Updated: Aug 17
I got an email from a reader this morning who asked me what she should do. She’s an atheist raising a child with a Christian husband who wants a full Christian upbringing, including Christian education, church and Sunday school… the whole Jeeboner kit and kaboodle.
I do not envy the situation this mommy is in. I would be going crazy. And to be honest, I really don’t know that anything can for sure be done to fix the situation. All we can do is try, really. So, with that in mind, here’s what I would do if I were in this situation:
I would ask my husband the following, “If you found out, with evidence, that there is a better way to give a better upbringing to our child, would you do it? Would you be open to it?” His answer is going to be very revealing. If he says no, that he would not consider changing his views even in the face of verifiable evidence, I know I have a much bigger problem on my hands. He’s closed himself off to any arguments I will ever make and there is no changing his mind, no matter what. If, however, he says that yes he will consider a new way to look at things if I can provide evidence, then I would offer the following:
I would ask him if he really thinks that someone can be described as “moral” if the only reason they do good is to please a deity and avoid eternal punishment. I would have to ask, obviously, in a calm and respectful way. Perhaps preface it with, “Just for consideration, I’m not trying to disrespect what you believe.” Maybe a kiss on the head to prove I’m not trying to be confrontational.
If he is truly open-minded, the man will see reason and perhaps give a little. But, compromise is not just his job. It’s also mine. I would suggest to him that we meet in the middle – I choose a secular school but he can have the child go to church and Sunday school on the weekends. Something like that.
See, a child going to church is not the determining factor in whether or not he or she will believe any of what religion dishes – sure, at church, they will try very hard to indoctrinate him, but a child who’s been inoculated against such nonsense isn’t going to take to it as easily as the religious leaders like. In fact, a child who’s been “vaccinated” against religious indoctrination might even ask Mommy, who he will end up trusting more because she tells the truth if he can just start staying home.
So, how do you vaccinate a child against indoctrination? Without being obvious and upsetting Daddy? There are loads of ways – here’s a list I wrote up a while back: 11 Ways To Make Sure You’re Raising Critical Thinkers
Kids are naturally curious – it takes a great deal of pressure to stifle that curiosity. Cultivate that curiosity; encourage it at every turn. If the child’s primary caregiver is promoting critical thought, religious ideas don’t have half a chance.
That’s not to say your kid won’t go through phases of believing or won’t believe bits and pieces of it. It’s also no guarantee your child won’t end up religious in the long run, but the odds are very slim that by the time he’s an adult he’ll still be clinging to this nonsense even though mommy has presented the real world to him at every opportunity. If you give a kid religion in one hand and the power to think critically in the other, religion doesn’t stand much of a chance.
The way you can phrase it, even when daddy is around, is “mommy doesn’t believe that, but Daddy does and neither way is wrong. Whether you believe or not is your choice.”
That way, you’re not pitting your beliefs against your husband’s and you’re not telling your child one way is better than the other, thereby causing issues between your husband and yourself. You’re just expressing that what daddy is talking about is not something mommy believes.
Now, if your husband says no to “If you found out, with evidence, that there is a better way to give a better upbringing to our child, would you do it? Would you be open to it?”, and it’s clear his mind is closed and you can’t change it and there’s no room for compromise, you have two options: go along with the Christian upbringing, or fight, which could end up in the destruction of your marriage.
If you choose to go along with the Christian upbringing, while not ideal, promoting critical thinking as mommy will ensure you’re still likely to end up with a kid who doesn’t buy the sin and eternal hellfire nonsense. You can also continue to work on your husband and try to get him to see that compromise is best. This is a good lesson to your child, proving that in the face of such disagreement, you can be patient while continuing to achieve a compromise.
If you fight, you face losing your marriage and if you’re in the USA, custody of your child. Sadly, I’ve heard a great many stories from atheist parents who lost custody of their kids because the judge thought taking them to church was part of their parental duties. This is a real consequence that you face, so consider this long and hard before you think about walking away. If he ends up with custody because you’re a godless heathen, you’ve not effectively put a stop to the Christian upbringing. The only difference will be that mommy won’t be there to teach critical thinking and to offer a differing point of view that is backed up by reality.
In my experience, most people are reasonable. Even if your significant other stands his ground stubbornly now, he may still come around in the future and in the meantime, if you promote critical thought, the odds any religious BS is going to stick with your kids are pretty slim.
I always remind atheists who tell me they will never go to church or let their kids go to church that church is not some magical structure. Church has no power to make your child believe if the ideas are being challenged by one parent in a non-argumentative way. It’s just a building, and the people in it are not warlocks, they are just people. Other people’s silly ideas can easily be defeated with the wonder of reality, so my suggestion is to meet halfway with your husband if you can, and in a non-confrontational way, promote critical thought.
With the internet at your child’s fingertips, and his closest ally telling him the truth, Jesus has no chance. He just doesn’t stand up to the logic test.
How would you deal with this situation? Let me know in the comments! If you have a question you’d like me to try to answer, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org – I love getting your emails.