Home > atheism, children, religion > What Religion are You?

What Religion are You?

The question was asked to me by my six year old daughter, “Daddy what religion are you?”

The thing about kids is that they haven’t yet learned the filter. That’s not really a question you are supposed to ask people if you don’t know. It’s strange, because the custom seems to dictate that it’s too personal to ask, but if the other person sincerely believes it then what is the harm in asking? That however is another topic for another post.

It’s come up before and my initial impulse is to respond with a question of my own such as, ‘what do you mean?’ or ‘why do you ask?’ I do this, not because I am ashamed that I do not believe, but because it raises an issue with other people she knows: friends and family. Do I want her going around telling people that her father doesn’t have a religion? It leads to one of three possibilities: either they shrug their shoulders and that’s the end of it (the most preferable result), they respond in some condescending manner that I’ll change eventually, or they will tell her that it’s not the right choice to make. Even now, truth be told, I have some reluctance to write this post but I’m working through it because, for the first time I answered her honestly, “I don’t have one.”

She’s probably too young to really understand that there is a difference. More than likely all it means is that I don’t go to church, and that’s really it. What else can she know? I’ve been told by people that it’s wrong to not raise a kid in a religion, but I don’t understand why; it was literally something that I just accepted as being true. You start religious and eventually you grow out of it or you never question it and are religious your entire life. Yet I am faced with this quandary because I really don’t know what it provides if you never have it.

I’ve burned a lot of pixels explaining how I slowly rejected a belief in the supernatural (again, the temptation to mitigate what I am writing is incredible) but I wasn’t born believing, it was taught to me and very quickly after that it became ingrained into my personality in such a way that it was a distinct part of my identity. It was an extremely difficult thing to grapple with as my entire life had been viewed through a particular lens. Changing that prescription was not easy, nor was it light, nor (as some claim) was it done arbitrarily. In all honesty I don’t think I’m that different than I was before, behavior wise, the only difference is that I don’t spend one hour a week in some building listening to an individual tell me that I am “fallen,” or that it’s somehow moral for a god to ask a man to kill his son (whether or not that god was serious doesn’t matter).

“Why not?”

Her follow up was expected. She’s precocious, to literally say that least, but I was prepared for it. Part of me was getting ready for this conversation and if it hadn’t happened at the same time as the baby waking up it could have been much more detailed–though I wouldn’t bore her with the things I write now as most of her day is spent either playing Pokemon or talking about Pokemon. I simply said because I don’t believe any of it is true, and that no one really knows anyway. Sure, they may believe but they don’t know. I know that money works, I don’t understand that complex economics that back the piece of cloth in my pocket with George Washington on it but I know it works. I believe the rest. When people say that they know their religion is right, they mean to say that they believe it because to know something requires that you have evidence. That’s why they are always talking about faith and belief, as knowledge would be a completely different thing. My explanation was that I’m not going to believe something that I don’t have evidence for, but I remain open to any possibility if the evidence did present itself. It’s the best, and the most honest thing I can do.

“So you don’t need a religion?”

I answered, “no.” Of course you don’t, why would you? Sure there are those people for whom without religion they would be horrible people, and as Aristotle would say, let them have it.  A world without bandits and murderers is a better place than one with it, but those people aren’t good people to begin with. If she doesn’t want to go to church she doesn’t have to, I’m not going to force her to learn it. I can teach morals and ethics without reference to the supernatural so I’ll do that. It makes for a better person if they do things because of the things themselves rather than because of some kind of divine punishment/reward system. What is right, ought to be done no matter the personal consequence to the individual. The only other hurdle to get over is when people tell me that religion provides “structure.” Yet, I don’t know what that means and I suspect that they don’t either. I think of structure in terms of time and space, but that can’t be what they mean. If it’s about the week then the structure it provides is merely once a week for an hour, twice if there’s an obligation day, more if you are Jewish and it’s the holiday season, or five times a day if you are Muslim (I recognize other religious traditions are being ignored but I’m ignorant of how their services run). I was raised Catholic so the only structure I know is the one day a week service to celebrate that 2000 years ago an innocent man died for a sin I had no part of in order to forgive that sin. That’s not structure that’s absurdity.

“Couldn’t I just get a house and be a cat seller?”

This was her alternative to having a religion. I laughed because of the strangeness of her choice. I apologized for laughing and then remarked, “if that’s what you want to do.”

It was a rather pleasant and honest conversation. Although I have the sneaking suspicion that she just brought it up because she wants to be a cat seller. The interesting thing about it, was that there was no judgment. I wasn’t weird, strange, or bad because I didn’t have a religion I was just her dad.

I’ve actually been warned against raising her an atheist, as if there was some kind of doctrine or way of life that must be adhered to. The only thing I do is teach her that if something can be proven true, it’s true whether or not you want it to be. Is that so utterly bad? I’ll answer that, no it isn’t. It’s the way it ought to be. I’m not forcing her to be anything, or preventing her from being anything either. I’ll love her no matter what. I don’t need some spiritual entity to tell me to do so, and neither does she.

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  1. March 10, 2015 at 3:30 am

    When my kids were young, I made sure to expose them to a lot of mythology from different cultures. There’s one book they especially liked, “D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths” aimed at kids and illustrated with lithographs. We also made sure to get in some Norse mythology, and a smattering of other myths as well. That way, when the fundie relatives started sending us preachy gifts, the kids had some context for evaluating them. As they got older we talked a lot about what different religions believe, and made sure they got some limited exposure to religious practices (like attending church weddings). We didn’t tell them what to believe; often our answer to questions about supernatural beliefs was “What do you think?” followed up by “OK, and why do you think that?” It all worked as I hoped it would, as a vaccine. By their teens both my kids had decided on their own that they were atheists.

    • rdxdave
      March 11, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      I’ve read my oldest a collection of the Norse Myths, Beowulf, and the Iliad. My wife don’t limit exposure, for the past five years we have only gone when there were family obligations. Although I should say that she has recently begun reattending Catholic services because her sister wants her to be a godmother.

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