How Can Atheists Influence Kids Without Indoctrination?

Many atheists I know grew up practicing the religion of their parents. It’s a typical method of indoctrination. Your parents believe something (i.e. Jesus) and they want you to believe it.

Of course, religious parents want their kids to think on their own as well. They don’t see themselves as “indoctrinating” their kids. But they obviously have an influence on them and inevitably, the kids will imitate their parents.

When many atheists have children, they want to do something different. They don’t want their kids to automatically become atheists simply because the parents don’t believe in a god. Instead, they would like to give the kids tools to think on their own. Hopefully then, the children will decide what to believe when they’re old enough to think about it.

But how do you influence your kids without indoctrinating them?

Dale McGowan explains in his new video:

For me, the key part begins at the 6:12 mark but the whole video is worth checking out.

And the plea to religious parents to act in a similar way is fantastic. I wonder how many of them do that sort of thing.

  • Judy

    It was just the opposite with me. I was raised by atheists and eventually converted to the Mormon church as an adult. My parents always told me it was my choice.

  • Marc

    Also check out the recent interview with McGowan on CFI’s “Point of Inquiry” podcast:
    D.J. Grothe and McGowan talk in depth about this very topic – “Raising Freethinkers”

  • Dietra

    I have done much the same with my son. While he has always known that I an not a believer, he has been encouraged to study religion. I have pointed out that my choice might not be the right one. I have provided him with comparative religion books and offered to either accompany him or to make sure he can go to services with friends or family. The fact that he was given the choice to study and think has lead him to being an atheist.

    “The choice to study and think” is what theists fear.

  • Siamang

    Great video!

    What a great voice to have out there. Another warm and fuzzy atheist.

  • CatBallou

    Really? Would you be just as happy if your children decide to believe in astrology and psychic communication with animals and the dead (and dead animals)? Ouija boards, crystals, and auras? Voodoo?
    There are dozens of superstitions and quasi-religious beliefs that I would teach my children to reject on the basis of their irrationality and lack of evidence. Why wouldn’t I teach them to be atheists also?

  • Zahada

    I have seen Dale speak in person when attending one of his workshops. I am so glad that he has written his books and is sharing his ideas with others. His point of view has really helped me in MANY ways on many issues that I encounter as an atheist mother.

  • http://themousesnest.blogspot.com Mouse

    I find myself saying, “Some people believe that,” and expanding a bit from there, an awful lot. I used variations of that phrase more frequently than I would have expected when volunteering in my son’s kindergarten class. It’s amazing the theological statements they can come up with while coloring. I blew some of their little minds when, after a few of them got on the topic of attending church, I simply responded, “Some people go to church and some people don’t. And that’s ok.” Luckily my son’s teacher is a recovered Catholic and he appreciated my calm approach to all of this.

  • Aj

    When I have kids I’m going to, through action and communication, make them believe a few things: math, reason, and science works. I’ll be guiding them towards those methods every single chance I get. With carrots, not sticks. Although since parents control their child’s lives then everything they do will be motivated by the belief science works. Reason or science, is not the same as religion. For one, religion relies on revelation and authority, they’re not universal or accessible to all, therefore antithetical to freethought. Reason appeals to our mental capacity to consider and contrast, while science appeals to empirical observation, the foundation of freethought.

    I hate the “well, I believe this, but others believe that, so talk to them about it” approach. Freethinking would be to tell your child when they ask about Jesus’s miracles to ask for the evidence, and evaluate it with reason. If kids are sponges then I’m not going to pick a religious person for them to talk to, that seems like terrible advice. Does Dale include caveates for miracles that aren’t believed by billions of people or are harmful? One of his children says that a teenager got pregnant but is still a virgin, or that sexual intercourse with virgins can cure AIDS. I bet he’ll go, “well some people believe that, you better go talk to them”. It seems like an indoctrination of something other than atheism, but I guess that’s OK.

    Also, you apparantly can’t present points of view that are negative towards other points of view. “Religious people are stupid” is as valid and opinion as religious opinions. How about religion is a product of natural selection? I guess that’s just an opinion, although people have done a lot of initial work in the area, providing evidence that makes it a bit more than “just my opinion”. Contrasting that with a religious person’s belief that Jesus rose from the dead it’s not even “just their opinion”. It’s a bunch of people’s opinions that got passed by word of mouth, written down, deemed true by someone else, made into a collection by a group of others, and then for hundreds of years people have been indoctrinated and coerced into believing it.

    The blogger in Australia was being ridiculous comparing an atheist dad to a Greek orthodox dad. Which one is more likely to take their children to be indoctrinated by a professional? Which believes a book that makes nonbelieving in God a sin with eternal punishment? Which one is likely to associate believing in God with being a moral person?

    It’s not what you believe it’s why you believe it.

  • MacCrocodile

    I remember when I was very young, I asked my mom how old God was. She said, “Well, some people think God has always existed. So, I guess that would mean he doesn’t have an age.” I thought ‘some people think’? You mean you don’t know? I guess I was never really satisfied with answers of faith that stopped at “because I said so,” and neither is Mom.

    Fourteen years later, I was a confirmed atheist. My dad was disappointed, but they did raise me to think critically.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    I suppose its unlikely that theistic parents will want to not indctrinate their kids.

    After all, if you really believe that hell awaits unbelievers what parent wouldn’t try and protect their child from that.

    I think i’d personally prefer to raise my children as atheists, but not through indoctrination but through explanation.

    i.e. not just “some people believe that but not us” but more “many people believe that but really, there is no good reason to think they are right. And here is why…..”

  • http://ethicalfocus.org Ken Karp

    As Zahada mentions, Dale McGowan conducts lots of Parenting Beyond Belief workshops, which are geared towards young parents and others involved with raising children. The next one currently scheduled will be at the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County (NJ) in October. Interested parents can read more and buy tickets here.

  • dudemang

    It’s not indictrination to teach your kid facts. Would he teach his kids that some people believe that 2+2=4 or just that it’s a fact that 2+2=4?

    I’d tell my kids that it’s a fact that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because we know that’s impossible thanks to science. I’d teach them as much about what we know and more importantly how we know it and how they can figure it out for themselves too.

  • skinman

    Aj -

    This a very telling quote:

    “When I have kids I’m going to”

    It is easy to plan a course of action before you have kids. It is very difficult to stay on course once you have kids. I’m not knocking your plans, I’m merely pointing out that once children hit 2 or 3 years of age they develop their own agenda and often times the carrot doesn’t work.

    I’ve never wanted to emulate my parents but frustration builds, patience wanes and suddenly I hear myself saying things I swore I would never say.

  • Lord&Seamstress

    I’m going to have to disagree with him on this one. My parents never discussed politics or religion around me as a child; it wasn’t a forbidden subject, but there was a tacit agreement that these were not to be spoken of, certainly never in public. In short, they were secretive about their beliefs.

    As a result, I began working things out on my own, and I grew up a liberal atheist in a family of conservative Catholics. My parents couldn’t have cared less because they know they raised a successful, healthy child, God or no God, and if that was my decision, so be it.

    His strategy seems to much like “divide and conquer;” convolute the choices so that they take the easy route and adopt the parents’ beliefs. If you want to raise a critical thinker, teach kids early on that your opinions are irrelevant when it comes to what they believe; they have to decide for themselves.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Kids learn much of what they know by simply watching their parents independent of what their parents specifically tell them. If you live your life with tolerance and compassion, that will be a great influence on your kids.


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