Second Generation Atheists? July 19, 2008

Second Generation Atheists?

Most atheists I know are the first in their family to leave the faith.

You don’t see very many atheists who also had atheist parents.

Anyone here a second or third generation atheist?

Were both parents non-religious or just one of them?

How were you raised in regards to the answers to “the big questions”? Did you figure things out for yourself or were you simply told the answers (from an atheistic viewpoint)?

(Personally, I don’t think it counts if your parents were just apathetic about religion. If they went to church just on Christmas and Easter, we’re not talking about them, either. I’m asking only about parents who were openly non-religious.)

"The way republican politics are going these days, that means the winner is worse than ..."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."
"It would have been more convincing if he used then rather than than."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • steve

    i’m a second generation atheist. my mom’s family is quaker and my dad’s is lutheran, but they both adopted atheism in the 70s. i was raised atheist (much to my family’s chagrin). i think i’ve been in a church 5 times ever.

  • My dad is an atheist. He calls himself an agnostic, but it’s quite obvious from conversations I’ve had with him that he fits the definition of atheist. In any case, he’s certainly non-theistic and non-religious.

    My mother is a very liberal Christian who raised me in her liberal strain of theism. Meanwhile, my dad was training me to think skeptically. He never came right out and said that God didn’t exist, but he taught me to question everything and demand evidence. I can think of several instances in my childhood where it’s obvious, in retrospect, that he was actively trying to make a critical thinker out of me.

    (By the way, my parents remain happily married to this day. They’ll be celebrating their 40th anniversary next year.)

  • Third gen. My father is a rather vocal atheist, and his father was a quiet one, though I neither my mother, her parents, or my grandmother are. As for the big questions, I was encouraged to read popular science books and to think things through on my own…possibly why I’m a Math PhD student with an interest in physics today…

  • Cindy

    My grandparents went to a UU church, my Dad is an Atheist and my Mom is probably best described as a deist.

    I guess that technically makes me at least a third generation, maybe more.

    Funny to me is that my parents raised me and my brothers kind of christian, attending a congregationalist church a little bit as well as a little Sunday school. I asked my dad why recently and he said it was just so we would fit in socially.

    I think I may be the first person my Dad ever “came out” as an atheist to other than probably my Mom. Religion never was a topic of conversation in our house.

    One memory I have from childhood is saying “Mom, I don’t think I believe in god” and she said simply “oh, you shouldn’t say that”

  • Tara

    I’m atheist. My son is atheist. His father is at least agnostic if not fully atheist.

    When he’d ask me questions I’d simply answer him with the truth. He’s amazingly well-adjusted.

  • Alex

    I’m a third generation atheist, on both sides of my family. This probably makes me rather rare, even in Britain.

    I was raised with a ‘find out for yourself’ sort of attitude. My parents offered to take me to religious places if I wished. I was never told to be an atheist, but my family and their connections’ respect for science and distrust of the supernatural must have influenced me. The big questions weren’t forced upon me from a young age. I was encouraged more to discover things about the world than to draw conclusions about the nature of existence. However, I was never seduced by any religiosity. The hymns were pleasant, but theology has always washed over me like white noise.

  • I’m second generation. My father is an atheist (although, we never really talked about it until recently) and my mother believes in some sort of Star Wars-like force out there (my words, not hers – I don’t think she liked Star Wars that much). Since I’ve seen so many horror stories about how hard it is emotionally for some people to leave their religions, I’m really glad my parents raised me without any religion.

  • My father was an atheist. As for the “big question” I never really asked. The concept of a god or life after death just never crossed my mind.

  • TheDeadEye

    My parent are atheists. I never even understood the concept of “god” growing up; I never knew what “church” was and I always wondered why people went shopping there on Sundays. 🙂

    Color me dumbfounded when I had dinner over a new friends house during junior high and they all started saying grace.

  • Miko

    I came from the Northwest, where most people practice an apathetic form of religion. So not a “second gen,” but that’s mainly a technicality.

    Anyhow, I suggest we look at the ‘scholarly’ source on this subject. Wikipedia doesn’t have an article on it, but luckily there’s always .

  • Adrian

    Second gen on dad’s side, third (at least) on mom’s side. I don’t actually know what religion my mom’s grandparents had, so it may be more.

    Were both parents non-religious or just one of them?


    How were you raised in regards to the answers to “the big questions”? Did you figure things out for yourself or were you simply told the answers (from an atheistic viewpoint)?

    They dropped me off at church on a few occasions till I complained and they stopped. I don’t think we ever had any discussions about “big questions”. Religion or god just never came up – they didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask. It wasn’t until I left home that I realized that some people seriously believed that there was a god and frankly, my first reaction was incredulity. I still have a hard time understanding the mindset.

    I had a conversation about God with my mom a couple years ago and she said she was under no doubts that there wasn’t a God, that the whole notion was preposterous. Curiously enough, she was the parent who tried to get me to go to church when I was very little.

  • Christie

    Second generation, but got there the hard way — Dad is an atheist, Mom was lapsed Catholic, and they somehow thought it was just fine for me to go the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses with my mom’s nurse for six years. To discipline me they took away my JW ‘study’ books. They both claimed that it was best for me to ‘decide for myself’ — at the age of six.

    My kids are atheists. They take a lot of crap for it, but they’re starting to find other kids of a like mind.

