Children Taking a Different Path

I invited Molly to write a post. Since she is the minority (but well-respected) voice here, I thought it was only fair. Thanks, Molly, for taking the time to share your thoughts and for providing a great topic to discuss:

Children Taking a Different Path

I was flattered when Deb asked me to write a post and thought I would stay true to her blog vision and talk about parenting. Of course most of us have different beliefs and often don’t agree on certain topics, but I think we all want our kids to be happy, healthy, safe, kind, and contribute positively to the world. We probably also want them to share our beliefs. For me, it would be difficult to have my children fall away from the Catholic Church. I imagine likewise, you would be saddened if your children fell away from Atheism.
While Atheism is on the rise among adults who choose to leave their current religion (thus the overall number of Atheists is growing in the U.S.), some data indicates there are low retention rates for children raised in an Atheist home. Of course, all religious groups have a percentage of population that fall away. To capture a few, the report stated Atheists have a 30% retention rate, Jehovah Witness a 37% rate, Buddhists a 49% rate, Catholics a 68% rate, Mormons a 70% rate, and Hindus a 84% retention rate. The report is referenced here.

Now please don’t misconstrue this post is a “dig” at Atheism for what appears to be a low retention rate among children raised in Atheist homes. That is absolutely not my point and it’s certainly not a competition. A 68% retention rate for Catholics doesn’t exactly have me bursting at the seams with pride (and what percentage of that 68% are even “active” Catholics…). The link I shared is from an Atheist site and he picks apart the data anyway. I just wanted to use the report to discuss the prospect of your children leaving your belief system, and how you would handle it.

My questions for you are as follows; and I would love to hear your perspective:

1. What do you suspect could be the reason(s) children raised in an Atheist home may become believers? Particularly when so many adults are losing their religion?
2. Do you think a child’s departure from their parents’ beliefs is more, less, or equally as painful for a non-believing parent as it is for a believing parent?
3. And most importantly, how would you handle this?
(These same questions can be answered by any believers too, i.e. in the event your child should leave your belief system or abandon the belief in God entirely)
Question 3 is particularly difficult for me. I wouldn’t want to encourage my children to leave the Catholic church but I also wouldn’t want to alienate them as so many of you have said you felt alienated by your families. Since many of you are first-generation Atheists, you will probably be the first people to face these situations or answer these questions. Just curious on your thoughts.
Reposting.

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96 responses to “Children Taking a Different Path

  1. Robert Macfadzean

    I thought there would be more … I’m wondering if the rest of it got lopped off somehow?  Bob Mac

    ________________________________

  2. Here are my responses to your questions.
    1. My 6 year old daughter considers herself a believer. Her reasons have very little to do with her understanding of religion and more to do with bonding time with her Grandparents. I did the same thing as a child. I love watching her get dressed up and feel excited to go to church with Grandma and Grandpa, which is always followed by dinner at a fun restaurant.
    2. No. It is not as painful because a non-believer by definition does not have an emotional bond to our beliefs in the same way a believer does. Speaking for myself and many others (I think), I also respect people who choose to believe and I’d be happy to support my daughter as long as she remained sane and reasonable in her beliefs.
    3. I would handle it by making my beliefs clear but acknowledging that some people believe that there is a god that basically resides within each person. How each person relates to their own relationship with their god is completely personal. However, I will never allow my children to believe in a “devil” or “hell” or any of that evil bullshit.

  3. I imagine likewise, you would be saddened if your children fell away from Atheism.

    I’ve never thought of atheism that way. I raised my kids without religion, and I would possibly be disappointed if one of them became religious. But it would still be their choice for life, and would not be any reason to disown them or even to be particularly sad.

    • I’m the same way. I never expected my kids to be atheist. I have always taught them to seek their own answers and path, but to NEVER be afraid to ask questions. It seems that’s been enough for them. Both attended Catholic school. Both have had lots of church teachings, both are at a minimum, agnostic. I certainly wouldn’t be said if they weren’t.

      I WOULD be sad if they chose priesthood, though. LOL

  4. Patti OSullivan

    Robert, I felt the same way. It’s as if Molly’s post is unfinished. Deborah, I hate to comment if we haven’t read the entire post, but here’s my initial reaction to it. The numbers Molly included seemed off to me. I found this article that discussed the 30% atheist data from the Pew Religious Landscape Survey of 2008. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/07/14/why-arent-atheist-parents-raising-atheist-children/)

    The article makes several good points and I’m going to add a few of my own.
    1. Tracking retention rates of atheists alongside various religious groups doesn’t make a lot of sense considering that religious groups have a vested interest in retention rates. Atheists are not indoctrinating their children into a particular world view. They are raising critical thinkers. In other words, atheists are not interested in retention the way Catholics or Buddhists are.

    2. The origins of the U.S. Religious Retention Rates chart are murky. The chart cites the Pew Religious Landscape Survey, but the chart was not generated by the Pew Research Center. Whoever made the chart purposely left off key data so as to make atheists rank at the bottom of the list.

    3. Pew uses several categories to describe people who are unaffiliated. These categories are distinct to a researcher, but not as much to the general population. Not many Americans are comfortable with the term ‘atheist’. Many people prefer ‘agnostic’ or simply ‘unaffiliated’. If you look beyond the graph about retention and actually read the Pew Religious Landscape Survey, you will see that agnostics and unaffiliateds have higher numbers than atheists. You can’t just ignore agnostics and unaffiliated people when you are talking about atheists in the United States. But this is exactly what the Christian Post and other Christian organizations did and then announced that Atheists have low retention rates. Here is the Christian Post’s ‘report’: http://www.christianpost.com/news/study-atheists-have-lowest-retention-rate-compared-to-religious-groups-78029/

    4. Belief is not a contest. So Christian groups retain more people into adulthood than atheists (which is questionable as I stated above). But look at the chart. Hindus, Jews, and Muslims retain far more of their membership than Christians do. I could use this chart to claim that Christians are doing a crappy job retaining their kids or that Hindus, Jews, and Muslims must be more fulfilling belief systems.

    5. Lots of people who claim membership in a particular religious group are atheists. I should know, I was a Catholic atheist for about ten years before I formally left the church. My students in religion classes tell me they belong to a church for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with belief. Most of them go to make a good showing for their parents and grandparents. Some are involved in a business that requires public trust. Church membership is an easy way to get people to trust you in some towns. One friend of my daughter told me she was not allowed to be an atheist because her father wrote for a Christian magazine. You see how the data is not the whole truth? Maybe you can measure membership and attendance, but you cannot quantify belief. Of course, Pew has tried that. If you are interested in seeing what Americans believe about particular points of theology and social policy, go to http://religions.pewforum.org/.

    6. Finally, the data in the mystery chart that leaves out agnostics and the unaffiliated is based on surveys Pew took five years ago. The demographics of the U.S. have changed a lot in the last five years. In fact, more recent data about religion in the U.S. can be found at Gallup.com. This historical comparison survey is particularly interesting http://www.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx

    • Patti OSullivan- thank you for your post with great citations. You touched on all the points I wanted to make, save one. This graph is based on American retention rates. I’d be curious to see the retention rates for countries like Vietnam or Norway, where atheism makes up a higher percent of the population.

      In researching the information from the guest poster, I came across this tidbit that demonstrates that the retention rate is not the same in other countries:

      “Eastern Germany is perhaps the least religious region in the world. Atheism is embraced by young and old, though even more so by younger Germans. One study in September 2012 was unable to find a single person under 28 who believed in a god. The popular explanation for this is the aggressive atheist policies of the German Democratic Republic. However, the atheist policies of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party of Germany only existed for the first few years. After that, the state allowed churches to have a relatively high level of autonomy. Also, the same high numbers of atheists don’t exist in the other European countries that have a history of Soviet occupation, except for the Czech Republic and Estonia. Another explanation could be the secular movements during the Weimar Republic which were strongest in the states of Thuringia and Saxony. Also, it was the Protestant areas of Eastern Europe that tended to turn irreligious under Communist rule the most. The most atheist parts of the former Soviet bloc were usually once the most Protestant (East Germany, Estonia, and most of Latvia), and the Czech Republic is the only one that was once mainly Catholic.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism#Germany

      • Patti OSullivan

        Great points all, Jennifer. I’ve often heard the ‘communism explanation’ from students and others who are eager to explain away the majority of the atheism in the world. Communism certainly played a role, but that does not explain the levels of atheism in western Europe or among the millennial generation of the U.S., which is 30% unaffiliated.

      • @Jennifer, @Patti – When reading this article, I thought it would be interesting to see data on the retention rates of different belief systems by year over the span of the last 50 years. Of course as we’ve already established, such data would be difficult to collect objectively.

    • @Patti O’Sullivan yes you referenced the same article I did. I saw it on another atheist blog and he picks the data apart.

      And yes, you agreed with my two stances that a) its not a competition and b) all religions are doing poorly at retaining members.

      I know you were responding based on the incomplete blog so you didn’t get a chance to see the piece in its entirety.

      Again, sorry for the confusion – the blog above is incomplete but @deosullivan3 referenced the rest below, for the rest of the readers.

