Atheists Shouldn’t Raise Atheist Children

How many Christians (or other religious) parents do you think would be able to say what Nica Lalli writes in an op-ed piece for USA Today?

I may be raising my kids outside organized religion, but I am not raising them to be ignorant of religion any more than I am raising them to be atheists. I am not telling them that they have to follow my way of thinking, because as a parent, it’s my job to encourage them to think for themselves. I know that many religious parents do the same for their kids, and I know that good parenting has no religious affiliation. But how can a parent foster an open and questioning mind in a child who is also told to follow a god — without question?

When it comes to religion, it is hard to allow freedom of choice in our offspring because we want them to emulate us. It is unsettling to think that our own kids might believe in things we do not. It is awful to imagine that they would reject that part of who their parents are. But the fear subsides when I hear the wisdom of my daughter, who recently told me, “I don’t have to choose what religion I am right now, but I have the choice to choose.”

Nica, the author of Nothing: Something to Believe In, advocates raising “questioning children” instead of “atheist children.” I don’t have kids but it seems logical to take this path. You grow up having more intelligent children when they’ve been exposed to more ideas and know how to question them and figure out what makes sense and what does not.

On a side note, my favorite reader comment on the site (you know it’s from a fundie Christian by the frequent use of ALL CAPS):

Open letter to Nica Lalli,

You have a legal right, AND a God given right, to be an “atheist”. And I will defend your right in that respect with my life.

I commend you also on your refusing to be a member of any “religious” organization on earth. For I believe that ALL “religions” are man-made, and thus totally false. As is their false “gods”.

Having said this, I disagree totally with your implication that ALL beliefs concerning a god are a “religion”. And thus I have a huge problem with you and MOST of the world.

IE: Most of the world, including Webster’s dictionary, call true “Christianity” a “religion”. This is false. It never has been, NOR will it ever be a “religion”, contrary to what any one says or espouses.

For if Christianity was a religion, then judaism, islam, hinduism, buddhism, confucionism, daowism, heathenism, agnositcism, atheism*, catholicism, paganism, eastern mysticism and protestantism, etc, etc, etc, can NOT be a religion.

In otherwords, ALL of these EXCEPT Christianity were created BY man. ONLY Christianity was created by Jesus Christ, who is God. Therefore, since Jesus created Christianity (and thus why the first 6 letters of it spells Christ), it alone is set apart (holy) from ALL other beliefs that have EVER existed.

On the other hand, if all of the other beliefs (listed above) are “religions”, then Christianity can NOT be a religion. Because they are uniquely and quintessentially different. Whether ANY one knows it; or believes it or not.

Thus Nica, you are treading on a very dangerous course. The following is why:

You are a parent. You are responsible for what your children do. Partiularly how you train your children AND the “role” model you exhibit to them. And therein; you are IN grave danger dear person. More than you can possibly imagine.

Jesus said, “If you hurt one of my little ones, it would be better for you if a millstone was placed around your neck, and you be cast into the sea”.

And you ARE guilty of this, whether you or ANY one in the world realizes it; OR believes it or not. So you are a very foolish person too. Yes, I am sure, you will believe as will countless millions of others will believe that I am foolish in my believing that Jesus (Christianity) is the ONLY true God there has ever been.

I digress:

If ANY person was about to board a plane and above the jetway gate, was a sign that stated, “THERE IS A 50-50 CHANCE THIS PLANE IS GOING TO CRASH”, they would be a fool to fly on that plane. I dare say, that NO ONE, but an absolute fool, would enter the plane, based on how human nature works.

This means dear person, that you are foolishly faililng to realize; that IF you are wrong, (meaning Jesus WAS and IS God) then you are not only jeapordizing your own life, BUT the lives of those you (in all likelyhood) love most dearly.

I urge you Nica, to reconsider your feelings very closely. For the risk is just too great. But the choice is still yours, and I again WILL defend your legal right, AND God given right, to believe as you do.

May Jesus right ALL wrongs,

patdee

* Atheism IS a religion, whether any one realizes it or not. The reason is: It’s god is “self”. Thus it IS a religion. In fact, because ALL atheist are extremely tenacious and believe STRONGLY in man (“self”), their belief has to be THE quintessential “religion” on earth.

Right…

Anyway, I’m guessing most atheists are on board with Nica. But all things considered, how many atheists would be ok with it if their kids, after much personal reflection and questioning, decided to side with a particular religion?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Mriana

    I agree Hemant. That person who wrote the letter to Nica has no idea what they are talking about. :roll: I don’t know about being OK either. I’m still not so sure about this Buddhism thing my older son is supposedly.

