Ask Richard: Atheist Mother: My Daughter is Going to Church

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Dear Richard,
I have read with great interest your advice to atheist teens coming out to their theist families, and I wonder if you have any advice to someone in the opposite situation. I am an atheist parent trying to deal with my college sophomore daughter going to church regularly. I find myself feeling great sympathy for the theist parent in some of your other letters and asking myself essentially the same questions: Where did I go wrong? How could she believe such nonsense? How can I help her see the light? How do I accept her when I reject her views on religion?

My husband and I are not active, “out”, atheist, we are really better described as “nones”. We don’t go to church, never sent our kids to church, and never really talked about religion at home except to get angry when we felt some religious group was trying to force their views on us. My husband is fine with her going to church. He thinks she needs to make up her own mind about what she believes and that the church she’s been going to is one of the better churches, but I don’t agree. It is a young, hip, liberal church, but I still think it’s spreading lies and planting the seeds of hate. We went to a service with her recently and I listened to some podcasts of other services and I’m very troubled by what I heard. I simply can’t accept the idea of “giving yourself to over to Jesus” or that God actually answers prayers (does he really heal the sick that are prayed for and ignore those that are not?), or the idea that homosexuals cannot experience true love with each other. I’m OK with my daughter forming her own beliefs, but I will draw the line if her beliefs become hateful or supernatural. Am I supposed to just accept it if she starts believing in the tooth fairy too? So far she has not shown signs that she is truly believing this sort of thing, but I’m troubled that she’s hearing it week after week and I find it hypocritical to be going to a church where you don’t believe what the pastor is saying.

I’ve tried to gently bring up my concerns with them and felt like they both just blew off my concerns and didn’t really take me seriously. I’m worried that if I push too hard it will damage our relationships and I’m still not sure if I’m just worrying over nothing. Am I being a hypocrite for wanting my daughter to form her own opinions, then being upset that she forms the “wrong” opinion? Should I just get over it and be thankful that she’s not binge drinking, failing her classes and sleeping around? If that’s the case, then I could still use some suggestions on how to let it go and accept my daughter’s beliefs and my husband’s difference of opinions.


Dear Kimberly,

You didn’t go wrong anywhere. You brought up your daughter to think for herself, and she’s doing that.

Some atheist parents might raise their children in an authoritarian way to adopt their disbelief in gods and the supernatural, although I don’t personally know of any. I know of many atheist parents who follow the higher principle of guiding their children to develop as free thinkers, and then letting them find their own answers. Along with that comes not just the possibility, but the likelihood that some of the decisions they make in life will not be what the parents would prefer. That’s the challenge that is built into freedom.

Rest in the knowledge that you have given her mind freedom even at the cost of not necessarily getting all your preferences. It’s all the more deep and valuable a gift for that.

Atheist parents have one advantage over religious parents who are in the opposite situation: The religious parents have to deal with their fear that their non-believing child will suffer in hell forever. For the atheist parents, the worst scenario is that their religious kid will be an ass for the rest of this life. Sad perhaps, but not terrifying.

And consider if that worst scenario is actually that likely. Consider what you know about your daughter’s personality, which is already about 99.9 percent what it’s going to remain. If from her genes and her upbringing she got compassion, honesty, fairness, acceptance of differences, and respectfulness, then religious or not, she’ll be a daughter to be proud of, someone with whom you can keep and enjoy a reciprocal flow of love.

Don’t sacrifice precious love for so trivial a thing as a difference of opinion about spooks in the sky and magic books.

You asked how do you accept her when you reject her views on religion. Her religious views are just that, views. They’re possessions, not essence. She is not her clothes, or her politics, or her taste in music. She is what receives the love you give. Don’t magnify the trivia and disregard the treasure. In the same way, you are not your views either, so if she rejects your views, she is not rejecting you. You are what receives the love she gives. You can be receptive to her love even though your views can’t be receptive to her views.

You gently brought up your concerns to her, and that’s good, but perhaps it was loaded with too much anxiety and disappointment. She “blew them off” which might mean that she wants some open space to examine the issues you mentioned without you crowding her. From time to time, not too frequently, ask her about her in-process opinion on just one of those issues at a time, such as GLBT issues, from curiosity rather than from a fearful place. Try to keep it about learning about her rather than trying to change her.

Since your husband is more comfortable and accepting of her current explorations, perhaps he can be a bridge or an ambassador for the two of you, rather than be on her side against you. Tell him your concerns, and ask him if he can help you find a more comfortable place from which you can watch your daughter do her exploring.

You asked if you’re worried about nothing. So far, the worries you have about the negative things she might absorb from the church are imagined possibilities rather than actual observations. Only time will tell which, if any of those negative things appear in her spoken opinions and her behavior. Give her a respectful amount of time to use that rare free-thinking mind you gave her. Then later you can discuss any actual statements or behaviors about which you might disagree.

You asked if you’re being a hypocrite for wanting your daughter to form her own opinions, then being upset that she forms the “wrong” opinion. No, not a hypocrite, just endearingly human. Your worry is rooted in your love, but at this stage of her young adulthood, just love the real person she is right now, rather than try to protect her and everyone else from the possible person she might or might not become.

Remember that the way she lives her life is about her, not about you. The way you live your life is about you, not about her. Begin to get used to the new stage of your relationship with her, as fellow adults rather than as parent and child. It can be a challenging adjustment, but to resist the change will only cause unnecessary strife and tension. To embrace it is to begin enjoying the longest stage of your relationship with her.


Related Post: Ask Richard: Atheists’ Freethinking Children Are Considering Religion

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • C Peterson

    You didn’t go wrong anywhere. You brought up your daughter to think for herself, and she’s doing that.

    It would probably be wrong to say that Kimberly went wrong somewhere, since we don’t have enough information. But I’d argue that something went wrong, because if her daughter actually could think effectively for herself, she wouldn’t be going to church.

    But there’s hope. She’s at an age where social influences are powerful, and perhaps those are simply overwhelming her rationality. I don’t think this is a time for Kimberly to be too gentle. She should firmly express her deep disappointment, in the same way a good parent would if their adult child were using drugs, shoplifting, or otherwise adopting bad and dangerous habits.

  • Blacksheep

    “She is what receives the love you give.”

    …very nice, Richard.

  • Blacksheep

    “She should firmly express her deep disappointment, in the same way a good parent would if their adult child were using drugs, shoplifting, or otherwise adopting bad and dangerous habits.”

    It’s times like this that I understand why I stay in the camp of faith.
    I would argue that something went right – a girl who was raised to be open minded is exploring her faith in God.

  • Julien

    I’d like to offer a former child of a godless parent’s perspective – maybe it’ll help.

    Kids can join groups (religious and otherwise) for all sorts of reasons. I joined the Mormon church when I was a young teenager. I did it because of a girl, but I wasn’t about to tell my mother that. I later left the church after a few years, and learned that during my time attending my mother was fearful for me – she thought I was being caught up in a cult.

    As far as I was concerned, I was never really a believing Mormon, and never had to defend myself to anyone, but my mother could only see one perspective of my actions. She couldn’t see how I acted in church or out with religious people, let alone what I was thinking and feeling. She just saw a child that she thought she was losing.

    What was really going on is that I was exploring. I loved this new community that I had found, I loved learning all kinds of strange rituals. I loved that people put so much effort into the kids, organizing sports and trips and so many cool things that I didn’t get to do otherwise. I loved meeting new people and instantly having something in common. I loved dressing up for things, I loved the Mormon dances.

