Tonight on Maury: “Suddenly Atheist in a Strict Jewish Family!”

Question from Josh:
Hey Guys,

Firstly, thanks for wasting hours of my time and robbing me of any sort of productivity 🙂

I’m 30 years old and grew up in an ultra-orthodox, Jewish home. While I always had my doubts and skepticism, I did not make the leap to accepting there is no God till the past few months.

My wife is of course religious, and there are a ton of things we gotta work through now. My question to you is: Is there anything redeeming you can find in raising your kids to be religious?

Of course we will make sure they have a great education, and view everyone as equals, but is it morally or ethically wrong to raise your child with the burden of religious dogmas and beliefs you know to be false? (when I write out the question, it kind of answers itself. I guess I’m asking you to throw me a bone.)


Answer by SmartLX:
Think of it in more general terms: as a parenting team, what do you teach your kids about a subject where you disagree with each other? You hold off on the subject until it’s settled between you, if possible, but if it’s unavoidable then you’re honest about it at an age when you think they’ll understand the truth – “This is what Mum thinks, and this is what Dad thinks.” It’s a perfect introduction to critical thinking, and in the case of religion it often ends up favouring irreligion. I speak from experience, because the discovery of the mere fact of my father’s disbelief drove home to me that I had some investigating to do. There’s a good reason why many dogmatic religions have specific instructions against questioning them.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t go ahead and raise them in the Jewish tradition. For many branches of Judaism belief is one of the less important aspects of the Jewish identity, and simply teaching all the rituals, customs, Israeli history and so on will suffice. A “secular Jew” is a common thing, whereas you’d be hard-pressed to find a self-proclaimed “secular Christian”. Maybe it’s different in your family, but you can work with that: “This is what Mum and Grandma think, and it’s very very important to them so make sure you remember it, okay?”

As you can tell, I’m not okay with indoctrinating children into faith at the best of times, let alone when you don’t share that faith. If every voice they trust either tells them a thing is true or says nothing, they may believe it for the rest of their lives, or else have a very hard time shedding it later in life. That said, learning in my teens that my father was an atheist had a huge impact over time, so even if you do stay silent for years it may ultimately be for nothing in your family’s eyes once your real position slips out. Better to be straight with them at the start, and teach them to do what the family requires of them while knowing the truth of the situation.

I’ve got the same situation coming up in a couple of years when my son’s old enough to understand the concept of God, but it won’t be so difficult compared to your situation. My wife’s religious but liberal, and both sides of the family are a patchwork in terms of religiosity, so Junior will be exposed to a variety of viewpoints regardless of what I tell him, and therefore there’s no point pretending I agree with his mother.

2 thoughts on “Tonight on Maury: “Suddenly Atheist in a Strict Jewish Family!””

