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 would have serious concerns about raising my young, impressionable children in a religious community. I would compare it to taking a wounded seal pup for a swim through shark-infested water. Very dangerous, and not likely to end well for the kids.

In my opinion, religion is, without a doubt, the most harmful thing to ever happen in the history of mankind. It bothers me to think about how many people have wasted their entire lives worshipping something non-existent, and living their lives according to what they are told in an absurd work of fiction written a long, long time ago by people who knew a great deal less about the world than we do now. So many people that have suffered, and never got to enjoy life because of the guilt and the fear they've had drilled into their heads since birth. I think it's a terrible thing for any child to be subjected to.

I truly believe that, as parents, we need to instill in our children the morals and beliefs that make sense to us. If you want your children to grow up to be good people, teach them what it means to you to be a good person. I have two young kids of my own, and I feel that nobody should need a written set of morals, created by someone they don't know, to tell them how to be a good, caring person. You already have it in you, just as your kids will.

Best of luck to you and your family.

I feel that you can raise child with better values outside of a church. My child knows the right things to do because they are the right thing to do, not because a belief system says he has to do it. As far as not being truthful about beliefs; for me, I would not want to be part of an organization that did not let me express my real feelings. Just my 2 cents. Hope it helps in some way.

I would argue that the most beneficial things a church provides is "community". Humans are social animals, by nature, and there is a support and bond carried by a church group that is extremely beneficial to any young family. It gives you people to talk with, and befriend. The problems are A) Finding a Church that tends not to judge too much, or B) finding an atheist/agnostic group that can provide the same community and support as a church. Depending on the area you live in, this could be very easy or very difficult.

I don't see any benefits to raising a child w/ regularity in a church community that couldn't be reaped elsewhere.

My father wanted me far away from it, but my mother brought me up in it, anyway. Apart from social skills (which I could have gained pretty much anywhere else), I believe I have gained nothing beneficial from sunday school or church activities. I now wish that my mother had listened to my father. I could have been playing a lot more ice hockey... or science experiments... but instead I was learning about Jesus Christ, which I KEPT as a belief for far too long.

Having a step-Mormom family... that is something I can't even comment on. Takes this question to a whole new level.

The justification for religion as a way to instill values is so common, yet it makes no sense at all.  You're basically agreeing to accept someone's made-up stories in order to get the nebulous potential benefits that are associated with them.  We live in the 21st century, for Hitchens' sake; there is no reason you can't scientifically extract the proven positive aspects of religion and cast of the superstitious nonsense. 

I have such a strong opinion on this because I was raised LDS, and I often discuss with my mother why she raises her children in the church, even though my father is secular and she herself is skeptical about the church, and has been in a sort of life-long head-butt with her own mother on issues like getting married in the temple or getting 'sealed'. 

Despite all this, my mother raised me, and continues to raise my younger brothers, in the Mormon church.  She acknowledges that there is weird and harmful stuff about the church, and about religion in general, but insists that it is worth it for the moral compass that being raised religious will impart.  This always brings to mind a quote from Steven Weinberg; "With or without [religion], you'd have good people doing good things and bad people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion."  I'm reminded of my bad childhood experiences, being a kid who liked to read about world religions when I 'should have been' reading only the Book of Mormon. 

A second point; how could 'imparting a moral compass' possibly justify the self-hadtred taught by Christian religions, Mormonism in particular?  I'm fairly lucky that I was already pretty skeptical of the church by the time I started to go through puberty: it's hard to imagine the intellectual conflict of believing that your natural tendencies and desiresare dirty and immoral.  I've mentioned elsewhere a gay friend of mine who went through a personal hell trying to reconcile his orientation with his deep-seated Mormonism, despite having a very psychologically healthy upbringing.  The only thing that caused his intellectual and emotional trauma was the presence of religion. 


Finally, do you really want to have to face your kids one day and say one of the following things?

"We've lied to you your whole life to manipulate you into becoming something we wanted"

"We don't actually believe the things we've raised you to believe in"


I assure you that there are many other, healthier ways to instill good morals in your children, and it turns out that, where religion does produce 'moral' people, it is because it has borrowed these techniques, which are often contrary to their default modus operandi.  For example, the root of teaching a child empathy is teaching him to identify himself with other people, positive and negative.  For a long time, Christianity actually discoraged this by teaching people that everyone, including themselves, is inherently sinful.  This breeds not only self-loathing and depression, but also spitefulness and paranoia (check out the Crusades, or the Mormon church before it came to Utah). 