    But I never believed it, really. I loved being a smart kid in quorum and knowing the answer to theological questions, and I got a kick out of the way the adults treated me like an example for others. But slowly it stopped being a game and became stifling. I started to resent having to constantly wear a mask, and fear started to creep in. Eventually it was too much, too fake, too judgmental, and I left.

    All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into this from your limited perspective. There are so many reasons that kids explore, and there really are a lot of nice things about belonging to a church. Even if she stays a lifelong member of churches, remember that you can’t know what’s going on in her heart, or what exactly she’s getting out of it – you can only assume from your own perspective.

  • Atheist Diva

    I have three children, each of whom happens to be an atheist, but each of whom differs greatly from me in other ways. For example, my sons hate spiders, while my daughter and I love them. That might seem like a small thing, but it’s actually a big deal to us. One son doesn’t love Shakespeare; three of us do. One son can’t sing; three of us can, but all four of us play instruments. One son briefly went through an Ayn Rand phase, which was way too annoying for me. Now that my kids are officially adults, I think often about how weird it must have been for my parents (church-goers) to have me (atheist) because it’s very weird for me to have my three kids. There are no rules that say you will have ANYTHING in common with your children, so cherish the things you do have in common, and don’t stress out about the others. You always love your kids, but you don’t necessarily have to like everything about them. Also, I went to church for 19 years and I turned out okay. So will your daughter.

  • 0xabad1dea

    In my experience people suddenly “find Jesus” for one of three reasons:

    1) Emotional trauma. I know of an atheist who became Christian shortly after a branch fell off a tree and killed the man she was speaking to. She lacked emotional support in her personal life and church provided her with a framework to “justify” senseless tragedy.

    2) Profound loneliness. The modus operandi of youth groups is to draw in lonely young people by inviting them to group activities and becoming the key component of their social life.

    3) Being crazy in love with someone already in the religion. At this age, it will usually take care of itself. Once babies are involved, however, the condition is usually incurable.

    So my advice would be to gently figure out if any of these are the root cause and gently provide the support needed to work through them/wait them out. If it makes you feel any better, I went through a Wiccan-ish phase my sophomore year of university. Remember: the etymology of sophomore is one who believes they are wise because they are no longer a beginner :)

  • Julien


    I think you’re wrong on this point. There are any number of reasons that someone who can “effectively think for [him/]herself” would go to church.

    Given the assumptions that you make (people that go to church do so because they can’t think for themselves, they are influenced socially, and their rationality is overwhelmed), your position is completely logical. Something would have to go wrong for a person to join a church for those reasons. I’m sure there are people whose decisions to join a church (or any other group) are influenced by those reasons. However, please try to understand that there are many other reasons people attend churches.

  • Glasofruix

    I vote peer pressure.

  • Glasofruix

    You’re right social shunning and emotionnal blackmail are so much more adequate….

  • Sunny Day

    Name three. Then name the reasos why a secular group couldn’t fulfill the same needs your three reasons do.

  • Glasofruix

    Right now i can’t see any.

  • 3lemenope

    4) Sheer curiosity.

    5) Peer has joined the church and you want to see what they’re up to. Doesn’t have to be love; sometimes merely a good friend.

    I’ve met people who have lived as Christians for years for one or the other of those reasons. They stop when the whole religion thing gets played out and they get bored, or when the person they followed there leaves and there isn’t sufficient community left without them to make it worth it.

  • 3lemenope

    Why would the possibility that a secular alternative exists matter?

  • Blacksheep

    I’ve never encountered those things. (Social shunning? Like the story of the Good Samaritan? Emotional blackmail? Like the Sermon on the Mount?:) Wait – Actually I have – I have been shunned with down votes and criticism that ranges from the polite to the disgusting by FA regulars. Not a big deal, after all I am a “guest” in this house – but let’s just say that I expected more open mindedness and less “prickliness”.

  • C Peterson

    Of course, there are many reasons. But rational analysis isn’t one of them, and a parent who places very high value on their child’s capacity for rational thought should quite properly be disappointed if that child chooses theism, and should quite properly express that disappointment.

    I’m hardly suggesting that Kimberly reject her daughter, or kick her out of her life, or dispossess her!

  • Glasofruix

    Just read stories about atheists coming out to their religious parents, lots and lots of christan “love” there… As for your downvotes, i’m sorry, but 99% of the time your comments about how skyfairy is the best of them all skyfairies out there are laughable and useless.

    Almost forgot:

  • Blacksheep

    1. Forgiveness
    2. Salvation
    3. Eternal Life

    All three are dependent upon the belief that God is real, belief in the fall on man, and belief that Jesus was Christ, so they only apply to believers. Within that construct, these would be three key reasons. Anything else could arguably be fulfilled by a secular group.
    (Community, fellowship, etc).

  • Blacksheep

    I have never encountered that.
    But wait – your advice is for Kimberly to “firmly express her deep dissapointment” (pretty much the worst thing for a kid to experience) but you look down upon Christian parents who do the same thing?

  • Blacksheep

    many highly rational people do not choose atheism.

  • Barry St. Denis

    As we do not like having religion forced on us, it is not our purpose to force atheism on others. I know a number of people raised my atheistic parent who have profound religious belief. There was usually some traumatic event in their life that evoked this belief. Their move to theism was usually a coping device from perceived personal chaos. If you think about it, isn’t this why religion developed in the first place; bringing order to perceived chaos?

  • Glasofruix

    1) It was never my advice
    2) no more christmass for you != daughter, i am disappoint.

  • Glasofruix

    1) Bullshit
    2) More bullshit
    3) Military grade bullshit

    And you wonder why you are downvoted every time?

  • Blacksheep

    No, I don’t wonder at all!

  • Blacksheep

    Sorry about that – that was C’s advice.
    I was distracted by work, it gets in the way of my life.

  • C Peterson

    Silly. Forgiveness is something that can never be granted by proxy. Salvation is something that nobody needs (it isn’t even a definable something). And eternal life, if it were possible, would be a nightmare beyond the worst visions of Hell ever created.

  • Blacksheep

    I was careful to point out that these reasons exist within the construct of Christianity, therefore that are reasons if one belongs to that faith. Most other benefits can be gotten elsewhere.

  • Tobias27

    There might be good reasons for going to church, but there are none for believeing in god.

  • C Peterson

    Certainly, people who are rational in some areas of their thinking do not necessarily choose atheism. That is because they have areas of belief that they refuse to apply rational thinking to.

    It is impossible to rationally decide to be a theist. It is common for theists to remain so by the simple lack of rational thinking, however. We believe many things without ever giving it much thought. The mark of an intellectually honest person, however, is that when one of these things is pointed out, they will think about it rationally. That’s why intelligent, intellectually honest people are rarely theists.

  • poen

    I disagree with this. It’s entirely possible for a freethinker to find religion. It means being illogical, but freethinking isn’t neccesarily about coming to the right conclusions, it’s just about coming to those conclusions independently. The best thing the mother could do at this point, in my opinion, would be to encourage the daughter to continue thinking about things critically, and not be afraid to question the things she’s hearing in church. Freethinking familys should offer the tools for freethought to their children, and let them go where they will with them.

  • Glasofruix

    Careful, or he’ll go all “But Jeebus got nailed to the cross for our sins” on us :p

  • 3lemenope

    It is impossible to rationally decide to be a theist.

    I’m constantly given to wonder whether this is something that can be rationally believed, or is merely just assumed out of comfort and the protection of personal prejudices.

  • Glasofruix

    The mother should not worry about it, at some point the pastor will give the “in case of rape, kill thy self” speech and i’m pretty sure the kid would leave the cult by herself.

