How To Stop Your Religious Parents From Indoctrinating Your Kids

How To Stop Your Religious Parents From Indoctrinating Your Kids September 11, 2019

I received a question from a reader recently. She asked,

I have two children one who is at the age of asking about Jesus and what he is or about the Bible. My parents brainwashed me as a child and they are doing it to my kids now. I would like to know what you say to your children or if you just let them think what they want.

There were so many things this prompted me to want to say, so I thought I’d write it out here, for the benefit of you lovely, beautiful infidels.

I think the biggest concern I have in this situation, is this part, “My parents brainwashed me as a child and they are doing it to my kids now”. This should not be happening. As your children’s parents, it is your obligation to protect them from brainwashing of any kind. I get that you want to have a good relationship with your own parents, though, so we have to deal with this reasonably. That means you have to give them the opportunity to correct the behaviour that bothers you.

I’ve written about this very problem several times before but I’ll say it again: You have to communicate very clearly that you don’t want your parents pushing their religion on your kids. You have to be so clear about it that a four-year-old would not misunderstand you. Then you wait. You wait to see if they respect your wishes as the parent. If they continue with their holy roller shenanigans, you give them an ultimatum. Tell them that if they don’t stop, they will not be allowed to see your children any longer (or see them unsupervised, or see them near as often). This is absolutely fair. They are your children. The dynamic has changed, and your parents are no longer the ones who know what’s best. You are. Have faith in yourself and your ability to know what is right for your children, and don’t let your parents bully you into parenting how they want you to. Lay the ultimatum out as clear as you possibly can. Make that uncrossable line as obvious as O.J.’s guilt. Then, if they cross it, follow through with the consequences you made absolutely clear would happen. Don’t look back. Just do it. Your parents had every opportunity to respect your wishes as the parent, and they defied you repeatedly anyway. It is all their choice. Not yours.

The bottom line here is: shut that sh*t down. Like, yesterday.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with your parents explaining what they believe to your children. There’s nothing wrong with Grams taking them to the odd church service or talking to your kids about what Jesus means to them. As long as it’s presented as subjective; this is their belief and no one else needs to share it. Further, expect from your parents to be told any time they talk to your kids about religion, and to be filled in fully on what was said. That way, you can follow up with your own conversation on the subject and pose questions that may expose the holes in the Jesus myth.

This brings us to how to do that. How do we pose questions to our children that will teach them how to have a healthy skepticism? How do we talk to our kids about Jesus? How do we explain what church is, or what God is or what the Bible is?

The way I approach it is by telling my kids the truth. I explain to them that there was a time, long before we embraced the scientific method and all the tech we have now, in which people didn’t really understand anything about our world, or us, or how we got here. I tell my kids about sun worshippers and how they, at one point, thought the sun was hauled across the sky by a giant. I tell them about how we used to believe the world was flat and that it was the centre of the universe. I use these as examples of human ignorance and tell my kids that, despite being ignorant of the truth, humans have always had a need to explain things, so they make up stories about what they don’t understand. The Bible is a story, just like that, I elaborate. It’s a way to explain how we got here, what the world is, and so many more things we didn’t understand back then. Further, I say,

“Since the Bible has been written though, we have come to understand more about the world and our part in it, and a lot of our new knowledge has disproven the stories in the Bible. That doesn’t stop lots of people from still believing it, though. The Bible says a magic man that we can’t see made us all, and made the earth, too. The Bible also says he sent his son to us, to die for us. That man and his son are God and Jesus. Many people still believe this to be true.”

And then I pose the question,

“But if we know now that many of the stories in the Bible are not true, should we believe anything written in it without further investigation?”

To which your brilliant kids will undoubtedly say, “no”.

To explain church, which is actually pretty difficult, I tell them that some people go to church to pay respects to God and his son whom they cannot see. That these people think they are doing something very good and might become very hurt or very angry if you suggest none of it is true.

