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Bugs
12-02-2011, 11:14 AM
I am planning our prehistory unit (planning on tackling it in about a year) so I have a bunch of kids books on prehistory and evolution laying around. I was reading "our family tree" to my son today and it brought up a conversation that I knew I would have to have, but had not yet figured out how to do it.

He said "I know who made us" and I about choked. I am an athiest, raised in a religious household, and my son, to my dismay has been exposed to plenty of religion. I asked him where he thought people came from, and then he kicked his feet a little and didn't want to tell me (I think because he knows I don't believe). Finally he came out with it that "God made us". I told him that I don't believe that, and explained the whole cell, evolution, people thing as simply as I could in a nutshell..... which led to more conversation about how mama doesn't even believe in God.

Oh My. We had a good talk, but he didn't seem to get it, and really wants to know why people would say god made them if god is imaginary, and he wants to know why people believe in god, and why I don't, and what is up with Nana and why she believes in god when I don't.....
And I want to crawl into a hole.

I don't know what to say to the kid, as my own realization about the whole imaginary nature of god is new as of 5 years ago.

Does anyone have advice on what to say, how to say it, or what to do? Its not like i'm not going to have to have this conversation again. I guess I need to know how to raise a child in an athiest household, without pushing him either way, while answering big questions and teaching him to be respectful of other people's beliefs.

Ackkk. Help. ???

dbmamaz
12-02-2011, 11:35 AM
I try to frame it as something that helps it all make sense. We make up stories to explain the things we don't understand. There used to be stories about the gods making the rain, but now we understand where rain comes from. There used to be strange ideas about how babies were born, but now we know the truth.

Even some people who believe the whole idea of evolution can still point to the fact that we don't know what made the big bang happen, and they can say that was god, putting it all in to motion

But god also helps people make sense of other things they don't understand, like why people have to die, or why some people are so mean or bad. Believing in god is still helpful for them if it makes them feel better about the world. But it wasn't helping you feel better about the world, you are happier just dealing with the facts

hockeymom
12-02-2011, 11:55 AM
My explanations are similar to Cara's. DS doesn't believe in a god so it's coming from a different place than you are, but when we do talk about it, we talk interchangeably about the Christian god and other various mythologies.

We make it clear that although mama and daddy don't believe in a god, we have lots of friends who do and that doesn't change how much we love and respect them. We also make it clear that although he doesn't believe in one today doesn't mean he might not change his mind in the future and that's totally fine.

We liken it to our family's vegetarianism, which we don't force on him--he's free to make his own choices, but we hope he makes his choices with intention and understanding.

Gabriela
12-02-2011, 11:57 AM
We're surrounded by evangelical christians. When my son was about 3yo, he mentioned something about the devil, and I knew it was time to have the talk.
Basically, what I tell my son is that many lies are told in our world, and many people believe them because it's easier to believe we go to heaven than it is to accept that we die and that's it.
I also tell him that that's what I think, and explain as much as I can about the different religions, and that I really don't know for sure, but this is what I believe.
He needs to figure out for himself what he believes, but I give my complete argument against organized religion.

We've been studying Greek mythology and I love that the stories are so obvious in which question each story is trying to answer.
He can see how a story was made up to explain something.
We talk a lot about the metaphors too - the son = the sun, the birth = the harvest or new cycle, hell = our guilt, heaven = our ideal...
I've even gone so far as to tell him that Jesus was probably a very enlightened man who was killed for his ideas,
and that the story was turned around to support the establishment of the society we live in today,
and that the bible is a bunch of horsecrap made up to justify his execution (I know that's an oversimplification, but...)

Anyhow, I think it makes for very interesting conversations. We'll start studying the different religions more seriously next year.
I do think it's better to start young on this. Our children are bombarded with others' religious views, it's everywhere. They need to be well equipped.
My son also knows not to talk about it with other people (except close friends), especially when he knows they're xtians (he would be seriously outcast if they knew).