  • William Martin

    I am third generation my mother is Laurie Soule.(look up) Although I am more of an agnostic mostly out of not having researched enough. I have never really talked about religion with my dad.

  • EKM

    Both of my parents attended Catholic school. My mother even went to a Catholic college. But they stopped going to church between when my brother was born and when I was born. We went into churches when somebody died or was baptized. But that was it.

    I did go to church in college. Accepted the J-Man, the whole bit. One day I was praying and I thought that nobody was listening. I kept going, but that feeling never went away.

    Now my brother is hard-core Catholic. He keeps asking us why we don’t go to church. He is one of those people who thinks it must have slipped our minds. He and my mom get into arguments about it fairly often. My mother had to change her will because my brother was insistent on having a Catholic funeral for her.

    I think my mom might be an atheist, or at least a deist. Same with my sister. I mentioned this blog to my mom. I talked about the differences between this blog, Atheist Revolution and Daylight Atheist. (Those are the only three that I really read on a regular basis. Greta Christina has some great posts on atheism too, but she seems to be split between atheism and gay rights. I guess that makes her Atheism++.) I mentioned that this blog tends to be more humorous than the other two, and that Hemant likes to run contests. She liked some of the entries for religion and ice cream, especially the “Ben And Mary” and the “Neopolitan” entries.

    My other parent is married to a woman he dated before he met my mother and moved back to the East Coast. I have heard she is hard-core Catholic too. (She played no role in converting my brother.) She is from New York, he is form New Jersey. (My mother is from Chicago, which is where I live now. My sister lives in California down the street from our mother, while my brother and my father both live on Long Island.)

    Anyway, Big Old Boozehead has his East Coast wife, his East Coast house, his East Coast friends, and he does not have to deal with any bizarre Midwesterners, like, say, his kids. He may be Catholic now, I have no idea.

  • yinyang

    I would call my dad a skeptic atheist (“I doubt that God exists”) and my mom an apathetic agnostic (“God or karma or whatever”). Religion wasn’t something that we ever talked about when I was growing up, and we still don’t talk about it much. Like TheDeadEye, I remember being totally confused about church, asking my parents for years why we didn’t go, until I realized that their answer (“Because we haven’t found the right one yet”) was evasive.

    But, even though we didn’t talk about religion when I was little, the atmosphere of our household was very encouraging of questions and learning and the need for evidence. My mom and I were both born in the “Show Me State,” and that’s an attitude I absorbed – gotta see it to believe it. And, I think the fact that we’re all very bookish is important, too.

    My parents pretty much let us figure out things for ourself. When I wanted to attend a Lutheran-Brethren church, they supported that. When I was confirmed, they attended. When I decided religion wasn’t for me after all, they support that decision, too.

    My brother is also a proclaimed atheist, and while my sister may technically be an atheist, I don’t know that she’s consciously thought about religion and non-religion.

  • My mom is agnostic and has a strong dislike of organized religion. I can’t say my dad is agnostic or apathetic really since honestly I don’t think he’s ever thought about it, religion just never had any place in his life and he’s never seen any use for it. My paternal grandparents are the same way, they never saw a use for religion even though I know at least my grandmother believes in the concept of God.

    It’s an interesting way to grow up, my mom is a teacher and she wanted me and my brother exposed to as many different belief systems as possible so I remember her reading us bible stories and native american myths and all sorts of things as little kids. I also was never “shielded” from anything, partly because of the facts of farm life and partly because my parents never told us that we couldn’t read something, watching was a different story they did limit our TV but if it was a book we could read it (ever read Clan of the Cave Bear? I did when I was 10). Somehow in that environment my brother ended up the most religious person in our family though a very liberal Christian,believing in God and prayer and the whole bit.

  • Spacesocks

    I’m a third-generation atheist on my dad’s side, and at least a fourth-generation atheist on my mom’s side. I was raised Unitarian-Universalist. Growing up, the only family members I knew to be atheists were my grandma and my aunt (both on my dad’s side). It wasn’t kept under wraps or anything; it was just that most of my atheist relatives didn’t care enough about religion to want to make a point of rejecting it.
    So, here’s my godless genealogy…
    4. Me (atheist who makes a point of rejecting religion); my sister (atheist who doesn’t like to make a big deal of it)
    3. My dad (atheist, maybe more accurately an “apatheist”); my mom (she’s never spelled out her position of the existence of gods; when talking about atheistic vs. religious morality she sounds like an atheist, and when talking about the origin of the universe she sounds like an agnosto-deist).
    2. My paternal grandmother (ex-Catholic, very open about her atheism); my maternal grandfather (calls himself an atheist, though he prays to the “Lord of the Milky Way Galaxy”)
    1. My maternal grandfather’s father (a self-educated man, he read about “all the religions” in the encyclopedia and concluded that they were “all bunk,” according to my grandfather. He only took the family to church “when somebody got married or buried”)

    We aren’t all atheists in my family, though. I have some cousins who are liberal Jews, some who are Catholics, and some who will one day get to decide whether they’ll be Unitarians or Seventh-Day Adventists. Many of my remote ancestors on both sides of the family were Calvinists (Puritans, Dutch Reformed).

  • snoozebar

    I’m kind of second generation. Dad is an atheist, although he didn’t talk about it much. Mom’s into the New Age auras-chakras-Higher Self woo fluffy stuff, although we didn’t go to church or anything like that.

    I bought into the woo hard as a kid, but it was all very silly, and as an adult I got over it quickly. Majoring in physics was way cooler, more interesting, and felt much more real. So I chucked the woo for science. Hooray science!

