Freethinking vs. Religious Parents: Same or Different?

eyes are uselessHello again. It’s me, Debbie. I sure miss our conversations. Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the summer.

I wanted to write about a comment I received recently. Here’s an excerpt:

“Free thinking” parents make me laugh. You want the exact same thing that religious parents want. You want your kids to grow up believing the same things that you do, the same things that you taught them.

– Beep

The person who wrote this clearly has some misconceptions about raising kids as freethinkers. We do not want the “exact same thing that religious parents want.” I’m sure Beep is not the only person who thinks this way, so I’m going to write a little about what freethinking parents actually want for their kids and how they approach parenting.

First, if you’re so inclined, a little Wiki primer for you.

If you don’t have time to read through Wiki, I’ll tell you the short version. We don’t tell our kids what to think.

Exceptions: Don’t swallow poison. Don’t look at the sun. Treat others as you want to be treated.

Save for the dangerous absolutes and the Golden Rule, we (freethinking moms and dads) try to approach parenting like the dialogue that follows. I’ll use a question my kid once asked me as an illustration. This is similar to what many parents are asked by their children:

Child says: “Mom (or Dad). Do you think there’s a heaven?”

Free-Thinking Parent Says: “Hmmm. What do you think?” Pause…..”Where would it be?” Pause….”How would you get there?” Discussion…. “What part of you would go?” Long pause. Big questions. Thinking…. “What would you do forever and ever?” A little theoretical pondering…. “Does the idea make sense from what you know of the world?”

A discussion of the possibilities ensue. The free-thinking parent does not say, “Hell no, James! There is no heaven, and you’re going straight to hell to be punished for believing that!” We, of course, know that coercing or forcing our kids to believe in something that does not make sense will just make them rebel. We let them come to their own conclusions because we want them to grow and exercise their faculties of logic and reason. We give them choice. We empower them.

We understand that a belief is just that. It is accepting an idea as true that has no underpinnings to support it. This is why atheism is not a belief system, but rather a lack of belief in someone else’s unproven thoughts, fears, and ideas. If our children rationally decide to believe in God, then they will have, we hope, their own reasons. And they’ll understand that belief in God is ultimately not based on reason, that there is a leap of faith that leaves logic behind.

On the other hand, as Beep confessed, religious parents want their kids to believe exactly as they do. That means, they want them to believe in the supernatural, in miracles and ghosts and evil spirits. They want them to grow up in fear of God’s authority and the Devil’s power. They want them to choose to do the right thing, to be kind and giving and considerate, under duress. What sort of morality is that?  They want them to believe in things that cannot be seen, cannot be proven, and cannot even be understood.

Religious child: “Mom. Why did God let my friend Johnny die?”

Religious mom: “No one knows but God. It’s not for us to understand.”

That is the difference between freethinking parents and religious parents.

Did I leave something out?


38 responses to “Freethinking vs. Religious Parents: Same or Different?

  1. Great to hear from you, Debbie! As usual, you’re right on. Thank you for expressing this sort of thing in a concise, logical way. “Beep” is so wrong that it’s hard for me to take her seriously. Hope you are having an awesome summer!

  2. I’ve missed your wisdom. Good hearing from you again.

  3. “A discussion of the possibilities ensue.” Oh, I love that line! When I was younger, I thought there was a singular Biblical truth and I thought I had all the answers. The older I get, the more I realize how much I love the questions and as you say, the resulting discussion of the possibilities.

    Far from raising my daughter to think just like I do, I somehow accidentally (miraculously!!hehe:) did teach her to be a free thinker and I learn so much from her! We talk and talk and ruminate on all sorts of ideas and intellectual discussions.

    Have certainly missed your posts:)

    • Hi Trishia! I’m sure you were-and still are-an awesome mom for your daughter! The older I get, the more I realize how very little I know–and what I did know at one point, I am forgetting! haha. It’s humbling! As an atheist, though, we don’t pretend that we have all the answers. (The answer that’s always “god” for many!)

  4. Spot on Deb!
    Although you did miss that us atheists or unbelievers are actually satanists or muslims. Atheism is a religion and we preach our children the message of hate.

    It is nothing short of funny how even the best of the pious project their own fears and misconceptions on us. The concept of a freethinker or an unbeliever is so foreign to them that common sense evades them just trying to discuss about it.

    • Hi Konsta! I did forget to mention the Satanists and Muslims! It can be frustrating how adamant some folks are that atheism is a “religion,” too. *sigh* If someone doesn’t believe in Leprechauns, is their dis/unbelief a religion? Grrrr.