Amanadoo
12-02-2011, 12:06 PM
Can you tell him to keep wondering, and keep asking questions? Tell him that people spend their whole lives thinking about God and "God stories," and that there is no pressure for him to come to any conclusions right now. Relate it to something he knows, something he likes. So, for instance, if he likes to read about dinosaurs, you can point out that he doesn't know the names of every dinosaur, and he doesn't yet know what every dinosaur ate or when/where it lived....but he knows that he can keep learning about dinosaurs until he knows everything he can know about them. God is the same way...I say frame it as something to think about//learn about.

Airen
12-02-2011, 12:29 PM
OOO... Amanadoo, I love that!!

I'm Pagan and my husband is agnostic leaning Christian. Ds started asking at about 4. I think it was easier since we both believe in something, so we just explained differnet people believe different things, but I reinforce that no one is wrong. I did point out that some don't believe in any god/s at all (my brother is atheist).

It still comes up quite often. DS is very preoccupied where things come from, and how all these plants animals got here.

Just go one question at a time. DS seems satisfied if I say what I believe, and offer one or two other options of what others believe also

Crabby Lioness
12-02-2011, 12:55 PM
There's a lot of good advice here, but I'd like to point out a flaw in your presentation, Bugs. You are presenting evolution as something theists don't believe in. The problem is that most theists, even most Christians, have no problem whatsoever with evolution or the Big Bang theory. These are simply seen as the tools God used to implement Creation. Be careful that in the process of teaching your son against false dichotomies you do not set up one of your own.

Dh and I are Pagan, the children lean towards atheism. We teach them that while no one knows for sure about God, some people find a belief in God to help them live their lives with more peace and confidence. Other people try to manipulate the widespread belief in God to better themselves or hurt others, but these people are con artists who would manipulate anything they found to their advantage with no respect whatsoever for what they are manipulating.

Gabriela
12-02-2011, 01:20 PM
I like how you put it CL.
I have to remind myself that it's the con artists I'm against, not the christians themselves.

dragonfly
12-02-2011, 01:29 PM
I'm loving everything everyone has said. It's making me think a lot about my own beliefs (which I won't babble on about here, but mostly lean toward uncommitted agnostic) and how they differ from my son's.

My one observation, FWIW, is that most children about that age are very into some kind of fantasy play. Whether it's imaginary friends, fairies, elves, wizards, Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or even (depending on your own beliefs) God, make-believe is a natural part of childhood development.

I'm not sure what you can do with this observation, and I don't want to get, um, preachy, sooo....I guess that's all I have to say.

Accidental Homeschooler
12-02-2011, 02:40 PM
I like to give my kids the message that they will have to figure out what they believe themselves. I believe this..... Grandma believes this....... We have talked about different religious beliefs. I don't want to tell them that a belief is wrong, especially one held by other family, just that it is not my belief. I do try to point out when I think people are using their beliefs to justify hurting someone else and that this is never ok, though sadly too common.

baker
12-02-2011, 03:50 PM
I think the whole subject is a bit too "heavy" for any 5 year old to comprehend. I would go with the "people believe different things" angle. My dh is agnostic/leaning athiest, I am a Christian who believes in intelligent design. We have one kid who believes EVERYTHING her evangelical friends have told her and the other who questions it all.

Stella M
12-02-2011, 04:07 PM
Depends though. Some 5 year olds, particularly if gifted, need to be taken seriously on this question because they are already mulling over it and it can cause them some distress, being able to frame the questions but not having an answer.

And just from another perspective, my ds, who is atheist like me at this stage, was about 6 when he was asking these questions and the idea of 'God' was causing him some upset because already it made no internal sense to him. He was relieved when I validated his atheist feelings. Not as in 'oh, we are better or we are right' but just as in 'oh, I feel the same way you do and so do many other people.'

With my girls, we went down the 'some people believe this, some that' route, both because neither of them are atheist and they hang with a Christian home schooler crowd.