  • This post really got me thinking, so I made a chart of my family’s history. Recalling family stories and looking at the chart, I have one main conclusion. The more devout the theist, the more likely they are to have atheist kids.

  • Julie

    Third generation. Grandfather and father both staunch atheists. On my mother’s side, they’re Jewish but really agnostic, also third generation. Mom played around with religion during darker times in her life.

    The big questions–dad told me he didn’t thing anything happens after you die. I was five. So that actually was weird. But ultimately it was cool, just a lot to deal with. Not sure how I’ll handle that with my kids. Mom was more spiritual in a vague sense, more inclined to believe there was something but she didn’t know what. Both told us to go figure it out for ourselves. I stayed agnostic and then just went atheist. Brother became a Catholic thanks to a good looking woman who became his wife.

  • Pustulio

    I think both of my parents are atheists, but to tell the truth I’m not really sure. They have always been rather dismissive of the beliefs of our more religious relatives, for instance openly mocking one aunt(by marriage) who would always give us bible-themed gifts for our birthdays. And on the rare occasions when religious questions would come up, their response was always along the lines of, “does that make sense to you?” But I’ve never been able to bring myself to just come out and ask if they are atheists or not.

  • Ada

    I’m pregnant with a second-generation atheist, but we haven’t discussed the big questions with her yet. 😉

  • My parents were both religious and I was raised religious so I guess this question doesn’t apply to me.

    My boyfriend’s parents are atheists and he was raised atheist, so there are a a few differences between us.

    He remembers one of his first discussions with a religious person. He was genuinely shocked to find out that they seriously believed in a literal god.

    He probably has a lot less anger and a lot more incredulity about it all than I do.

  • Arnold

    I am a second generation atheist. However as a kid I was catholic (due to relatives’ influence) until my confirmation (which I didn’t want to do but my parents asked me to do anyway to avoid suffering to my grandmas). It was basically the preparation to the confirmation (my parents never opposed to my faith) which turned me into an atheist: the more the priest explained, the less I believed.

    Today I don’t like to call myself an atheist: I simply believe that the existence of a God is irrelevant. Of course if I had to take sides, I’d say I believe it doesn’exist but the truth is that I simply don’t care. I believe that morals and ethics are human values which exist indipendently from the existence of a God. I have catholic friends with whom I agree on nearly everything (apart from God’s existence, of course).

    Funnily my mom recently returned to christianity (not strictly catholic but loosely christian – even if she attends catholic functions).

  • My dad was raised Catholic but has been an atheist for at least as long as I’ve known him. My mom wasn’t really religious either, but she has hinted now and then that she believes in some sort of supernatural force or being. Religion was never really discussed in our family. We never went to church. Never prayed before meals or bedtime. Never thanked any sort of god for anything. Whenever the subject of religion came up, it was usually in the form of a joke or laughing/mocking the religious crazies. But it wasn’t constant religious bashing by any means and we were never explicitly told that there was or wasn’t a god. I think my parents wanted to leave it up to us to decide once we were old enough.

    I’ve known for a very long time that I don’t believe in any sort of supernatural god, probably since late grade school. I remember around that time when one of my cats died and my parents said that he was in “Cat Heaven”. I didn’t really buy that explanation and when I asked my dad if it was really true, he said “no” and I was able to put two and two together and figure out that there is no “People Heaven” either.

    The funny thing is that most of my childhood friends (and their parents) weren’t religious either. And I never felt any pressure from anyone to “find Jesus”. I guess growing up in a relatively liberal state like Oregon, and especially in a very liberal college town like Eugene, you don’t experience as much discrimination for being non-religious as you would elsewhere.

  • My grandparents on my mum’s side are agnostic but did send my mum and her siblings to Sunday school every so often, I think this may be a 1950s/60s cultural thing though. My granny had a Humanist funeral and my grandpa, a scientist, is very sceptical of religion.

    My parents let me explore the ‘big issues’ as a child. I don’t think it helped that I had been given Christian books and learned about Christianity at school, they just let me get on with thinking that way and then I became an atheist around the age of 10. Their atheism seemed to come out a lot more then!

  • Jaroslav Sveda

    Second gen on mother’s side,second or more on father’s side.

    Grandparents mother’s side are/were (G’pa died long ago) devout Catholics, mother was therefore raised Cath but somehow shielded the whole thing from herself and stopped practising as soon as she married and got out of G’mas’ influence. She’s probably agnostic, i’m not sure – she never liked speaking about her stance to religion. What I know for sure is that she was rather upset because of her mother’s attempts to teach me (as child, around 2nd grade) to pray, though.

    Dad is atheist but quite into spiriual things. His father was most likely atheist, too. But they didn’t influence me, I haven’t seen them very much – fatheh was very busy b/c of company he co-founded and visits to G’pa were not so frequent to get to this theme. He liked to tell us stories, but nothing about his worldview.

    All of them probably haven’t thought much about theism/atheism, they just didn’t have need the concept of God.

  • Simone

    Posso scrivere in italiano? Io sono il primo in famiglia ad essere ateo. In Italia essere ateo è veramente difficile; quasi tutti si professano credenti, anche se molti non lo sono affatto. Quelli che dicono falsamente di credere in Dio lo fanno per una questione di apparenze… Spero che prima o poi le cose cambino perché la religione troppo spesso crea grandi problemi e non da soluzioni… Complimenti per il blog!

