What To Do When You Find Out Your Kids Are Being Taught Religion

What To Do When You Find Out Your Kids Are Being Taught Religion July 31, 2018

I get this panicked question from godless parents at least once per week,

“I just found out my child is being exposed to religious stories at school. What should I do?”

There are many variations. Often it’s an aunt or a grandparent. Sometimes it’s the school, other times it’s the weekly Scouts meeting or their friends, their other parent or camp counsellors. Whatever the specifics are, the panic and fear often come through loud and clear.

I get it. I mean, I really try to understand. I wasn’t raised with any religion, so it’s difficult for me to truly grasp what you must have gone through when you left your faith behind but I have a pretty good handle on the fact that it wasn’t easy for most of you. I know that some of you look back with anger. You’re angry that you weren’t given a choice. You’re angry that you were indoctrinated, even brainwashed and more or less duped by those you were supposed to trust the most. I know that many of you carry a very justified chip on your shoulder and you’re terrified of your child experiencing the same thing.

So, when you hear that someone is exposing your child to these ideas that caused so much strife in your own life, it’s difficult not to completely freak out. Having lived your life, I might, too. In that light, the first thing I need to tell you is this:

Chill out. Sit down, take a deep breath and exhale. It’s just not as bad as you think. Not even close.

Why?

Because your kid has something you never had growing up. Your kid has you.

When you were a child being heavily indoctrinated by all this nonsense, your parents were either guiding it or reinforcing it. Imagine, instead, what it might have been like for you if one of them had been telling you they didn’t believe any of it. Would your indoctrination have been so powerful had your mother or father encouraged you to ask questions and think critically? Would any of it have stuck if mom or dad had poked holes in the stories and pointed out when it didn’t make any sense? If you had just one adult role model in your life exposing you to the very simple idea that not only can you question the stories being crammed down your throat, but you should, you’d likely never have believed any of it beyond six or seven years old.

The reason for that is simple: None of it holds up to any scrutiny, whatsoever. The moment you feel free to question it in any way is the moment it all crumbles.

So, if your son or daughter is being exposed to these ideas, and then coming home to skeptic mom or dad and being encouraged to think about them critically, religious ideas simply stand no chance of taking root in their mind.

Psychologists suggest that mom and dad are the most powerful influences in a young child’s life. So, set an example. Be openly proud of your skepticism. Praise others who display skeptical behaviour. Make sure, especially, to praise your children when they act skeptically about claims they hear. Make it something to be proud of in your house, that none of you are easily led to believe any old claim.

Recently, I was watching Big Brother with my son – he and I love watching Survivor and Big Brother and discussing strategy. This season, there’s a girl in the cast named Kaitlyn who is the Queen of Woo on television. I mean, she’ll give Oprah a run for her money. She talks about chakras and auras and being an “intuitive”. She insists that a white bird who sits on the backyard wall is her grandfather and talks about getting “hits”. One such “hit” was when she lay down to nap one day, she had some kind of vision. She saw, in her mind, that two of the other houseguests had approached the head of household to pitch the idea of evicting her. She immediately jumped up, confronted the head of household and found out that what she’d seen in her vision was true.

My son immediately turned to me and said,

“All the believers watching this are going to use that as evidence ESP exists, mom.” The look on his face was sheer disappointment. He’s nine. He’s nine years old and he can see how this one instance on television is evidence of nothing but a coincidence in a game where players often go behind each other’s backs to pitch the idea of voting others out.

“They won’t see the misses. Like how she trusts Tyler and he’s lying to her! If she’s so intuitive, how come she doesn’t know he’s lying to her?” My little guy continued to make me proud.

He’s right. The people watching Big Brother who want to believe in all this crunchy chakra intuitive nonsense are only going to take note of Kaitlyn’s single “hit” and ignore her countless “misses”. But not my kiddo. My little boy saw right through it immediately. That’s because, in our house, we question everything. We make a point of it and he’s clearly learning.

Something you have to consider is the fact that your kids are going to be exposed to religious and superstitious ideas no matter how hard you try to shelter them from it. You can’t stop it. They’ll see it on television, on the internet, read it in books and magazines. They’ll befriend religious people and study and work with them. They’ll be invited to religious events and might even come across a Jehovah’s Witness or a preacher spreading their ideas in the streets. If you find out your daughter’s school is teaching her about Jesus, you might be able to shut that down with a fight, but then a month later, you find out her best friend is telling her all about the “goodness of god” or maybe that her grandmother took her to church. In my mind, it’s a waste of energy to fight the rest of the world. Instead, Jesus-proof your kid at home. Promote critical thought, set the example of skepticism and keep communication open with your children and it just won’t matter how many people try to shove the Bible down their throats. It just won’t take, because your kid is immune.

