Between a Church and a Hard Place May 31, 2010

Between a Church and a Hard Place

Andrew Park had no problem raising his children, but he was stuck when one started asking him about religion. He had grown up faith-free and he wasn’t quite prepared when his son asked him whether or not God was real. If he didn’t give his son a good answer, no doubt there were others ready to give him false ones.

How did Andrew respond?

That’s the basis for his new book, Between a Church and a Hard Place. An excerpt from the book is below:

My son was three years old the first time I heard him say “God.”

He didn’t get it from me.

Cristina and I had recently enrolled him in preschool at a Methodist church a short drive from our house. We’d had him in a program three mornings a week at another church near our house, also Methodist — Welcome to the Bible Belt! — until the day I arrived early for pickup and found him on one of the playground benches, curled up as if back in the womb and unable to explain what had caused this despair. The incident, the last in a long string of red flags since a new teacher had arrived that fall, had provided our first experience with the brand of parental guilt that keeps you awake at night, wondering how you turned out to be such an awful person that you would consider outsourcing the rearing of your child for even one second. For a couple of months after that, we kept him home. Eventually, though, we’d had to acknowledge that the boy had taken well to the stimulation and structure preschool offered, and now that we had another child, his mother needed a break from full-time parenting. This new batch of Methodists seemed like good people who would care for him properly. But there was one hitch: Once a week the kids were lined up and led from their classrooms to the sanctuary for a short religious lesson the preschool called “Chapel Chat.”

Now, my wife and I had for the most part avoided chapels since becoming adults. And the last thing we wanted to do was chat in one. We didn’t belong to any church, and our feelings about organized religion, like our feelings about organized labor and organized crime, were, at best, ambivalent. We found all three were best experienced only as part of Hollywood movies. But that left us in a pickle: So that we could care for my elderly father and be near old friends, we had recently moved back to the midsized North Carolina city in which I had grown up, a place where nine out of ten preschools were run by churches. When touring these facilities, our first question for the director was always whether the children were subjected to any of that, you know, Jesus stuff, and to our surprise, not that many did. I suppose it made sense in a competitive market to stay as secular as possible. But it was midway through the academic year and most of the good programs (and by “good,” I mean ones where you didn’t feel the need to make unannounced visits to make sure your son wasn’t being left to wallow in a puddle of his own misery while the other children were playing on the monkey bars) were already full. Knowing we were lucky to find an opening at this one, we decided to take our chances.

To our relief, our son adapted well to his new environment, and, for the most part, it wasn’t much different from the old one. At this program, instead of having to come inside to pick up our children, we parents lined up in our station wagons and minivans and one by one the kids came running out to greet us. The new routine seemed to make our son feel a bit more grown-up, and as he warmed to his new teachers, we began to feel like we had atoned for the earlier debacle. That is, until that day, when we were reminded of the fragility of parental success, not to mention how uneasy the topic of religion made us both.

We were sitting on the ell-shaped couch in our den, passing the time in one of the amazing yet quickly forgotten ways that you do when your free hours are given over to bringing up small children, when His name came out of his mouth. Our reaction was approximately the same as if the word had been “antediluvian” or “nanotechnology.” Like most parents, we greeted every new addition to his vocabulary with a glee that would make innocent bystanders gag. But this one came out of nowhere, and I had no idea how to react. I wanted to grab it out of the air and gently shove it back into his mouth for a few more years. The context in which he said it was never clear. It just kind of spilled out, but neither of us had any doubt it was Yahweh’s nickname that had breached his perfect lips. I said nothing, my wide eyes fully expressing my internal alarm. Cristina remained calm, the way you would if a kid was test-driving a bad word picked up at school and you were afraid an overly animated reaction might encourage him to add it to his everyday conversation.

— Do you know who God is? she asked him gently.

— Yes. God makes us.

His matter-of-fact response indicated that the answer was so obvious as to be a priori. Cristina glanced at me but decided to ignore the panic now erupting visibly all over my face. She turned back to him and tried probing a bit deeper.

— How does God make us?

Again, he knew the answer, and he delivered it with the confidence that comes with knowing something is the undisputed truth.

— He screws on our heads and pops in our eyeballs.

Upon hearing this, my worry subsided a bit. Whatever he had picked up at preschool was too absurd to be of any harm. In the days to come, I delighted in passing on this adorable little anecdote to friends and relatives.

But before long, from his crude initial hypothesis, my son began to formulate what is referred to in religious literature as a “Christian worldview.” His mind was made up about the existence of God. And how. But the details still tripped him up. For instance, he wondered why there was a “big X” on the top of churches we passed while driving in the car.

Cristina and I tried to respond by balancing our own lack of traditional belief with a sincere appreciation for his curiosity. Independently, we each decided that all discourse about matters of faith should be prefaced by the phrase “Well, some people believe…” This seemed like a sensible disclaimer that would help him understand that absolute truth is an elusive thing in the world into which he had been born. But we both knew full well we were just trying to buy some time until we had something more definitive to tell him or at least thought him mature enough to accept our squishiness. We knew that he didn’t care about “some people.” He wanted to know what we, his parents, believed, what to us was true, what to us was real. But we couldn’t tell him. We were as reluctant to say something that would stifle his thought as we were to let him believe everything that the Methodists told him. For a while, as a compromise, we tried substituting “Mother Nature” for God. This, too, struck us as quite sensible: We both loved nature, wanted our children to appreciate and respect it, too, and liked the idea of a little pro-woman affirmative action in the supernatural realm. But ultimately she proved no better than the Man Upstairs. She was a poor proxy, only prompting more questions we couldn’t seem to answer. In actuality, they were the same questions, just with a different omniscient, omnipresent deity making mysterious decisions, like letting a good person do a bad thing or a flower die or one animal savage another for food. We were usually successful in directing the conversation elsewhere, but that tactic only lulled us into thinking we were addressing the issue when we weren’t, making his inevitable inquiries just as startling the next time they came round. If we couldn’t answer even a simple question, someone else certainly would. At this rate, he’d be born-again before he got to kindergarten.

One evening after bedtime, I heard soft chatter coming from the room he shared with our daughter, who was one at the time. I continued down the hall, stopping short of the door until I could hear what was being said. The boy, lying awake in his miniature bed, was trying to share some explosive new information with his sister, but she was already asleep in her crib on the opposite side of the room.

— Hey, did you know that God made us?

He paused, but there was no answer.

— And when we die, we go back to Him?

His voice rose expectantly at the end of his question in anticipation of an awestruck response, but once again, none came.

— Isn’t that so cool?

I lingered by the door a moment, expecting a return of the panic that had visited me on the couch. But it never showed. In its place, a different feeling arose, something vaguely happy, maybe even hopeful. For a moment, I felt his wonder at the idea of a benevolent creator just waiting to welcome us back into His loving, secure embrace. I understood his comfort at the notion of a grand plan for our existence. When you put it that way, it is so cool. I’ve just never believed it.

Throughout Between a Church and a Hard Place, you’ll see many familiar names including Greg Epstein, Paul Kurtz, and Dale McGowan — (Andrew even attends a parenting seminar hosted by Dale).

For those interested, his publishers have offered to give a couple copies of the book away to readers of this site (woo!) — all you have to do is let us know your answer to these questions:

Did Andrew handle the situation correctly? What would you do if you were in his place?

