Because I had married an atheist, there was no question that our children would not be raised in a religious environment. That’s not to say, however, that they grew up entirely without religion.
You might think that because your home is secular that your children would not have to put up with the heavy weight of god beliefs. But our children, like so many, went to public school and had neighbor friends. Religion ended up coming through our door in small ways.
Each of my kids, at one time or another, asked to attend church at the eager invite from friends. I was a bit taken aback, and slightly fearful. But to say ‘no’ might make church seem alluring. I recalled the many Sundays I spent in church. I told each of my kids, “Sure. Let me know what you think of it.” I had suspicions about how that would go for them.
My oldest son and my daughter went to a Mormon church, where they’re friends went each Sunday. My kids returned home a few hours later, and I asked them how it went. They told me they were bored, and didn’t like having to color pictures of Jesus. When I asked if they wanted to return, I got an adamant ‘no!’.
I thought we were done with the god business, but a year or so later my daughter came into the kitchen while I was making dinner. “Is it OK if I believe in god?” I was surprised by the question, and I wanted to say no, but belief is not something you can deny others, nor could my saying yes give her the belief she seemed to want. “You can believe in god only IF you find very good reasons to.”
It wasn’t until sometime later she told me the reason she had wanted to believe in god was because a friend of hers had said they could not be friends if she didn’t believe in god. “So, did you ever find good reasons?” I asked her. “No, and I’m still angry she had said that to me.”
I had various friends and other people ask me as I was raising my kids, how they could possibly be moral without god, without religion. It seemed an odd question to me, because the answer was so obvious, but I had explained that I did my best to teach my kids to treat others how they want to be treated. Don’t steal from others if you don’t want them stealing from you. Don’t hit others if you don’t want them hitting you. Don’t lie to others if you don’t want them lying to you. My kids seemed to understand early on that the world would be a better place if we all tried to be nice to one another.
I’m a proud mother of three grown children who have turned out to be wonderful, caring, ethical people. None of them are harsh judges of anyone. They are open to other people’s ways of thinking, and believing. In fact, at times they have each asked me why I make such a big deal out of atheism. They had a few bumps with religion, but never had a family force it on them. I have explained my concerns, especially about the problem of our religious government not honoring separation of church and state, and that some schools are teaching creationism, which tends to make them laugh at the thought of dinos and people living at the same time. I’m grateful that my children are confused by this because they never had to suffer having a beloved family member tell them they were going to hell.
We can’t shield our children entirely from religion and the bigotry that can stem from it, but we can deal with it honestly and openly as the situations arise. I had allowed church to speak for itself, and my kids had the freedom to say no to ever going again. My daughter gave a stab at trying to conform to someone’s beliefs, only to discover that that only causes resentment and pain. If we teach our kids to be more critical of what they are told, to examine the world around them as it really is, they not only see the beauty of living ethical lives, but they see the world as it really is an can’t be sucked into such scams as religion.
Our godless children are still out numbered, but so many, probably most, reach to adulthood without having been brain-washed into religious thinking. They also seem to have a wonderful sense of morality, based on the understanding that we all want to be happy.