Secularists - What do you tell your children on religion?

I was raised Lutheran. I’m now agnostic leaning towards atheism. I have a general spite for religion in general and I don’t think of religious people too highly in any regard. I’m just being open and blunt on this, and I hate to say it, but I even think less of even my parents for being religious.

My own tolerance problems aside, we have a secular environment in our house. My son’s grandparents (both sets) have started him on the religious brainwashing that I was also caught up in as a child.

On one hand I realize I found my own way even after almost two decades of religious propaganda thrown at me. Part of me says to let his grandparents tell him whatever they want. I’ll tell him my own thoughts, but I won’t say “I’m right, they are wrong”. I’ll just leave it to him to decide what he wants.

On the other hand, zealots preach so much and constantly, and say they are right and others are wrong. Part of me wants to fight fire with fire, and expand on why I do not believe a deity is out there. (I can’t KNOW anything for sure; which is why I consider myself still agnostic and not a true atheist).

Ultimately I just want to be able to get him to question what he is told, by his grandparents, or even by myself. I want him to find his own way.

Does anyone else take this approach? What methods do you use for that?

(I’m not looking for a religious debate!)

Ah, yes. The problem of trying to teach neutrality in a non neutral society hasn’t an easy solution, to be sure. I think one possible path is to teach the difference between fantasy and reality as soon as possible. When reading to your children, always identify fantasy as such so that they may recognize on their own. Teach them how to ask questions, and how to recognize non-responsive answers. Show them how the eyes can be deceived through slight of hand by asking them how a magic trick they just saw could be done through non-magical means.

I keep my mouth shut.

My kids go to Friends Meeting with my wife, and I’m fine with that because they don’t lay a bunch of fundie evangelical BS on them there.

My wife and I never said a word about religion to our kids and they never asked. It helped that our parents were 500 miles away and mine didn’t have any more interest in religion than me. We did light candles and give the kids gifts at Chanukah and go through the motions of seders at Passover, but still never mentioned god.

I’ve taught my kids that when anyone appeals to you to join them, listen carefully to their pitch. At some point they’ll ask for money. I’ve taken them each to a church service so they could observe how quickly the play for your wallet happens (typically occurs early in the service).

On the way home, I explained to them that a superior, godlike being who can create the universe should be able to fund his own church. They were able to make the rational inference that a huckster presenting a god who just happens to be broke is logically ridiculous, and therefore a scam.

I ask my kids at least as much as I tell them. When I tell them, it’s in direct response to a question, and it’s framed in a “some people think” way - even if they’re my beliefs I’m telling them about.

“Grandma said you’re going to hell because I’m not baptized.”
“Really? What do you think about that?”
“Ummmm…what is baptized?”
“It’s a ceremony where you sprinkle water on a baby’s head. Some people think it’s the way you introduce a baby to God, or to the members of the church.”
“…”
“…”
“That’s weird.”
“Yup.”

Be prepared though - you really have to *mean *it when you say you want your kids to find their own truths if you use this method. Sometimes they choose the God side, for whatever reason. I remember one conversation with my son when he was about 6:

“Why do squirrels have fluffy tails?”
“They don’t always. If they’re sick or don’t have enough to eat, their tails get scraggly. Then girl squirrels don’t want to have babies with them. It makes sense, I suppose, because if there isn’t enough food for the Daddy squirrel, the babies would starve anyway.”
“…”
“Why do you think squirrels have fluffy tails?”
“I think God made 'em that way 'cause he likes fluffy tails.”
“Okay.”

He’s 18 and an atheist now, by the way. But for whatever reason, at 6, he really needed to believe that God made squirrel tails fluffy on a whim.

We take ours to a UU church. UU Sunday school is a little like “comparative religion for kids.” Generally respectful, but the simple thought that one day you get Buddhism and the next Christianity gives you a skeptical take on the idea of a “true religion.”

Thanks for the comments. He’s six now and very impressionable. What prompted this post in the first place was him coming to me and telling me about a flood that killed all the bad people.

