How to grow an atheist

August 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Posted in Atheism, god, Religion | 10 Comments
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In recent discussions with an atheist who happens to be coupled with a non-atheist (read christian) some thought and concern was given to how the hypothetical children might be raised.  This got me to thinking about the basic differences in the approaches to child rearing between religious folks and atheists.

Clearly I cannot speak for all atheists, but I can speak from my own experience and my observations of others with whom I am personally acquainted and share my non-beliefs.  My ex-partner in marriage shared my views on religion and god so it was rarely, if ever, an issue of discussion in our home.

When we had a child we didn’t raise our child to be an atheist.  In fact, since god seems to be everywhere…and not in the religious sense…it was inevitable that our child would be exposed, on some level, to god and religion.  To us, this was not a problem; we both believed our child should be allowed exposure to any and all beliefs and be allowed to choose freely.  There were occasions, when coming home from school, my child discussed god.  I listened and was engaged in the discussion of what had been experienced or learned, but never once did I say to my kid, “There is no god.”

Once, upon seeing an old poster from the Nixon era, in which Nixon appeared as a large dominant figure clutching dog leashes restraining his cronies in the Watergate debacle; my child said, “Look mommy, that’s a picture of god.”  I asked where god was and, sure enough, the index finger pointed to Nixon.  Amused, I simply replied, “So that’s what god looks like.”

Like all non religious children, my child heard, from kids at school, talk about church and god.  Wanting to fit in, my kid went to church, with friends, on several occasions (at various stages of childhood) and decided against pursuing it further.

In religious families, it seems important that the children be taken to indoctrination stations church (synagogues, mosques, etc.) from the beginning, so that young impressionable minds can be molded before the capacity for independent thought develops.  By the time a child reaches puberty these beliefs have become so ingrained that it would never occur to most of them to question their teachings.  Put simply, religious parents raise their children to embrace their own beliefs.

This is part of the dilemma for the atheist and the non-atheist should they decide to go forth and procreate.  I suppose one solution would be for the atheist to concede and allow any offspring to be taken to the indoctrination station, and upon reaching a certain point in their lives be told, in the same sitting, there is no Santa Clause, Easter Bunny, or god…it’s all just good childish fun.  Though I think it is more likely deprogramming, much like that used in recovering a brainwashed child from a cult, would be required.  Another approach, and to my mind a better one, would be to raise a free range child (like mine) who is allowed to ask questions and explore wherever curiosity takes him or her and when the child reaches an age where they can engage in critical thinking the religious parent can then expose the child to their ideology.

I wonder how many people would have taken a different path had they not experienced this early indoctrination.  Had those with strong beliefs in the invisible magic man in the sky and various forms of religion been raised in a fashion more like my child I think the world might be, at least slightly, a more sane place.


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  1. I think your approach is the right one. If the ‘indoctrination stations’ have free reign, then it’s not really ‘belief’ is it? There really ought to be seminars for children. A Christian presents their view, a Muslim their view, an atheist their view, etc etc. How wonderful would it be if these topics were not ‘taught’ so much as explained and discussed? That way, even for the religious, actual ‘belief’ would be free of the indoctrination stigma. That way, I’m sure there’d soon be more atheists.
    Besides how to raise a child regarding religion, how should we deal with Born Again family members? I’m currently having this problem myself.
    I will be back to your reasoned site!

    • a perfect world. We have to ask ourselves why do the religious fear this open approach? It is of course because they would lose members and there would be more of us scary atheists hiding behind every bush waiting to steal their souls or something horrible.

      Thanks for visiting. I enjoyed your blog so I blogrolled you.

  2. Great post. I really like your approach to “growing an atheist”. I agree that this country, and maybe the entire world would be a better place if people didn’t force their religious beliefs down their childrens’ throats.

  3. I can’t even believe this can be a serious posting and that you two people who agree with Honjii are for real. If you don’t give your children guidance and religious training early how do you ever expect them to have any moral compass and learn right from wrong?

    • Does your early religious training teach you to be insulting and to demean to those who don’t share your beliefs? By voicing the assumption that only through religious training can one learn right from wrong that is exactly what you have done, and in my book that is very WRONG. Yet, it is so very typical of the religious to do exactly that, as you have just so beautifully illustrated. You might want to check out the following post Extreme Religion, Score God: Untold Millions, Atheists: 0

    • Tricia,

      I’m replying as the Atheist subject of the above posting. Comment 1: I can assure you (and so can the moral character reviewers of a particular state’s bar examiners) that I have a very strong moral compass and have a firm grasp on the difference between right and wrong. Comment 2: Training is how we teach dogs to behave and children to use toilets. It is how we increase athletic performance. It is used in military boot camps to break soldiers down before they are built up again into obedient fighters. It is not a necessary means to teach morals to a child – children are capable of understanding the principles that guide society’s notions of right and wrong.

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