Teaching Children about God: How to Get Started?

A couple of months ago I wrote a post called “Are You Teaching Her about Jesus?” I wrote about how a relative had put this question to me in a letter, clearly concerned about my daughter Sally’s spiritual well-being. And I wrote about how I’m still not sure how to respond to such questions given that we’re not “out” as atheists to our relatives at this point. One of my readers left this comment:

There is teaching “about” and there is teaching “to blindly believe in”. You can probably truthfully say yes … because if you want to raise an atheist, you have to teach them about other people’s beliefs so they will understand what’s going on. And especially to understand literature and the arts where references to classic mythology and Christianity are so prevalent.

The thing is, so far I haven’t taught my daughter anything at all about Jesus. You see, she has no concept whatsoever of “God” and I’m not sure where to begin exactly. 

The commenter is right in that I do eventually plan to teach Sally “about” Jesus, “about” Christianity, and “about” other world religions. In fact, I’m really looking forward to studying it all together with her. I would ultimately like to visit various houses of worship with her, learning about the traditions and practices of a wide variety of religious and religious beliefs. I want her to be culturally literate and multiculturally sensitive.

But I’m not at all sure where to start. Sally is in preschool now, but, to the best of my knowledge at least, she has no concept of “God” or the “spiritual world.” Whenever I have read her board books that involve Bible stories (Noah’s Ark, Jesus’ birth), I have always edited that part out. How do I explain the concept of God – and especially the concept as opposed to the reality – to someone who is a total blank slate in that area?

“Sally, some people believe that there is a…”

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. A what? A huge cosmic force? A powerful old man up in the sky? An all-powerful being outside of space and time? How do I make any of that make sense to a preschooler?

So far all Sally knows is the real world, the natural world. Sure, she’s seen Harry Potter and she’s fascinated with mermaids, but we always use questions to direct her to an understanding that dementors and mermaids alike are pretend. We show her a lot of Planet Earth and read National Geographic with her, all in an attempt to foster an interest in the natural world in her. We answer her questions about trees and electricity, about where babies come from and how food gets to the grocery store. But this is all real, concrete, and tangible.

I recently acquired a copy of the book Parenting Beyond Belief. I’m going to start reading it, and look for an answer to this very question. I know I need to tell Sally something before someone else does. And as I figure out how to do so, I’ll continue to share my experiences – and Sally’s.

In the meantime, I’d like to invite my readers to offer any experiences or thoughts they may have on this topic. I’m open!

Why I Take My Kids to the UU Church
What Kind of Atheist Parent Are You?
Why We Should Teach Children to Say "No"
The Radical Notion that Children Can Have Anxiety Too
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    I know I need to tell Sally something before someone else does.

    Heh, it reminds me of those PSAs urging parents to talk to their kids about drugs.

    My oldest is 3, so… I’ll be dealing with this same issue soon enough. Blargh…

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    You might start by stopping editing God out of the Bible stories you’re reading–that will provide an opening for some questions, I’m sure! I’m not one for indoctrination of children, but bowdlerization never made much sense to me either. Maybe you could combine those with myths from other cultures (Greece, Rome, Norse, Native American, etc.) so you address them altogether about things people used to believe in — and some people still believe them.

  • Gina

    Maybe in the same way that she knows there’s a fictional entity called “magic” in Harry Potter, you can introduce her to the idea of God/gods through stories in books and movies and see how she responds.

  • http://dalekpete.wordpress.com/ Peter Whiteley

    Theism wasn’t the norm in my household when my children were growing up. For that reason it never became the normal to believe in any religion. The UK school system was undoubtedly Christian but in an almost apologetic form.
    I was a fan of science-fiction but taught my kids very early on that it was all fantasy- this avoided nightmares. I think simple bible stories were viewed as the equivalent of fairy stories. Not something I necessarily consciously aimed to suggest but clearly my own view. In most cases religious texts were more far-fetched than many episodes of Doctor Who or Star Trek; of course most sci-fi is profoundly anti-theist.
    Above all I allowed my children to question everything and there is no better means of combating religious fundamentalism than analysing it. Ironically my eldest in adulthood is looking into Christianity for the first time- I hope she will see it for the myth it is.
    The answer might be to tell them about God or gods but not to suggest that any theistic belief is normal or correct. Too often the cultural aspect of belief restricts free thinking. Your daughter should start with an open mind and then hopefully she will have one for a lifetime.

