Family advice needed

Dear All, I would hope and guess this subject is somewhere in this huge forum but my search skills and time are limited. I need your advice. I’ll be brief.
I’m atheist, my son is agnostic, and his 32-yo wife is Catholic. Their 5-yo daughter, my only grandkid by blood, was placed in Catholic preschool and kindergarten, but (thank god :-)) will go to public school thereafter. My primary concern is the granddaughter, but, of course, I would like to see all my family (and the world) more secular.
Should I try to de-convert/win-over my daughter-in-law, and if so, how? Or should I just focus on my granddaughter and impart to her in 1-to-1 settings a sense of critical thinking, and along the way a skepticism of the holy trinity?

Since you asked for advice, here’s mine:

I would not try to address their religiousness at all. I would not even suggest presenting rational skepticism about religious topics, directly to the child. Instead, I would teach the child some simple but relatively amazing card tricks. So that she will understand, sooner, in life, that people can trick her with astounding stories that are not true at all. I.e., help the child develop functional skepticism and critical thinking, but without attacking her family’s religiosity. If she learns how to think for herself, she will be likely make the most functional choices for herself about religion, in the future.

Hi Dave, if it is any comfort to you, Dawkins was raised by his parents as an Anglican. He gave his religion up during his teenage years (according to Wikipedia). You cannot de-convert anyone from religion anymore than you can convert a person to atheism. Chances are, you will upset your daughter-in-law and get thrown out of her family losing access to your son and grand-daughter. Play smart.

Good advice Tim. I’m afraid I’m not aware of any threads in this forum that go into this in depth. and I’ve been here for a few years. A couple good resource for you to narrow your search, The Atheist Experience of the Austin Community of Atheists, but you have to wade through their call in shows. You could even write them, I almost always get some kind of response. “Atheist Austin” <>;

Another good one is Parenting Beyond Belief, mostly about being a parent, but he navigated some years where he was working his way out of belief and his wife was still in. He’s a brilliant man with knowledge of teaching, psychology as well as theology. His kids are older now so you’d have to go into archives, but I think he has good indexing. He has some great stories about talking about Santa Claus. He uses that myth as a way to encourage his kid to understand how to determine what’s true. You probably don’t want to be the grandpa who blurted out that Santa isn’t real, but you could be the one who helps understand why we play this imagination game with little ones.

Both of the above would recommend against the direct approach. You need to know if they will cut you out or not, and it might that simply asking them will result in cutting you out. So there is no easy answer.

Hey Tim, looks like you are as much of a know-it-all busybody as I am showing Dave the way like Dr. Phil. Magic card tricks could initiate the kid into the belief in miracles and, worse still, a life of crime scamming people.

No Sree.

  1. You show the kid the card tricks, then YOU TEACH HER THE CARD TRICKS. A 5 year old will not be ushered in to a life of crime by learning how people are scammed, unless the kid happens to be a budding sociopath to begin with.

  2. Don’t ever compare me to Dr. Phil.

  3. We were asked for advice.

I’m taking this all in (Sree especially), and found a thread from circa 2014 that was also helpful (I’M BORED WITH ATHEISM).

What can atheists do to help inform (should I say correct, convert, de-convert or whatever) theist individuals and societies? It hear from you all, and had already envisioned. that it’s all uphill dealing on a 1-to-1 basis. Dr. Dawkins is on the right track with his new book, Outgrowing God ( Well written books and articles that may seep into the theist field of view is probably the best we can do.

Matt Dillahunty of the aforementioned ACA is also a magician. He talks about those kinds of illusion vs the lies of religion. He has a story of showing a guy a trick where he appears to levitate. They were already talking about what’s real and what’s magic. The guy is impressed and believes Matt can actually levitate, he calls it “real magic”. Matt tells him to hold on to that that thought, and he does the trick again, but shows the guy how he did it. As far as I know, the guy did not embark on a life of crime. I never know if you are kidding around or not Sree.

Tim, Sree’s just jealous he didn’t think of it first. Teaching card tricks and unmasking magic, is an awesome idea. And considering I’m in a very similar situation with my new grandchild, I thank you for the suggestion. I even have a couple years for learning some fancy card tricks before its time to put the plan in action.


Though something you said reminded me of when I was about 10 years old, family visit with friends for some holiday. An older relative of the family a college kid (hell could have been a high school kid for all I know, they all looked pretty big to me). In any event, this guy taught me poker and we played a few hands and I kept winning (no clue if he let me or genuine beginners luck). I walked out with my winnings of a few quarters and I felt guilty about taking the poor guys quarter for the entire drive back to my home. Kept telling myself we were playing a game but it felt more like stealing. Yes, our inner nature has a way of revealing itself at tender ages.

2) Don’t ever compare me to Dr. Phil.
Words to live by.

My personal belief is that it is every bit as wrong to try to “deconvert” someone, especially a child, as it is for them to try to convert me. I have lively discussions with a Jehovah’s Witness friend all the time, but I never try to change him. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to coddle his fragile little feelings or anything. I outright say to him, “If you want me to believe in magic then show me some magic.” But I don’t purposely try to take his religion from him, even though I, personally, think it’s a horrible religion.

