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My wife and I are atheists. My 13-year-old came up and said he wanted to attend church. What should I do?
Most people will suggest that you take your child to church. I disagree. I’ll explain why and what you might do instead.
My mother was very religious; my father not so much. From the age of 5, I was made to go to church. I hated it. I found it boring and found the fantastic stories extremely difficult to swallow. Before I was a teenager, I was a fully-fledged atheist. My father then gave me permission not to go to church. (Incidentally, except for the disputes over going to church, my mother and I had a good relationship until the day she died. But we did have continuing discussions over the existence of a god.)
My children always knew that I was an atheist (my wife was a quiet theist who never attended services), but I never once told any of my children what to believe on any controversial subject. I told them that, for important issues, one should examine all the evidence and listen to all sides. I made a point of making sure that they understood that they should make up their own minds, that they didn’t have to believe the same as me on any issue, and that it included religion.
I did not want to force them not to attend church, but nor did I want to personally take them. It seemed hypocritical and they might think that I was taking them myself only so that I could keep an eye on them, so as they didn’t get too involved.
I told them that, for important issues, one should examine all the evidence and listen to all sides.
So, instead of taking them to church myself, I gave them the freedom to go with someone else. Many times I was asked by my children if they could go to church with their grandparents, and a few times with a friend. My answer was unwaveringly always the same: “It’s up to you.” (My wife could have expressed her opinion, but never did. She felt that it was my job to make the decision.) And they did go. I should also add that I never showed nor felt any disappointment in any of them for attending church. They were simply exercising their right, which would have been wrong of me to revoke.
I believe that for the simple reason that my children were never indoctrinated — although their maternal grandparents sure did try hard — they are now all adult atheists. I have always had a very good relationship with each of them and I’m sure that I always will. But if one or more of them had turned out theist, I’m sure that I would still enjoy a good relationship with them.
My oldest boy called me a week or so ago. During the conversation, out of the blue, he thanked me for never forcing religion on him. It’s odd because I would have thought that he would also have thanked me for never attempting to force him to be an atheist. I guess maybe it was implied. He has expressed this sentiment to me on other occasions, and he is not my only child to do so.
My advice is not to take your child to church, but give them the freedom to go with anyone of their choosing, and as often as they wish. Now, if they really do want to go to church and they ask you to personally take them, then, and only then, would I.
The most important thing is that children are not forced to believe one way or the other. I only wish that theist parents would do the same. Mine did not.
Steve Brown is a MSC in mathematics. Read more from Quora below:
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