  5. As I haven’t had to experience much in terms of religion with my child yet, as she is only 4. I don’t know that I would feel “pain” if she started believing in god, or following a religion. I hope that I would respect her sense of believing as long as she was doing it for the right reasons, meaning because that is what she truly feels in her heart vs. fitting in with peers. Because if it was the latter, I would feel it was a self esteem issue instead. If it were truly her choice, and that was what she felt made the most sense to her, I would need to respect that.

    I had religious struggles in my life and had to go through the experiences to know what felt right for me. I think the reason it is more painful for believers to lose a child from your belief is because of the indoctrination and guilt that is driven into believers (ie, going to hell, not being of god’s grace, not being special, etc.) It’s driven into the messages, to keep you retained. Also my parents paid for Catholic school for 9 years, so I’m sure it is painful for them to feel like they wasted their money. However the education was better than the public school in my area, so I don’t see it being a waste at all.

    I would think the only reason that percentages of any belief system would be of any value be to confirm you are not alone. We don’t have public community gathering places for non-believers scattered throughout our communities. So it’s really hard to feel not alone as a non-believer sometimes.

    So if my child were to all of a sudden start to believe in a god, and follow a religion, at least I would know she wouldn’t be a minority, which can be positive. The only thing that would sadden me is if my daughter gave up her sense of self, accountability for her actions, and the accountability for her outcome in life.

    • @Adrienne – I agree with you that the *reason* for my child leaving my religion would greatly impact how it affected me. If it was a personal, well-thought out choice and she was following her heart and intuition, then it would be easier to approve. If it was to fit in with a certain group of people or to date a certain person who had a different belief system, that would be harder to swallow. I *briefly* considered converting from Catholicism to sustain my relationship with my ex-boyfriend who was a non-denominational Christian, for lack of a better term. (I want to use the term Bible Beater, but I know that is offensive!) After much internal reflection (and yes, prayer) I realized that I couldn’t give up Catholicism for this man. Now, 10+ years later and married to a Catholic and raising our children Catholic, I know this was 100% the right decision for me. So, I would want the *reason* for the conversion to be true and internally driven.

      I also agree it is more painful for believers to have their children change religions or lose their faith in God altogether because many of them believe that such a loss of faith will result in an eternity in Hell. No one wants to think their child will go to Hell. (For what its worth, I don’t believe that those who don’t believe in God can’t go to Heaven… and hey, neither does Pope Francis! But I digress…). I found it interesting to say you would be happy in some way that your daughter wouldn’t be in the minority or feel left out. I think that is a very unselfish thought. I thought one reason it might be difficult for an Atheist to have their child convert would be because the parent “paved the hard path” so to speak, and faced the judgement and isolation that may come along with being a first-generation Atheist. So, maybe it would be disappointing to have your child not follow that path?

      And yes, finally – agree that as long as my child was still a kind, caring, compassionate, and generous person, it would make it easier to swallow any change in their belief system.

      • Hi Molly!
        It is nice to have civilized discussions while totally disgreeing on some “big” issues – hope for humanity 🙂

        The article you posted has been thoroughly dissected but I would like to raise the most important part IMHO:

        “We have nothing to fear. If we force atheism upon our children, they’re bound to rebel. If we teach them how to think critically, it’s possible they may not want to adopt the exact same belief system as us, but they probably won’t start believing in nonsense all of a sudden.

        But when you force a faulty belief system onto children, they may very well realize how wrong their parents are and become atheists down the road.”

        We have two kids who have taken part in religious studies at school (yes, in here religion is taught at school) and have attended everything their classmates have. We have tried to remain neutral yet never wavering in telling that we do not believe in God(s). The older being 18 and like any normal teenager, he knows everything and better than anyone 🙂 He is raher antitheistic and we have found ourselver trying to tone down his ridicule towards religiosity. As far as we know he has never been disrespectful towards believers so we´ve achieved something. The younger (being 10) is rather ambivalent about the issue – just the last year or so she´s started to ask questions from us and forming her own view on things. The best we can do IMHO is to never lie and teach that others should be respected even while strongly disagreeing.

        • @saab93f I couldn’t agree more that parents always be honest. Kids are smart, and when we lie–even about a little thing–then they will not trust us on the big things. Seems to me when they find out Santa is the first big lie that we tell them in society, they’d naturally ask about god, too. They have similar traits.

        • @saab93f thanks for the thoughtful reply. Yes, I agree one of the most important thing we can teach our children is, regardless of their belief system (or sexual orientation, or income bracket, or ethnicity, etc…) people of a different system should still be treated with dignity and respect. I think this is something that gets better with each generation.

          Thanks for sharing the stories about your children. My children are still very young so there is no personal experiences I can share on this topic. We baptized them in the Catholic church and will send them to Catholic school if possible. But I want them to know they can still question the Church – I myself often do.

          • @Deb and Molly: Thank you. It is a pleasure to share ideas and thoughts here.
            As I most likely have mentioned several times earlier, religion shows very little in everyday life here. 75% of Finns are members of Lutheran church but for 90% of them being members of Red Cross or sports club has more significance. Thus it is eye-opening to talk with you guys – I prolly would not last full five minutes in your South 🙂
            Take care – no matter what you don’t believe in.

            • @saab93f I noticed that when I lived abroad. Religion was certainly not as big of a factor where I lived in Europe as it is in the U.S. And certain regions are worse than others, of course. I think that is part of the reason for some of the frustration among American atheists. When I lived in Nebraska for a time, I HATED Nebraska football. I absolutely hated it. I was so freaking sick of hearing about the Huskers and all their national titles. Now that I don’t live in Nebraska anymore, not a day goes by that I give one thought to the Nebraska football program. When you are constantly bombarded with something your passion against it flares up. Oh, sports are big in America too, FYI. 😉

              • Your perception about religiousity is quite right methinks.

                The biggest difference in comparing sports and religion is that you are most likely not categorized as a morally inferior person because of your lack of interest.

                No matter how it is sugar-coated, there is a dichotomy. For believers we atheists must be if not worthless (since we´re hell-bound anyway) then at least wrong or prideful and thus inferior. Just like you wrote in your OP about what you personally would feel if your child were to ditch religion altogether.

                In my area there is a (by our standards) very fundamentalist xian sect who do not drink, watch TV or use ANY birth control. Some years ago there was a movie about two girls leaving the sect for a summer to explore the outside world and about their respective growth stories – on a haunting end scene the more reserved of the girls decided to leave the community (not her xianity, however) and her mother just told her that it is awful to see one´s own child to go to hell – and closed the door.

                Those families more often than not have 10 or more kids but their total number has remained the same for decades, which means that 8 out of 10 leave the sect. Lots of going to hell, lots of broken hearts and lots of ammo for ditching not just the sect but faith altogether…

                • @saab93f Good insights, especially about the sports and religion comparison. It is odd to me that, just because we don’t want to accept a piece of history without proof of its veracity, we are stupid or evil or arrogant. One look at the FB postings of the religious will show you the common attitudes…

  6. 1. It’s not about retention rate. It’s about getting my kids to think for themselves.
    2. Perhaps for those who believe they won’t see their children in heaven, but otherwise no, I don’t think it is painful.
    3. I handle this by exposing my children to all forms of religion; to explain their belief system, rituals, and history. They need to understand why it is that people who claim the same faith are unable to agree on basic worship and societal rules. And that there is a vast contradiction between what people say they believe and how they act. All I need to do, is show them that truth, and no matter what decision they make, I’ll know that it was an informed decision.

  7. 1) I believe a child/young person may take up a religion to fit in with friends, to avoid bullying, to widen their dating pool, and to avoid issues with in-laws. Also, to satisfy a need for ritual, be part of cohesive community, or to appease anxiety or other mental health issues.

    2) I have three children, one Muslim (31), one agnostic (28), and one atheist (strongly proclaimed, age 11). It was painful for us when our son joined Islam because we believed it was in reaction to the abuse he suffered from his mother & stepfather before he came to live with us. He was looking for ritual, predictability, and control over his life, and he found it in rigid religious practices. He has over time relaxed his views and become a loving husband and father, with a professional career, and we are (mostly) accepting of his choices.

    3. We handled his conversion not very well, and eventually, by asking him to move out of our home. We were not going to accept his efforts to convert us, or live under his strict rules imposed by his new-found religion. We kept contact with him, but could not have him living with us.

    Also, you don’t have the authority to “allow” or “disallow” the beliefs of your children. You may be able to ban them from speaking of heaven/hell or other “evil bullshit” but you do not have control over their thoughts or beliefs. We can’t control who they are or what they chose in their lives.

    • In your answer to #2 you appear to contradict your statement in #3 by blaming your sons extreme views on influences he recieved while living away from your guidance. I will change my phrasing to “I will always make sure that my children know that ‘the devil’ and ‘hell’ are completely evil and mythological stories.”

    • @Sue thanks for sharing your stories. Interesting to hear that your son sought Islam out as a refuge from his difficult childhood. I suppose there were much worse things he could have turned to, right? And as long as he ended up a loving husband and father then it sounds like alls well that ends well.