So, don’t panic. Rest assured that your kid hearing about prayer in school is so vastly different from being indoctrinated with religious ideas for your entire childhood. These two scenarios are not even in the same league. One is absolutely child abuse, forcing ideas on growing minds while discouraging questions. The other is the perfect opportunity to practice critical thought and ensure you’re raising skeptics who are always looking for more information before forming their opinions. If anything, these brief windows of exposure to silly ideas are a reason to celebrate because it gives you the chance to talk about rational thought and logic and evidence and all those juicy topics us heathens love the most. It might be a great reason to laugh with your babies, but it’s just not a reason to worry.

How do you feel about your kids being exposed to religious ideas? Let me know in the comments!

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Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • anxionnat

    My 5 siblings and I were brought up catholic. My mom was a lifelong catholic, and dad converted from a “none” to marry mom. Nevertheless, all of us kids had shed the catholicism by age 11 or so. One Christmas, when I was 19, we were all sitting in a pew, and I whispered to my next-oldest sister (I am the eldest), “I don’t believe any of this. Do you?” She said “no.” She passed the question down the pew and then back to me. Result: all of us, from my eleven-year-old brother to me, didn’t believe. The only exception was my youngest brother, then age nine, who said he wasn’t sure. Mom gave me the evil eye for talking in church, but that was the best news I’d had in a long while. It meant that we were all sick of catholicism being shoved down our throats. Most of my siblings remembered my dust-up with the bishop when I was being confirmed, at age 12. (It was pretty public and pretty loud. I’m like that.) So, they kept their heads down til they could leave home. Now, all 6 of us are some type of atheist/agnostic/humanist/whatever. As are all their children. Even my dad gradually shed his religion after we all left home. By the time he died in 2007, he was an atheist again. In a conversation, he told me that if there had been other options in 1950, he wouldn’t have gone through “a year of brainwashing” (his words.) He was delighted that all us kids had shed catholicism, like he ended up doing.

  • Kevin K

    My brother’s kids were raised in a secular household. They weren’t baptized as infants, and they weren’t sent to any religious training. My brother said “they can figure it out for themselves when they get old enough.” One just turned 40 and the other is mid-30s. Still non-religious. My nephew has a deeply religious friend who he calls out all the time for being over-the-top Jesus cray-cray.

    I see it like being exposed to the Greek myths, or the Norse ones. The Christian myths are just ones that people happen to currently believe are true. Aren’t they silly?

    Of course, knowledge of the bible is a good thing if you’re ever a contestant on Jeopardy! Probably once a week, there’s a bible category. You can instantly tell who’s going to not choose that category…their names are things like Prakash and Jamal.

  • TomMars

    The real question is how do you feel if your children are exposed to ideas–different ideas than your own? Should a religious parent panic if a child runs into the ideas of an atheist at school or in some group? Should a Christian panic if their child runs into Muslim or Jewish ideas or stories? A whole lot of history, law, and culture are based on religion and religious ideas. For children to become educated, tolerant, and liberal in a multi-cultural society, they need to be exposed to both religious and non-religious stories and ideas of all kinds and sources. You might not decide to enroll your kids in Sunday School if you are non-religious, but unless you are a terrible parent, your children running into ideas from Sunday School, from time to time, should not be viewed as a threat.

    For example, I am not Muslim; however, as a teen, I once asked a Muslim friend how he knew that the Quran was from God, and Mohammad was a true prophet. He replied that the Moon broke into pieces and came down and kissed the feet of the Prophet. I respected the sincerity of belief, but the offered evidence was not as convincing to me as the fellow had hoped. Would I be okay with my children hearing the idea, even in school? Of course. There are many amazing and great ideas and contributions to humanity made by many great Muslims and their religion–and some with which I disagree and find unconvincing on the evidence. I talk with my children about ideas they are hearing. I have religious beliefs. However, my job is not to exercise mind-control over my children so that they are only exposed to ideas I endorse. Non-religious parents don’t need to practice mind-control on their kids, either. Too many religions have tried that. My job is to encourage my children to learn as many ideas as possible and have the tools to examine those ideas and arrive at their own reasonable conclusions. Good ideas will withstand the competition just fine.

  • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

    Growing up the UK, we had religious school assemblies every day (with prayers and hymns) and as a child from an atheist household none of it had that much effect on me. I identified as an atheist from about the age of ten, and I remember the relief when, at 17, I moved up into the sixth form and was allowed to skip my two main bugbears of assembly and PE. I never had a religious phase, although I remember my mum telling me, when I was aged twelve or so, that she would support me if ever did.

  • amyjane2484

    We were raised atheist with my Dad being very vocal about it. My sister who is rather bright but totally humorless “had a religious experience” and became a extremely right wing Catholic, with 9 kids. She can’t tolerate shades of gray, she needs strict rules, everything in black and white. She drove our parents nuts. Most of her kids haven’t followed in her footsteps.

  • Clancy

    We attended church on Easter and Christmas to please my wife. At five years old, our daughter asked us to go to church every week. At six, she was baptized at her request. Her high school and college experiences were unremarkable. She went to grad school, got an MA, intending to go on to a PhD, took a hard turn, attended seminary, got an M.Div., and is now the pastor of a small church in a major progressive denomination. She is LGBT-affirming, progressive, science-believing, ferminist, universalist.
    So, I have no problem with this. She does not hold destructive conservative ideas, she’s happy, successful, and loves what she does. Isn’t that what we want for our children?

  • Geek the Form

    Exposure is great, my line is when the teacher or principal leads prayers, then you know you have to be careful writing that essay on what I did last weekend.

  • adhoc

    Science and dinosaurs, especially dinosaurs. Questions- lots and lots of questions.

    I went at it a bit differently with my daughter. While my daughter (about 12 years old then) was on her journey to being an atheist, I told her to ask questions, lots if questions when confronted by religion or religious people. I asked her, if she found the one true religion, she would tell dear old dad, right? What this did was to allow her to exercise her own critical thinking skills and also compare her conclusions to what she thinks I, her dad, would think. So far she hasn’t found one in the past decade.

    Forbidding her from going to church or hanging around religious friends wasn’t going to work and could possibly backfire, so I gave her a flashlight, and told her to keep her eyes wide open so she could spot the bullshit.

  • I was thoroughly indoctrinated in fundagelical Christianity as a child and started actively moving away from it during college. The struggle was difficult and I still harbor a bit of anger at the adults who put me through this. Yet I know they meant well so I am not angry that they meant it for what they considered my benefit. I am angry that they were indoctrinated by their parents too, but same thing – no malice was intended.

    My husband and I have raised our kids outside religion. They get occasional exposure at funerals, bar mitzvahs, or from grandparents, but at 16 and 18 they consider all religious stories to be akin to Greek, Norse, or any other mythology which has been discarded as religion and accepted as the mythology it is. We were always open to the kids exploring religions and asking questions, but when they see their friends going to CCD or Hebrew school weekly and not being able to eat certain foods due to religious rules, they think that is silly and want no part of it. My daughter saw a Muslim classmate pass out in class one day during Ramadan. Not really a good example of why it is beneficial to follow a religion.

    So don’t worry. If kids are exposed to religion and you are there to answer questions and promote analytical thought, they will be fine. I didn’t want to be responsible for indoctrination one way or another.

    The Catholic mother of my coworker got mad that her daughter wasn’t promoting the indoctrination of her grand kids and said, “It is your job to guide them.” My friend said, “I don’t get anything out of it, so why would I force it on my kids?” Bravo.

  • Sandra

    love this.
    Used to work in a natural science museum as a tour guide. Most of my groups were very excited about dinosaurs.
    One day I gave a tour to a group of home schooled kids. Though I gave them the same tour as the public school tours, they were not at all engaged, and they did not ask questions.
    At the end of the tour, I showed them a film about fossils in the auditorium (which was typical).
    After the film, I asked if anybody had any questions. No one raised their hand.
    So I went to the booth in back of the auditorium to rewind the vhs tape (i’m dating myself here).
    Whilst rewinding the tape, a couple of the homeschool mothers/teachers went to the front of the auditorium and asked: “Why do we know everything that woman told us is a lie?”
    She went on to tell the kids that I was “Satan’s instrument” and that the fossils were placed in the Earth by Satan to ‘Shake their faith’.
    I was listening to all this in the projection booth, stunned.
    This experience solidified my Atheism, and made me feel sooo freakin’ bad for those damn kids.

  • adhoc

    “After the film, I asked if anybody had any questions. No one raised their hand.”

