Well, hello everyone. I just found this site approx. 20 minutes ago, and ironically, I found it through a post a former boyfriend (and former mutual "uber Christian") put on Facebook.
To give you some background, I grew up in and have lived in the Midwest for the majority of my life. I lived in a couple of big cities (Seattle and Las Vegas) for about two years, then came back to the Midwest. I was raised Christian (Lutheran), and almost everyone I know identifies as Christian, with a few awesome exceptions. I've been leaning towards Agnostic for quite some time, but after the death of my grandmother last summer, and after a super-secret conversation with my father ("I don't think I believe in God anymore" / "I don't think I do either"), I've decided Atheist fits my views best.
I've been slowly "coming out" to various people in the past year, and reactions have been mixed. Mainly, those few who are Atheist/Agnostic have been very receptive, and any other (mainly Christian) friends usually affect a silent shock and sadness. Poor me, going to Hell after all. Shit, I had a waaaaaaaay better reception when I came out as bisexual over a decade ago. My Mother is now trying to get me to go back to Church, even though she herself hasn't attended regularly in the past 10 years. My father pretends to be Christian when my mom's around, and then gives me silent affirmation when no one's looking.
The place where I struggle the most is with my nieces. I have two adorable nieces, ages 12 and 13, who are smart as a whip, and adore the heck out of me (the feeling is mutual). Every time I see them, they always wait until we are alone, then hit me with a barrage of grown-up questions they are dying to know the answers to...they know that I will never lie to them and never make them feel ashamed or embarrassed for their inquiry. I wish their mother, my sister, could fulfill this role, but alas, she's more of a woman-who-happened-to-have-kids, and not a nurturing mother. Anyway, a lot of their questions have started to veer towards political and religious opinions...political questions I never have a problem answering, but religious ones, I tend to balk. As strongly as I feel the Christian religion can discriminate against so many, I am NOT their mother, and I know she would not agree with me sharing my Atheist views. Hell, she's one of the last few that I have not openly shared my Atheism with, mostly because I fear she might go as far as to limit my time with them. My brother and his family would be another one with whom I have not openly shared my views with, but that's because he is a Missionary Baptist minister. Pretty sure they are all confident I'm hellbound already.
So, what do you think? How would you approach discussions with young, impressionable minds on the topic of religion, when you know what they are currently being taught is so far from what you believe?
"I don't believe in God; I believe in people."
You stated that you don't lie to them, explain how you think and feel and tell them that that's just the way You see it.
I'm in a similar position with my niece and nephew, but I'm "out" to my family as an atheist so there is a significant difference in our situations: my brother doesn't let his kids spend much time alone with me and my atheist (doctor rocket-scientist) wife. So I take a more subversive approach to religion when it happens to come up.
I'm the cool uncle, with all the cool books around the house, who listens to cool music, tells funny stories about breaking rules, and (coolest of all) who sleeps late on Sunday instead of going to church.
So some of my stories are about the religions of old and new. The Romans had their gods and religions, and temples, and they prayed devoutly. The Greeks had theirs. The Egyptians had theirs. Some cultures borrowed their gods from others and just changed the names a bit. (Isis and Horace meet Mary and Jesus.) Then you have the Norse gods, the gods of the Inca, the Chinese folk gods, and on and on.
Now you have new religions springing up in the 21st century: Xemu the galactic emperor and L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology, the Amica Temple of Radiance, and of course the Missionary Church of Kopimism (an internet religion for whom file sharing is sacred).
My strategy: the perspective of full and proper exposure. Every age and time has its gods, they are all man-made, they are all false, and they are all regarded as true by the dupes who worship them. The religion of Jebus Cripes is just one religion in a never-ending circus parade of absurdity.
My new bumper sticker:
The religion of Jebus Cripes is just one religion in a never-ending circus parade of absurdity.
