First of all, I have been frequenting this site for a while but haven't gotten an account until now. I admire this community, though, and I'm excited to be more actively involved in it.

I would appreciate opinions and/or advice on an issue I've been discussing with my boyfriend: if neither he nor I believe in God, and assuming we're right, could it still be beneficial to raise our hypothetical future children in a church community?

It seems like a strange question but I'd like to explain the situation in more detail:

He was raised Mormon, and believed in God until fairly recently. His family, while surprisingly liberal for Mormons, is still Mormon. This means that they would like for him to find a "nice Mormon girl" to marry, and would of course like their grandchildren raised in the LDS community. (He has explained his beliefs to them. They accept him but worry about him, and hope that he will change his mind.)

I was raised in a non-denominational Christian church, and was actively involved in it throughout high school, even though for much of that time I didn't believe in God (which is a different story altogether). I do think that my resulting ability to quote scripture and generally understand the point of view of believers has been very helpful in my ability to argue my point, and also to continue to try to understand other peoples' points of view in general.

We are both good at thinking critically, and I am sure that our children would be the same way. I have always thought that if my children asked me questions I wouldn't hesitate to tell them the truth, regardless of how age-appropriate it might be, so if they sought answers they would have access to them.

My boyfriend's father has made the point, too (and I sort of agree) that sticking with Mormon principles makes for a very strong, healthy family unit. I'm sure that there are other ways to do that, but it does seem to be a very effective one.

Finally, my boyfriend has decided that for now he would like to continue to follow the moral code of his upbringing, because it has proven so far to be a good one. An exception that we have discussed is our disagreement with the LDS church's position on gay marriage, but otherwise he believes it to be a sound basis of morality (though he has said that this may just be residual conditioning).

I have considered joining the LDS church in practice so that his family can be satisfied, but we have discussed how both of us would be pressed to lie about our beliefs, and may have to stay quiet on issues about which we feel strongly. We have not yet reached a resolution. I tend to be outspoken, though, especially if I believe that some injustice is happening, or that some flaw in logic is passing unnoticed.

Again, I would appreciate opinions, questions and advice.

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I can empathize with your situation, but I don't think that raising them in the church will be good for them. If both of you are atheists and you are putting them in a place that preaches how sinful you are and that you will go to hell, that will probably be very confusing or awkward for your future child. Also, I think it's important to remember that you are only agreeing with some of the Mormon teachings of morality, as you have already pointed out that you oppose their stance on gay marriage. Religion does not hold the keys to morality. You can instil this in them in other ways through other opportunities.

I think it's tempting to want to raise your kids in a church. After all, it worked out for you, didn't it? It worked out for me. You and I both thought our way out of belief in God, while keeping the internalized morality with which we were raised. Now you're questioning if you can get your kids to internalize that morality sans the religious upbringing. My feeling is that you've gotta be optimistic about it: they'll internalize what they sense you believe strongly, and since you and your boyfriend both believe strongly in a strong family unit, they will too. Plus, if you don't raise them in church, they'll be spared the conflict between church teaching and your other values, such as gay marriage. In short, they will learn to value your morals and will grow up knowing that your morals are reason-based instead of faith-based, even those that happen to correspond with the church's values.

My boyfriend's father has made the point, too (and I sort of agree) that sticking with Mormon principles makes for a very strong, healthy family unit. If he were Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, or Satanist he would have the same opinion. Every group believes they have a corner on the market. Ask yourself, what, if anything, is fundementally good about the LDS that you would want your children to adopt this as a way of life? What about it is bad, that you wouldn't want your children exposed to? weigh them both and I doubt you will go further.

Right now your children are hypothetical. When they are staring you in the face and you have to make actual decisions about real children that will impact them for the rest of their lives, its not likely that you will want them believing that they will be eternally punished in order to make them good. Show them the insanity of the lies and how it is good to be good because they are loved for who they are.

If I constantly tell my children I will torture them if they don't behave, its child abuse. If god does it, its religion.

You say you like the principles of the Mormon teachings, but can you not teach them without the deity and the "You will go to hell if you don't do....."? Stick to the morals, but don't force feed them something that you don't even believe in, is what I say. In my opinion, it only leads to feelings of guilt and doubt of oneself when they finally critically think about a god, and become questioning towards the teachings.

But then again, they are your children and only you can make that decision!

I do think it is important to let them have the freedom to decide whether or not to follow a religion when they are older. So if they choose to become Muslim when they are old enough to understand what that means, then you must be supportive.

