Facts: I am an atheist. My wife is not. I have two children, two and three years old. I love my wife. I love my children.
Questions: How many atheists are out there who are in a position where atheist beliefs conflict with the beliefs of their spouse?
How many atheists feel in a moral dialemma about allowing religous indoctrination of their children by their spouse and other family members, however minor?
How many athiests feel disempowered to shield their offspring from "fairytale religion" for the sake of preserving an otherwise harmonious and happy family environment?

I don't feel qualified to answer any of these questions, but this is a facet of my life that needs resolution.
I want my children to be free from the contradictions and neurosis of christianity.
I want my children to know right from wrong. I want to spare my children from the gut wrenching berievement and anger that I felt when I realised that God is imaginary.
I want my children to live happy and productive lives. I waqnt my children to understand the power od reason and deduction and use them to guide their own offfspring.

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I would find it very uncomfortable if my husband was religious, so I can empathize with the dilemma this causes for you. I'm certainly not qualified to answer your questions but I know that parenting in a religious world is something many atheists parents struggle with at some point. Because your wife is not an atheist you probably can't get around some degree of indoctrination, but you can counter what the children are taught with your own knowledge and understanding of the world. The difficulty is finding a balance that is acceptable to you and your wife of course. I can't tell from your post whether you are "talking out loud" or asking for advice (which I'm not sure I have anyway), but I wanted to take a moment to respond and commiserate as it were.
Why are you an atheist? Because you were brought up one, or because you questioned?

May I suggest that you concentrate on teaching your children to think and to question? A person who is an atheist because they were brought up that way and never questioned it, is every bit as intellectually barren as a Baptist.
Thank you Dawn and Ed for your replies. I think I'm trying to work out my long term strategy and putting thoughts in writing helps. I was brought up in a christian environment but I rebelled at and early age. I began to question the teachings of the curch at sunday School and eventually I was asked not to return after having a fight with one of the other kids who objected when I pointed out that Jesus was a Jew after he had made anti semetic comments. I'd also gotten into trouble questioning the great flood and stating my view that God was nasty when he sent his host and killed all the firstborn of Egypt.
I always questioned the world and this is why I ended up teaching Science. I prefer rationality and deduction rather than tales mede up before the age of reason.
Luckily my kids have inherited my habit of questioning everything, and I can give honest answers that are scientifically accurate. I suppose the real nub of the problem is that religion is the one aspect where there is disharmony at home. I am very lucky really, but I do hope that some day people can let all this poisonous religious nonsense rest in the Bronze age where it belongs.
Hi April,

thanks for the input.

The absolute worst aspect about this is how do you deal with the topic of death?
My wife's mum died a year before our first son was born at the age of fifty nine. He is three. I am lucky enough to still have both my parents so number one Son has been asking where his other grandmother is. The "she's in heaven" response is one I cannot make since I know it to be absolutely false. Brutal as it seems I think that the blunt truth is actually something that a three year old can handle. Their ability to adapt and absorb information and ideas is stunning as is their inprogrammed nature to accept the word of a parent as absolute truth. I get into trouble if I use the words "death", "died" or any derivatives. My wife, who is a wonderful person, always softens this question with "she is in heaven now". This then generates the inevitable cascade of questions that can only be answered in a theistic framework. I suppose I have to work out now how I am going to tell my beloved son that one day, everyone he has ever known will cease to be and pass into oblivion, including me, his Mum, his grand parents, brother and his friends .
My 5yo doesn't have any experience of death (except for ants and spiders) but became sort of obsessed about it at 4 yo. I told him that when we die we become part of the earth again, we continue on in the memories of our loved ones and that most people live long lives. We have never talked about heaven or an afterlife. I'm starting to wonder if it would be such a bad thing for him to have this possibility. About 3 weeks ago he came to me just sobbing and heart-breakingly sad because he didn't want to die and doesn't want his family to die. After soothing him for about an hour and trying to reassure him that we would all live long lives (sometimes I feel guilty saying this, what it if it turns out to be untrue?), I started to wonder if I shouldn't tell him about "the afterlife" and what other people believe in addition to what I've told him. Kids use magical thinking all the time to help them through difficult situations. I figure that most days my son won't need to believe in heaven, but on those rare days when death is really weighing on him it might just be okay to live in the fantasy for a while.

I think that you really can give your kids both options and they can understand that you believe one thing and your wife believes another. It really might be the only rational option in a mixed marriage.

