1. says

    First comment: Your title is wrong. Make it “atheist parenting” rather than “godless parenting.” To a young child, parents are gods.

    Second comment: I never ran into any problems. I don’t remember if we had to fill out forms about religion, but if there were we would have checked “no religion.” We have not seen any repercussions from that.

    We were living in Chicago, where there are lots of things to do. I can imagine that it might be harder in smaller communities.

    We did not actively encourage atheism or religion at home. But I think our kids quickly picked up our lack of respect for religion.

    (I’m still listening. I just realized that if I hit the “submit comment” button, that will reload the youtube video. So I opened a second tab to the thread, and have copied/pasted to there, where I can submit without interrupting the main tab).

  2. Kylie Sturgess says

    Hi, it was a topic suggested behind the scenes at FTB to get the next vodcast happening (not my choice of title; actually, I don’t know who came up with it originally… might have been me after all?) and I just cut-and-pasted it.

    Perhaps I should have personally tinkered with it. Hope you enjoy it overall, I blogged all the links/books mentioned.

    BTW – my first thought after uploading it was:

    “Is it just me… but anyone else see the words ‘What Do You Do To Bring Up God-Free Children’ and think ‘I dunno, follow Ipecac syrup with 1-2 glasses of water?'”

    Kylie S.

  3. Pyra says

    I am having trouble accessing Youtube today. But I do feel the need to share that when my oldest son was in elementary school, we were living in a very conservative Christian area. The mailing PO box of AiG is the same town, for crying out loud… My son was very good friends with a boy in class, and they even had sleepovers. Until the day came when religion finally came up, and the other family found out we don’t go to church and both us parents are atheists. His friend just shut off all communication and was never invited over again. Luckily, my son wasn’t too upset with this, and moved on to form other friendships. I’m still annoyed by this experience. Even when I was growing up, with an atheist mother who forbid me to attend church with friends, I didn’t ever lose friends over it. I grew up north of the river, though, and also at a time that wasn’t quite as… well, it seemed that religious divides weren’t nearly as striking as they are now, anyway. Maybe I was just lucky that it didn’t become an issue until my teen years. I have seen the mom in the store in which I work, and she pretends like I don’t even exist. I still don’t know what to tell my kids about people like this, since I don’t know how I feel, except to want to flip her off.

  4. Louis says

    To a young child, parents are gods.

    My son must think covering me with various fluids/solids is veneration then. Interesting! ;-)

    That aside, and back to the topic of godless/atheist parenting, the current dilemma my wife and I are facing is the one of schools. So many schools in the UK are Church of England schools. Many of these blur the daily act of worship/religious education line to mean daily act of worship and you bloody well will worship/religious indoctrination.

    Some of these schools are very good because they underhandedly use claimed religious selection criteria to admit only nice middle class students with nice middle class parents willing to toe the party line to get their kid into a good school. And so the cycle goes round again.

    Mind you, I’m probably worried about nothing since I had a religious schooling and thought it obviously laughable drek from relatively early on. They tried to teach us Roman and Greek mythology in Classics lessons right after Scripture lessons. One we were meant to take seriously, the other was obvious fiction.

    I maintain that Latin is useful still to this day. ;-)


  5. says

    ‘I dunno, follow Ipecac syrup with 1-2 glasses of water?’

    Good one.

    I must be getting something from the discussion, because I am still listening.

    The group are currently talking about Santa. I agree with Ophelia about that. Our kids knew all along that it was make believe. They could still enjoy it just as much, but without a let down when they later learn that Santa isn’t real

  6. says


    So many schools in the UK are Church of England schools.

    We lived in a neighborhood in Chicago where the schools were notoriously bad. So we sent our kids to a local catholic school for a couple of years. They seem to have survived that.

    We later moved them to a good private school (“The Latin School of Chicago”) which was expensive, but gave them a great education. They actually did learn some Christianity, because of its role in western cultural history. My son thought the name “Diet of Worms” was hilarious.

    My conclusion is that exposure to religion, such as in school, is not a serious concern. In a good home, with parents who encourage open inquiry, the kids will be able to sort the dogma from the reality.

  7. oolon says

    I’m in the same boat as Louis as we live in the UK and all the schools are C of E. My daughter is 3 and goes to the play group attached to the school – I was rather surprised when she waved at the local vicar shouting ‘Hello Terry!’. Apparently he pops around the playgroup to introduce himself from time to time, so its started already! Then again our village church is very high C of E and he wanders around in cassocks/gown whatever its called so it may be to stop the kids asking why he is wearing what looks like a big black dress.