      • Molly, Yes, there are much worse outcomes. The counselor we brought him to after finally getting him out of his mother’s home told us in her opinion, he would have either committed suicide or murder if we hadn’t. We can absolutely accept his bans on alcohol, pork, dogs, and his inconvenient prayer breaks, to see him live a happy adult life.

  8. One more point. We did expose our son to all forms of religion. For example, he attended a 6 month “world religions” class through a Unitarian church, and we were open about discussing religions. (His mother brought him to whichever church she felt like at the moment. One year she was Catholic, the next Buddhist, the next Protestant.) I am much more clear about my atheism now, which is likely why my youngest is clear (for now).

  9. I would like very much to comment, but I am still unconvinced that this post is here in its entirety.

    Could you, Molly or Deb, please confirm that this is the whole post?

    Thanks,
    Dan

  10. So I’m not the only one who only sees the post ending at the ‘statistics’? It seems incomplete, for sure.

  11. What I am personally seeing/interpreting in those numbers is a measure of freedom of choice. The child raised without religion and superstition is free to find its own path and place as an adult, whereas the Catholic or Mormon child is not. I would love to see research studies that reveal more.

  12. OK, Patti pointed me to the RSS feed following Neil’s advice way at the top. I see a little problem with the code (had to reach way back into my brain to remember HTML) where the a href tag is not closed.

    Here is the rest of the post, cleaned up as best as I could. I’ll post a response in another comment:

    The report is referenced here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/07/14/why-arent-atheist-parents-raising-atheist-children/

    Now please don’t misconstrue this post is a “dig” at Atheism for what appears to be a low retention rate among children raised in Atheist homes. That is absolutely not my point and it’s certainly not a competition. A 68% retention rate for Catholics doesn’t exactly have me bursting at the seams with pride (and what percentage of that 68% are even “active” Catholics…). The link I shared is from an Atheist site and he picks apart the data anyway. I just wanted to use the report to discuss the prospect of your children leaving your belief system, and how you would handle it.

    My questions for you are as follows; and I would love to hear your perspective:

    1. What do you suspect could be the reason(s) children raised in an Atheist home may become believers? Particularly when so many adults are losing their religion?

    2. Do you think a child’s departure from their parents’ beliefs is more, less, or equally as painful for a non-believing parent as it is for a believing parent?

    3. And most importantly, how would you handle this?

    (These same questions can be answered by any believers too, i.e. in the event your child should leave your belief system or abandon the belief in God entirely)

    Question 3 is particularly difficult for me. I wouldn’t want to encourage my children to leave the Catholic church but I also wouldn’t want to alienate them as so many of you have said you felt alienated by your families. Since many of you are first-generation Atheists, you will probably be the first people to face these situations or answer these questions. Just curious on your thoughts.

    • Thanks for making the rest ofthe post visible!

    • @deosullivan3 thank you for posting the rest of the blog for me here. I am late to the game today because I’m not in the office – home with a sick kid! I don’t know why it cut off when Deb posted it… must have been the link I shared. I am not a veteran blogger so my apologies.

      No worries @Patti OSullivan, the blog cut off at the worst possible spot so I understand if you felt the need to argue the data. I am not going to defend the accuracy of the data, just wanted to use it as a point of discussion about how we would all deal with our children taking a different path.

  13. It ia always important to cite any and all sources when providing statistical information (e.g., the percentages of fall-outs from named religions). If the article posted is not currently in it’s entirety and the sources of the author’s information are included … never mind. IF however, the author did not include her source(s) of information, it would be be informative and appropriate if she would add proper citations (and credit).

  14. Hmmm. Good question. I am more concerned about my children learning science, critical thinking skills, and recognizing that laws should not be based on religious beliefs, even if we do have a majority religion (Christianity). I feel very strongly about separation of church and state because I think it is the only way to preserve each individual’s right to practice their beliefs. I also hope that whatever my children end up believing that they will respect those who don’t believe as they do. There isn’t much worse than someone trying to coerce you to follow their belief system. I don’t push my atheism on people and I resent having Christianity (again, the majority religion) pushed on me. If these well-meaning Christians would take a minute and think about how if would feel to have a group with a totally different belief system constantly knocking on their door, putting up signs all over town, advertising billboards, starting conversations with you at the park, grocery store, work, etc., then maybe they would stop doing it. If religion is so great and so true, why do I need convincing? But that is another topic for another day. 🙂

  15. Patti OSullivan

    Thanks, Neil, for directing me to the RSS feed. Molly did cite the article I referenced in my earlier post. She also commented that this was not a contest. So I apologize,.Molly, for picking on those things in my response. However, I stand by my contention that the retention comparison is purposefully misleading in placing atheists last, based on dated information, and dishonest about its origins.

    To answer Molly’s excellent questions:
    I left the Catholic Church for the sake of my children. I can’t say I was content, but I was willing to put up with my own disbelief and frequent disgust for the sake of raising my kids in a community of good people and giving them the comfort I thought came with tradition.

    One day, however, during the 2010 campaign season, the priest preached about the personhood amendment. He said there was never a good reason for a woman to abort her child. One of my daughter’s teachers had recently terminated an ectopic pregnancy and nearly died from complications. My daughter asked me in the middle of the sermon if the priest actually meant ALL abortions. Before I could answer, the priest restated his point. Every pregnancy is intended by God, he said. But how can this be, my daughter asked. How could God intend a pregnancy that could kill a woman? How could our religion teach that it is better for the woman to die than to end her pregnancy? What if that was me? Would the Church let me die? Would you let me die?

    We never went back to church after that day. If my son or daughter decide one day to embrace religion, that is their choice. I wouldn’t mind as long as they don’t become fanatics who can’t see reason or who are incapable of compassion.

    • @Patti O’Sullivan interesting story, thanks for sharing. Certainly the God I believe in is not so black-and-white as the God that priest was talking about. I understand your daughter’s confusion.

      • Patti OSullivan

        Molly, I agree with you that God, if he or she exists, is not so dogmatic. The problem for me was that the Church is that black and white. Francis is a cool pope, but his openness to gays and atheists does not erase decades of homophobia, misogyny, and pedophilia cover ups. Localizing your view of the church or personalizing your view of God does not mean you can distance yourself from the actions and teachings of the institution you supports by calling yourself Catholic.From your postings, I see that you are a thoughtful and compassionate person. I miss my many Catholic friends who are just like you. But I cannot continue to involve my children in the immorality and hypocrisy of the global institution.

        • @Patti, thank you for the kind words. I must admit, I envy your job as a professor teaching religion… that sounds like fun. 😉

          I agree, Pope Francis has only made a baby step in his openness. But, it’s still a step. I understand completely what you are saying about “personalizing your view of God does not mean you can distance yourself from the actions and teachings of the institution you support by calling yourself Catholic”. I know I am open to receiving criticism from both Catholics and non-Catholics in opposing certain “official stances” of the Church on various topics. I guess the way I see it is, I do not agree with all American leaders or U.S. policies… there are many that I think need changed (U.S. maternity leave policy for one, but I digress….). Despite my oppositions, I am not going to give up my U.S. citizenship and move. I’m going to be grateful for the *mostly* good things this country has provided me and try to change the things I think need changed. I guess that is how I also feel about the Church… I’m not sure that is a good enough explanation for you, but it works for me.

  16. OK, Molly, so on to your questions:

    1. What do you suspect could be the reason(s) children raised in an Atheist home may become believers? Particularly when so many adults are losing their religion?

    I suspect that children raised in an atheist (agnostic/unaffiliated/none/etc. household–Patti makes an excellent point about nomenclature in her comment) home could turn to religion for several reasons:

    a. Peer pressure. In some communities, especially the rural south, but other places as well, the peer pressure felt by non-believing kids is fierce in our schools. Google Becky Fischer and Kids in Ministry International and you get the idea.

    b. Love. Ah yes, many people will do anything for love. I have seen one member of a couple demand (usually under pressure from his/her family) that the other member convert to a religion before a wedding. Not at all a good reason to convert. Sure, it avoids fights over how to raise the kids, but it solves no problems–it only introduces new ones.

    c. Fear. Life can present us with some very frightful situations, and handing all of one’s cares over to a deity sounds pretty good to a person in dire straits.

    d. Other. Need/want for more ritual? Curiosity? Experimentation? And some of this might end up being longterm or permanent. Who knows?

    2. Do you think a child’s departure from their parents’ beliefs is more, less, or equally as painful for a non-believing parent as it is for a believing parent?

    Honestly, it’s hard to say. Speaking only for myself, I can see how the Irish Catholic history of my family makes it very hard for my family to know that I don’t attend church anymore. It is part of our heritage, and for certain members of my family, it’s more personal.

    I can see the pain from the side of the believing parent: your child has rejected your faith. The only thing you have to justify such belief is, well, belief. Faith teaches one to believe despite a lack of evidence or even in the face of contrary evidence. Look up evangelical explanations of fossils and you’ll get the idea.