  • Ron in Houston

    Reading this sort of confirms my belief that the true number of atheists are under reported. My position is that the number you see in the press are only what I’d call “identified” atheists, i.e. people who claim atheism as part of their identity.

    I’ll bet a substantial portion of the non-practicing religious folks are really just atheists who identify as a religion for historical/cultural purposes.

  • Julie

    Ada, congrats. My fourth generation atheist was born 5 1/2 weeks ago.

    I suppose the ultimate rebellion will be that he becomes super religious. And we’ll still love him if he does.

  • Unspeakably Violent Jane

    I’m second generation on my fathers and third on my mothers.

    Ron in Houston said

    Reading this sort of confirms my belief that the true number of atheists are under reported. My position is that the number you see in the press are only what I’d call “identified” atheists, i.e. people who claim atheism as part of their identity.

    Yes indeed and I would guess many of those “unidentified” theists make their living as clergy.

  • Anna N.

    I’m a second generation atheist. My grandparents are or were religious, but my parents are definitely not, although my dad is fond of the cultural aspects of Judaism, so my sister and I were raised culturally Jewish. We did go to temple on the high holy days, but like I said, that was a culture thing. That doesn’t change the fact that all four of us are atheist.

  • Sort of. My father is an agnostic, and my Mom is probably best described as a pantheist. So at least, there were no personal gods in our household. I wasn’t raised with a sense of God, though. I didn’t know anything about God until I had been to school long enough that I’d heard the other kids talk about it and came home and asked. My dad responded, “Some people believe that…” so I realized from the beginning that it was optional.

    It wasn’t long until I also knew that there were other religions in the world, and I had read some Greek mythology. So my other thoughts were, “well if not everyone is right about their religion, there’s a chance that no one is.” and “religions have changed over time, so maybe they reflect the people instead of reflecting a God.”

    So, I was never a believer.

  • Dad was agnostic and so is Mom.

    I’m an atheist. I was raised in a non-religious household. Christmas that was just a day of presents, that sort of thing. I was not allowed to attend a church until I was 12 and then only to accompany a girlfriend who had to attend before she was allowed to go to the movies.

    DH is an atheist and, so far, so are our two children.

    Nance — first generation working on the second 🙂

  • Matthew

    I come from England where atheists are everywhere but most not openly so as they haven’t really thought about it too deeply.

    When I was very young I asked my mother why her mother started to go to church. I was told that older people sometimes turn to it as a form of insurance. Seemingly I was raised to be skeptical, but was never sat down in the “skeptical chair” and programmed with skepticism, if that makes sense. I suppose you could say I was raised to, umm, think n’ stuff. 🙂

  • Julie

    I’m definately a second, possibly a third-generation atheist. My mom is an atheist, though it was never mentioned while I was growing up. Religion was just not even mentioned in our house, which I think is the best way to be! We celebrated christian holidays as a cultural thing, but not as a religious thing. It was great.

    My grandmother was also possibly an atheist, I don’t know for sure because she passed away before I was old enough to understand religion. I do know that she left the catholic church when she was very young. Her family was poor, and she never understood why they always donated money at church “to help the poor” when they were the poor and never got anything back from the church. She was a smart lady, and figured out the church’s scam. I wish I had gotten the opportunity to talk with her about religion.

  • Andreas

    Fourth generation atheist. My mother’s family from England and Ireland. My mother, grandfather and great-grandfather were/are atheists. My mother is more “pagan/mother nature” now.

    Also, all four generations are/were staunch pacifists. My grandfather and great-grandfather spent more than 4 years each in jail for refusing to serve in their generation’s “Great” wars. Both ended up serving as stretcher-bearers towards the end of the wars, in front of the front lines. So they were both atheists in foxholes and refused to carry weapons.

    I had to leave my country at 17 to avoid going to jail for refusing to serve in the military. Been an atheist for as long as I remember.

    My father is a liberal Christian but part agnostic. He considers Jesus a “great philosopher”. As a scientist he sees a lot of the Bible as symbolic narrative, appropriate to the time it was written and not literal.

  • My mother is an atheist, and my step-father is an atheist. My father just wasn’t that committed to religion.

    Living in the Bible Belt, I got caught up in a neighborhood Bible study group, and became a Christian in grade school. I was worried if my parents found out, but looking back, I don’t think it would have been a big deal to my mother. Step-father, I’m not so sure about.

    We talked about religion, somewhat. Mostly in terms of fundamentalists trying to force their views on others. (Back then, Missouri still had blue laws.)

    Even when I was religious, I wasn’t that strong of a believer. I found myself personalizing God to fit the world around me.

    When I went to college, and seriously read the Bible, I realized what I was doing, decided that based up the evidence, there was no God.

    My parents aren’t members of any atheist or free-thinking organizations. I’m the only one in the family who actually reads up on the subject, or is involved in any way. I guess to them, non-belief is a given, and they’re more interested in yelling at politicians on TV. 😉

  • Grimalkin

    When I was little, my parents were non-believers, but my mom liked the social aspects of religion. So I went to Sunday school and we went to different churches to “try out the congregation.” Yeah, it was the people we tried on, not the priests or the ideologies. We found a Quaker meeting we really liked and stayed there for a long time. After a while, though, my mom got more and more anti-religious – to the point that when I experimented with religion in college, she flat out said “I don’t see why anyone should need to believe in all that stuff” (except, she used a different S-word). As for my dad, he loves religious art and architecture, so we did a lot of cathedral and monastery touring. If anyone brought up god, he was polite but very dismissive. He made it clear that it was a non-issue, not worth talking about, especially when the much more interesting discussion about the human-made art was around. He’s never been outright hostile, he just makes it clear that he doesn’t believe and that any discussion about religion is completely uninteresting and not worth having.