  1. 1. why do you say OF COURSE my wife is religious? she is young and is religious and i am old and am an atheist. there is nothing of course in religion vs atheism.
    2. my son has always been an atheist, since i am one.
    and then he married a very religious woman, and bad things starteed happening to him.
    he gradually became not exactly religious, but something ugly about it. he once said to me, in a kind of defense from me around the question, said that he ‘was looking for god’. i felt as if he told me he was looking to find his lost brains and penis, both. BOTH.
    gradually he kinda got back to his senses. he now again says there is no god, but this is all. he may be going to church with this woman. and of course she disregards his atheism and filled the house with religious stupid stuff. and baptized the kids, with his money, of course. she has never worked outside of home, not even in the three years before they married, when she could, now they have two small boys, but she could not find work even then, cos she was looking only for office jobs, cos she is a ‘teacher’ of greek.
    so, the house is religious, and she is filling the innocent kids’ minds with idiocies.
    this i am afraid will happen to you too. should have thought better who you married, cos this woman will make your kids stupid as she is.
    but it does not mean that you can do nothing. you can, but only you don’t feel you are in her hands. this has to do with money and your general position in the marriage. the balance is usually on the side who loves less and feels more self assured in it. my son is on the wrong side of the scales. she is the main factor in their marriage. but this is only the consequence of the fact that we both, he and i, his mother, live in a foreign country full of racism for foreigners. and he is poor, while all other men at the university had already had their places to live, given of course by their dads, and cars too, my son had to earn these by his manual work, with the archeologist degree in his back pocket. the day he got his degree, he took it in an official ceremony in the morning, and when it was over, he put his working clothes on and went to carry other people’s furniture and then drive the lorry with it to their new houses.
    so, my son had no better choice but this woman, and i hope you can put a foot down, if not about anything else, at least on your children’s upbringing. you should tell them that you don’t think there is god, that you disagree with their mom about it, and tell it WHENEVER the occasion arises. especially when they start asking why you are not going to church.
    this is what i am waiting for, the day when my little boy asks me for the first time, granny, why don’t you go to church.
    i have been thinking what i am going to say, probably that i don’t like churches, but i am sure he will ask me why, and then i will not feel free to tell him that there is nothing in the church except a BIG LIE.
    but i am sure i will find something that my daughter in law will not be able to put a finger on, and tell on me to my son, her husband.
    however, there has been an opportunity when i for the first time raised my head and said to her.
    we two were alone in the stationed car, waiting for my son, probably, who shopped for a minute.
    and then there came an opportunity, we two were saying some nice words about her now dead mother, who i liked very much and the sentiment was mutual. in spite of my atheism and her even deeper religiosity than of her daughter, she once commented on me, saying, about my talkativeness and other signs of anxiety, that i must have had a hard life, which of course i did, otherwise i would have no neurosis. and then, the question of what to say to the three years old one, the other boy is 5 and has autism, when he asks, looking at the pic of his other granny’s, where he is. so i said to my daughter in law, that i told him, this happened several times cos he often wants to look in my valet family pictures, where, among all us, is the picture of the mum of my daughter in law, that then i told him that his other granny, and his father’s father, his granddad, as well as the other granddad too, well, that his other granny, and all of these dead people, i did not say dead, is in heavens, pointing above. the usual nonsense.
    and then my daughter said that she too tells him exactly the same thing, and then she added that she also says to the 3 year son of hers that her mother, the boys other granny, is THOU DEAD IS LOOKING ON HIM FROM THE HEAVENS!!!
    but, this time, for the first time i found the courage, without being afraid of what hell she will make of the evening of my son when he comes back from his hard manual work, cos his well being and piece of mind are the only concerns of mine that keep my mouth shut when it comes to his wife’s idiotic religion and other idiocies. she has never ironed one single item. she hardly cooks. don’t ask me more.
    so, to this cheekiness of hers, to tell ME that she tells, yes hers too, but also MY SON’S CHILD that a dead person, not only is in heaven which are two blatant lies, first cos there is no such place as heaven, there are only skies above and vast probably endless space out there, not above us but around us on the little peck of matter as the earth is, and secondly, that his other granny is somewhere above instead of her grave she is in. i know we cannot say the full truth, i agree that we should say a lie, but i think that this lie should be as minor as possible, not having in mind the real truth, cos she is not aware of it, but for the respect, not for me but for her atheist husband.
    but, this time her cheekiness was not against her husband, but against my son, from my point of view, which she should have had in mind cos she was telling this idiocy to me, his mother, BUT ON TOP OF ALL IT WAS A BLATANT DISRESPECT AT ME AS A STRONG ATHEIST SHE KNOWS I AM, AND AGAINST SCIENCE. i once mentioned darvin and evolution, cos it was on tv that moment, but she ‘corrected’ me saying that it is only a theory. i later googled why evolution is called theory and not called anything, cos it is factual, and there i read the explanation why, and it has nothing to do with its ‘non’ not being factual, cos it is, as all the religious folks want to believe. so, to this impertinence, and i would have said that even if my son had been in the car with us, i said that I WOULD NOT GO SO FAR TO TELL THE LITTLE BOY THAT HIS OTHER GRANNY, NOT ONLY IS IN THE HEAVENS ABOVE US, BUT IS WATCHING HIM, AND I ADDED, THAT I WOULD NOT SAY SUCH A THING COS I BEING AN ATHEIST I DON’T THINK SO.
    i advise you to start counter teaching your kids against religion, i am sure you will find a way, if only you find the courage.
    cos they are nasty and sly, the religious. especially religious wives against their atheists husbands, and they use their children as weapons and hostages.

  2. Josh – Please allow me to share my experience with you.

    In regards to your children, I knew when my own kids were very young that I no longer held belief in gods and the supernatural. As my wife and I were already raising them Catholic however, and she wanted to continue with that, I didn’t object. Looking back I think it was as much “Catholic Guilt” as anything when I agreed to this. (It’s amazing how that can linger even after your belief is long gone). I also realized over time that it was a mistake on my part not to fight harder against any kind of religious upbringing. I wouldn’t let my kids think that leprechauns hid pots of gold at the end of rainbows, or that magicians could make things levitate, so why was I letting them accept other nonsense as fact? Fortunately over time my children became less enamored with organized religion. On their own they started noticing the ridiculous contradictions and blatant paradoxes that they present. When they asked me why I didn’t go to church, I told them that I didn’t get anything out of it and knew I could be a good person towards my family, neighborhood, and country without sitting in a church for one hour a week. By this time my wife was becoming disgusted with organized religion too. Eventually my wife and kids stopped attending mass. Earlier this year my son, who is 14, came to me and told me he didn’t believe in gods. It took a hell of a lot of guts to do this, because he had no idea what I didn’t believe in such things either. I told him how honored I was that he could talk to me about that, and he looked almost relieved when he found out I thought like he did. My daughter and wife aren’t there yet, although I suspect they both see the problems with the existence of divine beings and know their “belief” is not based in anything empirical or factual.

    Perhaps if I’d made more of a stand, they wouldn’t have had to go through all that. I can’t change the past, but if I had to do it again I would have made more of a passionate (yet calm and logical) argument for only teaching our kids that which they can one day prove themselves. My advice to you would be to stop talking about gods with them. When you answer their questions about why it rains or how volcanoes form or whatever they ask you in that moment, always take the time to explain why we know these things, and how it is experimentally verified. Use logic, rational thought, and data to teach, and they will come to understand why that is the best way to understand the world. When that inevitable question about some god does come up, you will be able to answer scientifically, and that won’t surprise them because that’s how you’ve always done it.

    Obviously you want the best for your kids, and the best for your kids is to keep their feet grounded in reality, and to teach them to accept those things based on empirical data and to be skeptical of those things based on nothing…

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