    For the unbelieving parent, the pain would also be real. Let’s be honest here. Having shown your child that there is no evidence for such belief, a conversion to religion in our eyes means a conversion to irrationality. When it’s for some of the reasons listed above–peer pressure, love, etc.–one hopes that it’s temporary, though if a marriage takes place, oh man, things are gonna get crazy.

    3. And most importantly, how would you handle this?

    I am not sure why this is the most important question, but I’ll do my best to answer it. Humans believe in a lot of things: the future, hope, reason, humanity, and yes, god. If my child were to convert to a religion, and I believed the conversion, done after the age of adulthood, were sincere, I’d do my best to respect the decision. At least, that’s what I’d like to think I’d do. I’d still love him or her, that’s for sure.

    OK, I’ve written a book here. So those are my answers to your questions. I won’t comment on the stats, which I find terribly unconvincing for reasons cited above and for others. It’s very strange for a professor to read “rates of retention” for a religion. Sounds like we’re talking about how many freshmen go on to sophomore year …

    • @deosullivan3, thanks for the thoughtful response. Re 1. Agree with most of your reasons, and also agree that reasons such as a) peer pressure and b) love are not the best reasons to change your beliefs. I addressed this above in my response to @Adrienne.

      Re 2. I think it would be painful for both parties also. The pain for me wouldn’t be in worrying about the eternal damnation of my child or the loss of their morals, if they were to convert to Atheism (I know Atheism does not lead to either of those consequences). For me the pain would be the loss of connection, as you said. Its Christmas… me, your dad, and your sister are going to Midnight Mass and you’re going to stay here alone. Every prayer time before meal, you’re going to either just politely fake it or not participate at all. It would be the division it creates between me and my child that would be “painful”.

      Re 3. I think its the most important question because there is little we can do to control the decision our child may make about their faith, but what we can control is how we react to such a decision. The last thing I would want is to alienate or lose the relationship with my child because they decided Catholicism wasn’t for them. So the challenge would be in how to support a decision that I would be disappointed in.

      • Hi Molly,

        A very congenial, but strange response on your part. Believe me, I appreciate your honestly, but I think you’re projecting. Taking them in order:

        You said: “Re 2. I think it would be painful for both parties also. The pain for me wouldn’t be in worrying about the eternal damnation of my child or the loss of their morals, if they were to convert to Atheism (I know Atheism does not lead to either of those consequences). For me the pain would be the loss of connection, as you said. Its Christmas… me, your dad, and your sister are going to Midnight Mass and you’re going to stay here alone. Every prayer time before meal, you’re going to either just politely fake it or not participate at all. It would be the division it creates between me and my child that would be “painful”.”

        1. Catholics believe atheists are going to hell, otherwise you’re not catholic. That’s not me, that’s the church.

        2. One doesn’t “convert” to atheism. One leaves religion and in so doing becomes an atheist. Conversion implies a creed. Atheists have no creed (credo).

        3. Do you think that atheists mope and feel lonely while you’re at church? LOL! When my family goes off to church on xmas eve, I just pour myself a glass of something, sit down in front of the TV/computer, and see what’s going on in the world. I don’t feel lonely or desperate or left behind. Don’t project!

        4. Same thing with grace before meal. I feel grateful, of course, when I can sit down to a meal with friends and good food. If you want to thank god, go right ahead. I’m not at all bothered. Hunger, as they say, is the best sauce. If I have to wait another 20 sec to eat, that makes my meal so much tastier. Really, go right ahead. I’ll wait.

        You said: “Re 3. I think its the most important question because there is little we can do to control the decision our child may make about their faith, but what we can control is how we react to such a decision. The last thing I would want is to alienate or lose the relationship with my child because they decided Catholicism wasn’t for them. So the challenge would be in how to support a decision that I would be disappointed in.”

        If you can’t control it, why are you so worried? I wear a t-shirt that takes it’s inspiration from buddhism and martial arts (I’ve practiced martial arts for 20 years now): “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” If you do the best you can by your children and they choose another way, yes, it’s painful, but so be it. Agonizing over it only causes you suffering. Best to let go and continue to teach by example.

        • @deo- I find it odd you were able to find anything to argue about in my fairly benign post. You have a skill. Or an issue. Maybe both 😉 I’ll just respond to a few statements in which you misconstrued my message. My apologies for not being more clear.

          1. I didn’t make an official statement for the Vatican on the Church’s beliefs about Atheists going to Heaven. I didn’t quote Pope Francis or reference the Catechism. I’m just telling you what I believe. I have never been shy in the past about differing from the official stance of the Church on certain topics, so this should be nothing new.

          3. Funny, when I said that I wouldn’t like going to Midnight Mass without my child, I wasn’t even giving much thought to how my child would feel. I was implying that *I* would be sad. I would be sad my child wasn’t with the rest of my family; it would hurt me. I didn’t put much thought into whether or not that child would be “moping” or “drinking a glass of something”. As I have said several times in the past, I assume a person’s decision to leave religion for Atheism is one that has brought them peace and happiness. I think this is true for most, although I’m starting to doubt it is the case for you as you often come across hostile and defensive. Maybe you’re the one projecting?

          And Re 3 – I wouldn’t say I ever “agonize” over whether my children will leave Catholicism or not. For pete’s sake, they are only 1. That would be a long time for me to agonize over a hypothetical situation. I don’t have the time. I just want to think in the event I would be able to handle such a decision with grace, support, and love.

          • @ Molly,

            Actually, you’re right: I have a skill and an issue. Actually, I have several of both. Patti and I are both professors, which makes us professional arguers 😉 My Ph.D. is in French/Medieval Studies and my argumentation skills were honed in the trenches of professional colloquia where things can get really quite specific and nit picky. You should hear some of our dinnertime conversations. LOL!

            I apologize from misunderstanding your statement about not attending mass with your child. That was a reading error on my part. Sure, I can definitely see how you going to mass would be sad without your child, and you’d have every right to be.

            Now, my issues. Good lord, I have many (just ask Patti), but let’s just stick with one in particular: unrecognized assumptions. My professors pounded me when it came to assumptions, and I pound my students in the same way. And in the blogosphere, I do so as well. What frustrates me here is that I can see very well your assumptions because I’ve walked in your shoes. Well, ok, not exactly, but I was 40 years in the catholic church: mass every week, altar boy, lector, choir, catholic school, catholic colleges, catholic wife, kids baptized in the church, etc. And for the longest time, I too felt like I could keep bits and pieces, disagree with the rest, and go on living on a tightrope.

            Then one day I realized I could not lie to myself any more.

            I think I (and others here) feel frustration when believers speak to us, perhaps without even realizing that they are doing so, thus the idea of assumptions, as if we were never in their shoes. The vast majority of us have been there: we were once religious and have, often after years of doubt, research, and reflection, walked away. Have you walked in our shoes? I pose that as a serious question, and if you have been an non-believer at one time, I’d like to hear about it. But we don’t need educating about religion. Atheists are well known for knowing more about religion than believers.

            Let me end by saying that I applaud you for hanging out with us and talking over ideas. I am really glad that Deb invited you to do this post, and I’ve greatly enjoyed the conversation that it has spawned. It can’t be easy, and you must feel like a punching bag sometimes. I don’t think any of us mean to be abusive, just honest, and sometimes we, and especially me, I know it, can sound strident.

            And I want the conversations to continue, but yeah, I’m going to be nitpicking at you. Sorry, but that’s who I am, but I can dish it out AND take it, so you go ahead and nitpick at me.

            Hope your one-year olds are letting you get some sleep these days! Our daughter was 14mos when our son was born, and it was rough for a while. 🙂

            • @deo thank you for the kind words. I often go back and re-read my comments and think “ooh… I didn’t intend to sound that rude and condescending…” so I apologize too for times when my passion gets in the way of my kindness.

              I never meant to imply that you or any other non-believer has never been in my shoes. If you were a Catholic for 40 years, then you were one for longer than I have been. Just because it works for me, and has been an important and valuable part of my life, doesn’t mean that it works for you, or anyone else. I respect your decision to leave the Church… it sounds like it was the right thing for you or your family. Right now for me and my family, the right thing is to remain in it. And for what its worth, no, I have never been a non-believer… I am a “cradle Catholic” and so is my husband, so Catholicism has always been a part of our lives. Even though I disagree with some stances of the Church, my faith goes beyond the bounds of this religion… so even if I someday left the Church (which is not my plan), I doubt I would stop believing altogether.

              Sidenote – did you and your wife’s conversions happen simultaneously? I imagine if not, that was tricky to navigate. I know many inter-faith couples and in some instances one spouse changed their belief system after marriage… always a challenge… but that’s probably a topic for another day.

              I told Deb I love reading religious blogs – Atheist, Catholic, non-Catholic, etc…. because they are very interesting and stimulating (plus I get really sick of all the mommy blogs out there… I don’t need to feel pressure to make homemade organic baby soap). I told Deb the commenters on this blog seem to be the most courteous of any of the other blogs I frequent (probably in part because she sets a tone of tolerance), which is one of the reasons I feel it is a “safe space” for me to make my opinions known. I’m not trying to convert anyone, or convince anyone they are wrong. Some Atheists have given Atheists a bad name, and some Believers have given Believers a bad name. Its too bad that the rest of us get lumped in with them. I imagine if we get past the labels we are all more alike than we may think.

