Good parenting for the atheist

As a child I went to a jewish day school. Now I distinctly remember being indoctrinated by my school into Judaism however futile that proved to be. I’d like to know from any of you guys if you think its appropriate to actively contest these teachings and to make your child aware from a young age that there is no god or anything supernatural including pseudoscience.

I think the issue is that at that vulnerable age your mind is a tabula rasa. Its unlikely that a child could grasp the complexity of the issue unless he is gifted. I don’t know how I feel approaching my child with what would therefore be in reality a prescription for his thoughts - how would that make me any better than the indoctrinators. On the other hand the longer you stay silent the stronger the adverse effects of being exposed to religion especially if you live in a community where it is the norm

I was thinking that the best way to approach it is so get my child to actively engage the material he is learning and challenge any assumptions or airy-fairy logic he has been exposed to or has formed himself. What do you guys think? Bible burning and shock therapy maybe? :wink:

I grew up in a secular home. The very first time I saw people pray was in nursery school, and I remember being quite mystified by it. :slight_smile:

Then we moved to a farm near a small, very, very Afrikaans town, and in the school there we were fed lots of religion. Also, our neighbours were fundamentalists and constantly tried to convert me and my brother (after it became clear that my father would not be susceptible). My parents never made a big issue of it, or tried to keep me away from church or religious classes in school. Their opinion was that it doesn’t matter much what people believe as long as they are happy and decent. They also felt that children are frankly too young to understand the issue completely, and encouraged us to make up our own minds about such things when we were old and mature enough to do so.

It seemed to work out fine; my brother and I remain pretty much secular to this day. I am actually rather glad I had all those religious instruction classes at school. Whatever we may think of the Bible as moral or scientific guide, it’s a great story and I loved it. The classes also equipped me with a quite solid knowledge of the Bible, and I find that I consistently know the Bible better than almost any of the younger generation of fervent believers who were never exposed to religious instruction in our modern and more secular schools. (Apparently they also never get exposed to elementary math, grammar, spelling or handwriting, which makes one wonder what exactly our schools are for nowadays, but that’s another story…)

In short, while I am not exactly religious, I am not really allergic to it either. I am very fond of some religious art and music; if I ever manage to develop the required skills, I’ll probably turn out plenty of paintings of Jesus and Old Testament patriarchs myself. :slight_smile:

My son is in grade 2 and gets fed quite a bit of religion at school. I note with some frustration that he has an exercise book dedicated to pasting in colour-in pictures of robed and bearded people loading animals into boats, climbing up fig trees and riding around on donkeys. Seems they are being told the “nice” Bible stories, and I have no doubt that these are presented as fact. So I try to balance it all out by trying to instill some critical thinking at home.

I have made it clear to him that I do not believe in Jesus or God, and that it is ok not to. I also keep asking him the same question phrased slightly differently every time. A question, I am hoping, that will make all the difference in the end: “How do you know that something is true?”

Oh, and then, as a game, I deliberately lie to him about trivial stuff. If he can catch me out, he gets to watch with me that wonderfully irreverent animation series, The Simpsons.

These days I find myself ever more resentful of religionists and their crappy ideas, and I hope that I won’t just “loose it” very loudly and publicly one day to the embarrassment of the kid. I’d love to have brianvds’s tolerance and the ability to extract somethiing useful out of a bad thing. But I’m afraid if I could paint, I’d do at least one called Jesus and the Cucumber.


It’s bound to be as controversial - and lucrative - as Piss Christ:


I went the opposite route and exposed my kids to as many religions as possible as they grew up, whilst being honest about my own non-belief in any of it. They went to Sunday school with friends (Methodist and Catholic) and my eldest joined the local Madras for a week with another friend. I did ensure that we had discussions about what they learnt on a regular basis and I encouraged rational thinking and posing of questions. Exposure ensured that they could figure out the ridiculousness of it all by themselves.

It worked well, they both gave the sky fairie up around the same time Father xmas saw the boot. My eldest describes himself as “couldnt be bothered” and my youngest sees himself as an evolutionist.

One of my favourite moments in a movie ever:
This Book Doesn’t Have Any Answers! - Homer - Simpsons Movie Clip

My children were both schooled at religious schools as I was. The boys knew that I had no religious beliefs and were encouraged to ask questions at home and at school. I know that some of the teachers were not impressed. At all school functions I always excused myself when the prayer parts of the proceedings took place. My elder son, a geologist, is as much an unbeliever as I am. The younger a musician/sound engineer does not believe but is very much more relaxed about religion than his brother and father are. Mom maintains a strange form of mystical religious belief and refuses to discuss it with any of the family.

Well, seeing as the entire profession of geology is the target of the fundies, I don’t expect geologists to be very relaxed about religion. Sound engineers, mercifully, have not yet been declared hell-bound. :slight_smile:

Mom maintains a strange form of mystical religious belief and refuses to discuss it with any of the family.

You make it sound like keeping one’s religion to oneself is a bad thing. Be glad she’s not trying to convert everyone all the time.

Mom has had too many logical questions posed and has learnt that keeping quiet attracts fewer awkward moments. :o

Last week, as a homework assignment my boy had to make a story book. As one of the characters, it had to feature Jesus. I suggested he include a dog called Jesus - an idea inspired by the old joke about the rottweiler, the parrot and the burglar - but he was quite sure that it was not what juffrou had in mind. So he wrote and illustrated a story about a sick man that was cured after a chance encounter with Jesus (the son of God, not the rottweiler). I thought his book was rubbish, even by grade 2 standards. Hope I’m not just being biased.


