Help the atheist teach his daughter about religion

So I’m an atheist. My wife wouldn’t describe herself as an atheist, but probably is one. As a kid she went to both Unitarian and Baptist churches, including sometimes Old Regular Baptist services (weird family situation; don’t ask), and found the experience valuable. Our daughter, who is 6, is temperamentally inclined to theism, and frequently thanks God for good fortune (e.g., getting invited to birthday parties–her worldview is pretty simple), and talks about how she loves God and God loves her. I don’t know where she picked this up, but there it is.

Anyhoo, we’ve decided that our daughter should have some information and education about religions. I guess we are looking for children’s books that would allow her to learn the basics of at least Christianity, and perhaps moving on from there. My wife has put me in charge of this religious education task.

I am ambivalent about this, but I recognize for a variety of reasons that it would be hypocritical of me not to allow my child access to information about ideas I personally reject. Besides, the alternative my wife proposes (I think she is a bit naive about this) is to allow our daughter to attend some church services with one of our whack-job fundamentalist acquaintances.

So can you recommend resources (particularly children’s books, particularly colorful books with pictures) I can order to read with my daughter to give her a religious education? I want to inform and educate, not proselytize; but I frankly don’t even know where to begin. My daughter loves to read with me, so that seems like a good way to go about this. Help!

Perhaps it would be valuable to find a book (directed to children) that has some information about many religions, so she can also learn that there isn’t just one belief system in the world.

As a pretty hard-core atheist with daughters (who grew up to be atheists themselves) formerly married to a less hardcore atheist (who wanted the girls to get some formal religious training) this is the policy I followed.

  1. I shut my big mouth.

  2. I waited for my kids to talk to me about religious stuff

  3. When they did, I answered their questions as honestly as I could (“God? Well, honey, some people take comfort from believing in him–it makes them feel good to think that someone powerful, someone who made the world out of nothing, cares abut them, but I just don’t see any reason to think that God exists, and I’m okay and pretty happy with my life. But you believe whatever you want to.” Like that.)

  4. I would offer “science” (in the largest sense, meaning “knowledge”) as my substitute for religious belief.

  5. In that vein, I would let your daughter get whatever misinformation she gets from someone else (the world is full of volunteers for this job, and you have almost no control over who gets to fill your kid’s head with hot and cold running bullshit) and read to her out of books about science for kids, which explain how the world was created, how evolution works, how volcanoes and dinosaurs and comets and DNA work–it’s all exciting interesting stuff, and it’s all true, so you don’t have to feel bad about buying into stuff you find offensive.

Sorry --no texts’ names for you, I threw this stuff all out or boxed it up when my kids grew up. They forgot about all their Sunday school nonsense after a few years, and tell you the truth, it didn’t bother me at all that they might hang on to some of it–the world is filled with deluded believers, and there was always the possibility that my girls would grow up like that. You don’t get a lot of control over what your kids think, not without risking their developing independent thought. The most important response I had when either of them came to me with a religious question was “Gee, honey, what do YOU think?”

Beacon Press - the UUA book publishing house - has a number of titles for kids that are in keeping with Unitarian values - i.e. all beliefs are worthy of respect. Including some Bibles and Bible study stuff, but also some other materials. We take our kids (sometimes) to UU Sunday school.

I’d use sophistry and illusion.

I used to love those Hindu comics for kids - Ganesh (hmm spell check says Ganesha) and all that. I’m trying to find some online, but it’s all got a bit modern. Not the ones I’m looking for, but looks interesting.

I sent my kid to a Catholic school which pretty much nailed the coffin on religion for her. Looking after a six year old last week, so there were lots of questions about why god made mosquitoes etc, he was really struggling to reason the whole thing out while I was busy being non-committal - eventually he came out with “Who made God?” and I had to say “Man”. I hate it, you feel like you’ve squished the tooth fairy.

The books are good and the blog has lots of cool stuff too.

Don’t start with Christianity. Start with dead religions like the Greek and Roman gods. Then move on to modern religions, using her understanding of dead religions as a basis: “Some people today believe in Jesus just like the ancient Romans believed in Zeus.”

And never try to talk her out of her beliefs. Let her enjoy her theism now. The critical thinking required to really grasp the arguments for atheism doesn’t come until you’re a teenager, and if you push it too soon you run the risk of hardening her into her position. The goal right now is to give her the information she needs so when she gets older atheism comes naturally.


I have a 5 year old who also picked up the Jesus thing somewhere. I let him ask me/reference it/it comes up somehow, and then I slowly, at a 5-year old level, walk him through logical arguments against whatever it is. I often use the comparison to Ancient Greece, and always refer to “gods” as opposed to “God”

I’m pretty hardcore, and while I would never browbeat my kids into atheism, I would be pretty happy if religion was completely and totally mocked and disregarded. Therefore, I’m doing my part, with my kids, to make sure they know it’s all made up, in response to human fears, failings and perceived weakness.

I have always taught my daughter that the only alters I bow at are the alters of Science, Reason, Logic and the Laws of Nature. I told her that I look at it all, label it ‘god’ and it works for me. I told her to do her… she is free to believe whatever she chooses, but I was hoping like hell she chose the same, and I am relieved to see she did. Duh…obviously I shoved enough propaganda at her to choke a horse, despite my true desire to raise a free thinker.

I love Hamster King’s idea. To teach about things like ancient Egyptian and Greek gods first, and then get into Christianity and Judism and Islam on the same wave…that is actually quite brilliant.

I think since Christianity is such a large background presence in this society, it is a good idea for her to be versed in it so that she can hold her own in a conversation about it. Also, I find the bible interesting, so there is no reason why she shouldn’t be exposed to it for it’s poetry and awesome stories.