              As for the one-year-olds… they are getting their incisors, so although they were previously sleeping great they are not lately. Sucks when we both have to work the next day. You had kids 14 months apart? You sure you aren’t Catholic? 😉

            • @deosullivan Did you know Charlotte Gross? She was a professor at NCSU. She was fluent in French and had a PhD in Medieval studies. When I was an undergrad, I took an honors course with her. She sent me to a conference in MN for a paper I wrote about rhetoric and Arthurian legend. She had a big impact on me. Professors can do that.

              I haven’t found anyone to be disrespectful here. It’s a pleasure (I agree with Konsta’s comment) and honor to have these conversations with all of you because so many sites get into name-calling and all sorts of nastiness. And I applaud Molly–it’s not easy to be the minority voice. Oh and talk about dinnertime conversations. Just wait until these “free-thinking” kids are teenagers. (Now I’m rolling my eyes.) They have an opinion about everything. They go from little kids with lots of questions to big kids with lots of answers! Haha!

  17. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Molly.

    Without having read all the comments, I guess the first thing that comes to my mind is that Atheism isn’t a religion or even a specific set of beliefs. It’s the absence of belief in deities and the divine and supernatural.

    As far as children “falling away from ” atheism – I don’t know . . . that makes it sound like those children eventually reject the teachings and dogma of a religion or belief system, when really there are neither in atheism. I have no doubt that many children who grow up in atheist homes eventually adopt religious beliefs (I have seven kids, and I’m sure just based on the sheer number, odds are that at least one or two of my kids will one day adopt some form of religion). I’m sure that has very much to do with the absolute prevalence and insidiousness of religion in all its forms, and the social pressure to conform – which, of course, doesn’t make the shift for those people any less a fact.

  18. Molly, thank you for the post and conversation starters. Here are my three cents:

    1. My daughter currently identifies as agnostic. I think that this noncommittal stance is possibly the most reasonable for a thirteen-year-old to take. It indicates, to me, that she isn’t just going along with our (atheist) beliefs or the Christian beliefs of many of those around her, but she’s in the process of finding her own truth. Sometimes she decides that she wants to identify as religious and will tell classmates that she is Christian. When I ask her about her decision, her reasons all involve some form of peer pressure. Even though atheism is on the rise, the majority of kids in U.S. schools are Christian. An agnostic (and new kid in town) trying to fit into a Christian majority can get socially and emotionally crushed. Kids, and not just kids, but people, feel the pressure to fit in. Being part of a religious group is a way to feel like you belong, so joining in activities with local secular organizations is becoming a more important part of our lives.

    2. So many kids believe what they believe simply because they are told to. By encouraging our children to explore and think critically about religion, we foster empathy in them and and allow them to take pride in owning their belief system. To me, that is more important than whether or not my child chooses atheism. If she deliberated and scrutinized and found that she truly believed in a religion, I would still be just as proud of her. If she lost herself and her ability to reason, then I would be sad.

    3. My daughter’s life choices are ultimately her own, but as a parent, I think it is my responsibility to make sure she fully understands and supports her choices with her own mind. I wouldn’t shy away from asking thought-provoking questions about her choice of religion if she made that choice, but I’d be sure to spend 90% of the time listening.

  19. I wonder how marriage influences that people raised in atheist households now identify with a religion. I grew up behind the Iron Curtain and 100% of my friends growing up were atheists, and most still are. The ones that are not joined a religion when they married someone who belonged to a religion. Now they go to church with their spouse and children, but only one appears to me to be a true believer. Most just seem to not care enough about God to make it a fight, it is their dedication to the spouse (or peace with the in-laws) that makes them go through the required rituals. That means they officially are now Catholic/Jewish/Christians, but had the spouse not been, they would not. I come from a country where 86% of the population are still atheists, and marrying into a religion is rare. Here in the US it is much more likely that the person you fall in love with belongs to a belief system that is not your own. Atheists have it easier to adapt maybe, so they are the ones to give in? My husband is Catholic, and we were married by the church without me needing to join. But I would have (on paper) because getting married by the church meant the world to his mother. If it means I have a happy mother-in-law for the next 30 or more years, I would not have had a problem with once spending an hour pledging my allegiance to (what I think) is a non-existing entity. Not sure if it is hypocritical or blasphemous, or both, but that white lie would have been worth it, and I think that is what my friends who converted thought too.

    • This is exactly what crossed my mind. The greatest pressure I’ve faced from believers was not as an adolescent in school, but as a young adult dating. I’m quite certain that being an atheist has driven more than a few men away. I never did have children in part because I never met anyone who wanted to have children with me. If I had been willing to convert as several men have asked me, I would have been more like to have had children. It’s hard to know.

  20. Hi guys–I am sorry. I meant to jump in on this conversation earlier. You might have noticed that I’m having trouble with WordPress–as well as my computer. I hope I’ve fixed Molly’s essay. Sorry, Molly, I haven’t been a very good host.

    These are all great comments. Reading through, I can’t really add anything new as most of us who don’t believe are on the same page.

    I, too, specifically tell my children that I’m not programming them with religious dogma, but the decision to believe in a higher power–and a specific religion if they choose–will be up to them. I would hope that, if they do become “religious” (as someone mentioned), that they still remained balanced and logical. I would love and accept them even if they became fundamentalists, but I still hope that they would not take that path. Right now, my youngest will tell his peers he is Christian or Baptist or Catholic. (I think other others have commented that their children do this, too.) He just doesn’t want to appear different. My oldest just flat out tells people he doesn’t talk about religion. He has even gone so far as to defend my position to his peers. I think that is simply a function of maturity.

    @deosullivan3 My devout, Italian Catholic friend said to me a few months ago that it doesn’t matter if I don’t believe in god, I’m still going to heaven “because I’m a good person.” He said the church thinks this way, too. I think there are a lot of misconceptions with doctrine, especially Catholic. People make stuff up as they go along….

    I appreciate the great conversation.

    • @ Deb, yes, people do make stuff up. I know a student who is an atheist but who is very active in the youth group of her local episcopal church. She just loves the people, and when she told them she was an atheist, they replied with something like: ah well, ok, you don’t believe in god, but you act in a godly way, so it’s all good.

      Apparently, even the pope himself makes stuff up, too. Earlier this year, he seemed to say that atheists who do good in the world will go to heaven. The Vatican quickly issued a press statement to help us properly “interpret” the pope’s words. Very bizarre turn of events:

      http://christiannews.net/2013/05/29/vatican-clarifies-popes-statement-about-redeemed-atheists-says-salvation-is-only-in-catholic-church/

      • @deosullivan Hmmm. That’s an interesting article. I was thinking that people were just customizing their religion, but maybe, as seen (even momentarily) by Pope Francis, there’s a philosophical shift happening. It’s funny that the Vatican says, no, no, let me clarify….we still think we’re the only way.

        Hope you and Patty are having a great time in France!

    • @Deb Thanks again for inviting me to post. No worries about the glitches – and thanks for clearing it up.

  21. These are questions I might have had when I was a believer but now they seem so strange. I think others have answered #1 well enough. As for #2, the only painful thing for me would be seeing my kids make poor or irrational decisions that hurt themselves or others. Other than that, I don’t expect them to believe what I do. As such, #3 is a moot question.

  22. Molly, I would not be upset if my children grow up to be believers (they are 4 and 1 so who knows if that will happen). However, if they become intolerant biggots and claim “religion” as a reason, I would be extremely upset. The intolerance in the Christian church was the catalyst for me to finally admit to and embrace my lack of beliefs. I was in Minneapolis over the weekend and there was a woman on the corner asking for people to get involved in the movement to pass a true civil rights act that includes GLBT individuals. There was a family next to her passing out religious propaganda about the sinfulness of GLBT. This family included young children and it just made me sad that the church teaches hate and intolerance to such young children. If my sons became that way, I would be devistated. I just hope that if I raise them to be open minded and they do end up joining a church, it will be a church that doesn’t spew this hatred.

  23. 1. What do you suspect could be the reason(s) children raised in an Atheist home may become believers? Particularly when so many adults are losing their religion?

    A::: “Where did that 30% number come from? When the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted its massive U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, only 432 people surveyed said they were raised as atheists — a very low number. Of that batch, only 131 of them still considered themselves to be atheists. That’s 30%.”

    So, to be clear there really isn’t any evidence one way or another that children of atheists are or are not retaining that non secular framework. Most likely, given the stigma of being “atheist” most atheist parents did not discuss much of anything (secular nor atheist thinking) in their children, and thus it’s pretty easy to re-brainwash someone who came from an “atheist” home wherein religion was never discussed, such that no defense of the dark art of religion was ever learned.

    2. Do you think a child’s departure from their parents’ beliefs is more, less, or equally as painful for a non-believing parent as it is for a believing parent?

    A::: Depends on the person. But if you have a positive relationship with your adult child then I don’t think the conversion of that person from one religion to another or to no religion at all should cause a lot of problems.

