“Having a baby made me an atheist”

There’s an excellent article at Offbeat Mama on how having a child spurred one mom into reevaluating her religious views. It’s a great read and a refreshing alternative to the typical “Witnessing the miracle of birth convinced me we had to be intelligently designed!” emotional nonsense I frequently hear. Here’s just a snippet:

“Everything changes when you have a baby,” our relatives and acquaintances said, but they missed the point: everything had changed already. It was the baby, that fuzzy blur on the sonogram screen, pushing us further and further from our old world view.

We were both raised and baptized Seventh-Day Adventists. We attended church, prayed and read the Bible. We had both had doubts about religion in the past, but we had put them aside, believing that what our faith gave us was more important than the answers it couldn’t provide. When our daughter was born, though, those elusive answers began to seem more important.

I read the gospels while breastfeeding, feeling safer in the New Testament with Jesus’s reassuring compassion than in the Old Testament with its endless wars and wrath of God, but I was not reassured. Had the Bible always been so inconsistent, so violent, so sexist? Had it always needed so much adjustment to fit with my own sense of right and wrong? I tried to stretch my faith, twisting it like the rubber band I had looped through my buttonhole to give me a few more weeks in my pre-maternity jeans, but it didn’t fit. I tried to ignore my questions and doubts as I had in the past, but there was a new question I could not ignore: What am I going to teach my daughter?

For those of you who are parents, did you have similar experiences? Or general religious issues that arose when having children?


  1. StoopidTallKid says

    Seems like it’s not so much having the baby as just reading the bible. Like she points out, even the New Testament is rather prejudiced and vicious in parts.

  2. says

    I became an agnostic (the “I don’t know” kind) just before my kids were born, then fully atheist after my second was born. At the time my wife was pregnant with our second, she was “rediscovering” her faith by going to one of those independent, non-denominational Christian churches. She found solace in its teachings, and friendship with the other people in the church.The one thing that convinced her it was all bull was one service where the minister was speaking about women and how they were subservient to men (in a nice way, I’m sure) and how children should be beaten physically in order to be disciplined properly. Once she heard that, she abandoned the church, and with it, her last remaining thread by which her tentative faith was hanging.I’ve never asked her since the divorce, but I’m pretty sure she’s an atheist. We had a discussion yesterday about how we were going to raise our children religiously, and we both agreed to teach them about religion, but not say that one was more correct than the other, that it was akin to Santa Claus and how some kids believed it and others didn’t.

  3. LS says

    “twisting it like the rubber band I had looped through my buttonhole to give me a few more weeks in my pre-maternity jeans”Buh?This kind of thing makes me so happy. It’s always difficult to see people embrace irrationality when confronted with new experiences or emotions that they’re not quite sure how to handle. This little girl is very lucky to have parents who care about her enough to think.

  4. says

    Pregnancy made me reconsider why I believed (or thought I believed) and realize I actually didn’t. I became adamant that I didn’t want my child baptized. I certainly didn’t want the faith that I was raised in passed on to my child. I can honestly say my atheism is a by-product of pregnancy. And I struggled with infertility for 10 years, so the only miracle workers in my mind are the doctors that finally got that final embryo transfer correct. :)

  5. MsLeading says

    What a refreshing reaction to parenthood. Many of the religious parents I know are, like most parents, basically terrified: both for their children’s safety, and of somehow raising them “wrong.” So, as many do in reaction to fear and uncertainty, they cling even harder to their irrational beliefs because it provides a community and framework of safety. Religion takes away some of the responsibility of making decisions for or about your children, and therefore also takes away the fear that you’re screwing up those decisions. So kudos to this atheist mommy for being brave enough to realize that beliefs that make sense are more important than beliefs that just make you feel better.