Two winners will be randomly selected from all commenters on this thread. Good luck!

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  • That’s pretty similar to how I handle it. My almost 4 year old daughter goes to church with my ex husband on his weekends, so we get this a lot. I don’t have a problem with her learning about religion, I just don’t want her to be “brainwashed.” And I think, what would have prevented me from blindly following all those years? One doubter that was close to me. So when she brings up God, I ask her questions. Lots of questions. She said Jesus lives in her heart. I say, “Where? I don’t see him.” And eventually, we get to the “some people believe X. Your daddy and your Nana and Papaw believe it. But Mommy doesn’t. [Stepdad] doesn’t. You’re allowed to believe whatever you want.” The first time I told her that, I added, “Did you know that?” And she looked amazed and shook her head. I really think that’s all it takes, though my current husband is much more blunt about it. I just think she’s her own person and can decide what she believes, just like I did. All I care about is that she not believe any one way out of fear, and I hope that’s what I’m doing when I question her.

  • Bob


    Yes. Andrew engaged his son with dialogue, kept at an appropriate level, while avoiding a harsher tone that – given the subject matter – could easily create a resentment between father and son, as well as create a more fertile ground for further indoctrination in Christian beliefs.

    I don’t think the point is to introduce your child into the stark, cold reality of the world around us, but to engage a child’s natural sense of wonder. If he’s interested in the concept of God, then take that sense of wonder and direct it towards science. The real world will teach its own lessons in due time (Christian kids can be just as mean and nasty as any other).

    Now, if your child comes home and opines that mommy and daddy are going to hell for not believing in God, then that’s an entirely different problem.

  • Unlike Andrew, I see no problem telling your son what you think — especially if someone else is brainwashing him! If you feel guilty about it, you could add, as Laura did, a “You’re allowed to believe whatever you want.” On one hand, I agree with the sentiment that you want your son to learn to think for himself. On the other hand, life is no academic exercise to him. He genuinely want to know your opinion.

    Engaging your son in dialogue and avoiding a stern tone are all appropriate steps. I just don’t see the point trying to mask your own opinion. “Well, Mommy and Daddy think God is imaginary, but some people people think he’s X. Other people think he’s Y. What do you think about God?”

    If your son came home and professed the belief that women should be subservient to men, that handling venomous snakes is a good idea, or that homosexuals should be put to death… I would hope you wouldn’t hesitate to share your opinion then! So why be tepid while he’s being brainwashed about Jesus?

    Also, parent guilt is pretty common when sending kids off to daycare or preschool, but in this case I think it’s deserved. Andrew sent his son to a Methodist preschool. What did he think was going to happen?

    It’s one thing to learn about God from a peer at non-religious daycare center. That’s the sort of scenario where your son can challenge his peer’s belief and form his own opinion. It’s quite another thing to learn about God from an adult authority figure along with all your classmates in a structured environment. This is the same sort of scenario a preschool would use to review safety rules. It’s designed to quell independent thought.

  • Karmakin

    At that age, it’s probably fairly harmless. It’s a fairy tale like so many others. But there is something to be worried about. Like a lot of fairy tales, there’s a dark side to it. And now is a positive, upbeat, happy reaction to it can easily become a nervous, stressed reaction to it.

    That’s my story. I was brought up going to Sunday School and all that. And yes, it was happy and upbeat. But then I was exposed to the negative aspects of Christianity in the wider culture..hell, end-timeism, etc. And that made me extremely nervous about my behavior, that I was walking a tight rope always going to fall off, and when I fall off, there’s no coming back.

    It’s a very scary thing when exposed to a young child who doesn’t know that it’s all just a parable and that most people don’t really mean it like that. Because the way they say it, it sounds EXACTLY like that. Not that I think the people at the daycare are going to push that on kids. But it’s out there enough in the wider culture that it really is a concern.

    It’s something that with a lot of therapy I’m just coming to terms with. And it was caused by my exposure to Christianity. And it’s why I’m a strong believer in the idea that while it can be harmless, it can also be very dangerous for kids, and as such kids should be left out of religion.

  • Shannon

    I did it differently with my kids. I don’t agree at all that telling a kid what you believe will “stifle his thought”. I’ve told my kids point blank that I don’t believe in gods and neither does their dad but Grandma C does and Grandma S doesn’t and Uncle T does, but not quite the same god as Grandma C. And they know it’s up to them to decide and that they won’t be made to think they’re wrong if they believe differently than I do.

    Apparently gods aren’t an interesting topic for my kids but my daughter and I do often disagree on things like bigfoot and dragons and fairies. She insists they are real and me telling her that I don’t think they are hasn’t stifled her in the least, lol!

    Just a difference of opinion in how to talk to kids I guess.

  • Casimir

    Absolutely not.

    He wanted to know what we, his parents, believed, what to us was true, what to us was real. But we couldn’t tell him. We were as reluctant to say something that would stifle his thought as we were to let him believe everything that the Methodists told him.

    Grow a pair and tell him what you think. Give him an honest answer.

    Otherwise you’re simply abdicating your responsibility as parents. I’m sorry but this attitude is beyond stupid. Kids that young need and seek guidance, and if you don’t provide it, someone else will. If your child came home and asked if homeopathy worked, would you hesitate to tell him no? If he talked about how the teacher said homosexuality was bad and gay marriage should be illegal, would you give a non-committal answer, struggling to search for some synonym for gay marriage?

    It seems like so many atheists hold a position similar to Dawkins, that giving kids religious instruction is child abuse. But teaching them some simple logic and appreciation for evidence isn’t the same as religious instruction. Are you really going to tell your kids to brush their teeth, keep their hands away from the stove, and then not teach them critical thinking?

  • Fritz

    As an atheist, I can’t say whether he did the correct thing. I am both saddened and angered by his inability to commit to reason, and his failure to choose to protect his son from indoctrination.
    Did anyone else’s hair stand on end at the sentence “Whatever he had picked up at preschool was too absurd to be of any harm”? The tip of the wedge is not supposed to feel bad.

  • Luc

    Many of us atheists consider learning about religion to be an intellectual exercise. It isn’t so for this child. At an age when children are quite prone to a sense of wonder about the new things they learn, he could be telling his baby sister something like “Did you know that the Sun is a star?” or “Did you know that our bodies are mostly water?”

    I feel like I would take these moments as a cue to try to discuss exactly the topics that I had been previously resisting due to fears of immaturity; the nature of belief, the perspective(s) that his parents have, and even the myriad of other things that others believe. Broaching these topics doesn’t mean that the child has to understand the details of every relevant piece of knowledge, it means that they need to have enough information to be able to think about it on their own time and then come back with questions (the church sure knows how to work this).

  • My opinion is that Andrew did an ok job at handling the situation but it seems that the issue came out of left field for him and, as a result, he wasn’t sure what to do.

    These are the sorts of things that couples should discuss before they happen. Hopefully, you would discuss what to do the first time your child disobeys you. Along the same lines, you would hopefully also discuss how to approach religion with your child.

    Both my husband and I are Christians turned atheists (we fell out of religion together and it was great to have that much needed support), so we’ve seen all sides of the coin. In our current lives, being nonreligious is not a passive lifestyle as we advocate against religion in politics and medicine, etc. all of the time. As such, we recognize the importance of knowing all of the information before forming opinions and ideas.

