I was raised hyper-religious. Between the time of my son's birth and his third birthday, I became an atheist. Bringing home a tiny little perfect healthy infant was a huge factor in that. I looked at my son and saw no sin in him. It made me begin questioning a lot of assumptions. I'll post more on my own deconversion later, but for now I'd like to talk a bit about how I personally tackle the issues of myth, religion, and belief within my own childrearing.

1.) I talk about religion and belief.
I was raised pretty ignorant of other people's faiths and beliefs. I knew a bit about other denominations of Christianity (being non-denominational) but certainly didn't know about Buddhism, Wicca, Islam, etc. And atheism was just not even a concept for me. So I don't want my son to be blindsided later on in life when classmates and friends (or family members) talk about Jesus, faith, religion, holy days, etc.

2.) I try not to be dogmatic.
I'm a pretty hard-core atheist. I'm so close to believing with absolute certainty that there is no god, that it's really a moot point. I am 99.99999 (infinity)% certain god doesn't exist, and that if a supernatural deity does exist, he/she/it doesn't care about my personal life. That being said, I don't want to beat it into my son's head "There is no God!" with the same conviction, certainty, and no room for questions that my own parents beat the concept of Jesus into my head. I tell him on a fairly regular basis, "Some people believe Jesus was a god. Some people believe Allah is god. Some people don't believe in any gods. Mommy is one of those. Mommy doesn't believe in a god; mommy is an atheist."

3.) We study myths.
Now my son is only 3 and not yet communicating verbally much, so most of our conversations are fairly one-sided. However, we still have a lot of teachable moments. Like most young kids, my son is a huge fan of storytime. Every evening between bath time and bed time, I read a few stories to him as we snuggle under the covers. We read fairy tales, fables, fictional stories, board books, science books, and mythology. Together we look up pictures and stories of different religious figures online and print out the illustrations. We put these into what I call our "gods book". We have beautiful illustrations of Hindu gods and goddesses, pantheistic nature spirits, Greek gods and goddesses, astrological symbols, etc. And Jesus. That's right - I put Yahweh and Jesus into the same category in our book as Ra, Zeus, and Shiva. I think this gives him a concept for understanding Jesus as a mythological figure, without requiring he believe any of the supporting story (ie, talking snakes, virgin births, a worldwide flood, or a really gross and bloody human sacrifice).

4.) I dodge Santa and the Easter Bunny.
Honestly I really don't know how to handle these guys. In my family of origin we didn't discuss either character, as they were seen as pagan threats to the "true" meanings behind the holidays. And as a general rule, I try to present my son with facts. (I may occasionally tell white lies about road kill animals - ie, they are "sleeping".) So I don't want to undermine the complete trust my son has in me and my words by presenting elaborate fairy tales - ANY fairy tales, religious or not - as true. So far I've managed to dodge the issue, but I'm not really addressing it. I know his school teachers, friends, malls, TV shows, etc. all support the mythology of Santa in particular. And I don't really offer a counter argument, I just don't say anything about it all.

So what do you think? Is there more I could be doing, or something you're doing with your own kids/ plan to do once you have kids? I'd love to hear other thoughts and opinions on the matter! I'm hoping to buy a webcam soon so I can start a YouTube channel, and post videos on atheist topics, and I'll be posting those here as well as soon as that's up and rolling. Cheers!

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Comment by Dawn K on March 26, 2009 at 5:59pm
As a parent of two young boys myself, I agree with you that it's important to think about what we are teaching them and what messages we send.

I think you are off to a great start. Myths of all cultures are a great way to introduce the idea of what seems real and what doesn't make sense and can be introduced early. One of my goals is to NOT give religion more weight than it deserves. I do want my kids to be knowledgable about world religions but I won't teach them much specifically until they are older (7, 10 ?? not sure) because I feel like that increases their importance. Instead I steer our talks more on how the world works, evolution, space, planets. This stuff is WAY more engaging and cool to young kids than anything about religion.

I look forward to seeing your videos.

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