  6. says

    What I have noticed as well as experienced (I have 2 ragamuffins) is that having children is a call to pull your sh*t together and start acting like a real adult. It’s a traumatic experience. That being said, the author did something that many Christians don’t – she read the Bible and actually thought about it. That’s why she’s a nonbeliever. The Bible (if read) is the best anti-Sky Fairy book around.http://laughinginpurgatory.blo

  7. StoopidTallKid says

    Rubber band around the button, through the hole, then back around the button. Basically an easy way to add an inch to the waistline.

  8. says

    I was an atheist before having children, but I have to say I’m a bit more inclined to be assertive of atheist’s rights now. When my Catholic in-laws would ask me about religion I usually just changed the topic. Now I’m trying to find the right way to say: “could you drop the talk about angels and heaven around my three year old? I’m not really quite ready to explain to him why so many people enjoy being lied to an led around like sheep and spreading those lies to him yet.” It’s made me see how much society in America takes being religious for granted, and now I have to explain to a 3 year old what a god is. My answer: “people didn’t used to understand how the world worked, so they made up people with special powers called gods to explain the things they didn’t understand. Now that we know how lightning works and why the sky is blue, we don’t need gods anymore.”Now, does any body know of any good books on how to raise atheist kids in a religious world? In the long run I’ve got no doubts about atheism’s ability to win the war of ideas, but right now I’ve got to explain what people mean when they talk to my little kids in a simple way that they can understand.

  9. Pablo says

    Gus – good for youWhile I was an atheist before, one thing that becoming a parent made me realize was, for a supposedly loving parental figure, God is really an asshole, and not the type of parent I would ever aspire to be. I can’t imagine anything my child could do that would make him want to torture him for eternity.

  10. says

    They are both awesome! Parenting Beyond Belief came out just after I had my first baby, and it was a lifesaver for me. I was already an atheist, but I think I described myself as “agnostic” and was trying to decide how to approach the spiritual side of raising my child. I had a lot of outside pressure insisting that I really needed to allow my kids to have God if they wanted it. PBB gave me the strength and a sense of acceptance I needed to have confidence in raising my kids (now three of them, ages 1, 3, and 5) as freethinkers. I’ve since purchased 2 additional copies of PBB and gave them as gifts to friends.

  11. Pablo says

    I have a couple of comments that somehow got lost in the ether, so let me try attempt #3. Apologize if it duplicates or triplicates.In addition to realizing that God is a lousy father, having a child also reminded me how we humans are really NOT special in the universe. My wife used to sit in the barn and watch calves being born, and no one fawned over the “miracle of birth” for that. And as Fraser Crane said on Cheers, “A spider has kids a million times over, you don’t see her going around making an ass of her husband in front of his friends.” I realized that humans having kids is just part of the natural cycle of life, and all living things do it. Why is a human having a baby any more of a miracle than the fly that lays maggots in a pile of rotting meat?

  12. AnthroGirl says

    I was raised by a free-thinking father who taught me to question all religion and all religious people. (I was not very popular in elementary school since I constantly badgered my fellow classmates about their religious beliefs.) I think he might have gone a bit too far and was a bit too zealous, though. It can be dangerous to teach a kid that religion is totally and completely bad when many people do a lot of good in the world in the name of religion. And it can be dangerous to teach a kid that religious people are worthless – I spent many years thinking this, rather than questioning things I learned and thinking for myself. So in a sense I think my dad managed to supplant a religious dogma with an anti-religion dogma.Now I’m an agnostic anthropologist with a 14-month-old daughter, but I still don’t know what I’m going to tell her. The suggestion of “Raising Freethinkers” is excellent, and I’m gonna buy and read it! My husband is atheist and was raised without religion (he’s not even baptized!); my grandmother flipped out when I said that, no, we are not baptizing our child in the Russian Orthodox faith like I was. (It’s a pretty ritual-tastic religion, though, which always appealed to me as an anthropologist.)In a few weeks, my daughter will start a one-day-a-week nursery school program at a Presbyterian church. Where I live (small city in the South), the only programs that will take young kids are affiliated with churches. But I checked their mission: to help the poor and educate kids. I can’t argue with that. Maybe my daughter will learn songs about Jesus. But if I raise her right, she’ll have the same view of Jesus I did after going to church with my friends… I used to try to catch Jesus watching me in the shower, since he was everywhere and saw everything. Once I figured out that Santa wasn’t really watching me all the time, the idea that there was another magical man out there also fell by the wayside. :)