    My C of E school did some very stupid things like stopping a friend of mine drawing fantasy scenes as it was ‘the devil’ in him. Fortunately I survived with my scepticism in tact – even strengthened by the experience. My parents total lack of opinion and interest in religion probably led to my own scepticism about it though. I do worry that if I am very anti-religion then she is probably more likely to rebel against me than the school indoctrinate her…

  8. Louis says


    I do worry that if I am very anti-religion then she is probably more likely to rebel against me than the school indoctrinate her…

    Yup. I’m already going down the route PZ advocated in the video. If the kid expresses any interest (at 3, unlikely, my son seems unduly fascinated by his genitals at the moment, I feel this may be a lifetime obsession. I come from a long line of shaggers!) he’ll get not discouragement from me.

    That’s a long way from putting him in an indoctrination camp though. If his school has sly after school creationist programmes…oh yes folks, even happy-clappy CofE schools occasionally do this…then I will find a different school. To the extent of selling the house, downsizing awesomely to a shoe box in t’middle of motorway, and sending him private if I have to. (Neil Rickert, I have long fancied this plan! I was educated at both state and private schools in the UK, I preferred the people at state schools and the schools at private schools!)

    A mild CofE bumbly school where the vicar has dust on him and the sermons are merely excuses for the pupils to bet on length and topic a la P G Wodehouse novels and my own childhood, well, that I have less problem with. But creeping fundamentalists will be dealt with using a broom and bad language.


  9. carlie, who has nice reading comprehension says

    I downloaded it last night from Kylie’s! listening to it soon.
    It’s particularly timely for me because I’m in my annual unease due to spouse and son being on their yearly church camp trip (and that he’s said next year younger son will go too). I’ve mentioned before that I’m in a mixed marriage, and these are the times it’s reared up a bit. Plus, younger son is on a Veggie Tales kick because he used to adore them when he was little and watched a bunch at grandma’s house a couple of weeks ago*. I don’t mind them being exposed to church, because I think it’s better that they see it for what it is and don’t think of it as some exotic forbidden thing, I just want them not to like it.

    *While he was watching it today, I said “you know that you can be nice and thankful without bringing God into it” and he said “I know, we’re SCIENCE people. I like it as Saturday morning fun, not as Sunday morning teaching.” Good boy. :)

  10. carlie, who has nice reading comprehension says

    I’m totally with PZ on the Santa Claus thing, although instead of making the tale bigger and less believable, I quizzed them on the logistics of it. “Well, do you think it’s true?” “How could one person possibly hit all the homes in the world in one night?” “Magic? Has there ever been any real evidence for magic?” etc., trying specifically to get them to think critically about it. Then when they figured it out and were feeling somewhat crushed, I went with the explanation that Santa Claus is what people do when they want to be nice to other people but not get the credit for it. It’s everyone taking time to be unselfish and think about other people and not themselves, and to do that they label it Santa.

  11. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Heh. Like it, PZ. The cockles of my own heart were thoroughly warmed when my spawn nailed the dismount on the Easter Bunny.

    My (very Catholic) parents visited in March…when they asked if I could give them a ride to mass, my daughter asked if she could go too. So I took her. She was bored to death until the consecration, when the priest presented the blood of Jesus. her excitement at this was kind of disturbing, actually. Anyway, it didn’t last long. I told her 1) it wasn’t real, and 2) she wasn’t allowed to have any because she hadn’t received the sacrament of eucharist.

    No interest in returning.

  12. says

    Well, growing up in a fairly secular country (I have the privilege of being not only an atheist parent but also the child of atheist parents) it never mattered with other people (actually, most people here are submarine christians: they show up for weddings, baptizings and funerals), but it mattered with the institutional religious privilege. As a primary school kid I went to church for a while (the twice a year school church-services, nothing more) just because I didn’t want to be the odd one out.
    Because I wanted to sing the songs we’d practised in musical education, see the paintings put up we did in arts, get a fucking role in the fucking christmas play. I even tried hard to believe that crap, but I just didn’t make it. My parents just said it was OK if I wanted to go there, and I just grew out of it.
    Being a parent myself now I’m fucking annoyed at the amount of religiosity we’re getting flung at. I mean, the fucking secular bank gave us a “Noah’s Flood” children’s book.
    Which will soon have to disappear because the older one starts ot read and will then find out that the book actually isn’t about Father Christmas taking the animals on a boat trip.

    As for Santa and the easter bunny, we’re taking like a middle road, the make believe sort of thing. I mean, hell, those kids are clever.
    At the moment, for my 5yo it is very important to differenciate between what is real and what isn’t, to make very clear to us that she’s just playing to be a lion, not a real one, obviously and that the dinosaurs at the museum were only bones because they are extinct and that the giant elephant was only a model and that she can’t bring her aunt a real animal back from the zoo but a plush one.
    I think that’s good.

  13. stinger says

    Thank you, PZ. Being told from earliest memory that I am wholly sinful and can NEVER be “good enough” is child abuse. It colored my whole life, for the worse, including more than a decade of recurring depressive illness until I learned to throw off the yoke.

  14. Gen, Uppity Ingrate. says

    As someone from a “mixed” relationship, this was very valuable to me, thank you. I’m finding parenting as an atheist very hard because my kids are really literally bombarded with religiosity from all sides.

