Handling Children Who Are Not Atheists April 10, 2011

Handling Children Who Are Not Atheists

If you’re an atheist parent, how do you raise your children? With no religion? With exposure to religion? Would you be ok with it if they gravitated toward religion early in life?

We’ve already seen books that discuss questions like these, but M. Anton Mikicic has a new book to add to the mix. It’s called god is redundant and it’s essentially an introduction into atheism for his daughters — not to indoctrinate them, but to explain to them what his worldview is.

Here’s an excerpt from the conclusion of the book:

I wrote this book for my kids. Not to indoctrinate them into my worldview, but to make sure they understand that whether or not to practice a religion is their choice. I want my daughters to know it’s perfectly acceptable to doubt, to question, to wonder why. To say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t think so” is to tell the truth. And after all, it wouldn’t be very courageous or honest of me to remain silent about my opinions on religion to my own children, would it?

If my kids decide they don’t want to practice a religion when they grow up, that’s fine with me. They’d be in very good company among all the freethinkers I’ve quoted throughout this book. If, on the other hand, they do decide to practice religion, well that will have to be fine too.

What advice do I have for my kids? Educate yourselves! As Bertrand Russell said, “What we need is not the will to believe, but the will to find out.” I do think one of the vices of religion is it teaches you to be satisfied with not understanding. As Augustine said, “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try to discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.” But as Mark Twain said, “When you know a man’s religious complexion, you now what sort of religious books he reads when he wants some more light, and what sort of books he avoids, lest by accident he gets more light than he wants.”

My hope for my kids is that they’re happy and confident, free to explore the diversity of life, and to discover the things they love the most. For me, that’s the two of them, their mom, and the things we do together as a family like traveling to new places, enjoying nature, or just discussing what we learned today over one of mom’s fabulous dinners. I also love our hobbies like the arts, especially music. I hope my kids remember that their common sense is their own authority, and that they’re free, moral agents. Being human is not inherently sinful at all. Life’s quite a fantastic journey if you lighten up and let yourself enjoy it. As Oscar Wilde said, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

For those of you whose children became religious despite their upbringing, how did you handle it? What did you say to them? Were you honestly ok with it? Angry? Frustrated? Did you (or do you still) have debates/arguments over who’s more correct?

Leave your thoughts in the comments and one random reader will win a free copy of Mikicic’s book! (To “enter” the contest, just make sure the word “shark” appears at the end of your comment. I’ll email you next week if you’re the winner.)

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  • Well, my daughter is only three, so I can’t speak to your questions. But the book looks really interesting. Thanks!

  • Wendy

    Oh I’m having this problem right.now. And I’m totally lost. My daughter is 6 and we live in a small-ish town outside Dallas. So my daughter’s BFF goes to Wednesday night church and so mine goes with (I think she sees it more as playtime. But she’s starting to assimilate it more and more so I have no idea how to counteract it.

    I’ll be really interested in the comments

  • AJ

    I’ve taken my children to a Unitarian Universalist church since they were small. They have learned about many religions (Humanism included) and I feel it’s all been for the good. I encourage my children to ask questions and to expect answers to their questions.

    My 15yo flip flops back and forth between calling himself a Christian (mainly peer pressure, I think) and calling himself an Agnostic. Either way I will support his decision. My 11yo says that he only believes in the Greek gods, and I support that too.

  • Gordon

    I’d no more send a child to church than send them swimming in a sewage treatment plant. They’d bring a stink home either way.

    The church will have no interest in letting the child decide for themselves. They will present their “truth” as fact.


  • gaybio

    My partner and I always talk about the possibility of adoption after we finally graduate college. We’re both atheist, and gay, and you can imagine that even though we’re both still college students, the idea of raising children in a loving community that won’t judge our child for being raised by gay atheists is hard to come by. Even more worrying is that our child will find religion and reject us later in life.

    I suppose that’s just a risk you take? We both agreed indoctrination of any kind isn’t a preferred way to raise a child, nor does it work. So of course it’s easy for this author to be able to accept his daughter’s uptake of religion–him and his wife are still married and following God’s plan in a similar manner.

    @Wendy – my younger sister is a natural skeptic and freethinker, and she goes to the Catholic youthgroups simply because her friends do as well. I keep telling myself that when she leaves high school she’ll leave religion too.

  • I was raised in a non-religious household. We were allowed to examine religion as we liked.

    My sister became religious. It is hard to tell how it affected my parents’ dealings with her because she also started behaving badly- messing up in school, hanging with a bad crowd, engaging in risky behavior, leaving home and getting pregnant- at exactly the same time. So I think they didn’t even comment on her teenage conversion although, at times, I heard them speculate that maybe it made her feel free to do anything she wanted because she felt she wasn’t accountable to anyone but God.

  • Kim

    Our child went to Catholic pre-school for two years. He is now 5 and still loves telling his school friends all about God. My husband I deeply regret sending him to school there, we are still trying to figure out the best way to deal with this. We are both Athiest. I don’t have a problem with him learning about religion and will accept his choice. Today he is going with his Grandmother to her church, which is Uunitarian universalist. I think that will be a good thing for him to hear/learn about other ideas since he has only been exposed to one thing. This book may be very helpful for us!

  • Wendy

    Gordon, if I deny church from her, I’m no better than my parents who forced me to go until I left the house. They HAS to be a middle ground. I just try to deprogram her as best I can when she gets home

  • Religious culture has no compunction against coming after children, trying to expose them to their belief system and indoctrinate them.

    Early on we need to explain to our children that adults don’t always know what is true and sometimes believe in things for cultural reasons.  Expose them to a wide variety of different belief systems and talk how people do so many different things – open the dialog for questions about how we know which things are true and which are just part of culture.

    I never tried to teach my child what to believe but how to ask questions, how to find answers, how to think about problems, and how to recognize fallacious or false arguments.

  • i was raised without religion. i went thru a phase; the neighbors asked me if i wanted to go to church with them one summer when i was young. i said yes because i felt ‘special’ to have been asked. i went for a couple of weeks. i was totally bored. the pastor was boring, sunday school was silly, nobody could sing but they still did, a lot. i stopped going when regular school started up again. it all felt complete fake, and i never caught “the spirit.”

    later in life, i got into some wicca stuff for a minute, and i’ve come to appreciate the Black church, for the music. but here in the middle of my life, i can say that my atheist parents did a good job; no pressure, i was free to make up my own mind. i did; i’m a militant atheist with experience dabbling in the faux woo of religion, confident that i have made the right choice.

  • Jamssx

    This is an issue I have already started to think about. I’m atheist (I was brought up CoE so believing in god was optional – cake or death as Eddie Izzard says) and my wife Unitarian (brought up Lutheran but still likes to think there is a god). We have twin daughters that are now 6 months old. We have already agreed that they can believe what they want and that “Mummy believes in a god but Daddy doesn’t”. I also think that things like the basic holiday festivities like Christmas are so secular that there is no harm in Father Christmas or chocolate Easter eggs (I’m a HUGE fan of Cadbury eggs). Why are they any different to say Halloween which of course also started as a religious “holiday”? (A social christian as Dawkins puts it.) I think a parent does have responsibility to teach their kids about religions and to try to guide them away from bad habits in just the same way one would about say smoking. But once they are old enough to make their own choices ultimately it’s up to them. That’s not to say you can’t express an opinion to them though.