  13. says

    Yes! When I was growing up, everyone told me I’d understand how a loving God could throw people in hell when I had kids, because it’s just his way of discipline. Except I found the opposite to be true: I saw a huge difference between loving discipline and eternal torture.

  14. says

    This is the balance I want to find. I don’t intend to teach my children to be religious, I want to teach them to question and challenge religion, and I want to arm them with the tools to do so, but I don’t want to teach them to be obnoxious to other people. Ultimately they will make their own decisions, and I sincerely doubt that religion will win the day in their final decision. To that end, I certainly don’t want to thump them with atheism the way some kids are thumped with religion until they rebel. Having been raised Christian and come to atheism on my own, I don’t have a model for non-religious parenting. At this early stage I’d be content simply to not talk about it, but you have to talk about it as they’re exposed to it.And don’t get me started on Santa. We do Santa Claus, and I’m ok with that as a fun thing. I don’t push it though, I don’t tell my kid to be good or Santa won’t come. I like to think of it is a game more than reality, but it’s kind of hard to explain that to a 3 year old. I figure the Santa business will work itself out like it does for every other kid. But I’m a bit conflicted about it.

  15. says

    My husband and I are both atheists, but he was raised in a traditional Catholic household (and I mean, an exceptionally nutty variety of Catholic). We had a Catholic wedding, because my husband worried that I wouldn’t be accepted by his family, and our future children would be considered illegitimate, if we didn’t get married in the Church. We stopped going to mass after the wedding, and when our son was born, we decided not to have him baptized. This was a bigger step for my husband than for me. He really wants to set the right example for our kid, and pretending to be religious for the sake of his family is too dishonest.

  16. says

    I actually struggled with my LACK of belief after having my first child. I was 30 years old, and just beginning to accept my own identity as an atheist. When asked, I still referred to myself as an agnostic because I was still afraid of the bigger “A” word. While I felt it was okay to believe as I did, I was concerned that it might not be okay to raise a child without religion. I recalled my own childhood, feeling confused, teased, and left out (we were the only family in town that did not attend church…I was raised in a nondenominational Christian family, but my dad was agnostic and my sister and I were always encouraged to ask questions). Because we didn’t go to church, we were called “devil-worshippers” and atheists (which was a seriously dirty word). Even though we now live in a much larger and more progressive community than the one in which I grew up, I still worried about my kids fitting in and feeling a sense of belonging. I mentioned this above, in replying to another post, but reading Dale McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief really was a turnaround point for me. It didn’t change my belief system, but it made me realize that what I believe is OKAY, and that it’s okay (or even desirable) to raise kids outside of a religious framework. I felt less alone in all of this (I should mention that my husband is also an atheist, but he doesn’t really think or talk about it much).I think the biggest thing having kids did for me (we now are the proud parents of three freethinkers, ages 1, 3, and 5) was make me more vocal and more involved in the atheist community. It became important for me to really define what it is that I believe so that I can answer tough questions as my kids get older and start asking them. It also gave me a “mission” of sorts to help make atheism more acceptable in society, so that my children grow up without the kind of discrimination I felt as a kid. Additionally, I am hoping to become part of a larger community of like-minded people so that as my children grow, they realize we aren’t the only family like this. I didn’t have that as a kid, and it was hard.In the last couple years I have “come out” to friends and family and even started blogging about my atheism. I think that, in large part, becoming a parent was the impetus for all of that.