  • icecreamassassin

    Those three things you listed have no requirement for god to be real, for the fall of man to be real, or the belief in Jesus as the son of god. They merely need a construct that can provide forgiveness (say, from the other sentient beings around you), a promise of salvation (Heaven’s Gate), and a promise of eternal life (Dyson’s infinite intelligence, perpetuity of the soul via reincarnation, etc.).

    Now, if you’re talking about *actual*, *realized* forgiveness, *actual*, *realized* salvation, and *actual*, *realized* eternal life…I fail to see how a group telling me such things are in my future *actually* provides any of those things. I mean, I can offer you a Tesla Roadster, but if i don’t *actually* provide a Tesla Roadster I’m not sure that the benefit is anything but wishful thinking.

    However, to your point, one cannot underestimate the value of feeling good about something, even if that something isn’t real. Positive thinking really does have beneficial effects. Just don’t forget to include the potential detrimental value in feeling good about something that isn’t real…but that $1 million check is coming to me soon so I don’t feel all that bad about all of my gambling losses…

  • Tom

    Disapproval and criticism are very different to shunning. Have we barred you from talking here? Have we refused to acknowledge your presence? Have we not considered what you’ve said and replied to it? Downvoting is not shunning. A permaban or maybe a hellban would be the closest thing we have to shunning and you’ll notice that this kind of community is generally loath to use them even when patently deserved, and never considers mere disagreement anywhere near sufficient justification to drop the banhammer.

  • Glasofruix

    Religions were developped as an isntrument of ignorance at first and then gradually evolved into an instrument of control. Religious institutions prey on the weak, it’s their speciality.

  • Gus Snarp

    I like to believe that I would be 100% OK with this if it were my kid (well, maybe OK is the wrong word, but I don’t think it would trouble me too much). Mainly because young people have to find their own paths and religious exploration is pretty normal. I did plenty of it myself, and it was only after a lot of “soul” searching that I came to consider myself an atheist. This is something that takes time. Unlike Christians, we don’t believe anyone is putting their soul in danger by attending church (not attending, for the Christians). So unless she’s getting involved with a dangerous cult, then letting this play out on its own is probably going to turn out fine in the end. I’ve often said I would ask my child to attend a number of different churches before settling on one, and I still think that’s reasonable. You’ve started attending church regularly. I think it’s great that you’re exploring your beliefs this way, but I’d like you to spend a little time learning about some other churches and faiths so you get a broader idea of what people believe. So how about one day a month you go to a different church or temple and see what they’re like. And then provide a list. If this is how it goes with my kids, I hope I still live in Cincinnati where we’ve got just about everything. Back in my hometown your choices would have been Southern Baptist or Pentecostal.

    My one concern is that it’s a young, hip church. You’ll note I left out “liberal”. A church that says that gay people can’t really love each other, as the letter suggests, is not liberal. And many young, hip churches are not in the least liberal. A lot of young hipness in churches is a fancy wrapping for conservative, fundamentalist evangelism. I’ll point out that Mars Hill is young and hip. It would be reasonable for her to find out exactly what the theology and doctrine of this church is. What do they believe and teach about the world we live in and how we live in it. Most of these places issue statements of faith that are written in code that people who are steeped in certain religions read and know that this place conforms with what they’re looking for, but are impenetrable to outsiders, so you want to get specifics. You can discuss these beliefs reasonably and calmly, but if they’re homophobic bigots, I’d expect most young people to turn away once they realize what they’re getting into all by themselves.

    That’s about as far as I would go with it as long as she is not bringing things up. If she wants to talk about religion, then you should be able to discuss ideas freely, but it should always be about the ideas and not her.

  • anniewhoo

    I would love to see a study that examines the belief systems of adult children who were raised in non-religious vs. atheist homes. I feel there is a big difference.

  • icecreamassassin

    “It is impossible to rationally decide to be a theist.”
    I think this has a pretty massive dependency on knowing the facts. I contend that it is *very* possible to rationally decide to be a theist – if, your whole life, your trusted loved ones have told you that god exists, have extolled the apologetics, and have simply repeated incorrect information as fact, then, armed with incorrect facts, I can see someone choosing to be a theist through a rationally-walked decision tree of sorts. One can critically think about something, bring all of their known facts to bear on the issue, and derive the wrong conclusion simply because they are unaware that their internal fact-database contains incorrect information.

    I know what you’re getting at and all, but coming to a conclusion about something is dependent on both the thought process involved as well as the facts and information utilized in the analysis. I suspect that there are few theists out there that have arrived at their worldview strictly rationally, but I do not dismiss it outright.

    “That’s why intelligent, intellectually honest people are rarely theists.”
    And I think this is correct. Which is why I dislike your use of the word ‘impossible’ earlier.

    Am I nit-picking here semantically?

  • Gus Snarp

    That is just singularly bad advice for how to deal with a relationship with a teenager. Thankfully Richard’s advice will get read first.

  • Amanda Hernandez

    My parents are Agnostic and would always wonder why I went to church when I was younger. My main reasons were:

    1) Food. Free pizza on Wednesday youth group, free Denny’s with a Catholic study group, and lots of sweets.

    2) Friends. I’m from Texas and have always been open about my Atheism and, surprisingly, my friends would be fine with it. It always got rather annoying that I couldn’t see them on Wednesdays and Sundays because of church so I just went with them.

    3) Music. Those hip, liberal churches generally have a church band. Some are really good!

    4) And lastly, boys. I went to a Mormon church to impress my then boyfriend. Now we’re married, he came out as bisexual and he’s no longer associating with the church.

    Even though I went often there was no way I would have been converted. This woman should trust that she raised her daughter to think rationally. Her daughter is probably just socializing, maybe she met a boy, etc. Completely harmless.

  • Gus Snarp

    This is awesome. Really. I think it’s something all parents need to be reminded of occasionally.

  • Gus Snarp

    You know, there are churches where nothing like that is ever said. The majority of churches, in fact.

  • Gus Snarp

    I expect that the free-thinking daughter may do far more to change the minds of her friends at the church than they’ll do to change hers.

  • Gus Snarp

    I do wish you had gotten a more thoughtful response than Glasofuix’s. But you should understand that this comment borders on laughable to many of us. While I think C Peterson is dead wrong, his response is very similar to what one commonly sees from religious people in the same scenario. So it seems downright silly for us to think that the “camp of faith” is better on this issue than ours. You’re also basing your assessment on one commenter, and then claiming the FA regulars have shunned you in a way that is comparable to the way faith communities often shun apostates. But shunning of apostates in faith communities is families shunning their own children at the advice of their pastor or other leader. Pastors can easily be found telling religious people to strongly express their disapproval to children who even consider leaving the faith.

    You’re confusing this with internet comments, the lowest gutter of humanity, whatever the topic that unites the commenters. That’s not really fair.

    I’d also point out that your grouping downvotes and polite criticism as part of the shunning you’ve received. I’ve received my share of downvotes and criticism, not all of it polite, and I’m a hardened atheist. If you can’t handle downvotes and polite criticism and think that they’re shunning, well then you probably should stay in the camp of faith, where critically evaluating ideas is more likely to be frowned upon.

  • wmdkitty

    Got a bone to pick with you.

    “That’s why intelligent, intellectually honest people are rarely theists.”

    Some of us are polytheists, and have our own reasons for believing as we do.

  • Blacksheep

    I doubt a speech like that has ever been given.

  • C Peterson

    You’re not really nit-picking. Your point is a good one. To be sure, I’m being a little casual with what it means to be “rational”.

    Yes, the reasons you give constitute a kind of rational thinking. But it’s an example of rational thinking leading to an incorrect conclusion (theism) because of a lack of data. Arriving at a correct answer requires more than rational thinking, it also requires knowledge. So I should more correctly say that theism is rare amongst intelligent, intellectually honest, educated people.