    I think it can be summed up like this :- I see no difference between religious belief and say political belief in that my kids can believe what they want but I am free to tell them I think they’re wrong (and why) for believing in it.


  • Lost In The Bible Belt

    When my daughter was a child, I tried to expose and teach her about all of the major religions. I feel it was only right to give her the information and let her decide when she was old enough. This “learning” process went well into the upper teen years. I can now say that I am the proud mother of an atheist who made up her own mind using facts, observation, and her own sensibility.

  • eds3284

    This seems like it will be a wonderful book. I wish everyone would take the time to read it. I’ve always been in the pursuit of knowledge even when i still believed in god as a child. I knew something wasn’t right with the whole idea of the bible and all the crazy fairy tales it told. I really really wish more kids wold open up and ask questions, get involved in different things and have the experience to say whether or not they want to practice one religion or none.

    …. Shark.

  • Rich Wilson

    My son is 4, but we sometimes discuss what’s real and what’s fiction. Ghosts and monsters are cool and fun, but they’re in stories and movies. I simply plan to keep that in mind when we get to Noah’s Ark. I have to admit I’ve been avoiding that story, but we have a growing collection of Jan Brett books. It occurred to me, why should I avoid the Flood Myth any more than the Owl and the Pussycat myth?

    Richard Dawkins has said that he’s working on a kids’ book.

    His open letter to his daughter is a good start.

  • Drakk

    Okay, I’m not a parent, I’m 18 and throwing off the last of my muslim indoctrination. I realise I’m not the best qualified to give advice, but if I could have chosen how I was brought up…

    I would have wanted to learn about religion, not to learn religion. I would have liked to have been given a translated Koran, not been taught to read Arabic letters without any meaning attached. This was probably a factor in my breaking free from Islam – all of it was just something that never had any significance whatsoever.

    That said, if I had been Christian and otherwise everything was the same…I don’t think I would have wanted to have gone to a church. I would want to learn about Christianity in an objective, factual manner just like anything else.

    Wendy – church as a whole, with all its preaching and brainwashing and authoritariansim may not be the best thing to do. Of course there is nothing wrong with teaching your kid about religion, but leaving them open to brainwashing is not part of that.

    Maybe if you told your daughter “This is what some of those people actually believe” and point out some of the more ridiculous aspects of said beliefs, it’ll help to “deprogram” as you say.

  • Ash

    I grew up in a UU home where I was allowed to explore religion any way I chose. I was never tempted by the Abrahamic faiths, but I did get into occultism pretty big. So, although I was essentially atheistic, I also accepted a lot of New Age woo. It took about 15 years to deconvert from all that and become a naturalist.

    My son is now only 20 months, but my wife and I have already thought about his future and how we’ll approach religion. I will love him no matter what, but I feel a strong urge to protect him from religion. I think there are three ways to do this:

    1) Provide an example. Let him know that his mother and I are naturalists/atheists and that we are as happy and fulfilled as any theist.

    2) Teach critical thinking and reason. Help him develop a skeptical orientation and the ability to tolerate not knowing when an answer isn’t available.

    3) Encourage a wonder of the natural world and also explain how the mind works. My own education in psychology is what deconverted me, so I’m hoping that might inoculate him.

  • Sarah

    My nine year old is very interested in Christianity. I think she likes the idea of an afterlife. She is currently reading the Bible and asking lots of questions about it, and we talk about it. She is quite aware that I am not religious and I have no intention of being so. She also likes a lot of Buddhist ideas (from her aunt’s influence) and she is interested in why Judaism was frowned upon during the Holocaust. She has said many times that she would like to study history when she is older, and having a stable view of religion is helpful for that. I think I would be doing her a disservice if I tried to stop her exploration. I think having a good understanding of many religions allows a child to choose if they wish, and reject if they don’t. I just fill in the gaps and holes of religion with truth and respect.

  • Raven

    My daughter is now 21. While she was growing up, sometimes I took her to church because that is what my husband wanted. I also had her in a Baptist summer camp because it was the best summer camp in town. I didn’t push atheism, but I did tell her (when she asked) that I did not believe at all, and that people throughout history believed in different gods and no gods. When she was little she thought she was Catholic, but as it turned out she didn’t even understand that “Catholic” was a religion. She just assumed that she was Catholic the same way she is a Floridian. Later she explored religion, going to church with friends; but she was very turned off by the pressure to join the church from the “youth group leaders” coupled with their inability to answer her questions. Today she has no belief in any god, but she does desperately want to believe in an after-life. She witnessed her very best friend killed in an auto accident, and I think she just needs to believe her friend is still around. I understand her need for that comfort, but I worry what the same non-critical thinking could lead to. I love my daughter and would continue to love her even if she decided to believe in a god. But I have to admit that I don’t want her to because I genuinely don’t understand how anyone can believe. It seems like such a major self-deception/delusion to me, and I don’t want that for her.

    jump the shark

  • All 3 of my kids became atheists, but when they expressed an interest in going to church with friends, they went. I hate it when parents try to make their kids into carbon copies of them–that’s not good parenting. If I’d ended up with a fanatical Christian, we’d have found a way to talk.

  • derek

    This is something that I have thought about much lately. The motto that we shouldn’t teach our kids what to think, but rather how to think. Having said that, I would definitely present my children (if I have any – only 21) with what I think about the world. Although I wouldn’t present it as the absolute truth and the only way to look at the world as my parents did to me.


  • I don’t have children yet, but I was raised in a secular family. My parents never commented on religion either way, and I never started believing in any deities. Indeed, I spent most of my childhood simply assuming that other people were also atheists, although I didn’t know there was a word for it. I just considered it being normal. I was never interested in religion in anything other than a sociological way, so I can’t speak to the seduction of religion that some children of atheists might be attracted to, but I plan on keeping my children’s early childhoods as secular as possible. Inevitably, they will hear about the biblical deity from their friends or from television or books or movies, and at at that point, I will begin to teach them about both modern and ancient religions.

    I want my children to know about all world religions and mythological traditions. I want them to know about all the deities that humanity has invented. I want them to know about polytheism, animism, and deism. I don’t want them thinking that Western monotheism (and the biblical deity) is somehow unique or special or more likely to be true than other beliefs from other cultures. If they express interest, then I am not opposed to taking them to experience a wide variety of religious services at the appropriate age.

    Gordon, if I deny church from her, I’m no better than my parents who forced me to go until I left the house. They HAS to be a middle ground. I just try to deprogram her as best I can when she gets home.

    Wendy, are you joking? This is your child. You get to make the decisions about what she’s exposed to. You sent her to an indoctrination center and then you’re surprised when she comes home indoctrinated? If you’re wondering how to counteract it, stop letting her go to indoctrination sessions at her friend’s church! Teach her about all the gods and goddesses that humanity has believed in since the beginning of time, and tell her that there’s no reason to believe that one of them is true while the others aren’t. Comparative religion and differing god-concepts should (hopefully) counteract some of the damaging information she’s already received.

  • paigefett23

    My son is 4. I’m giving him what I had; the chance to educate himself whenever possible about any religon, but instilling in him that he gets to make his own choice. This worked out for me as my mother was a science freak and so was I. He already knows all the planets in the solar system and we are working on other things such as the human body and different organs and how they function. I hope this early introduction to science encourages him to go the logical route, but I would accept whatever he chooses. Though, I would not let him go to church at this age as all they focus on is telling children what to believe. It’s a bit difficult because my in-laws are all baptist christian and they try to constantly counteract me…anyone else have to deal with this?