    So that’s my background. I think I’m second generation, but I may be third. My paternal grandfather died before I was born, but I’ve heard stories of him refusing to go to church and poking fun at my grandmother for her beliefs. I don’t know if he was just apathetic, deist, atheist, or what, though.

    My parents have always been big fans of the “go figure it out for yourself” style of parenting. If I displayed an interest in a particular topic, let’s say I mentioned one night that I find the stars beautiful, they would buy me a bunch of books related to that topic. They never ordered me to read them or anything. They would just buy them and have them available, so that I could go into more depth if I wanted to. So I always had knowledge available, but I was never lectured at and neither of my parents ever directly answered any of my questions. It was more of a “look on the second shelf from the top, you’ll find the answer there.”

    In some ways, I’m really glad they did it this way. In other ways, it was incredibly frustrating – especially if I just needed a short/simply answer and I knew they knew it, but they would still make me research it. When it came to the “big questions,” neither of my parents ever answered those. It was more of a “I dunno, what do YOU think?” sort of thing.

  • Marie

    I’m pretty sure my grandfather was atheist. At a young age he started teaching me about the universe and introducing evolution to me. He never mentioned anything about gods other than his feelings about religion being a means to control and frighten people into submission,. He was clear in his belief that religion tainted scientific advancement. I never once knew of him attending church, in fact he stayed home when my grandmother took the children to church. My parents however do believe in some form of lose christianity, so I guess it skipped a generation.

    My husband and I are both atheist and we are raising our children in a secular household. Both of our kids have attended church and sunday school classes with family members and friends without too much hesitation on our parts. There are some church functions that I don’t feel comfortable allowing them to attend, primarily the AWANA classes that many of their school friends attend on Wednesday nights. The AWANA thing is a bit too extreme in my opinion, especially with the slogan of ‘truth training.’

    We encourage our children to question everything, even our stance on religion and gods. Our goal is to raise them to think for themselves, to seek the answers to their questions about life and living on their terms and formulate their own life and world views. The idea is not to brainwash them but give them the tools and confidence to explore all that they can. It’s challenging as a parent but very rewarding. We have encouraged them to explore theology, even if they chose not to be religious, because it is important to try and understand where other people are coming from. As it turns out both kids are very intelligent with strong math and science aptitude, perhaps a product of us encouraging logical and critical thinking.

    My daughter tells her friends that she is an atheist by choice because the god theory just doesn’t make sense and is not founded upon evidence but human emotion and imagination. It’s a tough position for a young girl to take being in the bible thumping south but I am very proud of her for standing up for her beliefs or lack there of.

  • Robin

    My dad identifies as an agnostic, but his position is closer to weak atheism. He was raised Polish Catholic and is extrememly hostile to all organised religion. He was never shy about sharing that with us. But he did teach us to debate, to consider all sides of an argument, and to defend what we thought. When I was little, and I asked him about a topic, he would explain what the sides were, what he thought, why he thought it, and then ask me what I thought. As a small kid, under the age of 10, I usually agreed with him, but as I got bigger, he would ask me what I thought first and we would hash it out. He is not above playing the devil’s advocate, even when he really agrees with you either. He started explaining the science early too. I remember my first evolution v. creation debate (with a school friend) around 7 or 8 years old.

    My mom is harder to tell. She was raised nominally catholic, but it doesn’t seem to have stuck. If I remeber the story right, she and her sisters mostly snuck out of sunday school/services to smoke at the 5 & Dime. She seems to think that there is something, but she has never talked about it. I have never seen her rely on anything other than her own will for comfort or help. She is very much a pragmatic person and taught us ethical thinking without reference to “morality.”

    Around the same time that dad was teaching science and reasoning, all my friends started being confirmed. I went home and talked to mom about it (mostly because I wanted a new bike too) and she told me that she and my father couldn’t make an important decision like what to believe for me. That I would have to decide if belief was important and decide for myself what I would belive in. Well, if your mom thinks that belief is too important for you to even listen to her, why would you listen to some stranger telling you what to believe?

    Overall, I think that my sister and I are pretty much the second generation in our family (though mom’s parents seem to have been fairly apathetic theists). And perhaps not entirely intentionally. In the end, I liked mythology, literature, and history, so I know a lot about religion. My sister is not as interested in those subjects, and it is pretty immpressive that someone can live in the US and know so little about Christianity. My husband was raised to be protestant, but it didn’t take. He says he just couldn’t accept the “risen after three days” part, that when you are dead, you are dead, and that, if you can’t accept the most basic part, why bother? Our kids will be generation three (or 2.5 depending on your counting.) My dad, at least, will be very happy about it.

  • Emily

    I guess we’re kind of second generation nonreligious folk….