I’ve said to my son on many occasions when explaining these things to him that should he end up believing in this stuff, it is his choice and I will love him all the same. I have also told him that if he doesn’t believe it, best to keep it to himself unless the topic is being forced, to avoid the anger and hurt. At least until he’s older and can defend his position in a mature way, anyway.

In short, I absolutely let my kids think what they want, but I do promote healthy skepticism in my house. It’s not just about being skeptical of religion. It’s also about protecting my kids from people who might want to harm them, or scam them or lure them into something bad. A skeptical kid is less likely to believe a man has a puppy in his van or that trying hard drugs just once can’t hurt. Skepticism reaches far beyond religion and protects your kids from predators and dangerous situations.

I hope this answers your question, and I invite other atheist parents to leave their answers in the comments below!

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  • Cozmo the Magician

    Well there is one absolute sure fire way to make sure your children don’t get brainwashed…. Don’t have kids O_o

  • Jim Jones

    Here’s my book list. It has everything your reader needs to protect kids from anyone else.

    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!

  • Gussie FinkNottle

    My folks were/are bad about doing this. To each his own, but we bent over backwards to avoid ultimatums even when justified. It has damaged my own relationship with the Fam, but my spouse and I feel strongly that it is our duty to our kids to do whatever we can to preserve relationships on their behalf.* Twenty years from now the kids won’t be half as influenced by whatever woo Grandma was dishing out as they will be by having had a happy relationship with her.

    The kids are older now so it doesn’t matter much anymore. But we answered questions as they came along. We never had to lecture or explain much. It was always enough to say, in regards to any religion past or present, that some people believe such-and-such. I guess it makes them feel better or helps them cope with life or maybe they’re just used to it. You can snicker about it to yourself, but you need to act polite and be respectful.

    So, for example, I was livid when my folks snuck the kids to the Creation Museum and lectured them about bad bad evolution for the entire trip. BUT… there was no actual harm done. The kids (10 & 12) held their own in discussions and came away shrugging their shoulders and maybe pitying their grandparents just a bit. But it certainly didn’t change their minds about anything.

    *Yes, I know: one has to curb babysitting grandparents and toxic grandparents.

  • bullet

    My parents take my daughter to church when she stays with them. And I know they talk to her about God and Jesus from what she says when she gets back. Well, she started her first real science classes this year. After about about a week she came home and said, “Grandma’s not right. God couldn’t have made all of this in 6 days.”

  • wannabe

    Multi-upvotes!

  • Illithid

    One factor contributing to my son’s resistance to Grandma’s nonsense: spontaneous right-wing ranting about Obama. Over eight years in his tweens and teens, she taught him to just ignore anything she said on social issues. And I might have done a wee bit to train him to doubt claims that lack evidence.

  • Ruben Villasenor

    Teach your kids how to think not what to think. I am not the first to note this and I would credit the author if I knew who that was. Be well.

  • Funny how the concept of healthy boundaries shows up everywhere.

  • Alas, I’ve only the one updoot to give.

  • Or stick to fur-kids.

  • Cats are too stubborn to believe in any gods but themselves. Dogs will just see their favourite humans as gods.

  • 24CaratHooligan

    Easier said than done… Thankfully my daughter has grown up into a feisty little atheist in spite of loony religious grandparents, a vaguely Pagan mother and an atheist father. however when you are eternally “the child” yourself (because you always will be unless you just stop pretending you want to sin and get on and BELIEVE DAMMIT) those conversations don’t happen. You may think you’ve had them, you may have actual memories of having had them but in the minds of your parents you’re simply throwing your own teenage tantrum and can be ignored.

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    The Beazley link didn’t work?

  • adhoc

    Two things: Dinosaurs, dinosaurs and more dinosaurs. Kids love dinosaurs and dinosaurs make the Bible, and religion in general, not make sense.
    Two, teach them about other mythos, Egyptian, Roman And Norse mythologies are much more entertaining than boring old Yahweh. Watch some SG-1, they vanquish “gods” and blow up stars- good fun.

