I’m raising my kids atheist in a God-obsessed culture: How I learned to parent godless children

By Julie Drizin

“Goddammit!” “God bless you!” “For God’s sake!” “God forbid!”

My children have heard me take “the Lord’s name in vain.” These expressions slip out as easily as expletives and are part of my vernacular, even though I don’t believe in God.

God is not exactly welcome in our home.

I’m not a hater (at least not anymore). I’m an atheist. My daughters know I’m the tooth fairy; they have no use for Santa Claus; and would consider the Bible a collection of boring, inaccessible stories (at worst) or fables on par with Greek and Roman mythology (at best).

32 COMMENTS

      • “Being atheist is the last taboo”? Sounds exciting. In the UK it is cool to be an atheist and not at all cool to be a Christian. Much of what is described in the article by the atheist mum could be said by Christians over here.

        I’m relatively new on this site. It strikes me that a significant number of the atheists here think they are particularly rational people and everyone else isn’t. I don’t see a lot of actual argument against the existence of God, but rather a bit of a love-in. Am I missing anything? Have I missed anything on the site?

        • We don’t need more red meat to throw to the lions.
          I went to a Dawkins lecture and the people were quite different. Everybody was well behaved, polite and I felt like these were the people who make sense in the world.
          One “stranger” asked me about the God Delusion. I lent him my copy to look through while I went to look for my friend. I have no problems trusting this person.
          If you get a chance, go. Please.

          • I’ve read the God Delusion 3 times now. I also lend it to some Christian friends so they can see some of the silly stuff we Christians get up to and also so they can see how some of the arguments against the fundamentals of the Christian faith, as used by RD, are very poor.

        • You may be sufficiently new not to have seen the “discussion” section of the previous incarnation of the website. It contained much of the kind of “on topic” atheism to which you allude.

          It s absence makes the site sadder and poorer.

        • Hi Alien,

          Much of what is described in the article by the atheist mum could be said by Christians over here.

          I see no evidence for that. I would be happy to see some?

          It strikes me that a significant number of the atheists here think they are particularly rational people and everyone else isn’t.

          How fascinating. Please give half a dozen examples (you did say “significant number”, so that won’t be hard, surely).

          I don’t see a lot of actual argument against the existence of God …

          Why would you be surprised that a group of people who have heard about a Peculiar Something, but see no evidence for such a thing, would waste their time discussing other people’s peculiar delusions?

          Do you spend large amounts of your time in church discussing Hanuman?

          … but rather a bit of a love-in.

          I do not complain about the score of people who live near me that have wasted limited resources by purchasing a valuable plot of land and putting large building on it so that they can have a “love-in” there once a week. Why are you complaining about people who only take up cyber-space?

          Am I missing anything?

          I really couldn’t say, I don’t know you that well. By your own admission you belong to an organised religious sect – that automatically makes your life exclusionary in some respects.

          Have I missed anything on the site?

          What are you looking for?

          I thought the idea of being a Christian meant you’d found the answers to the most important questions. Perhaps you’re having second thoughts?

          Peace.

        • Hello Alien,

          It strikes me that a significant number of the atheists here think they are particularly rational people and everyone else isn’t. I don’t see a lot of actual argument against the existence of God, but rather a bit of a love-in.

          It may come as a surprise to you, but you’ll find that rational people don’t generally devote the majority of their time arguing against the existence of something that they consider to lack sufficient evidence for proof of existence. We don’t spend the majority of our time arguing against the existence of unicorns, we don’t spend the majority of our time arguing against the existence of leprechauns and we don’t spend the majority of our time arguing against the existence of gods for the same reason.

          You’ll also find that a lot of people here have seen or been subjected to the burden of proof and argument from ignorance fallacies so many times that there is no real place for the same old logical fallacies to be repeated ad nauseam on this site – maybe youtube comments are a more suitable forum if that’s what you’re looking for.

          As for the OP, in my experience at least I found raising godless children to be quite straightforward – if you encourage them to think critically, allow them to ask questions openly, and don’t threaten them with punishment for questioning/not believing certain dogmas, then the godlessness seems to develop quite naturally.

