I’m Looking for Atheist Parents Who Teach Their Kids to Choose Their Own Religious Paths

I got a request from someone at NBC working on a piece about atheist parents who are not necessarily raising their kids to be non-religious:

… For example, an atheist set of parents who are sending their child to Catholic School, or atheist parents who are open to their children forming their own beliefs.

We know a lot about children who break off from their families religious beliefs to form their own atheist views, but what about the reverse?

If you think you fit the bill, and you’re willing to have your name(s) appear in print, let me know by Thursday night! (Please use the subject line “NBC Request”)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/DarwinSelection Atheist Finch

    Do they just want Americans? Many of my Canadian friends are happy to let their kids choose for themselves.

  • Georgina

    I am surprised. I assumed atheists parents inoculated their children early on by introducing them to all religions, including the ones that died out thousands of years ago.
    Once inoculated, the children can go to catholic schools, even ones run by nuns (as my daughter did) and still not be infected.

    Nothing beats religion like removing the exclusivity.

    • Art_Vandelay

      My mother actually offered to pay to send my kids to a Catholic school and I refused. Even if you’re not worried about your child being brainwashed, isn’t just knowing that some of that money gets to the RCC and helps them do the shitty things they do to society enough?

  • Amakudari

    Atheist parents who are open to their children forming their own beliefs.

    Almost all atheist parents? The weird phrasing, plus the media obsession with finding overly accommodating atheists (Cupp anyone?) to push as an example for the rest of us infidels, makes me a little wary of this request.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      i just noticed the NBC part.

      be wary, Hemant. this already sounds like a pre-written “atheists are wrong and even their children know it and love jeebus” piece.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Maybe the best thing would be to have them just look at this thread. I do wonder if making an example of parents who do what we consider the norm gives it the impression that it’s abnormal. I mean really, good luck finding atheist parents who aren’t ” open to their children forming their own beliefs”

  • http://www.facebook.com/danielsack1984 Daniel Sack

    “Teach Their Kids to Choose Their Own Religious Paths”
    AKA Not indoctrating their kids.

    How many theists would fit this bill?

    • Thegoodman

      I would guess very few. I would hope the goal of a parent is to raise your kids to hopefully do more good than harm. I personally think that, if mankind is to have a long meaningful future, we should abandon myth all together.

      My children will make their own decisions in regard to religion, drugs, sex, career, and many other things. That doesn’t mean I will not try to influence these decisions to be, what I would call, a good citizen of earth. I think that being religious is to look backward, I would prefer they look forward.

      I cannot help to think that I would be disappointed if I had a child that became a priest or preacher of some sort. No more or less so than if they were a drug dealer or permanent fast food employee. I want better for them than that. And yes, I am equating those things.

  • gg

    That would have been MY parents, and me with my children. AND we are a black family AND all atheists. But I don’t think my children would agree to an interview.

  • http://twitter.com/edbrayton edbrayton

    My dad has been an atheist all his life and as a teenager I was a born again Christian and one of the leaders of the local Youth for Christ group. He never tried to talk me out of it. In fact, he never spoke to me about it at all. Long after I had deconverted and become a non-believer, I asked him why he never said anything and he said, “I figured I had raised you to think for yourself and you’d figure it out on your own.” But he’s 77 now and hasn’t raised a child in 20 years.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      Sounds like you and your Dad would be great for this interview.

  • rcvanoz

    I’m a non-theist and while I’m certainly open about it, I have given my children as much information as I have on all religions current and extinct.

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    I’ve told my kids that they are free to choose a religion or not to choose one. Just as long as they are not assholes about it.

    • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

      Also, when my kids started asking questions about religions and god(s) I don’t go “Gasp, how can you question THIS?!?!” I said that their questions are very valid, that some people believe X, others believe Y, and I believe none of the above.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    not a parent, but that’s me as a child. my parents said, “make up your own mind.” they let me go to churches and temples with neighbors, when i got invited. they showed me how to honor the religious, by doing things like putting on the yarmulke at jewish funerals and not serving pork to our muslim friends. they read the bible to me at xmas, because they wanted me to understand the religious, not-santa related origins of the holiday. they gave me books about ancient greek religion, which in turn led to a life long fascination with religious history. all in all, they were very cool about the whole thing and look at me now. a total atheist.

    i suppose they knew that would happen. my sister is too.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    I simply tell my kids that God isn’t real. Telling your kids that God doesn’t exist is indoctrination as much as telling them that the monster under their bed isn’t real.

