A voice for the non-religious in Swindon

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.” ― Christopher Hitchens

Are my children atheists?

The topic of whether children of atheist parents are atheist themselves is one i have given quite a bit of thought to. It has been quite widely suggested that children are born atheist. In that they do not know of any gods, therefore they are atheist by default. Whilst i agree to some extent, i have always contested that until a child can *decide* what atheist means, it bears no relevance whatsoever and a newborn is simply a child. That’s it. Atheist is a term used to describe a conclusion. Children can’t make that conclusion at birth, or even until much later!. It has neither been prescribed a religion upon birth, nor has it not! (yeah, make grammatical sense of that one! ….. i couldn’t be bothered to try)

One of my children has self identified as an atheist. In class. In front of everyone after she was confronted by a classmate who piped up

“people who don’t believe in god have taken the wrong path”

My daughter’s decision to swiftly return with

“I am an atheist and I don’t know what path i’m on, but i know i’m happy!”

thus proving her point the only way an eight year old could manage, by letting this lad know that nothing in her life felt wrong and therefore, she was not on the wrong path.

I raise my children as freethinkers. I have not once suggested they should be like me or think like me, but i do encourage them to *think*! When they return home from school and recount their day’s RE lesson (without prompting i must add, they seem to enjoy discussing it with me and probe me for alternatives to what they have been taught now that they are getting a bit older) i approach the “moral” or “lesson” from a non-religious perspective and we talk it out together. It usually involves asking them questions like “do you think there are any ways we could do the same thing, without using the bible as a guide?” and they will have a list as long as your arm for me! Another common question i ask them is “do you think that’s a nice way to do things?”. This one has generally been used when discussing Noah’s flood and the crucifixion of Jesus.

I have been tempted on a few occasions to exclude my children from RE at school. I have been asked many times why i don’t. Or, after a rant whether i’ve changed my mind. Believe me, i’ve come very close to it! I have decided, in order to help grow their maturity towards understanding other cultures and rituals, it’s important for my children to attend RE at school. We have spoken about how they can modify their teacher’s words (in their own heads) without disrespecting the teacher or any children so that some of the lessons feel more relevant to them, and they know they don’t have to pray. If the teacher is praying and giving thanks to god for various things, my children have time to reflect and thank the process and/or the people within the process being discussed. For example, the harvest during autumn. When the prayer is thanking god, my children thank the farmers. It’s pretty basic and much more rewarding for them.

The thing that worries me is that, because my children attend a non-denominational christian school, the first example of religion that they have encountered is christianity. This lays the suggestion that christianity is the most important religion, and the rest that they brush over are simply secondary. This is where RE in primary schools is a huge let-down and this leads me towards a different post, something i won’t go into on this one.

Both my elder children (eight and six years old) are quite big on justice. They don’t like unfairness in any form and have been quick to understand (thanks to many science books, the internet, old Cosmos DVDs and the new Cosmos series, David Attenborough documentaries, Deadly 60, Horrible Histories and many other sources) that the world is big, really really big and that some people have less than others. Which isn’t fair. They have both asked me

“mum? if there was a god, he wouldn’t let people starve to death. We would all have the same things”

and questions of a similar thread. This is a question i asked myself at a similar age and started to form similar conclusions to them. Quite simply that what i had been told about god, didn’t fit with what i had learned about the world around me.

So. Are my children atheists? One is, because she has made the distinction herself. The second. No. She won’t be until *she* says so. The third. No. She’s three years old, and whilst she’s a child of atheist parents, she’s far to young to even need to concern herself of the need for gods or lack thereof.


About Belinda

Secular, atheist, humanist, freethinking mother of 3.

2 comments on “Are my children atheists?

  1. Neil Davies
    April 4, 2014

    Like you say, I’ve heard it said many times that children are all born atheists. While it’s obviously true that kids don’t enter the world with knowledge of Yahweh, Allah or any specific god or religion, I don’t believe it’s true to say that they enter the world as atheists either. It’s clear that human beings search for meaning in meaningless events and ascribe agency and intention where none exists – that’s where the religious impulse comes from. So I do tend to think that it is at the very least possible that we are wired to be theists in a vague and non-specific way. Of course, just like many other hard-wired aspects of our evolutionary heritage, we can either ignore or rationalise ourselves out of it (just as well), and of course even if it is true we have a natural disposition for a religious form of belief, it says nothing at all about the truth of any of those beliefs. Atheism then, I believe, is a hard won conclusion that is something to be proud of.

  2. noelgoetz
    April 4, 2014

    I really enjoyed reading your sincerely reasoned post. As a person who describes himself as a opening thinking God Seeker with a religious fervor, I can appreciate encouraging our young ones to think for themselves, but I also keep in mind that even as their nurturer, protector and person of trust, that though I don’t expect them to think exactly as I do, I do set a very real example and tone in how I interact with others and what values I find personally important. Your investment in time has and will pay off with invaluable benefits a they grow. As a father of 5 I know that children tend to want to please their parents, which at face value isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and they will in many ways naturally gravitate towards the values that we hold dear.
    As an example, when I was a young boy, because I knew that mother grew up in the 1940’s I would try and find radio stations that played that kind music to please her and to make her happy. It sounds silly now, but that is one way that illustrates at least what was going on in my mind at 7 or 8 years old.

    My second thought is that values are not always neutral in both their importance and origin. I wouldn’t think it a negative to discuss the origins of widely held beliefs nor would I try and answer the ‘whys’ strictly from an atheistic point of view. Even atheists enjoy some of the benefits of civility and the common desires for loving ones fellow man, that are taught from a book of faith and in the pulpit. I ‘personally’ would find it difficult to give a meaningful answer to those ‘why’s’minus at least a passing reference to a religious context,(though I applaud your willingness to do so). We do not live in a moral vacuum, and children want to be convinced of the ‘whys’ in life as they build foundations. This allows them to move forward in confidence building on those foundations and setting both the intellectual and moral tone of their lives going forward.

    I think to be truly genuine in our passing on universal wisdom, we need to encourage our children to remove the word ‘religion’ from their vocabulary and all of the negative connotations of that word and explore with them the ‘why’s’ of ones beliefs, as even atheists hold to a system of beliefs which if taken to their natural conclusion could be argued, is a religion unto itself.

    Back to foundations. Children desire security. They want to know right from wrong and because we don’t live in a moral vacuum, it would be intellectually dishonest to dismiss out of hand the faith and beliefs of others because we ourselves may not hold to the entirety of a particular faith or denomination.

    That all said, it sounds as if your children are intelligent and loving and are being loved and nurtured. Kudos. Keep them close. Blessings. Noel

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This entry was posted on April 4, 2014 by in Atheism and tagged , , , , , , , .

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