  • Rosa

    You know what we’re doing: reading lots of different stories and myths and treating them as all equally likely/unlikely (one atheist parent, one not-atheist parent) to be true, and all equally deserving of respect.

    Still unclear on how it will turn out; kiddo’s wavered from pantheist (Grandma convinced him about Jesus and angels through one week of unsupervised visiting, and then we discussed all the *other* gods and goddesses in the car on the way home) to firmly atheist, to thinking maybe there are supernatural forces out there (since he knows so many people with direct divine experience) but people can’t really understand them, back to firmly atheist. He’s 6.

    • Caravelle

      It’s funny how I remember my most open and significant conversations on the existence of God happened in primary school – so 6-10 years old. The kind of playground conversation that came up, along with our experience of Santa or the merits of the Famous Five.

  • Caravelle

    “Sally, some people believe that there is a…”
    But it isn’t just “some people”, is it ? I’m not talking about making Christianity more important than it is (making it sound like it’s a more important religion than others for example), but Christianity does have special meaning for your family. You grew up a certain kind of Christian, it is still a subject you’re preoccupied with, if from the opposite direction :) and more to the point your parents are still Christian aren’t they ?

    I agree with Joy the first thing to do is to stop editing out God out of the stories you read to her. It might also be simpler if you described God instead of defining it to her. Like, in the Noah story, you could say “And God saw people were evil – God is the one who created the world and all the people in this story – and blah blah blah”. You really don’t need much more, because if she feels she needs to know more she’ll ask. And you can also say “Some people think God really exists and that the story of Noah’s ark really happened. Your grandparents think so, you could ask them about it”.

    That would probably make your grandparents happy, and I don’t see how they could brainwash her when she’s learning critical thinking from her parents. Might be naivete on my part though.

    Of course I realize the issue may still be fraught with your family, if for example they don’t know you’re atheists or if you fear they’ll push things like the doctrine of Hell onto her. But that could also be exactly the kind of opening you need to teach her about religion in general – “your grandparents believe this, but other people believe differently. For example…” and get out the different mythologies, different Christian doctrines, different religions etc.

    • Rosa

      Noah was an easy one for us, because we started with a version of Gilgamesh, which has almost the exact same flood story. Nobody we know believes in cranky old Enlil, so we got to explain him with “the people who wrote this story believed…” and then when someone gave him a book about Noah we got to do the same thing about the people who wrote the Old Testament, and “some Christians think” (because, truthfully, I don’t know anyone who actually literally believes in the Flood story, this won’t offend his grandparents – Libby’s got a more complicated problem about how to talk about this stuff ).

  • Jeremy C. Young

    I have some expertise on this subject, because I was raised atheist by atheist parents. It was never hard for me to understand that some people believed in God; in fact, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that. I was always taught it the same way I was taught about Santa Claus: “This is God. Some people believe God is real. But we don’t.” And then the part my parents didn’t add, but should have: “You can believe whatever you want.”

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      I have always known about god (catholic version) since I have memories but I don’t know who or when they told me (my father’s side of the family is pretty religious) so I can’t contribute much to the post. The funny fact is that I have no memory either of them telling me this stuff was bunk but I simply couldn’t believe it. We didn’t go to mass or snything like that but I didn’t know what being an atheist or an agnostic was until I was oldder and even if I suspected it I never knew that my parents didn’t believe in god for sure until I was almost an adult because I never thought to ask.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        When I was a preteen I was pretty much convinced at least one of them didn’t believe in god mainly because I wasn’t baptised but as I had decided not to do religion class, I didn’t give it much thought… after all my mother had asked me if I wanted to go to religion class when I was about to start first grade and other stuff.