    School? Mandatory (except of course they say it’s not mandatory, because state school, but no one every opts out and there are no other alternative and the school states that it’s “proudly Christian” etc.) prayer at all assemblies and even religious lessons and bible classes. Family? Well, my husband it agnostic-ish to UU or deistic spiritualist kind of faith – he describes himself as christian and semi-religious but is heavily against institutionalized religion. And everyone else in both our families (like everyone else we meet, it feels like) are heavily, almost thoughtlessly religious. It’s not something they decided or ever thought about, putting “God” in everything is just the way they roll.

    So they’re saturated in religiosity and religious manipulation everywhere, and I do respond by quietly telling my kids “Well, some people believe that but I don’t” and so on, but… truth is, I worry. And I feel like I’m standing alone against this tide of indoctrination – and to be honest, it is taking a toll on my relationship. Although my husband is generally very, very supportive and “on my side” with regards to religious matters, there are many times when I feel isolated and like I’m the only one worried about the damage religion is doing to my kids because, as is stated in the video, religion is seen as something that’s inherently good and adding positive things to a life not the least of which is fitting in and conforming and not being ostracized, which I, being the fun-hating heretic, want to take away from my kids, and what kind of parent am I that want my kids to be isolated and ostracized?

  15. pipenta says

    Another super chat. Thank you all. Is it possible to send you questions and comments live as you are chatting? Twitter maybe? Or would that be too much multitasking?

    PZ, Yes! I think bringing a child up in a religion is child abuse, because it sets them up to be exploited not just by organized religion, but by gov’t or in the context of family and relationships. Not for nothing do clergy refer to the membership as a flock. Sheep are’t known for being sharp. You shear them, fleece ’em, and sometimes you eat them. Bringing a child up in a religion undermines their critical thinking skills. It’s the mental equivalent of foot binding. It might look pretty, to some eyes, but it is crippling. Hobble a kid’s mind and he is less likely to get very far.

    Ophelia, I think the Santa thing is good, but I only just came around to this way of thinking. Like you, I was pissed when I realized I had been lied to. But part of what made me angry was that I knew, even as a kid I knew this, that I had been complicit in the con. Not when I was three, no. But by the time I was six, I knew that mammals could not fly. I knew that no one person could go to every house in the world. But I wanted to BELIEVE. Who wouldn’t want there to be a magical man who loved you (quasi) unconditionally and brought you your heart’s desire? And that means there is a penalty you pay for giving up Santa Claus. All good things come with a price. What is the reward? You start to grow up. You start to see reality. It is a practice run for exposing bigger and uglier lies.

    To learn the truth about Santa is to have your heart broken. But no kid continues to believe. Despite those adults who profess that they want to believe and even make a fetish of Santa Claus. They fill their homes with tinsel and their yard with so many lights that you can probably see them from Mars. They’re trying to create a sense of wonder, but the displays aren’t pentacles to conjure Kris Kringle. No one is buying the workshop with elf labor and flying-reindeer transit system up there at the north pole. Fuck me, as a whole country we’ve stopped believing. We’ve stopped believing so hard that we’re letting the artic ice melt as we jam our fingers deeper into our ears and go nyah-nyah I can’t hear you! If we believed, we’d make keeping that ice cap in place a priority.

    So what really happens to a kid when the Santa belief ends? Well mostly kids continue to get whatever presents they were getting anyway. Only now the known source is Mom and Dad. Seriously, we already knew when the kid down the road gots a go-cart big enough to ride in while the kid up the road gets a set of Tinkertoys. You stop hoping that Santa will bring you the toy robot you keep asking for and you know there will just be more damn dolls under the tree, because that is what your parents want you to have. Oh yeah, changing diapers. There’s a good time.

    Come to think of it, the last time I sat on Santa’s lap and believed he was real, I did ask for a robot. And he said, “Ho, ho, ho, wouldn’t you rather have a nice doll?” And it wasn’t like I was going to shoot my eye out with a robot. Just baby boomer girls didn’t get robots, not even pink ones. There was a social agenda and it wasn’t my agenda. And when I realized that there wasn’t a so-called jolly man flying around with toys and lumps of coal who added his magical authority to that agenda, it freed me up a bit to pursue my own path.

    Yeah, I’d have to say the Santa myth was the best gift every. It was a peppermint-striped crowbar to take apart the whole religion thing. Fundamentalists don’t let Santa into their children’s lives. Not for nothing. The fat man is dangerous. He’s actually an undercover agent for skepticism.

    He’s the best Christmas gift EVER.

  16. r3a50n says

    “Is it just me… but anyone else see the words ‘What Do You Do To Bring Up God-Free Children’ and think ‘I dunno, follow Ipecac syrup with 1-2 glasses of water?’”

    That’s damn funny. It took a second for it to sink in before I got it but that gave me time to swallow my beverage before I would have spit it all over my screen.