    To that end, we’ve read both of Dale McGowan’s books, subscribe to Science Based Parenting, and The Meming of Life, etc., and have discussed how we would handle this situation with our children.

    Our solution: We won’t hide religion from our children. We will have a children’s bible alongside Aesop’s fables. Equal treatment of all fables, in that respect. That being said, we will be firm in telling our children that “Daddy and I believe X” and we will apply emphasis to critical thinking and science in the hopes that they will use the tools and knowledge provided to make the choices that are best for them.

  • bunnyslipperz

    Christians have ZERO problem indoctrinating not only their children, but other people’s children as well. THEY are telling OUR children what they should believe. THEY do not give such a fine sounding thing as a ‘choice’ of what to believe.

    I no longer subscribe to the thought of being passive when it comes to explaining to our children what we, their PARENTS believe. Educate early and often, and certainly do not wait for someone else to bring up the subject of god first. I feel its just like talking to your children about anything else, drinking, drugs and sex. And yes, I do place religion in the same catagory as those other things. Just like those things in the wrong hands, religion is a dangerous thing.

    Educate them early and talk about what you believe, before someone else does.

  • Riksa

    I’m still waiting for these discussions. My eldest daughter is now a little over two and a half, and my youngest is only about six weeks old. The older girl hasn’t been exposed to outside religiosity yet, but it can’t be that far away.

    That said, I think Andrew did something right and something wrong. Mostly right. I’m a huge supporter of the honest approach in that these things are probably best handled by discussing them with the child at the child’s level. I think Andrew was wrong in not telling about his own beliefs, and possibly, as a previous commenter said, adding that the child is permitted to believe whatever he wants.

  • Um. My answer would be to find a nice taliban/palestinian boy & strap explosives on his back & send him to the headmaster’s office

    What do *I* win

  • This sounds like an interesting book.

    My answer:

    I think it’s important to point out, as Andrew did, that different people believe different things and also that there are good people in any religious or non-religious group. Even when I was religious, that’s what prevented me from becoming a fundamentalist. I knew that there were good people who had different beliefs than I did and I kept asking questions of myself (when I was older).

    At the same time, I do think it’s important to say what you believe. If he’s looking for an answer about what his parents believe, then give it. Right now, it might seem like a very nice, benign version of faith since he’s getting the nice preschool version, but as he gets older, he may be hearing the more extreme parts, and it’s important to talk to him about why it’s wrong.

    As a side note, the preschool I went to was also in a church, but I don’t remember anything about religion being mentioned.

    That’s just my two cents. (I’m not a parent, so I’m trying to base this off of what I remember from when I was younger.)


  • Dr. Monkey

    Wow, go figure. Enroll your kid in a preschool that’s in a church and someone tells him the Christian fairy tale? Who would have ever seen that coming. YAWN. The idiot father deserved what he got.

  • Noodly1

    I have three children, ages 20, 15, and 2.5 yrs., so this isn’t just a hypothetical question for me anymore; I’ve already had to deal with it twice and will have it to deal with once more yet.

    My approach has always been to ensure that my children receive religious education so that they are fully aware of a subject I can but hope they will ultimately reject (so far,so good–the eldest is an atheist and the middle child is on the fence), but education does not mean indoctrination.

    The author, in this case, screwed up totally. First by enrolling his child in a religious preschool and then by being less than honest about how he feels on the subject. As a PP has already suggested, if the child came home parroting homophobia or racist propaganda, surely the author would not have had any problem being honest and directing his child back towards reason and logic? Why should the subject of religion be any different?

    Instead of the mealymouthed approach he chose, he could have taken the opportunity to have a little history lesson (age-appropriate, of course) on the world’s major religions and compare and contrast their tenets. Again, in an age-appropriate manner. Doing this would have given both the author and his child a good foundation on which to build a solid religious education as the years go by.

    And then he should have yanked the kid out of the preschool program before things got any more out of hand. Sorry, but I was born, raised, and currently live in a “midsize North Carolina city” and there are tons of secular preschools in the area. Granted, most of them are twice the cost of the church ones, but hey, you get what you pay for!

  • Unlike Andrew, I see no problem telling your son what you think — especially if someone else is brainwashing him! If you feel guilty about it, you could add, as Laura did, a “You’re allowed to believe whatever you want.”

    I couldn’t agree more with this. Why do some non-believing parents feel they need to say almost nothing about their own beliefs in order to let their kid make their own decision? Parents need to tell their kids what they themselves believe and the advice about saying “You can believe whatever you want” is excellent advice. It is only “you MUST / Should believe” that equals indoctrination not merely sharing your own opinions and what you have come to believe is true. In fact, it is your parental duty to share what you sincerely believe to be a truth about a matter in the face of an untruth told to your child in my opinion.

  • A quick thank you to Hemant for providing this forum, and to everyone who has commented so far. I’m looking forward to more, and I will do my best to provide thoughtful responses later today. In the meantime, you can learn more about me and my book at

  • Roxane

    When my daughter asked, “Mommy, who’s Jesus?” I launched into my prepared schpiel about this guy who lived a long time ago and was a teacher and philosopher, and how a lot of people think he is god, or part of god, but I think that’s probably not true.

    She looked at me for a minute and finally said, “Oh. I thought he was Erica’s boyfriend. She’s always singing ‘Jesus Loves Me.'”

    It helps to know the context of the question!

  • Alice

    I think it’s unfair to pass judgement on someone based on an account like this. It’s easy to say he should have been more aggressive in determining what those schools were teaching his little kid, but these sorts of situations are always more complicated than they seem. I do find it alarming that the boy was being indoctrinated by his school at the age of three. I think it was very responsible of him to keep the kid home for a while.

  • Lukas

    I don’t understand this. I agree that it is bad to indoctrinate children, but by not telling them what you personally believe, you are simply letting other people indoctrinate them. They are kids. They don’t understand that adults aren’t always right. If you don’t explain to them exactly what is going on, including that you personally don’t believe in god, and why you don’t believe in god, they will believe whatever some other adult person tells them about religion.

    You don’t have to be so tolerant of other people’s faiths as to accept your own kid’s faith. Your kid doesn’t have “a faith”, he simply accepts that everything an adult tells him is true.

    As a kid, it took me a hell of a long time to figure out that adults didn’t know everything. When people told me that god was real, I accepted it. Not because it made sense to me, and not because I had faith like an adult has, but simply because I assumed that adults had evidence for their statements that I couldn’t see, the same way they had evidence when they said (as an example) that the roman empire used to rule Europe. The two statements “god created you” and “the roman empire used to rule Europe” were equally valid to me. Adults told me so, presumably they had evidence for that statements, so it’s true.

    You are doing your kids a disservice by “accepting their faith” and by not telling them what is really going on.

  • Lauren

    I too, agree with Benjamin. I live in a HIGHLY Christian community, and although we are an atheist household, my children (ages 5 and 6) are now coming home asking about church and heaven and the like from playtime with the neighborhood kids. The Christian parents have no problem with blind indoctrination…whereas brainwashing is not my style, I certainly have no problem discussing my husbands’ and my worldview with my children to act as a ballast with all of the other fables they are hearing from their playmates. I have discussed religion vs. science and what it means to be an atheist and how “mommy and daddy think its important to have proof before you accept something as truth.” However, it is done in the context of “this is what mommy and daddy value”, NOT “THIS IS HOW IT IS”, and you are doomed to spend eternity in hellfire if you dare disagree. My eldest is entranced by science, and my youngest is starting in as well. Hopefully this continues.

