My wife and I have been devoting a lot of mental energy into how to approach religion with my children (One three years old and the other 8 months). I, like other Atheists I have met, have wished my sons to decide for themselves which path to take by educating them as they grow in the different religions of the world, as well as the secular studies of math and the Sciences. As a step toward this, I have no expressed my view to my three-year-old concerning religion or gods. Honestly I had not intended to for some time, hoping to approach the subject when he was older and more able to understand these concepts. I am at odds however, since a recent trip to grandma's house was complete with a trip to church. Her mother and father know our views. (Not fully to the extent of Anti-theists, but they recognize us as Atheists) My wife's sister even spoke up and mentioned that it was not ethical to bring him to church considering our views. It was done regardless. I also found out that she has been praying with him and they were saying prayers over meals resplendent with signs of the cross.

Since that time, he has been asking about god and making comments like "Jesus is alive." Talking about Baby Jesus, God and nativity.

I find my objectivity being forced. He doesn't understand the concepts of god, and to tell him my view removes my sincerely caring decision to let him decide his path. How do you tell a 3 year old boy that "that is just what grandma believes." I equate that with "grandma is lying;" which isn't the case. She believes in Catholicism fundamentally, devotedly, and fanatically. (A source of constant tongue-biting and restraint for myself and my wife in order to keep the peace)
I feel, however that I cannot remain passive anymore when it involves my son. My wife and I have decided to not allow, for the time being, to leave our son with her parents unsupervised. My wife brought up the idea and it is her parents we're talking about, after all. We have also decided to abstain from prayer with her family. Normally, we don't mind that they pray before dinner and what not. It has not harmed me, though it makes me sad to see such supplication and grovelling. Now, however, I'm starting to view it in direct light as a threat to my son's inability to be objective due to his age.

Their religion and self-assured superiority of moral fiber have been a constant thickness to the air for the last decade. I know our abstaining from their prayer this year will be an insult to them, to say nothing about our likely keeping them from watching him unsupervised again until he is older. I had never thought I'd be in this position before, and am uncertain how to progress. There are, of course, other considerations I have not even described that complicate the issue further, but I want to stick to the core of what is going on.

I have discussed this on a blog I created linked to my facebook and am getting angry outcries. Everything from "You are using your kids to hurt their grandparents, to direct finger shaking at my reprehensible harshness.

I am a man. I am by no means a moral compass for anyone. I have faults and feelings that I regret. But by no means do I feel that I am using my children. A breech of protocol is a light infraction. This elongated act is subversiveness and violates the right of a moral couple who wish to raise their child as they see fit.

Let me put this in perspective. Take any devoutly (or even mildly) religious person you know. Say they let their 3 year old come over to my house. At supper that child begins to pray, but before he can, what if I stopped them and said "God is a myth and does not exist." Then perhaps, after our meal, say I took him over to meet some of my other atheist friends and we indoctrinated him in all our beliefs. That religion is harmful to humanity, a relic of human infancy.

Would that be ethical? Would that make you a little upset?

If you are a believer in free thinking, you would most likely be quite upset at the blatant disregard for a parents right to raise their child as they deem moral.
View this in the light of my morality, wherein religion is poisonous, immoral, corrupt, violent, sadistic and dehumanizing. Consider that my child went to church to learn how to be a good little Christian. I am quite livid, and protecting my child's developing morality and intellectual freedom are as significant as their physical well-being

I would like to add, that if my child does decide to become a Christian, Jew, Muslim or Hindu, I will support their right to believe. I would take them to church or synagogue or mosque if that is what they wished (And have even entertained ideas of doing that when they were older as part of their education). But it will be a decision they must make, free from the sinister manipulations and predations of moral police at the ripe old age of 3.

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BTW, I got my daughter a great book that introduces Darwin with lots of poetry about nature and science. It's called "The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination" by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston. It has really prompted a lot of questions from my little one and started her thinking about various possibilities. I think the exercise Jason used with the blue block is fantastic, it seemed to really boost his son's confidence and to give him a sense of accomplishment when he reached the "blue conclusion" on his own.
Hi Jaime,

What a world we live in where *not* believing in imaginary friends can be thought of as grounds for denying custody. You have my sympathies. I assume the court saw through your ex's cynical attempt to manipulate the court.
There is hope for us yet. :-)
At the risk of sounding like I'm not taking the situation seriously, I'm going to go ahead and vote for levity here. Sometimes in the face of difficulty, disrespect, and feeling hopelessly outnumbered, I find real solace and refuge in laughter and play.

Don't forget that make-believe is fun, and that as drawn as they are to make-believe, kids seem to have an instinctive grasp of the difference between make-believe and reality. I go the other direction with my child, instead of insisting all that religious mumbo-jumbo is wrong, or that I disagree with it because it's not real, I find the time to indulge her in make-believe of her own devising. We pretend to believe in Mothra and Godzilla, (I even act out religious indignation if she admits to thinking Godzilla isn't real, pretending to be a fire & brimstone kaiju fundamentalist) then when that has run it's course we move on, and later I casually mention that we know that's not really real, right? Of course she does. It's not even an issue.

I let and even encourage her to play around with worship, imaginary friends, all kinds of pretend play, making clear that it's pretend, that pretend is fun, that her thoughts and fantasies are her own domain, where nothing is wrong, everything is permitted, that her mind is her own private playground. I feel this is a vital part of building the inner life of freethinkers. I think it's important not to accidentally come down on the side of grumpiness and against art, fantasy, imagination, and make-believe, but rather to be strongly in favor of these things, but putting them in context as tools of our minds, things we own and use, not things we let bully us. From there it's pretty easy to focus on the particulars of why pretending to believe in Mothra some afternoons is healthy fun, as opposed to the enforced belief of real religion which is backed-up with threats, is internally inconsistent, boring, and leads to a net loss rather than gain in happiness for it's adherents and their neighbors.

I have never had to try to make a logical case against religion with my girl, just expressly allowed and encouraged her to make her own judgments, and religion tends to fail hugely on it's own aesthetic merits.

When it gets to the nitty gritty of people not respecting your views or rights as a parent to decide, let's be honest, religious people don't play fair, and I'm not adverse to being honest with my girl about that - I tell her they will try to scare her, because they are scared of their pretend god, and often they can't even admit that to themselves. So in the same way that our bodies are not in any way bad, but it's still OK to keep them private from people who don't need to see them, it's OK to keep our thoughts private too, not because they are in any way wrong, but because they are none of people's beeswax, some people just can't handle seeing them. In the privacy of our home we dress just as we like and speak our mind as freely as we like, in other places we have the right to be modest with our bodies and our thoughts if we choose, and sometimes it's simply sensible to choose to be modest.

In service of these aims I'm not at all reluctant to employ the term "sacred" either. Our bodies are sacred, our freedoms are sacred, our lives, our planet are sacred; it just means very precious, innately the right of every human being, and something no one has the right to mess with. I think there is a humanistic sense in which this is certainly true enough, and in practical terms it lets us utilize things that might be used against us if we ceded them to the superstitious, and I don't see any utility in doing so. We feel awe and wonder too, right?

I am not cowed, and I refuse to be bullied by myth, this does not mean I forfeit my right to myth, to art, to imagination, those are rightly tools and toys belonging to humanity, NOT of this narrow cultural construct called religion, and *certainly* not the property of imaginary gods or the human lunatics or charlatans who presume to speak for them.

That's the long answer; the short answer is: the best antidote to religion isn't necessarily rationality, sometimes what really works is science fiction. Utilize Science Fiction.

I was lied to as a child, and I feel some resentment over it.

 

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