    • Cortex_Returns

      I plan on doing this, myself. I don’t intend on actively pushing any system of belief onto my children, but if they ask, I’m not going to waffle around. It’s a settled question as far as I’m concerned.

    • Blacksheep

      I agree with your logic. (Although I am a Christian). You are telling your kids what you sincerely believe, which is what you do in other areas of their life as well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=645690699 Rachel Holierhoek

      What is the difference between telling your kids God isn’t real and telling your kids God doesn’t exist? I see the difference, but do you think a small child does? I explore the topic with my kids asking questions and discussing what other people do believe and where those beliefs originated, what might have been behind them. We’ve explored geography, history, tens of religions major tenets, science and especially critical thought. When I’ve got them asking probing questions, then I know they’re on the right path.

      • Thegoodman

        I don’t think Andrew was making a distinction between “real” and “exist”. I thought the same thing when I read it.

        I think he was only equating one fictitious being of which he does not believe exists (gods), to another fictitious being he does not believe exists (bed monsters).

  • LouisDoench

    It seems obvious to me, but have you contacted Dale McGowan about this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.crook.3 Jeffrey Crook

    Frankly, I had assumed (or at least hoped) most atheist parents are accepting of their children’s experience/interaction with religious thinking … after all, it is practically impossible to completely shield them from it short of never letting them leave the house. Having been indoctrinated at an early age and without a parental buffer towards skeptical thinking, I was still able to continue asking questions that eventually revealed a world free of the supernatural and of superstition. For our children (now 8 & 5), we have chosen this ‘accepting’ route as a means to afford some measure of perspective while being there to answer questions and to provide the requisite buffer. Beyond that, they will be free (to the extent possible) to develop their own view of the world. With that stated, they are fully aware of our view and are consistently reminded of the need to question everything.

    • Mimi

      Our home was atheist. I never made a point of telling my son “some people think x and some think y.” When he got around other kids a lot, around first grade (more so than kindergarten) or so he would naturally talk to kids who attended church, etc.

      When he asked me about it (this is a couple decades ago, so i’m a little fuzzy on the exact words) then that some people believe in a god that created the world in about a week’s time and they go to churches and stuff to pay homage to it, but most of them didn’t really live that way the other 6 days of the week.

      Over the years, when he had a question (and I know a lot because it’s a good idea to know the evil you stand against…plus I was raised Captist ) I would answer them, giving the point of view of the religion as well as my own. I was never “militant” about it but he knew we weren’t a religious family.

      I allowed him to go to church with friends (one day he came home, he was about 13 and said “Mom the Baptists are nuts” I *do* remember that one LOL). He asked me what I would think if he decided to be a Satanist (baiting me) and I told him that I would support whatever he believed, or rather his right to believe, but to make sure it’s something he really *did* believe and not something just to piss me off, because there are way better ways to do that.

      Anyway, long story short (ish) he was an atheist because he could see through all the religious BS. There is no question I influenced him, no way to really get away from the fact that parents influence their kids…a lot, but I tried really hard to be as neutral as I could and to encourage him to investigate things for himself. If he asked a question I didn’t know an answer to, we would research it together.

      When my mother died, he and I both participated in the group prayer by her bedside…we were supporting the rest of my (extended) family who are believers. When my son was dying and the hospital chaplain asked if we wanted prayers we said no. They asked if we wanted him baptized (he was on life support) and we said no.

  • Blacksheep

    This is a fascinating area, the idea of letting kids choose their religious path. (I mean that sincerely). What I can’t get around (as a father) is the simple fact that kids rarely if ever choose the best path and make the best choices on their own. When it comes to education, eating, excercise, allocation of time (digital vs other), hygene, manners – virtually every area in life – kids often make bad (easy, fun, comfortable, tasty) choices. All of those things are taught, none come by instinct. I’m not sure if it makes logical sense to segregate faith as the one area that we don’t guide and teach. (Whatever one’s faith system might be). Although I suppose that method could work: “You can have salad and chicken for dinner or froot loops. You decide, but please notice how you feel afterwards.”

    • Art_Vandelay

      I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that instilling good nutritional habits in your children isn’t quite the same as telling them they’re responsible for the blood sacrifice of the creator of the universe and must dedicate their whole lives to serving him or else they’ll be unmercifully tortured for eternity.

      • Blacksheep

        My point was much more about the core idea of whether or not childeren should be free to make their own choices. In fact I said “Whatever one’s faith system might be.” It’s a philosophical question, not a “my belief against yours” debate.

        great name, by the way.

        • Art_Vandelay

          No, I get the point but I think the answer is clearly that in some areas they need guidance and in others they should be free to find their own path.