  • Nakor

    I think the best answer was given a couple weeks back by Richard:

    I think you need to stop being passive and get very clear on where you stand with your daughter’s upbringing, and then assertively take that stand. Firstly, if you are going to keep her in that school, then take full responsibility for the fact that she is learning to believe their beliefs. Then appropriately for her age, start being honest and frank with her that you don’t share those beliefs. If you want her to become a person who makes thoughtful choices, then first you have to show her what those choices are. Saying only evasive things like “that’s what most people believe” without offering your own view and how you came to it is not giving her any guidance in how to make wise choices, and it is not modeling honesty.

    I personally think that stance is the best. The religious school is actively attempting to indoctrinate your child into their belief system. It’s pretty important to equally actively let your child know that you think they are wrong. Let your child know that it’s a fairy tale, just like Cinderella and all the others.

    Later on they’ll have understanding of what religion really is, and can make their own decisions, but for now the moral choice is to keep them religion-free, because it would do nothing but cloud their minds at that age. Don’t allow them to be raised under the terrible notion that faith is more valuable than reason, because that notion not only prevents one from thinking objectively about religion, it can seep into other avenues of fundamentalist thought too.

    Of all the terrible things religion has done and continues to do, I think the indoctrination of children—from the extremists to the most moderate of moderates—is the worst, because it passes on all the problems faith-over-reason thinking causes to the next generation under the false guise of good, moral education.

  • So thank you again to everyone who has commented so far. I thought I should weigh in and try to respond to a few of the points you’ve raised. Perhaps that will spur more discussion.

    I should first point out that this particular excerpt is from the very beginning of the book, and as such is just the starting point of a process of thinking about and exploring whether or not religion had a place in my life or my family’s. So what you’ve read here is not the whole story. A number of you feel I was naive to think that my son would not come home from a church-based pre-school with new ideas about the world, and you’re right, although I think that was also a function of my own ambivalence about religion. I was not a committed atheist, and thus I wasn’t convinced that limited exposure to Christian ideas was a bad thing. But as the excerpt shows, I wasn’t really prepared for what came next.
    Several of you go further and say that by putting my son in a church-based pre-school I was allowing my son to be indoctrinated. Sorry, but I don’t think 30 minutes a week of Christian stories constitutes brainwashing. Perhaps, as Fritz says, this was just the “thin tip of the wedge.” But I tend to think it was like a lot of the religion we experience in our society, which is to say not in actuality threatening to atheists and agnostics, but important to be able to process and understand and put into context. To me this was not the same as him coming home saying that men are superior than women or homosexuals are bad people or some other piece of repellent nonsense that I would quickly refute.

    I know that many parents tell their children that all religion is indoctrination — and some with good reason based on their own negative experiences. But I wasn’t ready to do that. And over time, I realized that raising a non-believer wasn’t my job. It was raising a good kid who could think for himself.

  • Mark C.

    No, I don’t think he did the right thing. For one thing, think about social forces. If the kid sees that his parents are anxious, and if they aren’t being straight with him, that just gives even MORE power to those whose are performing the indoctrination — they are also adults, and they are pressuring all of this kid’s peers at the daycare to accept the same beliefs. Most other people in society are of the same persuasion, and that only adds to the already large amount of pressure from the aforementioned people. Right now (but not later, when the kid starts interacting with greater numbers of people), it’s a power struggle between two adults (the parents) and probably several adults in addition to child peers. The parents can’t seem squeamish if they don’t want to seem submissive. They need to be seen as strong by their child. At three years old, kids aren’t skeptical — they accept things adults say because they view adults as authorities on what they say. The stronger the adult seems in their eyes, the better, in my opinion.

    Secondly, if the parents believe it’s all just a fairytale, then it should DEFINITELY be treated just like any other fairtale, except that they should tell the kid that many people still, mistakenly, believe it to be true. If you would be straight with your kid on the existence of fairies, leprechauns, and the Slimy Winged Dog Thing of Pluto That Goes “Neigh”, then you should do the same for gods of any kind.

    Raise the tyke to be inquisitive and scientifically-minded. Even if you worry that the approach I advocate above is too much, it would theoretically be easier to convince a scientifically-minded skeptic of the existence of X than it would be to convince an emotionally-invested X-ist that their beliefs are baseless. Think about that: emotional investment makes persuasion much more difficult, and in the case of belief vs non-belief, only the side of the former really has any emotional investment. What I’m trying to say is that if the kid grows up believing the wrong thing, it’ll be much easier to convince him of the right thing if there’s no prior emotional attachment. Of course, this is all just a bonus. My main thrust in this paragraph is that the kid should be raised to be scientifically-minded.

  • Mark C.

    Note: I started my above post before Andrew submitted his.

  • NV

    I went to a Lutheran school from 4th until 8th grade as a non-Lutheran. If you’re going to put your children in a Methodist school, be prepared to live like a Methodist for the entirety of his/her enrollment. For 4 years my parents stopped going to their Congregational church and went to the Lutheran church.
    I had to go to the school’s church every Sunday and write a report about what I learned every Monday. It was their way of making sure we went and paid attention. We had “Religion” class and were all in the handbell choir. It was a great experience for me, but it isn’t for everyone. My parents, while Christian, also made sure to tell 9 yr old me that there are other options out there, and I understood.
    I think the best way is to know what your kid can handle. Every child is different. Also, every denomination of Christianity is different. Just be aware that they will learn things that you may find repellent very very soon.

  • Madalyn

    From this excerpt, his hasn’t handled it correctly in my opinion. My daughter is about to hit this age and I have thought a lot about it. Whether you are an atheist or simply ambivalent about religion, you have to be prepared for these questions especially if your child has religious influences. I plan to raise her with a “question everything” mindset (even though I realize that will make the teenage years more difficult). In addition, I will give her the scientific answers to her questions from why the sky is blue to god. Science has answers for the “question everything” minded person.

  • Heidi

    I am becoming seriously alarmed at the number of otherwise rational parents who are sending their kids to Indoctrination World. Even if it doesn’t cause any lasting harm to the child, you’re financially supporting religion. How can you feel good about that? Aren’t there better places for you to spend your money? Reality-based places?

  • Lukas

    >And over time, I realized that raising a non-believer
    >wasn’t my job.

    I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that it is. What people *are* saying is that it is your job to be honest with your kid. And yes, 30 minutes a week of indoctrination is still indoctrination. Kids can’t discern between things for which we have objective evidence, and things that adults simply *believe* to be true. To a kid, the stories told in bible class are as true as the things he hears in biology class. Kids don’t have the framework required to figure out the difference.

    It’s not your job to indoctrinate your kids into atheism, but it *is* your job to give your kids the framework they need to understand the difference between things that adults believe because they have scientific evidence, and things that adults believe because they have faith.

  • SickoftheUS

    I lost sympathy for Andrew Park’s plight when he wrote that he views organized religion and organized labor similarly.


  • Guy Allen


    Ask them if they have met Jesus. They will say no. And then-

    You: “What do we call people that we have not met?”

    Child: “Stranger?”

