Language for Atheist Children who need “clerical bullying” comebacks and guidance in public school

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Discussion by: Kam Kong Mom

I posted the question below on Facebook – on the Out Campaign page – as the 15 comebacks post made me think – we need something more geared to our children.  Something non confrontational but good points to be made and understood on a elementary and fundamental level.  Something that may make religious children question their beliefs or what they are being forced to believe.  Or at the very least think before speaking and prostelitizing.   I'm an adult and can hold my own – but we live in a part of the country that will continue to be difficult for young children (elementary/middle school) who are being raised without religion.   One of your staff members suggested I send my post to your discussion page.   Below is my post from yesterday.  Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.  Not only with literature for children – but also any key phrases or points that we may find helpful when dealing with a public school that is not separating church and state.  

Post from FB:  We – or perhaps only I – need comebacks for our children ages (almost) 8 and (almost) 10.  They are being "clerically bullied" in elementary school. We live in Texas – need I say more? (we had to move here 2.5 years ago). Their peers at school as well as almost all the teachers and principal are all religious.   Do you have any printed material and language for children? We tell them not to engage in the conversations or reply when asked – "it's not something I want to discuss" but that seems to bring more bullying. One little "charming" girl told our son in kinder "2 years ago "you're going to burn in hell for not believing in god". I wrote a note. The teacher reminded the class to leave their belief system at home – but now 2 years later in 4th grade for our daughter – the children are brutal.  I want them to have comebacks that make the other children think "hey – maybe my parents are wrong".  We are meeting with the principal this week – and it should be interesting – as speaking with anyone who is already brainwashed might be.  How timely this post is. Hope you can help.

 

35 COMMENTS

  1. My children had problems with some of their classmates along these lines. One particularly problem child in this regard happened to be the daughter of an old acquaintance, who I knew for sure was not in the least bit religious. It seemed that her daughter was trying on some religion that a boyfriend practiced and as soon as the relationship ended in an attempted date-rape the proselytizing ended. The questions I told my daughters to ask were “Who told you this was true?” then ask “Who told them that’s true?” and finally “Why is it true for that person?”. Asking a proselytizer to “follow the money” as it were is a great way to shut them up.

    • In reply to #1 by DocWebster:

      The questions I told my daughters to ask were “Who told you this was true?” then ask “Who told them that’s true?” and finally “Why is it >true for that person?”. Asking a proselytizer to “follow the money” as it were is a great way to shut them up..

      Very good. That is a very neat way of distinguishing science from superstition. If you “follow the money” on a science topic you will get to the discoverer, the experiments, etc, etc but on religious questions you will more than likely hit a dead end. It is a very basic way of getting people to question their faith as opposed to going straight to arguments about religion.

  2. You’re free to believe what you want and I am free to believe what I want.

    Religion should be practiced by consenting adults in private.

    Not everyone believes as you do.

    Out of all of the religions of the world, why would your small version be correct.

    (This is actually hard to do, when trying to frame it in words that children can use, so they won’t get their lights punched out by the righteous.)

  3. Over the last few years I have noticed that the most vocal kids in school on social issues, religion, and politics seem to be the ones with conservative parents. Of course I only know one side and that’s my son’s. But he comes home with tales of kids ranting against Obama, abortion–any kid who leans pro choice likes to kill babies–and tesifying for the lord. It’s very clear that these kids are parroting their parent’s views, which is all they have been exposed to.

    I have told my son to be wary of entering a debate with someone about religion. Just today a guy at work mentioned what a shame it was that some people think religion is obsolete. I politely told him that I was one of those people. The conversation awkwardly ended. Perhaps the polite direct approach is best. Don’t worry about making people think that maybe they are wrong. I’m more concerned that they not assume everyone thinks as they do. Perhaps something to the effect of “Well our family does not believe in anything without sufficient evidence. Isn’t that what we learn in school?”

    • In reply to #4 by plaidandpolkadots:

      Over the last few years I have noticed that the most vocal kids in school on social issues, religion, and politics seem to be the ones with conservative parents. Of course I only know one side and that’s my son’s. But he comes home with tales of kids ranting against Obama, abortion–any kid who lea…

      Hitchens in his brilliant book, God is Not Great, mounts a cogent and persuasive argument that to teach children about religion before they are old enough, and educated enough to think for themselves, is child abuse. Plaid, what your son reports is the product of child abuse.

