Independent Minds: Raising My Kids Without Religion

It really isn’t easy being an atheist. I need to make it clear that I am no militant when it comes to atheism, irreligion, etc… But I do know the difficulty in just normal day to day life when one of us is “not like the others.” I would never say I feel persecuted, of course I don’t. However, if you are a believer, you probably have no idea how often people make the assumption that I believe as they do…or make the comment “I’ll pray for you,” or in some other way bring up what God is doing and how grateful we should all be. I don’t get offended by this, but it does put me in the uncomfortable position of either letting the other person continue in their assumption that I believe the same as him or her, or gently correcting that assumption. I don’t seek out controversy, but I’m not ashamed to be a freethinker either. If you question whether or not what I say is true, as a quick example, just think of the controversy that hummed when President Obama mentioned non-believers in his inaugural address.

So, the question becomes how do we raise our kids. Well, I will tell you it’s not easy since the grandparents on both sides are believers. I’ve had the comment from my mother that I really should get H (my son) into a Sunday School. Even though you may not believe what is taught at the Church, it is good for the kids to get the moral ubringing. Anyone else see a problem with this? Okay, it’s my mother, so I say something briefly about kids not needing a church to act morally, but let it all go. Here’ s the real deal when it comes to kids and religion: I feel it my absolute responsibility to help raise my kids without imposing my views on them. I feel it my absolute responsibility that they don’t just accept ideas just because another person (or many people) subscribe to it. I fell it my absolute responsibility to try my best to save my kids from becoming victims of groupthink, or at least know how to recognize it when they see it.

I spent a good many years reading books on faith and apologetics as a means to convince myself that Christianity was true. I really tried. I think I even fooled myself for a good while. It felt great. I had friends in the church, I knew the roles we each had to play, and I debated with the best of them when it came to theological topics. I prayed, both with others any by myself. I played the role very well…I was even part of the worship team. However, in reality, I was fooling myself into trying to believe what it seemed everybody else did. I even made sure that I let it affect my politics. After all, if I was a Christian, then I needed to be a conservative Republican as well. I did my political thinking through the talking heads on talk radio. They were my source of political apologetics. This paragraph really goes to show the weakness in myself. I let myself go along with the crowd and participate (even promote) groupthink.

Now that I have broken myself free from this, it is becoming more and more important to me that I give my kids the best I can to help them know and trust in themselves. Fortunately, I have time to continue to think this through as my son is three and my daughter one. We obviously haven’t run in to the ideological, religious, or political questions yet. But we (my wife and I) are already setting the stage for this when my son asks questions. Taking a page from Dale McGowan, of Parenting Beyond Belief fame, we answer a number of my sons’ questions with “I don’t know H, what do you think?”, or “Does that make sense to you?” The idea is to let him process his question, and decide for himself whether the answer he’s come up with or been given by someone else makes sense. To his three year old mind, a number of things sound right. It’s not about him having all the “correct” answers at this point as much as it is him learning to think things through for himself and trust himself. We will of course start the same with my daughter as the needs arise.

I mentioned earlier that I consider it a necessity that I don’t impose my religious/political views on my kids. Most who read this are going to say that I’m automatically going to have influence over their beliefs. I agree. This can’t be helped. However, we will not shy away from religion or any other topic. We plan on exposing our kids to religion and religious services…when they are old enough to process these. It’s the same for political ideas. Already, my son has noticed that some kids have one mommy, or they have a daddy, or there are two mommies or two daddies, or a “traditional” family like ours of mommy and daddy. He’s asked about this. I don’t go into a litany of why it’s okay to have different types of families, instead, I just confirm his observation that there are a number of different types of families. I treat it as normal, no big deal (and I do believe it’s normal and no big deal).

These are some of my thoughts and plans at the moment for raising my kids without religion. If my son comes home as an eight year old wanting to attend church regularly because his friend(s) do, I probably won’t let him. If he comes home as a 14 or 15 year old wanting the same, chances are good I’d let him. I feel that we have to be on guard for our kids’ minds for them, until they reach a time when they are mature enough to process information, and hopefully trust in themselves enough to not get caught up in groupthink.

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