Deconversion and Kids
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19-10-2010, 08:14 PM
 
Deconversion and Kids
I've gotten myself into a pickle. I have 8-year-old twin daughters, and until about a year ago, we attended church regularly. I was always a true believer, and much of that has rubbed off on my kids. Of course, at the time, I thought this was a good thing.

Now I know that I'm an atheist. I've been becoming an atheist for several years but continued to muscle through my doubts for (what I thought was) the sake of my kids. They are starting to notice that we don't go to church anymore and this confuses them. I'm sure it seems like a night and day change to them (as it does to my hubby) even though the internal shift has been going on for a long time.

What do I do? My children believe in the concept of heaven and hell, the afterlife, being good because god is watching and the whole 9 yards. I know this is all my fault, and I feel so guilty! What have I done? Do I tell them? What do I tell them? Where do we go from here? How long should I wait?

Has anyone else experienced anything like this? Do people write books about atheism for kids?
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19-10-2010, 08:47 PM
RE: Deconversion and Kids
There is a wonderful book (though I have not read it yet because I have not kids yet) titled Parenting Beyond Belief...I here it's pretty good.
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19-10-2010, 10:22 PM
RE: Deconversion and Kids
Have you and your husband talked about your loss of faith in fantasy at all?
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20-10-2010, 01:54 AM
 
RE: Deconversion and Kids
My wife and I raised our kids without going to any church, except for social occasions hosted in churches (weddings and funerals of friends and family, etc.). My view was that my children needed to make up their own minds about religion, without any pressure from us regarding that choice. When they were old enough to start making life choices for themselves, we always stayed out of it. My son has become a catholic (it's a long story) and my daughter is an atheist. Looking back, I'm happy about how we dealt with the religion issue. Of course, you and your husband need to agree about whatever course of action regarding your children and religion that you choose to follow. I hope that won't be a problem ...

Regarding what you've already taught them ... my recommendation is that you simply take some time to tell them the truth: that you no longer believe in the ideas they've learned. And you should explain to them that their choices regarding religion are theirs to make as they grow up to become adults.
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20-10-2010, 11:11 PM
RE: Deconversion and Kids
Here is an interview by Larry Tanner (on himself). This might be helpful:

A self-described “hard-line Atheist” interviews himself about his strong, loving marriage to a fervent Christian. A great read, and plenty to discuss.

Becky, my wife is the most special and wonderful person. She is a Christian of deep belief. She enjoys being part of an evangelical church. She likes the people of the church, the community, and the many opportunities for participation.

She and I are very different in some respects, but together we work. We met in 1995 and have been building a life together ever since.

I figure some might be curious about the relationship of a hard-line Atheist and a fervent Christian, so I put together a self-interview. That is, I wrote some questions and answered them myself below. If folks like the subject and format, perhaps I’ll ask the wife if she would be willing to answer questions from y’all.

1. Let’s start with an obvious question: How is it that two people of such different–perhaps even opposing–beliefs get together and build an apparently happy marriage?


My wife and I actually share many beliefs in common. Our values are fundamentally similar, and our differences are often complementary rather than contradictory. Religion and religious belief are places of difference between us, but in most every other place, we are in just the same place.

Anyways, I think people make more of religious difference than there needs to be. My wife and I are different people, and we always have been. We have different jobs and different backgrounds. We don’t always vote for the same people. We like different foods. Our tastes in music and art can be way off.

As far as I can tell, religion is just another difference. It’s something that each of us has and keeps in the household, but it doesn’t really define our home. It doesn’t dominate our relationship at all. Rather, our lives together are dominated by just living. We try to be together in the morning. I leave for work, and then I come home at night and we try to be together with the kids until their bedtime routine starts.

Maybe if we had both been Catholic or Jewish when we started dating, things would be different today. But since we started out with difference, I think that religion quickly and necessarily became bracketed as a personal thing and not a universal thing.

When we first met, my wife was a practicing Catholic and I identified as Jewish. I don’t remember the state of her belief, or my own. When we moved in together in 1997, she took a spot teaching Sunday school at the local church, and I eventually got involved with my local Hillel house. I even taught the kindergartners in Hebrew school!

If we ever saw our religious differences as a problem, we didn’t see it as a big problem or as a relationship problem. We wanted to be together; that was always the important point. We didn’t even need to say it. From the beginning of our relationship, being together was implicitly understood and not being together never entered our minds.

2. You both went through changes in religious thinking, right?

Very much. In the 2001-2003 timeframe, my wife started to move away from the Catholic church. We were back in the Boston area by then, and the child sex abuse scandal had started to hit. The response of the Church to these horrific acts perpetrated by priests and then knowingly covered up at the highest levels of the institution–well, it was too much to take. The Church’s position on homosexuality was probably also an issue for my wife. Our oldest daughter was confirmed Catholic–that was in 2003–but I don’t think my wife went to church very much in those days.

It wasn’t until 2006 that my wife found a Christian religious community that she liked. This community called itself non-denominational. She found many people there who were about her age and also having children. The religious message was personal and positive. The services were energetic and carefully crafted. I think my wife felt that this community had a lot of people who could understand some of her questions and problems in a way that I never could have.

I won’t go over my changes here, since they are pretty well documented in this blog.

3. Surely, you and your wife must have strong disagreements about religion.


No doubt. We don’t talk about it very much. She has her space to express what she believes, and I have mine. It’s hard for us to talk about these disagreements with each other because I am not able to convey the sense that I take Christian belief very seriously. I take it seriously to some extent. I know that lots of people call themselves Christian, and I am familiar with a lot of the history and background of both early and established Christianity.

