Help! I Don’t Believe Anymore, But My Daughter Still Loves Church!

Help! I Don’t Believe Anymore, But My Daughter Still Loves Church! September 24, 2019

I got this question in an email recently:

Here is my situation. I gave up any religious beliefs for almost a decade, during which time I married and had a child. My husband is atheist. I recently went back to Christianity for almost a year and started taking our 4 and a half year old to church with me every week (with his permission, but not enthusiasm) . I sometimes read (past tense) the Bible at home, talked about God with our daughter, etc but never got incredibly involved in anything much and almost never prayed together with her.

I came to my senses over the Christmas holiday that all the doubts I was having and have had in the past were for good reason. It’s all a bunch of bullshit. 

So now, I need to have another uncomfortable conversation with our daughter and my husband about my coming back to my senses and giving up the fairy tale stories and not taking her to play with the other kids at church. I think that’s what she will miss the most. I need to get her away from this kind of thinking. It’s so damaging.

Do you have any tips for talking about this with our daughter so as not to confuse her, about why we won’t be going to church anymore and how I don’t believe there is any god? I just want to tell her the truth and I will, but just a little while ago I was talking about God and I think she might be confused. I’m not sure where to start. 

So, I’m going to preface this with a few disclaimers. First, as most of you know, I have never been a believer so I come at this from a different perspective than the mom asking the question. Second, I’m no expert and I screw up a lot, so only take my advice if it makes sense to you and your family.

The first thing I want to say is that if your daughter loves going to church to play with the other kids, why stop that? You have to understand that a child at her age is extremely impressionable, but the majority of that is going to come from her parents providing they are attentive and truthful. Every child psychologist will tell you that the number one influence in a child’s life is you: mom and dad. If you approach the topics that are important to you and make sure she has a good understanding of where mommy and daddy stand, her peers aren’t going to really have much of a chance to shake that. Not at her age, anyway.

I would suggest beginning the conversation with her, but let her keep seeing her friends. It’s not about god for her. It’s not about fear of hell or any of the other absurd dogma. She’s four. It’s just about playtime with friends. If you rip her away from that, you risk creating a negative memory for her that will always be associated with atheism, disbelief and skepticism.

She’s still at an age where the things you teach her and the example you set is still forming her basic personality and belief system. So, while she’s still going to church to play with her friends, make sure you’re having conversations at home about belief that will keep doubt in her mind.

To do this, I would explain that mommy doesn’t believe that stuff anymore because it doesn’t really make sense. You can maybe point out the huge logical holes in the Noah’s Ark story or in the story of Adam and Eve: “I’ve never seen a talking snake, have you?”. You can tell her that sometimes we want to believe things like this because it makes us feel comforted, but that when you really sat down and thought about it, it just didn’t make any sense. Tell her that’s why you don’t go to church anymore, but tell her she can continue to go if she still wants to.

If she chooses to keep going, let her go. Don’t be afraid of losing her to the faithful. Just make sure that after each visit, you get her to debrief you on everything she was taught. Then, just poke holes in it. It’s easy enough… none of it makes sense.

You have to remind yourself that often kids are drawn into the behaviour of their peers because they lack good guidance at home. All you have to do to prevent her from falling for all the biblical B.S. is to teach her how to think critically. No amount of exposure to Bible stories is going to make it stand up to critical thought. If you arm her it, she will grow up completely unable to shake the skepticism.

The only time I would say to pull her out of the church setting is if something shady is going on. If you’re getting the feeling that she’s being threatened with hell or told that she’s broken, or if she’s having trouble sleeping out of fear for the things she’s being told, then end it. But if she’s just going to the church and running around with friends in between a few fairy tales, there’s no harm there, so long as you are involving her in conversations about it as often as she goes. You can’t unsee the holes in the story once they’ve been pointed out, so point them out to her. Don’t lecture her, though. Rather, discuss, as equals.

“So, what did you learn today?”

“I learned that Eve was made from Adam’s rib.”

[laughing] “Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s possible to make a whole person out of just one rib” [poke her in the rib to make her squeal – you could even wrestle with her while she giggles and pretend to take a rib out]

“Why are you wriggling so much? I just need one rib! I just want one rib to make you a little brother!”

As you both end your giggle fits, you can say, “Don’t be silly! You can’t make a person from a rib! Besides, that seems a little painful for the rib owner!”

It can even be an in to talk to her about where babies really come from.

Keeping it fun is going to ensure she keeps wanting to talk to you about it. You should also explain to her each time you talk that her friends believe it, and “even though we think it’s silly to believe that, we have to make sure we don’t hurt our friends’ feelings by telling them they are silly for believing it. You can ask them questions, and tell them that you don’t believe it, but don’t judge them for it. That’s not how friends are to each other.”

Who knows… maybe your daughter’s presence among the other kids will set their little skeptical minds in motion, too.

