How To Talk To Kids About God: An Atheist’s Perspective

jedi
Pretty sure the only religion Spud was interested here is learning the ancient art of how to be a Jedi mind warrior.

My Dad always told me that when it comes to dinner party conversations “don’t talk about religion or politics.” Unfortunately in parenting there comes a time when you will need to discuss both, although hopefully not at the same time. Late last year the time came when Spud started asking questions about “God.”

The catalyst for his questions was the kid who was sitting beside him in class who is from a devoutly Christian family. This posed a moral dilemma for my wife and I because while we know the answers to his questions, for the most part we think they’re hokum. At best, comforting stories from a by-gone time that were handy for understanding the world in an era before enlightened science and at worst simply a mechanism to subjugate and control people.

This position is largely the result of my own background in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects and wasn’t always the case. In fact my own path to religious indifference began in primary school (somewhere around year 3) when I asked what I believed to be simple and valid question during religious instruction at school. The question was, “If God created Adam and Eve in the first week, how did humans survive the dinosaurs?” I don’t recall the exact answer I was given but it was clearly unsatisfying as I never believed to the same extent again.

Despite my own deeply held reservations about religion as practised, the underlying idea of a benevolent creator and afterlife is deeply moving, captivating and retains some appeal to me. It is when human intermediaries get involved that it goes awry for me. So to that end I guess I am more of an agnostic than an atheist but for the purposes of this piece we’ll say I’m an atheist. However I am not without spirituality. I believe in a soul at least in the sense that a person’s character is more than the sum of the atoms in their body, I just don’t know (and I believe I can’t ever know) whether that sentience extends beyond death or prior to birth.

So when my eldest comes home and starts asking about God what do I tell him? Do I tell him that he is an invisible wizard in the sky who doesn’t really exist but was invented to keep people in line? Or do I tell him the version I was taught in my religious instruction classes? The tension in my own beliefs leads me to question whether it is right to present what I believe as the truth or whether I should present the Christian faith as taught to me. Should I even keep it focused on the Christian faith which was the basis of his question or do I need to first explain the very concept of what a god is and then present all the alternative major faiths such as Judaism, Islam, Greek, Roman, Hindu, etc?

The tension is exacerbated by the fact that while neither my wife nor I currently believe, we both did at various points in our past. We also both still have good friends who practise various faiths and can see the positive difference that faith makes in their lives. We just don’t know if it is the result of some form of psychological placebo effect or something more. We also believe that if we are to succeed in our mission to raise effective future adults, an understanding of religion/s is critical to understanding the context around important historical events that shaped the world and left legacies that are still with us (the crusades and the reformation are two good examples). Religion also heavily influences culture (Christmas, Easter, Ramadan), art (The Sistine Chapel, The Last Supper) and language (“turn the other cheek”, “eye for an eye”, “as old as Methuselah”) and without at least a rudimentary understanding of the source material (namely the Christian Bible) it becomes difficult to understand these other materials.

In the end we came to the position that what we want more than anything is for our kids to be free and independent thinkers. This means that we want them to examine the available evidence and decide what they think and or believe about a given issue. This holds true just as much for religion as it does any other topic. The result is that we are now resolved to try to teach them religion in order to become well informed members of society but to do so without indoctrinating them or imparting our own bias and prejudice into the telling. We will teach them this information the same way that we will teach them about Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Thor, Zeus and Jupiter and let them decide what they believe.

The only belief I want them to inherit from me is my belief in free thought.

Have you had any deep existential questions from your little ones that have left you questioning your beliefs? If so, leave a comment with your story below, I’d love to hear it. Also if you enjoyed this piece you can find me over on twitter here or on Instagram here. Lastly if you found this post enjoyable or informative and would like to subscribe to get updates when new content is posted, you can do so using the follow button.

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16 thoughts on “How To Talk To Kids About God: An Atheist’s Perspective”

  1. This is really interesting. I am a staunch atheist. My ex, and Cygnet’s father is Catholic. Part of the reason we separated was because he arranged for our son to be Christened Catholic behind my back. The christening was all arranged, with the help of his mother, and i knew nothing about it until the last minute.

    Now that Cygnet is 3, he occasionally goes to church with his Granny on Sundays. His father is what I’d call a convenience Catholic and it is not particularly convenient to go to church every Sunday. When Cygnet talks about church, I tell him that I do not believe in God.

    My friend, who is also a staunch atheist, told me that she had a bit of a difficult situation when her daughter’s friend’s Granny died. The little girl had been reassured that Granny would go to heaven. My friend’s daughter blurted out that God and heaven do not exist. Much drama and school gate conversations ensued. It has made me think that nuance and vagaries are what are required at a young age. I like your approach of teaching your kids everything in an academic way and then leaving them to question, critique or follow as they deem fit.

    Thanks.

    Pen #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment. I’d be well angry if someone did that to my kids without my knowledge especially. While I can’t completely rule out some form of higher power I find it impossible to reconcile the fables that are taught with the cold hard facts of science (many of which I have been able to test myself while studying engineering). I try asking my eldest questions that tease out the logical fallacies in it the concept. I can just imagine the school gate drama that would ensue. I was worried enough just posting this let alone taking on the judgy school parents.