    3. And most importantly, how would you handle this?
    (These same questions can be answered by any believers too, i.e. in the event your child should leave your belief system or abandon the belief in God entirely)

    A::: “Predictions are hard, especially about the future.” – I believe that was Keynes.

    I appreciate the guest post and Molly trying to have this conversation. I just don’t think there is a premise to this at all that can be discussed. I think a good example of “retention” of non secular children would be to look at UU (Unitarian Universalists) children. They are exposed (often) to as many religions as possible and are taught to think critically about religion. Most stay within the fold. And those who don’t tend to have a positive relationship with their family regardless.

    Also Molly, please don’t capitalize “Atheism.” It’s not a religion, not a faith, not a belief system. It is a theism – latin for without theos – without religion. Period (Simplified). Just as not liking vanilla is not “AVanilla” being without religion doesn’t create a religion on non religion.

    Richard Dawkins – (paraphrased from memory) We are all atheists to one degree or another. We all eschew or deny previous gods and goddesses from thousands of years ago (Jupiter, Venus, Hercules, etc). “Atheists just go one god further.”

  24. Molly,

    Thank you so much for giving us all your thoughts about our kids falling away from atheism. I’ve read all the comments made so far, and for me personally, it all comes down to my own 2 boys who are now 20 and 23. I married into the Catholic religion, after my divorce almost 20 years ago I raised my kids in all kinds of religions. It started out with Mormonism the religion I was born into, then it was Southern Baptist after I formally left the Mormon Church, then it was a “charismatic” Christian church where the pastor grew up in the Assembly of God religion (his father was a pastor), then it was Pentacostal Holiness (actually it was a church sponsored by the International Pentacostal Holiness Church IPHC), then it was a Methodist church, then it was a kind of New Age belief in spirits and energy I guess it was a kind of Wiccan-“nature” way of living that I had come to believe where I meditated 2 hours a day an hour every morning and another hour every afternoon when I got home from work where I listened to New Age music used a pendulum, asking “it” all kinds of questions and I used Tarot cards… On and on and on… That’s what my kids were raised with… Yea I was definitely searching for “something” ….

    Long story short, my kids grew up being exposed to many different religions and spiritual beliefs. When they were in high school I left it all behind, that was when I realized I was an atheist, I didn’t believe in any kind of “God.” It’s kinda funny now that I live the Buddhist way of life. 🙂 To me, Buddhism is not a “religion.” It’s a kind of philosophy of living my life… Judging no one, turning inward for my own personal inner peace…

    My boys are both in college now, and neither of them believe in any kind of god. They both “go along” with Christianity because we live in the deep south bible belt where most of the southern culture is based on religion. They both want to be accepted by their peers and neither of them want any kind of condemnation because of their lack of belief in a god. It’s understandable to me, they’re both young adults and neither have enough experience with their non-belief in a god to “argue” it with others.

    Honestly, I could care less what my boys believe in!!! Lord knows they’ve been exposed to it all… Seriously LOL… 🙂 🙂 I don’t care about whatever statistics are out there. All I know is I want my kids to be happy, whatever their religion of choice is, or not.

    I’m enjoying the dialog to this post. I find everyone’s comments very enlightening!

    • @shelley You’ve been around, religiously speaking! 🙂 Your comment reminds me of a quote I found recently, which I carried in my wallet when I was in college. My wallet stayed empty save for this piece of paper: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  25. Interesting set of questions and comments. As a younger parent, I felt guilty for not doing more to pass on my faith to our kids. Our results have been mixed. As I have grown older, my perspective has changed. Children must inevitably make and live with their own choices. I don’t feel the need to exert pressure on them one way or the other.

    Regarding your quoted retention rates, I wonder if the attributes of a person that has caused them to disbelieve may actually cause their children to be more open to belief. Homes in which critical thinking and openness to new ideas is encouraged may actually predispose children to question the relatively broad alternatives to disbelief.

    • @jp I just think that stats can be very misleading….

      • I don’t disagree. To be honest, I was surprised by the high retention rates quoted for some groups. After all, what does retention mean anyway?

        While living in Italy, I discovered that most people I met strongly self-identified as Catholic. However, they rarely, if ever, acted on that affiliation. Survey statistics say one thing about the population but observation of actual practice says entirely another. I suspect that similar effects are in play just about everywhere.

        • @jp I had a similar experience while living in Ireland. By name, one of the most Catholic nations in the country…. but Mass attendance in my experience was horrible… really the only people attending were 60+ years old. So yeah, I mentioned that in my post- how many of those that remain in their religion are actually active? It would be difficult to ever analyze this objectively.

  26. 1. RE Reasons:
    I suspect that, unfortunately, most of the converts do so for social reasons, whether they be marriage, peers, desire fo social activity etc…
    Yet, I also suspect that some atheists convert because many, not all, recognize that there is objective truth in the world. They recognize the logical fallacy of the popular quip today that “what is true for you is equally true for someone else”. So they start searching. And they find a source of objective truth and latch onto it. They ignore their cognitive dissonance and they follow the path where it leads them.

    2. RE Pain of Change:
    I suspect that the pain is just as much from the social aspect but not as much from the eternal consequence perspective. So it probably more painful for believers than non-believers.

    3. How would you handle this:
    I don’t know because we don’t have kids. Hopefully, though when and if we do I’ll raise them to be independent and logical thinkers so they’ll recognize the logical discontinuities in atheism.

    • @Anonymous This is funny because as soon as I got to this part of the comment, “And they find a source of objective truth and latch onto it. They ignore their cognitive dissonance and they follow the path where it leads them,” I knew who wrote this….This has got to be Joe K.

      Interesting how we are identifiable through our writing, how we construct our sentences or our arguments. Or perhaps we just keep beating the same drum.

      • @Deb I actually got excited for Joe K because I thought perhaps someone else used the term objective truth, but maybe you’re right and he accidentally posted as Anonymous. Haha.

    • @Anonymous Re: “Hopefully, though when and if we do I’ll raise them to be independent and logical thinkers so they’ll recognize the logical discontinuities in atheism.”

      Your children will be born withOUT religion. There is no religion or god gene. Your kids will not come prepackaged with Catholic software. You will have to program them yourself. When you realize this, you will also realize, hopefully, that it is not possible to have “discontinuities in atheism” any more than “discontinuities in no belief in unicorns.” (Silly, right?)

    • Re: “Yet, I also suspect that some atheists convert because many, not all, recognize that there is objective truth in the world. They recognize the logical fallacy of the popular quip today that “what is true for you is equally true for someone else”. So they start searching. And they find a source of objective truth and latch onto it. They ignore their cognitive dissonance and they follow the path where it leads them.”

      That has got to be some of the most illogical logic I’ve read in a long time. I don’t even know where to begin!

      First of all, I don’t know this “popular quip” that you cite. I’ve never, ever heard anyone say that. I don’t know how anyone could make such a claim.

      But let’s look at the saying anyway. “What is true for you is equally true for someone else” seems to be saying that there is, in fact, one truth for everyone. That sounds to me much more like a theological argument than an atheistic or secular statement.

      And then, the expression “a source of objective truth” reads quite oddly. “A source,” thus presumably one of many, of objective truth? So much for the objective part of “objective truth.” If there is more than one source, there is no longer any objectivism, right? Or would you say that there are many paths to the same truth? If so, does that mean you can get through through Christianity and Islam? And paganism? And atheism?

      (See, Molly, I don’t just nitpick at you. LOL! 😉

      Perhaps you might regale us with a few examples of “objective truth”? It might clear a few things up for me (and perhaps others reading your posts).

      Oh yes, and some examples of the “logical discontinuities” in atheism. I’d love to read some of those!

      Thanks!

      • Regarding the “What’s true for someone is equally true for someone else.” It was a mistype, I was rushed, please forgive. The intended statement was

        “That’s true for you, but not for me.”

        As to logical discontinuities, the logical discontinuity I see is in the method most Atheists, I have found, come to that belief. The atheists I have heard explain their belief come from a perspective of, “I don’t like that so I’m going to say it doesn’t exist.” Maybe I’ve only heard from “unenlightened” atheists. Please feel free to enlighten me.

        Here’s one example…Many atheists state that they believe God does not exist because they claim there is no evidence that God exists. They have established a criteria that says, “I shall only believe that which I have evidence for.” That is, a very reasonable criterion to establish. Yet when applying that criterion to their atheistic belief, they can provide no evidence to prove their theory. Seems like a logical discontinuity to me. Not sure. It seems to me that someone who claims to be an agnostic is the more reasonable.

        Here’s another. Many Atheists claim that they think God doesn’t exists because they think he doesn’t care about human beings, he doesn’t protect the innocent, he isn’t fair.” Ok, so they’ve made the claim that God is a prick. Hitler was a prick, he existed.

        • @JoeK Oh. My. God. I should leave your comment for some of the others to tear apart. You make things so easy. First, I have NEVER heard a nonbeliever say, “I don’t like that so I’m going to say it doesn’t exist.” If you just say anything you want, you will lose your credibility.

