Is god real?

There are two difficult issues that an atheist in a religious family or community faces: whether and how to tell your parents that you no longer believe and how to answer your young children when they ask you whether god is real.

In this collection of three essays (sent to me by reader Norm) the first and third deal with how to break the news to a young child that there is no god, while the second is by an 18-year old atheist who talks about his own experience of deconversion. In my own life, I discovered after she died that my mother knew about and was accepting of my atheism even though I had not told her about it fearing that she would be saddened.

What I have found is that while some are initially shocked when I tell religious friends and family members that I am an atheist, far from rejecting me, they are often very interested in knowing more about why I stopped believing. I think that apart from simple curiosity, this is because a lot of believers harbor doubts themselves and they may feel nervous about sharing them with their fellow believers while discussing them with a nonbeliever is safer.


  1. eigenperson says

    I don’t understand why Neyenesch’s dilemma is a dilemma. Why not just tell them that God isn’t real? Kids can handle the truth, even if adults can’t.

    Of course, the child should also be taught, like I was, that a lot of people are stupid and believe the fairy tale is actually true, and that it isn’t polite to tell them that they are wrong because this is the same thing as calling them stupid.

  2. says

    My fall back first response being, “Which god, of the dozen or so in current use?”

    My own deconversion began by realizing that there was just as much evidence for the god of my evangelical congregationalist denomination as their was for Poseidon, Osiris, Marduk, Allah, Vishnu or any of the others.

  3. khms says

    Oh, God is certainly real …

    … unless declared integer. (Hint: FORTRAN.)

    Ok, I’ll get my coat …

  4. Chiroptera says

    What do the fundamentalists say? When do they think a child is old enough to handle knowing that God is a psychopath who will torture with burning fire the majority of humanity forever and ever?

  5. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    When do they think a child is old enough to handle knowing that God is a psychopath who will torture with burning fire the majority of humanity forever and ever?

    I was 4. That’s when I officially “asked Jesus into my heart” to get my get out of hell free card. Of course, they probably started earlier then that, but I don’t remember. More than two decades it took me to finally shed the last of that fear. Most of my reasons for believing fell away a few years before that, but the threat of hell was enough to keep me in line.

    The story of Kurt Wise always gets me, and not just cause we share the same last name. I came to a similar point, science, evidence and reason or faith. With great joy and relief, I chucked the bible. I can’t imagine going the other way.

    My family mostly won’t speak to me anymore, except for the occasional attempt to “bring me back into the fold”, and I get a new religious book every christmas and birthday. There’s an upside tho, my mom has 7 brothers and, 2 of them were never to be mentioned. I found them recently in BC, and they are beer-drinking, pot-smoking, cursing and dancing heathens like me. They were as thrilled as I was to meet another who had broken free.

    I guess the point of my story is DON’T DO THAT TO YOUR KIDS!!!! Tell them the truth from the start and save them years of grief.

  6. Matt G says

    I was raised in a Unitarian Universalist household (my father is a UU minister). I wasn’t raised to believe in god, nor was I raised to NOT believe in god. I knew I was an atheist when I was seven. I didn’t know what my parents believed until I was in my teens. Before that time, they never told me, and I never asked!

  7. Doug Little says

    seems like they all ought to go under the bus at about the same time, for the same reason.

    Or under the bed for the boogie monster to consume.

  8. says

    Lately, as I’ve been more out about my atheism to my family, I’ve learned that my father, a former Sunday school teacher who enrolled me in Catholic school, is also an atheist (but doesn’t want my mother to know), his older brother is as well, and their father, a staunch Catholic demanding our family attend church weekly, was fairly certain there was no god but didn’t think it was proper to say out loud.

    My mother’s side, none of whom have been in a church for decades and couldn’t pick a Bible verse from a Dr. Seuss book, are very “religious” social conservatives.

  9. Mano Singham says

    Where would your mother’s side think the book “One god, two gods, red god, blue god” comes from?

  10. Mano Singham says

    I suspect that your experience would be repeated by many if they too broached the topic with their parents. Some time ago I read that men are less likely than women to be religious (at least to the extent of religious observances like going to church/temple/mosque, saying prayers, etc.) and that children tend to adopt the religious habits of their fathers than their mothers. Looks like you a good example of that.

  11. gshelley says

    I don’t see why God should get special treatment, more thanif my daughter asks me if Santa, Dora or unicorns are real.

  12. says

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