  • Patrick

    My only worry about letting kids go to church is summed up in this joke, which I will now tell badly:

    Two kids make a cake together. One kid says to the other, “We have both made this cake together, so we should share the cake 50/50.”

    The other child replies, “No, you get no cake. It all goes to me.”

    The first says, “That’s not fair!” to which the second responds, “Tough.”

    “Lets… get an adult,” the first suggests. “A grown up would know what to do.”

    They go to their mother, who listens to their points of view, and then pontificates: “One of you wants to share the cake evenly. The other wants to take all of the cake for himself. Its best if you compromise. Give him 75% of the cake.”

    If the moral position is to tell the child what you believe, but let him know that its ok to listen to other people and even believe them instead, then it seems like you should only let your child go to a church that believes in the same rules.

  • My daughter (of “people monkeys” fame from Charlie’s Playhouse) has started referring to herself as an atheist. Because she’s only 9, it seems hasty to me — As someone who shares Dawkins’ concerns about non-indoctrination, we’ve been attending UU services for years.

    I have to agree with @Ash’s three points above: don’t be shy about your own beliefs, teach them to think critically (especially about the dangers of confirmation bias), and show them LOTS of Nova specials. The rest takes care of itself.

    I’d add a #4: Be prepared to describe why some theistic beliefs appeal to people. This way they’re less likely to be disarmed by someone who tries to proselytize them.

    And it also protects them from being eaten by a shark.

  • Gaybio,

    We’re both atheist, and gay, and you can imagine that even though we’re both still college students, the idea of raising children in a loving community that won’t judge our child for being raised by gay atheists is hard to come by. Even more worrying is that our child will find religion and reject us later in life.

    Come to the San Francisco Bay Area! I was raised by two secular moms and didn’t have any problems growing up as an atheist here. Of course, there’s homophobia no matter where you live, but this is definitely one of the most accepting places in the country. There are plenty of same-sex families, too, so your children will have a supportive peer group. Oh, and if it helps, I know many grown children of lesbian moms and gay dads, and I don’t know of anyone who was raised in an out-and-proud home and later went on to find religion and reject their family of origin. If you raise children in a diverse, loving, supportive environment, I can’t imagine that conservative, homophobic churches will have any appeal to them. Even if they are attracted to religion later in life, there are plenty of accepting faiths to choose from.

  • Karen

    My boys (now 18 and 22) were raised without religion. We attended a UU church briefly when they were preschoolers (we were in the process of de-converting ourselves, and were searching for community).

    They are both atheists, though one much more outspokenly than the other. We live in a semi-rural part of the mid-west, so all their friends are Christian (and most of them very conservative/fundamentalist). We have had lots of talks over the years about religion and what people believe and why, and about why we don’t believe.

    I think the single best thing we did was teach critical thinking and skepticism in general — teaching it as an approach to all claims, not just to religious ones. It helps develop a habit of how to think about things. My older son went through a period as a young teen when he was somewhat interested in the occult. He desperately but sheepishly wanted a deck of tarot cards, assuring us he knew it didn’t really work, but wanted to play around with it. So of course we got him a deck. He dropped the interest after a few weeks.

    I do worry at times that their lack of religion has perhaps made dating life harder for them, as we know almost no non-believers, and the Christians we know would not date outside their religion. My oldest has his first serious girlfriend, nominally Catholic but not very serious about it, and I’m already worried about how this is going to play out!


  • kate C.

    My parents are doing plenty to introduce my kids to religion. And my older daughter (4) loves going to church with them. So far the reason we don’t go to church hasn’t exactly come up. We’ll see what happens down the road. If they end up religious… well, I think it’s fairly unlikely but it’s not like I’ll disown them or anything! 🙂 I think this book would be interesting to read as my kids get older though – shark

  • Chrissy

    I’m not a parent yet so I guess I’m “unqualified” but to those parents worried about their kids going to church/being Christians at a young age, I wouldn’t worry too much. Kids are easily influenced. I was raised Catholic – church every Sunday, CCD (Catholic school) every Monday night, I wasn’t really big into youth groups, but I did attend some “teen” church services here and there. And now, here I am, an atheist. I like to think that I was always an atheist, because even though I was raised Catholic, I can’t remember ever believing in God any more than I believed in Santa. I believed until I was about 9…and then it just became routine. Once I was older and able to think more critically, I realized that I never really believed in religion, it was just something I grew up with. When your kid reaches 15-16, then you can take their religious beliefs more seriously. But for now, keep doing what you’re doing. Let them experience what they want, but use your parental influence!

  • Michelle

    We are both (parents) atheists, but after moving to a very conservative town in the Midwest we felt it would be beneficial to let my son get more experience with religion than we could provide. We also chose the UU church. It feels like cheating because he is presented with a multitude of faiths, as well as humanism and just plain atheism, all in one place.
    It turns out we rather enjoy the social aspects and learning about all the other religions too. If he did decide to choose a faith like the ones we see represented there I could totally handle that. It might result in a little teasing, but no more than dying his hair red would. If he decided to become deeply involved in a very orthodox church and was underage we would intervene.
    On a side note; for someone brought up in an Assemblies of God church there is a bit of perverse pleasure in hearing about Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Greek gods et. al right alongside Christian Mythology (in those terms) at church.

  • inmyhead

    I was raised without religion too, and like others my mom allowed me and encouraged me learn more about religion and go to church with my friends. I mainly went with them to check out cute boys and to hang out with them at church slumber parties and things. My children are only almost 5 and are just now starting to ask questions about church and decorations at christmas. I will answer their questions as they grow and allow them to go with their very christian grandparents (my inlaws) if they want to. I want them to be educated and to learn as many world view them selves. I grew up fine, I never thought Easter as a religious holiday, it was always a celebration of spring in my house hold and that is what I teach my boys now. They same with christmas and so on. I do get in trouble with my husband when I mention zombie jesus at easter. I am not allowed to say those two words around the twins because they may say it to the in laws. blal bla bla. ;D what ever. It would be awesome.

    I would love to read this book and others because my boys are getting bigger and asking questions. I need to get Dan Barker’s books too. Thanks. I love reading how other parents deal with this topics. Is there a paerent forum??

  • I write about this topic quite a bit, as I’m a father with an 8 year old son and a 6 year old daughter.

    This is what I tell them: God is an imaginary friend many people have. Those people do not know God is not real. Do not tell them or they may get very angry.

    Exposing your kids to God at a young age is like exposing them to lead paint chips – a needless risk.

  • Hi Hemant,

    I’ve got a boy and a girl (12 and 10, respectively). They know that I’m an atheist, and I have shared with them why. But I’ve always told them that if they want, they can surely go to services. My son is very jealous of his personal time, and hasn’t wanted to be involved in yet another activity. Both my kids take acting/theater lessons at a community theatre as well as take music lessons. My daughter is also in scouting. My suggestion is that you keep your kids busy doing fulfilling and interesting things such that if they ever decide to go to church, they probably won’t be exposed to something that is more fulfilling than what they already do. I imagine that most religious services will be extremely boring for preteens (we’ll have to see if later any of their friends try to get them involved in religious youth group activities). That being said, I think my explanations that were given for my atheism have left enough of an impression on them that they know that they shouldn’t accept everything they hear at face value, and should really think about the things that others tell them with absolute conviction. My son has had a couple of existential moments, considering the anihilation of death. That’s the sticky part. Religionists have it so easy when they can simply say that there will be life after death. I tell my son that he has a long life ahead of him, and it’s what you make it. Try to live in the present every moment.