          I am highly suspicious of you, JoeK. You claim to have been a “nonbeliever” at one point, but you have no understanding. I suspect you might have made that up as a way to gain a little credibility here with our conversations. If you say, “Hey, listen to me, I’ve been there,” maybe you think we will be more willing to listen. You are manipulative. You come here saying, “Maybe I’ve only heard from “unenlightened” atheists.” Yet you’ve been on here for over six months arguing with just about every regular here.

          Second, “I shall only believe that which I have evidence for” is a pretty damn logical criteria, as you have agreed. And so, when someone says “I can provide no evidence for existence of God, therefore I don’t believe in what you say” you know what? That’s a pretty damn logical conclusion. The burden of proof is for you to prove that your imaginary man exists, just as the burden of proof would be on me to prove that I have a unicorn as a pet. The only disconnect is you because you want us to believe as you do.

          I do claim to be agnostic, but all of us who don’t believe are really agnostic. We say, “Man has no evidence that god exists now or has ever existed.” If God did or does exist, we cannot know. This would suggest to me, too, that nonbelievers, while not knowing exactly how the universe came to be, do not expect that a creator would have to stick around and babysit. It is also equally as likely that there was never any kind of singular “god-force.”

          No. JoeK. No atheist I know says that “God doesn’t exists because they think he doesn’t care about human beings…” What we are saying is the god you believers hold up as a good, loving, all-powerful deity does not match the reality.

          • Deborah,

            By saying that I have heard or read Atheists state that they don’t like God so they are going to say God doesn’t exist is a paraphrase of frequent arguments against the existence of God. So yeah, I’ve never actually, heard THAT specific statement word for word, but when atheists like Dawkins and his ilk use statements like “Science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings” to justify that religion is illogical and God doesn’t exist, then he is not addressing the actuality of God’s existence. He’s just addressing the negative consequences of THAT God if he existed. Another example is the common atheistic argument that God doesn’t exist because if he was all knowing, all powerful and all benevolent then there would be no suffering. This doesn’t address the logic of his existence, it just says, I think suffering is bad so I don’t believe in God. That was my point.

            As to the evidence, I’m not saying that one can not come to that conclusion because they don’t see evidence, but it is inconsistent to apply the same criterion to the existence of God and not apply the same criterion to the non-existence of God.

            Continuing on the evidence topic, there are plenty of aspects of this existence that point to an existence of God. Particle physicists believe the Higgs Boson Particle exists because they have seen the effects of it. They don’t actually see the particle itself. The rational theists understanding of God is much the same. There are plenty of philosophical indications that God does in fact exist, some examples are the arguments from Change, efficient causality, degrees of perfection, the concepts of conditioned and unconditioned realities, the existence of ontological thought, desire, the list can go on. So to say that a belief in God is something people have because it makes them feel good, or their parents programmed it into their brain is a straw man argument which doesn’t address any of the actual philosophical proofs for God’s existence.

            • “As to the evidence, I’m not saying that one can not come to that conclusion because they don’t see evidence, but it is inconsistent to apply the same criterion to the existence of God and not apply the same criterion to the non-existence of God.”

              It is you who claim there is a god, who has the burden of proof. Not those of us who don’t believe in your claim. And so far no god believers have proved the existence of a god. Again; there are thousands of god ideas you don’t believe in yourself. If you claim these gods do not exists, would you have the burden to prove their non-existence? No. The same goes for us who do not believe in your god or any other god – we don’t need to prove their non-existence. The burden of proof lies on your shoulders, not mine.

        • “Many atheists state that they believe God does not exist because they claim there is no evidence that God exists. ”

          Yes, that is the truth. There is no proof of the existence of any god at all. Not the christian god, not the jewish god, not the muslim god, no hindu, greek, norse gods or any god at all. There is no satan, no devil, no angels, no jesus, no “holy” spirit or “holy” ghost at all. Superstition is all what believers has.

          “Yet when applying that criterion to their atheistic belief, they can provide no evidence to prove their theory.”

          As long as there is absolutely NO evidence of a gods existence, we don’t need proof of the non-existence of such. It is those who claim there is a god who has the burden of proof, not atheists.

          You can not call atheism a belief, because it is not. It is the opposite, atheism is lack of belief. You may call atheism a conclusion based on the fact that there is no evidence for a gods existence, but you can’t call it a belief. Think of all the ideas of a god you don’t believe in yourself, for example the norse gods, greek gods, the muslim allah or any other god idea. Would you call it a belief NOT to believe in all these gods? No.

          “Ok, so they’ve made the claim that God is a prick.”

          There are strong indications that the god of the bible and the god of islam both would have been if one of them existed. But as mentioned before, there are no evidence of a god. There is only one thing all the “holy” books proove, including the bible and the quran, and that is that the authors of them had vivid imagination.

          I wonder, why can’t believers live without an explanation of who they are and why we are here, what the reason may be for our existence? What is it that leads believers to believe in fairytales and superstition instead of admitting that they simply don’t know?
          To think “someone must have created this” when you see the earth, moon, stars, the universe etc. etc., is a typically human way of thinking. You see a house and know that someone must have built it because people do build houses. Believers see the earth and think “someone must have created all this” and then they put in a fantasy creature like a god as an explanation. Why can’t believers live with the fact that they don’t know?

        • Well, Deb pretty much said it all, but I may as well weigh in, since you were responding to my response.

          Deb does have a point, you know, that you’re beginning to sound disingenuous. First you make a ridiculous claim and then say, oh, sorry, by bad. It’s a typo. OK, fair enough. But your counter is just as ridiculous: the statement, “That’s true for you, but not for me” could apply to many, many things. Many things are true for my wife, my kids, my parents, my students, my older/younger colleagues, my friends in France, my cousins in Ireland, and for the billions of people whom I do not know that are not true for me. We are individuals, not carbon copies of other humans living in exactly the same time, place, and social circumstances. That’s not relativism; that’s reality.

          Now, some things are indeed true for everyone: we all need air to breathe, water, food, and we’re all going to die one day. But because we share those common experiences does not mean that everything that is true for you MUST be true for me.

          That’s a bit logical fallacy right there. Or perhaps your statement, “That’s true for you, but not for me” contains another typo?

          As Deb rightly says, I don’t have to offer proof for what I think doesn’t exist. You seem to agree completely before going ahead and completely disagreeing. (In logical terms, that’s called contradiction, and it’s frowned upon.) There is no proof of leprechauns, banshees, unicorns, fairies, or any other imaginary beings, so I don’t believe in them. There is no proof of god, so I don’t believe it god. There, case closed. If, now, some real proof comes to light, that I’ll change my mind. Until then, I’m an atheist, not an agnostic. I’m not an agnostic about the other billions and billions of things that might exist but of which we have no proof. I see no reason to make an exception for god.

          And for the record, you, not me, made the analogy between god and Hitler, but you did an admirable job of proving Godwin’s law.

          And now, here you’ve made an assumption–and Molly knows I hate assumptions: if there were an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent god, why would he care about us? You assume that he would. Why? And by extension, why would he care whom I marry or whom I sleep with or what sexual positions I prefer? Why would he care if I eat pork or shellfish or how I kill and cook my meat? Does he really care if I fail kneel down on the ground five times a day, turn in one direction, and pray to him? He really wants me to go to church once a week and eat his body under penalty of eternal damnation?

          Pretty lame god.

          No, no, my dear friend, god is just an invention on the part of men to control how other men behave and think.

          That is by far the most logical explanation for god and religion.

          • Deo,
            Thanks for the Godwin’s law ref, never heard of it…

            RE: the truth issue. You state,

            “Many things are true for my wife, my kids, my parents, my students, my older/younger colleagues, my friends in France, my cousins in Ireland, and for the billions of people whom I do not know that are not true for me. We are individuals, not carbon copies of other humans living in exactly the same time, place, and social circumstances. That’s not relativism; that’s reality. Now, some things are indeed true for everyone: we all need air to breathe, water, food, and we’re all going to die one day. But because we share those common experiences does not mean that everything that is true for you MUST be true for me.”

            Can you elaborate, I’m not sure I quite understand what you mean by this statement. Specifically, can you give an example of something that is true for your wife but the opposite is true for you?

            RE: the assumption you think I’m making….It seems you think I am making an assumption that God cares about us. Whether I think that God cares or not does not matter in the reasoning process of God’s existence or non-existence. I don’t see how I’ve made the assumption you indicate, in any of my statements or what that assumption would have to do with God’s existence or non-existence.

            • I’m not sure that I want to reply, because I really now suspect that you’re a troll, which is in internet parlance, is someone who only cares about provocation, not true discourse. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet).

              It’s obvious that any example that I cite of differences between myself and the rest of humanity, from time of birth, to economic status, to gender, to sexual orientation, you will merely pick at, twist, turn, ignore parts of, etc.

              We have all been down the road of “philosophical” proofs of god with you in previous posts, and I just don’t want to wind down that road again. Your merely suggesting that we once again go over terrain so well trodden as to be packed down solidly as concrete–again–says to me that you merely want to argue for argument’s sake.

