Godless Parenting: What Do You Do To Bring Up #GodFreeKids?

I’m hosting a Google Hangout tomorrow morning (which is 8pm Sunday, USA East Coast time) – and I have a few questions all ready to go!

If you’d like to suggest more questions (or even suggest some answers that I can read out!) feel free to add them here in the comments or pop them on the Twitter hashtag #GodFreeKids.


1) What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that face atheist parents?

2) If you did question your faith as a child – what led you to question?

3) Richard Dawkins calls labelling a child with a religion a form of “mental child abuse” – do you think this is fair? Is labeling them “atheist” just the same?

4) Are atheist schools a good idea?

5) You’ve been approached by a young person who wants to try going to church or finding out about religion to make up their own mind – what do you do / suggest?

6) What is one piece of advice you’d give for atheist parents?

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • Jackie Potter

    I was raised as a Catholic, but never really believed. I really wanted to, but just didn’t. I never really felt guilty about this because I never pretended to believe once I decided I was certain that I didn’t.

    I think it’s unfair to say labelling a child with a religion is a form of “mental child abuse” There are many good people out there who believe and just as many who don’t. The worst thing you can do to your child is to not listen when they express doubt if you’re religious, or express feelings of faith if you are an atheist.

    Children are not possessions. They are people and have every right to find their own way, whether you agree with them or not.

    Both faith and lack of faith are something that should be constantly questioned. Following (or not following) any religion should be an informed choice, made willingly and not imposed.

  • http://www.skepticfriends.org/forum/forum.asp?FORUM_ID=33 HalfMooner

    1) The biggest challenges are dealing with the unexpected, as they are with any parents.

    2) As a pre-teen, I gradually began to question the reality of God after finding out that Santa Claus was a myth. I could see no substantial difference between Santa apologetics and Christian apologetics.

    3) I think Dawkins is correct. I did not label my daughter, but let her do it. It eventually turned out that she’s an atheist, too.

    4) Specifically atheist schools, not so much. Secular schooling is probably the best choice.

    5) I’d suggest that they go and take a look at church, and that they don’t suspend their skepticism while doing so.

    6) Love your kids. Teach them thinking skills, not ideology.

  • adelady

    One piece of advice?

    Several friends of ours made *some* kind of mistake in drumming atheism into their kids. The kids finished up attaching themselves to the worst kinds of happy clappy fundie xtians when they were in their early to mid teens.

    I saw it as a failure to provide a real community for their kids to feel secure within a larger group of mixed ages where there are lots of people who take an interest in how they’re doing at school or sport or music or whatever.

    Don’t know how others handle it. (We attached ourselves to a very nice group of catholics without actually committing to religious observance.) Just be careful. There’s more to religion than religion. Parents need to provide those other community supports and experiences – in a way that keeps their kids out of the clutches of loonies when they start ‘exploring their spirituality’ or otherwise developing their independence from their own families.

  • carlie

    Question: how to raise kids in a mixed marriage. We’re doing somewhat ok, but I bristle at everything the kids do with the religion. I don’t want it to come off as if I don’t respect my spouse, and I don’t want to force atheism on the kids (surefire way to get them to rebel and become pastors or something), but it’s a tight balancing act.

  • scotlyn

    Don’t *try* to raise your kids atheists.

    Parenting is not stamping out copies of oneself. It is a process of protecting a small but unique-in-themselves human person until they are ready and able to fly your nest, meanwhile teaching skills that promote self-determination, self-confidence, self-expression and self-reliance, and that help them to critically analyse and judge what others tell them. (This complements the teaching of empathy with others, which is also an important social tool they will need).

    Then (much as it pains you) – get out of their way and let them at it.

    They may not end up atheists as such – but it will be unlikely that anyone will be able to get much over on them.

  • Ysanne

    1) The default assumptions that “there is some god” and “arguments referring to god have moral authority” are kind of annoying — kids in general do like to conform to the majority opinion and just be like everybody else, so getting them to actually question these assumptions is not as easy as one might like to think…

    2) Fortunately, I had atheist parents who put the “religious education” in German schools into context, so I never developed a belief in the first place.

    3) IMHO labeling is not child abuse, but it’s an attempt to push one’s opinions on the child instead of encouraging it to think and choose. Scaring a child into being religious and fearing some supernatural powers, on the other hand, qualifies as mental child abuse.

    4) What would atheist schools teach? “There’s no god because …” and if someone happens to believe otherwise then it’s bad marks? I think schools should be secular and teach about the world in a way that doesn’t hinge on whether a god exists. At the same time, I think it’s a good idea to learn about religion in school — about different beliefs and concepts of god, how they developed historically and how they relate to psychological mechanisms, their impact on philosophy, ethics and science throughout history. After all, religions are a quite prominent part of human culture, so a basic education about this topic is necessary.

    5) “Go ahead, look for yourself, keep thinking for yourself.”

    6) Lead by example and show critical thinking.

  • Maria

    You don’t have to do anything,just be yourself; try to be your better self, and tell what you think.
    The child has a right to choose whichever religion/beliefe that they want, there’s nothing one can do about it.Don’t try to define your child as an atheist, because it’s the same thing as defining him/her as christian/jewish etc.
    I’m a third-generation “atheist”,but I don’t really think of myself as an atheist or as anything else. I trully believe that it’s totally irrellevant to my (or anybody else) existance. Religion is just a matter of culture, not a matter of belief.
    Religions/beliefes should be taught as a subject in school for general knowledge, it’s an important aspect of human culture and history.