My best friend and his family are the full package: creationist fundamentalist evangelical Protestants. My wife and I are flat out atheists, with no ounce of superstition. We had a bbq with two families over. The kids were everywhere, having fun. After dinner I walked into one of my boy's bedrooms. Their 7 and my 6 year old were alone in there. My son had his favourite space book open to the "mythology" page, with gorgeous paintings of the Norse and Hindu heaven-earth-underworld myths.
I asked how they were enjoying the book, suspecting some verbalisation of differing beliefs may have already occured. I said "great painting". Other child: "we don't believe in that." Me: "I don't either. Those myths are interesting, but none of them are true." OC: "we believe in god." Me: "I know". OC: "Do YOU believe in god?" Me: "No, I don't." OC: "Why not?" Me: "I don't see any evidence that any gods are any different than these Norse or Hindu ones, like in these paintings."
I then changed the subject to fudge brownies for dessert, assuming that my friend would appreciate me continuing the conversation about as much as I would appreciate him doing the same from his perspective. However, the conversation between the boys wasn't over. After informing my friend of the exchange so that there would be no misunderstanding. I went back to the room, and listened a bit before I entered.
OC: "So, if you don't believe in god, how was the earth created." MC: "Oh, I have a great book here that's called 'In the Beginning'. Would you like to look at it?" OC: "Sure!"
In the Beginning is a picture and description book that covers many topics - houses, clothes, jobs, weapons, bridges, ships, trains, etc through their historical changes. It also has a section on the origin of the cosmos. This may be the first time my friend's child has been exposed to such scientific information without the filter of fundamentalist Christian disinformation.
I was so proud that my son's response was not to be stopped by a question that the religious seem to think is so persuasive; but to instead immediately help his friend to find answers by consulting a reputable and informative source. I think the likelihood of my children becoming theists (a thought that does concern me) is very small, but it was heartening to see that my eldest is already learning to look for evidence in forming his views and opinions.
After they left I used the exchange as a teaching moment, and a chance to tell my son how impressed I was with both his respectful methods and his choice of answering the question. However, my wife mentioned that she had also overheard the OC talking about "sin", and how "if people 'sin' they are punished with death".
I haven't discussed this with my son yet, as "sin" is not something we talk about (since it is religious nonsense). However, I'm going to have to discuss it now. My wife and I both noticed how, as soon as the religious child was given an answer to his question, he switched to trying the same fear tactics on my son that his parents had already used on him. Extremely sad, but important to know when counter-acting such nonsense.
It was encouraging how easy it was to put religion and its motives into terms and context that my child could understand. Discussing that all religions and gods are fake is easy when you have taught your children the Greek, Norse, Roman etc pantheons.
Discussing how people use religion to cope with their fear of death is what we have done, though I know some parents wouldn't do this. We have discussed such concepts (and where babies come from) already with our children, and don't see any value in "shielding" them from reality. We notice that some parents who have "shielded" their kids have children who are afraid of the dark, ghosts, etc - which none of our children are.
Lastly, discussing the reasons why some people want simple answers rather than complicated ones is something they grasp very clearly, because they are still asking so many questions!
Comments or similar situations appreciated.