Atheist Babies

I have no intention of blogging about my kids as if the whole world appreciates their antics. Like the time my two year locked herself in the bathroom and proceeded to…oops, almost got carried away in the world of baby blogging.

However, I would like to discuss the idea of raising children in the absence of religion, and even more specifically as Atheists. Why wouldn’t Atheists raise Atheists? Just like Christians certainly wouldn’t go out of their way to raise Muslim children or Jews to raise Christian children. I reiterate to my kids often that when they are old enough to make their own decisions, I will respect whatever they choose in terms of belief systems. Just so we’re clear, I respect thoughtfully made decisions, even if I think they are wrong. And by respect, I mean I will refrain from personal attacks or derision to your face or behind your back.

I am met with great shock or quiet amazement when I tell others that all children are Atheists. Yes, by definition ALL children ARE Atheists. Age parameters may vary here depending on your child’s critical thinking skills. The definition of Atheism is cited in many places as a strict denial of god, but really it is just an absence of belief in a god. Some Atheists may be staunch in their denial and some may simply not believe. The commitment to Atheism runs a vast spectrum. 

What young child really has the ability to BELIEVE in a god? I mean believe in a way they don’t believe in fairies and Cinderella. They may pray on their knees at bed time, but children are great imitators and prone to do what gets them praise. You can baptize an infant at birth but they still won’t believe in anything other than their milk, and will be in the club with Atheists, at least for a while.

As an Atheist parent, I am often faced with explaining religion and belief. As I have experiences through my children’s eyes, eyes without filters, religion encroaches on my life more frequently. I have created personal filters for when god is mentioned on television, when a friend innocently says “Thank God for that!” or “What a blessing” or even “God Bless You” when I sneeze. When the news speaks of religious wars I can analyze these things. When adult friends speak of going to church I certainly don’t feel left out, like my children may when their friends spend Sunday mornings in this elusive place called church.

How do we explain to children what we really think, without telling them what to think?  Just as being a Visible Atheist is important for society and all of us non-believers, it is important for us to be visible to our children. To help them learn to think about the world as confusing messages assault them left and right. 

Even I was so well programmed in religion as a child that I often feel guilty and blasphemous when I explain the concept of religion to my children – equating fairy tales and diverse cultural beliefs to that of the trinity. I can’t help but feel a slight sting when my 6yr old says “but people in church are wrong, god is not real” and “when I grow up I will choose no god”.  I think the sting comes from the idea of tacitly holding a view that is programmed, like I once did with Christianity. While I smile at my words in her cute little voice, I will feel truly proud when she comes to these thoughts because her mind is ready to understand. 

I once was trying to explain my position on raising Atheist children to my dear sister, who is a devout Christian. My then 4yr old daughter told her that she didn’t believe in god. My sister cried. This was the very worst thing she could imagine. For these small children to already have written off a life she thought led to salvation seemed to her a tragedy. I understood the passion and sadness in her heart, since I had once believed and feared for the soul of my mother (who did happen to be Christian, just not very good at it).  At the time my sister told me that she thought I should raise them with an access to a belief in god. I don’t think she was able to see how impossible this would be for me. I would no more be able to do that than raise my children as shoplifters or reality TV personalities. I just think its wrong.

This past Christmas my oldest child started putting logical thoughts together. I often use stories from the bible to illustrate how similar fairy tales and christianity really are. Like Noah and the Ark or Jonah and the Whale, Adam and Eve, etc. They just adore these stories, by the way. She asked me how it could be that Santa and the Tooth Fairy are real but god is not. It threw me for a loop because I adore the magic that Christmas and fairies are for my children, but I was also very proud of her and will have to tell her how she has unlocked the magic box with her clever mind.

I know all parents are probably a little saddened by this passage in childhood – when magic is slightly less sparkly and common sense starts to prevail – but I have to admit I blame religion a little bit for taking one more thing from me while children of Christians can equate seasonal fantasy with the rational behind fairy dust for a bit longer.
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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Brandon on January 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    This post interested me greatly. I would love to see you post more about your experience of raising children in a nontheist household.

    My wife and I are expecting soon, and I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how I’m going to approach the topics of religion, belief, Santa, etc. with my child, especially considering that the kid will be getting a lot of attention from my wife’s family, who are Mormon. Now, my wife is no longer a Mormon (at least not a practicing one – it’s somewhat difficult to get your name out of the church records), but her mother and her favorite sister definitely are, so I’m dreading the eventual day when a conflict is going to arise. And what to do when the kid’s cousins start trying to preach to him/her? *Sigh* Insert soon-to-be-parent panicking here.

    Anyhow, thanks for this post, and I look forward to more like it.

    -Brandon,
    via Atheist Nexus

    Reply

    • Thanks for tuning in. There are many subjects that interest me from an Atheist perspective, but none quite so much as parenthood. Please follow as I have lots to come about leaving religion (I did my Masters thesis on the subject) and how important I think it is for kids to grow up with examined lives. I am a “deconverted” Atheist and my husband has always been an Atheist. I struggle to imagine what ambivalent households teach their kids. How do parents who don’t care one way or the other navigate questions about churches, prayer they see in books/tv, friends’ religion, etc?
      Thanks for joining the discussion.

      Reply

      • Posted by Brandon on January 9, 2010 at 5:14 am

        I imagine it’ll be a little bit easier for us than others – we live in a very progressive town, and eastern religions are just as prevalent as Christianity. Even then, most of the Christian organizations are fairly accepting and cooperative.
        I won’t really have to worry about schools or strangers proselytizing to my child. The only threat is the in-laws :-p

  2. Posted by old on May 7, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    although i denied my religious upbringing by the age of eight, i am very annoyed by the idea of atheism as an inborn trait. i think it makes a lot of sense to believe in the “logic” of religion when it can answer more of your life’s threatening questions than science can, and i think this is a main reason why we have religion in the first place. if any concept of a “natural” sort of religion could be proven to exist (i.e. without cultural influences), i think each child would develop a very idiosyncratic set of superstitions. in regards to my early rejection of religion, my personal suspicion is that i grew up in a (comparatively) privileged environment where i did not need to seek any sort of balance or support beyond my family. i suppose freud might agree that i rejected the idea of a (christian) god as means of challenging the power of my god-fearing parent.
    also, i think that this is a time when the idea of science as the foundation of the natural order is a lot more culturally visible than religion’s explanations. for example, i had to get in a hugely complex automobile to get to church. without the car, i couldn’t be religious, therefore religion became a sort of offshoot of science. though i could understand the order of that religion at such an early age, i still don’t know how a car works! now, i reapply insecurities that can cause us to retain religious beliefs to my faith in mankind’s grasp upon science.
    sorry for the poor grammar and possible incoherence as a whole, i’m mostly just writing to think here.

    Reply

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