  • http://www.thegookins.net don

    I do have kids, and for the most part they have been raised as Catholics. A couple years ago we stopped going to church and explained to them that we didn’t agree with many of the things the church represented, but told them that if they wanted to participate we would take them. They didn’t.

    Just within the past year I “came out” as an atheist, and now I am facing questions similar to the one you ask at the end of your post. Should I attempt to de-convert my kids? Should I just not mention god or religion and let them find their own way? Should I teach them about various religions and encourage critical thinking so they can figure it out on their own? How do I even let them know what my thoughts on god and religion are without being overbearing and pushing them into accepting them as their own? These are some of the things I wonder about frequently.

    I have talked about it a little to my oldest daughter (13 y.o) and told her I was an atheist. It wasn’t a big deal to her, and she completely understands that although she may hear people say bad things about atheists, that those things simply aren’t true, and I am living proof of that. When I was young, someone once told me I had a talent for leading by example. Maybe that is the key; to live your life in a way that provides your children an example of what it means to be a freethinker, and the rest will work itself out along the way? I guess time will tell.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    That was an awfully long side note there, Hemant. I bet that’s what the comments will focus on now, as I was tempted to give a point by point dissection myself. I thought the airplane crash analogy was especially hilarious.

    As for raising “questioning” children, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. Atheists are no strangers to religious disagreement.

  • Chris in Columbus

    I have this little love of math, and I’d have a blast creating a quantitative approach to the probability of Jesus being the “right” way (assuming there was a god). I think it’d be fun to include all of the variables: the thousands of different gods, different religions, different denominations, the variances of punishments, the levels of sins, the methods of forgiveness, the influence over time, the number of people involved, the spread over the world…

    I’m pretty sure that Jesus might get around 9% probability. He’d probably still rank the highest, though!

    All that to say, the conviction of this fools astounds me. His is so blind to everything. It really saddens me that anyone can believe this.

  • grazatt

    Most of those comments on the article were pretty much along the line of the one you posted
    like this one
    Princess of Mars wrote: 16h 16m ago
    Religion gives a person a moral compass – without it your morality can sway with the times, the latest opinion poll – that is NOT what I want for my children.
    My husband and I raised our children Catholic and they are both still very devoted to their faith. My sons will tell you faith in Jesus gives them strength in the tough times, they know the Lord is with them and for them in all times, good and bad. They know that when facing a moral issue their decision rests in trusting in th 10 Commandment – the guide of the Lord for a happy and complete life.
    I pray you and your children will come to the same understanding. I would suggest you read :My Walk With God – the journey of a man whose parents had luke warm faith and how discovery of faith changed his life.
    God bless!

  • Siamang

    But all things considered, how many atheists would be ok with it if their kids, after much personal reflection and questioning, decided to side with a particular religion?

    That depends. Are my child’s only two choices a well-spoken and thoughtful atheism as presented by Lalli, or a bellowing craven triumphalist Christianity as presented by “patdee”?

    Don, I’d just attempt to be as honest and open as you can with your children. There’s no earthly reason to hide your thoughts on this matter. Give them the facts as you see them, but always let them know that religion is THEIR choice… that you’ve made your choice for you, but nobody can make that choice for them but them… let them know that that’s one of the things that you didn’t believe in as far as the Catholic Church went. Good luck.

  • Joe

    I am an atheist and a parent of three children, and do pretty much the same thing with my kids. They know what I think, but are also exposed to the beliefs of others.

    My wife considers herself a “lapsed Catholic”, although lately she has shown more than an appreciation for my lack of belief. She has never forced her beliefs on the kids, either.

    Most of the extended family is Catholic, yet my oldest son (my step-son since he was 11, he will be 24 this year), became a Muslim when he decided to marry, his fiancee’s whole family being Muslim. I am not upset by this, it is his life and his choice. He is a great person, and I couldn’t be more proud to be able to call him my son.

    My two younger children have seen it all, pretty much. After much thought, one of their cousin’s decided to convert to her fiance’s religion (Judiasm), deciding that it was what was best for her. Her fiance is one of my youngest’s favorite people in the world.

    I think it would be hypocritical of me to “force” Atheism on them, any more than I would want their family members to “force” their beliefs on them, as well.

    Show them the world, teach them right from wrong, and hope you raise caring, intelligent human beings, regardless of whether they believe what you do or not.

  • Jen

    Children: are sticky, and I probably won’t have any.

    Patdee: I bet she (he?) reads a lot of Jack Trick’s comics. My favorite bit is where (s)he says Nico is going to Hell and taking her children with her, but “then you are not only jeapordizing your own life, BUT the lives of those you (in all likelyhood) love most dearly.” So, Nico, possibly you love your children, but probably you are too busy loving Christopher Hitchens (all atheists love Chris and also Satan, right?) to love your children the most.