But I have limits to the deference I’ll give ideas that I feel have been demonstrated faulty. I can’t make it sound as though the story of a virgin-born-of-a-virgin who was impregnated by a ghost and who birthed a miracle-working human sacrifice makes any sort of sense to me. And I know the arguments around the story and the history of some of its details. Once I feel I’ve thought through a question and seen it resolved satisfactorily, I generally prefer not to revisit it and rather move onto some other question.

For my part, I have no desire to make Atheist arguments or to force Dawkins and Hitchens on my wife. What’s the point? She’s an intelligent human being and I’ve got my work cut out for me just defining the contours of my own thinking. We both have our own “spiritual” questions that we’re pursuing, and it’s enough that we support each other in our respective pursuits.

At the end of the day, our religious differences and our different rationalizations for our beliefs have very little to do with the practicalities of our love and our household. Maybe, after the kids have grown up and we’re retired, we’ll spend our days debating the lack of evidence for gods and the ridiculousness of all religious beliefs. I suspect we’ll rather spend our days having more fun together, but who knows?

4. How do your differences in religion and Atheism apply to the way you raise your children?


In terms of how we raise the kids, I don’t think there are any issues. I don’t openly scoff at Christianity or Judaism in front of my children. I also don’t push Darwin’s Origin of Species or Dawkins’s The God Delusion on them. The fact is that I don’t need to do this. The reality of my Atheism will become apparent to my children when they are old enough to see it. They’ll notice I don’t go with them to church and that some of the books in my library make cases for Atheism.

Parenting is a practical art. It’s hard to get kids to believe or to know things in the exact way you want. They develop beliefs and knowledge through their own doing and their own experiences. Neither my wife nor I is interested in controlling our children’s intellectual environment to the extent that they can only have these-or-those thoughts or only come to such-and-such conclusions about the world. So, we both parent in the day; that is, we try to handle each day as it comes and enjoy it as best we can.

Honestly, I don’t think personal religious or atheistic beliefs have much impact on what we parents need to do as parents. We need to be with our kids. We need to play with them, teach them, help them, encourage them, and show them we enjoy all that. To me, in marriage and in parenting, togetherness is the name of the game.It’s all about being in the same place at the same time.

It’s not about using the children as my personal social experiment. It’s not about making the children live out my dreams and my ideas. It’s not about coercing the children to think and act like me. It is about enabling and empowering them to grow according to their own reasoning and desires.

We parents are an extension of our children, not the other way around. We are their conscience until it becomes their responsibility to tell themselves what’s right and necessary. We are heir butlers until they are fully able to get the items they need and can clean up after themselves. We are their cheerleaders until they learn how to develop their own confidence and motivation. We are their counselors until they are able to take the lead in making the tough decisions that affect them.

My wife and I share this fundamental outlook in most ways, if not in every single way. We agree on the major things and differ in some of the details. We want the same seeds and are comfortable with however the flowers develop. This is why it has worked so far for us, and why I have no reason to be anything less than very optimistic about the future.
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20-10-2010, 11:16 PM
 
RE: Deconversion and Kids
(19-10-2010 08:47 PM)sosa Wrote:  There is a wonderful book (though I have not read it yet because I have not kids yet) titled Parenting Beyond Belief...I here it's pretty good.

Thank you!!
(19-10-2010 10:22 PM)No J. Wrote:  Have you and your husband talked about your loss of faith in fantasy at all?

A little. He's not traditionally religious and hasn't attended church with us for several years, but he's not ready to give up the higher power completely. I'm fine with that, and our values still mesh very well.

He does seem baffled that a person can so completely change her mind in a period of a few short years. I'm not sure he knows what to think of that, and I suspect he thinks it's sort of a phase I'm going through.
(20-10-2010 01:54 AM)2buckchuck Wrote:  Regarding what you've already taught them ... my recommendation is that you simply take some time to tell them the truth: that you no longer believe in the ideas they've learned. And you should explain to them that their choices regarding religion are theirs to make as they grow up to become adults.

This seems so logical. I think I get too wrapped up in the guilt sometimes. Thanks.
(20-10-2010 11:11 PM)sosa Wrote:  Here is an interview by Larry Tanner (on himself).

Thank you. That was a very good read.
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21-10-2010, 12:13 AM
RE: Deconversion and Kids
My girl friend believes in god, but I don't think anyone could say she was very religious. She doesn't go to church and she doesn't bring up god or religion in conversations. She is the best type of believer. You and your husband don't need the same views to continue a good marriage, you need to continue accepting each other and allow each other to have your own points of view.
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21-10-2010, 01:50 AM
 
RE: Deconversion and Kids
(21-10-2010 12:13 AM)No J. Wrote:  My girl friend believes in god, but I don't think anyone could say she was very religious. She doesn't go to church and she doesn't bring up god or religion in conversations. She is the best type of believer. You and your husband don't need the same views to continue a good marriage, you need to continue accepting each other and allow each other to have your own points of view.

Good point! I agree completely!

My wife and I have somewhat different views regarding religion, but she has come to understand how intolerant organized religion can be and so has drifted away from where she was when we first were married. What I posted earlier about athnostic and her husband was not that they necessarily agree about some issue (like religion), but they shouldn't be dealing with their children regarding the issue in contradictory ways. They should come to some agreement about what they're going to do, so the kids aren't put in the position of having to choose between their parents and the parents aren't seeking to undermine each other's position. That can make a marriage go south in a hurry.
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