      The Jesuits famously state; “Give me the child till 8, and I will give you the man.” They knew what they were doing. They knew that if they could shape the mind of the child till they were 8 years old, it would be nigh on impossible for the child to escape the Catholic church later in life. The Jesuits didn’t know how they did it, but now we knew it worked brilliantly.

      Brain plasticity now explains the biology of what they did. If you repeat a process or procedure often enough, the brain will lay down new and expanded neural networks to support that function. Repeat to kids often enough the dogma of religion, the brain will add support networks to make that repetitive process reinforced. Brain washing. Child abuse. Plaid’s sons class mates are the victims of child abuse.

      • In reply to #6 by David R Allen:

        Hitchens in his brilliant book, God is Not Great, mounts a cogent and persuasive argument that to teach children about religion before they are old enough, and educated enough to think for themselves, is child abuse.

        I think that teaching kids about religion is ok. In our house we have discussions about what the Catholics believe, what the Jews believe, etc. To me it’s comparative to a social studies lesson. My son knows my views on God and religion now. But when he was younger I remained nuetral about it. I found it interesting that as he took it all in, he seemed to realize himself that there were too many contradictions and mixed messages to keep up with.

        I hope that Kam Kong Mom’s kid’s can learn to navigate these issues. It doesn’t end when they leave school, that’s for sure. My son seems to have adapted the attitude that these kids are a bit kookoo, and doesn’t feel the need to engage in any sort of persuasive debate.

        • In reply to #7 by plaidandpolkadots:

          In reply to #6 by David R Allen:

          Hitchens in his brilliant book, God is Not Great, mounts a cogent and persuasive argument that to teach children about religion before they are old enough, and educated enough to think for themselves, is child abuse.

          I think that teaching kids about religion is ok….

          The child abuse I was talking about occurs in the fundamentalists of any brand of religion. I too discuss religion as a social subject with my children. The abuse occurs when there is the repetitive constant bombardment of the child religious scripture and dogma.

          My children ascribe to the Life of Brian school of thought. “You don’t need to follow anyone. You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves.”

  4. I know it’s ill-advised to encourage your child to be a smart aleck. But seriously what the heck? Have them ask their classmates to explain how all the animals of the earth could fit on a boat..Or if they know of any talking snakes? Or if their mom or dad would believe a pregnant girl who claimed to be a virgin and the dad was god. People today would be drug tested or put in a rubber room for claiming to have witnessed or experienced 90% of the shit in the bible. There are one hundred ways to vary this answer. Have fun with it.

  5. It’s hard to come up with language that is both true and sincere, but impactful to the 8-10 year old crowd. At that age, children can be cruel and brutal, with tribe mentalities and shunning techniques that would put any despot to shame. They also have limited real understanding of science and the world around them, and usually limit their salvos to 1 or 2 syllable responses, often one-liners, that are easy to repeat.

    That being said, I’ve counseled a few kids, just in my experience, on how to respond to this kind of relentless proselytizing. They pretty much involve taking the attacker’s own question, using their own logic, and turning it against them. It has to be short and sweet, and something that could ideally open a window to end the confrontation. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to avoid a confrontation with such bullies, so the best defense is to stand ground. So for the case of “You’re going burn in hell for not believing in god,” a child could respond with, “Why would I believe in a god who’d burn his children for not knowing something? That doesn’t sound like a very loving god to me.” They usually come back with “That’s why he sent his son Jesus to save us!” to which one could respond “So the son, who is the father, is sent to save us from the father, who is the son, who will burn us for all eternity because he loves us? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.” And as they blink, and have the child wish them the best of luck and walk away.