    You: “That’s right. Jesus is a stranger. And do we talk to strangers?”

    Child: “No.”

    You: “Good job. Until you meet Jesus he is a stranger and you should not listen to him. Remember, stranger rhymes with…?”

    Child: “Danger.”

    You: “Good job. Now let’s get some ice cream. Speaking of ice cream, your teacher says that Jesus doesn’t allow ice cream in heaven.”

  • Omphaloskeptic

    I went to a lutheran school for 4 years from kindergarten through 3rd grade, and my brother went to this school for 3 years. I’m in my late 20’s now, and I had a discussion concerning religious indoctrination with my mother recently that was a bit of an eye-opener for us both. She is a christian and all, but she never realized what all stuff went on there.

    For instance, I had a problem with urinary infections when I was a kid because my mom gave me tons of bubble baths and didn’t know any better. So I had to go to the bathroom a lot, and it was really painful to try to hold it in. I asked teachers to go to the bathroom more than usual, about every hour. In that school, you only had one main teacher most of the day, and they taught several different subjects. I had the same teacher for 2nd and 3rd grade, and that teacher got tired of me needing to be excused for the bathroom more classes than not, and started refusing to let me go. Thus began a cycle of peeing my pants in class right in my desk, being publicly humiliated and made the butt of constant jokes, and to add insult to injury, I’d be marched down to the principal’s office, where he would call my mom to come bring me extra clothes. So I’d sit there for a couple hours waiting for my mom to show up in pee-soaked clothes in the hallway getting sneered at by everyone who passed, and then I’d get in trouble if I missed a homework assignment.

    The funny thing is, my mom remembers bringing me clothes, and the principal telling her I needed more discipline, but that’s about it.

    I remember the humiliation, and my teacher telling me in front of my whole class that if I wasn’t faking it and doing it for attention, then I should pray to Jesus to last through the class.

    Mom never knew that during the Wed. church services the entire school was made to attend for 3 hours from morning to lunch, that the kids who couldn’t sit still for that long or the rare bad kid who didn’t think he should have to go to church in school, would be sent to the principal’s office given punishment. The standard punishment for any kid who interrupted, questioned in whatever was considered to be a rude way, or rerfused to participate in any religious teachings or ceremonies or prayer times, was detention and extra work, usually in the form of extra bible verses to memorize and having to write these verses (about being bad and punishment and you’ll go to hell if you don’t reform, those type of verses).

    My mom also never knew that one time for our annual “bring a friend to school” day, we had to tell the teacher who we were planning on bringing, for lunch preparation purposes etc., and I said I was bringing my neighbor and best friend David. My teacher started asking me why we were friends, and if we were ever left alone together, and if I realized that the bible warns against opposite sexes becoming too close as friends (which confused the crap out of me at that age) and I mentioned that in my neighborhood we are all friends, the girls, boys, the black family, the chinese family, the farmers with the horses at the end of the lane we feed carrots to…. and my teacher then asked if David was “like us.” I said I thought his parents were baptist, but we don’t really ever talk about god. That wasn’t what she meant, and I don’t remember how she worded it but she wanted to know if he was white. I said he’s black. She then told me I was not allowed to bring that friend to school, and later gave me bible verses & excerpts from our school pastors’ sermons to copy hundreds of times concerning men and womens’ roles in relation to eachother, as punishment for other unrelated offenses.

    My father went to a catholic school run by nuns when he was a kid and was vehemently against letting me ever go to a strictly religious school like he did. My parents chose a very progressive, supposedly close to secular school to send me to. Parents were told their kids had the option to not go to the church services, or to be silent when we prayed.

    This was simply not true, and very few small children know enough about their own rights to stand up for them. I took most things my teachers said at face value. It wouldn’t have occurred to me or many of my classmates to tell our parents. I KNEW that the things I did wrong or thought wrong WERE wrong unequivically because god said so, and I was many times too ashamed or too afraid of additional punishment at home to admit many of these things to my parents. I didn’t know that they were given a separate line from what we were given.

    That conversation with my mom was great, because even though she’s a christian (one of the wishy washy doesn’t believe the bible literally types), she started thinking about how she may have been indoctrinated on some bad things when SHE was a kid… and she apologized for ever sending me there. The main reason I’d gone was because of their (deservedly) excellent phonics program and higher academic scores.

    I type too much. But my point is, that you might be having this conversation with your kids one day. Think about it.

  • Omphaloskeptic

    The other thing to take into consideration, is that other kids in religious schools can make your child feel unworthy and evil much much more than any teacher can. Once you’re deemed a “bad” kid for any reason, you’re permanently stuck there, because bad deeds are evil, and you have the devil’s influence upon you. Try dealing with recesses or extracurricular activities/sports where adults who keep some semblance of peace are not there every moment, once you’re on the receiving end of the evil stick. It’s brutal.

    Not all religious/private schools should be lumped in the same basket, but they all have the potential for abuse.

  • Nakor

    And over time, I realized that raising a non-believer wasn’t my job. It was raising a good kid who could think for himself.

    I would argue that you cannot differentiate the two at such an early age. First, really young children aren’t very capable of critical/sceptical thought. In fact, the only sceptical thought they can really manage is what their parents specifically tell them to be sceptical about (strangers, for example) — and even then they aren’t always. Their minds are wired to learn from adults. Second, religion is a practice that trains people into thinking faith is a greater virtue than reason. This goes against thinking for one’s self.

    You do not have to raise a non-believer. But you do have to call out dogmatic thought where you see it. If your child is taught that Jesus died for our sins or that god created everyone, despite no evidence, you have to teach him/her that this isn’t truth, it’s just stories that some people listen to. Fairy tales, like Cinderella. Only when they’re old enough to be sceptical can they make decisions about religion while still thinking for themselves.

    Allowing children at that early, malleable age to believe in things that require faith over reason will train them to believe that in some cases blind faith is a greater virtue than reason. This is the worst aspect of religion, because it’s what leads to nearly all of the other problems religion causes.

  • I can understand, living in the Bible Belt as well, that there might not be many options for preschool that aren’t religious. But there are a few.

    For a rational adult to place his or her child in a church preschool is silly. Of course he’s going to come home churchy. Of course he’s going to begin believing the lies these people tell.

    Especially if the parent is in on the lie. When my daughter, who is fifteen, tell me she believes in god I am actively lying to her if I don’t tell her what I think. so was the parent in the excerpt. You lied to your son, sir, when you didn’t tell him the truth about your perspective.

  • Steven

    I make an effort to answer my kid’s questions as fully as I can (and with the help of the web that’s pretty fully!). Whether they want to know why animals eat each other or how thunder happens I tell them whatever I can remember from science class or glean from google. This has a couple of benefits – they’re well-informed and they are learning to seek answers on their own.
    I was reasonably diplomatic when the “God question” came up by conceding that some people believe in the whole business but I made it clear that due to a complete lack of evidence I am not one of them. I was deeply troubled when my five year-old was told by her grandma that God is real and later admitted to her mom that she is “scared of God”. I think she sees him as some cosmic bogeyman who is spying on her all of the time. Her eight year-old sister has firmly asserted that she doesn’t believe – partly to soothe her little sister’s fears I’m sure.
    I’m not about to spill the beans on Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy but my girls deserve the truth about God. He isn’t real and he’s nothing of which to be afraid – some of his followers are, of course, a different story.

