Intro & My Current Issue

Good morning!

I have been a part of the Atheist community for quite a while. I grew up a southern baptist, bible believing christian. My uncles are all preachers in KY and I went to church up until my later high school days. I had always been skeptical about the existence of God, and finally found my way out completely when I was a senior in high school. While I owe some credit to various atheist podcasts I listened to, I give myself most of the credit for being willing to take a look at my own beliefs and actually question them.

Fast forward 12 years: I am now almost 30 years old, happily married in New Jersey with our first child on the way. My wife is due in November. The catch is, I married a christian. We’ve had many conversations about religion in the past. I’ve tried many times explaining to her my views on faith/religion/God. Which I feel she somewhat understands and we found a middle ground. She is in no way a bible literalist. But she still holds onto her beliefs, which is fine. Every conversation we ever had, she never had any answers for my questions. This lead me to believe she hasn’t actually explored her beliefs at all. She was indoctrinated at an early age and was most likely taught to never question anything. So she hasn’t.

In no way am I trying to deconvert her (which would be amazing), but now that we have a child on the way, I am concerned about how to properly raise a child with our differing views. Something I am dreading is bringing this conversation up to her. Quite often in the past when having these conversations, she has gotten very defensive. She often would shut down the conversation when asked tough questions and would always just go back to “faith” being the answer to almost everything.

My concern is raising a child in a christian church. My thoughts on this are that it would hinder our child’s intellectual growth. I have a problem with our child being taught Genesis. It’s a major issue if our child grows up believing the Earth is somewhere around 6,000 years old. I have an issue with Christianity teaching our child that they are intrinsically evil (original sin). Having faith in a God doesn’t teach children to think for themselves, wonder, or to use logic when trying to answer the big questions of the world. All it does is tell them how to act and what to think. That’s not education, it’s indoctrination.

My thought right now is to write her a letter. A letter explaining my worldview. That way she can read this in her own time, take it to her preacher or religious friends and ask them their opinion, etc… and not feel like she has to provide me immediate answers to anything. I’ve had a secular therapist for the past 3 or 4 years. He thought this sounded like a good idea.

I am hoping someone reading this may have had a similar experience, and can share their thoughts. Thanks for reading!

I’m in a very similar situation. My wife is religious but has unique and unexamined beliefs, in that she is part native and has her family’s blend of Catholic and native spiritualism. My wife avoids church because no one shares her views and she is utterly incapable of defending any of them.

As our kids grew up we sent them to the church related activities their friends went to and we were never shy about anything religious. But I made sure to tell them that their mom and dad each had different views and they were free to believe anything as long as they could give me a good reason for it.

So far I have a staunchly atheist son (20 years old) and a daughter who doesn’t reject the idea of god but doesn’t have much in the way of spiritual or religious feelings. The only hiccup is my wife’s idea of ghosts and spirits has infected my daughter, so every sound is something to fear and ‘unexplained things’ happen all the time. It’s annoying but she’s only 17, so should grow out of it over time.

Don’t worry too much, especially since she isn’t a ‘deep’ believer. Her soft stance should allow you to at least talk to your children about rational thinking and how to see logical fallacies, so even if they are exposed to religion they’ll have the tools to see through it. And who knows, if your wife starts to think about what you’re telling your kids she might pick up on it too.

Hey, thanks so much for the reply! It definitely helps and glad to know I’m not alone. Your wife definitely has a different take on things, but it’s not too far off. I am 100% okay with my child exploring religion. But I do not think it would be right to expose them only to one single religion. Out of the many that exist, I would rather them explore world religions to be able to compare/contrast these belief systems. I’d like my child to be well rounded and believe it is important for them to understand the mindset of the religious but not necessarily hold their belief as the truth.

Although my wife isn’t necessarily a fundamentalist (deep believer), I still worry about the fact that she still does want to indoctrinate our child. My issue is, how do I oppose this viewpoint at the same time?

As soon as you think your child is mature enough to learn card tricks. Teach him. At least he will then understand how easy it is for people to fool other people in to believing in actual magic.

And really, that is what religions are about… some people fooling other people in to believing in magic.