There’s so much more you can do to make sure you’re raising a skeptic. Begin with the Socratic method. Ask her questions to unravel the truth. You can also find social outings for her that are with secular groups to counteract the time she spends with her church friends. Get her involved in lots of secular stuff. Hopefully, stuff that is fun and will fall on the days and times she normally goes to church. Give her the choice when those conflicts come up. If it’s a super fun secular activity, she will likely choose that over church.

If you ask me though, your influence at home, even if you don’t talk to her about church or religion at all, is going to be enough to keep her from believing the lies of Christianity. Parents set the most powerful example for their kids, and those little ones trust mommy and daddy more than anyone, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. As long as she is happy and not afraid, she’s going to be just fine.

How would you answer this question? Let me know in the comments!

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  • SecMilChap

    Please accept accolades and support! My poor Mom (died @ 40 from colon cancer) was a believer, had played organ in church as a teen. But . . . she was seriously afflicted with what we’d now probably diagnose as agoraphobia. She could not bring herself to make the trip, but started me in Sunday School at age 4. I continued until almost 6, walking the four/five blocks from our house to the church. She gave me a big book of “Bible Stories” (taught me to read at age 3), and trained me in bedtime prayers. “If I should die before I wake . . . ” was probably not a good incentive. But I was a precocious reader, and when we moved to where church was no longer in walking distance, it all just went away for me. My late wife was a Catholic but it was never a problem between us that I became a Humanist Chaplain. I said it was “…an itch I did not need to scratch…”, which was acceptable to her. I’m sure that her death at age 66 was mostly due to 7-10 years’ severe, prolonged, and intense physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by her defrocked RC father (serious anxiety and depression as she entered middle age). But I escaped unscathed despite 2.5 years’ attempted indoctrination. Your advice is spot on, from my experience.

  • Jim Jones

    “So, what did you learn today?”

    “I learned that Eve was made from Adam’s rib.”

    When she’s older, the mother can tell her the truth: Adam’s baculum, not a rib (Same word is used in ancient Hebrew).

  • Jim Jones

    Here’s my book list. I built it over time to help parents divert their children from the myths to the truth.

    Maybe Yes, Maybe No by Dan Barker

    In today’s media-flooded world, there is no way to control all of the information, claims, and enticements that reach young people. The best thing to do is arm them with the sword of critical thinking.
    Maybe Yes, Maybe No is a charming introduction to self-confidence and self-reliance. The book’s ten-year-old heroine, Andrea, is always asking questions because she knows “you should prove the truth of a strange story before you believe it.”
    “Check it out. Repeat the experiment. Try to prove it wrong. It has to make sense.” writes Barker, as he assures young readers that they are fully capable of figuring out what to believe, and of knowing when there just isn’t enough information to decide. “You can do it your own way. If you are a good skeptic you will know how to think for yourself.”

    Another book is “Me & Dog” by Gene Weingarten.
    And Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story : Books 1, 2, 3
    Here Comes Science CD + DVD
    The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins
    Bang! How We Came to Be by Michael Rubino.
    Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution
    Grandmother Fish, more information.
    Also:
    Greek Myths – by Marcia Williams
    Ancient Egypt: Tales of Gods and Pharaohs – by Marcia Williams
    God and His Creations – by Marcia Williams
    I Wonder by Annaka Harris
    From Stardust to You: An Illustrated Guide to The Big Bang by Luciano Reni
    Meet Bacteria! by Rebecca Bielawski
    See also Highlights for Children – this has materials for younger children.
    Atheism books for children by Courtney Lynn
    “It Is Ok To Be A Godless Me”, “I’m An Atheist and That’s Ok”, “I’m a Freethinker”, “Please Don’t Bully Me” and “I’m a Little Thinker” etc.
    (Courtney Lynn has a couple more for grown ups as well.)
    Augie and the Green Knight by Zach Weinersmith
    — See other books by by Zach Weinersmith as well.
    15 Holiday Gift Ideas for Secular Families
    Bedtime Bible Stories by Joey Lee Kirkman – for mature teens only
    Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

    TINY THINKERS is a series of books introducing popular scientists to children, by telling their stories as if the scientists themselves were kids!

  • While I agree with you almost 100%, I can see things possibly getting ugly. Once the parent starts just dropping the child off and then picking her up, questions will be asked. The child will most likely be pushed to get mom to stay for services, and that could lead to guilt tripping (you don’t want mommy to go to hell, do you?”). Mom will need to keep a close eye out for that sort of thing.

  • Ann Kah

    My grandson is being raised by atheist parents in a bible belt state. When he was little, they knew he would be hearing god-mythology from other kids, and told him “No, we don’t believe that. But don’t laugh at those other kids because it will make them feel bad”, mixing reason with empathy.

    He is now a teenager …and a really great kid!

  • Jim Baerg

    “You can also find social outings for her that are with secular groups”

    The atheist/secular society here includes some families with young children. Those kids have a lot of fun with each other while the adults have their own fun.

