1. 1415dr says

    This was so great. I can’t thank you enough. There was a lot of very useful information here. Russel, you should consider writing a book on raising kids. Considering all the money that people waste on James Dobson books I think there’s a market for raising kids to be critical thinkers.

  2. beammeupscotty says

    I feel very lucky to be a single atheist parent living in California. Though not entirely immune to the influences of Xtian dogma, my son and I are able to live largely free of any repercussions to being an atheist. On the other hand, I have always warned my son, from a very early age, against speaking openly about his lack of religious faith.

    One of high points in terms of atheism and parenting was when at my son was about eight, and we were having a conversation about something largely unrelated, he asked me,”Dad, what’s the name of that book the Xtians read all the time”?

    Another high point was when my son came home from school one day in 4th grade at around Xmas time. He told me his music teacher had made them sing religious Xmas songs and afterword talked for a time about what the children knew about Jesus, and did they know that he was the son of god? I went down the his school first thing the next day explained what had happened and insisted that my son no longer be required to attend the music class. From that time on, through the rest of 4th grade and all of 5th grade my son was allowed to spend that period, which occurred once a week, in the library. Considering how much my son hated the music class anyway, he was very grateful to be able to get out of it. There was no real argument from the Principle and although the teacher was not fired, he got in a LOT of trouble and months later, apologized to me, likely at the Principle’s insistence, and tried to get me to relent and let my son attend music class again. I made it clear that was not going to happen.

    There has never been belief in ANY supernatural/superstitious entities in my home, no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy, nothing at all. My son seems not to have suffered from it at all and now at the age of 14 is developing into a really incredible person, though he has really been such all along. He appears, like his father, to have no “spiritual” inclinations whatsoever.

  3. golondrinka says

    I used similar tactics as PZ in relation to Santa Claus: I always insisted (and continue to insist 🙂 ) that I believe in him. My boys, now 18 and 19, believed in Santa, and even tried to persuade their friends that Santa is real: “Mom would not be able to buy such expensive presents!” Little later, they were laughing at me that I still believe in Santa, and then they were laughing with me, that I say that I believe in Santa. At about 13-15 years old they decided to ask me about my religion, and when I said that I am an atheist, both got happy, declaring “Me too, me too! I believe in Science!”

    I immigrated to Canada from Ukraine when boys were 4 and 5 years old, and in school they were always in mixed company of muslims, hindus, christians and non-believers. No pressure from any side.

  4. says

    This is so great. I’m an atheist in a mixed relationship with a sort-of-lapsed very conservative Christian, so I feel this.

    Parenting is why I became a skeptic. There is so much wonder in the world, and all of a sudden it was up to me to introduce another human to all of it. Why would I ever want to make it up to be something other than what it was? Something less than what it was? That, and I just couldn’t conceive of things like hell, sin, or acceptable child sacrifice about a nanosecond after having a child of my own. I’m ashamed it took that for me to make the realization, really.

    We did have Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, but always in the nudge-nudge, wink-wink way. As soon as my son was old enough to explicit ask if it was real, we were honest. And he still loved playing along, so there was no missing out. I think he was under the impression that everyone was just playing along, which, incidentally, might be how he sees religion sometimes. Luckily, my son hasn’t really experienced much ostracizing so far (he’s 10), which I attribute to his insatiable appetite for all things that interest him, both solitary and group activities — nature, photography, band, chorus, etc. He has noticed a few times that he doesn’t really speak the same “language” as some of his peers — praying before meals, responses to death, things like that. I’m worried it will become more of an issue because 1) I’m the only open skeptic in the family and 2) our community is heavily conservative Christian/Mormon. I would certainly be crushed if religion ruined music for him, like beammeupscotty’s example.

    Daniel’s point about “apatheism” and a haphazard education is a really good one. I worry about that a lot, because I remember my own stint with religion being very meaningful simply because it was the social circle that most readily accepted me (it wasn’t just me; it was any follower, but kids don’t see that), and I didn’t have any intellectual tools to evaluate what they taught, or indeed to even know I should evaluate it. Love bombing, as PZ puts it. It worked. I was ripe for the picking.But I know now how to respond to these specific things now because I went through them and now I see the flaws. It’s really sneaky and insidious otherwise.

    It seems like the old trope in horror movies: “Monsters don’t exist; I know that. But wait. That’s what people always say, right before the monster gets ’em!” We know better, but it still kind of pulls at us as we turn out the lights and go to bed after the movie (more so as kids). Or at youth camps: “Well, sure, people tell you God doesn’t exist, and they seem to have great arguments. Just like Satan planned. Do you really want to risk going to hell, and dragging everyone along?” To my shame, I found this convincing as a kid. Without putting him through indoctrination, will my son ever know the pull of it and its downfalls in the same way? Probably not. And to what extent does that leave him vulnerable to future religious poaching? I don’t know. I do like the idea of it being a gift, though. Or, as Russell said, a vaccination. (But that could get me off on another tangent altogether.)

    I can’t imagine reading the Bible to my son for the most part, honestly. It’s either horrendous or really, really boring. I’d certainly allow him to read it, though. He has a book of Bible stories.

    And I am so freaking jealous that I don’t get to go on the bat cruise. But I’ll shut up now. Thank you all for this.