The Complexities of a Mixed Religion Family

The Complexities of a Mixed Religion Family January 21, 2015

Neil Carter has a blog post that really resonated with me because of my own background growing up in a mixed-religion family. Neil is an atheist, his ex-wife is a Christian and all four of their daughters (all still young enough to live at home) are Christian as well. That leads to all manner of interesting conversations and delicate situations to navigate. His 11-year old daughter has now begun evangelizing him. His reaction:

I’m being evangelized by my own preteen daughter.

So How Do I Feel About This?

Honestly, I’m proud of my daughter. All my girls are sharp as tacks, if I do say so myself, and this one continues to amaze me with how much she loves to think and learn. She absorbs everything like a sponge, and always wants to know more (and boy does she love to talk about it while she’s doing it). Naturally, her approach to her faith is similarly passionate and curious, and it’s only natural that she would want her Daddy to share her faith along with everyone else she loves. She’s evangelizing me because she loves me and she believes this is something I need.

I fully expect this process may last for years. My girls are pretty thoroughly immersed in Baptist youth culture, and they have already internalized the evangelical Christian message just as I did during my teen years. Now that I’m on the outside of that culture, I have plenty of objections to things they are being taught, but I am greatly outnumbered so I have to be very careful and pick my battles. Maintaining a good and comfortable relationship with my girls is of the utmost importance to me, so unlike many of my other atheist friends, I will not be burning all my bridges any time soon if there’s anything I can do to prevent it.

Most of the time we don’t discuss our differences. My girls don’t like conflict (it’s a family trait), so they don’t ask very many questions about this. I almost have to initiate any conversations about our differences myself, and frankly I’m not too keen on doing that much myself because I’m not interested in drawing much attention to what separates us. What matters most to me is enjoying each other’s company and watching them grow into the little women they are becoming. I’ve often said that I’m far less concerned about what they believe and much more concerned about the kind of women they become. So far I’m immensely pleased with how they’re turning out, and I have hopes that we will be able to work around this ideological and cultural difference that has come between us.

Obviously it is problematic that I write about my atheism for public consumption. We live on opposite sides of a culture war. This may one day prove a hurdle for my girls to get over. But this is who I am, and part of our family’s life involves learning to navigate these rocky paths with as much empathy and mutual consideration as we can manage. So far my girls and I seem to be making it alright. I would be lying if I said I don’t have plenty of fears that one day they will decide they can no longer trust me because I don’t agree with their other sources of authority. But we all love each other very much and that seems to be making things work out just fine.

Interestingly, he’s written many letters to his daughters that they can read later if they’re interested. Those letters explain why he believes what he believes. I think back to my own experience. I was raised by an atheist father and a Pentecostal stepmother, and as a teenager I became a devout Christian. I was one of the leaders of the local Youth for Christ group.

Not once in those years did my father ever try to talk me out of it. In fact, he never mentioned it at all. That was fairly unusual, because we would talk very honestly about everything else. He was always challenging me to think for myself and to question what I’d been taught. But on religion, he never really said much once I became a Christian. I asked him as an adult why he didn’t say anything about it and he said, “I knew I’d raised you to think for yourself and I knew you’d figure it out on your own.” He was right. One more thing I love about my dad.

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