          Thanks…Importer/Exporter.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          I think a lot depends on what you think the consequences of the ‘wrong’ choice are.

          • Blacksheep

            very true.

      • Blacksheep

        Interestingly, to that point, (and I am not in this camp) many Christian parents, especially in the Bible Belt, do just that in reverse – put no emphasis on nutrition and instead focus on eternity, feeling that the here and now does not matter so much.

    • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

      I’m not advocating absolute free for all for small children. But life is about making decisions, and the only way we learn how to do this is through practice. And you start small. And younpick your battles. So I don’t say “hey, eat whatever you feel like eating,” but, “you can have oatmeal or toast for breakfast.”
      This goes with education the kids about proper nutrition and the consequences of eaing too much junk food. Sure it’s more work that just issuing dictates, but hopefully I’m teaching my kids to think and to understand real world consequences of their decisions.

    • http://twitter.com/kriswa kriswa

      True. So installing the ideas of humanities truth should be a fairly simple matter, compared to the brain-washing they will get in school R.E. classes?

  • http://www.facebook.com/IDarkside Brian Gomez

    I worked at Lutheran Daycare for a few years and my kids attended as well. There was a lot of religious “education” there. My youngest, a five year old, still thinks god created most things. My older children seem to be more skeptical. That’s just fine with me.

    • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

      My kids go to an English school, and the National Curriculim makes religion education mandatory based on the predominant faith around the community. So the kiddos get a lot of Catholicism. At first my youngest was all into god and Jesus. Then one day she got home and said, “wait a minute, the bible has it all wrong, the earth cannot have been made in 6 days. We know from science that people evolved so Adam and Eve is completely off.” I didn’t really have to say anything about nonbelieve.

  • Droopy

    I would teach my child that they are free to question what I tell them, but that does not mean that I would not give them accurate information about religion (i.e. that they’re all wrong). I want my hypothetical children to have curiosity and a thirst for knowledge, not the idea that they can just make stuff up and decide its true (i.e. what religions are).

    • fin312

      That’s why you are a terrible parent, you give the children accurate information about religion and let them decide for them themselves. You are no better than a racist!

      • Thegoodman

        Except arguments that racists make are not founded on facts.

        “Accurate” the way you use it implies factual. There is no factual information that supports any religion. There are religious texts that cite no credible sources nor do they provide credible information.

        I agree with Droopy. I will love my children with all of my heart. I will support them in whatever endeavor they choose. However, I may have private thoughts about disappointment in some decisions they have made. If they have delusional and egocentric habits (which are often supported or created by religions) I will do my best to lead them out of the darkness and into the light.

        • http://twitter.com/kriswa kriswa

          The Kopimism religion is supported by facts.

  • Gus Snarp

    I like that they think this: ” atheist parents who are open to their children forming their own beliefs.” is going to be hard to find. The Venn diagram of atheist parents and atheist parents who are open to their children forming their own beliefs is not quite a circle, but it’s damned close. I don’t know if I’d qualify, because while I’m open to my children forming their own beliefs, they’re just not at an age where they really are going to do this. The six year old has heard how we talk about god(s) and that we don’t believe in them and says that he doesn’t either, because he’s six.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I was reading these on my phone this morning when my son came down to breakfast and asked what I was doing. So I explained that I was reading about what parents tell their kids about God.

    Him: “So what do they say?”

    Me: “Well, this was about parents who don’t believe in God, like I don’t, so most of them tell their kids they don’t believe in God, but they tell their kids about God, and different kinds and ways of thinking about god. Like Christians and Jews and Hindus”

    H: “Well I don’t think God is real.”

    M: “Yes, I know but most people do think God is real. So you might some day, or you might not. Or you might believe a different kind of God.”

    H: “What do those people tell their kids”

    M: “Well, different people say different things. A lot of people who believe in God tell their kids to believe the same way”

    H: “Why?”

    M: “Well, some people think that if you don’t do it right you’ll go to hell, and they don’t want their kids to go to hell”

    H: “Hell is like burning for a long time and then you die”

    M: “Well, hell is after you die, and then you burn forever. But hell isn’t real. Even a lot of people who believe in God don’t believe in hell”

    H: “Ya, I don’t believe in hell, I mean, that’s CRAZY!”

    M: “So what do you want for breakfast? Waffle? Toast?”

    H: “Bunny crackers!”

    M: “Ok, bunny crackers it is. And what book do you want to read?”

    • http://twitter.com/dougphilips Doug Philips

      Very similar convos in my house, Rich.