  • http://carloscabanita.blogspot.com Carlos Cabanita

    Let me contribute with the opinion of one who’s been there, done that. I am Portuguese. My daughter is now 31, a mother and an atheist. When she was a child, we told her nothing about religion. Our talks were always lively, about the world at large, tales, everything. Questions about beliefs and religious practices of other people were answered with “some people believe that”. Like a moderate Christian would answer a child’s questions about Hinduism. So I guess that religious things got filed in her head under the name “funny and weird things people believe”. About seven, I think, when my pious mother tried to convince her to be baptized (remember, Catholics are baptized at birth and she wasn’t) she asked my opinion and I said no. “You are too young to take that decision. When you grow up, you will be able to decide.” She never talked about it again. She knew my position about religion from kichen table conversations between me, my wife and friends (I was already an atheist, my wife was somewhat between indiferent and new-age) but we never tried to proselytize her. Around 12 or 13, I think, she asked me: “Dad, what do you think about the existence of God?” I said: “You already know my opinion. As for your opinion, you have to arrive at your own conclusions.” Se stood pensive for a second and said: “Ok, that figures.” And that was the last time we talked about the subject. Don’t get me wrong, we always talked about everything. It was just religion that almost never picked her curiosity. It was strange for me, because I was raised at a very strict Catholic family before quitting as a teen, and the discussions about religious matters always attracted me. But religion for me was a problem, a struggle I had to win to remain sane as a boy. To her religion was never a problem.

  • Anat

    Does Sally attend preschool? My daughter’s first encounter with ‘God’ was in the Pledge of Allegiance.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      She does, but I intentionally chose a preschool that doesn’t do the Pledge of Allegiance.

  • LicoriceAllsort

    I can’t sympathize with Sally, since, like most people here, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in a god. But I guess if I were in your shoes, I might do it like this: You can make people-shapes out of play dough and point out to Sally that a lot of other people believe that, a long, long, long time ago, humans were made by someone else, kind of like how she just made those little people-shapes. Way back then, gods were the ones who made humans, and a lot of people think that gods still exist. That might open into a conversation about what different gods are thought to look/be like and what they’re called.

    Optionally, to continue, you could say that you think that gods are just fairy tale creatures like X other fairy tales but that a lot of other people think they truly exist–and it’s okay that people think that; it’s just not what mom & dad think. Instead (not trying to put words in your mouth, just attempting to summarize a naturalistic explanation), mom and dad think that people and animals have always just been born from their parents, and parents were born from their parents, too, and so on. So people weren’t ever “made” by gods as whole adults; they’ve always been born as babies and grown up.

    That explanation doesn’t get back to the first person/animal, but maybe that won’t bother her at this point. It also paves the way for a talk about evolution but doesn’t get into it specifically.

  • Sarah

    I class it with the detailed facts about how the baby got into your tummy, it’s something best left until they ask. And if you can get in with some classical mythology in advance, then it’s very simple. You can just add another category of religion “you know how the Egyptians had different gods to the Greeks? Well, some people only believe in one god. I wonder how they decided which one to choose?”. For us it was at age six. Before that, when asked what church was, we would say it was a club house.

  • Skjaere

    I have a sort of tangential question I wanted to ask, and I apologise if you’ve already covered it elsewhere. My sister is raising my niece (currently 15 months old) in a conservative evangelical church (Mars Hill Seattle, which I’m sure you’ve heard of). My personal beliefs are fairly agnostic, and I mostly take an anthropological approach to religion. I don’t talk about my beliefs much with family, because I prefer to avoid friction. My mom shares my sister’s beliefs, and my dad doesn’t really talk about his beliefs.

    I want to have a close relationship with my niece, and any future children my sister has. I can’t wait to see who she turns into and hear her thoughts as she grows older. But I know kids tend to ask blunt questions about uncomfortable topics, and I wanted your advice on fielding questions from my niece regarding religion in general and my beliefs in particular. I want to be honest with her, but as I said, I want to avoid friction as much as possible.