    Therefore, since Jesus created Christianity (and thus why the first 6 letters of it spells Christ), it alone is set apart (holy) from ALL other beliefs that have EVER existed.

    Man, good thing no other religion is named after its most famous/important member, cause then they would be true too.

  • grazatt

    I think you mean Jack Chick, although Trick might be a more apropos name for him!

  • Marc

    I’ve raised my son to be a skeptic, including, especially, to be skeptical of religion. He’s free to investigate any claims whatsoever. His BS detector is finely tuned, and I have faith that he will not get suckered. I also told him that if he winds up in some religion anyway, I won’t disavow him; it would just be something we disagree over.

  • http://bjornisageek.blogspot.com Bjorn Watland

    I really like Nica Lalli.

  • http://www.evolvedrational.com Evolved

    If I do have kids in the future, and they decide to turn theistard, I’d…I’d…I’d…

    ……
    ……

    *thud*

  • Kevin L.

    Whenever I read something about religion or lack thereof and raising kids I think of a lecture that Nicholas Humphrey once gave:

    http://www.humphrey.org.uk/papers/1998WhatShallWeTell.pdf

  • Jen

    I think you mean Jack Chick, although Trick might be a more apropos name for him!

    Ahhhh! I do, I did, I swear I used to know that. I think I was screw up “Chick” and “Tract”

  • 5ive

    There is an excellent collection of essays on raising ethical and caring kids without god called, “Parenting beyond Belief” I totally recommend it.
    I agree with Nica in the way she raises her kids and I do the same with mine. I tell them my views (which are almost constantly changing, although still stick to an atheistic theme)They can go to church with their grandparents or aunt and christianity and any other current religion is treated the same way as any other mythology. We speak of medusa along with noah. Point out benefits and downfalls of believing in a particular belief or almost anything really.
    If one of my kids decided to follow a religion when he or she grows up, I honestly would be disappointed. And if it happened after a time of atheism, I would be suspicious. However, I really have no control over what someone else does as an adult and it is not like I would stop loving them or disown them. I would still support them in whatever makes them happy as long as they are causing no harm to themselves or others.

  • http://www.atheistspot.com/ Lenny

    As much as I want to give my kids the chance to decide for themselves, I have to honest. I’d be very disappointed if they didn’t end up atheist or at least agnostic.

  • Ada

    I agree with the recommendation for Parenting Beyond Belief. The editor, Dale McGowan, also does seminars and has a secular parenting blog.
    http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/

    I admit I would be disappointed if my children decided to be religious, although how disappointed I would be could vary depending on the religion and their fervor about it. I know of some people raised without religion who became religious, but none of them were raised with knowledge about religion or with the skepticism and questioning (about all things, not just religion) that I think is important.

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    If one of my kids decided to follow a religion when he or she grows up, I honestly would be disappointed. And if it happened after a time of atheism, I would be suspicious.

    Why would you be suspicious?

    My parents were both Catholic. They never sent us to church. They stopped going sometime between when my father came back from Vietnam and when I was born. But they had us all baptized, even my sister. That happened when I was seven.

    Now my brother is hard-core Catholic, my father goes to church, and his second wife is Catholic. There was some concern at my brother’s wedding there might be a scene if Big Old Boozehead took communion. I guess my brother felt that Ole Boozehead should not take communion. He did not, but his wife did.

    I think my mother and sister may both be agnostic.

  • GoDamn

    Jen,
    buddhism is named after Gautama Buddha (though Buddha is a title not a name, just like Christ). Also Jainism, to name another. Ironically, both are atheistic. Guess they must be true as well. Oh, the irony of it all! LOL

  • http://bugsoup.blogspot.com bugsoup

    But all things considered, how many atheists would be ok with it if their kids, after much personal reflection and questioning, decided to side with a particular religion?

    I don’t have kids yet, but I would be disappointed in myself more than in my child if they didn’t come to the same conclusion as I have. I’d be skeptical of other influences, like teachers or neighbors, that may have provided some false information in an attempt to “save” my child. I’d worry that I didn’t teach critical thinking well enough, or didn’t connect to the particular way my child thinks. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that for some time. And maybe the US will be majority Atheist by the time I do. :-)

    @Chris in Columbus

    I have a theory of my own using math. It basically boils down to considering a 50/50 chance of each assuption being correct. The probability goes down exponentially, which means it only takes ten assumptions about the nature of god to get to a 1 in 1024 chance of being correct about the existence of that particular version of god.