  • Gussie FinkNottle

    Just gradually taper off how often you go. “Oh, not this week sweetie, we’re going to sleep in and make pancakes.” There is often a big transition between Sunday School for preschoolers and school age kids, so that might be a good time to cut the cord.

  • Conuly

    The kid’s six now? It’s a non-issue. Find some other activity to do on Sundays that gets her with other kids – soccer, weekly playdate, swim class – and follow it up with some family time – board games, a weekly movie, stories and cocoa. She’ll get used to the new normal really fast.

  • Clancy

    Here’s what happened in my family. I’m a cradle arheist, and I married a non-practicing progressive Christian. We have one daughter. At my wife’s request we attended church on Christmas and Easter, and rarely otherwise. When our daughter was five, she asked if we could start attending church regularly. I chose to go along so I could see what was happening. I explained my beliefs to her, but I did not belittle her or my wife. After a few months, she asked to be baptised. Now we were attending church regularly, and this went on for years. My daughter went to college, and grad school and was about to go on for a PhD, when she changed direction, and chose to attend seminary. Now, she is ordained clergy in the same progressive denomination, the solo pastor of a small rural church. I’ve retired, and we’ve moved to be near her. We attend her church. I sing in the choir, and I’m director of the handbell choir. I’ve been attending church for over 25 years. I still don’t believe a word of it, and I don’t pretend to. I sing the hymns and recite the prayers, but I will not join the church, I will not recite the affirmation of, and I will not take communion. A couple years ago, my daughter outed me as an atheist (with my permission) in a sermon, so everyone knows. I will likely continue to attend church for the rest of my life.

  • davewolanski

    I agree. Just re-direct.

  • Sherey Gould

    My sons were both born while I was living in Germany (non-military). When they became old enough for what we call nursery school, the closest and nicest one was just two blocks away. Attached to and affiliated with a Catholic church. When I went in to ask about enrolling, I said we were non-religious and would that be a problem for them. They said some of our lessons and activities involve the church and would *that* be a problem for me. Neither of us had any problems and it was such a great experience for both of my boys. I believe at that young age, it’s really just all fun and games. (Both boys in their 20s now and still normal, well-rounded non-believers.)

  • Jennifer Cox

    Why in the world would a parent feel like they need to justify themselves to a child? Just quit going to church. It’s not a big deal.

  • Yoyoma

    Although this exact scenario might be relatively rare, it’s one of the best articles I’ve read in some time…and could help in all kinds of sticky kid situations. Nice work.

  • adelaidedupont

    And how does Andrea prove the truth of stories that may not seem as strange to her?

  • I mostly agree with Courtney’s response. I would also find a competing secular play group for the child which occurs near the same time as the church play group. Eventually, the child will drop the latter for the former, IMO.

  • Wow! You’ve done a lot of work in this area. Thanks for the list.

  • adelaidedupont

    Humanist chaplains are so cool – we need more of you!

    And all the defrocking of the Dad – this is very contemporary in Australia at the moment with the revisions from seminary to apprenticeship.

    2.5 years indoctrination – some of it sticks; some of it doesn’t; some is much more equivocal. Yes, SecMilChap, the time does matter, and the context too

  • Jezebel’sOlderSister

    Totally agree!

  • Syzygy

    Exactly right. She probably has friends at church.

  • Brian Curtis

    Well, sure. Parts of churchgoing can be fun. The building’s often impressive, there’s a crowd of almost-strangers, there’s funny costumes and chants and candles and singing and wild stories… it can be a rollicking good time, just like going to a scout-camp jamboree or a Disney movie. Of course, just like a Disney movie, the child should understand that none of it’s real. It’s for entertainment purposes only.

  • Jim Jones

    Wot?

  • rationalobservations?

    It’s a potentially difficult situation that should never have arisen as the dangerous psychological damage of christianity was previously recognised by mom yet she still recklessly subjected her daughter to the mysanthropy prejudice and anti-humanitarian message of sin and guilt that is at the core of the scam and protection racket of religion.

    Straight talking about the lies of the message of the preacher and the bible may be required to free a gullible young mind from the poison.

  • Jim Jones

    And eventually the wicked witch will start looking at the kid and the oven.

  • Jim Jones

    IMO, there’s a real disconnect between theory and practice when it comes to religion.

  • Clancy

    I think of going to church the same way an uninterested spouse might go along to a ball game. I’ll cheer the home team to be polite, but I ain’t wearing the shirt.

  • Jim Jones

    I find I look at each action/speech/song and wonder, where is THAT in the bible? There’s more that all religious meetings(?) have in common with each other than with their books of myth.

  • I was thinking that the easiest course of action would be to just drift away. Go to church less and less often until they’re not going at all. Why make it harder than it has to be?

  • That actually sounds pretty good, but not in the fundamentalist denomination my family are in!

  • Clancy

    I don’t get that feeling because I’ve never read the Bible. Easy, peasy!