    Odd that everything you told them was a lie, yet they had no questions. Perhaps they were being polite, but the truth can stand up to scrutiny. Questions can shine light on both truth and lies. It’s a shame, but not shocking, that questioning is frowned upon by this group.

    “She went on to tell the kids that I was “Satan’s instrument”…”

    An Accordion? How rude.

    “… and that the fossils were placed in the Earth by Satan to ‘Shake their faith’.”

    Actually, they were. I used one of my turns on the Atheist Time Machine to go back in time to bury fossils with Satan. Skeptical? How would I know that we used shovels to bury them, if I had not been there? Satan considered it one of his greatest gags, up there with inventing beer a few thousand years before Yahweh created everything.

  • Otto

    I was a little more blunt. I told my Catholic mother I wouldn’t teach that crap to my kids if the Church paid me to do it. She asked why and I explained to her I was taught in the Catholic school I went to that demons possession was true along with the abusive ideas of hell. She said she had no idea they were teaching that stuff….I facepalmed.

  • Otto

    I agree with this up to where any of this garbage is taught in public school, i.e. taxpayer funded. Then I think we have to fight it.

    Besides… the look on the Christian principal’s face was priceless when I told her teaching children about hell was nothing short of child abuse…I wish I had a picture.

  • ORAXX

    The people who see it as okay to teach other people’s children religion, tend to be a lot less enthusiastic if they find out it’s not THEIR religion being taught.

  • MadScientist1023

    I want to “like” this post, but what you saw was too sad to “like”. That is so depressing. I can’t even imagine growing up without being able to get excited about dinosaurs. Those parents really robbed their kids of a magical childhood experience.

    I really have to wonder why those parents even bothered taking their kids to that museum if they weren’t there to learn anything. If you think everything in there is a lie, why waste everyone’s time with it?

  • I love a story with a happy ending! Sounds like a family of super clever people!

  • it is exactly like being exposed to older myths. Thank you for reading!

  • Exactly! So well said. Expose kids to lots of information and they will make educated choices and form educated opinions. It’s as simple as that.

  • Sounds like you have wonderful parents.

  • Yeah, there are always exceptions. Sorry about your sister.

  • Good on you. She sounds like a wonderful woman!

  • Exactly! Equip kids with tools to navigate the world, don’t hide them from it.

  • Nice! good work with your babies 🙂

  • Oh, wow. That is heartbreaking. It’s especially sad knowing there are so many more kids being raised like this out there, even to this day. Ugh.

  • Yes, I agree that taxpayer money should not pay for it.

  • Haha, yep!

  • Otto

    BTW I loved this piece, I wish I had had someone in my life that could have called out the obvious BS, it would have saved me a whole bunch of time.

    On time when my wife and kids were on vacation with another family (my wife and I were atheists by this time) we were just sitting around at the end of the day chatting with our friends and the kids were watching TV or goofing around. The Discovery Channel was running some show about demon possession and without me even really realizing it my son took an interest. He was around 12 and he knew our position on religion, etc. and he had been inoculated, but not as much as I had thought apparently. He was horrified after 20 minutes, I had to turn the channel, it really distressed him until I was able to talk him down and bring him back to reality. It was then that I got a picture of my own 12 year old self being taught about demon possession in school and the devil and hell. I knew it had really affected me but it wasn’t until I saw his brief reaction to 20 minutes of TV and then thought about the number of years I lived being terrified, literal sleepless nights, near sleepless nights interspersed with night terrors, etc. that I realized the damage it did. Regardless whether the adults believed the stuff they taught me or not, it was abusive.

  • Sandra

    I wondered the same thing.
    I later talked with our resident geologist (whom I loved) who had also dealt with religious nutjobs in the past, and he said that some homeschool programs need to ‘check off a science box’ in order to be accreditaded (sorry don’t know how to spell that).
    I thought it was very rude of them… when have you ever heard of Natural Science employees (or Atheists) going to a creationist church and openly disparaging them? I would never dream of doing that.

  • MadScientist1023

    Yeah, it is extremely rude. When atheists visit creationist “museums” we wait until we leave to talk about them.

  • Lilly Munster

    No. Do not tolerate anyone in your child’s school who is illegally indoctrinating your child. NOT for a minute. If they get away with it, even for a while, and then you stop it, it will be YOUR child who is bullied and shamed for objecting to the “we have always done it this way” bigots. Stop it cold. You just KNOW if the teacher is reading bible stores, that teacher is also selling Jesus, with guilt and threats of being punished….both in hell and in the classroom.
    Stop them dead in their tracks. They are abusing children.