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  2. I often come across posts such as these. I find discussions like this very interesting (as a Christian and a ministers wife). I think it’s important for children to be taught about all religions and academics. I also believe in respect and understanding of other faith systems, cultures and ways of life. I teach my children the same. I have no right to judge, ridicule or hurt another person. Not because I am a Christian, but because I myself am not perfect. Far from it actually. I find it sad that the majority of the world see me and automatically think I will hit them with the bible. 🙂 I find that people judge me because I am a Christian, before they have even met me. If my child had to encourage a friend by saying that their granny is in heaven, that would make me proud. If her friend replied “there is no heaven”, I would explain that that is why our world is so beautiful. We have so many different people, cultures, and belief systems and that’s what makes us so special. For me, it’s not just about teaching my child about our faith, but more about a love and respect for others. Regardless of what religion I practice or academics I believe in. P.S. I have never replied to posts on religion. This is my first time. So, please don’t be offended by my honest opinion. Thank you so much for linking up with #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not offended at all and I really appreciate the sincere and detailed response. Also I hope the tone of my piece didn’t cause offence. My aim was to get at the struggle I feel when addressing faith because of the irreconcilable tension that I feel between what I believe, what I know and what I would like to believe. One of my best friends found God when he met his now wife and it has been nothing but positive and transformative for him. So much so that his example often almost inspires my wife and I to go and see if it speaks to us. But there remain large issues that we just can’t reconcile and so they keep us from going. The only thing I’m sure of is that my kids should be free to make up their own minds on faith one way or the other.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m looking forward to having all the challenging conversation with Isabelle when she’s older. She’s only 9 months old, so god isn’t quite on her mind. I do have a painting of Jesus on my living room wall despite being an atheist, so it’ll come up. #MondayStumble

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  4. The thing here (in my opinion) is not that you are an atheist but that you are unsure how to answer your child’s questions. I believe that children should be taught tolerance and acceptance of others beliefs/ culture/ thoughts even if they differ from their own (or their parents beliefs). This is how I would tackle it as a teacher. We want children to question what they think in a supported environment so that they can feel that their opinion is valued. So if I had a child who said there is no heaven or God and another child who said that God is real, then I would explain that both of their views are ok and that they must come to their own decision about what they believe. We can only guide children. That’s just my view anyway. Great post.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. Spud’s new school does religious instruction as an opt in class (his previous school didn’t). We found out after I posted this. In the end we decided to simply let him choose if he wanted to do it or not.

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  5. I loved your post and I chose it to read out of the long list of options on #BlogCrush precisely because I am what could be called a ‘devout Christian’. You are clearly speaking from your heart, these are significant issues for a parent to address and absolutely no offence taken! I would agree that any belief system needs to be based 100% on evidence and that’s the reason WHY I am a Christian, to me the evidence is too hard to ignore – it’s impossible to explain who Jesus is if you don’t agree with who He claims to be (God Himself) To make that claim you’d need to be mad or possessed or telling the truth, no ‘good person’ or prophet claims to be God. And if He is God then His words need to be taken seriously! CS Lewis explains it way better than I could and a brilliant book by Josh McDowell called ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ may provide you with the answers you are looking for. But of course the Bible is always the best place to start in order to read His own words. Like your friend, I have found Christianity to be life transforming, but sadly there has been so much damage done to the understanding of what it means to be a Christian by the church. We have a lot to answer for! I love to talk about matters of faith so feel free to drop me an e-mail on my blog if you’d like to talk some more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, thanks for taking the time to provide such an depth response. You’re right about the damage done by the church, to a large extent I have less of an aversion to the idea of a creator than I do with the conduct of the institutions who act on that creator’s behalf. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it in earlier comment but we’ve decided to enrol our eldest in his school’s religious instruction class because we asked him if he wanted to do it and he did. It also serves our belief that regardless of belief, as Christianity is central to many facets of western culture, you sort of need at least a base level understanding of it. It isn’t an easy tension to resolve though.

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  6. I panicked when I read this title because, as a Christian, I was worried I was in for a battering (which is what usually happens when religious posts appear on the internet) but I actually really liked your thought-through approach. I think we have a lot of common ground. – I also do not want to brainwash my children and I hope to present a number of different arguments to them for them to decide. Hubby and I, though both Christians, have very different religious backgrounds and ideas and yet we respect each others’ views and discuss them. I hope that this encourages our children to critically examine the evidence and form their own opinions. Although I cannot be completely impartial because my faith impacts everything I do and is such a major part of my life.

    Thank you for such a thought-provoking piece and not just bashing the point of view that is different to yours.

    And congratulations because someone loved this post so much, they added it to the BlogCrush Linky! Feel free to grab your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂 #blogcrush

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, thanks for the detailed comment. I was really nervous posting this piece because I was worried about how controversial it may be when all I was aiming for was to explore the moral tension I feel as a parent when discussing matters of faith with my children when I have no faith of my own (especially when I’m conflicted about my own faith or lack of faith in the first place). You’re right, there is a lot of common ground but common ground can be a remarkably invisible thing when it comes to potentially contentious issues on the internet so thanks for reading it as it was intended. I’ll make sure I grab my badge 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Just popping back because this post has been added to the BlogCrush linky AGAIN! Proof that it is a great post that lots of people can relate to! Congratulations! #blogcrush

    Liked by 1 person

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