  • inmyhead

    @andrew, I kinda like that…and I my house has lead pain. oops. At least we don’t have god. 😀

  • Lucas

    I just don’t want to have children. I don’t want to be somehow responsible for another person’s worldview.

    I’ll just get a vasectomy. Maybe my testicles will be bitten off by a


  • dauntless

    I don’t really have anything to add to the discussion, except to say the excerpt from that book you quoted is absolutely dreadful! The man has no voice of his own. That third paragraph in particular is quite bad. He’s simply stating quote after quote, rapid fire, without a good lead-in for each quote.

  • Natalie Sera

    Just for a change of pace, I was brought up Jewish, and do have a strong Jewish identity, just as Hemant has an Indian identity. I raised my son in the Jewish temple, because I wanted him to have a Jewish identity too. Which I think he does. But when he decided he was an atheist, it was fine with me, because it’s his life, and his choice. I have become more and more agnostic over the years, as my mother did before me, and my brother beside me; I just can’t say there is no god, because I simply don’t know. I encourage all to be honest with themselves, and be true to what your heart knows, and fully support freedom of and from religion. Be well!

  • AxeGrrl

    “Leave your thoughts in the comments and one random reader will win a free copy of Mikicic’s book”

    are you teasing us Hemant?

    did you forget to add the usual “only US citizens are eligible” disclaimer or are you finally offering something open to all of us? 🙂

    (Hemant says: I’m not sure! It’s more expensive to ship out of the country so the default is the US, but leave Shark in the comment and if you win, we’ll try to get you the book!)

  • Steve


    I don’t know of anyone who was raised in an out-and-proud home and later went on to find religion and reject their family of origin.

    There is a story of a daughter of lesbians falling in with the Quiverfull cult of all things:

    It does have a happy end though – after many years. You can find the other parts in the right-hand “NQL Stories” column under “Laura’s Story”

    I’m not a parent, but I generally agree with the “let them learn about religions” idea. Don’t indoctrinate them into anything, but teach them about the general ideas and teachings that people tend to have. And the history and development of certain religions.

  • Lee

    Since my recent realization that I no longer believed, I’ve had many discussions of this sort with my still-believing wife. We have four kids, the oldest being ten. I’m a fan of the idea that my kids should be religiously literate — about many different belief systems — and my wife agrees.

    This book does look interesting. I’m sure many will find it helpful. Shark.

  • Wendy

    @ Anna yes I am her parent. I am NOT her dictator. She lives IN TEXAS. She’s already exposed to religion. For me to forbid it would do nothing but make her want to go. If we were back home in California, it wouldn’t be an issue. In Texas???? Whole ‘nother issue. 🙂

  • Oldguyatheist

    too late…
    I didn’t deconvert until after raising three kids within evangelical Christianity. One repudiated it as a teenager. For another it’s a non-issue. And the third is still outwardly drinking the Kool-Aid. My problem is that grandpa (the closet atheist) is watched like a hawk when interacting with grandkids lest he cast doubt on anything they’re being told. But that’s unnecessary since I would never betray my children’s trust by contradicting their parenting. The course of action I take with grandkids is to use every opportunity to teach and drill the skills of critical thinking. There are lots of opportunities for this with schoolwork, books, media and current events. I believe that if they learn critical thinking, it’s only a matter of time before they apply that skill to religion. Moreover critical thinking cannot be criticized by family members because to do so would be to expose religion’s major weakness – lack of credible evidence.

  • Richard P.

    I have two kids. I became atheist before I even new there was a word for it. I didn’t sit down with the bible, read it and discover it was bullshit. I became an atheist because after years of involvement in the church, I realized if there was a god there was no fucking way it would be anything remotely close to what religions taught it was.

    So, when I had kids I just new it was bullshit. That’s what I told my kids. I said check it out if you want, but if you really want to know the truth, you will find out it is bullshit too.
    Instead of worrying about my kids getting involved with religion, I taught my kids how to think. I challenged them, I forced them to figure things out on their own.

    I argued with my kids all the time. I also tried to get them to do stupid things all the time. Eventually they learned to suspect anything that seemed odd. They learned critical thinking because they never new for sure if I was trying to kill them or not. My kids learned to be come skeptics because they had too. Once, while doing some camping I tried to get my son to cross a gully on this old log. He looked at me and asked if I was trying to kill him. I said, only if your silly enough to fall for it. They learned to respect their own judgments and that respect is to be earned through actions not through position.

    The outcome of my wonderful parenting skills were my daughter, who at 6 believed in god, at 17, when I asked her, laughed and said no way, it’s just a way for people to control others. My son at 16 became a christian for a while. It was a peer pressure, fitting in thing. Three years later he said, You know dad, it is all bullshit isn’t it.

    When I found out my son became a christian I watched in fascination. I knew that his critical thinking skills and experiences would serve him well. The few conversations we had about it, each time left me giddy with joy, watching him wrestle with the inconsistency of what he knew of the world. Then almost three years to the day, I heard the words, it’s all bullshit isn’t it?. yeah, it was a pretty good show.
    I believe that the last thing our job as parents is, is to protect them. Our jobs as parents is to teach our kids to navigate the world. We should be throwing them into danger and challenges. Exposing them to as many things as possible and teaching them to see the dangers and give them the experience to navigate them. A childs job is to learn. We learn from experience and from the mistakes made along the way. So, make them, make lots of them. Let them touch the hot stove. Let them fall off the chair, let them get lost in the store, tell them to go play in traffic. If your child has the confidence and the thinking skills, to look at you, the parent, the ultimate in authority, and call your bullshit, then your kids will eat the godbots for lunch.


  • Wendy,

    @ Anna yes I am her parent. I am NOT her dictator. She lives IN TEXAS. She’s already exposed to religion. For me to forbid it would do nothing but make her want to go. If we were back home in California, it wouldn’t be an issue. In Texas???? Whole ‘nother issue.

    But this is a six-year-old child. I’m confused why you think you would be a dictator if you refused to allow your six-year-old to be indoctrinated. There’s a difference between normal exposure and outright indoctrination. In Texas, I know it’s impossible to prevent your child from being exposed to religious ideas, but you do not have to let her be indoctrinated by a group of adults whose sole mission is to present their religious ideas as fact. The power is yours. You’re not a dictator by denying your child’s requests to go to church. You’re her parent. It’s up to you to decide what is appropriate and what isn’t. She’s six. Why are you abdicating your responsibility for her upbringing? If she wants to hang out with her friend, what’s wrong with playdates? What’s wrong with getting together on weekends? What’s wrong with other organized activities, like Girl Scouts or dance class or soccer?

    She’s your child and it’s ultimately your choice, but I think it’s absolutely insane to complain about having to deprogram her and counteract the indoctrination when you are sending her into the lion’s den to begin with. You don’t have to do that. It may be Texas, but you still have freedom of religion. You are in charge of deciding what is appropriate for your daughter. Do you think Hindu and Muslim and Jewish parents in your small town allow their children to go to Christian churches? I bet they don’t, and you shouldn’t feel forced to do so either.