I've never really mixed up evolution with the religion talk, I guess because there are plenty of believers who also are OK with the evolution story.

hockeymom
12-02-2011, 04:26 PM
I agree with Melissa, if the child is asking then they are ready for answers. You know your child best at what level he'll understand, but my general feeling is that kids "get" a whole lot more than most adults give them credit for. Questions deserve thorough answers. I tend to think it's better to give too much information than too little (and thus come off as insulting).

eta: Also, if you give a simplistic answer like "people believe different things", that still begs for further questioning. WHY do people believe different things? What kinds of things? Why do they believe them, or not? Why do I and you do not? For the child who is struggling with understanding this, I don't think it's fair to be vague. But I do believe it's okay to be honest. My DS for example wonders how it can be that some people can still believe in a god, and since I honestly don't understand the answer to that, I tell him so. It's not snarky, I just don't understand it either. But it wouldn't settle well to simply wave it off, at least not for him (even when he did start asking some years ago). Age, I've found, has nothing to do with understanding.

Stella M
12-02-2011, 04:50 PM
It's such an interesting topic, isn't it ?

One way I have framed the 'but why do they believe in God/Goddess/Gods/whatever' question is to talk about the way we all use stories to try to understand the world around us. Creation myths are a great way to demonstrate this.

Different people use different stories to help them make sense of life. This helped my son understand why people talked about heaven, something he strongly felt was a lie. I explained it as "For some people, the story of heaven helps them make sense of what happens to us after we die." That left him able to respond that to him, what made sense was that our bodies went back to the earth and new plants could grow; also that people dying made room for all the new babies, otherwise earth would get too crowded. He wasn't happy about it; copious tears were shed, but it made sense to him.

I guess for the OP, presenting her non-belief to her child in this way, as story, could give him a strong sense of where mama is coming from - I don't think atheist parents should feel a need to hide or downplay their own thoughts - while still leaving room for the child to respect the fact that not every one finds meaning in the same story and that he himself is free to adopt the narrative that most makes sense to him.

I would address the 'but God made us!' assertion in the same way. "Yes, that is a story that many people find interesting and some people find extremely helpful in understanding how the world came to be."
Then go on to talk about own beliefs about how the world came to be.

All world religions are at heart, a narrative, a narrative of people trying to make sense of the world around them and their human condition. I don't think it's disrespectful to explain religion through this lens.

To be honest, it's the only way I can understand a belief in God or religion myself. These are tough topics to grapple with but 5 year olds have a lifetime ahead of them to work it all out.

AddlepatedMonkeyMama
12-02-2011, 05:56 PM
I have a slightly different problem. I am an atheist but my husband is Christian and wants the kids to be raised with that faith. I don't object because the Congregational church he attends is very tolerant and emphasizes social justice and equality. My husband believes in evolution and does not subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible. My son is fairly literal minded, and we have to stress that things like the Garden of Eden are stories.

My problem is that I can't openly discuss my lack of belief or even the possibility of lack of belief without feeling like I'm undermining my husband's attempt to, for lack of a better word, indoctrinate them. My son is already voicing skepticism, saying things like, "Nobody knows if God really exists" and "I don't think that could really happen." I'm postponing the day when I divulge my atheism as long as possible, because I know they would be strongly influenced by it. I certainly want them to choose their own path, but part of me wishes for them the psychological and spiritual comfort of faith in a loving Creator to help them through the difficult times in life.

Stella M
12-02-2011, 06:44 PM
That would be tricky...

Trouble is for some kids, the idea of a loving Creator is inconsistent with what they know of life and human history. For some kids, being given permission to reject that solves an unsolvable quandry that causes them distress ie if there is a loving God, why does he allow so much suffering, especially the suffering of innocents on a terrible scale ? For some children ( ds and myself as a child ), trying to create a mental space in which a God and suffering can co-exist causes mental pain.