  17. says

    I feel the same way about our infertility. When we finally got pregnant after 5 years of tests, doctors, etc. I found it really annoying when people talked to me about the “miracle” and how God blessed us with a baby “when the time was right,” etc. I felt it took away from giving credit where credit was due. God didn’t make me pregnant. My husband’s and my perseverance and my surgeon’s skills are what made me pregnant! People have the nerve to suggest that I am somehow ungrateful. On the contrary, I am eternally grateful…to Dr. John Hesla and the Portland Center for Reproductive Medicine!

  18. says

    I was an atheist long before having my daughter, but I guess you could say that becoming a parent revealed the solidity of my atheism. If I had been less confident in my lack of belief, I might have felt the need to have her baptized or maybe join the UU church or something just to be on the safe side, but I felt absolutely nothing of the sort.

  19. AnthroGirl says

    My husband’s mother, brother, and sister all became members of the UU church in adulthood, after being atheist for years. It’s a rather curious development, and I still don’t know their reasoning – maybe it’s to be on the safe side as you say? Fortunately my husband is also confident in his atheism and (I hope) will not go the same route.

  20. Star says

    I was an atheist before having kids, and after having two kids, that hasn’t changed at all. I’m much more vocal about my atheism now, though, which upsets my Catholic in-laws. But I don’t bring it up with them unless they push their religion on me…or my children. If they try to push it on my kids, I fly off the handle.

  21. says

    I became an athiest about the time that my daughter was born but it would be impossible to pin the cause on her birth since I had so many different things going on at the time. I became a Discordian about a year before she was born which a very rapid deconversion from Christianity while the path to atheism was much slower and winding.

  22. Katy says

    Aside from the maggot thing, that’s totally how I felt when I was pregnant. If anything, it convinced me of the fact that humans are mammals, just like all the others. There was nothing magical about being pregnant or giving birth. It was clearly not some sort of ordained-by-god experience. It was biology, pure and simple. And don’t even get me started on how lactating will make you feel just like a cow… MOO!

  23. mkb says

    Yes, becoming a parent made me an atheist — about 20 years later when my son finally convinced me that the god of the gaps mades no sense either.

  24. Zenlite says

    I, personally, learned about religion at the same time my parents introduced me to Aesop’s Fables and Greek mythology. I think it helped me keep things perspective, when it came time to tell a peer that I didn’t “believe in God”, at age 7.

  25. April says

    I also attribute my rejection of woo and superstition to my daughter. After years of raising her in a fog of (sing it with me now!) “We All Come From the Goddess” mysticism, I finally realised this was just seting up a credulous, lazy-brained, religious mindset which would do none of us any favours in life. So I dumped the magic and joined the reality-based community. Oh the relief!! That doublethink was killing me.

  26. Rollingforest says

    I’m an ex-Catholic atheist, but I had a subconscious negative emotional reaction when Katie Holmes said that she wasn’t going to baptize her children, even though I supported it intellectually. This just shows how powerful the cultural meme of Catholicism can be.

  27. hobomama says

    I’ve had the same thing, even though I haven’t figured out ultimately what I want to do in regards to faith, my culture (family & friends all believers), and raising our children. What really got me was trying to reconcile my parenting ideals — which include the notion that children are not inherently evil and out to get you, and that they really do have good intentions because that’s just how they’re born — with the doctrines about sin and human depravity. So. Yeah. I don’t know where I stand now, but it’s been very uncomfortable and led to a lot of conflict within myself and with my friends and family who can’t see how I could have any doubt.

  28. Benk says

    Thanks, just ordered the book. For me, it was a combination of the Tsunami and the birth of my daughter that did it in. I had long claimed a kind of weak diesm, but watching people stand there amidst that waste land, and claim it was their magical sky ferry that saved them and let all those innocent drown, just really turned my stomach. Then the idea of teaching my daughter to be willfully stupid – no thanks.

  29. PyroJones says

    I feel a deep resentment for people who make insensitive, irrelevant and unkind comments to people they don’t know under the protection of internet anonymity.