I listened to him, and asked if he meant Noah to show him that I knew the tale. I then asked him if he believed it. He said “Yes”. He repeated the question to which I responded “I think it’s just a story.” When he asked why, I replied that there’s no enough water on earth to cover the tallest mountains.

He thought about it for a second, and then told me proudly that God took the water away when he was done. Pretty clever. Any religious zealot would have invoked the I-can’t-explain-it-so-God-just-did-it method too.

I thought about telling him it was false, but felt I was stooping to the same level as his grandparents planting their own beliefs on him. Instead I just told him that I chose to think of it as a story, but he could think it was true or a story, and that was fine by me.

I’ll be following this thread closely. My daughter’s three, and we’re starting to have some small experiences with death. Where did grandma’s doggie go? What happened to the ladybug I decided to keep in the empty Coke bottle? Why isn’t she moving?

It’s so, so hard not to fall back on “they went to Heaven” because it would be so much easier and comforting to her even though I don’t believe it. So far she’s content with the “sometimes bodies get old and tired or sick and stop working” line…she hasn’t thought to ask the big question yet. I’m dreading it.

I think the answer depends on how important it is to you that your children view secularism as a better choice than religion. My parents, who are of two different religions but raised me and my brothers in an almost entirely secular environment, always gave us some variant on the line “Mommy believes x, Daddy believes y, lots of other people believe different things and you can learn all about them and make the choice for yourself”.

For someone in CanTak3’s particular situation, this is probably the best way to go for stories and myths too.

EDIT: Shoot, posted early by accident. Anyway, you can read your son myths from various cultures about How XYZ Came To Be, as well as read him books that give purely scientific explanations of things like the rainbow, and provide him with a balanced worldview where he can understand that all religious belief systems are of equal value (except when people use their beliefs to hurt others), as well as understanding the natural phenomena that religion has been used to explain.

I am not sure whether it’s necessary to teach children that belief in religion is a kind of weakness, or a problem that needs to be solved. To me it smacks of people of one religion saying ‘our god is better than your god’. But maybe I’m just biased.

My kid went through a deeply religeous phase (at about 7 years old) where she was listening to evangelical radio stations. I didn’t argue with her but did say that I thought it couldn’t all be true stories.

I wanted to be fairly gentle because I remember perting my folks for a bible when I was about the same age and they got a kid’s version for me, despite being agnostics.

She started analysing some of the contradictions she heard and when she asked about those we talked and she realised how much of it was paternalistic and her inner feminist became enraged.

Then I had to talk her down from radical atheism, by pointing out that in our circle of friends we had christians, muslims, bahai, buddhists, wiccans and athiests and they were all good people.

I honestly don’t know her stance right now, but at twelve years old she’s liable to change a few more times before she settles. I’d rather she thought about it than blindly accepting my atheism.

I have four grown children, raised by their very catholic mother and by me. While I attended church with the family as a matter of unity, I never converted, nor did I say the prayers, nor did I espouse the catholic faith. I felt that they should find their own level of comfort in that regard, and that’s what they have done. Three of the four have long fallen away from the faith, and my daughter apparently goes to some service, but not catholic. Leave them alone. They’ll find their way without you, and will only resist or resent any interference by you.

My parents are secular - I think. I was christened, but we never went to church, and I was never read stories from the Bible or anything. I think the christening might just have been because that’s what you did - christen your kid, and when in doubt say Church of England, so as to not make a fuss :slight_smile:

They never really said anything that I can remember about religion - I learnt it all from school, but it was never taught as gospel (heh). I guess I was just dumped into a barrel of ideas, and I chose which ones to take to heart. I was Buddhist for a while because the six or seven lessons we had made sense to me at the impressionable age of fourteen :smiley:

I do remember singing hymns at school when I was six or seven, and thinking, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure the colours in the rainbow, salt in the sea and cold in the snowflake are there for reasons other than God.” What my parents did teach me was to love science, so I think I had a vague idea that rainbows were because of light shining through water and the sea was salty because of rocks.

I have given my daugther books on the major religions to read, she goes to church with grandad, comes to the temple with us and is told pretty explicitly that many different people believe many different things.
Which reminds me - I should go and print some of my own stories on the creation of the world for her to read…

I’d be very careful with such things.