You should have suggested that he include a Latino character named Jesus. ;D

Or alternatively, feature a crucifixion scene with a drawing of a very nude Jesus (he’s always portrayed chastely with loin cloth, but I think it is likely that people were crucified in the nude in those days).

Hi guys, it’s been a while :)Recently my inlaws tried to concvince me to let my daughter go to Sunday school with her niece, and my answer was a resounding no! Just as much as I want my child brainwashed by their rubbish, I am sure they would love for me to bring their daughter to my house every Saturday and teach her in the ways of evolution

Good stuff! Which denomination’s Sunday school will she be spared? (En gee en gee en gee)?


When I was a kid, our fundamentalist neighbours once convinced me to attend a prayer meeting by promising me that there would be free cake and tea afterwards. A pastor came in to talk to the assembled believers, and it went on and on and on, getting ever wilder. By the time my father he eventually came to fetch me, he had to make his way through people literally crawling around on the floor while speaking in tongues.

And me? I was blissfully asleep in the midst of all this bedlam. The next morning, very early, I was on their doorstep - I never got my cake and tea! The lady laughed and gave me some cake, cheerfully suggesting that perhaps next time, I should prop my eyes open with match sticks. I attended another religious meeting or two with them, and once went with them on holiday too. I think they were keen to convert me (after writing off my highly skeptical father as a lost cause).

Well, we lived on a small farm then, and some of the prayer meeting were in exotic, far-off places like Brakpan, so I think I mostly enjoyed all of this. Thus, my youthful encounters with fundie religion were often positive. Within walking distance of our homestead, some fundie millionaire built a drive-in theatre where they showed religious films, often for free, and I often got to see some of those too. We had no TV and movies were few and far between, so once again I mostly enjoyed the films, except one that graphically showed sinners burning in hell - that one gave me some bad nightmares!

Anyway, the religion never really took with me. I do remember something from my childhood though, and that was that I was capable of holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time. Perhaps all children are like that? When I was very small, and an uncle would dress up as Santa for Christmas, I somehow had no trouble believing in Santa even while knowing full well that it was just an uncle. And some years later, with the religious fundies, I was beguiled by the sheer grand scope and drama of the Biblical story, and had no trouble believing it while at the same time not really believing it.

I suppose I’m a potential fundie myself - the Bible remains one of my favourite books, however horrified I am with some of it. But then, some of my other favourite works of fiction include books by Stephen King - go figure. :slight_smile:

I seem to be very tolerant of religion, including fundamentalism. This tolerance tends to evaporate very quickly when I am confronted with hate mongers, as seen recently in Uganda. The fundies I personally met have thus far mostly been very kind and peaceful people. When I grew up I was never confronted by the Fred Phelps types, and perhaps this partially helped to create my tolerance. In high school, the religious instruction teacher was a psychopath, so I did go through a very anti-religious phase. But as I get older I just don’t have the energy for all that anger anymore.

;D ;D

... I was capable of holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time.
And some people ostensibly never outgrow this capacity. Reminds me of Douglas Adams's wonderful account of the [url=]Electric Monk[/url].


I think the worst thing we can do to our kids, is try and “keep” religion out of there lives.

Best we can do is to allow them to explore it on there own and talk to them honestly.
In the end I think the best is to say to them you will love them what ever they believe and
it’s always ok for them to change there minds as to what they believe.

I chatted to my 17 year old earlier this week about him going to Sunday school when he was little. He asked to go when he was around 4/5 years old (with a friend from pre-school) and he attended on and off for around 2 or 3 years (he could choose if he wanted to go or not), he told me that he learned two things out of the whole experience and it was that he was allowed to make choices and insist on it if he felt it important and that grown-ups were arseholes because he didnt get any stars, certificates or gifts during the year end functions because he didnt attend every Sunday. Go figure.

Both my boys attended when they were little and both stopped when they got bored with it all as they grew older - its fun for the little ones because they get to listen to stories and colour in pretty pictures of men in dresses AND they get stars for staying in the lines. It becomes a schlep as they grow older and the doctrines start being shoved down their gullets. Expose them, they will figure out soon enough that its all nonsense especially when they have their parents pointing out the inconsistencies afterwards.

Yup. I never attended Sunday school myself, but my primary school experience of religious instruction was mostly quite positive, precisely because of the colourful stories, full of blood and guts, of exotic lands and ancient times and strange customs. I am today very glad that I learned of all that. The strange thing is, none of the kids in my own classes seem to know the Bible at all, including even the ones from quite religious homes.

It becomes a schlep as they grow older and the doctrines start being shoved down their gullets. Expose them, they will figure out soon enough that its all nonsense especially when they have their parents pointing out the inconsistencies afterwards.

Yes, in high school religious instruction began to change into overt propaganda. It was boring as hell; reams and reams of doctrines and ancient laws that had to be memorized and so on. Those who didn’t score 90% (or something like that) on an item known as the “Twelve Articles” were harshly punished by the psychopath of a teacher. This was hardly a way for them to retain MY respect for them and their religion. :slight_smile:

All you need is critical thought. Kids should learn to be critical in spite of indoctrination, not due to the absence of it. I leave it to the religious to try and defend their kids against contrary ideas. People who are truly sure of their beliefs have nothing to fear.

As for me, I was religious, indoctrinated, catechism’d, head of the youth group, you name it. All it took was a teeny bit of “harmless” introspection and questioning and the wheels came off entirely.

The world we live in has indoctrination, lies and fallacies strewn in at every level. There’s no use trying to avoid it, in fact skepticism in the face of it all is a very useful skill to have.