    Your thoughts would be much appreciated.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      If your sister already knows your beliefs, I would suggest simply being honest, but being very careful it doesn’t come across as proselytizing. With my siblings I’ve even sometimes answered a question like that with “I believe ___, but mom and dad believe ___.” I’m not even sure if that technically helps, but I’ve personally found that approach to be useful in certain situation.

      • Skjaere

        Thanks. I thought something like that might be good. Even just knowing that different people she loves and respects believe different things will be good, I think.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa@Permission to Live

    Obviously, as prior ministers kids my kids have already been exposed to a lot of this. We don’t read the bible in our house anymore, but they still remember stuff. Like my 4 year old recently brought up the topic of death, and said something about “people who die stay on the cross forever” so we talked about how people don’t usually die on crosses, they die when they are very old, or very sick, or sometimes if they are in an accident like a car crash without wearing your seat belt. It was very non-scary and matter of fact. My 5 year old came home the other day and told me that her little friend next door (who is pretty light/non-religious to my knowledge) had said that “God made the world and all the people” and I replied that yes, some people believe that a god made the world and everything in it. She asked me if that was important? I replied that many people think it is very important, but that she can think what she wants to think about it. And we kind of left it at that. I am also excited about the child education at the Unitarian Church we go to sometimes, they cover all religions. Also, whenever they talk with a grandparent the grandparent will usually try to say something like “always remember god loves you” or something like that. And sometimes the kids will ask me what that means and I will explain that grandpa and grandma feel like god is like a person you can’t see who is important to them. Haven’t done much more talking than that, but we’ll see how it goes as time goes on.

  • Freya

    My parents are atheists, and when I was five and my sis 3, my Dad read us a book called “What About God.” It talks about how god is pretend like fairies and dragons but some people believe that he is real. My dad explained that people like my grandparents believe in god and that we don’t. Then he gave us the option of going to church. I think I was testing him, but I said I wanted to believe in god and go to church. My dad was ok with it. As it got closer to Sunday I changed my mind (and strangely, another atheist parent reported having the exact same experience with his son using the same book!)

    It’s a good book and I plan to read it to my kiddo when he’s old enough. I got the gest of it from that, though by no means all of the complexities, it was definitely a good starting point.

  • http://riliansrlog.blogspot.com Rilian

    My parents didn’t tell me anything, except when I asked about xtianity (which I heard about from other relatives) they would just tell me that even though grandma believed it, it wasn’t real. That’s all they ever said to me about it. At some point, I became curious about it on my own and I used the internet to look stuff up. I think I would have hated it if my parents had tried to give me “lessons” about religion.

    • Rosa

      did you ever say that to your grandma? That’s a real fear my partner has – his mom is a big believer and doesn’t know (or chooses to pretend she doesn’t know) he’s an atheist, but kiddo’s going to out him one of these days. That, and a wish that he be at least polite about other people’s beliefs, is why we stepped back from the “some people believe that but it’s not real” language.

  • Froborr

    My family was always atheist, but we celebrated Jewish holidays, and so God was mentioned pretty frequently at holidays. When I was little, God was just a character who sort of hovered around the edge of the stories and did really big, spectacular things. I don’t recall clearly how I thought of it, but I was already familiar with characters like that–Merlin, Gandalf, Superman. I suppose I figured God was some kind of super-wizard, and I don’t think it ever occurred to me to think God was real or the stories *weren’t* made up–true stories, after all, don’t have super-wizards in them.

    So, I think I second the approach of not editing God out of the stories. Remember, Sally doesn’t have the same baggage around the word an adult in our society–especially one raised Christian–would. She has in all likelihood never encountered worship, has no idea of what transcendence or omnipotence are, and so to her it will just be another character in the story.

  • carol

    The Unitarian Universalists have a ton of resources regarding this. The Church of the Latger Fellowship edit:larger has them. UUs dont necessarily believe in a personal god. If i may, i see a little red flag in your post: you say you want her to be an unbeliever. Is that not the same as a christian parent wanting their child to share their beliefs about god/s, the eternal whatever? She will believe what she believes. And if someone talks to herabout god/s first, a simple “we dont believe that.” It isnt that big a deal.