    For those interested, here is bugsoup’s mathematical theory on the probability of god’s existence.

  • jokergirl

    The post makes interesting points, but I will have to pick a few to talk about.

    I should preface this with the statement that I am agnostic, not an atheist. I agree with the sentiment that atheism is a belief. That there is or is not a god is hard (if not impossible, depending on your definition of “god”) to tell empirically in my opinion, therefore both the existence and the nonexistence of god(s) must be based on belief.

    “But how can a parent foster an open and questioning mind in a child who is also told to follow a god — without question?”
    I was brought up catholic – my parents were not going to church, but it is the state religion and I went to kindergarten and ground school in a catholic convent’s school. Conversely, they were actually the ones that brought me up to have an open and questioning mind. I may not share their belief any more, but I still hold the people who can hold a belief that strongly and dedicate their lives to it in the highest respect. They may not share my opinions, but they have always shown an open mind to discussing the matter.

    But this sentence in the answering letter stood out to me:
    “IF you are wrong, (meaning Jesus WAS and IS God) then you are not only jeapordizing your own life, BUT the lives of those you (in all likelyhood) love most dearly.”
    I have actually given much thought to this matter, and I have come to the conclusion that, even though it seems convenient, you cannot simply believe because you think it will save you. It needs much more power of will and courage to stand up and say “I may be wrong, but even so, I shall attempt to live a moral life, with or without religion”. To believe for fear of a presumed hell does not strike me as more or less moral than to refuse belief while still following socially acceptable morals.
    To make salvation based on the fact of belief alone never stood out as the meaning of Jesus’ teaching (or Buddha’s, or Muhammad’s, for that matter) to me. I do not buy into the belief that without a religion, humans would not be able to have a moral compass or tell right from wrong. Kant’s Categorical Imperative is not different from the gospel of Luke, or the sayings of Buddha. It does not need a god to tell us this – just an empathic mind.

    If I am going to hell in the afterlife (which is a good chance, because I could not tell which one of the many religions I should follow in order not to), then at least I can attempt not to make this life one as well, right?

  • valhar2000

    Well, I would be severely disappointed in my kids turned out religious, but I wouldn’t really do anything about it. What are you supposed to do? Disown them? Intern them in a mental hospital? If they seemed to me to be happy, I’d leave them be, and keep my feelings about it to myself.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Children: are sticky…

    They are also messy and very expensive… But I have two and being from a mixed marriage (religious and atheist) we are kind-of raising them as “quasi-religious”. We take them to church most weeks (although sometimes we skip). The kids would rather not go if it were left to them. I think the best gift to your children is not to have any hard-and-fast rules about religion and let them know that there are other valid options besides what their family does…

    I just bought Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan along with his novel Calling Bernadette’s Bluff. I’m looking forward to reading them.

  • Paul

    In case anyone isn’t already aware of this, Nica Lalli was a guest on Point of Inquiry about a year ago. Check it out here.

  • Mriana

    I agree. I took my sons once a week to the Episcopal Church when they were younger, but when they decided they didn’t want to go, that was it. I guess that was about four or five years ago and I didn’t go anymore after that either. Didn’t see any reason to go either, irregardless of my mother’s silly heathen comments. I guess I grew up with them, but they have it easier because I really don’t care if they go or not or even believe or not, but if they can live with their grandmother’s reaction when she hears the full news, so can I. (I’ll just hide behind them when her wrath comes. :lol: jk)

  • Julie

    My parents are both atheists, but didn’t mention it until my brother and I had also “come out” as atheists. We were free to believe whatever we wanted. When I was young, my Christian friends were constantly bringing me along to church activities when their parents learned that mine weren’t taking us to church. My parents didn’t mind. They allowed me complete choice in my beliefs, and that’s exactly how it should be. They knew their kids were smart, and let us figure things out on our own.

  • Christophe Thill

    I think that the journey to belief or non-belief is one that has to be made alone. But as for children, if there’s one thing they should learn, it’s this : evidence-based reasoning is and always will be superior to faith, because the former gives you power on reality while the latter doesn’t. You can start with this and end up a believer : why not ? But in my opinion, the most important thing is to get the starting point right.

  • Spurs Fan

    Jeff,

    My situation is somewhat similar. My wife is an evangelical Christian, albeit a very open-minded and somewhat liberal, and I’m an atheist. We have two small children and as my beliefs have changed (evolved?) recently, our main point of contention has been what to do with our kids.