  • Claudia

    Did Andrew handle the situation correctly? What would you do if you were in his place?

    Not quite. Its great that they want to keep his curiosity going and that they don’t want to impose non-belief in god on their son, but as parents they also have a responsability to not only steer him towards rational thought but away from irrational thought. If they refuse to share their own opinions with their son they can be sure others will not be so idealistic, and what seems endearing now may not seem so much so when your son asks if the hindu kid down the street is going to burn in hell, or if uncle Peter is a bad person because he’s gay.

    In all things, we should treat concepts in groups according to their merit. Science and history should be treated with respect and children should be encouraged to take an interest in both. Fanciful tales, be they about tooth fairies or Jesus, should be treated as such. Certainly tell your son that many people take such things seriously and he should never disrespect anyone, but also that there is no proof for these things (in an age appropriate manner).

  • – Hey, did you know that God made us?

    He paused, but there was no answer.

    – And when we die, we go back to Him?

    His voice rose expectantly at the end of his question in anticipation of an awestruck response, but once again, none came.

    – Isn’t that so cool?

    Nope, not cool. Not cool at all. He’s already been brainwashed into believing in a god and an afterlife, and he’s only three years old. I don’t think I was even aware of such things until I was at least seven, and I certainly never believed in them.

    I’m looking forward to reading Andrew’s book, and I realize this was only the prologue, but I would recommend being a lot firmer and more proactive in these situations. If your son came home talking about the devil, you would tell him that the devil is imaginary, right? So why should God be any different? Because God is “nice?” Despite the warm-fuzzy preschool version, the biblical deity is not at all nice, and God/heaven and Satan/hell are two sides of the same coin.

  • Madalyn

    You: “Good job. Now let’s get some ice cream. Speaking of ice cream, your teacher says that Jesus doesn’t allow ice cream in heaven.”

    ^^Hahahahahahaha, nice one Allen.

  • Answer a question with the truth. Some people do believe in Jesus. Some believe in Vishnu. Some people don’t believe in things like that and your parents are those sort of people.

  • What IS it with all these atheists/skeptics sending their children to religious schools? Of COURSE the children will be subject to some level of indoctrination. The clue is in the schools’ names. So when confronted with said indoctrination the response is to remain as neutral and passive as possible? The least a parent could be is prepared to answer the kid’s inevitable questions upon willfully placing him in such an environment.

    Children need their parents’ explicit instruction, active guidance, and zealous championing. They are not opportunities to demonstrate atheist tolerance, especially in their vulnerable, formative years, because they don’t grow up in intellectual vacuums.

    It’s one thing not to know what a child might endure at a religious school. But it’s unconscionable to know AND leave them unprepared and unscripted for the religious onslaught, however benign it may begin.

  • CJ :)

    I don’t understand where the surprise came from. You put a kid in a religious school and they are going to come home spouting religion at some point.

    I also don’t understand why raising a kid ranks a book. I raised two and gave them the benefit of my mind and then cut them loose. They will be what they will be and it isn’t up to me. I have no more right to brainwash my kids than organized religion or communism or conservatism or libertarianism or anything. My responsibility was to provide them with the information to make an informed decision then to get the hell out of the way.

  • bunnyslipperz

    I just wanted to add that I used to be a Sunday school teacher and was on my way to becoming a full-time children’s pastor. Anyone who thinks that a “little” sunday school lesson is benign is sadly mistaken. The lessons are planned and formulated to hammer into children’s heads the Christain message. Like learning any lesson with repetition, familiarity and fun all specially designed with children in mind.

    It makes me sick to my stomach now to think that I had a part in that. But for those who think its “harmless” because its for children or that its “only” a half an hour is sadly mistaken. They are designed to get ‘the message’ into children’s head and told that it is the absolute truth and anyone who says any different is ‘not of god’ and that it would make Jesus sad (sort of like in Peter Pan if you say out loud you don’t believe in fairies one will die) and the child shouldn’t listen to them. Even if its their own parents.

    I mean would a Christian let an Atheist tell their children that God is not real? Of course not, nor should anyone be indoctrinating anyone else’s children. Of course in this situation, sending a child to a church run day care, the parents should not be surprised that their children’s day included ‘religious education’. But sadly in a lot of places, parents just don’t have the choice of being able to send their children anywhere else. That is why I stress, educate your own children in religion first, before someone else does. Because they won’t give your child a chance to make their own decision, they will tell them what to believe and they will tell them its the 100% truth.

  • Danny

    For the most part I think he handled it well. With a kid that young I can imagine that explaining anything, especially religion, is extremely difficult.

  • Trace

    Oh man, what happened to my very thoughful answer? 😉

  • Trace

    Anyway, I kind of agree with Dr. Monkey, except for the “idiot father” part.

  • Noodly1

    All things considered, I feel the author can take solace in the fact that many of those responding today were raised in religious households and, yet, here we are. As CJ has already suggested, it takes a lot of effort to really fuck up a kid. Do the best you can, and hope for the best, is really all you can do.

  • Lynaka

    I get so very tired when parents say they will “let their child decide” about their eventual beliefs. Umm, no, religious parents don’t let their children decide so why should I allow my child to go down a path that is completely false and against my own beliefs? Would I be disappointed if my son came home and told me he had become a born-again? Damn rights I would! And I’d call him an idiot to his face. Hence, I have a 15 year old son who is as atheist as I’ve raised him to be. Does he know about world religions? As much as he has to in order to defend his own lack of belief. What if he had decided to continue believing in Santa Claus long after all the other kids? Would I just say that it was his decision? Please. Stop being so passive in your own atheism when it comes to raising your children. We do not want them to make a decision about becoming religious or not. We DON’T want them to be religious and we should teach them why. End of story.
    Also, in my opinion, to keep a child in a religously based preschool is only asking for problems later. Nothing like having to undo damage after the fact.

  • Rebecca

    I’d love to meet Andrew, since our son is entering his second year at a Methodist preschool in Raleigh, and the experience has been so similar.

    I think some of those posting really have not considered the differences between evangelical Christianity and traditional mainline Protestantism. My son’s preschool staff is fully aware that our family does not believe in God, and there are other secular families there as well. They are open that the curriculum includes some Christian themes, but they don’t teach anything about hell, Satan, any Bible stories that are even remotely violent or scary, etc. It’s Noah’s Ark and occasional talk about God.

    There have certainly been awkward moments, and we are more forthcoming in our responses than Andrew was at that moment. But we were also raised Christian, and Andrew was not.

    In any case, we use it as an opportunity to talk about how different people believe different things. Every person gets to decide what makes sense to them. And it’s ok to believe different things today than you do next year.

    We have taken him to all kinds of churches, when he began to ask why we don’t go to church. He’s been to a Sheik temple, a Coptic church, a Unitarian church, and others. We were careful about the places we took him–not to places where he’d hear about hellfire, obviously. But he knows there are all sorts of different kinds of churches, some are more boring than others, and the people who go to church don’t get to go play at the park on pretty spring Sunday mornings. 😉

    We have talked about whether God is “real” like you and me or “pretend” like the three little pigs, and how could you know for sure?

