Atheist Parenting

Voula Papas

When my son was a baby I ensured that he received all his vaccination needles i.e. polio, measles, diphtheria etc. Vaccines are developed from the actual virus itself, and they involve the introduction of antigenetically active, but weakened micro-organisms into the body, which trigger antibody production without making the person sick – thus providing immunity.

Many atheist parents – including myself – endeavour to protect their children from the negative influence of religion. Usually atheist or agnostic parents never mention religion/god to their children at all, while some simply encourage their children to dislike a particular religion. Unfortunately we live in a world that is still under the influence of religion and many religions are actively pursuing the recruitment of new members.

Most vulnerable are those who are disillusioned with life and feel that they are deficient unless they “belong”. Individuals that have a low self-esteem are insecure and have a perceived need for someone else to take charge of their lives, are easy prey for proselytisers. Children and teenagers are particularly vulnerable since their ability to critically evaluate information has not yet been fully developed – in some people it never develops!

Parents have an obligation to nurture their children’s self-esteem; they also have an obligation to educate their children on the history of religion and to encourage critical, independent thinking and scepticism.

*  It is essential to expose children to the realities of religion. Sanitised, whitewashed information will not do, what is needed is exposure to the ugliness of it all. We can begin with primitive humans’ need to explain the world around them and work our way through ancient mythology eg. the ancient Greek gods, human sacrifice, Yahweh of the Old Testament, Jesus, Mohammed and Islam, the Crusades, the Moslem conquests, the Inquisition, missionaries in the Americas, Vatican hypocrisy, environmental destruction, overpopulation, poverty, squalor and exploitation, right up to new millennium, Christian, Islamic – “pro-life” and Taliban fundamentalism. Phew!!!
*  Explain to children the difference between science and religion, reason and faith, material and the supernatural, myth and fact, religious morality and humanist ethics.
*  Encourage children to examine the differences and similarities between the various religions and the contrasts between secular societies and theocracies.
*  Encourage children to ask questions and to demand answers. Encourage children to read a wide variety of books – from geology to mythology – newspapers and magazines. Discuss ethical issues with your child so that he/she will learn the value of forming an opinion.
*  Explain to children the functions of the brain and how certain types of neurological disorders and mental illnesses have been interpreted in the past as “visions from god”.
*  I see no harm in occasional church attendance with grandma – it gives the child an insight into religious belief and can act as an immunity booster.
*  Museum visits are great! They are educational and dinosaur skeletons the size of houses are a good antidote against creation “science”!
*  Most public libraries have an excellent selection of children’s books on scientific knowledge: life on Earth, evolution, dinosaurs, the solar system, ecology, geology, biology, prehistory, human society as well as mythology/creation myths from various cultures. The children’s books on the different religions are whitewashed in order to give children a good impression on a particular religion, in other words they do not tell the full story. As for books criticising religion, they are virtually non-existent.
*  Always keep the communication lines open and encourage your child to talk to you on any issue on their minds.
*  With girls, it is important to discuss the restricted role and inferior status of women within religion and to educate them on the menace of religious fundamentalism. See Women in the Bible and Islam and Women’s Rights.
*  I would not torture young children with bible reading but older children and teenagers will benefit from Bible and Qu’ran literacy.
*  We can teach children ethical behaviour by example, not by “do as I say not as I do”.

Confident, secure, knowledgeable children with a healthy self-esteem will be far better protected from the virus of religion.

As Francis Bacon once said: “Knowledge is power!”