        • Alien Aug 13, 2014 at 3:32 pm

          I’m relatively new on this site. It strikes me that a significant number of the atheists here think they are particularly rational people and everyone else isn’t.
          Have I missed anything on the site?

          Richard Dawkins foundation for REASON AND SCIENCE!

          Those actively promoting reason and science may well be quite good at these subjects! Those who come to dispute them usually are not.

          I don’t see a lot of actual argument against the existence of God, but rather a bit of a love-in. Am I missing anything?

          Possibly for the same reason you do not see arguments against the existence of numerous Hindu gods on Christian sites! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hindu_deities

          • @ Alien

            To a believer, their pet god is the centre of their universe – as viewed from inside their brains.
            To many atheists, that god is just another one on a list of thousands of mythological fictional characters.

  1. I much prefer the expression ‘god-free’ rather than ‘godless’, which is one used by some elements of extreme religion to describe the rational amongst us. However, much as I agree with the writer about parenting, it is pretty much impossible to eliminate the word ‘god’ and its derivatives from the English (or any other European) language. This is because these languages have been exposed to the pernicious influence of religion (or irrational superstition and fear of the unknown if you prefer) for close on 2,000 years. A situation promoted vigorously (and brooking no dissent) by those wishing to control others and protect their own elevated positions in society. Unfortunately this is still the case.
    Anyway. I also brought up my children as an atheist parent, but rather than trying to avoid any mention of god, I taught them, from a very early age, to think for themselves. I did this only when they were past the stage of childhood fantasy (I still referred to the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus until they were about six years old). From that point on, when they asked the usual children’s questions, I told them the scientific view and didn’t hide behind stupid supernatural explanations. But I did NOT guide them away from religion, just taught them to ask the right questions and seek the correct answers from more than one source. Guess what? Both my children are now ‘Level 6 Agnostics’ (as Richard Dawkins classifies himself). None of us is sufficiently arrogant to assume that we are 100% correct (unlike our religious friends), but we’re as close as any thinking person can be. If you don’t indoctrinate your children in supernatural ideas, then they’ll find out for themselves how they want to view the Universe and everything in it. In my experience, children brought up that way will very rarely find their way into religion and definitely not one founded on Judeo-Christian-Islamic folk lore. However, there is a condition that has to apply before rationale can surface and that is that the individual has to be sufficiently intelligent to ask the questions and not be satisfied by fob-off answers. Unfortunately (again) there is clear evidence that the dumbing down of the young is in full flight, because the very last thing that politicians and religious leaders want is a thinking population asking the right questions and insisting on the right answers.

      • Science says there became a point in mans history where a “new ” part of the brain appeared that they think is the introduction of religion. I think it was a point where our minds developed more into questioning our surroundings instead of being animal like and reacting to instinct.Wild animals do not run and hide when it storms,they bed down and wait it out. At some point our minds developed a conscious mind that made us question what we saw in nature and without answers turned that into fear and something out there bigger and more powerful then us was the answer. I am probably all wrong ,but that is my guess

    • My three children also were brought up without religion but with knowledge of it not least as they were schooled in a multi cultural environment where there were fundamental christians, muslims and hindus. In many ways it was good for them to be involved in discussion and argument for and against religion with their peers. The one thing that stood out was the fear factor that all of the other religions had, fear of death and fear of what lies beyond. My kids stood out because they lacked this fear and could not understand it and the reasons for it.. Three more critical thinkers in the grand scheme of things.

  2. I always wonder what these type of atheist ‘fundamentalists’ or as it seems to me at least aggressive atheists do at Christmas. I mean, even if you don’t believe in the birth of Jesus etc. it still makes a lovely holiday and you can’t tell me that Santa Claus has anything directly to do with religion. If anything, it would make a wonderful “you know how Santa doesn’t exist, nor does God” analogy. Santa and Christmas should be fun for your kids, don’t let them be the only ones at school to say “Santa didn’t come to my house, my mom says he doesn’t exist” at age 4. There’s plenty of other ways to make sure your children don’t turn out a religious zealot.