I think it is fair to tell your child that things that are blatantly false are. i.e. if he starts talking about Noah’s flood, creationism, and (god forbid) biblical literalism, then it’s definitely not outside of your bounds to correct him. I mean, think of it this way. Imagine he gets it in his head for some reason that squirrels are cold-blooded, or that the holocaust never happened. Would it not be up to you, as his parent, to tell him he’s wrong? We know that the flood didn’t happen, we know that the earth is not 6000 years old, we know that the bible is riddled with holes.

Furthermore, I think it’s completely reasonable to explain why “god did it” and the like are simply bad arguments, before he gets it in his head that they’re reasonable explanations for natural phenomena. Seriously, this is really dangerous.

Lastly, I think you should have a word with your grandparents. Tell them that as much as they would hate someone indoctrinating their children with radical Islam, you’d rather not have your son be influenced by radical evangelism.

Tbh I don’t think any of this is remotely unreasonable.

That sounds like a good response, he is probably far too young to introduce the geological evidence to. It’s a tricky subject, you shouldn’t indoctrinate your children, but you may need to provide some balance if he is being exposed to a lot of biased views on this subject.

Some simple arguments that may give him some food for thought:

  • There are many religions, and they can’t all be true.
  • There are many forms of Christianity, and many disputes about the meaning of the bible.
  • Examples from your own life, where you believed something but later found out it was not true.

A good children’s book I’d recommend to encourage critical thinking is A Lion in the Woods by Maurice Dolbier. It’s an enjoyable read, and made be laugh a couple times.

To be equally blunt, I really hope you understand the importance of not teaching him to think the same way. It sounds like you’ve had some bad personal experiences which have left you quite bitter. Personally, I also think somewhat less of people who are religious, but for me it’s of trivial importance compared to how they actually treat other people. I reserve actual dislike for the more fundamentalist religous types, and disgust for religious extremism.

For me, it is ESSENTIAL that my kids learn to treat PEOPLE with respect, even if those people’s faith is not worthy of respect. And when faith is essential to people, that means being polite and well mannered about faith. The idea of the flood is laughable, but laughing in someone’s face is not at all polite or respectful.

It is a skill to hear about someone’s religious beliefs and then - turn the conversation. Or for a kid, to enjoy “Grandma’s stories” and even ask for more. Then thank Grandma and know they are stories that Grandma likes to believe are true.

Depending on the kids age, we can talk about things we know deep down are fantasy, but we either really really want to be true, or are fun to believe are true. It would be really cool if there really were wizards like in Harry Potter. It would be really cool if our toys came alive when we weren’t looking. We “know” our teddy bear protects us from monsters in the dark - and even if we doubt, it makes us feel better anyway. As we grow older, we need less of that, but some adults still need some fantasy in their life - it makes life more comfortable for them. And it isn’t nice to make fun of someone’s teddy bear.

I don’t really make a special effort to teach my kids anything about religion or atheism.

When the topic comes up, I will answer questions, though. Usually it goes something like:

Kid: Someone at school said that Jesus is God’s son and that he rose from the dead.

Me: Yes, that is a story that many people believe is true.

Kid: Do you believe it?

Me: No.

Kid: [looks thoughtful]

Hopefully, he doesn’t draw the conclusion that Dad is a wuss because he can’t make up his mind. Sorry couldn’t resist.:stuck_out_tongue:
How about telling him what you believe and why? Just that. Stop reading shit into everything you do and say always worrying about if it will scar junior.
Or, if he still believes in Santa, then what’s the harm perpetrating other fantasies for a while longer? Better yet, tell him that God is fantasy and Santa is real. What’s the point of having kids if you can’t fuck with their minds a bit, Sheesh! Thicken the skin on the little blighter, I say!

I have a 20 year old daughter and a 17 year old son. If you asked them their religion, both would say atheist. As they were growing up, I just told them what I thought about the world, along with what others thought. They attended different church services along the way, mostly out of curiosity and to be with their friends.