Critical thought and kids

Below is a guest post on parenting from sex blogger Kendra Holliday.

Where Did I Go Right?
My Heathen Daughter

by Kendra Holliday, of The Beautiful Kind

I didn’t become atheist until I was 12, when I dropped my baby sister headfirst on a hardwood floor and realized that praying wasn’t going to save her life one bit. She survived unscathed (babies are made of rubber), though she still blames me whenever she has a moment of stupidity (no comment on how often that occurs).

Even before that, I was cynical when it came to religion. I was raised Methodist, which means I was forced to wear a lavender polyester pleated dress with a lace collar and attend Sunday School in a smelly church basement with kids who pulled my chair out from under me whenever I stood up to sing.

My heart wasn’t into learning about Jesus, so I suffered through the lessons in order to get to the donuts following class, perking up only when something salacious happened, such as when a nearly nude man was nailed to a cross and left to die after a long, drawn out public humiliation scene. That part was way more interesting than the parts about him cuddling lambs, children and lepers. Also, I was grossed out by the stories of women washing his feet with their hair.

At 23, I married a Jewish agnostic, and was glad to convert to Judaism in order to please his family. I liked the traditions and was fine with raising any kids we had Jewish. I figured it was all make-believe anyway, and they would eventually make their own decision about religion like I did.

When our daughter was born, I decided I would not a) drop her on her head, nor b) push atheism on her; rather, I would present her with ideas and let her think for herself. I actually hoped she would find comfort in religion – I envied those swaddled in a security blanket of faith. It seemed so much easier to believe what you were told, no matter how outlandish the stories, instead of thinking critically for yourself.

One thing I wasn’t planning on, however, was getting a divorce when my daughter was two years old. That really sucked.

I also didn’t plan on my ex-husband insisting she attend a private Jewish school, where every morning began with services and an hour-long lesson from the Old Testament. He wanted me to help pay for the elite education, but I refused.

“Why can’t you join a synagogue and raise her Jewish at home?” I complained.

But no, he wanted someone else to raise her Jewish, so she would fit in with the very cliquish local community. The Jews I know in St. Louis are not a humble lot – they take the Chosen People card they were handed very seriously. You get extra points for obedient children with advanced degrees, a condo in Vail or Miami, and an intimate relationship with large amounts of cash – perfectly respectable, albeit superficial, goals to be sure.

My little daughter was studying the Torah at school, and we had ongoing discussions about god. When she was six, it bothered her that I was atheist. She declared, “If you don’t believe in god, you don’t believe in anything.”

I argued, “Well I can see you, so I believe in you, but why should I believe in things I can’t see?”

She shot me a serious look and asked sternly, “Do you believe in your heart?”


She may have believed in god for a time, but, like me, she found Jesus creepy. “I’ll bet the person who wrote that is a drugoholic,” she speculated, about a fear-mongering JESUS SAVES flyer someone left on our car windshield.

Soon after, she announced, “I like puppies more than Jesus.”

A few months later, we were taking a moonlight stroll with a boy her age.

Always one to exercise her vivid imagination, she told the boy, “I think there are some goblins hiding up ahead in those bushes and we need to cast a spell to protect ourselves!”

He said, “You’re creeping me out!” Then he reassured her, “Don’t worry, we have Jesus on our side. I feel like angels are always looking down on me.”

Then it was her turn to say to him, “Now you’re creeping ME out!”

She was nine when she announced her atheism. After four years of learning stories from the Old Testament at her school, she decided the things I discussed with her made more sense than the things they told her.

For instance, I asked her if god created light on the first day, and then the sun on the fourth day, what was the original light source? She asked her teachers, and they reacted with annoyance at her logical question.

We also talked about raining frogs and oceans of blood and the science behind it (wind funnels and red algae), and after getting those explanations, my daughter stopped believing in the bible and focused her energy on believing in herself.

Now, she is 11 years old, and I continue to swell with pride whenever she shares something brilliant and insightful.

Yesterday, I asked her, “What do you think of adults who believe in god and told you all those bible stories?”

She thought for a moment, then answered, “When I was little, I was told god was above me, all powerful, and better than me. They tried brainwashing me. They taught me about locust plagues, and Cain slaying Abel, but they didn’t act like that was a terrible thing, just matter-of-fact, you know, sometimes brothers kill each other.”

I asked, “Sounds like they told you all kinds of crazy stories. Did they tell you the one about the two daughters who got their dad drunk and raped him?”