              Sorry, I have better things to do with my time.

              Does anyone else want to chime in? I’m not being drawn into this fool’s errand.

              • @deosullivan3 I think that you’re right. I think that some believers come here for true discourse and others just to provoke. The former group seems to be secure in their beliefs, but I think that latter group feels insecure in their beliefs and feels that we are a threat. We shouldn’t waste our time with those folks…

    • It is Joe K not sure why it showed up as Anonymous. Sorry

    • @Anonymous (JoeK?) Ironic, because it was cognitive dissonance that allowed me to stay a Xian all those years; facing it head-on lead to my deconversion. Can you cite some athiests who say “what is true for you is equally true for someone else”? I have yet to encounter one.

  27. Where I live, we once had a bus driver who could drop the steering wheel and shout “I’ll let god steer the bus!”
    I sat in with him home from school a few times and I saw that he had the bible open on the dashboard.
    He also made exceptions to the bus route and drove a few detours because “god had told him to.” Unfortunately he also backed over his own son with the bus by accident. I don’t know if it was when “god steered the bus”…

    I came across this blog today and I think it is interesting, “Why young people are leaving the church”:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2013/07/cnn-why-young-people-are-leaving-the-church/

    I once had a surgery done by a muslim surgeon. It was during ramadan that year, and I must say I was happy when I saw this surgeon eat his lunch before he did any surgical intervention. I don’t care what surgeons and doctors believe in, as long as they somehow do not include me in their belief.

  28. I don’t even know where to begin with Molly’s questions. I made no conscious effort to raise my son as an atheist. We simply did not go to church. What he chose to believe or not believe was just that … his choice. We never thought to discuss religion with him. I think he only went to churches (a variety) on occasion as a sort of social activity with friends. It was entirely up to him.

    A few years after my grandchildren were born, my daughter-in-law started taking them to a Catholic Church. It was, she explained briefly, to make sure the kids believe there is some higher, stronger power backing her up and enforcing obedience. Sheesh!!! What a lousy reason to choose a church and begin attending. Not because you believe or care but because you want someone else to scare your kids into submission. And of all churches, you pick the one currently embroiled in the worst scandals with kids.

    Anyway, prior to her decision, neither she nor my son attended any church. Now they both do. She to scare the kids. He, apparently, because she made the rules. Painful? Oh yes, it’s painful. To see religion chosen as a club to be used on my grandchildren. To see a highly educated, rational, critical thinker like my son meekly following suit and groveling to the silly demands of the Catholic Church.

    But he’s an adult. It’s his choice. It’s his business. I stay out of it. If he wants my opinion, he’ll ask for it.

    And if you ask what I think of religion, my answer is, obviously, not much.

  29. @Deb – I look at almost everything secular as falling into our camp. It’s like the question, “Where are all the atheist hospitals?” and the answer is that scientific method is what created the discipline in the first place so we already have a presence.

  30. First opportunity I’ve had to comment on the topic at hand. First off, great job on adding a variety of voices here, Deb. You put in a lot of effort on your own and it’s nice to see you spread the workload. It helps that you have an exceptional group of commenters.

    Very interesting points, Molly. While I have no children of my own (that I know of…j/k), I helped a friend raise her daughter’s godchild (meaning we’d do fun things every other weekend or so) from about age one to age twelve. When she was about six she asked me if I went to church. I told her I used to but not anymore because I did not believe in God. I explained that that’s what an atheist was. She did not have any problem that weekends with me and my friend would be going to the park and such and never to church. When she was the age for her First Communion, everyone was excited for her because of the excitement she felt.

    I never saw my role as trying to influence her views, rather as someone she cared for who openly and honestly answered whatever questions she had. I feel her attitudes towards unbelievers will be shaped by her positive interaction with one.

    I will always feel that a decision made by an adult as to the ultimate nature of existence is the most personal decision there is. Anything that interferes with that is wrong no matter who is doing it.

    • @Lance thanks for the great reply. I think this is beautiful:

      “I will always feel that a decision made by an adult as to the ultimate nature of existence is the most personal decision there is. Anything that interferes with that is wrong no matter who is doing it.”

      I agree with you. What a person believes – or doesn’t believe – is personal. What is right for one may not be right for another… as long as one’s path leads to a healthy, happy, considerate, and compassionate adult life then how can that path be wrong?

      I’m thinking back to when Leah Libresco – a fairly popular Atheist blogger for those who may not know – converted to Catholicism (its been about a year now I think). I remember on her “conversion” announcement she had SO many comments (as to be expected). As I read through them, it seemed they were either from smug Catholics (“we won!”), critical Atheists (“you fool!”), or confused believers of another religion (“why Catholicism and not my religion?”). One post though from screen name anodognosic was this (Yeah I copied and pasted and saved it…): “Being argumentative and bitter is precisely the wrong reaction here. I mean the “our team, their thing” thing is bullshit, and in the end, personal quests for meaning trump all that pettiness. Its hard not to respect the magnitude of such a change and the real thought and risk that went into it”. So, yeah, I think that sums it up pretty well.

      • Oops should be “our team their team” thing*
        Sorry for the typo!

      • @Molly I was out-of-town for a few days. Sorry I’m just now getting back to comment. I had never heard of that atheist blogger, but I do like the quote you saved. You really can’t judge others for their believing–or not believing. “It’s hard not to respect the magnitude of such a change and the real thought and risk that went into it.” Yes, that’s what I’d like to tell believers, too, who assume that, when we don’t believe, we just don’t understand or that we just one day threw a temper tantrum at “god” for not giving us what we want….

  31. Q: What do you suspect could be the reason(s) children raised in an Atheist home may become believers? Particularly when so many adults are losing their religion?

    It seems to me that human beings are ‘”wired” to rebel against any paradigm that was put on them by our caregivers. For those who continue in the Catholic/Buddhist/Atheist/Etc persuasion – some may genuinely enjoy it and have assumed it as their true belief system. Whereas others – continue out of duty and deep down are seething rebels who feel guilty for even feeling like that to begin with. And then there is everyone else in between.

    Another way of putting it: Just because a person retains their childhood religion/ideals etc – does not mean they have truly embraced it as their own.

    Q: Do you think a child’s departure from their parents’ beliefs is more, less, or equally as painful for a non-believing parent as it is for a believing parent?

    Naturally it would vary across the board due to the human element.

    Q: And most importantly, how would you handle this?

    We raise our kids to think for themselves. If one decides they want to become a preacher/evangelist etc – we’d be seriously concerned however, we’d also respect their choice. We love their essence and always will – nothing could change that.
    Where we’d have a difficult time is if our children grew up to be grand manipulators/coercers/vile opportunists. And that can be accomplished as easily as an Athiest or a Religionist.

    (Note: My husband and I were both raised in xtian households though his was more active in church activity etc than mine by far. We later became heavily involved as a couple in the xtian church and have since left. Deprogramming process is brutal but necessary. We view any sort of organized religion as brainwashing and detrimental to a human being’s growth and development while at the same time – holding respect for those who do participate in organized religion. Truly – to each their own)

    ps I sure hope the formatting stays intact! lol

  32. ps again

    My mother is Catholic and we have no problem with her hanging a beautiful rosary on our son’s crib to “protect” him. Likewise – my husband’s mother is Seventh-Day Adventist and we have no problem with her singing xtian songs to our son when we visit. We’d rather have a relationship with our mothers than to shun them for their beliefs because – well, they are more important then their (what we viewed as…) flawed belief systems. Bottom line – we want our kids to be respectful of how others see the world.

  33. I have a 32 year old daughter who was raised atheist, knows how strongly I feel about it, and has now told me that she is now attending a church where she has found happiness and loves god. I have been distraught over this more than any of her prior negative behaviors of which, there have been many. Since learning of this new rejection of what I stand for, I shared numerous articles and videos and books with her hoping that she will listen to reason but she has refused to do that and rejects all of my attempts to get her out of this pathetic and ignorant mindset. This is going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back on our family and I am rejecting her and her religion just as if I were a believer in a religion and found out that their child left their family religion. I can not help my deep feeling of hurt and anger and betrayal. I honestly can’t get over this hurt and want to end my relationship with her. Part of me is telling me that I’ve taken a too extreme position, but the more powerful part of me that is hurt, my emotional part of me is not accepting this and wanting to be done totally with my daughter. Any comments about my situation would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi tonijoyce, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I don’t see atheism, skepticism or any forms of nonbelief as a religion or belief system. It’s just a rejection of what others choose to believe. Many of my family (my mother and brother, for example) do believe in god, but we still maintain relationships–though perhaps, a little different than the relationships we would have if I were a believer. I had to give up my need to be right and just accept the idea that they viewed the world very differently from me.

      Your daughter’s acceptance of religion is not personal, just as your rejection of religion was not a reflection of your parents. At 32, if belief brings her some sort of comfort that she seeks, and she is not harming anyone, than I would just leave religion out of discussions until she brings it up.

      Not everyone on this forum would feel this way, and I welcome other input. Severing a parent/child relationship over an intangible concept like belief seems too extreme to me.

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