    • Caravelle

      you say you want her to be an unbeliever.

      Where does she say that ? The first instance of the word is in your comment, and I don’t see her using different words to say it either. The only she says she wants for Sally in this post is to be “culturally literate and multiculturally sensitive” and to be interested in the world around her.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I don’t say I want her to be an unbeliever, and in other posts I have directly said that that is not my goal. I’ve said over and over that I want Sally to choose her own beliefs. I’m really not sure what gave you the impression that my goal is to make her an unbeliever.

  • Holly

    Libby never said she wanted to raise a non-believer. The part about wanting to raise an atheist was a quote from one of the commenters on the earlier blog post. I can’t imagine Libby so much as gently directing her children towards one world view over any other considering what she has experienced in her own childhood.

  • http://www.brooksandsparrow.com Angelia Sparrow

    My younger kids got some God stuff early when we were trying liberal Christianity (first step on the transition out). My older two were more indoctrinated than the younger 2, with AWANA and church and all. We kind of gave it up after I mouthed off to the preacher in mid sermon and marched out. (“Oh you DID NOT just use Pascal’s Wager!” I announced after the Amen pew had fallen silent, and walked)

    My younger two went to an after school program where there were missionaries one day a week. (It was what we could afford) And my 7 year old came home asking questions about the Goddess. She had extrapolated the existance of the Goddess from God and Jesus. After alll, she had a mother and father, shouldn’t there be a mother god too? That’s when I knew we were pagan. (All women are witches, there are those who know it and those who are not yet practicing. –Malleus Malificarum)

    Over the recent years, one of my sons has come out atheist and the other has no interest. My own beliefs lean non-deistic.

    Leave God in the stories, as others have said, but present them as one more myth. When Sally starts asking about churches, what is that building for? and reading the signs you’ll have all the questions you can handle. You might tell her most people, rather than some people, because a numeric majority of people are theists of some sort.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      LMAO at your anecdote about telling off that preacher XP

  • Adele

    I am an agnostic Unitarian Universalist raised by parents who identified themselves as atheists, though my father now says he is agnostic and always was. I think it is good that you read fantasy and science fiction and it is indicative of your background that you edit God out of Bible stories. I agree with those who say there is no need to do that and it probably is not desirable. I had a couple books of Bible stories growing up and I read them. I also read Greek myths, fantasy, fairy tales, etc. and I was gently encouraged to, or maybe just allowed, to naturally group all these stories with magical elements together. Because really they are the same thing. The story of Adam and Eve is a creation myth exactly like any of the other hundreds of creation myths from different cultures.

    Now I am a mother myself. I cannot remember where my daughter was first introduced to the concept of God, but it was probably from a friend and definitely when she was very young. I have always tried to answer her questions as honestly as I can using age-appropriate language. We attend a Unitarian Universalist church and I cannot overemphasize how helpful that has been in raising my daughter to understand other religions and be respectful of her friends with different beliefs if not the beliefs themselves, while also providing a safe and encouraging place with the resources she needs to decide for herself what she believes. My daughter is now 11. Year after next I anticipate she will go through “Coming of Age” at our church. This is a nine-month long Religious Education program where young teens work with a mentor and with peers exploring questions and ideas. They end by creating a “statement of faith” for themselves. We just heard the “statements” from the kids who went through the program this year. Some gave a talk but others created artwork, wrote poems or songs, or did a combination of things. Some kids called themselves atheists, agnostics, theists, and others explicitly refused to label themselves or just didn’t even bring up labels. I found listening to the kids both impressive and inspiring and it gave me confidence that going through the program will be a good thing for my daughter.

  • Jenna

    I am kind of lost on this too. I haven’t told my almost five year old anything and I feel like I need to soon. He goes to sunday school with either of his grandparents occasionally, but most of those times were before he was caught up in terms of speech and language, so I don’t know how much he picked up.