    My father’s an agnostic. He told me what that was when I asked him what he was when I was about 11 or 12. Looking back I’m quite proud of him for actually having the correct definition of agnosticism and for explaining it to me bluntly.
    Mother was raised Quaker, as she raised my brothers and I. We were never any sort of devout; we went to meeting more for its social aspect then its religious one. She’s a confirmed Quaker but from conversations we’ve had recently I wouldn’t be surprised if she were agnostic as well. (This is quite possible as all three of her children jokingly refer to themselves as Quatheists or Quaker-atheists)

    As for the ‘big questions’ we all did a lot of figuring out on our own. Both of my brothers and I searched for truths in our own ways. I experimented with paganism, Buddhism etc. My older brother sat down and logically went through each major religion to see which made the most sense and ultimately decided that none did. My twin brother found his way there through both logic and laziness (atheists sleep in on Sundays…). Our parents brought us up in a pretty secular environment and our own curiosities were enough to bring us to where we are today.

  • Me here, I’m a third gen atheist.

    My grandfather became atheist after memorizing the bible and many other religious books, and then noticing that Catholics (as he was raised) didn’t exactly follow what they were supposedly following.

    He married a Catholic woman, not the most faithfull but indeed practicing. They had seven daughters and sons together, and at 81 died and had a Catholic mass and everything with the priest saying stuff like “your faithful son we send now to you, oh Lord”.

    My dad had a more exiting transformation, after he was raised Catholic (grandpa didn’t messed with religious education, for what I know). And became atheist after a veeery stupid and pervert priest tried to get him to confess sins my dad never comited but that he (the priest) belived that all children were guilty of: looking under girls’ skirts, being untruthful to their parents, stealing. My dad had said bad words and sometimes disobeyed some orders. But he was a much better person. The priest called him liar, pervert, disobeying, and then tried to hit the kid… who dodged and then kicked him back.

    Me? My father did as my grandpa: My mother was Catholic and she decided about the religious education at home. Eventually, by studing, asking and watching enough discrepancies between idealized God and what is taught about belevolence, and the reality, I simply couldn’t sustain the belief in a God. I went through a lot of studying, a whole search for spirituality, and ended agnostic-atheist, with a custom belief system loosely based on the best ethics I’ve found: good intentions, meditate on results, act based on good will.

    I’ve never been confirmed, and indeed didn’t went trough a formal first communion even. Most of my family consider me at least nominally a Catholic. I don’t bother with names and tags, and it’s mostly with new people I am clearer about myself.

    The Big Questions? My dad has a PhD in physics, so he was pretty much prepared to answer questions. Maybe having rational answers for even the color of the skyis why I saw there was no need for gods in the cosmos.

  • Let’s see… I’ve been god-free all my life, my Dad’s an atheist and an ordained minister (heh) and my Mom is at the very least agnostic. Big questions rarely came up, but the general take was “Well, some people believe X,,,”

    The general rule seemed to be that they’d support is if we did happen to try out a particular religion, but didn’t expect us to be any.

    Oddly enough, I was baptized something, but I don’t know which denomination. Apparently, this was pressure from older family members.

  • I’m an x-generation atheist, although there is talk about my maternal great-grandmother being a catholic.

  • My father’s family is strongly Jewish, but in an ethnic sense. I’m not sure if his parents were religious or not. My father was an atheist, but had us learn at least a little something about Judaism. My parents figured the Christian stuff would be all around us, so we didn’t get any formal education there. I first heard the Easter story when I was 11 and asked my friends how they could really believe that. My father was quite straightforward about his non-belief, and he and I had many conversations about religion and morality and the like.

    After he died, it came as a bit of a shock to realize that my mother actually believes in God. But my father had the stronger personality, so she had gone along with his desires for raising us without a specific religion. I guess the idea was that we could make our own choices. None of us are religious now.

    I am most strongly an atheist and have given this serious thought in my parenting. We belong to a humanist family group in our area and are working on providing our children with religious literacy, similar to what Dale MacGowan advocates.

    My younger sister says she is an agnostic, but mostly she’s trying to avoid conflict. Her husband is from a Catholic family, and her mother-in-law has done things like bring a statue of Mary for their garden. Her husband has been suggesting Catholic school for their children, despite the fact they have great schools in their area. She doesn’t want to say no, even though she has told me she hates the idea. They don’t attend church, but I’m not sure what will happen when they have to deal with religion questions from their children.

    My youngest sister dabbles in the New Agey stuff, but doesn’t have a strong belief in anything in particular, certainly not a single god. She doesn’t plan on having kids.

    We joke that in our liberal, lesbian-headed, atheist household, the worst thing our son could do is become a right-wing fundamentalist.

  • I’m a second-generation atheist. My father became an atheist early in life. My mother sort-of became agnostic when her father died. Anyway, I was raised completely secular. Instead of going to church, my father discussed competing theories in cosmology.

    I’m now married with kids of my own. My wife is a “liberal Christian” and she has recently (last three years or so) been taking us to church. My oldest kid considers God to be just like Santa-clause… “just make-believe”. My younger child is really to young yet to form an opinion. I think that as long as one parent is agnostic or and atheist, then there is a great likelihood that the children will become agnostic or atheists.

  • Sam

    I’m a second-generation atheist as well. My parents both came from highly religious families in the deep south, but by the time I came along both were clearly secular. I still don’t really know what their exact beliefs are – we never talked about it, never attended a church – but they left me free to find my own answers by encouraging curiosity and exploration.

    I came to atheism through being left mostly free from religious influence. I only thought about it when schoolmates would shun me for not attending church (yes, in my area of the south this happens as early as elementary school). That didn’t give me a good opinion of incredibly religious people, and living in a secular home might have nourished that opinion in a strange way. It’s good to see there are other freethinking families out there.