I can understand you wanting to make sure your grandchild is prepared for life and never hurt by anything, but it’s not your place to determine what someone else’s child will learn, even if you are related. That is the place of the parents. I have had people walk away from my kids looking guilty when they saw me approaching and found that they were “teaching” my kids that magic is real. I was pissed. It wasn’t their place, it was mine. The same is true the other way. Just because it’s not your way doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the wrong way. The parents decide the moral teachings of the child and the child decides what they will believe when they are grown. But absolutely do whatever you can to give her the critical thinking skills necessary to come to a good, rational decision either way.

Thoughtful reply Widdershin, thank you. I have to think about your statements of

  1. “it’s not your place to determine what someone else’s child will learn, even if you are related.”
    2…“Just because it’s not your way doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the wrong way.”

Regarding 1, there is a huge amount of learning going on in childhood, and of course thereafter. The parents can not control it all. In a larger sense it is society’s role as to what its citizens should learn. But I see that parents can control some of it by placement in certain schools or homeschooling.

Your last sentence is the most meaningful and the path I shall take.

Regarding 2, I believe that the education given by religious schools is fundamentally wrong. As Dr. Dawkins says (paraphrasing) mild to moderate religious beliefs are wrong, if not evil, because that provides the climate for religious extremists to exist. Thus I believe the way my daughter-in law wants to educate my granddaughter is, at least, partly wrong. In that I mean she intends to send the kid to classes in prep of receiving the catholic sacraments. But in the end you and others are right, keep my nose out of it. At least the kid will go to public schools hereafter…with that I have a different set of worries. I was catholic through 8th grade and found my way out of religion by studying science, so the grandkid has that potential too.

I am just sorry for all the kids that go through all their education in theist schools (e.g., Bryan College in TN). They never, or rarely, are taught critical thinking skills. And they surely don’t read the Skeptical Inquirer, which I just finally discovered.

One specific from Dale McGowan I’ll throw in is hell. He draws a line there. He mostly talks about allowing his grandparents to take his kids to church, so you are in the opposite situation, but you can still glean something from his thoughts. Most kids will hear from some other kid that they are going to hell, so it’s really not outside of a grandparent’s duties to help them navigate things like that.

I think that most of us agnostics/atheists/secularists have grown up with and have even tried out various religious beliefs over many years. Taking various paths, we wound up where we are now. I think kids, for the most part, will be fine, eventually, if they learn to think critically and to flush out and reject deceptions.

Dave, I wasn’t saying to keep your nose out of it entirely. Just don’t actively subvert the wishes of her parents. That doesn’t mean you can’t give passive lessons likely to build critical thinking skills. And certainly I would suggest that you let her know, if it comes up in conversation, that you don’t believe any of that, and as early in her development as possible. Don’t tell her that she shouldn’t, just tell her that you don’t. What this will do is plant the seed that this is not a sure thing, that not all trusted adults believe this and that it is not “certainly true”. You don’t have to steer her learning to give her the tools she needs to spot an obvious scam. After all, if literally ANYONE but a religious person offered you eternal life after you die you wouldn’t exactly be whipping out the old wallet on the spot to buy it.

Tim: “Taking various paths, we wound up where we are now.”

You dropped out. There are lots of kids who dropped out of schools. Others make it. I am not putting up the argument that all dropouts are losers. Neither am I saying that those who made it are better human beings in any sense of that term. Making conclusions about dead matter should not be something a scientist does without rigorous testing of assumptions. Human affairs are a lot more complex. Let’s tread with care.

That’s why it seemed the card tricks and a little magic, is a great way to start critical thinking skills.

Of course, pragmatic civility and family love depends on not challenging and second guessing everything one doesn’t like. Keep battles to a minimum by choosing your battles very carefully. Help minimize conflict not increase it.

So there’s always that balance to keep in mind.

Minimizing conflict is a cop out, in my opinion. I am not talking about getting out of each other’s way for the common good in the workplace or in traffic. I prefer seizing the bull by its horn and rip the disease out completely so that people can live in carefree harmony.

I have to chuckle hearing Sree speak his/her mind…,no-holds truth. Ripping the disease out completely from a family member, be it adult or child, is way too extreme, I hope most would say. I would like to do that to Kurt Wise or any of a dozen evangelicals/fundamentalists (lol, even catholics), but not to someone you have to live with. Has Sree truly done such a bold move to family/friend, and been successful? Give details.

Minimizing conflict is a cop out, in my opinion. I am not talking about getting out of each other’s way for the common good in the workplace or in traffic. I prefer seizing the bull by its horn and rip the disease out completely so that people can live in carefree harmony.
Interesting universe you live in. How pray tell would you rip disease out of a person.

Do you know what disease is?

Or are we talking strictly cartoon reality once again Sree?


Skree, there have been points in my life that I had a lot of messed up, and uninformed opinions. So I can excuse you. Maybe, some decades from now, you will have managed to develop more intellectual integrity.