    My son, age three, said, “Well, you could ask someone, like your teacher or your dad.” And I said, “But what if one says real and one says pretend?” And he says, “Well, then one of them must be mistaken… but they’re not usually mistaken, so that’s a problem.” So he’s already realized that the argument from authority is not reliable. We talk about what kind of tests you might be able to do, to see if there is a God who can hear you.

    Sometimes we just enjoy the things he comes up with. In December, I asked him what an angel was. He said, “They’re kind of like birds. But no beaks.” I asked, “Where do they live?” and he said, “I’m pretty sure they make nests in the forest.” And then my husband chimed in with, “You know what you call really tiny angels? Fairies.”

    But when I look at the crafts that come home, talk to him about his day, etc., there is very little that is specifically Christian anyway.

    I think people don’t need to be so afraid of liberal Christianity in small (even authoritative) doses, as long as you keep the dialogue open and you keep tabs on what they’re learning.

    I guess the bottom line is that I trust my kids to think about this logically. They’re not stupid. They are not going to be brainwashed into a lifetime of Christian service because they sang “The Superman Blessing” to the tune of that musical score before a snack.

    And there’s a difference between “indoctrination” and education: the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.

    That would include atheist parents who so ridicule religion in front of their children that they deny those children the opportunity to truly investigate it. They cannot critically examine theism without considering the possibility of it being true, and it will be hard for them to do so if they inwardly hear their parents saying, “You’re stupid if you believe that.”

  • A Portlander

    Did Andrew handle the situation correctly?

    HELLS no.

    I get deeply angry when I hear parents say things like “I didn’t want to stifle his thoughts” about toddlers, as though children were fated to blossom naturally into perfectly-adjusted, creative-yet-rational thinkers if only the adult world would stay out of their way. BULLSHIT. Children are curious little natural mimics who are adapted to believe whatever an adult authority figure tells them, and if you don’t provide them with a framework to climb toward your eventual hopes for their future beliefs and abilities, every religious person you know is lying in wait to do it for you.

    Andrew screwed the pooch, and it may or may not already be too late for his son too fight off the infection they’ve exposed him to. And what does he get for his toothless faitheism? A fracking book deal.

    What would I have done in his place?

    Mainly, I wouldn’t have entrusted my flesh and blood to a church.

    Failing that, I would have invented some reason for the child to not attend school on “Chapel Chat” days. I would have fabricated an important family occasion or enrolled the boy in a once-a-week extracurricular activity, wreathing the affair in plausible deniability should his absence at chapel come into question.

    In the big picture, I would have started early warning the child about how there are grownups who never learned the difference between fairy tales and the real world, that there are more of “them” than there are of “us”, and that the real world isn’t as full of wishes-come-true and happy endings as the fairy tales, but that the truth is WAY cooler than fiction.

  • David W

    I think he handled it pretty well. I teach safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults to ambulance crews, and one of the techniques we teach is asking non-leading questions which sufficiently establish the facts so that the professional can respond appropriately. His initial response – based on insufficient information – was one of panic, but finding out more resolved that anxiety. And I think it needs to be treated in a similar way: some forms of proselytization of children *are* abuse (using the fear of hell, for example, in order to gain compliance or to psychologically manipulate someone).

    My nephew (7) has been exposed to a similar environment, although he’s a bit older and it’s part of his primary education. Whilst his mum and dad have responded by offering alternative viewpoints (such as “well, some people believe that, but not everyone does”), I have taken the approach of teaching him critical thinking and basic philosophy and about evolution – in short, I think nature abhors a vacuum and I’m ensuring he doesn’t have a vacuum to fall back on. Obviously, he doesn’t realise he’s getting an education, he just thinks he’s having cool interesting chats or games with the *coolest* uncle going (we often build Lego together so we have a chance to talk about things in a nice informal setting doing something we both love).

    However, I think both approaches are needed, and I would stress the need to educate the child so they have the skills to challenge the logic. However, that can’t really start at the age of 3, so I think it’s also important to let them know you will love them regardless. Truly unconditional love is something which cannot be on offer from people who divide the universe into us (the saved) and them (the damned), regardless of the paradoxical language they us.


  • Ben

    I agree with Lynaka. Raising a child to value science and reason over faith and ignorance certainly is your job as parent. If you decide to sit on the sideline while the opposition is kicking goal after goal, you are not doing your children justice. All you’re doing is letting them come to accept faith a reasonable response to the unknown.

    And that, in my opinion, is destructive to them really making up their own mind.

    No, I think you have tell your kids what you believe. Tell them why you believe it, and why there is no good reason to believe in god. If you have logic and reason on your side, there is no reason you shouldn’t counter the misinformation you are getting from them. So long as you can back up what you say, even if that means saying “I don’t know, but there’s no absolutely no reason to think god did it”, then you’re justified in it.

    I think many atheists are submitting to the notion that people have to make up their own mind on religion and that we need to avoid, at all costs, leading our children either way. Reality is not just a matter of opinion, and there is no harm, and a lot of good, coming from telling them the truth as we know it.

    Think of it no differently than if they came home and said that the light in the sky came from a big light-globe suspended above the ground. I think your would find that by telling them it’s not a light-globe but a giant ball of fire millions of kilometres away is not killing their “childish wonder”, but given them something to find even more wonderful: the real world.

  • Murphy

    I have been recently introduced to “Friendly Atheists” and have been following the dialogue about the book, “Between a Church and a Hard Place.” I have been an agnostic since 3rd grade in Catholic schools and I am now well past retirement years. Judging from some of the comments I’ve read, I’m not finding this blog to be a particularly “friendly” place. Comments like “Indoctrination World” and “Brainwashing” and “fighting off the infection they’ve exposed him to” are simply pejorative comments. It occurred to me that born-agains and atheists have a lot in common. Either extreme to me seems pompous, smug, self-congratulatory and leaves no room for doubt. Even in the world of science, there is room for doubt and a shocking lack of absolutes. Leave a small place in your lives for wonder.Otherwise, the world is no longer in color.

  • Chuck

    The great thing about the blogosphere is, it’s just like God. If you don’t look for it, it doesn’t exist.

  • Lynaka

    “That would include atheist parents who so ridicule religion in front of their children that they deny those children the opportunity to truly investigate it. They cannot critically examine theism without considering the possibility of it being true, and it will be hard for them to do so if they inwardly hear their parents saying, “You’re stupid if you believe that.” – Rebecca

    But as an atheist I do believe that, that’s the point. I don’t want my son to believe in an imaginary man in the sky. I don’t go around letting him decide what parts of science and reasoning are “wrong” or “questionable.” They’re not other than when new scientific information tweaks a former hypothesis. Religion doesn’t get that “out” in my home. Theism can be critically examined from a historical perspective but not as any sort of reality or truth. My son won’t feel the need to “investigate” anything to do with religion because he will understand the complete falsehood that it is. He won’t ever “need” religion to answer personal or philisophical questions; to lean on in false hope of having his wants met by an imaginary man with useless prayer.

    Ultimately, if I “know” that the earth circles the sun, I’m not about to teach him that there are others who once questioned that belief and he should take the time to “investigate” that truth. I know there is no god. End of story. Child gets taught the same. No namby-pamby.

  • Staceyjw

    I want a book!I’m 32 wks pregnant, I could use a distraction 🙂

    That said, I agree with everything Lynaka says. If religion is false, I don’t see the value in teaching otherwise. Being passive about important things like your belief system is asking for trouble.

