Talking to Children about Atheism

First, thanks for creating this site - I have been really impressed by the clear, calm, logical answers that SmartLX provides. On to my question. After being raised Catholic and majoring in comparative religions in college, I've finally come to embrace atheism. But my question is about how I can best raise my two children (currently ages 6 and 9) to be skeptical and perhaps someday atheists, themselves. My husband still believes, and the kids go to church with him occasionally. More importantly, they attend an otherwise excellent Christian school where they have daily devotionals and there is much talk about Jesus. My concerns are threefold: First, they are being indoctrinated at a young age by people they respect, and it would be a big deal for me to contradict all the teachings of the school. Second (and admittedly selfishly), if I were to share my non-belief with my kids, they would be shocked and horrified. Third, if I were to somehow transform them into little atheists, they would be in for a really tough time at school - probably more from the students than the teachers. (Just for the record, there are plenty of Jews and Hindus and a few Muslims at the school, but somehow I feel like atheists would be viewed differently). So I guess I'm asking for any advice you may have on how to raise my kids to be skeptical and hopefully someday agnostic or atheist without completely rocking their world and without turning them into social pariahs. I've thought about starting with just enhancing their skepticism (any good kids' book recommendations?) and letting it develop naturally. Thoughts?
Atheist Answer: 

Ta for the compliments.

Always keep in mind how long it took you to come around. I know you want better for your kids, but perhaps they need to take the same path you did.

Think a step further: why would they be shocked and horrified to find out you're an atheist? Partly because of the stigma attached to us by the religious, but ultimately they would be afraid for you. You reject God, so you're going to hell, that sort of thing. The most important thing when it comes out, and it will, is to let them know that you are not afraid yourself. (Another little fact which might help is the idea that not everyone who claims to be religious really is.)

At that, they'll either ask why not or argue with you. You'll then have a line of communication open, and it's up to you. Expect your husband to get involved, and make no attempt to make this happen behind his back. Just be open, and listen to them all.

I grew up religious too, as you might have read in another answer of mine. What first set me on the road to doubt was the fact that my father was an atheist. He didn't talk about it AT ALL, he just told me once and that was it. I wondered why, and later, I found my own reasons.

As for kids' books, I recommend the children's and young adult books of Terry Pratchett. A humanist himself, his books often encourage critical thinking despite having fantastical premises. A favourite of mine is The Wee Free Men. Later, perhaps they'd enjoy his other Discworld books.

Incidentally, I just watched Happy Feet and the anti-religion message in that is fairly obvious.

- SmartLX


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Check out Dale McGowan's parenting resources

Don't know how much it's been discussed previously on this blog, but Dale McGowan's books "Parenting Beyond Belief" and "Raising Freethinkers" are amazing resources for the non-theistic parent.

He focuses on teaching kids to be curious and skeptical instead of just taking what they're told at face value. That way, you're not just raising "little atheists" in the way a Catholic parent would raise "little Catholics," but exposing your children to many viewpoints and teaching them how to critically examine each claim. Dale often states that he doesn't care what belief system (or none) his girls end up with, as long as they've reasoned it out and are happy.

The first book is basically a collection of essays by Dale and other authors, and the second is a guidebook of fun activities to help stimulate children's curiosity and critical thinking skills. Dale's blog is at, if anyone's interested.

(I have no connection to Dale or his publisher, other than being a fan of his material.)

To Here Today: Please read

To Here Today: Please read Richard Dawkins book, 'The God Delusion'. He's got a chapter or two about rearing children with organized religion and religious schooling. He considers it child abuse.

I've always been a science lover, and I try to find rational explanations for most things that seem 'miraculous'. My daughter, now 17, has become a skeptic, too, and has no belief in God whatsoever. However, my wife and I never purposely put down or ridiculed any organized religion. We talked about the merits of each and basically let her choose which way she wanted to go. She chose atheism; however, she mentioned that it might be nice to practice Buddhism.

This is a very important

This is a very important subject for me. My situation is different; I'm a single mother and since it's just Noah and I, he will be raised to think for himself from the very beginning. What HereToday said regarding how she is afraid of the other students is my main concern. Any suggestions? Kids are mean and cruel and the last thing I want is to have my son bullied when he goes to school because everyone is Christian except him. I don't want him to be in danger (I know that sounds a little over-the-top, but with todays kids I worry). Do you have any advise on when Noah is ready for school, how he should go about handling himself?

Atheistic Mommy

Noah and atheism

Unless Noah goes to an explicitly religious school, the subject of his religion or lack thereof won't come up much in conversation with the other kids. Frankly, his given name will encourage others to assume he's a Christian, so he won't be asked about it as often as someone named, say, Tucker.

The thing about Muslims, Hindus, Jews etc. is that they are very obviously different: they're usually from minority ethnic groups, they wear headscarves or yarmulkes or dots on their foreheads, they pray during the day and so on. They're much easier targets for ridicule. Noah's atheism won't make him different at all in superficial ways like these...

...unless he doesn't say the Pledge of Allegiance (I assume you're American, because you call yourself "Mommy"). I can't recommend this particular form of protest, because it gives the religious a chance to be on the side of patriotism. Instead let him say the words without meaning them, just like all the other kids, and support separation activists like Michael Newdow if you can so that one day "under God" won't be in there.

Anyway, most of the time he'll just be an ordinary kid and he'll get along fine. If lack of belief does become an issue with his classmates, responses like those in this older question might help: quick answers to uninformed knee-jerk attacks, such as naive schoolchildren might use.

If instead it becomes an issue with teachers, that's discrimination and you need to deal with it yourself.

Incidentally, Jessica, teaching him to think for himself is wonderful, but I hope you don't intend to label him an atheist from the get-go. He won't be old enough to make that decision until he fully understands what faith is. Until then, he's simply a kid with an atheist parent.