  • C Peterson

    A rational mode of thinking is pretty much defined by the requirement that conclusions be evidence based. So for a person to rationally decide to be a theist, I think they either need to be delusional (which is probably fairly common), or be working from false data (which is probably the primary reason that most theists exist).

  • Blacksheep

    I’m speaking about Christian doctrine, which is pretty much the opposite of the points you have made.

  • Glasofruix

    Or it could be a verse from the bible ;)

  • 3lemenope

    This thread is becoming exhibit A of the notion that projection is not exclusively a theistic vice, just in case anyone was harboring any delusions of superiority.

  • C Peterson

    Gus- she’s a college sophomore, not a teenager. An adult child. I think expressing disappointment about life choices in a child that age is entirely appropriate.

  • Blacksheep

    Totally appreciate that. I really meant that the “camp of faith”, in this case, is better than a negative, smarmy world view. In other words, I’ll take joy over angst. I don’t think my comment: “I would argue that something went right – a girl who was raised to be open minded is exploring her faith in God” is at all laughable.

    I have known kids who have turned away from their faith, and I have only experienced parents who continued to love and support them – as I would do.

    I can handle them – That’s why I made the “guest in your house” comment. My calling it out was more of a response to someone who was criticizing a (fictional) set of parents for “shunning.”

  • 3lemenope

    Eh, I think ‘ever’ is a stretch in the same way that C Peterson’s “no rational person ever becomes a theist” is a stretch. I’d be surprised if, in the vastness and plurality that is Christianity, there haven’t been times and places where the church has been *that* insensitive to rape victims. It’s not common, by any means; they are outliers, and not properly used as exemplars of the general Christian attitude toward rape (if there even is a consensus one, which I actually somewhat doubt).

  • abombt1

    Wtf is a hip, liberal church that doesn’t accept gays? I think the church she is talkin about is evangelical, not liberal.

  • Glasofruix

    Also i believe there’s been an article on patheos about a pastor giving that same speech to a group of teenage girls, but i can’t locate it.

  • 3lemenope

    More likely than either one is simply “different defaults”. Most hypotheses about the universe don’t function in isolation (they “hang together” as it were), and we certainly as individuals don’t have enough information in all necessary fields to rationally choose from among all plausible sets of hypotheses. What affects our choices more than incomplete information itself are those default assumptions we choose to substitute in place of the information we don’t have.

    Given that they are necessary, and by definition cannot be predicated upon any rational process, there are few except prudential grounds to criticize any given set of presumptions prior to evidence. Some of those assumptions lead to an intellectual amenability to positing a deity.

  • wmdkitty

    TBH, if I had a kid, I’d rather xe did drugs than go to church.

  • C Peterson

    I’d argue that your reasons do not stem from rational analysis, however, unless you’re drawing on low quality data. Polytheism makes no more sense than any other kind of theism (although it may well have less religious nonsense surrounding it).

  • wmdkitty

    Purely rational, no, of course not — I never said it was a rational belief. Just that this is what works for me.

  • baal

    Christian doctrine is the reason to believe in god but is dependant on a pre-existing god belief? Your arguments seem circular to me B.S.

  • baal

    I don’t think of down voting as shunning but some of the comments here do get there. The shunning impact of comments here, however, pales in comparison to what’s done to atheist kids since RL shunning can often include being thrown out of the house or permanent grounding.

    Blacksheep’s posted enough that I doubt that blacksheep posts in good faith. (I doubt that faith is good but that’s a different issue)

  • C Peterson

    That’s fine. But my recommendation to the parent assumes that a high degree of rationalism is something she wishes her child to have. If that rationalism isn’t evident, she will be disappointed (quite clearly is disappointed), so I think the right course of action is to express that feeling.

  • C Peterson

    Well, you can be a theist by a fairly simple failure of reasoning. In my view, however, being a Christian (by design, not default) requires something approaching actual insanity. It’s one thing to believe in some sort of intelligent creator, and something else to believe in a set of dogma which is not only unethical, but stands in obvious contradiction to how the Universe actually operates, and requires belief in clearly crazy and false things.

  • Sunny Day

    Religion poisons everything.
    Why join a group or organization that unnecessarily throws in a colossal amount of supernatural baggage?

  • 3lemenope

    Or do combos. Doing church on drugs is, I imagine, a singular experience.

  • 3lemenope

    Strangely enough, every time I’ve gone to a Salvation Army thrift shop I’ve come out not only completely unscathed by Jesus-juice, but also with great items at a bargain basement price.

  • wmdkitty

    Heh, depends on what you’ve been smoking…

  • wmdkitty

    So. How does it feel knowing that you are directly funding an anti-gay “charity”?

  • DavidMHart

    I think that to say that a girl who was raised to be open minded is exploring whether or not there are good reasons to think that there is a god would be a sign of things being right. But faith is at root incompatible with open-mindedness. A person can do a bit of both, because we are good at compartmentalization, but they are fundamentally in opposition. Faith (in the sense in which it is typically used by religious people) is, pretty much by definition, believing something with a degree of conviction that is unwarranted by the evidence – it is a willful overestimation of the probability of something implausible being true – and thus a partial or total closing of the mind to the possibility of it being false. Whereas open-mindedness is the state of being receptive to new ideas, and willing to listen to the case in favour of them, without presupposing that they are true.

    In an ideal world, open-mindedness would be synonymous with skepticism, since skepticism really just means being open to the possibility that claims are wrong, and that ought to include the claims that you yourself believe. And if open-mindedness is a proper subset of skepticism, then it has nothing to do with faith.

  • 3lemenope

    How do you feel oppressing ill-paid migrant workers every time you buy a head of lettuce? I’m sure if we picked through your buying habits we’d find a laundry list of organized horrors perpetrated upon many just to provide you with your stuff, as we would picking through pretty much anyone’s in the developed world.

    Even if that weren’t the case, it comes down to this:The thrift stores near my place are run by SA. I am poor. These are the compromises that idealism makes to reality.

  • Sunny Day

    Actually you don’t need to go to a church to believe/follow any of your three reasons. You can still be a believer and not go to church. Further Icecreamassassin shows that secular reasons will fufill all of your purported reasons without bogging things down with supernatural numbskullery. Fail.

  • DavidMHart

    Something like this, perhaps?

  • 3lemenope

    That works. :)

  • 3lemenope

    Indeed it does. Meth is *not* recommended.

  • Darric

    I have to disagree. One of the problems I see with parents is the whole unconditional love thing. They have blinkers on and cant see their children for who they really are.
    Knowing a person and understanding them properly requries that you acknowledge their faults and dont love them because you have to but because you want to.
    This quote seems to imply that she is the womens daughter and she should recieve her mothers love simply because of that, not because her daughter is actually a person who deserves her mothers love.

  • 3lemenope

    In my experience, the concept of love is utterly incompatible with the concept of deserving.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Darric,
    Just to be clear, my statement is not about “unconditional love.” I don’t believe in unconditional love, so I think that you and I are basically in agreement that even having such a notion can cause people to have blinkers on. I’ve seen many examples of amazingly patient love, and some cases of tragically misguided love, but to say that humans are capable of love which no condition whatsoever could destroy is a romantic fantasy. This is because I’ve also witnessed the appallingly horrid conditions that can and do destroy love.