    At this point, we go to church fairly reguarly because my wife wants to take our boys. So, I relent. It’s difficult to sit through Sunday sermons (almost painful). It’s very simple minded, with sheep-like listeners, and sometimes offensive to me, but I enjoy some the community and my kids are making some good friends. My wife is very respectful of my lack of belief, but appreciates the fact that I support her strongly enough to go with her. She also has no problem with me being honest with my skepticism (I find that in our weekly small group, I can still get something out of our “lessons” and contribute to the discussion while these very conservative people don’t seem to mind me being a part of all of it…perhaps because they believe I will be converted simply by being present).

    I guess I feel sort of sad about it for my boys, but at the same time, I’m the one that has changed my beliefs over the last few years, so I feel like I “owe it” to my wife to allow her to raie the kids in church.

    My consolation is this: My two kids will grow up with two different perspectives from two loving, stable parents. Through that process and their parents’ political activism (we find much agreement on politics), they will, by default, be very open minded and will one day realize that they do have a choice.

    That’s my hope at least.

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    Children: are sticky,

    You say sticky as if it is a bad thing. Some of the best things in life are sticky.

    As far as my daughter goes, I want to teach her to question everything, especially her parents. If she ends up religious I don’t think I would care unless she was unhappy or throwing her life/money away to follow her religion. Her beliefs don’t matter to me as long as she is a “good” person.

  • lowoolo

    Just wanted to add my recommendation of Parenting Beyond Belief to the mix. I recently attended Dale McGowan’s series of webinars (mentioned above) and was thoroughly impressed. My husband and I are the only free thinkers (I’m an atheist, he’s agnostic) in an entire extended family of near-fundies.

    We are raising our daughter to be a moral, ethical, fully functioning member of society. We do not attend any sort of church, but I plan to go to our local Unitarian one as my daughter gets a bit older. I’m doing this mostly to take advantage of their excellent “sunday school” alternative, called religious education. Basically, children are exposed to aspects of all faiths and non-faiths in an atmosphere of tolerance where questioning is encouraged.

    Instilling such religious literacy is invaluable for any parent that doesn’t want to indoctrinate their child into any faith – or non-faith. It’s really a preventive measure against ‘religious backlash’, which happens in teens and young adults who were never made aware of any sort of alternative to their secular or atheist upbringing. When a friend tells them about this great guy named Jesus, how he helps us all get to a magical place in the sky, yadda yadda, imagine how important is it to have already been exposed to these ideas, thought through them, and embraced or rejected them.

    I hope that made sense because I really can’t stress ‘pre-emptive’ religious awareness enough!

  • TXatheist

    If my kid grows up and is a Christian like Mike C then I’d be fine with it. If he was like Fred Phelps we’d be at odds on most issues.

  • Mriana

    It’s difficult to sit through Sunday sermons (almost painful). It’s very simple minded, with sheep-like listeners, and sometimes offensive to me,

    You know, although there were times I had this difficulty, that’s the one thing I noticed that was different in the Episcopal Church I took my kids too (I refused to take them to an Evangelical church or allow anyone else to take them). Unlike the Fundamgelicals, they taught that the stories in the Bible were just stories and not to be taken at all literally.

    However, the backlash of it all has been my older son saying, “You never did believe it. You took us to church and taught us the stories, but you never once believed it.” Sigh. Guess I’m guilty as charged, but he can give me some credit in that I did teach them they were just stories, more myth, and related to the stories of various cultures around them at the time.

    So, becareful about taking them to church for whatever reason. You may find yourself later being charged guilty of not believing it and they could be right. He is a bit irritated by that though. :?

  • Joseph R.

    I am also in a mixed marriage(theist/atheist). I have informed our son of his parent’s differing beliefs. Although my wife wasn’t particularly happy with me, I told our son that it is important to think for yourself and whatever path he chose(religious or not) will be OK with me.

  • Spurs Fan

    Does McGowan’s book discuss so-called “mixed marriages” (theist/atheist)?

  • http://mcmamasmusings.blogspot.com McMama

    I believe, as My Personal Parenting Guru has suggested, that if we are careful in raising our children, their ultimately choosing religion will not necessarily be a bad thing.

    I know there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, etc. who are really and truly good, kind, thoughtful people, no matter what their personal beliefs, and that’s what I want for my kids.

    If I can raise my boys to be kind and caring, thoughtful and wise, critical and insightful, then their religion or lack thereof will be irrelevant.

  • CP

    What is up with crazy people and arbitrary capitalizations?

  • Kevin L.

    I was raised as a Catholic; my parents never really forced anything on my brother or me – it was the typical “go to church every Sunday and on the holidays” business, with Sunday School thrown in the mix as well. They more or less encouraged independent thought and such, and in time I came to my own conclusions about religion before rejecting it outright.