** I have posted similar information concerning my approach to this in other threads; if this is repetition for any reader, I sincerely apologize. --LG

I have been married for almost 27 years, and I have five outstanding, freethinking kids (OK, one is adult and with a family of her own, but she married a good atheist man, so I can't complain ;) ). We live in the rural Deep South (Flowery Branch GA, and before there we lived in Bogart GA - both are as small as they sound). Down here the second question you're asked after your name is, "What church do you attend?" I remember when I was a kid that was a very awkward question, and almost always I became a "project" to them to get me to attend their church. I guess they believed that, if they could get me in their church, "God will enter my heart" and I would have some kind of epiphany.

So, once we decided to start adding to our family (6 years after we got married), my wife and I wanted to make sure our kids didn't have to go through what we (moreso for me) did regarding the second question. We attended a ton of churches, we did quite a bit of research, and we wound up at Unitarian Universalism. There are many reasons why I love being a UU. Here are a few...

  • I could walk in there, as an open and vocal atheist, and they still welcomed me to the fold, so to speak. I really like that I don't have to be a hypocrite when I walk in.
  • They take RE (i.e. Religious Education, aka "Sunday Schoole") very seriously.They teach about a multitude of religions, but tend to concentrate on the Abrahamic ones. They teach about the religions in an objective manner - history, customs, dogmas, etc.I taught RE - seventh grade - and the theme/title of our class was "Neighboring Faiths". We would learn about a religion one Sunday, and then the next Sunday we'd attend a service of that faith, so that they get first-hand exposure to these religions in a safe, controlled environment. We didn't just "ambush" the chuches - they knew we were coming, and after the service they would send someone out to discuss what we saw, allow the kids to ask questions, etc. Afterwards we'd have, for lack of a better term, a "debriefing". I would lead a roundtable discussion where the students could ask questions they either forgot to ask, or they didn't want to offend the representative. This also helped reinforce and cement in their minds what they experienced. Once our kids came out of RE, they typically knew more about religions - especially xianity - and this helped them tremendously when being confronted by an overzealous sheep.
  • They even help out parents in teaching about sex education. The course is broken down by age, and is taught every year from about 5th grade through high school seniors. And no, it is not an "abstinence only" class; it teaches that the only safe sex is no sex, but it also explains, in great detail, about sex and how you can protect yourself.
  • I really love the community that is a part of the UU congregation. We work together to try to make our community a better place. We offer some fantastic programs for kids. We get to "speak our mind" openly and freely, without fear of persecution. I love getting different perspectives and participating in discussions with topics of a variety of religious, social issues, etc.
  • I loved the minister we had at my current congregation (UU Congregation of Atlanta, aka UUCA), Dr. Edward Frost, but he retired and is now the "minister emeritus"; however he came out of retirement for a few days to marry my eldest daughter. That was awesome.
  • There are actually some beautiful celebrations they do, such as the Flower Communion, first created by Norbert Capek (1870-1942), who founded the UU church in Czechoslovakia. Here's more about it...

 Capek introduced this special service on 04 June 1923. For some time he had felt the need for some symbolic ritual that would bind people more closely together. The format had to be one that would not alienate any who had forsaken other religious traditions. The traditional Christian communion service with bread and wine was unacceptable to the members of his congregation because of their strong reaction against the Catholic faith. So he turned to the native beauty of their countryside for elements of a communion which would be genuine to them. This simple service was the result. It was such a success that it was held yearly just before the summer recess of the church.

Capek was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp (Dachau, I've been there and have seen the memorial to him) for his UU traditions. Do a search for UU flower communion to read more about it.

So, there's my take on your question, and my experiences. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

--LG (Rocky)

Church taught me that human nature is a bad thing. Or at least, tried to. I think it's important that kids know what is taught in church, but are also taught to form their own beliefs on it and that it's OK to not believe it.

Thanks for your responses! Of course, this is not an issue that will need immediate resolution for me, so there will be plenty of time for debate and deliberation.

I noticed that most of you used very strong language when opposing the idea. I am not sure if I agree that sending children to a church is the same as "force feeding" ideas to them, for example. I think (maybe incorrectly) that exposing kids to many ideas about what is true, including my own, can help them to develop critical thinking skills. Again, though, I maybe overestimate or misunderstand the thinking power of children.

I would also like to make clear that I think religion (or maybe specific religions; I might have to put a foot down about Satanism, for example) can be a good starting place from which to form a sense of morality, and from which a person can deviate later (especially a good critical thinker), though certainly it is/they are flawed.