    There is a story of a daughter of lesbians falling in with the Quiverfull cult of all things:

    Yikes! I hadn’t heard that story before. Thank goodness she found her way out of it. It sounds like it was fear of death that first started her on her journey. I’ve actually always been interested in the Quiverfull movement from a sociological standpoint, but my reaction to the teachings is complete shock and horror. I’ve never understood the emotional appeal of Christianity, but I suppose that paralyzing fear of mortality is one way to get started down that road.

  • Halley

    I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but me and my girlfriend intend to adopt when we get out of college. We’re both atheists and have discussed the idea of taking our kids to different churches to let them see what it’s like, so it’s not like a forbidden fruit. But I’m not sure we could find a church that was the best representation of the faith that was also welcoming to lesbians, so we might just teach them about them at home. With other young children I’ve been around I’ve been very honest about not knowing for sure and not believing, and some bible stories make fantastic bed time fairy tales, although most are too violent.


  • Peter Mahoney

    I think that Patrick makes a great point.

    I have seen MANY atheists who want to give their children a NEUTRAL view of religion (“I won’t tell them my own opinion, lest I bias them, so instead I’ll just educate them about what people believe”).

    Then the kids get exposed to religion which does NOT present a balanced view, but instead presents the kids with a scam that has been honed for centuries to prey on unprepared minds. Even adults can fall prey to cults, why would we expect a kid to be immune?

    Atheist parents can debate whether to ‘forbid’ their kids from going to church/temple/mosque, but a more basic problem is that many atheist parents fail to tell their kids why religions are phony, scams, silly, unbelievable, etc. Then tell kids to see if the evidence supports one conclusion or another.


  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    I’m pretty much in the let the kids believe what they will camp. I would not be disappointed in a religious kid anymore than I would be disappointed in a gay kid. Kids should live and believe in the manner that’s best for them as long as they aren’t positively harming other people, and they are in the best position to figure out what’s best for them.

    Of course, it doesn’t hurt if your kid has a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, either.

  • Rieux

    I’ve seen Unitarian Universalism come up a number of times on this thread; I, too, was a UU for several years.

    In parts of the U.S. in which the general religious milieu is both conservative and pervasive, the local UU church can be the most skeptical, secular community in existence—and even in less god-soaked parts of the country, there are atheist-friendly UU congregations to be found.

    All that said, I would strongly caution atheist parents who hope to raise confident, skeptical kids that UUism is not always a great idea. Within the national UU power structure, as well as within a very large number of local congregations, there is a frighteningly large amount of hatred directed toward overt atheism, as well as a whole lot of uncritical favoritism toward (generally liberal, if not hippy-dippy) forms of religion. The Richard Dawkinses, Christopher Hitchenses and Sam Harrises of the world—as well as the many thousands of us who broadly agree with them—are attacked unmercifully from hundreds of UU pulpits on a very regular basis.

    Children in UU religious education are frequently given a picture of human religion that is skewed heavily toward favorable pictures of major religions, at the cost of ignoring nonbelief entirely, treating it as an “or you could reject all of these nice Neighboring Faiths” afterthought, or attacking it as another evil form of fundamentalism. The very notion of criticizing religion—except for fundamentalism—is overwhelmingly treated as a form of bigotry.

    The religious privilege that keeps religion in power in the United States is alive and well within the Unitarian Universalist Association. If you’re going to send your kids to UU R.E., I would urge you to keep a very careful eye on what they are being taught. All too possibly, the church is telling them horrendous things about you and about anyone else who is so benighted as to reject religion entirely.

    Looking at the religious aspects of many intergroup conflicts, at the violence carried out by zealots in the name of religion, some people conclude that the world would be safer “religion-free.” They may even try living this way themselves. But too often they only practice a form of self-delusion. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human spirit. As C.S. Lewis said, the opposite of a belief in God is not a belief in nothing; it is a belief in anything. Sweep the demon of religion out the door and, like the story in the Gospels, you may only succeed in making room for an evil spirit worse than the first—this one accompanied by seven friends (Luke 11:24-26; Matt. 12:43-45). Zealous atheism can perform this role of demonic pseudoreligion.


    One cost of avoiding religion altogether may be spiritual isolation. Too often today couples are already socially isolated. … Having raised their children in a spiritual vacuum, apart from any religious discussion or community, committed secularists are sometimes shocked when their offspring suddenly join a high-demand cult or follow a seductive guru. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the human spirit. The lure of the various isms, though hardly unknown to religious people, may be even more intense for those who avoid religion.

    – UU Rev. and national UU Association President (1993-2001) John A. Buehrens, in A Chosen Faith, published by the UUA’s Beacon Press and billed as “the classic introduction to Unitarian Universalism”

    Life is a miracle that can’t be explained without explaining it away. Our most profound encounters lead inexorably from the rational to the transrational realm.

    Many leading scientists are far ahead of us in this regard. Some recent discoveries in physics and cosmology make no apparent sense according to known canons of rationality. Probing the mysteries of the universe and the mind, researchers on the cutting edge of knowledge find themselves moving freely between the rational and transrational realms. Where does that leave the poor camp followers, who believe in science but don’t embrace mystery? Having traded God for truth, they are left with neither.

    – Rev. Forrest Church, “Universalism: A Theology for the 21st Century,” UU World national magazine, November/December 2001)

    Who are these people who still think that it’s special and unique to reject traditional images of the Deity? Are they the same guys who sit with me at weddings and let drop the bomb that they respect what I do [as a UU minster] but, rilly, they’re “spiritual but not religious??” “That’s fascinating and special, dear,” I tell them. “But I’d love it so much if we could conclude this conversation right this minute and you’d go fetch me another cocktail.”


    For an atheist to expect CHURCHES to pander to the a-theistic search for truth and meaning is like hiring a dental hygenist with no arms to do your cleaning, and expecting her to do a good job of it.

    – UU Rev. Victoria “Peacebang” Weinstein, nationally published and prize-winning UU minister

  • My son just turned three. He doesn’t know a thing about religion yet, although he can positively identify Buddha. My husband and I are now talking about trying to get him to say “Cthulhu.”

    Joking aside, I plan to tell him all I know about religion in general and any specific religions with which I have experience. I hope he’ll avoid cults just like I hope he avoids drug addiction and dangerous sexual behavior. But if he wants to explore religion safely and rationally, I’ll encourage him. I’ll even advise him on the matter (whether he wants me to or not).


  • annette

    It’s tough.
    When my family left Christianity (Southern, Baptist style), I swore I’d never let my kids to go any church again.
    We’re still holding to that. . sort of. My daughter was invited to AWANA here in our new town. I let her go. She knows what her Daddy and I . . .er, don’t believe (we’re atheists), and at 10, she’s claiming to be one too. (Though, as the poster above said, I have some concerns about that.) She came back, completely underwhelmed (she had very fond memories of her excellent AWANA program in our previous city. She had no interest in talking about Jesus or God or anything.
    I will encourage her to turn down visits to church, as her Daddy and I do because week after week of “visiting” is indoctrination, and a kid can’t avoid that. I became a Christian as a kid by being taken to church by unbelieving parents. Weird.

  • Pax

    Thank you for posting this question. My fiance and I have discussed the same thing since we know we’ll want kids one day, but we aren’t sure what would be the best way to introduce kids to the concept of religion without an indoctrination to one.
    I look forward to seeing what everyone has to say.