  30. Kumquatwriter says

    Okay, this program keeps kicking back my comment, so I’m trying as a reply–sorry if I’m spamming.I’ve never been a believer–my (single) mother is and always has been an Atheist, but neither of us felt comfortable with the term until recently. Somewhere between two Christian (if rather apathetic) Grandmothers, VBS with the neighbors, and a parochial middle school that was the lesser of two evils in the tiny town I grew up in, I got a good solid undercoating of Jesus. I drifted in and out of churches as an adolescent and young adult, and didn’t settle in to my comfortable nonbelief until I was just past thirty.And then I met and married a lifelong unashamed Atheist, which helped me become more comfortable with the big scary A word.I got pregnant with my first son last year, but we lost him when I was 24 weeks along. That was the point when I really “became” an Atheist. My whole family is in healthcare and/or sciences, so I simply could not believe that my son had died before birth because of some asshole in the sky trying to “test” or “teach” me. No, he had a genetic defect, one that I (unknowingly) had a 50/50 chance of passing on. Further, as I read and participated in various support groups, I became increasingly horrified by Christian reactions to baby death (particularly if there was any choice involved). I was deeply grateful that I did not believe, because in the agony of grief I already walked with, I could not imagine the added pain of believing my baby was burning in hell because of my own choices. Now we’re within 11 weeks of the birth of our second, and (thus far) perfectly healthy son. And now not only do I feel comfortable using the big A word, I’m proud of it. Hell, that’ s why I’m here–I’ve been reading all sorts of resources on Atheist and freethinking parenting, and am 100% resolved to raise our without the guilt, shame and brainwashing of religion. We want him to think and learn and question. And, for all that Christian BS about Jesus drawing a couple closer together–feh! My husband and I are much more happily and closely bound by our shared Atheism.

  31. says

    My mother was never entirely non-religious, at least not to my knowledge, but she kind of lost faith when she lost both parents to cancer within a few weeks of each other when she was 18. I don’t blame her… I would have too. Unfortunately, she decided to start talking to god again after the miracle of my birth. I mean, I’m glad to have improved her outlook on life, if that’s what I did, but I cringe when she tells that story. I have no desire to be a part of trapping her in irrationality.

  32. cb315 says

    Thanks for the book recommendation – I just bought them both.As for me, my (single) mother was ‘spiritual’ but very non-religious for my whole childhood. I was taught that I should learn about religions and then make up my own mind about which one, if any, I thought was correct. So for the majority of my childhood, religion wasn’t something that I ever gave much thought to. I do remember being surprised in the 6th grade when literally everyone in my class went to confirmation one day and the only people left were myself, the Jewish girl and the Jehovah’s Witness boy – I was surprised that so many other kids were buying into the religion thing.After my son was born I definitely started thinking more about my own beliefs, and that’s when I crossed the line from agnostic to atheist. I had always intended on raising my child(ren) the same way I was – here’s what’s out there, you figure out what you think is right. Unfortunately, that got derailed when I got divorced and my ex married a woman whose two children go to Catholic school. My son now comes home from his weekends with dad talking about how his step brother and step sister have “three dads” (their biological father, their step father, and god.) I’m amazingly annoyed that, instead of starting off with an open mind about the different gods that people think exist, I now have to contend with him already having those seeds planted in his head at such an early age. (His father married this woman when my son was 3.) So thanks again for the book recommendations – they’ll be very useful!

  33. Rollingforest says

    Luckily the UU church is as tame as they get, religion-wise. It is good to know at least that they haven’t strayed too far.

  34. mkb says

    Kumquatwriter, I’m so sorry for your loss of your first son. You, your partner and your new son will be in my thoughts. I hope all goes well and you can let Jen know to tell us about the birth of your healthy son in 11 weeks or so.