    Now, at some point, the child proselytizers will probably try again, but this time with bible verses. In this case, it’d be nice for your child to know a few verses from their own favorite works of fiction, whether they be lines from Harry Potter or even Greek Mythology, to movie quotes from Star Wars. And not any of the profound lines either, but something nonsensical, like “And Harry looked upon the engraving and read aloud: ‘Neither can live while the other survives.’” or “Obi Wan felt the the cries of millions, and then suddenly silence. In his bones he knew something dreadful had happened.” And when they ask what that has to do with anything, the child can answer “About as much as your fictional quotes do.” Cue the knee jerk response “It’s not fiction!!” To which the reply can be, “Talking snakes, wizard duels, zombies, fantastical beasts, mighty heroes, eternal curses and the neverending battle between good an evil…sounds like fiction to me.” By then, the only thing they have left is the burning in hell thing, at which point you rinse an repeat…

    I hope you find some of these useful. The kids who I helped sure did.

    • I only came across this today and I’m stunned by both the cleverness and the simplicity of your method! Thank you very much. I teach Biology at a German grammar school in -what I feel -the only part of Germany outside Bavaria that has to cope with heavily religious people. Some of my pupils come from Baptist or Menonite households. Friends told me about a girl threatening others with hell. This girl is 5. I will pass on your ideas to others. Thank you again! In reply to #9 by dan.weeks.16:

      It’s hard to come up with language that is both true and sincere, but impactful to the 8-10 year old crowd. At that age, children can be cruel and brutal, with tribe mentalities and shunning techniques that would put any despot to shame. They also have limited real understanding of science and the…

  6. Language for Atheist Children who need “clerical bullying” comebacks and guidance in public school

    To paraphrase the great RD, “There are no atheist children, only children of atheists. Children are too young to know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to know where they stand on economics or politics”.

    I am an atheist, there is no God I just need the proof so that I can stop labelling my position as a belief. However my daughter attends a catholic school where she received religious education. We have informed her of our position and told her that she should feel free to ask any questions and make up her own mind. That is, I am not forcing my daughter to be atheist just because I am. However, if she starts to show traits of the intolerance common to religion (such as the disgusting religious bullying your children are receiving or if she came home to declare homosexuals an abomination or women as the property of man) then I would put her straight and tell her to leave such attitudes at the door.

    Likewise I think your children, at 8 and 10, are too young to be told they are atheist. Let them decide in their own time. Encourage them to ask questions about such subjects as how old the world is and how evolution works and they will return to the atheist fold.

    As for the school, and the parents of these children, well I’d question just how devout they must be if they tolerate or indeed endorse the bullying of children.

    • In reply to #10 by naskew:
      >

      To paraphrase the great RD, “There are no atheist children, only children of atheists.

      This is backwards. We are all born atheists. There are atheist children of religious parents who are then labelled and indoctrinated.

      Children are too young to know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to know where they stand on economics or politics”.

      Atheism is a lack of belief in gods.
      The best option for atheist parents is to use something like “The Magic of Reality” to present reasoned thinking, science, and a range of conflicting religious beliefs which they can compare.

      • In reply to #29 by Alan4discussion:

        Let me firstly set out my stall, I am a category 6 atheist, that is my mind is made up, there is no god but I am open to evidence from the other side and I accept that my position can only be labelled a theory (or belief) as we have no proof.

        This is backwards. We are all born atheists.

        If you ask a child who has not yet been indoctrinated by any theist or atheist, “Where do we come from?” or “Where do we go after we die?” I sincerely doubt that you will get an answer along the lines that either atheist or theist would find familiar. You are far more likely to hear “I dunno!”.

        All children are blank slates and rely on their parents or community to help guide them. If they live in a theist household they will be told there is a god, if they live in an atheist household they will likely be told there is no god. Neither position is tenable because neither theist nor atheist have any proof they are right. The very best we atheists can do is to give the children all the facts and hope they come to the same conclusion as us. But to tell a child that there is no god is no more acceptable than telling the child that there is a god and that was my point.

        Using the magic of reality is a great way to get a child to question their surroundings. I have already explained to our daughter, using a light bulb, various sized balls and a darkened room, just how the sun, earth, and moon work. Indeed adding the ancient theories and comparing them to modern fact is a great idea.

  7. I kind of agree with the comments from plaidandpolkadots that you should not encourage your kids to be smart alecks. However I guess at 8 and 10 they both either know or suspect that the tooth fairy does not exist, and that Santa does not exist. If you really must give them ammunition then how about telling your kids to ask the other kids “Do you believe in the tooth fairy or Santa?”. If they say no then the next statement is that these are both lies that parents tell to Children and that when they are a little older and wiser they will know that God is just the same.