    I made the statement because Kimberly clearly still loves her daughter, and my impression is that the conditions are nowhere near the extremity that would stress her love beyond its breaking point. Kimberly is simply reaching into a possible and probably not likely future where her daughter has adopted as yet unclear beliefs and attitudes that would be unacceptable and insufferable. All Kimberly is finding in that imagined future is unnecessary anxiety, so I’m suggesting that she differentiate the person from the opinions, and from the possible opinions, and see that the love she has for her daughter is for her daughter and does not need to be focused on her daughter’s religious views, or possible religious views.

  • Edward

    To Kimberly – for what it’s worth, despite being raised in an atheist / agnostic home surrounded by science books and being regularly encouraged to seek answers, both my siblings and I all went through a religious phase at one point or another.

    Eventually, we all left.

    We had various reasons. The hypocrisy, the anti-intellectualism, the horrible people, the fact that the bible just didn’t make any sense, the lack of real answers to real questions… take your pick – but I think a large part of the reason that we felt able to look into religion, and then leave, is that we knew that our family would still love us, no matter what we believed in.

  • chicago dyke

    Kimberly: relax. it’s likely she’ll grow out of it. i did.

    i’m a pretty militant atheist. and i’m going to church this sunday! why? because i’m new in this town, and people are very churchy here, and i want to make some friends. a lot of the time, people go to church, intelligent secular people, for the community. to pick up nice boys who don’t do drugs, trade recipes, get on a softball team… it won’t hurt her to hang out with some friends who also happen to be Christians.

    also: don’t be a helicopter parent. i work in education; i see far too much of that these days. the more pressure you apply, the more likely she is to embrace religion just to “be independent” from you, as young college age women are likely to do. ask her about it, talk about it with her, but be Cool. act like you don’t care, one way or the other.

    finally: express your own lack of belief, in clever and funny ways. “Gosh that bishop who just resigned by didn’t admit any guilt about the child raping he covered up for is funny, heh.” talk about other faiths, like Hinduism and Dao, and wonder, verbally, about how “all people are atheists, except for the one religion they believe in.” when she comes home from school, slip in one of those videos by that atheist comedian, in between the Lion King and Argon that you watch together. write her a letter. “this is what i believe, I love you and i wanted you to know.”

    but mostly, relax. my atheist parents did not object when i went thru my churching phase. it didn’t take. i did go to divinity school, but that was because my parents educated me so well, i had to be 100% scientifically sure that religion was bunk. i learned, in div school, that it was, to my own satisfaction.

    religion can be fun, for a lot of reasons. community is nice. and frankly, i suspect that there’s a boy/girl (i don’t know your daughter’s orientation) involved. that’s usually what this sort of thing is all about.

  • chicago dyke

    this is very true, rich Western people.

    every item of clothing you buy new from Target, every drop of gas you put in your car, every piece of food you eat… it’s likely brought to you by some very oppressed people working in a horrorshow of working conditions.

    it’s fine and good to defend and represent atheism, in our battle against religious stupidity. but don’t get too high and mighty. if you live in america, with a roof over your head and food in your belly, it’s very very likely that such was brought to you at the expense of slaves in asia, or sweatshop working children, or something similar that your ancestors fled.

    ours is a global “crusade.” we aren’t just fighting the ignorance of religion, we’re fighting all that it leads to. if only one is not free, none of us are free.

  • Charles Chambers

    Regardless of whether you are right or not, that absolute attitude is frustrating in theists. Not trying to offend you, I’m just saying.

  • Claude

    That’s why intelligent, intellectually honest people are rarely theists.


  • Claude

    So I should more correctly say that theism is rare amongst intelligent, intellectually honest, educated people.

    Also false.

  • kraken17

    Do you have a counter point, or do you just stamp “false” on things you disagree with?

  • Claude

    Oh, I’m sorry.

    There are many brilliant, educated people who are theists.

    Is that better?

  • 3lemenope

    …and if triangles had gods, they too would have three sides.

  • 3lemenope

    I imagine that the ready counterargument is that such people merely aren’t “intellectually honest”. Whatever that means. I suspect it has something to do with not believing in gods…

  • kraken17

    Not really, but I appreciate the effort.

  • GELF

    nice work richard…. very nice

  • Claude

    Hmm. I have to admit I haven’t considered the uncharitable notion that intelligent, educated believers are by default intellectually dishonest.

    But I thought the assertion was that they are “rare.”

  • C Peterson

    Intellectual honesty means a willingness to critically evaluate one’s beliefs. Combine that with intelligence and education, and I disagree that you’ll find many theists, and even fewer religionists. Those are simply not beliefs that hold up to rational examination.

  • C Peterson

    If you disagree with me, that’s fine. But your initial comment suggests you allow for the possibility that I’m right, in which case there should be nothing frustrating in somebody having a strong opinion about a defensible point.

  • Claude

    Critically evaluating one’s beliefs is a feature of being intelligent and well-educated. Are we talking anecdotally here about these rare brainy religious creatures? Though I run pretty much in godless circles, I can think of several very intelligent, highly educated people of my acquaintance who are not only theists, but Christians. Why, I don’t know. I would never ask. But they are assuredly not intellectual dishonest. Far from it.

    Or are we talking some statistical data here about the highly educated and their religious beliefs? Of course then, the “intellectually dishonest” variable wouldn’t be factored in.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’m late to this party so I’m just going to stick this out here:

    That’s why intelligent, intellectually honest people are rarely theists.

    I’m beginning to think there is no such thing as an intelligent, intellectually honest, whatever cool freethinky adjectives we want to tack on. A day doesn’t go by that a ‘rational atheist’ doesn’t offer something that I consider completely stupid, and the opposite of ‘rational thinking’.

    Fluoride (at drinking water added levels) is dangerous
    Contrails are some kind of chemical disbursement plot
    Eating alkaline foods is better for you
    Your cell phone number is being sold to telemarketers tomorrow
    The term ‘piss poor’ comes from when people sold their pee to tan leather
    That wifi routers cause cancer

    Which leaves me wondering what my blind spot is.

    I guess this is pretty off-topic… oh well. I had to vent.

  • Cary Whitman

    College is a time to explore new beliefs and different ideas. I would agree with you if she had graduated and started a career and a fully adult life, but college students SHOULD be investigating everything, even if it mean “trying out” some illogical ideas. That’s how you get a real education, not everything you learn in college is learned in the classroom. I would advise the mom to keep gently bringing up her concerns, keep the dialogue open, but also keep in mind that her daughter is in exploring mode right now, and stop worrying at least until she graduates since it’s likely things will be different by then anyway.

  • Cary Whitman

    This was the greatest fear we had raising our kids in Utah! One of the hardest things I ever did was let my daughter attend Mormon seminary with her friends while she was in high school. She knew we didn’t approve, but we were afraid she would rebel if we tried to forbid it, so we let her go. Luckily she only lasted part of one semester before she admitted it was too weird for her and she would rather sleep in an extra hour. It was such a proud moment for us when we got a letter from the seminary teacher stating that she had failed seminary due to poor attendance! That would be my advice to Kimberly, give your daughter some more time to explore and learn before you start worrying. Young people need to be given the chance to learn things on there own. When we told our daughter Mormonism was crazy, she didn’t believe us, but when she actually heard what was going on in those mysterious seminary classes that all her friends were going to, she realized we were right.

  • Cary Whitman

    While reasons 1), 2), and 3) are definitely reasons some people go to church, when my daughter has gone to church, it has definitely been for reasons 4) and 5). And what 3lemenope said is exactly what happened. Once her curiosity was satisfied and she got over the peer pressure, she quit going.

  • Cary Whitman

    Mostly good advice, except for the part about the boys being harmless! My college career was totally screwed up by several supposedly harmless boys. I never did finish my degree and it doomed me to the life of a stay-at-home mom, which had its good points, but I really wasn’t cut out for. Personally, I think I’d be much more worried about the boys than the church!

