Talking with children about religion – an atheist parent’s experience

For some considerable time now I've been thinking, as one does, that I should really get back to blogging, and even planning different possible re-entry posts. Then, by pure chance, I stumbled across a blog carnival on one of the subjects I'd been thinking of writing about – the Carnival for Atheist Parenting – and decided it would be the perfect opportunity to restart. This is my submission for November's Carnival of Atheist Parenting.

I was interested to see that a lot of people feel daunted at the thought of discussing religion with their children, because that's never been the case for me; on the contrary, I think it's an interesting topic that I've looked forward to discussing with them as they get older and finding out their views on. Maybe that's because I don't have any particular endpoint in mind in terms of their eventual belief. My goal has always been not to teach them to be atheists, but to teach them to think for themselves about what they believe and why.

I don't raise the subject, but when it comes up – when the children have Nativity plays or tell me some snippet of religious education they had in school – I take the opportunity to mention that different people believe in different things. Some people believe in lots of gods, some in just one god, and some in none, and they'll probably decide for themselves what they believe as they get older. Last year, Katie's first Nativity play was set in Fairytale Land and was introduced and concluded with a song containing the line "Will you please remember, we are just pretend/But the story of Jesus rea-lly happ-ened" (yes, the scansion was that bad). I burst out laughing when she first sang that at home, and explained that, in fact, a lot of people do think that the story of Jesus is made up as much as any fairy tale (while, of course, a lot of others believe in it).

For several years, of course, neither of them was that interested in the topic. (I still remember being asked to discuss Jamie's thoughts on the Christmas story for a school assignment when he was five; he came out with 'Mary was very great. Joseph was brown and Mary was blue.') Lately, however, they've had more thoughts about it.

Katie has decided she, also, doesn't believe in God. "You and Daddy don't," she told me when I inquired as to what had led her to this conclusion.

"That's not really a good reason, Boo. I mean, I think we're right, but you shouldn't believe something just because Daddy and I do. You should think about whether or not you believe it."

Katie gave it a moment's further thought and stated "Well, I see real things on the news and I've never seen God on the news." Which struck me as an interesting point. Of course, it's still open to logical challenge, but I let it go for a bit – she's starting to give some thought to what she thinks and why, and that means she's on the right track.

Jamie, some weeks after that, announced "I'm secretly a Christian."

"Why secretly?" I inquired, with fleeting visions of undercover Bible-reading and cloak-and-dagger church attendance.

"Because I believe in God."

"Oh. Well, that doesn't mean you have to be a Christian. You could be one of the other religions or be Christian or just believe in God without being any religion. Do you think you believe in one god or lots?" (This last always strikes me as a great point for getting some perspective on the whole do-you-believe-in-God-or-not question; the fact that those aren't the only options. To paraphrase Stephen Roberts slightly, we're all atheists one way or another; it's just that some of us are atheistic about more gods.)

"One, I think,"

"Yes, that's probably simpler. What made you decide that?"

"Well," Jamie said thoughtfully, "I think something has to happen to us after we die."

So, so far I'm raising one atheist and one unspecified theist. I'm  awaiting further developments on the topic with interest.

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6 Comments

Filed under Deep Thought, Here Be Offspring

6 responses to “Talking with children about religion – an atheist parent’s experience

  1. Do you know what? It is my birthday today and these adorable conversations are like little gifts to my heart!
    LOL
    Peace, Karen
    Carnival for Atheist Parenting
    Homeschool Atheist Momma

  2. How interesting!! We also try to raise the girls to be able to think for themselves. I am looking forward to what happens in our neck of the woods in the religion department.
    I think it’s interesting that your son mentions death as a reason to believe in a god. I think accepting that this is your life and after that, you’re dead. Period. is actually quite difficult. It’s hard to imagine a life after one’s own death, about what happens the moment you die. How death feels. But to be honest, no theist death scenarios actually make sense to me.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  3. Nanny

    This is a beautifully recorded dialogue with two intelligent and independent children. Good to have you back blogging on this forum. You have been missed.
    Granny C

  4. “Do you think you believe in one god or lots?” <– That is a brilliant follow-up question!

  5. Heather

    Greetings! My name is Heather and I was wondering if you would be willing to answer a question about your blog! If you could email me at Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com that would be great!

  6. Heather: I’ve no objection to answering questions about my blog from real people, but I’ve had a lot of spam lately and I’m none too sure who you are or what you’re after, so I’m wary of e-mailing you. Can you post the question here? Or, if not, at least say something to indicate that you’re real and not a spambot after e-mail addresses?

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