  8. I’m suprised that people here seem to assume that one child bullying another is likely to fold their tents and walk away if the victim is able to give an answer that proves them wrong.

    A bullying nature doesn’t seem very likely to respond to a response that highlights their own stupidity in my opinion, has a negligible chance of making the bully think and reason, and is only more likely to make the bullying worse. I’m not sure that scoring intillectual points is worth making a childs daily existence even more insufferable.

    Strange as it may seem, I’d advise them to ‘turn the other cheek’, and have plenty of conversations with the victim exploring WHY people bully, how it is more often an expression of their own insecurity and is a failing.

    Secure, confident children (or adults) don’t bully.

    I was bullied at school, as a family we moved to an area where everyone had a totally different accent and were several years behind clothes fashion, making me look and sound different from my new herd. Somehow me pointing out how backwards they were in terms of fashion never seemed to resolve any bullying, me being a smart alec just saw me having more fights. (I’ve always detested bullies and would never bow down before them)

    A child (or adult) with a need to bully is going to bully. ‘Proving’ the bully is bulyiing from a position of idiocy will only inflame that need. A victim is best served understanding what is happening beneath the veneer, how the relgious aspect is just a handy label, a neat disguise. It is not the central issue.

    There will undoutabdly be children at the school who accept their parents beliefs and go along with them but don’t use that as an excuse to beat up or intimidate other kids and who will be happy to establish a friendship. It’s equally important that a child doesn’t grow thinking ‘christians = bullies’ as that just teaches it is ok to prejudge and label people. Free-thinkers are better than that.

  9. The best arguments against god are the oldest and simplest eg why are there so many religions in the world – they can’t all be right; or if god created man, who created god? They were the first two arguments that began to get me thinking. For 8 and 10 year olds, these will do to start.

    I always think logic is good at an early age – they could try a simple conundrum: god is all powerful, god can do anything – can god make a weight that he cannot lift?

    But how they deliver these lines – defensively, chirpily, aggressively etc – rather depends on their current status in school and how they are able to handle themselves in the moment. They will just have to try various strategies and see which one works the best. More than likely they will have to try all strategies as different strokes will work for different folks.

  10. The shortest response for a pre-teen I can think of regarding a school bully saying “Your going to hell” would be,
    “The rules are you can only go there if you believe you will” “didn’t your parents tell you that part? you better ask them when you get home”.

  11. Believe this or not. In the spring of 1977 I had just gotten out of the Air Force, and before returning to Columbus OH for grad school, we were staying for a few days at my wife’s parents in Richmod VA. Two Seventh Day Adventists came to the door, which was answered by my four-year-old son, Ethan. After they explained themselves, he said “Go away, that’s baloney!”

  12. Have them say “nope”. Nothing more is needed. Unless you want them to become ‘street epistemologists’, of course. But that’s a little too much to ask of a child (or of any sensible adult). They certainly don’t need to learn how to argue rigorously with every religious fool that they will encounter during their lives. They could just (smugly) keep their opinion to themselves and walk away.

    By the way, children are quite brutal to each other and say many worse things than ‘your going to burn in hell’. Its quite mild, really.

  13. They need to learn to hold their own against ignorant teachers too. One of my daughters was told by her Year 10 (14-15 year olds) RE teacher that she believed that the soul entered the body at conception. My daughter said that, as an identical twin, did this make her half a person? Cue one teacher wildly backtracking!

  14. I think sometimes children are not given the credit they deserve. I did not attempt to raise my daughter atheist, but did expose her to the wonders of science, senses, and openness.

    She, at 10 years old, had a neighbor friend, 12 years old, raised fundamentalist Christian who tried proselytizing with Bible verses and threats of Hell.

    My daughter, to my surprise and delight, asked me, “Daddy, is god man made?”

  15. Religion is like an asshole, those that have them don’t realize just how much they stink.

    Did you inherit your religion or did you choose it?

    Which have you not read, the Bible or the Constitution?

    Excuse me, could you define “bigot”?

  16. One little “charming” girl told our son in kinder “2 years ago “you’re going to burn in hell for not believing in god”.