Indoctrination is a form of brainwashing, but that said, I do think a child should be able to explore various religion, read (or read to her/him) mythical stories, ancient religions, etc. Maybe you could suggest to your wife that you all visit other churches, like the Episcopal Church, Lutheran, Catholic, the U.U., and an Ethical Center, and if you can swing it, a visit to a Jewish synagogue. The U.U. is also a great place to learn about other religions too and some cities have humanist gatherings too. There are other ways to explore religion and non-religious philosophies.

As soon as you think your child is mature enough to learn card tricks. Teach him. -- timb
Great suggestion. Matt Dillahunty has a story of a guy who saw him doing magic and asked if it was "real magic" or just tricks. Matt showed him his levitation trick, then showed him the trick. He was also careful to tell him why he was doing that, and for him to pay attention to his beliefs as he first saw "magic", then found out it was a trick.

Dale McGowan also has a great story about teaching his son about Santa Claus. It can be found in a few forms. If you can’t find it, I’ll try looking it up. Basically, he let the kid reason it out himself and congratulated him when he got it, and made sure he understood why it was fun to keep it a secret from younger kids.

Third story, if you have the time, is Ohiye sa a Native American who was forced to go to “white” schools. His grandfather told him, you can’t fight this, so go and learn everything you can from it.

Thanks for all of the fantastic replies everyone.

I heard Matt talk about this story on a recent Atheist Experience episode. I love the ideas about magic tricks and Santa Clause.

I also found Dale McGowan’s Santa example: I loved reading that and it sounds like a great method on how to teach kids. He summarizes it very well at the end:

“By allowing our children to participate in the Santa myth and find their own way out of it through skeptical inquiry, we give them a priceless opportunity to see a mass cultural illusion first from the inside, then from the outside. A very casual line of post-Santa questioning can lead kids to recognize how completely we all can snow ourselves if the enticements are attractive enough. Such a lesson, viewed from the top of the hill after exiting a belief system under their own power, can gird kids against the best efforts of the evangelists – and far better than secondhand knowledge could ever hope to do.”


Dale also has the book,“in faith and in doubt” about spiritually mixed relationships. Might want to use that as a conversation starter.

Hi all. I have an update.

I was able to have a very peaceful, long conversation with my wife about religion. She told me that she is scared to explore these things. Meaning that she is afraid that she will stop believing (which is a huge accomplishment in my opinion). She acknowledged that I had brought up a ton of valid points and that she has no answers. I asked her what exactly she believes and why she believes it. She thought pretty hard about this and said she doesn’t really know, other than being born into it. She said she believes mostly because it makes her feel good.

I am extremely happy with how the conversation went. I didn’t expect her to vocalize some possible doubts that she has. At one point, she told me that it is hard maintaining a belief in God after learning how massive the universe is (I had her watch a “scale of the universe” video with me a couple days prior).

All in all, my outlook on the conversation is that she has never truly been challenge on her beliefs and has never actually put much rational thought into them. It was a fantastic, honest conversation and I have tons of respect for her being open to it. I told her I’d still be willing to go to church with her if she was willing to watch a debate with me after. She agreed! The following night we watch Matt Dillahunty’s presentation “Do They Really Believe That?”. I believe that was a Center for Inquiry presentation actually.

My next hurdle is how to respond best to when she says “I still choose to believe because it makes me feel good.” Any takers on this one? Thanks!

First off, I wouldn’t rush it. Those are great insights by her and I’m assuming it has a lot to do with your ability to listen rather than argue.

To the question, that one always seemed like a conversation ender to me. She is flat out saying she doesn’t want to consider anything beyond that. The other things you are reporting though show that she is considering quite a bit. So, in this case, I’d let that one go and focus on those areas where she is interested. I went through a couple years of building a worldview that inspired me, of finding my place in the universe and finding a motivation to care about the things around me. Part of that was gaining appreciation for what the universe is and how it got here. It is like a religious experience in that you get to a place where you have to accept there are things you don’t know. The next step was then to accept that I don’t need to fill that void with a mythological creature. But that took a couple years.