  • ThereIsNoSpoon

    I’m all for aggressive indoctrination of critical thinking. No matter what kind of doublespeak you want to put to it, “Faith” is believing something because you want to and not because it is true or real. Taking something on faith is closing your mind to every other possibility. I think it’s never too early to teach your kids HOW TO THINK, if not what to think. But there’s also plenty of atheist what-to-think you are perfectly justified and even obligated to tell them because they are REAL WORLD VERIFIABLE FACTS AND SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLES and should be told to your kids as such. You don’t say “Some people have the opinion that putting your hand on the stove will burn you”, you tell them that it will! You can also tell them that evolution is real and their church-going friend who says it isn’t is full of shit. AND YOU SHOULD! The religious have no respect for free will or a fair decision making process – they want to rope your kids in any way they can. Give your kids the tools they need to be smart about this, just like you would about drugs and sex.

  • Wendy

    Anna you don’t live here do you? I thought those same things before moving here. I could say no sure. But again I see that as what my parents did when they said no to me requesting NOT to go to church…yes even at a young age. I’m hoping that if I let her go she’ll get bored with it eventually

    I’ve spoken to the youth minister to find out his curriculum, I’ve listened to the pastor’s sermons. I’ve done my homework on this church. There is freedom of religion here but there is no escaping it. It will be a part of our lives somehow. 99.999999999999999% of her friends will be church goers. The best I can do is educate her at home on everything else. That’s what I need help with.

  • Well, Wendy, it’s your choice. It doesn’t seem like I can say anything on the subject to convince you. Since you seem bent on having your daughter attend this particular Christian church, I would hope you consider taking your daughter to other religious services to counteract the indoctrination she is receiving. I know it’s a small town, but there must be some non-Christian residents. In addition, books can be an excellent way to introduce other ways of thinking. At the very least, you should let her know that you think gods and goddesses are imaginary and that it’s okay not to believe what the adults are telling her at church.

  • Gordon

    I dont think you “deny” someone church by not sending them. Let them grow up without hooks being planted by the preachers.

    When they are older they can assess it.

    There’s a reason churches want kids to attend. They want the crazy stories to sink in while you are young and vulnerable.

  • Danielle

    I want to adopt when I’m around 30 years old (I’m 18 right now) and I plan to tell them my worldview, tell them that other people believe in different worldviews than I and to challenge their critical thinking skills.


  • Nessa

    My boys are still young, 5 and 7 years old, so we haven’t really tackled this problem yet. They both know that I do not believe in god, and they both tell me that they do. Not a specific god, just a generic god with a generic heaven, based on what they’ve seen on t.v. or read about in books. Later, when they start asking questions about specific gods/religions, we will do what we always do, discuss it together. If they want to start practicing a religion, I will support them, but I don’t see it happening. My boys are bright, they’ll figure it out eventually.


  • Robin Raianiemi

    I’ve never done the thing that could result in children, but I’d really like to read the book anyway. Looks really interesting to me.


  • Well, I’m in my 40s, I have no children, and I’m unlikely to in the future. Nevertheless, the question is still intriguing to me.

    I think I’d be very open about the socially detrimental aspects of religion to my children. I’d explain to them that most religions (particularly the Abrahamic ones) originated in ancient cultures and consequently, many forms of religion still carry the barbaric beliefs, oppressive practices, and irrational prejudices that originated in those cultures. I’d explain that many of these beliefs and prejudices are currently being used to actively hurt others who are different. I’d also explain that many religions try to convince people that they are corrupt, horrible creatures and that this denigration is coupled with ideas such as eternal hellfire and wrathful gods in a very deliberate attempt to manipulate people through fear an self-hatred.

    Baring these explanations, I believe they should be free to explore as they wish. Not all forms of religion indoctrinate people into being stupid, hateful, dogmatic robots. If they adopted one of these “milder” faiths, I’d be a little weirded out at first, but I’d mostly be OK with it. As long as they don’t become bigots, they can believe as they choose.

  • fiddler

    I now have a fundie daughter, and it saddens me. There really is no communication anymore.


  • Quidam

    I was born an atheist and I married a social (English) Christian. We emigrated to Canada but in the last six years she has joined a fundamentalist Baptist church. I pretty much ignored religion with my kids, but my wife pushed the kids towards religion. My two sons were old enough and skeptical enough to retain their rationality, but my daughter became a born again baptist and has chosen a religious college. What really bothered me was that my daughter did not discuss her decision in any way and simply asked me on Friday if I would come to her baptism on Sunday,

    My wife and I are now divorced and I worry a lot about my daughter who is getting a deficient education that will render her unemployable. My sons are graduating with degrees in CompSci and engineering.

    So my advice isn’t worth a lot. When the church gets its hooks into a vulnerable child with the cooperation of one parent they can and will wreck a family.

    Send in the Haventree Attack Shark

  • Stephen

    Looks like an excellent book. I will amazon it if I don’t win a copy here. Shark.

  • I just don’t get the difference between “introduction to” and “indoctrinate” in this quote, the parent-child power dynamic makes them essentially equal, especially in early life…

    ” it’s essentially an introduction into atheism for his daughters — not to indoctrinate them, but to explain to them what his worldview is.”

    I don’t think I need to remind this crowd that the greatest predictive factor for religious belief is the belief of the parents… whenever an atheist suggests that Christians are brainwashing or indoctrinating their children by passing on their beliefs, I’m going to point them to this thread. So thanks for that…

  • Gary Hummel

    My take on parenting without a god was to try and interest my daughters in seeing nature as far more amazing than any myth. I suppose Bill Nye was my inspiration for that. No need to address, much less denigrate religion as an explanation for the world.

    We live in the US bible belt, so socially, religion is always popping up. My best suggestion for them was to stay in the closet about being a non-theist. It is hard enough being a kid without being labeled “different”.

    So they sang in church choirs, went Christmas caroling and participated in other activities that would be described as sectarian.

    I suppose the theme I kept returning to was to value good friends and cut them some slack if they are caught up in religion. Their parents are probably behind most of the negative aspects of religion. It turned out that some of their friends’ religious beliefs were about a molecule deep. College wiped that away.

    Anyway, my two daughters that are in college and are critical thinkers. They also have religious and non-religious friends so that is about the best outcome I could have asked for.

  • I would definitely let my children (if I have any) be religious if they wanted to. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t argue with them about it, however. I would basically stress to my child HOW to argue, not WHAT to argue. If they want to be religious, that’s fine, but if they expect me to respect their beliefs, that’s a different question.

  • Annie

    My 12 year old is a much more vocal atheist than I am. That being said, I know kids often rebel against their parents. My husband and I joke about it often, and we hope if she needs to rebel, that she’ll just smoke pot and not become a baptist.


  • Michelle

    We are trying to raise children who are freethinkers. We don’t shelter them completely from religion, but we don’t send them to church programs either…they have been to church with my parents once, and have been to Christmas service to please extended family. But we work pretty hard at ensure that they don’t receive ongoing indoctrination in any religion…and we have regular discussions about science and evolution. 🙂


  • When I was 10, we had a next door neighbor who believed that invisible Jesus watched everything she did and spent all her time obsessing about what he would do about it. At the same time, my mother believed that invisible FBI video cameras watched everything she did and spent all her time obsessing about what they would do about it. My mother was labeled “paranoid schizophrenic” for her behavior and the lady next door was labeled “a good christian woman” for her behavior.

