Question from Niki:
A very strong atheist granny here.
My son was an atheist before he got caught in the religious net of this backwards, in the backyard of Europe, society and his overly religious wife, or he pretends he has become religious.
He and his wife have two children and the wife is in charge of everything religious. Disgustingly so. He just lets her do whatever she wants to do, for the sake of his peace, or else…
My question is, what will I say when one day one of my grand children asks me why I do not go to church?
I was thinking of ‘I DO NOT LIKE IT IN THERE, TOO DARK,’ or something to this effect. But this can work only until the kids are small.
Have you got any other, better idea, something that will not cause the little one to report to his mum what granny says, but still something which would satisfy me more as an answer near to my the essence. Something like
‘THERE IS NO GOD, THAT’S WHY!!!’
Answer by SmartLX:
You assume, correctly I think, a strong chance that your daughter-in-law will not want your grandchildren exposed to the simple idea that there are people who do not believe in God. She would be right to fear this. It means the difference between never even thinking to question the idea of God and eventually realising that no one has the answers for sure. (I think it’s ultimately responsible for my own deconversion.) They will be exposed in the end of course, but the question is how strongly indoctrinated they will be by then.
Taking your scenario at face value, you could say something like, “I don’t think it’s necessary to go to church.” This is true, but they are free to assume that you mean you don’t think God takes church attendance as seriously as their mother and the church think He does. One variation could be, “I think I’ve gone to church enough already.”
Consider, though, that if the kids register that you’re not going to church it will probably happen at church, or in the car going to or from church, and you won’t be there. In this case they’ll probably ask their parents about you first. So if I were you I would go talk to your son about what he will, and what his wife might, say about you. You’re doing your best to protect the family from a rift, and that’s best handled as a family.
Whatever happens (and do let us know in a comment), good luck.
Question from Josh:
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.
Question from Val:
My wife and are atheists and my mother is constantly speaking with our 3 and 5 year olds about God. I don’t know how to approach it with her. She tried to read them a creation story book once and we told her no. She got very upset and said that her beliefs were a part of her and we were trying to suppress who she was with her grandchildren. I don’t want to alienate her but this has to stop. I feel our children can learn on their own and make their own decisions when they are older.
Answer from Erick:
Although I’m sure her heart is in the right place, she’s not being completely genuine. If she really wanted to share her beliefs with her grandchildren she would wait until they are old enough to not only understand what she’s talking about, but also old enough to be able to discern fact from fantasy.
That being said, the best approach is always a direct one. Having raised a child myself, I understand how it can be difficult dealing with family members who think it’s their mission to keep my kid from going to hell. My approach has always been the same. I ask them to stop and make it clear that if they don’t, they are risking not only their relationship with my child but with me as well. This is usually met with either anger or apologies. When met with anger the key is to stay calm and not allow yourself to get dragged into a theological debate. The discussion isn’t about the value of their religion. The discussion is about how you want your child raised. Stay firm. Let them know that you understand and appreciate their concern and that you’ve got everything under control in this area. If they still remain angry, then let them be angry. At that point there’s nothing you can do but allow them the space to move past their anger.
For me raising my child was more important then having family or friends upset that I wouldn’t let them take my kid to church. If they choose to get upset, then that is their choice. Their feeling don’t trump my child being raised to think for herself. You’re responsibility is to your child, not to others feelings.
Hope that helps. Let us know in the comment section bellow.
“Given how hesitant you are to come out of the closet, are you certain you’re the only one in there?”
(When the archived ATA site was restored, a short list of unanswered questions were found in the approval queue. I’ll be answering them here in Ask from the Past.)
Question from Watcher:
I’m a deconverted ex-theist who lives in the Bible Belt. I was raised Southern Baptist and, as far as I know, all of my family is religious. I have young daughters and my mother has approached me saying that she is ‘dissapointed’ that I am not indoctrinating her grandchildren with religion. The main problem is that I have found myself unable to tell her that I am now an “atheist”.
Knowing that she does this out of love, and truly believes that they will go to Hell if I do not take steps to make them accept Jesus as their Saviour I find myself in a quandry. I’m still rather bitter at religion myself and at first thought would rather raise them to question theological claims.
This situation has the potential to create a serious rift in my family. Heck it would have been better if I was just gay. That wouldn’t create near the controversy. But now I don’t know what to do. She would probably go into a mental ward if she knew the truth about me. I work with people that don’t believe in evolution and believe in a young earth. I have no idea where to find advice for my situation where I live.
I think you’re dead right about the potential impact of declaring yourself “atheist” in a staunch Southern Baptist family. In some places and communities the word has a really disproportionate stigma.
However, give your mother more credit. That you’re not Bible-thumping your girls and that you probably don’t go to church much will have at least made her realise that you’re not very religious anymore. (I find “not religious” to be a great euphemism for “atheist” if I don’t want a conversation to suddenly be about that.) That you no longer believe might not be such a big shock.
If you capitulated but only at a surface level, you wouldn’t be the first parent teaching your kids family traditions for the sake of their grandparents. You haven’t said how old the girls are, but what if they were in on it, so to speak? What if your stance toward them were like this? “Listen, it’s really important to Grandma that you learn this stuff, and can say it when you’re asked, but whether you believe any of it is up to you.” Even better, if your daughters are going to learn prayers and catechism anyway, why not grab some library books and make a comparative religion class out of it? They might find it fascinating to learn about Zeus and Buddha as well as Jesus.
If you’re not willing to go that far, then you probably will have an unpleasant confrontation or two on your hands. For your daughters’ sake, of course you’ll leave them well out of it until you and your family reach an understanding. Look on the bright side: you might get lucky and find kindred spirits within the family. Given how hesitant you are to come out of the closet, are you certain you’re the only one in there?
Given that this is an Ask from the Past, I hope you get this and it’s still of some use to you, and things have gone well in the meantime.
“There’s a common joke along the lines of declaring the Bible to be the single greatest advertisement for atheism.”
Question from Rick:
I was listening to a podcast a few days ago when the host made a comment about parents who read the bible to their kids. He made a good point when he said that he would love to tell the parents to let him read the bible and pick his own verses to read to the kids. Its funny because people who “read” the bible, don’t really read it at all. They just jump around from chapter to chapter. I would love to see a parents face as you explain Sodom and Gomorrah. And what goes on in gen. 38. What do you think?
There’s a common joke along the lines of declaring the Bible to be the single greatest advertisement for atheism. I don’t know about that, because there are ways to spin even the Old Testament’s most violent stories in God’s favour. This is regularly done in the name of Biblical exegesis. How a given kid will interpret these stories is anyone’s guess.
The podcaster’s point is a fun way to upturn the idea of reading the Bible to kids, but we both know it’s not going to happen that way. Parents read the Bible to their kids so that their kids will believe in God. They choose whichever parts of it they think will achieve that. Maybe it’s to make them behave, maybe it’s the ultimate goal in itself, but either way the Bible achieves its original goal and the kids are indoctrinated.