Being shown a way of living without the concept of God can be a blessing for these children, no pun intended. Buddhist or non-theistic paganism concepts tend to be useful ones for these children to consider.

But yeah, happy and accepting of God kids are nice too :)

Airen
12-02-2011, 07:37 PM
OMGeezer- I just had this conversation with my son! We were discussing Manifest Destiny, and he asked where the idea came from. So, I tried to explain the popular belief of the times. That if you are a good person, God "rewards" you with money and the like. So, the gov't just assumed that since they were going to get an America from coast to coast. He asked why isn't it like that? So we got into this talk about if two people want the same thing, and they are both good people... what then? Also, both my grandparents are in the hospital right now, and DS is close to them both. Mama will be fine (tripped over a hosiptal cord and broke her knee), but Papa may not be coming home... so I'm sure that was on his mind.

My personal belief is that everyone is right, but the concept of "god" is so huge and complex(or simple stupid, depending) that we humans take an interpretation that fits with who we are as people. I've noticed DS talks like he seems to be developing similar thoughts... but he also likes to mirror me. That's a big part of the reason why I reinforce others' and my beleif that it really is a choice...

Bugs
12-03-2011, 06:06 AM
Thank you for all the insight!

I thinkmany of you answered what I didn't even realize was the core of the issue for us: "why some people believe and some people don't" concept to his very litteral self. To him, either its right or its wrong, and he doesn't understand how more than one person can be right with different answers. Which is frusterating to me, because I want him to be open minded, but also not pushed one way or the other. Nana can believe what she wants, and Mama can believe different, and we can both still be good people and have our own personal "truth". The kid isn't even 6 yet, and this black and white thinking IS normal.... even if its bothersome to me :-P.

I took him to a christmas market last night, and he had a couple more things to say on the topic of jesus and angels when we were looking at a nativity. He told me that he likes angel stories, and how they are kind of like superheros like batman, and thats cool. We were able to agree that they are nice stories that make us feel good, and its okay if they aren't real, because they are still nice.

It looks like its going to be a long season. I am glad he is thinking about things and realizing that people are different and have different ideas about the world.

I probably need to take a step back and realize he is just figuring things out for himself, and not put my own religious angst and worry about ruining him in the way ;-)

Bugs
12-03-2011, 06:09 AM
And Stella- when we talk about it again (because knowing my son, we will as soon as he chews it over some more) I think i'll take your approach of "these are stories people use to help understand the world around them". Thank you- I wish I would have thought of that last night!

MarkInMD
12-03-2011, 12:25 PM
Even some people who believe the whole idea of evolution can still point to the fact that we don't know what made the big bang happen, and they can say that was god, putting it all in to motion

The tough thing with this, though, is that often the question that follows it is "Where did God come from?" It's kind of a bottomless pit. Ultimately it all comes back to something supernatural or magical, so why go that far in the first place? Science has managed to explain everything else over time, so there's no reason to think that someday the Big Bang/origin of the universe won't be explained, too. We're just not there yet.

This topic hasn't really come up yet here, although Tornado has a very spiritual side. I can already see Hurricane being something of a closet agnostic himself without ever discussing it openly, but Tornado will be the one who will have some struggles with this someday, I think. If it comes up, I'll probably apply most of what people have said here about stories and comfort and all that. Both sets are grandparents are big-time believers, DW less so, and me less than that. Hard to say what our kids will turn into. Sounds like you've gotten some spot-on advice, though.

krlaz
12-03-2011, 12:26 PM
I have really found this thread to be very helpful, too! Thank you so much for all of your thoughtful insight! We haven't begun these discussions yet, but I can tell they are coming. This is our first Christmas when questions about Jesus have come up. My oldest hasn't asked anything beyond who he is and why he's celebrated. This thread has given me some great advice about how to answer more questions that may come up. I've copied and pasted so much of your advice into an email to myself for future reference! Thank you!!

