Losing Our Religion: A Look at Non-Religious Parenting

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A seismic shift is under way. The fastest-growing religious affiliation in the country is now…no affiliation at all. Many adults are simply leaving religion behind. But as they become parents they’re confronting an uneasy question: What about the kids?


To find out more about None parents like me, I called Christel Manning, a professor of religious studies at Sacred Heart University, in Fairfield, Connecticut. Confused about how to raise her own young daughter, Manning set out to study secular parents around the U.S. and was surprised to find that the Nones are a more diverse group than you might think. “At one end of the spectrum,” she told me, “are individuals who claim to be atheists and say, ‘I don’t believe in anything.’ And then there are individuals you might call seeker types, who say, ‘I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. I believe in a higher power and I do yoga.’”

Manning said the third category, unchurched believers, have traditional religious views but don’t like religious organization. She told me that Nones raised Catholic or Jewish often feel a need to preserve their family heritage even if they don’t buy the theology or like the traditional practices. That’s what happened to my friend Genevieve, who grew up attending a Catholic church (which has since been turned into condos) near her house in Cambridge. As a child she shared a special bond with her grandmother, one that involved food and church. “She taught me that religion was just part of our lives,” Genevieve said one morning after we’d dropped our kids off at school. “If I was going through a hard time, she’d take me to the church in the North End, say a novena, and then we would go have something to eat. It was so nice.”

Genevieve is now trying to find a Catholic church for her two daughters, because her oldest is approaching the age of confirmation, and she doesn’t want her to miss the window. She interviewed the education director of one Catholic church and learned that the priest visits the children’s group throughout the year to dole out penance for wrongdoing. She cringed. “I’m sorry,” she confided to me, “but I don’t want Rose going through the week scared to death about God watching her and judging her, and thinking that she’s going to go to a fiery dungeon for hitting her sister. That’s where I began doubting the whole thing.” 

Another example is my husband, who suffered through every Hebrew class he ever took. He has no interest in trading his weekend basketball game for time in a synagogue, but he sometimes wishes our kids were preparing for bar or bat mitzvahs. Then again, he turned out pretty well. Could it be that Hebrew school played a part? Manning said a lot of conflicted parents end up “outsourcing” religious education, dropping the kids off for lessons but rarely entering the church or temple themselves.

And then there is the fourth category: the people who are indifferent. “They wouldn’t say, ‘I’m atheist, I don’t believe in God, and religion is bad for people,’” Manning told me. “They weren’t unchurched believers, and they weren’t spiritual. They just didn’t care. Religion had no meaning for them at all.”

She was describing almost every parent I knew. But how did we arrive at this point? And why are there now so many of us?

Written By: Katherine Ozment
continue to source article at bostonmagazine.com

14 COMMENTS

  1. Genevieve is now trying to find a Catholic church for her two daughters, because her oldest is approaching the age of confirmation, and she doesn’t want her to miss the window. She interviewed the education director of one Catholic church and learned that the priest visits the children’s group throughout the year to dole out penance for wrongdoing. She cringed. “I’m sorry,” she confided to me, “but I don’t want Rose going through the week scared to death about God watching her and judging her, and thinking that she’s going to go to a fiery dungeon for hitting her sister. That’s where I began doubting the whole thing.”

    She doesn’t believe in Catholicism but she is getting her daughters confirmed. WTF.

    Michael

  2. They have lost their sky-fairy belief, but cling to their cultural programming, because they have not thought out an alternative, or do not know how to handle the expectations of religious relatives!

  3. In reply to #2 by Alan4discussion:

    Hi Alan,

    I think you’re right. I went through exactly the same process myself. They are trying to steer a middle path because they lack the courage of their convictions.

    My Daughter attended after-school religious classes. In the end it didn’t do her any harm – she recently told her Mother that she’s a ‘None’.

    But would it have been better for her never to have attended? Tough question.

    By exposing my Daughter to a lightweight religious education I did avoid some family friction – both short-term and long term. In the short term, no arguments. In the longer term she made her own choice and religious family members can be reminded that she made the choice with an understanding.

    Peace.

  4. Marry someone who is second generation atheist. Then you can always have the courage of her convictions!

    Seriously don’t compromise. No baptism or christening and the relatives will get the idea. How you raise your children is your business.

