My wife is a theist, and I am an atheist. Her family and mine consist entirely of theists with the exception of myself and a cousin of mine who lives far away. My wife would like to take our children to a Christian church I attended for several years. It is a fundamentalist church with a significant number of strange rules such as 'standards' that members not own or watch a television (though this has in recent years fallen by the wayside); that members not wear wedding rings (especially if they intend to be members of the choir, orchestra, or Sunday School teachers); and that members refrain from theatergoing or dancing.

I had decided to concede and consent to allow my wife to take our children with her to church occassionally (since she only attends occasionally herself, often with a certain friend). However, I realized that in so doing I would be allowing my children to be exposed to the message that: they are sinful creatures that need to repent; there are people who know and understand the will of a divine creator; and anyone who does not adhere to the doctrines of Christianity in general and this church in particular are destined for hellfire.

I would prefer that my children are not exposed to these beliefs because they could potentially undermine their own self-esteem and drive a wedge between them and myself as their father. Here is some of what they believe in the church:

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You can explain to your kids that these doctrines are beliefs held only by some people. Then explain your view of reality. As long as you are there to point out that the teachings are opinions and even direct their attention to the logical fallacies inherent in them, the kids should be fine. It's the situation where all the adults surrounding a child promote one view that they're brainwashed in a way that will result in psychological harm. Their infrequent attendance could even be seen as an opportunity to teach them tolerance and critical thinking skills.
I was raised Mormon, it was forced upon me. But I am (and probably always have been) an Atheist.

So to say that allowing them to go to church will definitely lead them into being fundies, isn't 100% accurate.

But having been raised Mormon, and attending church for the first 20 years of my life and on and off for the next 8, I have to say that the scariest places on this beautiful green Earth are churches. Brainwashing, no matter how infrequent, is never okay.

If you raise them to be freethinkers and you teach them critical thinking skills and science, going to church every once in a while might not be hurtful to their growth.

But I am of the belief that just because it doesn't convert them, doesn't mean its safe for their developing minds. But that's just my opinion.
simple enough... I don't think I would personally choose to let them go just for personal reasons and I wouldn't care if it made my wife "happy" since it would absolutely TORTURE me, personally and it wouldn't be a fair scenario.

Doesn't mean it can't work for you though. Just make sure that you never let them go upstairs after church without telling you everything that you learned. Make sure that they don't only see that one terrible side of the story and that there are good alternatives. Teach them about other faiths. It could really help a LOT. My mom did this although with an opposite intent. Learning about all these religions, I cross-referenced them and eventually gave it all up as bullshit.

Try it out! Start reading up on your theism! Especially tolerant ones like Taoism and Buddhism. Those really helped me smash through the Christian intolerance. Make sure you get in an atheist jab every once and awhile too. Mix it up. Don't let them get settled in that one religion. Skepticism is the null hypothesis for any human. You should win if you play the cards right. Just never say "mommy is wrong" because that could cause some serious problems.
Hi Wayne,
It really is a challenging situation when parents have different beliefs/ non-beliefs, so I wish you the best of luck. To me, this particular church sounds particularly nutty and one that I would be extremely uncomfortable about having my children exposed to.

A couple questions-
are your children old enough to have opinions of their own in the matter?
Might an acceptable compromise be the two of you to find a different, more progressive (less crazy) church that she could bring them to once in a while instead?

In abstract principle, I agree 100% about the potential harms of religion, especially with a strongly fundi. group like this, but applying your principles to the real-world gets trickier. If you are going to continue to parent children together and maintain a good relationship, both you and your wife may need to be creative, flexible, and willing to bend on some of your principles to finding solutions you can both live with. I'm struggling with a similar situation to yours and have not found the right answer yet in my relationship either. And with the fundi. family situation you describe, I'm concerned that you might encounter an unwillingness to compromise.