But yeah, The Hamster King has the right idea, I think.

Show her the atheist goat. Be sure to click on him for all the erudite sayings!

Thanks, everybody. These are great suggestions. And I really appreciate the advice! I feel like I am totally at sea here. Coincidentally, I just this morning ordered the *Parenting Beyond Belief *book, but the website offers some great links (I didn’t know about the site); I should start trolling some of the atheist parenting boards for advice. I also like the idea of first introducing other mythical traditions; there seems to be some good stuff available for kids. I ordered something on Greek mythology and Egyptian mythology to go with a kids book on Bible stories.

I feel like I’m treading a fine line here. I think theism is wrong, and I want to give her the tools to be able to see this for herself; but at the same time, I recognize she is her own little person, and can’t be forced in any direction I want her to go.

Other suggestions/advice/anecdotes/whatever very welcome!

Look at this way - it’s considered not only normal, but often necessary, to push religion on your kids. It’s that way throughout all different cultures. Many of those people grow up into something different than what was pushed on them.

Do you believe theft and lying are wrong? Or deceit and not flossing your teeth? If theism is wrong, then it’s wrong, and you are not doing any harm by speaking against it.

How old is your daughter?

My four-year old asked me what a church and a synagogue were for. This is what I told him:

Lots of people go to churches and synagogues to give thanks for what they have and to ask for help if they’re in trouble or going through a tough time. Your daddy and I think that the best way to get help is to go to people who’ve gone what you’re going through or to think things out to decide what you should do next. If there’s something you want but don’t need, it’s important that, instead of asking someone else to bring it to you, you figure out what you need to do to get it.

And if there’s every anything you think you need, or you need help, you can always come to me and daddy. And you don’t need to go to a different building to appreciate the things you have.

We haven’t yet approached specific religions, though I suspect that’ll come soon given the incredibly mixed nature of my family. I’m not quite sure where to start, either, so some of these books will come in handy. I, too, will probably not start with Christianity or Judaism. I’ll probably start with Hindu, my husband’s family’s religion. We have tons of kids books with Hindu stories, which he loves hearing.

I second the mythologies bit-- it’s a great thing to learn, no matter what your daughter ends up choosing to believe.

That said, speaking as an American (YMMV), I think from an intellectual and cultural standpoint, people who don’t have a grounding in the Judeo-Christian tradition are at a disadvantage in the Western World. Whether we believe or not, enough people do believe to render it a valuable thing to study. Not to mention there is a lot of beauty in it (one has to be quite the curmudgeonly atheist to deny the poetry in the Bible or the joy of Christmas).

Personally, I think a great compromise is to see if your daughter wants to attend Sunday school / CCD / bible camp. Since it doesn’t matter what you and your wife believe, perhaps take her to a couple of services of different faiths, then ask if she would like to learn any more about any of them, then go from there.

I’m a heathen unbeliever nowadays, but I was very happy with my childhood Catholic CCD studies. I learned about the Bible, I grew comfortable with (and respectful of) people of faith, memorized some great hymns and prayers, and absolutely none of the crazier stuff stuck with me (well, okay, I still suffer from a little bit of Catholic guilt every now and again, but that’s a good thing in moderation ;)).

Bottom line: don’t send your daughter to a church, send her to a church school.

This site is a joke, right?

I mean, “Hey, kid, wanna’ read some Ayn Rand?” :dubious:

It looks like a cutsie parody site that ridicules typical fundie kiddie [del]brainwashing[/del] education.

- Jack

How to Be a Perfect Stranger

You could also find some sort of Universal Unitarians to fellowship with - you’ll find an atheist/agnostic friendly set. Hell, you can be an atheist or agnostic and a UU at the same time.

If it were me I would expose her to everything. Give her the opportunity to hear it all and make choices for herself. Most importantly, when you are telling her all of these things make it clear that you will love and respect her no matter what she believes because you know she is a wonderful person and nothing could ever change that.

My parents raised me as part of the Lutheran church. Sunday school, youth group trips, and all of that stuff. When I was old enough to reason it out and show interest in other religions they essentially shut me down. I remember asking my dad about Hinduism and mentioning that I thought their gods were very cool and his response was a deadpan, “No, you don’t.” That was the last time I ever talked to them about religion. I’ve since converted to a minority religion and they don’t have the slightest clue about it. They have no idea what I believe or why and I refuse to tell them because they are horribly judgemental about everything related to religion. If you work to be accepting of whatever choices she makes you are much more likely to have a good relationship with her as an adult. I try to avoid my family because of their judgemental bullshit and it makes me sad that I would have to overhaul everything about myself including my religious beliefs before I could have a close relationship with them.

There are lots of great books on religions all over the world. Look in the local library’s children’s room, in the late 200’s, for a selection. Try the Kingfisher Book of World Religions. Here is a good article on teaching Biblical literacy to your children, for atheists.

The Hindu comics are Amar Chitra Katha, and they still look pretty much the same, with some other additions. We have a bunch and we love them. Actually they aren’t exactly “Hindu comics”–there are Sikh and Buddhist ones too, and literary classics. I think it’s supposed to be sort of pan-Indian.

I’d be cautious of teaching mythologies first. You want (I would assume from the way you are approaching this) a child who is respectful of religious beliefs, not someone who scoffs and believers with “bah! Fairytales!” As the mother of a UU atheist eleven year old who still does too much “Belief is STUPID” - that is a hard thing to eradicate and it doesn’t exactly make you well liked among your theist peers.

Faith is more than the stories, its a framework for providing moral guidance. Its a place to find a community. Not all Christians believe it actually rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and that is the sort of distinction it can be hard to get across to a child who comes from a home where religion is seen as just “mythology.”