  35. says

    Wait, wait, wait. I thought this whole family values thing. Having babies, raising kids,etc…was the foundation of whole Christian experience. You mean it’s a threat to Christianity? Oh no!

  36. libraboy says

    Or maybe it just raised the red flag that they’ll be raised in nutter-boy’s religion?

  37. Jon says

    Speaking as a Unitarian, I’m taking that as a compliment.(although, as unitarianism covers a pretty broad range of beliefs, I may have nothing in common with the UU church mentioned other than the name.)@Anthrogirl, have you asked them why?

  38. carovee says

    I was an atheist before I got pregnant but having a child forced me to tell my family I’d left the faith (hence no baptism). What being pregnant really did was divorce me forever from women-centric woo. I was a bit enamored of the whole “our bodies just know what to do” idea. But reading the long list of things that can go wrong during pregnancy made me realize there is a lot of waste in human reproduction just like other animals. Also my body ended up not knowing what to do. Thank you modern medicine!

  39. chicagodyke says

    i’m not a mom, but i am an aunt. i have one rule with my six nieces and nephews: i don’t lie to them. ever. not about “santa claus” and not about sky fairies and dead gods on two sticks of wood. lucky for me, both of my sisters are atheists, so it’s not a problem. sis #1 is married to a christian, like, the real kind who prays in secret and gives to the poor without telling anyone, and it’s been interesting watching them negotiate how they are going to instruct the kids. i’m betting the atheists will win out, but i guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

  40. hippocampus says

    I was not raised in a religion, and I never earnestly believed in any god, though for most of my life I would occasionally make little prayers on the order of “Please, God, let me pass my driving test.” A day or two after my first son was due to be born, he died in the womb. All the cards I received saying God “needs his angel back in Heaven” made me almost physically ill. Any God that could intentionally cause so much pain must be a monster, and I just kicked the whole notion of a deity to the curb for once and for all. DH and I are raising our son and daughter to be free thinkers.

  41. says

    Totally understood on the cards making you feel like you were physically ill. I had a preemie and almost died from my body going toxic and there were times I wanted to slap people who told me about people they knew who had preemies who were FAR less premature than my son.

  42. says

    I think it can go either way. You’re bringing a child into the world and you feel responsible for raising them the best you can. I wouldn’t fault people for losing their faith if they’re on the edge of belief/disbelief — at least they’re being honest.HAVING my son brought out a whole lot of emotions. Both my son and I almost died because I developed HELLP Syndrome and the whole birth thing was hellishly traumatic. I did REALLY deal with anger toward God at why it all happened while I also saw what I perceived to be the power of prayer in that my son did better than expected.

  43. Amy says

    Hi, everybody. I’m Amy, the “Skeptical Mama” in question. Thanks for linking to my article and for this great discussion. I love hearing everyone else’s experiences, struggles with and strategies for talking about religion. I truly feel like I have no model as a non-religious parent, so I’m learning it as I go. I think we need to talk about our experiences more than we do. Atheism won’t be such a scary dirty word if we make ourselves visible as moral, caring, rational folks.

  44. Peter B says

    As with a couple of other commenters here, I lost a son while he was still in the womb. What made things a little trickier was that he was a twin, and his brother survived. As he died only the day before they were born, this means that his brother’s birthday also effectively marks the anniversary of his death. What made things even more tricky was that his surviving brother is profoundly deaf. So my wife and I have nothing to thank God for.I occasionally visit my son’s grave in the children’s section of the local cemetary. Not far from his grave there’s another one inscribed with a little poem about God deciding that this little boy was too beautiful for Earth, and so kept him with Him. I can only hope the poem provides some comfort for his parents, because I find it appalling that God could be so callous as to wait until a child was about to be born before deciding to take him back.Incidentally, my wife and I are both contented atheists, after being brought up Anglican (me) and Catholic (my wife), and we’d both arrived at our atheism long before we met. Then again, we’re Australian, and as with most Aussies, we find American religiosity vaguely repellant.

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