“NO!” She exclaimed. “That sounds quite interesting!”

“I know, right?” I paused. “Do you think they were trying to trick you? Do you think they believe it themselves?”

She said, “I think they are naïve. Deep down, people don’t truly believe in god, but they want to be protected, they want to be safe. They want someone to do right for them.

They know about all the suffering in the world, but they don’t do anything about it. They want ‘god’ to handle it.”

She concluded, “They want god to do their laundry.”

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Supermental

    Fantastic stuff. Great post.

  • Ace of Sevens

    That sounds so much less traumatic than realizing all the adults in your life lied to you or had no idea what the hell they were talking about.

  • Rory

    I truly don’t get comments of the type ‘I don’t believe in god, but I envy those who do.’ Really, so you feel you’d be better off with pleasant delusions? Maybe you could make the argument that you’d be happier if there WAS a god, but that’s a substantially different thing. It also seems to presuppose that it would be a good thing to have an omniscient, all-powerful, genocidal asshat hovering over us waiting for a chance to do some smiting.

    Apart from that, this is a lovely story. Kudos to Kendra for having the restraint to let her daughter develop her own convictions and at the same time the courage to pull no punches when speaking about her own beliefs. I think if more religious parents took this approach, their children would be better off.

    • K Tims

      From the perspective of believing in god, there wouldn’t be a difference between there being a god and just believing in one, so put the logic of the “there is a god” situation with the “believe there is a god” situation.

      Personally, I’m fine with life as is. I get anxious and try to plan ahead, so cramming for the Pearly-Gate test would drive me nuts!

  • glenmorangie10

    I know the standard wisdom is that kids make parents go back to the church, but my children were the final straw when it came to letting go of theism. Making my daughter believe what I believed, or making her believe what I had been told as a child, seemed not only intellectually dishonest but boring and harmful. Sharing with them what I know, and helping them see how much more is out there to learn about, is kind of awesome.

  • lordshipmayhem

    That last line is just such a wonderful metaphor: “They want God to do their laundry.” They want God to wash their conscience clean, to iron it and starch it and put it away until such time as it should be judged by some bearded, be-robed white guy with a quill pen and a large book.

    Sorry, religious believers, God’s not doing your laundry – he’s not doing your soul, your underwear, your socks or your gloves. He’s just not there to wash them clean in the first place. You’re responsible yourself to your fellow man, you can’t dodge that.

    • WMDKitty

      “You’re responsible yourself to your fellow man, you can’t dodge that.”


      Everything’s interconnected, man, and humankind is the one species that seems to have forgotten this simple truth.

      I may be just some furry hippie, but I do believe that we all can do a better job of loving ourselves, loving each other, and loving our one-and-only home, Earth. We take care of Her, and She’ll take care of us, yeah?

  • Decnavda

    Would it be boorish of me to self-promote my own project in this thread if the topic is relevant to this post? If if so, I won’t.

    • JT Eberhard

      Ordinarily, yes. But since you asked, knock yourself out. :) Thanks!

      • Decnavda

        Thank you.
        I completely agree with Ms. Holliday’s approach to raising godless children, and I am trying a project to do this in a pro-active way. I host a podcast called “Educating Isaac” where I introduce my 11 year-old son Isaac to people with stongly held religious, political, and social beliefs, and have them try to persuade Isaac to their point of view. Topics so far have included Islam, Communism, Biblical Christianity, Mormonism, and Feminism. Guests have included Matt Welch, the editor-in-chief of Reason Magazine discussing Libertarianism, and Barry Deutsch, blogger and Eisner-nominated comic artist, discussing Fat Acceptance, and Scott Lively, who told Isaac about his oposition to the “Gay Agenda”. The most recent episode is about Buddhism. It can be downloaded on iTunes or at the webpage here:

        The goal is not to teach Isaac *what* to think, it is to teach him *how* to think. I am far from perfect. In an episode about Vegitarianism, in a segment after the interview I pushed Isaac too hard to confront his own ethical limits and had to appoligise to him. I also made the mistake of agreeing to allow a first cousin of mine to approve an episode when we interviewed her about the “cult” she is in, and she has refused to let me publish it.

        Thanks again for letting me be boorish, and good guest blog!

  • unbound

    “She concluded, “They want god to do their laundry.””

    From the mouth of a child (okay, tween) comes the truth. Well said.

  • WMDKitty

    I’m bookmarking this, to use as an example when I want to point out an awesome and cute kid story.