    Poor little girl. The abused become abusers, though. It would be kindest to say “No. Its a made up place to make you do as you are told. You mustn’t be scared. My mommy says she thinks because I understand things I’ll do good because I’ll want to. Most Christians think God just wants you to be good.”

    • In reply to #21 by phil rimmer:

      One little “charming” girl told our son in kinder “2 years ago “you’re going to burn in hell for not believing in god”.

      Poor little girl. The abused become abusers, though. It would be kindest to say “No. Its a made up place to make you do as you are told. You mustn’t be scared. My mommy says she t…

      Perhaps a simple short course in “comparative religions” at the grade school level would help immensely. Just emphasize the fact that 1) there are many different religions in the world, 2) all of them were invented by people, 3) all teach different things, but 4) all claim to be true. Maybe none of them are.

        • Dear Nitya,
          They jacked me. I would have loved to know what you thought because you’re so smart. Wow, I’m so bummed

          In reply to #23 by Nitya:

          In reply to #22 by Ospreywing:
          maybe none of them are (true)

          I’d love to see this last condition incorporated in a comparative religion course but I can’t see it happening (more’s the pity).

  17. Fascinating subject!! To me parenting involves planting seeds. One effective way to pass a philosophy to children is too keep it fun. A somber teaching is often counterproductive. Think of crazy anti-gun parents who have their kid, when the grow up, join the military because they want to shoot guns, or how over the top religious upbringing can produce an atheist. Some Christians withhold telling there kids about Santa because they don’t want to lie to their kids.

    The passover Seder can be very formal with a lot of prayer and talking. Very boring to children. The host or the uncle or grandpa will hide gifts for the children in the house and throughout the evening, children are looking for gifts which helps to keep the Seder a great memory.

    If atheist want to plant the right seeds, then keep it fun. As far as bulling goes, simply teach the child to stand up and not be afraid. I remember getting into a fight because someone kept making fun of my last name.

    There’s a lot of sympathy here for the out numbered Atheist kid amongst the challenging belivers. If the truth is on your side, what have you to fear? Does anybody have sympathy for the believer who’s outnumbered in college?

    [Slightly edited by moderator to remove one off-topic section, and another which is already being argued over on the Bill Nye/Ken Ham thread. Please take another look at our Conditions of Use, which can be found at the foot of each page and which set out the rules and ethos of this site.]

  18. How about some of these, just a few random lines:

    1) How about you produce your god then we’ll talk.

    2) You guys are given one book to go by but can’t agree amongst yourselves, how about you look to your own house before criticism how mine is decorated.

    3) Jesus promised to return in the 1st Century AD please explain why I should listen to a false prophet.

    4) When your prayers empty a hospital ward on the way to school and you’ve spent a month dead and come back to tell the tale then we’ll talk. Until then you are just another fantacist who thinks their personal feelings are the arbiter of reality.

    5) Given you and the Muslims, Mormons, Jews etc are all using divine revelation to determine what is the absolute truth how about we catch up when you’ve all decided whats what. After all revelation is onyl revelation to those who receive it directly to everyone else it is hearsay so unless you have a decent miracle up your sleeve I’ll assume your all nuts.

  19. I would guess the first move would be to make sure your children are happy with their atheism, if they are then maybe they will feel strong enough to answer the hell threat with a simple, “Thank-you for your concern.” Leave it at that.

    Here in England, the religious types are not quite so aggressive just some have an aire of superiority about them which is difficult to dislodge, it’s a different problem.

    Good luck!

  20. Questions like, “Why do you think that,” “What makes you think that’s true,” and “Why would anyone believe that,” Tend to lead back to to ancient books, revelation by prophets and personal experience. Even then the same questions are relevant. When you’re ready to wrap it up you can go into the particulars of why these “sources” are epistemologically unsound or just say, “That’s not a good reason to believe anything.”

  21. Questions like, “Why do you think that,” “What makes you think that’s true,” and “Why would anyone believe that,” Tend to lead back to to ancient books, revelation by prophets and personal experience. Even then the same questions are relevant. When you’re ready to wrap it up you can go into the particulars of why these “sources” are epistemologically unsound or just say, “That’s not a good reason to believe anything.”

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