  5. Great blog. Wish there was also a Kids without poisonous vaccinations!!!

    Judith Linn

  6. Rob Partridge

    The excerpted segment is quite illuminating, and it reinforces a primary gap in the thinking of believers. In their minds they not only “know” they’re right, they also “know” exactly what everyone else is thinking. But the cold hard facts – as they say – would hit them in the head like a slab of ice falling off a tall building in mid-February – well, in the Northeast, anyway. The TRUTH is that many parents have different motivations and angles and (I’ll try to quantify it here for the believers who have a tough time with arithmetic and science) LOTS AND LOTS of non-believing parents come loaded with an attitude that actually challenges their children to do anything BUT march in lock step to their way of thinking, their beliefs (or non-beliefs), and their paradigms. Each human brain is different and is capable of creating entirely different approaches to living. That is why an active brain is such a direct threat to established religion at its core. Non-believing parents would be all too happy – and I mean this – to have a child who somehow constructed proofs of the existence of a supreme being (just as an example.) Far from trying to stunt Free Thought – as religion often does – the non-believer is waiting for that next step in identifying the facts involved with ‘what it’s all about.’ We just happen not to read two and three thousand year old books with reverence just because they’re old and the stories may seem compelling to some. But by all means, provide evidence of a truth, whenever possible, and I’ll champion the outcome whatever THAT may be.
    Rob Partridge @VeryVocal3

    • Hello Rob. Great points. I hear you saying: Religion values sameness. Freethinking values individualism–and supporting a beliefs and ideals with logic and objectivity. Some people live their entire lives and never understand this.

  7. Another thing freethinking parents often do (at least we did) in response to children’s questions is to say “Let’s look at what people in the past and in other cultures have thought about this question. You asked about heaven, let’s look at what the Egyptians thought, what the Greeks thought, what the Norse thought. Let’s look at what the Hindus and Buddhists and Christians and Muslims think today.”

    Something else we never did was try to shield our kids from religious ideas. My Fundie brother-in-law carefully indoctrinates his kids about biblical literalism and takes them to the creation museum and forbids them from visiting real science museums. He makes sure that they never hear anything that contradicts their narrow viewpoint. Whereas, when they sent us “VeggieTales” videos, we watched them, and laughed at the silly songs, and then had serious discussions about the moral of each story and whether we agreed with it. We had our kids go to an occasional church service and made sure they knew about the beliefs of the people around them. We deliberately exposed them limited doses of religion, rather than shielding them, It’s a pretty good vaccine against the nonsense.

    • Thank you for sharing that. I’ve been looking down the road at having kids and wondering how on earth I’m going to raise them as free-thinkers when I was raised in a very strict, dogmatic religious atmosphere. What I know about raising kids comes steeped in religious tradition, but I don’t want to simply hand the reins over to my atheist husband and make him do all the work. I want to work *with* him to raise our kids to think properly and exercise their critical thinking skills. I like the idea that it’s not all or nothing, one way or the other. We don’t have to be afraid to expose kids to religion, as long as we provide a framework of thought and reason around it. Again, thank you for that epiphany.

      • Hi Cassandra – Raising kids is easier when the parents are on the same page about religion. It’s so difficult when one parent is a believer, and one parent is not. At least, you and your husband have the same goals! 🙂

        • Yes, so true! When we first married, I was still clinging to some parts of my old life of Christianity. It made things… complicated at times. Even though we differed (and still do) on some points for various reasons, we have developed a method of sitting down and researching *together* important issues that we have different views on. He will present his research, I will present mine, and then we will continue to study together to find the best choice. We settled the question of vaccination that way. I really like that form of conflict resolution.

          Religion, though, can’t exactly be objectively studied like that. It’s not simple statistics and facts. It’s more of an emotional thing. While I was pregnant, briefly, and the discussion about our child’s future was VERY real, the differences definitely cropped up. However, despite our different views, the foundational concepts and life lessons that we wanted to impart were more or less the same. We just wanted to go about it different ways. That is what gave me the confidence to go ahead and marry someone with different religious views than mine at the time. Beyond that, his open mindedness and dedication to science and free thinking are what finally gave ME the freedom to ask the questions I’d been suppressing for decades, end result being my own “exodus” from a religious viewpoint to more of an atheistic worldview. Still seasoned with old world pagan and some Bhuddist thinking, but much different than it was 5 years ago. I finally like the voice in my head that narrates my life.

          • @Cassandra – What a great approach you and your husband take to resolve differences! We are all works in progress…. 🙂

    • Hi ubi dubium – Excellent points. Thank you!