  • ralphmeyer

    Religious nutcases will try anything to get their unfounded nonsense across to people. As someone once commented, “When somebody talks to an entity for whose existence there is no proof, we say they’re mentally ill and are delusional. When hundreds of people do the same thing, it’s called a religion!” Richard Dawkins calls the latter “The god delusion”.

  • anxionnat

    When my nieces and nephew were small, my mom (catholic) tried taking the grandkids to church. (My dad had been raised non-religious, became Mr Supercatholic when we were growing up, but found his way out of catholicism by the time his grandchildren started appearing–so the “go to church” thing was entirely Mom’s.) The grandkids were terribly bored, and said “No, thanks, grandma” after going a few times. We six sibs run the gamut from “I don’t care” to your basic atheist to Buddhist to “Theological Switzerland.” I have to admit that I stole that last, but my sister loves it. So, all in all, my sibs and I, as well as nieces and nephew, put mythology–including catholic mythology–into the Santa Claus box. Can be interesting, but not worth believing. As young ‘uns they loved some of the other mythologies, which are more interesting stories. There are lots of good mythology books out there, with good drawings, that the kids enjoyed.

  • Brian M. Bannon

    You might point out that there are thousands of active religions in the world each claiming to have the “truth” about our reality—and 100,000 religions known to history. If any one of them had proof of their claim then the others would have to yield, yet they’re all out there.

  • Ohyetwetrust

    My husband and I wish we could have stopped our son and daughter-in-law from indoctrinating our grandchildren, no 18 and 17. But too late. They moved to the South, raised them in an evangelical church and home schooled in some gawd-awful creationist garbage. Their lives were highjacked. And now the older one is not going onto college.

  • Philip Buczko

    Up to the early eighteen hundreds in Britain you had to believe and be seen believing in God. Didn’t matter what variation, Catholic, Anglican, Calvinist etc. Now thankfully it is optional (maybe not so much in the southern states of USA) so it is important to keep the faith going through family members. That is why religion survived in the USSR through babysitting grandparents teaching the myths.Just give it a couple more generations and it will be a minority sport. I find it depressing when watching futuristic sci-fi television programmes or films and the characters are smoking (on a spaceship!) or spouting religion, sometimes both.

  • Greebo

    No – the usual chatting. Didn’t follow their conversation.

  • Jim Mallett

    What could go wrong, teaching little kids an invisible deity watches, and knows their thoughts,and will torture them for eternity for not believing his son died for them? It only damaged my whole life, but I’m probably an outlier,right?

  • And Norse myths! I miss the “Polyatheism” segment on the Reasonable Doubts podcast. (Actually, the whole podcast.)

  • Judgeforyourself37

    You are raising a very bright young daughter. Congratulations.

  • Jim Jones

    > My son is RELUCTANTLY going along to keep peace

    He needs to grow a pair.

  • Jim Jones

    See these (links in my other post).

    Greek Myths – by Marcia Williams
    Ancient Egypt: Tales of Gods and Pharaohs – by Marcia Williams
    God and His Creations – by Marcia Williams

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    I second SG-1….Scooby-do is good, too.

  • fractal

    The legend goes that Cats were once the most intelligent and dominant species, enjoying the same entitlements and responsibilities as Sapiens do now.
    However,
    Cats had their own problems, their own internal struggles and a deep resentment about being the “responsible Alphas” of the planet.

    So,
    Cats decided to abdicate and relegate Alpha status to a less intelligent, but more optimistic species…

  • Sassafras

    Even though I didn’t become fully Atheist until I was 23, I thought Adam and Eve’s story was poppyc0ck at age 6 because dinosaurs came BEFORE humans.

  • Sassafras

    Upvoted your post because I pity your grandchildren. Hopefully you or someone else may end up saving them. It $uck$ not being able to help the vulnerable.

  • Sassafras

    In first grade I was introduced to Catholic myths that told me Jesus was always with me and would be a protector. I was slightly concerned that some hippy ghost was watching me on the toilet. I also wondered why Jesus wasn’t “protecting” me from getting molested2 and r@ped2.