    I believe that as humans it is our duty to teach children factual and correct information to the best of our ability, as well as teaching them to think critically for themselves. It’s not enough to say “I’ve taught my child to think” and trust that they will figure out that religion is nonsense for themself. We need to teach them that religion is factually incorrect, and how and why it is harmful to believe in it.

    It’s a dangerous thing to just turn a child, even a child who believes they are an atheist, over to a church and trust that the child will be fine. I remember at age 12 I agreed to go “out to dinner” with a friend and his family, fundamentalist christians. They lied to me and to my father about their intent: they took me to church for an all evening high pressure conversion session. I was a highly precocious 12 year old with an IQ of 179 and extraordinarily strong sense of self and of reality. (This is not my own assessment, this was the assessment of court appointed psychiatrists from my parents’ divorce at that age.) And yet still I found it to be a very stressful experience and had a very difficult time standing up to a minister who had no problem with putting me on the spot in front of an entire congregation including my friends and denouncing me and my atheism as immoral.

    Christians will do anything to convert your child to their beliefs, to inflict upon your child their irrationality, their sexism, their homophobia, their self loathing, and so on. And if you voluntarily turn your child over to them for this indoctrination, your child will likely see it as an endorsement, or at least passive approval. Handing your child over to a church for religious education is setting your child up for a lifetime of the sort of BS and suffering that religion inflicts on people across the world.

    So no, I do NOT approve of atheists who let their kids go to church if they want to. Your parents made you go to church and you didn’t like it and so you don’t want to be like them? Tough. Your job as a parent is not to make your kids like your decisions. Your job is to make the best decisions for your kids that you can based on the information you have to work with. If your parents made you go to church, it’s because they believed it was the best thing for you. They were wrong, but it was based on their incorrect view of the world, that praying to the sky bully is more important than sanity. As an atheist you damned well know that religion is wrong and harmful, so you should be making the obvious choice for your child: to keep them out of it.

  • Maddie

    @ Wendy

    I live in Dallas!! I don’t know where you are at specifically but you sound like you could use some like minded friends! Join meetup.com and look up Dallas Brights Family Meetup (http://www.meetup.com/DallasBrights/) . We have members from all over DFW. There is also the North Dallas Church of Freethought if you are looking for a church atmosphere. Being an atheist in Texas, well…I know you need companionship!

  • Wendy,

    It sounds like you’ve done everything but actually gone to the church with your daughter. If that’s the case, I’d say that would be the next logical step.

  • Erik T

    I have a new 4 week old daughter (who is of course an atheist!) and an 8 year old stepson, whose life I’ve been involved in since he was 2. My wife is a christian and takes her son to church. In fact, today was our daughter’s first day at church, while I stayed home and streamed some Netflix. My wife and I had detailed discussions before we were married and agreed on a general protocol – she can always bring the kids to church with her, and I can always explain to them why I don’t go to church. They way I figure, church is an hour a week, and I’ve got 167 more hours each week to exert a positive, freethinking viewpoint.

    We have a vibrant and thriving atheist group here in Charlotte, and I’m one of the few in the group who can claim to be a lifelong atheist. But I’ve learned from all my friends in the group that education and natural smarts can easily overcome religion. I can provide my daughter a lifetime of education, and can only hope to have shared some good genes for intelligence as well. She may one day call herself a christian due to childhood churchgoing, but I also think she can overcome it simply by being a role model for someone who questions the world, values science, and always seeks more knowledge.

    My stepson is a different story, as I never feel quite as comfortable providing a directly opposite viewpoint to what his mom teaches. He’s just now starting to question my absence at church though, so hopefully it will lead to more questioning. Again, I think living a positive atheist, humanist lifestyle is the best way to fight indoctrination.

    I’m looking forward to reading this book, thanks for sharing Hemant. Shark!

  • Noodly1

    I am an “atheist” parent in that I have chosen to not indoctrinate my child into a religion. Because I have chosen *not* to indoctrinate him, does that mean I have indoctrinated him into atheism? I don’t think so, but there are those who would argue (vehemently) that I am no different than the religious parent.

    Of course, I beg to differ. I am not telling my child to believe something unbelievable simply because some other people told me it was believable and, therefore, I (and he) must believe it. I am not telling my child that if he questions me, and my belief (or lack thereof, obviously), he will spend eternity being miserable.

    In fact, I am not telling my child how he should live his life at all, because, quite frankly, I don’t have ANY answers, and I am merely feeling my way along, like all of the rest of us.

    What I *am* doing, though, is encouraging my child to question everything. Including me. And come to his own conclusions. If those conclusions lead him to religion, well, I will make a real attempt at respecting that(which isn’t to say understanding it). The important part is, of course, that he got there on his own. Without my influence. Or in spite of it. Either way.

  • Noodly1


  • Chris

    My 11 year-old son is surrounded socially by Christianity (We live in East Texas.) He is well aware that his Mom believes in God (in a deist sort of way) while his father does not. While we used to attend church on a semi-regular basis we rarely do so presently. I am not opposed to him investigating religion, and my wife and I try to honestly answer any and all questions he throws our way. If asked directly he says he leans towards my viewpoint, but he’s intelligent enough to fake luke-warm Christianity in social situations (at school, etc.) because of where we live.


  • I don’t have kids yet, but I plan to one day… I don’t think I’d want them in church services and whatnot before, say, junior high/middle school, but I do think that being exposed to religious ideas in order to understand the whole phenomenon would be in order. I suspect I’ve got years left to figure this stuff out, but I’d still love to take a look through this book.


  • Katherine

    If my husband and I have children, they will be exposed to religion. He’s an atheist too, but his family ranges from very Christian to crazy fundie Christian. We’re not going to cut his family from our lives, so there’s bound to be church in the lives of our offspring. All we can do is try to give some balance.

    We’ll teach our children about critical thinking, about using logic and reason to analyse what people say to them and encourage them to always ask questions. We’ll teach them about other religions–other Christian denominations as well as non-Christian beliefs. We’ll explain social and psychological causes and effects of religion, we’ll teach them the places where religion and reality don’t match up. In an age-appropriate way, of course.

    At the same time, we won’t lie to them. Not about Jesus, or Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. They won’t have a deprived childhood, they’ll just be aware that all of those presents came from mum and dad, not some fat guy in a suit who broke into our house while we slept. Because the last thing I want is to train my children to think I’m a liar. When it comes time to tell them their beloved Nannie’s god is imaginary, that could backfire in all sorts of ways.

    After all that, if they choose to be religious it’ll be disappointing but I won’t stop them.

  • Cindy

    If you teach a child to reason, they’ll think for a lifetime.

  • Infidel_Pixie

    I have an 11y/o going thru a “God crisis” now. when he asks any questions that are biblical in nature I often answer with ” Well, according to the bible…” then if he asks what I believe, I tell him honestly. We often has such discussions during dinner when his siblings (ages 6,4,and 20 months) are present. I have bought him a bible for him to read on his own so that he can make up his own mind. I try very hard not to push my beliefs on my kids and I hope they have the sense to make up their own minds,and I support any choice they make.