Good luck and keep us posted if you find the magic solution that makes all this work out easily!
I know you will hate the suggestion, but how about going with them? Then you know exactly what kind of stories they have been exposed to and it will make it easier for them to confide in you regarding any scary things they heard.

Exposure in itself does not need to be harmful, it could be a great educational chance. Perhaps you can talk your wife out of the weekly attendance, which I find a bit much to be frank. Perhaps you can sit down with your wife and talk about why it is important to her. Perhaps she has some fond memories she would like to pass on to the children? Maybe she wants the children to know a bit more about her background? Does she feel pressured by family members? Once a month could suffice. Peace and harmony in the home is also quite important, right?
I didn't take my kids to church and after my divorce my ex did take the kids at times but never did anything about them going thru the mile-stones (confirmation etc.) as a result, they had to make up their minds about religion. I see the same thing happening all around me, so my suggestion would be to speak openly and often about your non-beliefs but also about your beliefs. Humanists and Atheists believe in their families, communities, societies, reason etc. and your kids should know what is important to you. Letting them know early that you have doubts about their church frees them to explore their own doubts. I would suggest you try to find a compromise church with your spouse so they don't hear too much hate disguised as "god's word" too early in their lives.
Good Luck
What does your wife think of these church rules? As she only attends occasionally and is married to you, I am guessing that while she may be a believer in Christianity she may not believe some of the tenets of this church. If my assumption is correct, she may be able to be persuaded that the kids should not go to this church because they may be too young to be able to determine what messages are good versus bad. She may be able to see how exposure to this type of thing may scare (or even terrorize) a child.

What did the two of you decided to do about church/religion when you got married? Were you a believer then? As much as I hate the idea of any kids going to this type of a church, if you two originally decided to take them to church and then you became an Atheist, then it only seems fair that she be allowed to take them to church (although I don't know about this one). I think it is important that they know not only that you don't believe but why you don't believe. My grandfather (who helped raise me) was an Atheist. My mother and grandmother took me to a church that taught me he was going to hell. It scared me so much. I used to plead with him to become a Christian. He mostly just laughed the idea of hell off. However, I think it would have helped if he'd really talked to me, especially when I was a teenager and could better understand. It may have saved me the agony I felt when he did die and it may have brought me to Atheism sooner.
I share the concern that others have expressed here about their children being exposed to certain religious activities/beliefs. But, one day they will be exposed to it anyway. It' better when you can be there to see their reaction to church. My parents are both catholic and my wifes parents are Anglican (Episcopalian or however it's spelt if you are in the USA). So I am lucky that their churches are much more boring from a kids perspective. :o)
I think as a secular parent it is important to try and teach your kids to think rationally and question things or people if they don't seem to make sense. Teach them to think for themselves. And part of that is letting them be exposed to different things in life, and church and religion are amoungst those things you have to let them experience.
I agreed to go christmas mass with my wife, the kids and my in-laws this past christmas. I got a kick out of my 2 year old daughter, she kept running up and trying to take the baby jesus out of his manger from the nativity scene. It was quite disruptive during the ministers sermon, and I loved it.
You can have fun with it. My mother in law knows my thoughts on church and asked me when it was all over if I thought that was a lovely church service. I said yes and asked for a pinch of salt to throw over my shoulder.
Just remember, you don't believe in that stuff and got there on your own. Your kids deserve that chance to reject that stuff on their own too. They may become agnostic and not take that extra step. You can't shelter them from it, just be there to present your side of it too. Show them the holes in their beliefs. Then let them make up their own minds.
I personally wouldn't let my kids go to church alone with believers, I'd say no unless I could accompany them. It can be scary being a child alone with a big group of people who are acting strangely and obviously all believe something weird and acting like it's very important to make you conform to that. I wouldn't be worried about them eventually becoming Christians, that's not really the issue for me, I just don't see any good reason to subject kids to the kind of fear that comes from the emotional bullying that seems part and parcel of this type of churchgoing.

