Hi, all. Rough week with the religion thing. I could really use some ideas / support from my fellow non-theist friends out there.

My wife and I have a daughter. She's almost six. They go to church together. A very conservative, Calvinist-like church where they're already starting to tell her bullshit about believing in Jesus and going to heaven when you die. And the bullshit that really makes me cringe about what happens if you don't.

(Heh, excuse my vulgarity. Around the home I walk very a fine line when it comes to my choice of words for Christian doctrine. And my criticism of it in general. Out of respect to those closest of friends and family who believe in it, of course. But if I can't call a horse a horse on an anonymous atheist forum of all places, I am in a sad place indeed!)

So this week my daughter and I have been having these conversations about Christianity. She's only six, so depth and scope are obviously limited, but still they're conversations, right? And suddenly I realize I have no clue about how I should be responding to this stuff!!

She knows I don't believe in Jesus (as Savior anyway - I think the distinction between that and a belief in Jesus in general is still pretty fuzzy in her head), and that bothers her.

She asks me to read the Bible with her, which I've been doing (because she asks). It's a children's story Bible that emphasizes Christ as the atonement in all the stories of the Old Testament... unbelievable. Should I even be doing that?

There are other circumstances too, which complicate things.

  1. I was a believer in this religion when I married my wife, so naturally we had the expectation we'd raise our children to be believers too.
  2. My own Christian beliefs burdened me with a strong sense of hopelessness when I was a child and young adult (a hopelessness that came from "knowing" the hopeless eternity that awaited all my unbelieving friends). I don't want that for my daughter.

And then what about my wife? We've never exactly talked about this before. It'll be an awkward conversation if we ever do have it. But what are some reasonable things for me to expect of her regarding our daughter's religious education? What is reasonable for her to expect of me?

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Replies to This Discussion

First of all, you have my deepest sympathies. Thats a tough situation. Since you were a believer before you were married I can understand why you haven't talked about it and why you don't want to make too many waves with your daughter's burgeoning faith.

 

I was lucky enough to be an out atheist before hand and we did lay out some rudimentary ground rules. I don't necessarily expect them all to stick but it's something at least.

So I guess I would suggest you get things straight with your wife first. How conservative is the church and how conservative is your wife. My wife is pretty moderate at heart but she comes from a Pentecostal church and some respected family members of hers are fundigelical types.

We agreed not to indoctrinate our child into or against religion.That probably isn't an option for you at this point I'm guessing you are going to at the very least separate yourself from the indoctrination process to preserve your sanity. I know I couldn't bear supporting my child being fearful of going to hell. Maybe you will just need to go the, "ask your mother," route. Maybe you could slip in a little universalism (If God loves everyone he has the power to get everyone to heaven or whatever). It is really all down to what your wife can tolerate, and really what you can tolerate as well. I really hope there is a middle ground for you. My wife and I have found it but if things are getting rocky for us religious differences have a way of rearing their ugly head(s?).

 

Of course it goes without saying that anything I may say that sounds like advice is veeeerrrrrryyy tentative as:

A. I am no expert

B. there are a million variables that can effect how things pan out in your situation.

 

 

Hey Round Peg, that is a tough situation indeed. I'm in a similar boat, married to a Christian with two girls, six and four. I've never been a believer, even though I was brought up in a nominally Christian home.

 

You got some good advice from Felonious. First, talk candidly with your wife and let her know that you still love her and that you didn't marry her because of her beliefs. I firmly believe that couples can get along while holding strongly divergent beliefs...look at James Carville and Mary Matalin :

 

My wife takes our daughters to church. We agreed before we married that they would be brought up in the Christian tradition. Yes, I was younger and less 'out' about my atheism, and there was probably some denial and naivete on her part about my eventually 'coming around' to Christianity, but we're here now, 12 years in, so we're doing our best. I don't have a huge problem with church, for the most part, it's benign, a relatively safe environment, the girls have friends there, etc. They also go to Christian daycare. Now the daycare for the most part goes the 'Jesus loves you' route. To the extent that they can understand any theology at all, they know that mommy and daddy differ on the god/Jesus question. If they ask me about some aspect of theology, I make it plain to them that it's their choice whether they want to believe it or not. When they ask questions like 'What is heaven like?', I tell them something like, nobody knows, and some people don't think there's a heaven at all. I never tell them absolutes, like there is no god, or Jesus never lived. I tell them a lot of people believe in god, and a lot of people believe in other god or gods. I try to give them the perspective that people believe lots of different things, and it's up to them to make the choice of what they believe.

 

My oldest is very smart, and she's already figured out Santa and the Easter bunny and Tooth fairy, and the only distinction I've made between them is that nobody knows about god, and that yes, parents are all of the above at some point for their kids.

 

So, I guess what I would say is to be truthful, tell her your opinion, stay away from absolutes (something most atheists naturally avoid anyway), and to do the same with your wife. There were definitely rough patches, some REALLY rough, but in the end, I have to do the same thing I expect my wife to do: give me the freedom to believe as I wish to believe, as long as I'm not hurting anyone. Yes, I understand some Christians believe you ARE hurting children if you don't tell them about Jesus/hell/etc., and you can make similar arguments on the atheist side. Told ya it's a rough road sometimes, didn't I? :D

You've gotten some pretty good advice from Justin and Felonious. I was going to say the same exact things. Have a conversation with your wife and iron out what and how your going to raise your child(ten) . Honestly at this age I see nothing wrong with some of the moral stories of the bible, however as they grow I wouldn't allow the indoctrination or guilt trips about hell and giving money. It's a tough situational and I feel for you too. My ex wife still brings my kids to church. They don't like it mostly because is boring to them.
I think kids should be exposed to religion ...kind of like innoculation from disease. Let them see and learn the stories and when they're older (like mine, both teenagers) I can tell that these are silly stories that probably didn't happen.
I would be adamant about the hell thing....that's one thing I wouldn't allow to stick. Once in there its hard to get out.

Just wanted to say thank you all, for your thoughts and stories. I'm sure I'll be reading through them again from time to time as I experiment with how to move forward.

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