This is great advice, and really at the core of how I feel about them, and how I wish I was treated in my youth. Despite my fears about backlash from my other family members, I think giving them that outlet is really important.
Thanks for the reply!
Teaching children how to think instead of what to think is an act of love.
Hi Lita, welcome to the site.
The Internet is a great 'place' for atheists who live in theist-dominated areas. Without the barriers of geography, it is really easy to find like-minded people. I'm sure you'll eventually find that there are a number of Bible-belt atheists in similar situations who can appreciate where you've come from. So enjoy!
I have a few children in my life about the same age as your nieces and I've struggled with this myself. My sister and her daughter have never gone to church and as a result my niece never really has to struggle with reconciling her growing knowledge with a religion forced on her. I'm pretty sure she sees religion as something similar to Santa Claus... something quaint some people simply decide to believe in. When my parents (her grandparents) talk about church or God, she simply sits there quiet and polite but clearly not interested. Yay for her.
My brother's son is another story. He's now 13 and a few years ago said he would be proud to die for his religion (Christianity.) He's fairly active in his church and is often full of self-righteousness. He refers to his plans for his future as "God's plan for me..." So.. different story. I've never really come out to my family though I don't suspect they are under any illusions that I still believe. I know exactly how they all would react and there's simply no point to it. Note, my brother and nephew found my Twitter account a year or so ago. Presumably they'd read the "atheist, agnostic" part in my profile.
My nephew respects my intelligence. He's pretty sharp too in his own right but I don't let him rest on his laurels. I am ever challenging him to dig deeper. He has an amazing memory but I try to encourage him to seek to understand the systems behind the facts so he is not simply regurgitating what he has been told. On his Confirmation (Catholic) he got a number of religious books and artefacts. I gave him a beautiful leather bound book filled with blank pages on which he could write his deepest thoughts. I encourage him to be curious and to ask questions.
I encourage him to brainstorm and to think outside the box. On one road trip we played a game which was that he was to imagine standing in front of a wall and he was to come up with as many different ways of getting to the other side of the wall as he could. Took him a while to get the point (he first thought getting a ladder solved the game.) It was a blast when he started coming up with creative solutions that recognized problems like getting a hovercraft and enough fuel to travel all away around the world to end up on the other side.
I'm always encouraging critical thinking and challenging his ideas of propriety and "the rules."
When it comes to more overt discussions of a religious nature, I'll simply ask him what he thinks. I'll ask him why he thinks that. Often I'll ask him if he's thought of various counterpoints or perspectives of other cultures/religions. I don't think I've ever outright given him my opinion on any theological subject however I can usually use some probing and leading questions to get him to think about what is sometimes fairly close to my own perspective.
As he gets older, he's going to come to his own conclusions. I suspect that when he starts seriously doubting the faith he's been raised in, I'll be one of the first people he'll talk about it with.
Thanks for the welcome Kyle!
I like this approach, and I think next time I'll probably turn it around to ask what my nieces believe, and ask them probing questions that will help them decide for themselves where those beliefs came from, and if they hold ground.
I changed my Facebook religion status to "Atheist" last summer. A few of my more fervent Christian friends have started commenting on my topics a bit more than usual, and with more condescension (if more could be possible). It makes me smirk.
I am personally a life-long atheist, who grew up in a mostly atheist family. I didn't start to catch shit for my atheism until in fourth grade when I proceeded on the assumption that god was basically just like Santa Claus, something for the "benefit" of the kids.
One of the first people I met when I came here was in a similar boat from yours; her son decided she didn't need to be polluting her grandkids' minds. She inspired this:
Best of luck to you and (oh by the way) welcome to Think Atheist
It would probably be refreshing to have an adult talk about these things without pressuring them into accepting the adult's ideas.
It sounds like your nieces already have a lot of trust and respect for you. Explaining to them the importance of being able to think critically and openly about things will help them as much as anything. You sound like a fine role model for them. Every family needs at least one freethinker to keep things on an even keel.