  • My father is indifferent but my mother was an atheist. We went to church for weddings and funerals and that’s it. My children are already expressing anti-religious views but I feel that they are too young to have investigated some of life’s many philosophies so I hesitate to call them atheists.

  • I’m probably a 3rd generation atheist, although my experience is somewhat different from many commenters here. I’m Chinese, and officially the Chinese government does not endorse religion of any kind, so I practically grew up in an atheist-but-not-free society – which is to say, people were either atheists because they were taught to be so, or spiritual/mildly religious but only in private. And thus true “freethinkers” are relatively rare. I’m not saying that this form of society is good, since persecution of freedoms is something I don’t support, but I do think it’s an interesting perspective “Westerners” should think about, because it’s quite different in some ways to Western society, and thus quite intructive. My parents and their parents are all pretty much atheist or agnostic (note that their agnostism is a general “might be some kind of god/gods/spirits” rather than solely about the Judeo-Christian one), although my paternal grandmother tends to fall for superstitious woo depressingly often. But then, she’s old, recently had a stroke, and never learnt how to read or write or received any formal education of any kind.

    In my first 9 years of life in China, I had been taught about various religious beliefs – just vague outlines – plus some myths of gods, nymphs, mortals-turned-goddesses living on the moon, etc. These beliefs and stories were always presented as fictional, in a “people used to tell these stories to explain natural phenomena (like the shadowy shapes on the surface of the moon) and used to do all these rituals/hold these superstitious beliefs, but now we have science, which works much better, so we don’t need them anymore” way. It was not until I came to New Zealand, and struggled for roughly a year and a half to gain enough proficiency in English, that I realised that there are people on this planet who believe, seriously, in supernatural interventions. It was extremely shocking for me at the time, since I had thought, naively, that as science was so awesome and useful, people would disregard all this superstitious nonsense pretty quickly. I expected people to talk about “god” and “angels” only in metaphorical terms, to invoke religious imagery as a tool of language, a culturally-embedded method of expression, or a vehicle for moral instruction, yes, but to seriously believe in them as literally true?

    You can probably all guess that I was naive and sheltered in my barely teenage years – probably in the opposite way to a sheltered fundy teenager, actually. I suffered a lot in those years from initial language difficulties, bullying at school, and various insecurities, which caused me to attempt, in my own naive way, to convert to Christianity – not to fit in, exactly, but to seek comfort in this sense of community, which is something I really missed from my childhood days in China. A lot of new immigrants gravitate towards church groups for this reason – to try and find the sort of social support network that they had at home (particularly in Asian countries where social networking is, if not obligatory, then at least very, very important, and always very beneficial).

    But I could never quite believe Christianity wholeheartly, because I had always loved science and all things logical, so I always felt a tingle of doubt whenever something in the doctrine contradicted science, or when something just seemed too obviously parable or poetry to be completely factually true (e.g. genesis as literal). And due to my upbringing in honesty, I had never quite managed to learn the art of compartmentisation or self-delusion, so it was hard to hide the doubt for any length of time. I even tried to (half-heartedly) empirically test prayer – it didn’t work, as mean kids don’t cease to be mean just because you have an invisible friend to talk to. Change in my life for the better didn’t come from prayer, it came almost exclusively from hard work (particularly by my mother), so I eventually gave up on religion and fell into a vague kind of agnosticism.

    Long story short, I eventually grew up, became more confident in who I am and my own abilities, and also learnt a whole bunch about critical thinking from school and outside reading (Internet, mainly). So eventually, I ended up drawing the conclusion of atheism once again, but this time round it’s a much more solidly informed conclusion than simply being born into that kind of society.

  • John

    We went to church every weekend and prayed before every meal, but outside of that, I don’t recall any other theistic experiences with my parents. It just never came up in daily life. To me, religion was something you paid lip service to, otherwise you were some sort of sinner, I guess. The rationale behind that thinking was never clear to me, so it’s no wonder I abandoned it.

  • Born Again Heathen

    The word ‘atheist’ was never mentioned in the household I grew up in, but it was a functionally atheist, non-theist, unbeliever household. If I heard my parents discuss god-belief and formal religions it was to be critical and dismissive of them — not insulting or bashing by any means, just critical.

    Even now, none of my parents identify as atheist, agnostic, or even as secular humanist. Labels have never been very important to them. My dad grew up in a vaguely apathetic-theist/deist household and was encouraged to join the Mormon youth-groups and church so that he would “fit it”. He did so and went along with is for a few years, but he just couldn’t turn off the critical thinking part of his brain, so he ended up abandoning it. He still lives in Mormom-land, he’s still critical of it (and I can detect some resentment and anger in his voice when he talks of his experience leaving the Mormon church), but he doesn’t let it bother him so much. My mom gladly moved away from the area (from the culture and from her family) with my step-dad and me. Spiritual topics never really come up when my mom and I visi. I never heard stories about my mom’s family attending any church when she and her sisters were growing up, so I’ve always assumed that it was all a non-issue with them as well.

    When I was very young, we celebrated Christmas (, but we did have a nativity set and I loved singing the religious Christmas carols set, so I understood that most other people celebrated Christmas as the birth of Jesus. In the spring, we celebrated Easter. I loved Easter, and I thought it was a general spring-time celebration. In later elementary school I heard the Jesus-Easter story and I was, like another poster above, amazed that they could believe such an odd story.

