What if My Child Becomes an Atheist?

What if My Child Becomes an Atheist? August 3, 2017

“What will happen to the faith of the next generation if we criticize and interrogate religiosity?”

“If we keep calling out everything church does wrong and reject spiritual practices because they are triggering, are we being bad parents? It’s already happening, statistics show young people identifying less and less as religious.”

“We cannot deconstruct and discard religiosity while expecting our children to still value faith.”

“If we continue on this path, our children are all going to end up ATHEISTS.” GASP.

These are the comments I often hear when I talk about Unfundamentalist Parenting, so I want to address these fears.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

First of all, it is offensive to ask this with the implicit assumption that becoming an atheist is a terrible fate. There are atheists who are wonderful people who raise kind children who make the world a better place. In fact, some would argue religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts. So, what if our children become atheists? Be proud of them for making their own choice, get curious about why they believe/disbelieve as they do, and be good parents and love them no matter what.

At the root of this concern is a parental fear that if our children become atheists, we have not successfully transferred what is best for them. But unfundamentalist parenting is all about doing the hard work of discarding fear from our parenting. Fear is normal, and a symptom of our love for our kids. I don’t want to dismiss the validity and even the necessity of fear in parenting. But it is not the best driving motivation for how we ought to raise our children, in all matters, including faith. If you desire a vibrant faith and spirituality to be an integral part of your children’s adult lives, then by all means, instill spiritual practices into your family lives.

But don’t do it because you’re afraid they’ll end up being atheists. Let love and beauty guide your parenting, not fear.

Secondly, if our children decide to reject faith because what faith they see in this world is violent, homophobic, racist, sexist, and in general all sorts of horrible—why on earth would we be upset about that? We want to raise our children to bring love, kindness, beauty & truth into the world, and if we do our job right, they *should* reject toxic faith. As parents of faith, we do not have to be responsible for the survival of religious institutions—our first responsibility should be to the health of our kids. If toxic religious institutions burn to the ground because of us and our raising our children to vehemently resist bigotry, it by no means indicate death to our faith. All it takes to be faithful is a mustard seed. If God is real and God is good, God will stir up the people of burnt ashes and bring beauty through us again.

My friend, Melvin Bray, author of Better: Waking Up to Who We Could Be, lays it down like this:

“i truly believe that, unless as people of faith we find better ways of showing up in the world, our children don’t need to be bothered with faith, it’s just done too much damage. if you think about every single war we’ve ever fought, there is some faith-based foolishness behind all of them. if you think about the notion of gender inequity, for most people it’s based on some bad theology. if you think about racism, heterosexism, if you think about how we treat people who are gender non-conforming, some religious bullshit is at the root of that thing. so when i see that kids are leaving the faith of their parents in droves, there’s a part of me that says, ‘why shouldn’t they?’ and if we want to see something different, then, by GOD, the burden of proof is on us, as people who still value faith, to show that it can still be of some good in the world.”

I don’t believe in evangelizing our children, but I believe in compelling them to live the values that are important to me. If you believe faith is important, as I do, than live a better faith! Show them what loving God and loving our neighbors should look like. Lay a beautiful vision of healthy spirituality before them and invite them into it.

There are people in all walks of life who have converted in and out of faith. One of the best things I’ve learned about faith is how fluid it is, and that the best chance of flourishing is when people are given the space to reflect, interrogate, and enter into it with solid convictions instead of empty rhetoric.

Give your child that gift.

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