Dan Arel has written a wonderful book about raising children as an atheist parent. It goes well beyond how to deal with baptisms, extended family members, etc. Dan also discusses equality, homosexuality, race, and other ways religion manifests in our society.
The book is called Parenting Without God:
In the exclusive excerpt below, Dan explains why you shouldn’t teach children that Hell is real:
If teaching heaven is bad, teaching hell is downright mental child abuse. There is no way around this one. You are telling a child that for bad deeds done, or not worshipping the right (or any god), you are going to burn in a lake of fire for eternity. Pure torture, unimaginable pain and it is forever.
The myth of Hell needs to be destroyed faster than the myth of heaven by far. Children and countless adults fear any of their actions will result in them spending eternity in Hell. Why? It is such a childish and illogical idea. For starters, their almighty God created an evil angel, and instead of destroying him, gave him his own kingdom? And let’s not get started on the fact that if Satan is the one punishing the bad guys for their evil, doesn’t that make Satan the good guy? If Hell is for the most evil people in the world who listened to and or worshipped Satan, wouldn’t Satan be glad to have them? It simply doesn’t make sense and even Christians and other religious followers are deciding they don’t believe in Hell anymore. It seems that all the rest of their religion is true, but Hell sounds too mean, so that part is obviously just an allegory. So, just like the endless rape, murder, genocide and other atrocities of the Bible, let’s go ahead and cherry-pick Hell right out of it.
Now of course Hell gives many people a sense of justice. Hitler got the easy way out by killing himself and never answering for his crimes, yet many take comfort in the idea that he is in hell for eternity. For non-believers, that comfort does not exist, we take comfort in knowing he is not alive anymore to continue causing harm. We take comfort in learning from past mistakes and working to not repeat them. Pretending that we don’t have to worry about evil actions that seem foreign to us, because we believe someone else will handle it, is exactly what leads to such atrocities in the first place. It is always someone else’s responsibility.
I don’t think there will be much argument that Hell is one of the most vile or religious beliefs, so much so that it sickens me to think that people can claim to be good and god loving people who actually believe in, and are okay with, the idea that the invisible man they worship would torture their own children forever if they deny the existence of said invisible man. My very own grandparents believe I will burn in Hell and they believe that my son, their great grandchild, if he does not find a path to their God, will burn in hell. Where is the morality in that thinking?
The only morality you will find in this thinking is immorality! Anyone who believes someone will, or deserves everlasting suffering because they did not believe in the right god, or didn’t worship your god correctly, is not a moral person.
Now, to touch back on the child abuse aspect of Hell. This is a tricky area, because it is easy to label this abuse when you are on the outside looking in. However, if you really sit down and think about it, if you are a parent and you, with all your heart believe in Hell and believe people are sent there, wouldn’t it be child abuse to not tell your child about Hell? If you thought by keeping your mouth shut your child would burn in hellfire, it would make you a worse parent than trying to save your child’s eternity.
The reason this is important is that you will have encounters with countless parents who believe this. They will tell their child about hell, and they may discuss this with your child, or you. The incorrect action would be to attack them as abusive. I instead would suggest using a more Socratic method of questioning their beliefs and seeing if you can take them apart from the bottom up. These are the same methods we looked at when dissecting faith.
These parents have faith in Heaven and Hell and honestly believe they are doing the right thing by their child. If you wish to dig deeper into that and maybe help their child out, you will need to talk to the parents, learn what they believe, and work through how that baseless and harmful belief can be removed from their lives.
This sounds like a daunting task, and it is. It may not be a task you are up for, and even if you are you may never be successful, but I know some of you reading this right now know a child in a household that fears Hell more than anything on earth and needs someone, somehow to reach out their parents and remove this from their lives. We know their church won’t be doing it.
Parenting Without God is now available online. Check it out!