In 2017, Jack Gilbert—who teaches microbial science at the University of Chicago—published a fascinating book: Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System.
As the title suggests, Gilbert challenges a core assumption of every nervous parent, namely that we must take every step humanly possible to protect our child from any and all forms of contamination. It seems that our kids can never use enough hand sanitizer or take enough baths or use enough Clorox wipes.
As paradoxical as it seems, argues Gilbert, some level of exposure to germs can actually be a good thing. It can help children develop their immune systems which, in turn, will protect them when they are older. Indeed, he argues, many health problems (including the rising rate of severe allergies) can be linked to a lack of exposure to certain bacteria.
Here’s the point: the germ-conscious parent may think they are raising healthy children when they may actually be raising vulnerable children—a vulnerability which will not become apparent until many years later.
Now, I am not a scientist and I can’t tell a parent whether they should wash off the pacifier when it falls to the ground. But I do think there is a parallel lesson here in the spiritual world.
As nervous Christian parents, sometimes we think our number one job is to make sure our kids are never exposed to any non-Christian thinking. We may be tempted to place our children inside a sanitized theological bubble, safe from all forms of intellectual contamination. But, just like germ-conscious parents, this may not be accomplishing what we think.
This topic has been on my mind quite a bit since the release of my most recent book, Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student On Keeping the Faith in College. In all of the podcasts I have been doing since the book’s release, one question keeps coming up again and again: [Read more…]