    I’m only twenty-two and frankly want nothing to do with kids, ever. But I admit that, like a lot of other folks in this comment thread, I think I would be a little disappointed – partly in my own parenting, partly in my kids – if I raised children to choose for themselves and they turned out to be theists. But I don’t think that there’s really anything wrong with that. As Possummomma pointed out in a post a week or so ago, parents raise their kids with certain expectations about how they will live their lives: good grades, staying out of trouble, going to university, falling in love, marrying, having kids – and, in most instances, following in their footsteps in terms of religious belief. Any deviation from this general path is going to elicit some disappointment or otherwise negative response. Just because we would want to raise our children as freethinkers and support them in whatever they choose – theism, atheism, or anything in between – doesn’t mean that we can’t feel disappointment when our expectations or hopes aren’t realized… and that, in turn, doesn’t mean that we won’t get over it and support our kids just like we always said we would.

  • K

    Well, I’m raising my boy to be an Atheist. I teach him comparative religions and we have a good laugh at all the myths. He’s also encouraged to point and laugh. He stood up to his first nosy fundie when he was 3 at an Ace Hardware, and we did laugh at her flustering when he told her he didn’t believe in god. When he was 5, I’d print out the fundie homeschool parent’s comments from local yahoo groups and give him a red marker to correct the spelling and grammatical errors for his English assignment. He’s too big for that now though.

  • Karen

    I’ve raised my kids to be smart skeptics – to question everything they’re told and investigate and research issues for themselves.

    While they went to church for most of their formative years, they stopped going a couple of years after I did and don’t seem to miss it. If they do become religious later in life, I will be satisfied that they made an informed and reasonable choice for them, because they know how to think for themselves.

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    I’ve summed up the matter in my blog tagline, “Christian mom, atheist dad, kids undecided.”

    We aren’t raising Christian or atheist kids. We’re raising good, thoughtful, curious people. What label they choose later in life is up to them.

  • http://dcberner.blogspot.com/ Derek

    Therefore, since Jesus created Christianity (and thus why the first 6 letters of it spells Christ), it alone is set apart (holy) from ALL other beliefs that have EVER existed.

    And here I thought it was named after some chick named Christi.

  • http://breakingspells.wordpress.com/ Ylooshi

    I’m the proud parent of a 6 year old skeptic.

    And, like any good skeptic, she’s starting to be skeptical of her own point of view. Just the other day she mentioned to me that she’s the only person in her class that doesn’t believe in god and this has her bothered. She’s told my wife and me that she wants to learn about god from people who believe, so she recognizes that my wife and I have a biased point of view.

    I’m both extremely proud and concerned at the same time… there’s some part of me that fears she’ll accept the religious superstitions of her peers just to fit in with them, but there’s another part of me that realizes that I’m raising her to ask questions and explore the world. If that means a bit of participant observation, then so be it.

    At this point, we’re considering the best ways to give her the religious education she wants. My wife’s idea is to enroll her in Catholic Sunday school. Raised Catholic herself, she says that she doesn’t remember a single kid that participated who wasn’t “bored to tears” and begged their parents to not have to attend!

  • Siamang

    And thursday was created by Thor.

  • laterose

    I don’t have kids at the moment, but I was raised by an agnostic and an atheist. They took the hands off approach to religion. As a result I learned about religion mostly from studying Greek and Roman mythology, and was rather shocked in middle school when I found out people actually believe the bible and such; I’d assumed it was regular old suspension of disbelief.

    Anyway, my sister converted to Mormonism when she was seventeen. My mom was concerned about whether or not she was old enough to really decide for herself, but otherwise my parents were fine with it. Honestly I think it was harder on my sister then it was on my parents. Since to her believing meant the rest of us were damned for all eternity, for us she was just joining an organization we disagreed with.

  • Carl

    I don’t have any kids (yet :)) but why should religious claims be handled any different than any other claims? If your child asks you, “daddy/momy, are unicorns real?” of course you would say, “no, sweetie, unicorns are just make-believe.” Ditto with god(s).

  • TXatheist

    Spursfan,
    It depends on how you define theist. Unitarianism comes up and that’s considered theistic to me.

  • Siamang

    I don’t have any kids (yet :)) but why should religious claims be handled any different than any other claims?

    Mainly because you want your child to be able to function socially as a minority in a hostile environment…. but also to have the tools to be able to understand why others are hostile toward us. Not just because religious claims are “stupid” or “for idiots” (which is how my wife was raised). Those give the child little or no tools for understanding or getting along with others. They may serve as simple answers… but simple answers are not always useful.

