An Atheist Upbringing

Can you be raised an atheist? Or is it a conclusion one must come to on their own?
Obviously, I want to give my daughter a secular childhood but religion seems to be creeping in any way. My daughter is picking up so much from the world around her – including religion. My husband and I have said nothing yet somehow she still knows about god, the devil, angels, and heaven.
I have brought this topic up before and some atheists on here and on Facebook have given me some good ideas on how to approach this topic with my daughter. Still, I have yet to really intervene – except for a couple of questions to probe what she really knows.
My husband and I need to start talking because obviously others already are.
Someone in an atheist Facebook group suggested the children’s book, The Belief Book, by David McAfee. Has anyone read it? What did you think?
I have a lot of hope when I think back to my own upbringing. I was raised in a conservative rural area and my parents weren’t atheists, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t questioning religion as a child. I think at times, children can be natural skeptics with their innate curiosity. At least, I know I was. I hope my daughter shares that trait.

I don’t want to feel like I am indoctrinating my child to believe the same way I do. That makes me no better than devout believers.
Honestly, it’s probably best for my daughter to learn as much as possible about the world around her and decide for herself. Ultimately, it’s her life – not mine.
How would I feel if my daughter decided to follow a religion? How did my parents feel when I became an atheist? Is it the same?
Do you have any more thoughts on the topic? Book suggestions for me and/or my daughter? I’d love to hear what you think.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    I have a picture book on the shelf for when/if my boys ask about religion. The older one has just started at a church primary school, so I’m anticipating trips to church and similar. So far, no feedback from him about it.

    The picture book tells all about Christianity, what people who follow it believe, where its stories are set and so on.
    And then does the same for Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, Shinto and a bunch of others.

    The message I hope he takes from this is: here are all the many and varied stories people tell themselves about how the world began and why it’s here and what you’re supposed to do about it. Self-evidently they can’t all be right, indeed, it’s logically impossible for more than one of them to be right. I’m going to leave it to them to make the leap that if a maximum of one of them can be right, the alternative – that none of them are – is at least as plausible if not more so. And he cannot fail to notice that I don’t talk about, much less TO, any imaginary friends.

    Can you be raised an atheist? We’ll see. I’m doing my best.

  2. StonedRanger says

    As a parent its your job to see what goes into your childrens head (as much as possible nowadays). That includes religion. I let my kids go to bible study one time with their little friends when my son was about 8 and my daughter 4. They came home and told me that I was going to hell because at that time I smoke tobacco. That was the last time either of them went to any indoctrination through religion classes on my watch. We had a talk about what people sometimes believe and how most of the christers dont look at their bible/religion with any kind of rigorous thought and just kind of go along with what the man/woman on the pulpit tells them. When they were in their early teens and I figured they had enough sense to make some better choices I told them they could go to church if they wanted. Neither of them chose god. They both knew a family with kids their age who were jehovahs witnesses. After seeing the nonsense those poor kids were forced to endure neither of my kids chose religion. Forty years later and nothing has changed. Neither is a believer and neither one of them is worse off for not believing.

  3. says

    I was raised as an atheist, which was helped by growing up behind the Iron Curtain. However there were religious people in my family, and I still knew what churches are (there are two in our town), I learned about the existence of the bible and all that stuff. Only I learned about God and Angels and Devils the same way I learned about dragons and leprechauns – mostly from fairy tales and legends. Thus I have always viewed them the same as all the other fictional/legendary creatures. When I was about ten years old, I was surprised and amazed when I learned that one of my aunts really believes in God and after the fall of the Iron Curtain one high school teacher tried to convert some of us to catholicism but none of that has had any effect on me whatsoever except perhaps that I have learned to argue against religious arguments way before I knew who is Richard Dawkins.

    I am not a parent and anyway, I still live in a country where religious belief is the exception, not the rule, thus I cannot give you any advice. I know that my sister-in-law got very angry when one of her sons got some religious instruction from somewhere and she asked me to explain to him how things are. Which I did. To my knowledge he is non-religious now as an adult.

    So giving your children plenty of fairy-tales and myths to read, with all kinds of gods, might be of use.

  4. John Morales says

    No kids here, not living in a wildly religious country like the USA.
    (The obligatory disclaimer!)

    Still, my first thought is: if you make a big deal out of religion (either way), then it might well be seen as an important thing from a child’s perspective.

    If I were to try to instill an attitude, it would be that practicing religionists are basically LARPing. Part of a subculture, but no more than a hobby.

    I do rather like what sonofrojblake wrote. Particularly the not-pushing bit, where the book is there if the children care to look.

  5. Katydid says

    I agree with having books on myths around. We had a set of several books with myths from (name of area/timeframe), with interesting, child-appropriate pictures. I think when kids grow up reading bedtime stories that the ancient Greeks believed *these* stories and the Maya believed *those* stories and the Polynesians believed *yet other stories*, it’s easier for them to come to the conclusion that some people in their area believe *yet more stories*.

  6. maggie says

    My mother has always been very involved with her church and tried to get me involved. I went along and really tried hard but it didn’t take root. I finally concluded at age 15 that it was all BS and 55 years later I am still an atheist.

  7. kevinbolling says

    The Secular Student Alliance helps atheist, humanist, and nonreligious students in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the country.

    Allowing your daughter to explore religious and nonreligious communities will help empower her critical thinking and positive self-image. Statistically, the odds are in your favor as youth raised in nonreligious households tend to be nonreligious themselves.

  8. boulanger says

    At dinner every night, we encouraged our sons (then in elementary school) to discuss and argue with us on whatever topic arose. Being atheists, we taught them to question religious beliefs and they became atheists and are raising their children in much the same way. Living in a “bible belt” they had close friends during childhood who were being raised in Catholic, Anglican and fundamentalist Christian faiths but nothing rubbed off on them.

  9. says

    IMO, the best way to raise a kid “atheist” is to teach them about many different mythologies from many different religions. Let them analyze the myths the same way you’d analyze fiction.

    This is what my mom did for me. Ironically, she also taught me that I was supposed to be part of Judaism, and that I was not supposed to analyze the Jewish mythology the same way we’d analyze the Greek or Egyptian myths. Knowing about other mythologies helped me realize there was no way I could believe one particular religion’s myths were true and the others were all false. Many of the stories in Jewish Mythology echo stories in other mythologies (my favorite example is the comparison between the sacrifice of Iphigenia and the Binding of Isaac). How could I give one religions’ myths special treatment?

  10. brightmoon says

    I remember questioning my faith because I liked Greek, Roman and Norse mythology and didn’t see much difference between those stories and some of the bible stories. And I’d read Gulliver’s Travels as an 11 year old and understood it was about religion when he described a war between people who were killing and torturing each other over which end of a soft boiled egg to open, the big end or the little end . I still don’t have much use for unprovable dogmas even though I consider myself to be a Christian. I think the only reason I still remain a Christian even though I’m trained as a scientist and I tend to be skeptical in general, is because I’ve just seen things that I couldn’t explain that should have been woo or fairytales but weren’t. But still, I’ve got more in common with a secular humanist than with my fundie co-religionists

  11. brightmoon says

    I let my youngest question various religious leaders including a Rabbi, a Catholic priest and Christian fundie minister . He spent weeks asking them all a lot of questions . I actually applaud those 3 men as they were patient with my unaccompanied son who was 9 at the time and I didn’t belong to any of their faiths . He came back telling me that he thought they were all just guessing . And he’s an adult now but he identifies as a Buddhist

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