    • pansies4me

      My son, who is 11, has told me that he considers himself to be an atheist. My hubby is a “none”, so he feels no need to drag him to any churches though he does believe in god. I am more vocal about what I believe, so I think my view has been absorbed by my son. However, he did say to me once, “How can something immaterial be more powerful than nature?” That leads me to believe he has given it some thought. He told me again that he considers himself to be an atheist and my reaction was to say something similar to your “someday you might” believe comment to your child. I honestly want him to feel free to change his mind without fear and I tell him that no matter what, he’ll be loved and accepted. Interestingly, he shocked the heck out of me when he said that the class went around the room and identified what religion they are. He said that one of his friends said that he was an atheist, so he admitted to it as well. In the past he would tell kids who asked that “it’s personal”. I almost panicked because I thought there would be hell to pay, so to speak, but he goes to a private Montessori school (he’s in 6th grade, along with 7th and 8th graders in the same classroom). He has had absolutely no problem. The kids and teachers don’t treat him or his friend any differently than they did before they knew.

  • Texas Mom

    My husband and I are atheists, but we have allowed our son (now age 22) to make his own decision about what he believes. There was a time that he didn’t believe. He has an ongoing battle with heroin addiction and has spent many months in rehabs, the latest of which was a court-ordered stay at the Salvation Army Adult Rehab. Having a belief in his god and reading the christian bible helps him. Having “someone” or something that he believes can guide him in his daily life is important to him. Allowing him to make his own decision includes accepting the decision that he makes.

  • http://twitter.com/dougphilips Doug Philips

    I tell my kids their lives are their lives. I tell them what I believe and what I don’t believe, and I tell them what other people believe and why I think they believe what they believe. My 9 yo is very comfortable states, “I’m an atheist.” My 7 yo old wants to believe in a god sort of but doesn’t really care. Interestingly, the 9 yo told the 7yo that their was no tooth fairy and the 7 yo regrew the tooth-fairy belief.

  • baal

    I’m not willing to have my name on a published list…I can’t see the upside. My wife and I have shown our son a number of creation myth stories and have discussions from time to time about all those apparently useless buildings everywhere (churches) or how we’d do xmas differently if we were Christians. He’s been raised without religion otherwise. I’m not going to suggest to him that he seeks out a religious path, why would I? If he gets the urge to go looking on his own, That’d be something I’d not work against – he’s free to make his own choices (aside from being 11 and generally limited in $$ or mobility).

    I’m having a little trouble with how the question is phrased. It somewhat confused why an atheist would want their child to actively choose a religous path. Similarly, I’ve met few (none?) atheists who would disown their child who decided to spend a few years checking out a synagogue or what have you.

  • Thegoodman

    I think a lot of the “just let the kids make their own choice” thing is mostly BS.

    Of course every person should be able to make their own choice. The problem is that by letting them be exposed to many religions, OTHER adults are telling them what to believe. When I have kids, I won’t have other adults tell my own children things that I believe to be lies. I would hope they will know the difference, but what if they don’t figure it out? What if they grow up and grow old tortured with the thought of eternal damnation? That is not acceptable to me.

    I will gladly read to my children the texts of every major religion. I will gladly allow them to read whatever they wish on the topic. I will not allow them to be told by others that I am hell-bound and wrong, without evidence.

    Being all nicey nicey sounds good, but how many religious people let their own children “choose” whatever religion they wish? Its not like all the religions are on a shelf at the candy store.

  • Bec Bunworth

    I’m in Aus so don’t think I’d be any help, but I wasn’t raised with religion and am not raising my girl w/ it. She’s 3 and whenever we drive past a church she says “don’t waste my time” :-)

  • Chris

    Why in the world would I send my children to a religious school when I don’t believe? And sure, my kids are free to make up their own minds in regards to religion…but since I’ve taught them to think critically and skeptically, I have no worries about them suddenly finding religion. They’re too smart for that!

  • Murph

    Children are easily influenced by their surroundings, peers, adults, basically EVERYTHING! If religion weren’t so prominent in their/our surroundings it would be very easy for an atheist parent to simply allow their child to learn the laws of reality and nature on his/her own and expect logic to govern their decision in not having a God or religion. BUT there is strong influence from their surroundings to believe in a God or religion, specifically Christianity in the US. So what is an atheist parent left to do?!? Guide their children in the direction of reality, just as they do with education, health, morals, and all the important things in life. Guidance doesn’t always ensure the ideal choice of the parent, but any good parent (atheist or not) allows their child to make their own choices.


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