    Any ideas on good illustrated bibles to try? All the ones I’m finding on Amazon are full of prayers and devotional questions. I just want the narratives.

  • Meyli

    I’m not sure how I feel about teaching (my future) children about god/religions. Though both of my parents are a variety of Christian, religion was never mentioned or referred to in any way other than having a nativity set up at Christmas. There was no “God says this…” or “Jesus did this…”. So I grew up knowing the names, but not who they were or why they were really so important.
    I never went to church. I’m the product of a couple who didn’t teach god at all. Sure, now that I’m an adult I do sometimes get a little confused when I hear someone refer to something in the bible or similar, but its never been a problem. I’ve never had the urge to read the bible or other religious texts, simply because I don’t find religion that interesting (I know, I’m terrible).
    I don’t think teaching god is really necessary other than maybe mentioning certain important figures when the child is old enough to understand the history of the world. I guess what I mean is that learning the details of religion will come if she’s genuinely interested; it isn’t 100% necessary to survive as an adult :-)

    PS…the fact that your 3-year-old has seen Harry Potter made me chuckle – yay!

  • Mary Bierbaum

    Despite attending Kindermusik classes taught by a Benedictine Sister and sending both kids to preschool at a Sisters of Mercy preschool, we never discussed god or religion. It just never came up. It was years later that my son mentioned the preschool teachers talking about Jesus dying on the cross at Easter. He was three then and had already decided that it was like Santa: a made up story. We didn’t really do Santa either except as a game. Neither kid believed in Santa. We allowed the kids to go to religious services with friends if they wanted but they always came home rolling their eyes. We didn’t talk to them about religion or talk about god until just a couple of years ago (they’re both in high school) and that’s when we found out that they took a lot of teasing at school for not being believers. Son always gave as good as he got though and daughter just shrugged and let it go. When questions come up now, hubby handles most of it since he was raised Catholic while I was an atheist as a young teen and couldn’t answer them anyway. I just don’t think it’s all that important to teach any of this to young kids but to answer questions that come up.

  • Judy L.

    I support your goal of teaching your daughter about religions and to raise her as a sensitive and respectful global citizen. But what’s wrong with telling her the truth when she asks? Why must we tread so very lightly so as not to point out that the irrational beliefs of religious people are baseless? Why are gods any different from other magical mythical beings? If you know that there is no convincing evidence to support the existence of this thing that people call God, why can’t you say that after you tell her that “Some people believe…”? Yes, encourage your child to enjoy the brilliant world of human imagination, including the magical and fantastical, but as an atheist, you should be comfortable telling your daughter that there is absolutely no reason to believe that there’s an omnipotent, omniscient being who watches her all the time and has power over life and death. Just because a lot of people believe something, doesn’t make it true.

    Just a question: Why do you read bible stories when there’s an entire world of brilliant children’s literature and entertainment available? As literature, the bible is really not very good.

    • Caravelle

      You can’t know anything with 100% certainty, so making a special category of human beliefs that’s “the truth” is itself hazardous; using it as a criterion for passing on knowledge to children is doubly hazardous.

      The best way to make one’s beliefs approximate reality as closely as possible is to use reason and follow the evidence. Even that’s not a guarantee because reason can turn to rationalization without us noticing and the evidence can be incomplete. But I think we both agree it’s the best one.
      So why make a different standard for children ? Children take their parents as authoritative – which they should, given parents usually know more about stuff than children do. But that does mean as a parent you’re in a huge position of power over your children’s beliefs. If you tell them “this is true”, they’ll take it as true on authority. So what if it happens to be true ? They’re using the wrong epistemology, and that’s no good on the long term.

      What you want to do as much as possible is to give the child evidence and encourage them to think for themselves – teach them critical thinking, sure, but the more of the work they do themselves the more it will make sense to them personally. And if the evidence does in fact impose the conclusion you drew from it, the child should draw it too. And if they don’t there’s a reason, and everyone can learn something.

