Monday, February 23, 2009

Faithless Children

I’m twenty-five: the age when people start giving you serious advice about children. The fact that I’m getting married in a few months definitely adds to it. One thing I hear quite a bit is that I should raise my children with religion. I was raised Catholic and my fiancé was raised Orthodox Jewish, but we are both non-religious.

If my kid grows up to want to believe something, be it Christianity, Judaism, or even Buddhism, I’m not the kind of person who would stop them. Islam… maybe. But in all honesty, I have no doubts regarding how to approach teaching a child about life without religion or gods. Some people find the idea appalling, but I find the notion of foisting a complex system of faith upon a trusting child is borderline child abuse. So I suppose if you disapprove of my decision, the feeling is mutual.

There are several advantages to a rationalist approach to morality. Statistically, atheists commit less crime and have lower divorce rates. Also, I won’t dread the sex talk; it’s not very hard to say: “Use protection, it’s a lot cheaper than abortion and some STD’s don’t have cures.” Statistically, atheists have a low teen-age pregnancy rate, so I can rest assured they’re fooling around as much as the religious kids, but with the knowledge of how to be responsible.

My kid won’t know about Santa Claus or the Easter bunny, and the tooth fairy probably won’t be included in their childhood either. Will their life be deprived because of this? Is a magician less amazing if you know the lady isn’t really being sawn in half? I’ll never know, because I was raised on superstitions and empty rituals. I’ll let you know when I ask my grown child decades from now.

So how will I address religion? “Some adults like to play dress-up and pretend like kids do. They create lots of rules for their made up games and even have an imaginary friend, like you did when you were young. When adults do this, it’s called religion.” How do I explain where he or she comes from? “Your mother and I made you because we wanted someone to share our love with.” What happens when the child must confront the concept of death (likely a pet)? “Every living thing dies and ceases to exist, just as every living thing ceased to exist before it was born.”

More than any questions I fear answering, I wonder how it is religious people explain religion to their children. The best one could do is a rudimentary, over-simplified model of a loving god who will send you to burning hell if you’re bad, but lets you live with him in heaven if you’re good. This whole concept seems very barbaric and draconian to me. Also, when do I explain who the whore of Babylon is, before or after I explain how to stone someone to death?


  1. I don't think it is a problem to raise your children without formal religion, even though you don't have a role model. Many people in 70ies did it. So what's so difficult about it.

    You just will have to answer "I don't know" quite often.

    And if they invent a g-d, let them do it.

    You should also be honest about your religious past. It could be quite fascinating for the children.

  2. I don't believe a role model is an important thing in life. There is wisdom to be gleaned from fools, and one can learn from their ignorance how not to act. This is why many children turn out nothing like their parents; many of us learn from the mistakes of our parents and go on to make our own mistakes, which will be abandoned by our own offspring.

    The only thing a role model can do is not live up to expectations.
    There is no sense in disappointing oneself with the belief that anyone has got it right. Even if someone was right at one time, it is highly unlikely that they still are; time has a way of changing the truth into falsehood, through distortion and circumstance.


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