It's natural and healthy for kids to expect their caregivers to have their best interests at heart, to trust them and seek to conform to their wishes, and when this includes believing in very scary imaginary things, well, it's awkward for children to say the least.

I don't think just providing an alternative viewpoint is enough, I would not send them in there to deal with that alone; you need to be there to model what a non-believer does when the believers start moaning and wailing or whatever, and to offer them an alternative to that in-group congratulating they tend to do on the ride home. Even the etiquette of the service, as a non-believer or interested visitor or whatever - if they sing, do you have to sing? Do you have to kneel? When everyone yells something, do you have to yell it too? That's rough for kids, the service is designed to suck them in to that group-think thing, and often it very deliberately leaves no comfortable space for non-conformity to the group. I have seen that where kids conform in church without even thinking about it, because they are good, well-behaved kids, then later someone tries to use that as evidence that they believe, and they are made to feel like liars or rebellious ("sinful" all that) or two-faced, or all manner of difficult, they feel like they are betraying something they never intended to sign up for. It's not fair.

It's not enough that they eventually figure out for themselves the simple fact that religion is bunk. That's a different issue, really. Exposing to them to the existence of religion is a good thing, sure, but that definitely does not have to include leaving them alone with grown-ups who are going to try to shame and scare them with the notion of sin and hell and all that. Basically, if they are not old enough to go to a zombie movie alone, they are not old enough to go to church without a caring non-believer there to comfort them, and model polite non-conformity, simply because it's not nice to scare children unnecessarily. If you don't want to go because you know there is no room for interested non-participating visitors, you probably need to find a UU or something, another less demanding religious service to attend "just for the sake of attending" being exposed to religion, or whatever. All the more reason to start teaching about religious diversity.
Well I don't have children but I'll speak from my own experience growing up. My non-religiousness while growing up was pretty much accidental. My mom was raised Baptist in a very conservative, traditional and harsh environment from my great-grandparents and my father was raised catholic. The debate was, even though my mother wasn't a church goer, she didn't approve of my father's side of the family wanting to baptize me right after birth (Thanks Mom!!!) So mom being the pain in the butt she can be she said that the right thing to do was not baptize me, which of course bothered some family members. She never prohibited me or my brother any access to anything religious but she didn't encourage it either. She let us find things and ask on our own terms.

After a while I got curious seeing how pretty much all my friends were active church-goers and I attended from about a 2 year period (About age 12 to 14) to different churches from different. denominations. Soon after going to each church I realized it wasn't for me, I hated the hypocritical ways of the people, the attitudes, the ignorance, etcetera and by the time I reached high school I was already considering myself an agnostic. At the same time, or maybe even earlier, my brother was already a full out atheist.

My mom never made us do anything for or against religion, she just answered our questions if we had any and I think that is the best course to take. After a while, we just realized what we already knew deep down and that was that. Happily ever after without God or religion.

P.S. my nephews mother is a catholic and she's teaching him to say God Bless you every time he says good bye and it drives me crazy. But I want to respect that SHE is the mother and not me and let it least for now. Then I'm bringing in the cookies for the dark side. >=]
Caution: this post is from a real jerk who takes 12 pills a day to function in society after 368 days as a medic in Iraq. Advice herein will probably not work for you, and besides who really takes advice?

My wife is a deist (even though she does not think so). She allowed her father to take our kids to church because she did not want to go. When I ‘came out’ as an atheist I had a conversation (minor fight) with her stating that if our kids are going to church, she would have to take them herself. I had to deliver this message to her father (who believes god talks to him, seriously…) and she was upset more about disappointing her father than the loss of a ‘spiritual experience’ for our kids. Previous to my ‘coming out’ I begrudgingly agreed to a baptism of our 2nd of three children. The priest was hesitant about even doing to deed due to me not taking any of it seriously. I told my wife that if she felt like she had to baptize our infant, she would have to do so without me or my support.

Summary: I put my foot down.
Hang in there. Maybe your daughter will have enough of your sensibilities to see through the mist.




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