    • First off Christmas was not Christian. In fact at one point it was outlawed in the New England area. The only thing about Christmas that is Christian is Christ. Christians stool most of what Christmas is from the Pagans and other non Christian people. Santa is actually a pretty new thing in Christmas and the Christmas tree even newer. Most Christian Americans have pretty much lost Jesus in Christmas. A look in our stores and homes will easily reveal the absents of Jesus. When I was a a child most homes had a bible and some sort of cross or other indications of Christ. Even in peoples homes I know that are very much believers these icons are not present. Some of my favorite songs are religious songs. People listen to all kinds of music that gives them emotion without having to believe the words of the song. Celebrating life and being together does not need a deity to make it worth while. Christians do not own Christmas ,only a small share that most forget about why they have it. I have been in many religious peoples homes at Christmas time and most do mot even have a a sign of infant Jesus . My question ,how do Christians celebrate Christmas without Jesus?

    • Tom Aug 14, 2014 at 11:16 am

      I always wonder what these type of atheist ‘fundamentalists’ or as it seems to me at least aggressive atheists do at Christmas.

      I would guess they enjoy a mid-winter festival, as did the Vikings at the Yule beer-festival, or the Romans at Saturnalia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia

      I mean, even if you don’t believe in the birth of Jesus etc.

      Even for those who do, believe Jesus existed as a person, the stories do not suggest a December birth, but history suggests the adoption and take-over of the midwinter festivals by the Xtian churches.

      it still makes a lovely holiday and you can’t tell me that Santa Claus has anything directly to do with religion.

      Well originally he was the Christian Saint Nicholas, but not in his modern reincarnation in commercialised form.

  3. “It’s been a challenging year. Sophie and Jessie are the only two of
    their vast brood of cousins who aren’t having bar or bat mitzvahs.
    We’ve been to so many of them, I wondered if Sophie felt like she was
    missing something, a special event that focused just on her transition
    from childhood to young womanhood.”

    May I suggest a birthday cake with candles shaped like tampons?

    ” I offered to throw her an alternative quinceañera. ‘We’re not Latino,
    Mom,’ she reminded me.”

    So what? Does this mean that birthday parties at their household also cannot include piñatas and mariachi music?

    “We’re not ‘nones,’ that growing population of Americans who are
    disconnected from religious affiliation.”

    Perhaps they should be.

  4. I wouldn’t say I was raised atheist specifically, but I was raised without religion in a very saturated, rural area of the Bible Belt. My parents only discussed it if I broached the subject first, which I did because all the other kids at school would call me names and say I was a heathen because I didn’t believe in God, even a good chunk of my dad’s side of the family said these things. That’s when my mom would tell me what she really thought of it all, and it made sense to me, so I’m an atheist. (I have explored many religions over the years, studied them in great detail, and it all ends up reinforcing my stance in atheism in the end.) I’m so glad for it too. The “Christians” around here are horrible, and they treated and still treat me and my mom horribly when they get a chance. My dad is from this area and has a big family here, which were known for their religiosity, so they assume he’s just as religious. He’d rather just stay out of it. He was forced to attend church when he’d rather be working in the field, and it turned him away from religion. Plus his parents didn’t even come to his wedding to my mom because she was his second wife and he her second husband. (They didn’t believe in divorce.)

    I still had the Easter bunny, Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy, but it didn’t take me long to figure out who was behind it on my own. I think I had it all figured out before I even turned seven. Maybe that’s attributed to my agnostic upbringing. I definitely think the way I was raised enabled me to start thinking skeptically and critically long before most of my peers.

    I don’t have children, but I think as long as you rear your children to always ask “Why?” and be skeptical, they’ll end up better for it, in my opinion. (Bolded since this is my main point, and many people won’t read the whole post because TL;DR, haha.)

    • Absolutely spot on. I was raised semi-religiously (we didn’t attend church, but my mum read me bible stories every night. She didn’t believe, but she thought it was important that I did. I was however raised in an intellectually challenging atmosphere, where we were trying to outsmart one another. All of us came to the same conclusion, on our own (their God is too small for this Universe). I think it’s much healthier (and moral) to allow children to arrive at their own conclusions about the nature of creation and existence. The only thing a parent ought to do is to encourage a child to challenge, and to a challenge a child if he says something stupid (The Earth is objectively not 6000 years old, and a child needs to know this:p)

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