    My child is four. We haven’t gotten into the various claims of religions yet. And I’m not going to argue for some kind of postmodernist “all claims are equal” epistemology with her in any case.

    I’m not going to treat religious claims as different in any aspect to the question “are unicorns real?” except in the way of trying to preface it with “this is what I think, this is where the evidence I’ve seen fails to support this claim, but you are free to always question and even reject my reasoning and my conclusions.” And to follow it up with some way of explaining to her why these are delicate matters to discuss within the extended social environment.

  • Carl

    Mainly because you want your child to be able to function socially as a minority in a hostile environment…. but also to have the tools to be able to understand why others are hostile toward us. Not just because religious claims are “stupid” or “for idiots” (which is how my wife was raised). Those give the child little or no tools for understanding or getting along with others. They may serve as simple answers… but simple answers are not always useful.

    My child is four. We haven’t gotten into the various claims of religions yet. And I’m not going to argue for some kind of postmodernist “all claims are equal” epistemology with her in any case.

    I’m not going to treat religious claims as different in any aspect to the question “are unicorns real?” except in the way of trying to preface it with “this is what I think, this is where the evidence I’ve seen fails to support this claim, but you are free to always question and even reject my reasoning and my conclusions.” And to follow it up with some way of explaining to her why these are delicate matters to discuss within the extended social environment.

    I’m not saying you should encourage your kids to be a jerk about it, I’m just saying that I don’t think we should give the kids the impression that there is something special about religion that means its logical to believe for no good reason.

  • http://suitablydark.livejournal.com/ Dark

    I had a really good friend during my college years who was raised as an atheist. I’m sure it’s possible to do a good job with that, but her mother failed horribly – she had basically raised a daughter who scorned and mocked religious people and bragged about her atheism, but couldn’t actually justify it and had clearly never considered the issue or thought about her beliefs herself.

    In a world with no religion, obviously there is no need to justify your atheism. Those making the fantastic claims need to justify their ideas. But in today’s world, I think we do need some ability to describe the benefits of logic and reason and why theism is incompatible with those ideals. Moreover, believing there is no god just because your mother taught you that is, to me, just about on the same level as believing there is a god just because your parents told you so. While I’d rather people err on the side of atheism, it seems to me the whole point is teaching children to think and reason for themselves and if you raise a child who is a staunch atheist but doesn’t question things (and she hated questioning anything), then you have failed.

    I don’t plan on having kids, but if I did, I would raise them to be sceptics. I would point out that they were born atheists, and challenge them to defend their statements with evidence (and teach them what evidence is), but I would also encourage them to learn about everything they can and question, question, question. I think raising a child who is an atheist but who has no curiosity about the world is a shame.

    And if my hypothetical kid ended up embracing a religion? It depends. If they embraced buddhism, for example, I don’t think I’d mind too much. If they made up their own thing, I might even be slightly proud of them. (Kid wants to be a Jedi? Win.) But if they embraced Christianity or another organized religion which is, on its face, a load of nonsense.. I’d be deeply disappointed. The same way I was when my younger sister became best friends with a girl from Alabama and suddenly became a super-Christian. (They fell out several years ago, though, and thankfully my sister’s reverted into an agnostic, which is vastly more tolerable.)

  • Carl

    Excellent post, Dark. That’s basically what I was trying to say, you just said it better. :)

  • Bobby

    I would just like to reply to the 50/50 chance of a plane crashing argument. First of all Christianity is a religion, just to get that out of the way. So for the plane example:

    If you walked into Religious Airlines and saw a sign that only one of these hundreds of planes (obviously representing each of the different religions) would NOT crash but all the others would, then why would you opt to fly in the first place?

    I’ll drive, thanks anyway.

  • julie marie

    Siamang said:

    I’m not going to treat religious claims as different in any aspect to the question “are unicorns real?” except in the way of trying to preface it with “this is what I think, this is where the evidence I’ve seen fails to support this claim, but you are free to always question and even reject my reasoning and my conclusions.” And to follow it up with some way of explaining to her why these are delicate matters to discuss within the extended social environment.

    I”m beginning to wrestle with this now – my child is 5, and I live in a town full of conservative evangelicalism. I have to guard against being over-reactive b/c I have my own issues with that. However, my son is asking god questions fairly often now. I took a deep breath and told him that God wasn’t a man, people like to think of him that way, because that is easy to understand. But Mommy believes God lives in peoples hearts and we know what he is like when we are kind to each other. I wouldn’t reccommend that approach, b/c the next question was “Mommy, am I God?” Back to the drawing board for me. I do not feel eloquent enough to discuss this with my child in a way that won’t get him into all kinds of trouble. And by trouble I mean sufferring ridicule for not believing what everyone else believes.

