Tag Archives: parenting atheist kids

How to Help Kids Navigate Religion

One of the hardest things I struggled with was, “Do I tell my kids what I really think about religion or do I let them discover how illogical it is for themselves?”

I went back and forth on this because I thought, well, if I tell my kids that I don’t believe and point out the inconsistencies in religion, then they’ll never have a chance to believe. It’s like never giving them a chance to believe in Santa. Once you understand that religion doesn’t make sense, you’ll always understand this. I know, I know. There are folks who say, “But I *used* to be an atheist. And to those folks, I say, I *used* to believe in Santa.  After decades of understanding how the whole Santa thing works, you just cannot go back unless 1) you never stopped believing in Santa, or 2) you’re lying to yourself about what Santa and the Christmas machine really are.

So what *do* you tell your kids about religion? After a short time, I came to understand that I need to tell them, “This is what other people believe. I do not believe this because it doesn’t make sense.” I’d tell them why and ask them, “Does this make sense to you?” I’d use as examples Bible stories or other outrageous claims, such as “God saved me from getting on the plane that crashed.” Really, I’d say to my kids? Why was that person so deserving, and why didn’t God save the innocent children? Prove me wrong, I’d tell them. Help me understand something I do not understand, that doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes they’d try. Oftentimes they said, there was not a way.

On the other hand, you’re left explaining why smart people do believe. And this is something that I’ve also struggled with because even I can’t figure it out. I’ve told my children that people are afraid of many things, but especially of the unknown. They are afraid of dying and of not knowing what will happen to themselves or a loved one. They love the lives they have — and their families. This is all very understandable, and we should have compassion for people, but it doesn’t make them right. It only makes them human. Remember the comfort you got from your security blanket or your stuffed animal when you were little? Well, some adults need external “things” to comfort them when they’re scared. It makes them feel good to hold onto something, but you know that something—the stuffed animal, for example—can’t save you. Well, in the same sense, believing in God feels good and safe. But God—who has no corporeal existence and is just a wish or belief–doesn’t save you.

Now I know that this doesn’t leave much room for kids to develop religious beliefs on their own, but if you think about all the times you’d have to withhold information, tell your kids “I don’t know,” or outright lie about the existence of God, you’ll see that there’s a lot of deception that goes on in “allowing” kids to choose to believe.

Will I be disappointed if my kids one day choose to follow a religion? Of course not. I just won’t be disappointed with myself for encouraging them to follow some mythical rabbit down a hole.

This is what has worked for my family. If you can offer feedback on what to tell kids, please share your experiences.