April, Dawn, again thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts into words. It is very much appreciated.
On a deep personal level I am very wary of dual belief systems because for my own self it messed with my ability to be rational. It also put me into a kind of intellectual hypocracy for a while when I was teaching Science and the inevitable Omega questions came up in class. To my shame I fudged the issue a few times and used the Pascal cop out rather than challenge theistic beliefs of my students. Of course a rational three year old is just too freaky to contemplate and it is not my intent to create one. Nor am I confusing Teaching with Parenting. I think I have the beginnings of a longer term strategy. It will require one hampster or perhaps a ginuea pig or two. When said rodent does its duty and eventually sloughs off its mortal coil I think I can broach the death of beloved Fluffy in a more or less scientific method without offending my wife. After all, The Bible makes no mention of an afterlive for vermin. Young boys are GROSS, I know I was one, but digging the corpse(s) up each week to monitor their decomposition is probably going too far but I would facilitate if my boys suggest it and it would certainly generate some discussion. Paradoxically the only remnants of my faith to have survived my apostasy is my search for truth and a desire to do what is right.
There is a massive consolation about letting go the idea of heaven and an afterlife and that is that there is no Devil and no eternal infinate damnation awaiting any of us for finite sin. In the end we only have control over wether we behave decently or indecently. I want my kids to exercise this choice on the side of decency without the bribe of eternal life sans rodents herafter or the threat of a sky god casting them into hell should they grow up gay, or worse Republican.
Meanwhile, softly, softly...
Maybe you could tell him the truth that no one knows for sure what happens after you die. Some people believe that you go to Heaven, some believe you come back to life as another person (reincarnation), and some believe you are just dead and that it is like sleeping forever.

If he asks what you believe, maybe you could say "Do you remember what it was like before you were born? [To which he would answer 'No.'] That's what I think death is like". Then again, that might be too much for a 4 year old to comprehend.

I'd also point out that everyone who has ever lived (except those presently living) throughout history has died and that death is a natural part of life.
I know how you feel. I am an atheist while my husband is not. He's not very religious, but does attend church every now and then and has taken our 7 year old son along. To complicate things further, he doesn't know I'm an atheist. He knows I don't do the religion thing and don't care for it, but I think he assumes I still believe in some sort of god. I've never told him outright that I'm an atheist. I don't know why but I just can't seem to say the "A" word to him.

Anyway back to your questions. Since my son has gone to Sunday school a few times, he will sometimes ask questions about god. I'm usually silent about these and let my husband answer. But what I have done is introduce science to my son. We go to the library together and get books on various topics. He loves to learn about space and all the planets and moons, and like most boys his age, he also likes dinosaurs. Sometimes we'll sit at the computer together and google things if he has a question I can't answer. I teach him about the way nature works, what things are made of, etc. He knows what the big bang is, what particles are, why it rains or snows, and where baby kittens come from. I have also began to introduce evolution to him. He was amazed to know that we were closely related to apes.

I'm confident that sooner or later my son will see through the whole god thing. But until then, I'll keep on teaching him all that I can. I will not teach him that god is imaginary though. I want him to come to that conclusion by himself. And if later on in life when he's a little older and has questions about what mommy believes, then I'll share my non-beliefs with him. But for now, I'm content with teaching him about the real world, and don't worry so much about what they tell him in Sunday school.
For me personally I'm married to a non-practicing Christian. We've more or less just learned to respect each others stances. We don't plan on having kids, but if that does happen I know indoctrination will be an issue. Hopefully the kid(s) will grow up knowing that there's more than one perspective when it comes to the God issue and look at the facts and make his/her/their own opinion(s). Which I would then have to respect whether I agree with them or not.
I'm not sure how relevant it would be now but...Is it possible to create a situation where both of your views are presented as simply being two different (but okay) ways of thinking about things?
I think ultimately it comes down to choice. All people can do as parents is to offer the evidence. If kids want to follow another path be it religious or agnostic then that's entirely their choice. The best we can do is provide children with all the facts so that they can make an informed decision about what they do and don't believe.
My last and my current husband are both religious. (The last one became overly so after hooking up with an uber religious nut). I made sure they both knew what I was before getting too serious. We just try not to discuss it. I have a son with the last one. I've always believed in letting my children learn all sides, and making up their own mind. When my son is with his dad, he goes to church, but he knows what I am and knows he can ask me questions when he gets confused. Hopefully, he will learn the difference between fantasy and reality, but I'm not going to force my beliefs on him the way half my family tried with me.




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