Also, when I say Mormons have strong family units I am speaking based on observation of families of many different faiths. I would say that even devoted, church-going non-denominational Christians (or members of most other religions) don't seem to do any better or worse than more secular families in maintaining loving, healthy family relationships. However, in my experience (and always there are exceptions, and maybe my experience is unusual) Mormons seem to.

Very good points were made, though; among them, that grandparents shouldn't dictate how their children raise their grandchildren, and that other religions or denominations, like Unitarian Universalism, might be worth exploring.

I think you've arrived at the appropriate solution: teach about faith, not faith itself.  Even a child of four can be engaged by discussions like 'why is this good/bad?' and 'how does that make X feel?', and you can and should guide your kids through a discussion of the good and bad aspects of various religions.  If, however, you explictly or implicitly endorse one over the rest, one of three things will eventually happen: either the child will stick by that religion into adulthood, and teach himself to accept the bad as well as the good, or the child will someday be forced to reject the teachings of his religion (always a painful process), or, and this is probably the most common outcome, he will live his entire life with a deap-seated discomfort caused by the glaring inconsistency of his religious upbringing.  I know so many LDS people who are troubled by the church's treatment of blacks in the pre-1978 era, and by its treatment of gays today. 

To reiterate; there is no reason you should not be able to form a strong nuclear family in the absence of religion.  Certainly look to what has been sucessful in the LDS model and try to extract those aspects, but do you really want your kids believing that Jesus lives on the planet Kolob?

My boyfriend and I are in a similar situation.  We were both raised in strict Catholic families, and we are both now atheists.  We had a similar discussion earlier on in our relationship.  He basically said, "it worked for us, why not?"  I'm rather opposed to the idea.  While the tradition and ritual gave my parents a structure to tap into, I do not believe that this is the only way to raise children with a strong sense of values.  We have structure beyond the church, and the resources to teach our children those values that we treasure.  We don't have kids yet, but we've talked about it and even tossed around the idea of eventually adopting.  I don't have a master plan at this time, but I imagine lots of outings, trips, community involvement, activities, and leading by example.  I'm sure it won't be perfect and it won't be as easy as sending the kids to a church to learn, but in the end I think it will be worth it.

Raising your children right means NEVER lying to them.  Don't do that to your kids.  You can raise your children with good ethics and moral fiber, but that doesn't mean you should subject them to a lie.  I am always disgusted by the indoctrination of children into the church.  Any church.  As far as I'm concerned, it's emotional and mental rape.  Please spare your children.  That's just not fair to them at all.  They deserve better and your boyfriend's family will have to get over it.  It's not their business or their decision.

Raising your children right means NEVER lying to them.

That is a strong opinion. You would not even lie to your children in order to protect them? Do you think there would be a difference between theory and practice?

Also I want to say again that I'm not convinced letting children attend church is the same as lying to them. Especially not if a parent explains alternatives as soon as Sunday school is over. I could be convinced otherwise, but for now I feel that way.

"mental rape"? I could see that being the case in some situations where kids are mentally (and sometimes physically) abused concerning a family's religious beliefs, but this is not true in all cases, obviously.

I chose UU because it teaches about religions from a historical perspective, and it covers their customs and traditions - UU teaching does not say the religions are "right", nor do we teach any sort of dogma. I personally view it this way - there are two important things you don't want your kids to learn about "in the streets" (i.e. from peers, pervs, etc.) - sex and religion. Additionally, if you have kids you'll get this next point - kids do NOT like learning from their own parents, especially the older they get. By introducing an independent authority to teach them, they are much more likely to learn from the instruction.

As I said before, my first-hand experience has been exceptional. My kids almost always know more about their friends' religions than the other kids do, and they are confident in and comfortable with their (lack of) beliefs. They have met a very wide spectrum of people, including Wiccans, Native Americans, gay and lesbian couples, transsexual/transgender people, physically and mentally disabled people, professional athletes, scholarly geniuses and scientists, and so much more - all with their own perspectives on spirituality, faith, humanism, and atheism.

Since we ask the religious to be accepting and tolerant of our atheism, we should also offer them the same accord - as long a they do not infringe upon our persons or our family. I also believe we owe it to ourselves to learn as much as we can about religions, espeically the Abrahamic ones. I know I wish I had been able to go to a UU congregation when I was young and so I am affording my kids the same opportunities.

Also, I have seen another positive aspect of our decision - when our kids go to their friends' churches, they come home intrigued, but not questioning. As I said before, they are confident in their knowledge and (lack of) beliefs, so they're not susceptible to the pomp and pagentry of these churches, and the "invitation to become saved" has no pull for them.

If I had it to do all over again, I would definitely introduce and teach my kids about religion the exact same way.


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