How Much Should You Expose Your Children to Church? October 14, 2008

How Much Should You Expose Your Children to Church?

As an atheist parent, Laurie has tried to not indoctrinate her children into atheism. She teachers her kids to think for themselves and question what they hear.

She’s not keeping them away from faith, either.

… we have exposed them to some of the religion they’ll encounter in their bible-belt hometown. When they were each four, we enrolled them in the best preschool in town, which happens to be at a Lutheran church, where they learned bible stories and went to chapel. We celebrate Christmas and Easter every year, while explaining the history of how these holidays came about. But we have never said, regarding the stories they learned in chapel and at Christmastime, “Well, sweetheart, they just aren’t true.”

With all the exposure her kids have to Jesus and God via school and other family members, Laurie wonders if she’s not doing enough as an atheist parent.

Am I unwittingly raising Christians?

But her daughter lets her know that all the religious surroundings are not getting to her yet.

The conversation is great — check it out.

It just makes me want to have more children for my collection.

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  • TXatheist

    Yeah, since my son was 3 we’ve explained there is no such thing as monsters in his closet. At 4 his 4 year old cousin said there were monsters in a box they were playing next to and my son said “there is no such thing as monsters”.

  • Kate

    I think she’s doing great. I dislike indoctrination of any form. By explaining the history of the holidays, etc., she’s sort of teaching her children how to come to their own conclusions.

    And honestly, I’d rather have a child that was religious by their own choice, at an appropriate age, that weighed the evidence and made a decision than have a child who was an indoctrinated atheist. I know I’m going to get flamed for that. 😉

  • I love these parents!

    So wise, letting them use their minds.

    Who knows? Maybe the little tykes will develop a love affair with religion, as irrational as love can be, but with open eyes.

    My own involvement with religious indoctrination was more like a rape than a love affair, and made me a victim, sort of guilty, sort of liking it against my will, thinking I deserved it, all the weird feelings a child might feel when abused……

    I’ve done WAY better with my own kids.

    Not perfect…..I have one Jewish atheist, one Jewish closet Christian, and one Jewish “I only buy wholesale” type kid.

    What can you do????

  • My ten year old son explained the problem of evil to me on the bus this morning as a reason why he didn’t think God existed. Honestly I’ve never prompted him at all. I hope that he’ll explore the idea more as he gets older and draw his own conclusions.

  • Joseph R.

    My 9 year old son has been attending an evangelical church with my in-laws for several years. My wife sees it as spending time with the grandparents. So, instead of insisting that our son stop attending church, I have been taking him to a different service every other week. I have gone out of my way to show him other beliefs, including my own(atheist). We have attended several different varieties of church(i.e. islam, judaism, christianity, morman). Although we still have some others to attend, my overall goal is to get him to think for himself and not just follow the leader so-to-speak. Very soon we will run out of various places of worship to attend, at that point I think that I will take him to a UU service every other Sunday just so I can counteract the “crazy” at my in-law’s church.

  • Kate

    Joseph – I think that’s great. 🙂 And just as a plug for UU…if he attends there and is enrolled in religious education courses, they expose them to all different religions as well from the perspective of “this is what others believe, this is the history” and let them make up their own minds. So I’m sure you’d like the UU. 🙂 Great job!!!

  • Gene

    The problem with the “let them make up their own mind” approach with small children is that there isn’t much mind yet to make up. They are extremely emotional and irrational at a young age and can easily “imprint” on some religious crap that can later negatively impact their ability to “make up their own mind” when they have sufficiently developed one. I say that a too early exposure to religious bunk can cause harm. I let my daughter know that all the religions are the same as one another: none has any evidence to support their belief in their god(s).

  • aaron

    Is it “open-minded” of me to expose my children to, or be tolerant of their development into, racism or racists?

    How quaint, open-minded, and so liberal of me, no?

    Give me a break.

    I’ll take my child to get his shots so that he’ll be immune to diseases and viruses that kill and maim other children with horrible sicknesses who do not get their needed inoculations; So too, critical thinking may be all you ever need to expose your children to in order to inoculate them from harmful mental diseases and mind-viruses; to wit: infectious and pernicious supernaturalisms of all varieties and forms.

    However, unlike inoculations via the syringe against disease, the inoculations administered in the service of mental health and of mental hygiene can be administered as often and as heavy in dosage as one wishes.

    I’ll kindly spare my child KKK rallies, the Adhan, the Amidah, Scientology “Auditing”, the handling of snakes, the clanging of church bells overhead, etc. until they are strong mentally enough to discern truth and falsity: for my children, matchbox cars will come before I hand the keys of my Toyota, thank you. I don’t need to facilitate indoctrination; they’ll be barraged with enough nonsense throughout their lives… loving, freethinking parents need not do the job of demagogues, sophists, and liars in the absence of them.

  • My parents took me to a baptist church when I was a ‘lil one (in part because my pre-school teacher was an evangelical Christian and friend of the family). I still remember the song, “Jesus loves me this I know, because the Bible tells me so” but other than that no major damage.

