history, with perhaps 8% of them affiliated with white evangelicalism. Gen X was born between 1960-1980; Millennials were born between 1980-2000. Someone wants to name the generation born since 2011 and just now reaching school age now “Generation Alpha.” I’m not sure it’ll stick, though. “Generation Beta” would come next, and I don’t see that catching on.(Back to the post!)

Unrelated but funny: I’ve read a lot of Natasha Crain’s posts, and she talks constantly about there being a lot of PROOF YES PROOF for her claims, but I’ve yet to see her actually pony any up. She sounds like I did as a teenager, convinced it was all there somewhere but not knowing where or what it would look like. Sometimes she punts to her fellow apologists, but nope, she never actually reveals a single objective fact supporting Christian claims. I just think that’s so funny.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...