    Andrew wasn’t the same type of atheist I am, so his response was fine for his family (and would be WAY WRONG in mine).

    My husband always says that the whole xtianity concept when learned early, is a hard one to shake, even when you know better. It often interferes with your thinking in ways that most people don’t notice.This is why people feel its like a virus, and don’t want their kids infected by it.

  • Suzanne

    I faced this when my daughter, now 12, was around 4. I told her what I believe, that God was invented by humans to explain the world around them at a time when we had no science. But I also tried to explain what religious people believe in a non-judgemental way. Oddly, explaining it that way made it sound even more ridiculous than it would have explaining it in a mocking way.

  • I don’t believe in Santa, the tooth fairy or the Easter Bunny. I don’t believe in unicorns, fairies or leprechauns. I don’t believe in trolls, goblins or monsters who live in the bath and eat your toes. I’m happy to use all these imaginary things in my parenting. The way I use these things tells my children that I don’t believe in them though I’ve never actually sat down and told them that I don’t.

    God is almost exactly the same as Santa. The only difference is that Santa wears red pyjamas and has elves serving him and God wear a sheet and has angels serving him. My kids rejected Santa before they were eight years old. They lost their imaginary friends but they played along with the Tooth Fairy because they got cold hard cash as a result.

    It is fine to play along with the stories as long as the stories are in the proper context. If someone actually tried to get my child to believe in Trolls who live under bridges and eat people then they have a serious problem.

    These people who teach preschool at the Methodist church have a problem. Talk to them about it and if they won’t change then put the kid in a different school or keep him at home. That is assuming that the son isn’t mature enough to separate reality from fantasy.

  • Guy Allen

    I like to watch swallows fly around eating bugs. They’re like really well-made paper airplanes. I’m 35. I still have wonder. I don’t say, “Wow, God is an awesome swallow designer.” I say, “Wow, they’re so cool,” and leave it at that. I could imagine the slow road it took to eventually arrive at their slick aerodynamics, and that would be interesting, but at least I don’t sit there and think that they just appeared on the Earth that way 6,000 years ago. How boring. What a complete lack of wonder.

    And I could guess the evolutionary path of the swallow and confirm it by reading a book on swallows. How validating! How confirmatory! Praise science! Praise be to the hard-working ornithologists! How, dare I say it, wonderful.

    And then I notice a pigeon flying off with my sandwich. F’in pigeons, they’re rats with wings, y’know…

  • luz

    “I felt his wonder at the idea of a benevolent creator just waiting to welcome us back into His loving, secure embrace. I understood his comfort at the notion of a grand plan for our existence. When you put it that way, it is so cool. I’ve just never believed it.”
    I think one of the biggest problem parents have is the question of death and dying.
    My 5 year old watched the movie Up and was very distraught at the thought of dying.He cried because he does not want to die. It broke my heart. What do you say to a child afraid of death?I am an Atheist and even I wanted to tell him that he is going to a special place and when we all die,we are going to be a together. How do you tell a child that when you die … you just cease to exist?
    I dont want to lie, but then again the truth seems so harsh for a small child.
    I simply told him that we will die one day and if we are very lucky we will die at a nice old age.When he ask what happens when we die,I told him that no ones knows for sure.It is a mystery. He seems okay after that.
    I guess I lied after all.

  • They are open that the curriculum includes some Christian themes, but they don’t teach anything about hell, Satan, any Bible stories that are even remotely violent or scary, etc. It’s Noah’s Ark and occasional talk about God.

    See, this is part of the problem I have even with mainline Protestants like Methodists. In what universe in Noah’s Ark appropriate for preschoolers? You say they don’t teach anything violent or scary, but what do you call the biblical deity drowning the entire world, including innocent children and animals? In any other context, we would call that mass genocide. The fact that they think of it as a “nice story” really boggles my mind, and remember, these are the moderates we’re talking about!

    Even mild God talk at that age is “planting a seed.” They are trying to get the idea of a deity to seem normal and reasonable, and once that idea is successfully implanted in a child’s developing brain, it seems to be awfully hard to get rid of. Think of all the theists in the world who simply can’t comprehend not believing in a deity. Maybe atheist parents can counteract that indoctrination, but maybe they can’t. For that reason, I would hope to keep my child in as secular an environment as possible, at least until he or she reaches “the age of reason.”

    Comments like “Indoctrination World” and “Brainwashing” and “fighting off the infection they’ve exposed him to” are simply pejorative comments.

    I was one of the people who used the word “brainwashing,” and I think it’s an accurate term. What else do you call teaching a three-year-old that there’s a god and that he will go back to it when he dies? I didn’t find the scene of the little boy telling his baby sister this story wondrous. It has nothing to do with “wonder” to me. I found it immensely sad. Lying to children about death makes me very angry.

    My 5 year old watched the movie Up and was very distraught at the thought of dying.He cried because he does not want to die. It broke my heart. What do you say to a child afraid of death?I am an Atheist and even I wanted to tell him that he is going to a special place and when we all die,we are going to be a together. How do you tell a child that when you die … you just cease to exist?

    I think you just have to be honest. Am I the only person here who never believed in an afterlife? I was a perfectly happy child despite this knowledge, and despite the fact that I had had all four grandparents, a few family friends, and several pets die by the time I was eight years old. When I first heard about heaven (can’t remember where: in a cartoon? book? movie?), I figured it was just a story like all the other stories. To me, heaven was no different from Rainbow Land or Care-a-Lot.

    Death is sad and upsetting, but I don’t think you do your children any favors by lying to them about it. Let them know the truth. They can handle it. They sooner they come to terms with death, the better. Of course, little children really have no concept of their own mortality, so they will have to grapple with it eventually. However, maybe knowing the truth will save them existential angst or desperate searching for “answers.” As atheists, I’m sure we’d all like our children to avoid that.

  • mark

    content aside, if this intolerably verbose excerpt is indicative of the author’s general writing style, I deem the book flat-out unreadable. I nearly wanted to slit my wrists, while thinking, “get to the frigging point!”

  • Rebecca

    Actually now that I think about it, Noah’s Ark was off the list (though there is a boat-with-animals mural somewhere in the preschool) because it was too violent. The director has outright said, “There really are very very few Bible stories that are appropriate for children.”

    The difference between considering the possibility of God’s existence and that of Santa is that a large number of adults in this day and age actually believe in God. That means, sooner or later, every person has to look at the issue for themselves and question the evidence. Consider questions like, “If it were true, what would the world look like?”

    I don’t know what you’re all so afraid of. If I’d known a SINGLE intelligent person who didn’t believe in God, when I was growing up, I would have actually entertained the possibility. Long before I was in my 20s.

    God is not a compelling explanation, and yes, I trust that my kids will figure that out. I’ll certainly argue my case, as they have more questions, but I hope they will push back and consider both sides. I think one is perfectly rational and the other is clearly superstition. If they feel free to question, and free to believe what makes sense, they’re unlikely to choose God.

  • Simon

    Luz I wouldn’t worry about saying no one knows about Death. Some discussions are best left to less emotional moments.

    But it is worth telling kids early that growing (very!) old is hard, and that people wear out. Most kids don’t have a problem with this, especially as for most of them it is a long way away.

    I’ve come to terms with death, it is just dying badly that worries me now.

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