Childhood Religion When Parents Disagree

Question from Michael:
I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for about 2 years now. Everything has been great for the most part. We often like to discuss things early on before they erupt later when we’re married. When we first got together I was an agnostic, then converted to Islam (which she was very happy about). My girlfriend is Jewish, but isn’t very strict in practice. She prays every night, goes to temple whenever she can, and prays before eating. That’s about the extent of it. After about a year of being Muslim I decided it was all a load of crap and became atheist (that story is much longer, but I don’t want to get off topic). She was very upset at this initially, but after I explained my reasoning she seemed to accept it.

The only issue that comes up for me is CHILDREN. I want to marry this woman, but I’m very afraid of raising religious kids. She’s VERY insistent on the children being raised under Judaism. I was raised Christian, and I know it differs a bit from Reformed Judaism, but I know how much pressure a child can have when introduced to a religious life. I really do not want my kids going through this. Just to end the argument I decided to let her win and allow the kids to be raised Jewish, but deep down inside it still bothers me. What should I do? I don’t want to break up with her over some silly superstition, but shes not going to see it done any other way.

(Also, her mother always wanted to raise her more religiously, so that’s why she feels the need to raise our kids that way.)

Answer by SmartLX:
I have a fairly devout Catholic mother who raised me and my sisters as Catholics. My father’s an atheist, and mentioned it a grand total of twice. Two out of us three kids turned out atheist, and the other believes but is hardly religious at all. While of course kids’ upbringing has an influence, you never can tell.

You could do a lot worse than Reform Judaism. Jews have no solid concept of (or at least no emphasis on) Hell, so the kids will be spared that particular trauma. Reform Judaism is one of the more liberal branches, going so far as to say that it’s up to the individual whether to subscribe to its practices and even its beliefs (outside of a few central ones, like God of course).

A big reason why your girlfriend wants to raise your kids as Jews is because Reform Judaism doesn’t consider them to be Jews even in the hereditary sense unless they’ve been raised that way. This means that their hypothetical Jewish upbringing will likely concentrate on all the things Jews ought to know (for demonstrating to family and other Jews), not what they ought to believe. This might actually be good for the kids to some extent, because they’ll be very culturally aware. Even secular Jews keep up this kind of education.

As for eventually bringing them out of it, the number one thing I can suggest is to make them aware of other religions early on. The simple fact that there are people out there who believe completely different things or have no equivalent belief is very powerful, and every bit of religious doctrine has to be seen in that light afterwards. Just the idea that religions can be compared, and therefore individually evaluated, can plant seeds of doubt.

All this is assuming that your girlfriend will stay as religious as she is now, which isn’t a given. We can go into the reasons for her belief if you’d like to comment, but speaking generally most of the atheists in the Western world were once religious, so there’s always a chance for a voluntary deconversion.

2 thoughts on “Childhood Religion When Parents Disagree”

  1. That’s one of the scariest things for me. Because under no circumstances will I let my future wife raise my future kids religiously. I won’t back down. If you can, that is a trait you have, that I can’t share. But I can’t subject my kids to that. I can’t let them be lied to or feel like I have to censor what I see as truth from them.

    it’s a sticky situation. I’d come up with ground rules that you both agree to before having kids. Like maybe have her agree to not talk about religion until they are 6 or 7. But if it is more of a cultural thing, that will be hard.

    overall, the potential situation sucks. I’m sorry man.

  2. How about you let them mature and explore their own beliefs and personal truths when they are old enough to comprehend them and the world around them…instead of forcing YOUR beliefs on them.

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