    Michael

  5. The problem in my experience is from relatives who put huge pressure on one to do the ‘right thing’ for ones kids and who try and indoctrinate them in our absence…..in our case it has been to ignore the pressure and teach our kids about religions as something that is outdated in the modern world and that the relatives are old fashioned and superstitious. I was pleased to note at a gathering of various distant relatives, cousins etc that when some religious topic came up, all the under 30′s, almost with one voice, said that they didn’t believe any of it. I’d suggest that your kids will be disappointed/angry with you when they are older. I would be furious with my parents if I discovered for example that they had had me circumcised for religious reasons…mutilating me for life for some crazy mumbo jumbo!

  6. In reply to #3 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    But would it have been better for her never to have attended? Tough question.

    By exposing my Daughter to a lightweight religious education I did avoid some family friction – both short-term and long term. In the short term, no arguments. In the longer term she made her own choice and religious family members can be reminded that she made the choice with an understanding.

    I think, that like vaccinations, exposure to a mild dose gives some immunity.

    I became an atheist in my teens while attending a C of E Grammar school – with RE taught by a vicar who was the deputy-head!

  7. My answer is two-fold. My kids know what I believe, but they still go to church with step-dad and mom. This isn’t by force. I do this so they can understand the roots of our family traditions as well as why America is the way that it is. Not to mention, I want them to make belief decisions mostly on their own.

    I am outspoken about what I believe, and discuss “How we know what’s really true” all of the time, but they also get to see what the church has to say.

    Lastly, the value system I am starting to teach them is simple, and it comes from Rotary International. It’s called the 4-way Test:

    Of the things we think, say or do
    Is it the TRUTH?
    Is it FAIR to all concerned?
    Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
    Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

  8. BTW, I never make them go to church. I always ask them if they want to go. They usually say, “Yes.”

    A couple of weeks ago I asked my 10 year old what he thinks about the kinds of things they say, he shrugged and said, “I can’t believe people believe those things.” I asked him why he liked to go and he said, “Because I like seeing Papa Randy.”

  9. One of the things that always bothers me about these discussions is how so many people, mostly theists but sometimes even on the secular side, seem to view the topic without any consideration for the fact that children are sentient beings with minds of their own. In the article the parents mostly talk about what will be good or bad for their kids but seldom do they mention that the kids have a mind of their own and have the right to make their own decisions, not reflexively adopt the beliefs of their parents.

  10. This is always an interesting discussion to me. I was born in the early 80s into what I would call a multi-religious non-believing household. My dad was raised Catholic, but it never latched onto him and he stopped going to church when he was 17 (his mother was church-going Catholic but his father was a non-church going Methodist). My mother’s side of the family is Jewish, but my grandparents are effectively atheists and never celebrated the holidays; my mother picked up up from friends. So my brother and I grew up doing Passover and Chanukah in the house, getting presents from my parents, grandparents, and aunt and uncle (my cousins by contrast had a bat and bar mitzvah respectively). We also went to my other aunt’s house for Christmas and did all the usual present exchanges with that side of the family. (My brother went to midnight mass a couple of times but I never did. My cousins on that side had confirmations.) My mother also made a nice dinner for Easter. So basically I was raised to know about religion (well, only two), but not to actually BE religious. I was never expected to believe any of the supernaturalism even if I knew the stories.

    My dad recently told me that he wishes he’d done some things differently and raised us with even less religion. In the last several years he has become much more comfortable with his own atheism, largely influenced by my growing interest in the topic. I told him that I had no problem with how I was raised, and thought they did just fine. Nothing was ever forced on me, I was always allowed to ask questions, and to go to church with friends or the synagogue with my mom if I wanted. The supernaturalism was never reinforced at home, so it never stuck. So I have the cultural literacy, somewhat, without the burden of belief.

    If I ever have kids, I probably won’t raise them the same way. I’ll probably cut out even more. I have serious moral issues with both Easter and Passover, so I’ll definitely cut those out. But I’ll also have a lot more in terms of examples for raising kids outside of a religious context, and there’ll be much less of a cultural stigma by then. There are five churches in the tiny town I grew up in, so the perception/partial reality that I was Jewish probably saved me some grief in school when I was a kid.

  11. No uneasiness for me…..my daughters 5 and 3 know nothing the notion of god and long may it continue, and I have already armed the 5 year old with a copy of the Magic of Reality….she loves the illustrations so far…..I hope that when they are inevitably confronted by faith in action, they’ll see it as the strange, but dangerous quirk of humanity that it is…….

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