      And “tons of people believe in God” is EXTREMELY RELEVANT evidence in the God debate. It means that this is a subject on which most people believe wrong things. It means that it is a more [i]difficult[/i] subject for humanity to find the truth on. This is not a neutral fact, because people’s beliefs do in fact correlate with reality by and large. There are [i]reasons[/i] most people are wrong on this. You need to understand what those reasons are, which ones apply to you and why, what it means for your epistemology, and so on.

      I think going through this process is a lot more important for a child than that she happen to hold a true belief at 4 years old on such an esoteric subject. I’ll agree there are probably some subjects where the belief the child holds [i]as a child[/i] is more important than the way they came to it; I don’t think there are many, and I [i]really[/i] don’t think religion is one of them.

      Just a question: Why do you read bible stories when there’s an entire world of brilliant children’s literature and entertainment available? As literature, the bible is really not very good.

      I don’t know, maybe those are the stories she herself grew up on and she wants to share them with her own children ? And the Bible’s value as literature is the least of its importance; it’s a cultural touchstone. Learning its stories as a child, like learning Greek mythology, makes a huge difference in cultural literacy.

      • Judy L.


        I agree that the new and old testament bible are literary and cultural touchstones, as is Greek mythology, but neither Judeo-Christian or Greek myths are really fit for children, unless they’re sanitized several times over. I just think that learning those stories is something that can wait until middle school.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      As to Bible story books: Because relatives gave them to us and they’re in her bookshelf and sometimes she picks them when asked to bring a book to read.

  • Dee

    I’m another athiest raised by atheists. I had no religious family in my life when I was little. My parents wanted me to make up my own mind so they didn’t say anything. I knew no Bible stories. When I got to school and learned that other kids believed in God and went to church, I was confused. I asked my Dad if God was real and he said, what do you think? I decided God was made up. I was probably 5-6. Unfortunately I decided to bring this up when playing with my friend, who happened to be Jewish, when she mentioned God. We fought and it ended in tears. Her parents didn’t let her come over again. I wish my parents had spent more time explaining religion to me, even at a young age, and teaching me how to be respectful of others’ religious beliefs no matter how silly they may sound.

  • Jeanne M

    I was raised a Catholic and became an atheist when I was 13. (Because it didn’t make sense to me.)
    With my children, I took the approach that I did not want them to discover religion later, like it was some new wonderful thing that I had kept from them. So I told them about heaven – hey, so did their friends and the t.v. and relatives. But it was never part of our lives. I did take them to church a few times, to Easter or Christmas services because they’re so beautiful. I put up my Nativity figurines every Christmas. I told them stories about Jesus’s life and about how cool he was. I told my 6 year old that, of course, he would see his deceased gekko in heaven again.
    I also told them about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. In their 20′s now, they do not believe in God or Santa or the Bunny. They feel good about the bible stories they learned – it’s part of our culture after all. They don’t fall for evangelists because they’ve heard it all before. They also know that if they chose to join a religion, I would not insult them for it. They DID grew up hearing their dad and me make fun of people who try to impose their beliefs on others – but we did not make fun of people who believe, mind you. Instead we talked about their beliefs and how pretty much almost every religion tries to give people meaning and beauty and encourages them to live good lives.

  • Ben

    I would start with greek mythology, honestly. You get the concept of a deity across, without the baggage of living people actually believing in them. You can also explain to her that people used these gods to explain the natural world before we had science, and as fables to give advice. Different cultures have different gods, and a lot of people still believe in them. Start in the context of stories, and go from there.

  • Kate

    Coming from a kid who only learned that some people believe in ‘god’ after some kid in kindergarten asked me about it, I’d say that depending on where you are and how often your daughter is around people who talk about religion a lot, you don’t necessarily need to tell her about it before someone else does. Then again, I am and always have been abnormal in many ways, so taking advice from me on how other people’s minds work is probably not the greatest of ideas. I just felt like sharing.

  • Jack

    It might be interesting to try consulting God on the matter…It would definitely be an interesting prayer (and potentially an even more interesting response….could be risky).