OrganicFrmGrl
12-03-2011, 05:41 PM
This has been a wonderful discussions here! It makes me think of my own household. DH is atheist myself agnostic raised in a religious household. We have always taught that God/Jesus are something that some people believe because that makes them feel better. But, when my mom died 2 yrs ago in an accident, my son said that his Grandmother was in Heaven and was watching over him. I am sure a family member of mine told him that. We still today have never said any different bc he continues to say that. At his age, I can't break his heart. I guess one day he will figure it out. It is hard to hear because he really believes it but doesn't according to him believe in god.

Bugs
12-04-2011, 12:41 AM
EE- The death issue DOES make it harder. It can bring such comfort to little guys!

Stella M
12-04-2011, 01:58 AM
Yes, my boy gets sad about the death thing. I did offer him the option of believing in an afterlife!!! which he rejected as illogical. I just have to stay with him in the sadness about the fact that all of us will one day die and then he comes through that and is his normal Mario loving self again.

Crabby Lioness
12-04-2011, 10:19 AM
I and my dh have both had too many experiences that could not be explained scientifically to believe science has the explanation for everything. Dh especially -- he has a PhD in biology and knows the limits of scientific explanations.

But for someone who hasn't had such experiences, I can completely understand not wanting to buy into a theistic worldview completely on faith.

MarkInMD
12-04-2011, 10:50 AM
I and my dh have both had too many experiences that could not be explained scientifically to believe science has the explanation for everything. Dh especially -- he has a PhD in biology and knows the limits of scientific explanations.

But for someone who hasn't had such experiences, I can completely understand not wanting to buy into a theistic worldview completely on faith.

I haven't had them, and of course I don't know what your experiences were so what I say isn't meant to dismiss them as impossible. However, there were so many things that even a century or two ago were considered unexplainable that now are explained (or well on the way to it) that what I have faith in is humanity's ability to use science and reason to keep moving toward explaining them. It may take thousands or millions of years, but I think humans or whatever we become can get there.

That being said, I don't completely shut the door on an afterlife precisely because of that same thing: we just don't know with 100% certainty. My gut feeling says no, but that's an intuition, nothing that's been tested or is even testable.

Bugs
12-04-2011, 11:23 AM
Meh. I never said science had the explaination for everything. I don't want to explain everything. I just want my son to be comfortable coming to his own ideals without setting him up to have an "us vs them" worldview.

Stella M
12-04-2011, 06:25 PM
It's funny, because I've had 'experiences' too - visitations from the dead, psychic dreams - but I tend to blame them on a disordered and over-active imagination. So even experiences can't convince me to be theist! Or maybe my moral problems with an all powerful deity who allows little Jewish babies to be used as footballs in concentration camps just overwhelms my personal experiences.

I don't think ds thinks science has the answers for everything either. He just doesn't buy a theistic world view. My girls do. Same family, same deconstructionist mama, go figure...

I've heard the idea that atheists must think science explains everything but I've never quite understood that. For me, anyway, science doesn't flood in to fill the space left by an absent god.

As far as the afterlife goes, I don't believe in a literal afterlife, but I do find pagan stories about things like the Apple Isle useful metaphors for teaching and understanding the idea of human legacy.

hreneeh
12-06-2011, 05:28 PM
I will say being raised evangelical/cult christian that by age 5 I was terrified of the devil, hell and all those non-believers out there. I don't see why at age 5 I can't discuss with my child why I don't believe those things and why I think they are dangerous to our species as a whole. I'd like to indoctrinate my children pretty early with critical thinking skills, not wait till someone proselytizes to them. My son (7.5) pretty much believes anything an authority figure tells him. It's been pretty tough to get through to him that people aren't all truthful, or that sometimes people believe things that just aren't true. It doesn't help that my mom "witnesses" to him every chance she gets.

Gabriela
12-07-2011, 08:39 AM
I'd like to indoctrinate my children pretty early with critical thinking skills, not wait till someone proselytizes to them.

Amen and hallelujah!!!