  • anon101

    Of course Kimberly is partly responsible. By not showing her daughter that it is okay to be an atheist her daughter has picked up the fact that as an atheist something is missing in your life. That you are broken and need fixing. And that is what she is now trying to get.

  • Georgina

    I am pretty sure it is a Tetraeder, since it must live in a ‘higher’ dimension.
    p.s. read Flatland (now available free as an ebook).

  • Gus Snarp

    So here’s the thing, when you say the “camp of faith”, you’re including everyone. You’re doing the same thing other commenters have done in reverse: assume one religious person or group is representative of the whole. The camp of faith is not better. It includes Catholic prelates who say condoms cause AIDS while people die in Africa. It includes faith healers who let their children die of untreated diabetes. It includes young earth creationists who want to push their beliefs into public school science classrooms. It includes Mars Hill Church, which cuts people off from their friends and family for going against church leaders. It includes fundamentalists who kick their children out of the house for being atheists.

    We’re not smarmy and negative, but even C. Peterson is better than that.

  • abb3w

    The possibility of #3 might seem to imply it could be a good time to make sure the daughter does remember the importance of contraception.

  • Gus Snarp

    Please look up the definition of “teenager” and the age of a college sophomore. I think you’ll find those ranges overlap.

    If you’re a parent, and your kids ever experiment and rebel a bit, I hope you’re willing to damage your long term relationship with them to give them strong disapproval that they’re not going to listen to. That’s basically what it means to be a teenager (and a college sophomore), that it is time to start being independent, learning on your own, and not listening to your parents, especially when they express “strong disapproval” just because you’re spending Sunday mornings in the wrong building. They’re not going to change this behavior because of your strong disapproval, they’re going to change it if and when they’re ready, informed, and supported. So you can choose which position you want to have been on when they settle down and become the person they’re ultimately going to be.

  • C Peterson

    Sorry, but I don’t consider a 19-year old to be a “teenager” in the social sense it’s usually used.

    The normal relationship between a parent and a college sophomore daughter is essentially adult to adult. If a mother strongly disapproves of a behavior or activity of that daughter, I don’t see a problem with expressing that disapproval. If a young adult child can’t deal with hearing her parent say she doesn’t like some aspect of her behavior, then there are even more problems than are apparent from this letter.

  • C Peterson

    My view would be that the intelligent, educated Christians you know are, in fact, not intellectually honest. They are Christians for the simple reason that they’ve never really examined their beliefs. Indeed, I think that explains why most Christians remain so (and why conversion to Christianity from other religions, or from atheism, is so rare- because conversion usually requires active analysis).

  • 3lemenope

    Have already read. Good book.

  • rwlawoffice

    I had to jump in here. It is simply not the case that people do not convert to Christianity from atheism or other religions (by the way, if someone is converting to Christianity, if it isn’t from atheism or another religion, what is it they are converting from?). Evangelism is going on worldwide and Christianity is growing in places like China which are mostly atheistic.

    It is simply your perspective that those that convert to Christ do not do so with rational analysis and are being intellectually dishonest. You reach that conclusion because that is what you believe anyone would do. There are countless intelligent, rational, intellectually honest people who are believers. They have simply reached a different conclusion than you have.

  • Nox

    The world can’t be cleanly divided between rational people and irrational people. We are all rational. We are all irrational. We all respect reason (whether we all apply it consistently is another matter) and all of us have some unreasonable beliefs.

    Aside from a very few uncategorizable exceptions, beliefs can be cleanly divided between rational beliefs and irrational beliefs.

    Not all religious people actually do turn their brain off at the door. But there is a reason all religions tell people to turn their brain off at the door. All religions claim irrational things. And some immeasurable percentage of the people who call themselves adherents of a religion will actually believe the tenets of that religion or actually do the things their leaders tell them.

    If any person believes humans were created from dust 6,000 years ago, or Jesus rose from the dead, or the christian/catholic church is a good source of morality, they are believing an irrational thing. They believe it either because they have been given bad information or because they have engaged in bad thinking. How is that affected by any judgment of whether the person is otherwise rational?

  • Claude

    Of course that’s your view. It’s an abstract view that collapses on contact with real people in the world. Certainly in the case of my acquaintances, it’s a presumptuous view about people whom you know nothing about. And it’s a familiar view, a form of the charge of false consciousness.

    What? People convert to Christianity all the time. It is no more “rare” an occurrence than intelligent, well-educated theists and religionists.

  • Frank

    An perfect case of a child being smarter than their parents.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I am always amazed when so-called atheists reject science in favor of politically expedient myths.

    For MOST 19 year olds, no, they aren’t adults yet except that some people who never got over Woodstock Syndrome want them to be.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    “But faith is at root incompatible with open-mindedness. ”

    I know that is a common atheistic myth, but it really is a false one. In fact, I see far more openmindedness from rational evidence who are willing to actually follow the evidence where it leads, rather than practicing reduction-ism.

    In fact, I’d say reduction-ism and fundamentalism are what is incompatible with openmindedness, not faith.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    There is no such thing as “incorrect facts” under the scientific method.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    It is an assumption on your part that theism is an incorrect conclusion, one made without facts.

  • Ryan

    It is not any of us who get to determine who it is that Christ calls. I am a Christian and I will raise my kids as best I can according to the guidelines laid out in scripture. However, I cannot determine whether or not Christ will call them and neither can I determine their response. Likewise, Kimberly can raise her children with an attempt to instill upon them the beliefs she finds important but can in no way hinder the call of Christ.

    Kimberly, Richard and any readers, this “testimony” could serve life changing for you. Consider the scriptures. Consider your heart. COnsider wheather of not you need Christ. What happens if today is all you have? What will you determine to say about Christ?

    “And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.”

  • Richard Wade

    Ryan, thank you for your thoughts. I have considered all those things very thoughtfully and earnestly. They were insufficient for what I need to believe what you believe. Greatly insufficient. Please don’t characterize this as being stubborn, willful, prideful, rebellious, or obstinate. It’s not. It’s just a very real difference between what you need and what I need. Not better nor worse, not smarter nor dumber, just different. Since according to the story Jesus was willing to oblige Thomas’ needs in order to believe, then Jesus knows what I need, and he knows where to find me.

    In the meantime, I do live as if today is all I have, and I fill it with as much helping of others as my physical and mental limits permit.

    Keep on loving those kids you mentioned, regardless of their opinions. Besides practicing love, everything else is just stuff to pass the time.

  • Steve Martin

    Nobody can believe of their own volition.

    This is pretty good (by my pastor), “I Believe that I Cannot Believe” :

    Good stuff.

  • Leah72

    It is frusterating when you see your daughter going into a church but not practicign what she preaches. I think it is important that she make her own decisions because maybe she will end up being a better person. The more you learn and truly understand about Jesus the more you will see that He is a good- perfect- person. Parents are always saying how they want their children to have good friends becasue they have a strong influence on their kids. I think that holy church going kids are a great group for your daughter to be around. Depending on the religion of course, but this is something to be thankful for. besides what if there is a God and she lives a terrible life believing in God can be seen almost as a saftey net. If He is real than she had better believe, if not, than she is just a really good person, but why bet on eternity?

  • Leah72

    It is important for every parent to let their child make their own decisions and learn by their own mistakes. Question her why she has this sudden change in her religiosus beliefs, have a friendly debate, this could unravel her completely or this could open your eyes to what she believes. Some of the best and most influencial people in the world are/were religious such as Martin luther, Mother Theresa and Mel Gibson.