    My parents never took me to church, unless it was to see a cathedral, temple, or mission while on a day-trip or other vacation. I was taught to appreciated the history, art, music, and architecture of the places. I was allowed to go to church services, etc. with my friends, but my parents never took me to any of those things. I ended up going to a couple of Catholic masses with my friends because their mom took us out for frozen-yogurt afterwards :wink:. At about the same age, I went to a sort of youth-group activity day at her Mormon church. I had fun and I don’t recall any overt prosteletyzing, but even at that age I could recognize the propaganda they were using, and I didn’t like it.

    I don’t recall heavily discussing “the big questions” with my parents. Maybe death…it was treated as a natural thing that happens eventually to all living things. I was told that when we die, our bodies decompose into the ground, and that nobody really knows what, if anything, happens after that. I was always encouraged to “find out/think for myself”. As for the “meaning of life, the universe, and everything” — let’s just say that my parents sat me down and watched “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life” with me when my mind was young and impressionable. I frequently heard the following when I was a kid, “I don’t know, but I’ll take you to the library and we can find out”. I’m not aware of having any movie or tv-show censored from my viewing, and I was encouraged to read anything I wanted. I was, and am, especially fond of learning about other people’s mythologies.

    In my late-teens and early-twenties, I tried really hard to believe in fairies, magic and Wicca, and then in transcendental meditation, but, thankfully, neither of them rooted into my brain. My parents raised me to ask questions, to be skeptical, and to refuse to believe in things that failed to be supported by evidence.

    Now, I would identify myself as an atheist, if anyone bothers to ask. I don’t belong to any active atheist/humanist/freethought groups; although, I do love reading up on the topic by myself. I married a man who is an apathetic-atheist ex-confirmed Catholic. No kiddos yet, but when they come, we will bring them up with the same philosophy that my parents brought me up with.

  • Carlos

    I’m a third generation atheist from my mother’s side and second from my father’s side. The reason is a bit long, but because of it, if I had dug further when I could, It’d probably go even farther back.

  • Darryl

    I wish I had been raised by atheists. Then I likely wouldn’t have wasted a good part of my young life. I’d be a University professor music by now, tenured and looking forward to my last decade of teaching.

    Also, is there a way to translate Simone’s Italian on this blog? Or can someone do it? I understood a little of what she said (I know some Spanish), but not all.

  • Richard Wade

    Second generation or at least one and a half.

    Dad called himself an agnostic but I think he actually was an atheist and used the other term to avoid futile conflicts. As a young woman Mom rejected the Baptist religion of her parents and remains at most a vague deist today. They took me to church twice I think just as an experiment but they raised me to think for myself and to look into everything and question everything. As a teen I dabbled in some odd new age stuff to please my girlfriend but when she was gone that nonsense evaporated. As an adult I spent a few years practicing Zen Buddhism but that was the atheist version. The whole rebirth thing made no sense to me so I eventually drifted away from that too.

    I think there may be a genetic factor involved because my brother, who strongly resembles my Mom’s more religious family became a Baptist entirely on his own. I strongly resemble my Dad’s far less religious family and have always been naturally skeptical.

    Now I worship Lord Hemant. 🙂 May his blog and his book prosper.

  • I’m a second generation atheist. I grew up going to Catholic school. My grandparents went to church regularly. My mom is a believer but doesn’t spend much time having religion in her life except maybe the occasional nighttime prayer.
    My dad however has been an atheist since his twenties. Growing up he said that I only had to go to church if I wanted to. He never really shoved any ideas at me but let me figure things out for myself.
    Now we are on the same page about most things. Everyone in my family teases me saying “your just like your father”. (when religion conversations come up).
    They don’t realize how much of a compliment that is they are giving me!!!
    its funny
    Kristi Collins

  • Dorothy

    I’m a 2nd generation atheist. Mom’s atheist, Dad says he’s agnostic, but from what he says about religion, he sounds pretty atheists. My maternal grandparents are relgious, My paternal grandparents are not. My paternal grandma does believe in a God and Heaven, but not in the bible. My paternal grandfather is the unknown card. Whenever religion or the “big questions” comes up his answers always sound very atheistic.

  • redfern1990

    Third generation atheist here, and the whole bunch of us are rather vocal about our views on the matter — in fact, I’d be tempted to say my grandparents are more condemning of ‘big-man-in-the-sky’ religions than I am, and that’s, well, saying something.

    I’d never thought much of the rarity of my position before.  Part of it must be a matter of years; I’m twenty, and my grandparents are in their mid 60s to early 70s. Additionally, all my grandparents participated in higher education, with both sides of my family having a particular interest in science: my mother’s father studied medicine and went on to become a psychiatrist, my father’s mother was a physics teacher, and my father himself is a micro-biologist. Under these circumstances, my position as third gen atheist probably seems a little more understandable.

    As for my upbringing, it seems my parents left me to make up my own mind. I do not recall being introduced by them  to the idea of a God, nor the idea of the lack of a God. Any enquiries of mine into matters of the universe would be answered with science simplified for a child’s understanding. This means that my first encounters with religious thought was had at school, and I remember asking my mother about the ideas raised there. Was Jesus really the son of God, and did he really come back at Easter?  Before answering herself, my mother asked me what I thought of the matter. All seemed a bit odd to me, I reckoned, and the zombie bit particularly far-fetched. I still remember the way my mother smiled at my words. And that was that.

error: Content is protected !!