    Siamang, I have no doubt you will be facing questions like this sooner rather than later, your daughter sounds like a thinker….

  • Siamang

    Thanks. I hope that she will continue to be a thinker. I think I will have some good fortune, because we live in a religiously diverse area. She’s likely to have at least as many Jewish friends as anything else.

    Perhaps you should approach your son with the angle “these are heartfelt personal questions for everyone in the world. The answers we hold as a family, aren’t necessarily the answers that other people come to. But the key is to understand that this stuff is very important to people, and people take their own answers very seriously. The important thing to do is to never treat anyone poorly because the answer they come to is different from what you’d come to. If you see anyone at school treating someone badly because of what they believe about God, you should tell a teacher.”

  • Patience

    I was raised by a ferocious agnostic and a nominal Christian of uncertain denomenation. My parents were divorced, and our regular babysitter was a strong Baptist. With my mom’s blessing, we went to church with her every weekend while mom worked. I was about 6-12 during this time period; my brother 2-8. I feel like I have a lot more cultural capital, in being able to discuss religion critically, than he does, because I was older and learned. Even at that age, I was definitely atheistic in my world view. Mom parented with a lazy agnostic style of letting me do whatever I want; I was not particularly encouraged or discouraged from skepticism.

    As a preteen, I declared firm atheism. As a teen, I flirted with druidism and other magical thinking. I didn’t believe, but I wanted to, desperately. I went to the local pagan group meeting at the UU church mostly for the free coffee.

    I’ve been a declared agnostic since 18, and in the past year have come out as an atheist. It was actually more difficult than coming out as bisexual. People get that (“Oh, you like guys and girls!”) and for the most part, my contemporaries are cool with it (I’m under 25). Atheism presents something so totally out of many people’s world view that I have argued with friends over what I mean (“So, atheism is a religion?” “No, I’m an existentialist and humanist by philosophy, and atheism is just an adjective to confirm that I don’t think there’s a god. I suppose you could call me an atheistic agnostic, because I accept the possibility of evidence being brought forth to prove my current beliefs wrong and would be willing to change those beliefs accordingly, but isn’t that a little long winded?” “So…got it. Atheism is a religion.” “Sigh.”).

    My fiancée is a self described agnostic. We believe the same thing–that the probability of a god existing is pretty much nil, and act on the assumption that there is no god–and share a philisophical basis, but she likes the ambiguity of the word agnostic to the negative associations still attached to atheist, so…whatever. We’re planning to raise our children to be skeptical, allowed to explore any religious claim they wish as long as they think critcally of it.

    Would I be disappointed if my children were religious? Depends on the religion. I’d be perfectly comfortable with religions that are also easily classified as philosophies (like Buddhism and Taoism). I would be upset if they wanted to be a part of any evangelical/hard-line religion. Then again, I’d be upset if they wanted to be far-right Republicans or oil tycoons, too.

  • http://www.SecularDignity.net Secular Dignity

    Patience said:

    Atheism presents something so totally out of many people’s world view that I have argued with friends over what I mean….So…got it. Atheism is a religion.

    I have noticed that the people who flipped out the most when I told them I am an atheist did not go to church themselves. I always found that odd.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Bobby said,

    I’ll drive, thanks anyway.

    Good analogy!

  • http://panonbelievers.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    I have Nica Lalli’s book and I found the same theme applied there – she is not rejecting religion. She seems to use it in ways that benefit her – like as justifications for traditions she enjoys and community, etc. However, I don’t do that.

    I have two girls – 9 and 4. Our family is officially “non-religious”. Don’t subscribe to it and not interested in participating but we do find it intriguing to learn about. We make a point to explain from a third-party position why some people find this religious thing important and why it may be harmful. Our 9-yr-old was a born skeptic and figured things out on her own. Yet, she has gone to vacation bible school and doesn’t take the religion seriously, more like a story. Even if she goes Biblical on me for a while, she will return. Don’t know about the 4 yr old yet. I think lots depends on how the child’s brain and personality just is. They may need to use religion to supply something in their lives for a while but if you teach them independent thought from the beginning, they will likely be able to make the best choice.

  • Ross

    I”m an atheist.  My wife is pregnant.  She is a deist with some vague ideas about what that means.

    I’m thinking about raising my kids to believe in the Greek Olympians: memorizing the gods and their kids and all the relationships, studying the personality archetypes, etc.  When the kid gets old enough that other kids ridicule his/her belief system at least (s)he will be able to understand that Christianity makes absolutely no more sense than the Greeks did.  Questions?  Comments?  Smart-assed remarks?


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