  • DavidMHart

    Of course fundamentalism is also incompatible with open-mindedness – fundamentalism is simply a really strong, undiluted version of faith – it is, like I hinted above, a total closing of the mind to the possibility of one’s religious beliefs being mistaken – whereas most moderate religious people – most people of average levels of faith – have only partially closed their minds to the possibility of their religious beliefs being wrong.

    If you think that faith in the sense that is commonly used by religious people (i.e. a willingness to believe in something improbable with a far higher degree of conviction than the available evidence would warrant) is compatible with open-mindedness (fully defined, so as to include being fully open to the possibility that those improbable claims are in fact wrong), then you need to explain why.

    You also need to explain exactly what you mean by ‘reductionism’. (You might do this best by stating what exactly you’re contrasting it with – what is the opposite of ‘reductionism’ in the sense you’re talking about). If you just mean ‘the effort to explain complex systems in terms of simpler components (and those components in terms of yet simpler sub-components, etc) – I don’t understand how that is incompatible with openmindedness.

    Reductionism in this sense simply says: here’s something we don’t currently understand; my mind is open to the possibility of figuring out a way to understand it (imperfectly perhaps, but better than we currently do). We have never yet found a complex system that we have been able to explain at all where the explanation hasn’t had something to do with the interactions of simpler subcomponents, so it’s a reasonable bet – and if we ever do – if we find a complex system and turn up good evidence that it is inexplicable in terms of simpler subcomponents, then that is evidence that any good ‘reductionist’ would accept – that they are already at the lowest level of explanation that is possible.’

  • Kristen Dallas

    “In an ideal world, open-mindedness would be synonymous with skepticism, since skepticism really just means being open to the possibility that claims are wrong”
    Can’t you be open minded about the possibility that claims are wrong, but still *hope* that they’re right?

  • Kristen

    Circular logic doesn’t usually hold up to examination either… but I”ve been wrong before. ;)

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Fundamentalism is not “strong undiluted faith”. Fundamentalism is a form of reductionism that says “I will only accept evidence from one single authority and no other, and that authority is a book not a person”.

    I see little difference between fundamentalists and other reductionists- they all reduce the evidence *beyond* simpler subcomponents based on nothing more than who they accept as authorities. The primary difference is that a fundamentalist has only ONE authority, where the reductionist has several, and the open minded free thinker has no limit on the number of authorities they accept.

    Thus, true faith is compatible with open mindedness- in fact, true openmindedness *requires* the ability to accept more authority than Occam or the Bible. The universe is irreducible.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    But what is evidence?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I am amazed.

    The standard advice in the Catholic Church is “Let’s get the bastard who did this to you, and let us provide you with all the support you need to have a child”

  • Richard Wade

    Yes you can hope that a claim is right, but the problem arises when your hope begins to filter your perception of the evidence that is coming in about that claim, and begins to skew your analysis of the evidence. It is a subtle but powerful emotional process. That is why in science, even though a researcher is being scrupulously skeptical, peer review of his or her hypothesis, method, instrument, data, analysis, and conclusion is an essential part of clearing up the blindness that comes with hopeful thinking.

  • Obliged_Cornball


  • C Peterson

    The people you list are (or were) horrible, rotten, nasty people. Influential, yes, but that influence greatly damaged all of humankind. If my kids grew up anything like Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, or Mel Gibson I’d see myself as a massive failure.

    The opinions of a parent should be important to a well-raised adult child, and in my view should not be withheld.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Why is life as a stay at home mom “doom”? I can think of few positions in business or government that are more powerful and free.

  • sdbatboy

    I really wish I had time to banter about here but I will just make a couple of points for anyone (like me) who just came across this article and comment board:

    1. God’s put it on our hearts to wonder. You can suppress this but it is something everyone was born with.
    2. How is it that so many here, whom I am sure consider themselves tolerant, can be so intolerant of opposing views? This is a very strange intellectual compromise.
    3. Not believing in a god or the God of the Bible takes more way more faith than the most religious person on the planet. The alternative is believing that something came from nothing. I seriously do not know how anyone is fine with that.

    Best to all of you – even those who have COEXIST stickers on their cars. I would ask those of you who do to ask yourselves how well you get along with your neighbors – let alone religious people.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi sdbatboy,

    1. We all wonder. Nobody disputes that. We just wonder about different things, and we disagree on the origin of that trait in people.

    2. Not agreeing with a view is not the same as being “intolerant” of that view. Please don’t characterize those two things as being synonymous by using a broad brush characterization. If I called you “intolerant” because you disagree with me, I think you would rightly find that tactic objectionable. If it’s objectionable when it’s done to you, don’t do it to others. If someone is genuinely intolerant, consider them as such as an individual and not as a member of a category that you assume is entirely intolerant as well.

    3. Not believing in gods is not at all the same as believing that there are no gods. Until you understand that very important distinction, you will not understand the vast majority of atheists, who hold the former view. You will be arguing with your imaginary atheism, one that is very, very rare, and you will say absurd things like “it takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe in God.”

    I wish the best to you too. I get along with my neighbors very well. Several are very religious, and they know I’m an atheist. I’m working very hard to promote accurate understanding and respectful treatment between atheists and religious people in my community, and it’s not just a cliché on a bumper sticker.

  • LogicGuru

    As a religious child of an atheist household I hear my mother speaking… Please consider how it looks from the point of view of people like me.

    Because of the way I was raised I never associated religion with ethics, or parental authority, or social control. For me, religion has always been a guilty pleasure, a wonderful fantasyland, a magical mystery tour. I enjoy the ceremonies, the buildings, the myths and, because I’m in philosophy, the metaphysics. To me, there’s no sense of obligation either to believe, or to behave in any particular way: religion is a source of pleasure, aesthetic experience, and intellectual stimulation.

    I still feel a little sheepish–guilty and embarrassed about being into religion, because of my upbringing, and because, as an academic, I live in a social world where religious belief isn’t really socially acceptable. But I enjoy it and am, I suppose, glad that I was brought up without the miserable regime of moralizing, Sunday School and the whole business that puts most people off of religion.

    BTW I am NOT an evangelical–I hate evangelicals with every fiber of my being because, IMHO these detestable people have ruined religion for the rest of us, made their stinking puritanical white trash religion the industry standard.

  • LogicGuru

    I have examined my beliefs, and know the whole thing is a leap of faith. So? Please give us educated Christians a little credit.

  • LogicGuru

    Ontological Argument, Cosmological Argument…Pascal’s Wager, etc.

  • LogicGuru

    Does it ever occur to you that one motivation might be that religion is just plain fun? The ceremonies, the art, the mysticism, the metaphysics, the whole thing? Pleasure, intellectual stimulation, aesthetic experience…if I didn’t enjoy religion I wouldn’t bother with it. But I just plain love religion! Love churchiness! Religion–if you pick the right one and deal with it as you please–is fun!

  • Rich Wilson

    Those are reasons. And I think they differ on how good they are. But no way would I ever describe Pascal’s Wager as anything but a bad reason to believe in God. Even though you believe in God, I hope it’s not based on Pascal.

  • 3lemenope

    Pascal thought that Pascal’s Wager was a bad reason for believing in God.


  • LogicGuru

    I sure as hell do. Why not? I enjoy religion–why shouldn’t I indulge myself? Pragmatic arguments for religious belief are still on the table: I enjoy religion: why shouldn’t I indulge myself?

  • LogicGuru

    I sure as hell do. Why not? I enjoy religion–why shouldn’t I indulge myself? Pragmatic arguments for religious belief are still on the table: I enjoy religion: why shouldn’t I indulge myself?