  • Beijingrrl

    I have a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old. I do want them to make up their own minds, but I do hope they don’t end up religious. I will accept it if they do. I expose them to different religions and began a more formal study last year with the elder child. My kids know what my husband and I think about religion. They also know that other people, including family members, have different views. When my kids ask the “big questions”, I tell them what we know scientifically, what I think and then what other people might think. I then ask them what they think and we discuss how our views differ.

    My only issue with what the author is doing is that it appears that she is only exposing her kids to one idea about religion. Since she is not talking about her own views and not taking her child to various religious places of worship, I would be concerned that her children will except the brand of Christianity they are exposed to as the default base of religious ideas to which all other ideas would be compared. I suppose my own kids will have “no religion” as their default and compare other religious ideas against that, which to me is preferable.

  • jet

    Kids are much more critical than we give them credit for. About a year ago I was volunteering at a special needs pre-school, and it was Easter time. One of the little girls came to me, and asked why we painted eggs during Easter. It didn’t make any sense to her. At a kindergarten I had a number of kids question Santa. I don’t think that exposing them to religion is harmful at all. Indoctrination works both ways. Exposing a child to only one side is just dishonest.

  • This is an issue I’ve struggled with since before I became a parent. No one else in my family is an atheist and they were very upset by the thought that I would raise my children as such. What I’ve decided to do is raise them to have as much of an open mind as possible.
    My children are 6 and 8. I take them to school every morning and it has become our question time. They ask things that they are curious about, and I try and give them as complete an answer as I know. When it comes to matters of religion or spirituality, I usually preface my answers with “Some people believe…” At that point I’ll tell them the culturally common explanation. But I don’t stop there. If I can, I go on to explain what other cultures and religions believe and what we “know” scientifically. That way they learn from the outset that there are multiple beliefs. If the question is a straight up “how come this happens?” type question, I go straight to the science.
    I haven’t really explained that *I* don’t believe in gods to them yet, but when they get old enough to ask directly what I believe or think, I’ll be honest with them, just like I have been so far.

  • T’s Grammy

    The big question is why?

    I find the claim that we’re brainwashing our children if we don’t teach them their (and why is the their always Christian) religion absurd. As stated above, I didn’t send my daughter to a Klan meeting to give her the other side of the story, why would I send her to church?

    My daughter was unchurched and somehow managed to avoid becoming a juvenile delinquent or a teen mom. Gee? Could it be because I taught her to use her brain?

    So far, my 5-year-old grandson is unchurched. May he stay that way. I’m not worried about his being brainwashed. He’s smart as a whip and a stubborn, rebellious cuss like his Grammy but, hell, why subject him to vile nonsense? And I remember church when I was a kid. Pretty much amounts to child abuse. Terrify kids with Grand Theft Auto and they yell for censorship; terrify kids with hellfire and brimstone, and they call it religion.

    Whenever I hear Atheists say this I always wonder are you that terrified of the religious majority?

  • George Laritz

    Evangelicals pull no punches – not even with kids, so if you do, you’re in trouble. They’ll use guilt-tripping, scare tactics, warped logic, etc. Christians are an “ends justify the means” people, so anything (however evil) is validated by the perceived good of a saved soul. The caveat now is the law, and plenty evil can be done in that constraint (look at the government). While you don’t have to always vilify Christianity, there’s no “harmless” introduction if it is unsupervised or on their turf, for there will always be the ulterior motive of a new convert. Let your kids know what’s out there and how to combat it, and make them aware that Christianity, for all its morals, uses unfair methods of transmission. Infection starts imperceptively, but before you know it, your loved one can’t walk on his or her own.

  • Killer Bee

    where they learned bible stories and went to chapel.

    I think there are many advantages to growing up with a knowledge of Biblical stories and the moral lessons of the Bible.

    For example:
    When I was a little boy, I had a fight with one of my friends while playing over at his house. His parents took his side and demanded that I apologize and ask his forgiveness for my sinning because that’s what God commands in the Good Book. I asked them if I could see this book.

    After studying a bit, I straightaway took hold of his parakeet and made amends pursuant to the method laid out by God in Leviticus 5:8-10. To my dismay, he only had the one bird when the instructions called for 2. I made do, but evidently it wasn’t enough. I never saw him again.
    I never forgot the important lesson of always having extra supplies on hand.

  • Kim

    My 4 yr old recently told me that church is “where you go to talk about goddammit and all that stuff, but it is just a story.” (oops on my cursing habit)

    But I love it!! My parents get so mad that she isn’t in sunday school, and so I told them that I plan to teach her about all the bible stories. Since they have a big presence in our culture I would like her to know about them at least. But to my fundy xtian parents, I told them that, “Don’t worry, I plan on teaching her ALL the fairy tales, not just the ones in the bible.” I thought it was funny, them-not so much. Oh well.

    They ARE fairy tales, so…I am right!

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