      For sure, here in Texas, kids are often inviting their friends to church or bible camps. When my kids attended church occasionally with a friend, as you said, it is a “pretty good vaccine.” They often came home pointing out the hypocrisies.

  8. “A discussion of the possibilities ensue.” That is our life in my house. Not sure if you saw the “relentlessly gay” thing that popped up on the Interwebs last week (, but I made a point to show it to the kids and have a discussion around it. These ideas that religious parents want to hide from their children are fuel for our discussion fire… and not so I can push my ideas onto my kids, but so that I can hear what they think about it, and so that they *DO* think about it!

    I’ve missed your posts, Deb!!

    • Hi Shanan! I did not hear about that “relentlessly gay” incident, but I love that phrase! Seems people don’t even know when they are saying clever things! haha! Yes-it is best we present these events to our kids before their friends and teachers do! This way, they can start thinking about it themselves, as you said.

  9. Religion imprisons the mind, Freethinking liberates it! Glad your back Deb. Great post as always!

  10. LanceThruster

    “I believe the children are our future. Unless we stop them now.”

    ~ Homer Simpson

    [great piece, Deb!]

  11. LanceThruster

    More Homer –

    “Kids are the best; you can teach them to hate the things you hate. And they practically raise themselves, what with the internet and all.”

  12. Filipe Colebrooke

    I have missed your emails, glad to see you sending them out again. I have been impressed with the way you have presented who you are and what you believe and how you respect others, even when they don’t share your beliefs. Because of that, I decided to join some of the groups on facebook, but I must tell you those people are totally different than the way you handle things, for one most of them seem to be bitter and angry, and if you disagree they will cuss you out and insult you like you area nobody, so I left them all. At this point in my life I love talking and communicating withe people who can have a discussion intelligelntly. Otherwise I stay away, thank you so much for being a peson who handles things the way they ought to be handle, and I will continue to look forward to your emails, they open my mind alot.

    Date: Fri, 26 Jun 2015 02:44:50 +0000lTo:

    • Hi Filipe – Thank you. That was a really nice note. It’s always good to hear from you and hear the news from your part of the world. I feel lucky that, through this blog, I’ve met a lot of really nice people who are fair and balanced.

      The Facebook groups you mentioned, you mean that nonbelievers attack each other? Or are the atheists attacking believers?

  13. Deb… hard to put into words how nice it is to read your words again. Thanks for waking up my brain today. Free thinking parents want one thing for their kids that they, themselves, have: the ability to think freely.

  14. @Derrick Nice to hear from you, too.

  15. On Demand With J

    Great post. Unfortunately, I can have some pretty negative opinions about religion and it’s followers, sometimes – more specifically, Christians. But, if I were to raise a child, I would want him or her to choose their own path just as I did. Even though, I wasn’t really allowed to follow my own worldview until I was almost out of the parent’s house. I would begin my child’s education much earlier though. I would tell him an unbiased account of all the possible beliefs and let him choose the one that better fit his POV. I’m the only one in my family that holds beliefs ranging from Agnostic to Atheistic. I am slightly afraid of my family attempting to undermine my efforts and feed them biased and misleading “information” about their religions.

  16. So glad to open my Feedly and see a new post from you, Debbie!

    I continue to be amazed (and, I confess, disgusted) by the lengths religious parents go to to indoctrinate their children into their belief system, and to continually reinforce those beliefs – church, Sunday school, bible study, youth groups, all the ceremonies and rituals, daily and otherwise – and for Christians, how about the Chapel on Wheels that arrives at public school every week? Because all the other stuff that takes place outside of school isn’t enough, their religious training must also infringe on their academic training. And yet, they don’t see it as indoctrination.

    Free-thinking and non-believing parents don’t engage in any of this. There’s nothing to indoctrinate our children into.

    • Hi Lisa! Always great to hear from you! I have not heard about the “Chapel on Wheels”…WTH??

      • You must have this in your neck of the woods! It’s been around for ages. Check out I never gave it much thought until the last few years. Now when I see the trailer parked outside of my kids’ school every week, it seems like an almost desperate effort to me on the part of Christian folks – you know, you can’t let the kids’ minds stray too far from god for too long! Plus I’m always irritated because the damn trailer takes up three parking spaces in front of the school …

  17. My sister sent me this link. I thought you might enjoy it. It turns out that my sister and I won’t have great teenagers (if you believe the article) but we are ok with that. 😉

  18. Hi there! I was really excited to discover your blog – the internet is awash with religiously fundamentalist parenting sites and blogs: it was a breath of fresh air! I have nominated you for a Liebster Award – you can find out more at my post here:


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