  • LogicGuru

    Who sez, and why?

  • 013090

    “I’m OK with my daughter forming her own beliefs, but I will draw the line if her beliefs become hateful or supernatural.”

    One of the questions is whether she is hypocritical. Based on the above quote, she is. Not for the hateful part, but for the supernatural part. She says she wants her daughter to form her own beliefs on the issue of religion, then essentially says that if she even slightly disagrees with her then she will draw the line. That is contradictory and illogical. All religions, not just the Abrahamic religions, but including more abstract religions like Buddhism or new age religions, fully embrace the supernatural (via a variety of beliefs, such as Karma, Nirvana, reincarnation, the spirit or soul, chakra, etc…, even if they don’t teach a belief in a personal God). So essentially she is saying that she wants her to be free to develop her religious beliefs, but if her daughter actually develops religious beliefs, she would not approve.

    That is hypocritical. But we are all hypocritical of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an example of it.

  • fedalistpublicola

    It is against human nature to be truly tolerant, atheists and liberals prove that everyday. It is perfectly fine for you demand equality if you are in the minority, but if you are in the majority the minority will do everything in its power to deny you equality. Is it possible that an atheist parent is fearful of their child’s new found religion because they might be wrong or because the parent might be wrong? We can’t prove or disprove the existence of the supernatural, that is why it is called “faith”. Just like we can’t prove love, as it cannot be observed, tasted, smelled or touched but we still believe in it. Atheists simply exchange one set of beliefs for another set, one absent of anything beyond this life. Why can’t we simply look for the common good and ignore all the rest? And for those who cannot allow the freedom of religion because religion preaches, just remember this ” Are your convictions so fragile they cannot stand in opposition to mine? Is your god so flimsy, so weak!”

  • H. E. Baber

    Why on earth would anyone care about their kids religion or other metaphysical assumptions? I’m a Christian. One kid is devout, another is an atheist, the third is nominally Christian but indifferent. So what? Why would atheist parents care whether their kids are atheists or not? It’s METAPHYSICS. I suppose I do care about my kids’ “values” but they’re all straight-ticket Democrats so I think I did a good job. Jeez, I’m amazed that atheists care–shouldn’t the view be that religious belief is simply inconsequential? That, anyway, is my view. And I’m a believer.

  • Andrew Beltz

    Dear Athiest Mom,

    You have nothing to worry about. Liberal churches are toothless and without consequence. Think of it as joining a glorified fraternity or social club. It doesn’t mean she believes anything other than that which you did not teach her. Relax.

  • DavidMHart

    Well, there you go. Fundamentalism, as you’ve defined it is strong, undiluted faith in a particular book. And if you’re going to define ‘reductionists’ like that, then fair enough, but your meaning was definitely non-obvious, and not what people would normally think the word ought to mean, so you might want to see if you can come up with a clearer term for it.

    You also haven’t really clarified who, if anyone, is guilty of your definition of reductionism apart from religious fundamentalists. Certainly I’d be willing to bet that most people who call themselves atheists would be happy to define themselves as reductionists in my sense but not in yours, so I’d be curious as to who you think is doing it.

    But any genuine skeptic should, if they’re doing it right, have no authorities at all. Not a book, not a person (and of course, they will only apply Occam’s razor when appropriate to do so). An open-minded skeptic can certainly defer to expertise – someone who you have good reasons to think know more about a subject than you do, and whose opinions on it you therefore trust more than your own – but authorities (in the usual sense of people whose opinion you trust simply because it’s their opinion) – that is not healthy skepticism. And faith in the religious sense, even if it is not fundamentalism, always involves some degree of unwarranted authority – some degree of trusting the opinions contained in a book, or spoken by a religious leader, to a stronger degree than would be warranted by the evidence that they actually know what they’re talking about. Do you understand why that is always at least slightly incompatible with genuine open-mindedness?

  • Alfred Lansing

    I am a Catholic and I live my life in a fairly devout Catholic community. I don’t think I’ve ever met any Catholic who is as rigidly dogmatic as the atheists in this comment thread. It’s amazing, really; the scolding, the groupthink, the disapproval of wrong thinking. It’s like entering a Victorian sitting room with all of the subtle social conventions that must be adhered to. You guys need to loosen up.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Most New Atheists are guilty of reductionism every time they dismiss the beliefs of the past merely because the person was in the past.

    Skepticism in general is illogical, and Occam’s Razor is downright insane. There is no such thing as healthy skepticism for the open minded person- ALL skepticism is close minded.

  • DavidMHart

    Most New Atheists are guilty of reductionism every time they dismiss the
    beliefs of the past merely because the person was in the past.

    Well, yes, I agree that would be silly, but who actually does that?

    Any self-respecting atheist – any self-respecting person in general – should dismiss the beliefs of the past because there is no evidence that those beliefs are true (or, better, because there is compelling evidence that those beliefs are false). Can you give me an example of someone dismissing beliefs from the past not on evidential grounds, but simply on the basis of their being from the past?

    Skepticism in general is illogical, and Occam’s Razor is downright
    insane. There is no such thing as healthy skepticism for the open
    minded person- ALL skepticism is close minded.

    At this point I have to admit that either I have simply no idea what you’re talking about, or you’re operating on a very different definition of ‘skepticism’ from what most people understand the word to mean. We’ve already established that you seem to operate on a very different definition of the word ‘reductionism’ from how it is normally understood, so it is possible that the same applies to ‘skepticism’. Let’s find out.

    Wikipedia defines skepticism as follows:

    Skepticism or scepticism (see spelling differences) is generally any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts,[1] or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.[2]

    Philosophical skepticism is an overall approach that requires all information to be well supported by evidence.[3] Classical philosophical skepticism derives from the ‘Skeptikoi’, a school who “asserted nothing”.[4] Adherents of Pyrrhonism, for instance, suspend judgment in investigations.[5] Skeptics may even doubt the reliability of their own senses.[6]
    Religious skepticism, on the other hand is “doubt concerning basic
    religious principles (such as immortality, providence, and revelation)”.[7]

    That can all be boiled down to something like ‘refusing to claim certainty about things which are uncertain’, or ‘trying to match the strength of your beliefs to the strength of the evidence in support of those beliefs’. I don’t understand what’s illogical about that. And I think that that’s pretty much a requirement in order to be open-minded. Open-mindedness is not the same thing as unthinking credulity, after all – since open-mindedness must include being open to both the possibility that a proposition is true and the possibility that it is false – closing your mind to one of these possibilities is by definition not open-mindedness.

    And openmindedness is of course not incompatible with coming to a conclusion, provisionally, about the truth or falsity of a proposition. It is open-minded to say “On present evidence, it appears to be reasonable to believe that there are no gods, fairies, elves or flying spaghetti monsters in existence, so I will proceed on the basis that they don’t exist. But if someone were to produce good evidence for the existence of any of these things, I’d be prepared to reconsider”. It is closed-minded to say “I believe in gods/fairies/elves/the flying spaghetti monster, and nothing could persuade me otherwise”.

    If you’re operating on a different definition of skepticism, let’s hear it – and if it is illogical, then so be it – we’re just talking about different things (though you should probably try to come up with a better phrase to describe what you’re talking about).

    And as for Occam’s razor being ‘insane’ – I’m afraid you’re going to have to explain that one, since I don’t understand how preferring the explanation that makes the fewest assumptions is insane – it sounds perfectly sensible to me (unless you’re under the false impression that Occam’s razor means always preferring the simplest explanation)

  • Rich Wilson

    After several exchanges with Mr. Seeber, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is absolutely sincere, but we are so far removed in thought process that real dialog is virtually impossible.