  • Sorry if I missed it somewhere in the string, but do those parents who allow their kids to attend church with family or friends attend with them? I’d want to “chaperone” to make sure Grandma didn’t spend the entire trip home telling Junior everything the man in the nice suit said is true and you have to believe it. I wouldn’t hand my son off to a believer (even family) and sleep in while he’s being indoctrinated. If I decide to allow him that kind of exposure, I’m damn sure going to take the trip with him to (a) be sure I know what’s being said to him, and (b) talk with him about it and prevent any undue influence by his hosts.

    Oh, and I wouldn’t even start this until he’s about 7 or 8 (i.e., about the time he gives up Santa). Really don’t get letting small kids go to church.

  • Rollingforest

    I think that we need to be realistic here. Yeah, it’s great to say that we’d just teach our children how to think and let them think for themselves, but that’s not how children see the world. They absorb whatever it is they come in contact with and make that their identity. They aren’t capable of doing a point by point analysis of every concept. Even adults let emotion control their opinions on a regular basis, so why should be expect differently of kids? I think we should raise them as we see fit, but trust them to make their own decisions when they get older.

    Because Wendy lives in a very religious area, she can’t totally stop her young daughter from going to these religious events if her friends are going. That would only make the daughter want to go more. But Wendy needs to make sure that her influence as a parent is stronger than the influence of the church because her daughter is not old enough to think for herself yet.

  • Steph

    My oldest is only nine, but he’s already gone through a period (while reading Greek and Roman mythology)in which he felt that there were gods, and that there must be more than one- in fact, many. I asked him his reasoning, and he told me, and I told him they were good and interesting thoughts. He has since grown out of it.

    My second is only seven, but when he was living with his daddy, he was thoroughly indoctrinated. When he came to stay with me, I got out an old children’s bible- from my own indoctrination years- and started reading it to him, without offering any opinions. Only answering questions when they arose. He quickly decided that he did not like the god his daddy believed in after all, nor find his story believable. (Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son was the turning point, although ‘two great lights in the sky’ bothered him after his older brother asked about it. Older brother is old enough to know that the moon is only reflection of the sun’s light.)

    My 5yo still comes home from her daddy’s house saying that she doesn’t know why her stepdaddy and I don’t believe in God, since obviously he must be real if he made everything. We just ask things like, ‘but what if he didn’t?’ and she gets over it in a few days.

  • Nathan,

    I don’t think I need to remind this crowd that the greatest predictive factor for religious belief is the belief of the parents… whenever an atheist suggests that Christians are brainwashing or indoctrinating their children by passing on their beliefs, I’m going to point them to this thread.

    There’s a big difference. Christians seek to indoctrinate their children. They present their religious beliefs as fact. Other beliefs (or nonbelief) are not presented as an option. On the other hand, most atheists seek to prevent their children from being indoctrinated. If I could raise my children without ever once having to mention gods or goddesses, I’d jump at the chance. Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of society we live in. Due to the extreme religiosity in the United States, I’m forced to deal with the subject and counteract cultural assumptions of the biblical deity and its accompanying mythology.

  • e-man

    I don’t know if I’m an Atheist – I say I believe in energy that all life comes from energy and that energy cycles back out and in to that energy pool – therefor that energy pool is God. Certainly not a traditional definition but does it make me an atheist or a shark amongst the theists?

  • davidp

    Give your kid a science book E.g. How things work or books about animals. Take them to zoos and museums. Show them how almost every question they ask has a answer based on the natural. That is the greatest sheild you can give a child against religion without trying to brainwash them.

  • Secular Stu


    But again I see that as what my parents did when they said no to me requesting NOT to go to church…yes even at a young age.

    Wait one second. Is your child the one requesting to go to church (as opposed to a grandparent taking her)? Why would she be asking to go to church? Are you sure it’s not because of peer pressure? Here’s what I’m getting at, what I think is likely going on. She has friends at school that are using pressure to get her to go to church and be “saved”. You’re not the one acting like your parents, they are. Sounds like nobody was around to stand with you when you were young, this is your chance to stand with your child.

    I think it’s important to note, as it seems too many atheists forget, that just as atheism is a rejection of religion and not religion itself, rejection of indoctrination is not indoctrination itself.

  • Kurt

    I would just caution all would-be future parents that it’s not going to be as easy as you want to guide your children in any particular way. Sure, you can be a good example and teach them how to think, but you never know what they’re going to latch onto and find out works for them. To complicate matters, it’s hard to predict how your the beliefs of your spouse/partner might change over the years. It’s just part of the adventure of parenthood – raising your kids right in a world chock full of contradictory influences.

    Personally, I’m hoping that my spouse’s increasing embrace of religion over the years (and attempts to church-ify the kids) eventually turn out to be the perfect vaccination against superstition as I remind them to think critically.

    At the risk of giving away my age…
    *knock knock*
    land shark

  • saltyestelle

    I agree with exposing kids to all ideas and teaching them to think critically about EVERYTHING. I plan to allow my son to attend church if he desires, or if grandma wants to take him, although I will wait until he is old enough to use some of those critical thinking skills. I don’t think I would let my 5 or 6 year old go to church.


  • I am 12, a self-proclaimed atheist, having been brought up catholic. I love to debate about these things with religious people, and see their viewpoints, and I would be glad if my school had a class that educated people on others’ beliefs. I don’t think it’s my parents’ fault I don’t know (since it’s not what they believe and I haven’t actually told them I am anything but a catholic), but the community. I don’t want to have to go looking for education. I want to be able to find it easily.

  • Martin Peyton

    Look into eastern religions and you will find some like-minded ideas.

  • HighlyAmused

    I grew up in a pretty relaxed mormon household. I think my parents were just doing what they thought was best. I can remember questioning early on and didn’t really buy it. So when I had my daughter in a fairly rural community in NC and I was concerned about sending her to public school. I enrolled her in a catholic school, I really liked the statues of Mary. I thought of it as a vaccination and way to bring up the topic of religion. When she asked about the differences between Catholic and Presbyterian, I offered the following explanation:

    “Religion is a lot like breakfast cereal. Some people like corn flakes, others like fruit loops, etc., But it is all cereal”

    At the beginning of each day, the pupils would recite the lords prayer and the pledge of allegiance. After the first year I really paid attention to what my daughter was reciting and it went like this:

    “our father, who does art in heaven, shallow be thy name, thy kingdom come, my will be done…..” I loved her for that. 

    After 5 years of this school, I put her in a charter school which I have been very pleased with. Our time at St. Mary’s was fruitful. I got the opportunity to chat with her about xtianity. When she brought up Adam and Eve in the garden of eden, I acted like it was the first time I had ever heard the story. “What? Talking snakes? Are you for real? Well, I don’t believe talking snakes. So, God waved a magic wand and Adam appeared and then he made Eve from Adam’s rib? Ewww. That’s gross.” Made for some funny conversations.

    Now at 14, she has xtian friends, she has attended churches and finds them very boring. I think my total disregard for God and church has rubbed off on her and it is a non-issue. I am verbal on pointing out the absurdity of certain claims of religion and religious intolerance around the globe. 

    Hopefully, her skepticism will maintain. I just keep my fingers crossed that she doesn’t come home one day and proclaim that she is “born again”. 

  • Lauren Baskins

    So, you basically want to treat your children’s possible decisions like a fundie of a different stripe basically? I don’t see a point in religion but my child deserves to have freedom of choice when they’re older the same as anyone else. I am well aware that I may like the decision made, or I may not.

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