It is a relatively recent development, one rooted in American exceptionalism and instant-gratification culture, for religion to be a feel-good thing.  Christianity ADOPTED these ideas when it became clear that witch-hunts, fire-and-brimstone preaching and threats of eternal damnation were no longer enough to keep people in line.  At some level, they realized there was a crisis, and religions adapted by offering that which had been replacing it; self-esteem building.  You surely wouldn't have heard any 'everyone is special/unique/important' sorts of messages from a pulpit in 1840.  Why not give your kids these things without all the guilt, pressure and outright lies that you have to take with religion?

I'm sorry, but I think you might have missed my point here.

Finally, do you really want to have to face your kids one day and say one of the following things?

"We've lied to you your whole life to manipulate you into becoming something we wanted"

"We don't actually believe the things we've raised you to believe in"

I don't plan to lie to my children, especially if they started to ask me direct questions about religion. I wouldn't pretend God existed just because we attended a church. That does seem very silly. I would instead answer their questions when they asked them, and as soon as they realized everything from church didn't make complete sense or disagreed with something I had said I would explain that different people have different opinions about what is true, and since nobody knows for sure they'll just have to pay attention to what makes the most sense and decide for themselves. I can't think of anything more reasonable than presenting all options and encouraging critical thinking.

Your other hypothetical, about manipulating children to be what parents want, sounds very selfish, but in fact isn't that exactly what parents do every day? To some extent, at least, parents have to parent, and that means instilling values that are most important to that parent, and teaching the child how to behave and what to do before the child is ready to understand why those things should be done. And of course parents aren't perfect. My parents aren't perfect, and I know for a fact that I'll make just as many mistakes as they did when I raise my children. But the point is to try your best to help that tiny human turn into someone who will be the best they can be.

As an update, my boyfriend and I are now more sure that we will not want to be a part of a church, nor raise our children in one. However, I still believe that intimate knowledge of religious texts and ideals is important, because it has always helped me to know exactly what I believe and what I don't; in other words, to know what I'm talking about. I do not think that letting children go to Sunday school is at all the same thing as lying to them. It's not "here, this is true." It's, "here, this is what a lot of people think."

You are right that some things about LDS church are "weird and harmful." Joining that church is no longer an option being considered. I still believe, though, that being religiously informed is an invaluable tool for anyone trying to decide about their own personal philosophy, and I haven't been convinced that there's any reason not to start young.

I accept your point about my use of the word 'manipulation'; that does stretch the bounds of what I can legitimately criticize about a religious upbringing, as opposed to any sort of parenting.  I think my vehemence on the matter comes from the fact that my mother, for much the same reasons you have stated, raised me LDS and always has a 'yeah, but...' objection to the issues I raised here.  I see that you guys are beyond needing convincing concerning the specifics of any sort of dogmatic religion.  I commend your choice to give your child wide exposure to all sorts of religious traditions and customs; I would only emphasize how real and important the difference is, for a child among peers, between the sort of social-studies class environment this suggests, and the reality of meeting weekly with strong believers from a single sect of a single religious tradition.  While it's certainly possible (and likely, with parents who emphasize critical thinking and diversity of experience) that a child can overcome the narrowness of his religious upbringing, it seems to me that you'd be setting the kid up unnecessarily for the same struggle with unquestioning faith that a lot of us here came through.  Critical thinking and being 'religiously informed' can both result from a completely secular upbringing, as can a coherent personal moral structure.  To this effect, I recommend a book I myself just finished, 'The Moral Intelligence of Children' by Robert Coles.  Though he certainly never though of raising atheistic kids, he demonstrates clearly, to my mind, how moral principals are aquired in a very non-institutionalized manner.  What your child sees in you is what he will reflect in himself.  In this regard, I applaud the value you place on critical thinking, and once again register how inconsistent it would seem, to the world and to the child, to favor one particular institution in his upbringing.  In any case, I can hardly cry 'child abuse' ay more, and I wish you well with your family, whatever path you choose. 

Thank you. I will certainly check that book out. And I do understand where you're coming from; in the year or so I've now been dating my boyfriend I've learned a lot about the LDS church, in which he grew up, and while I appreciate the emphasis on family unity, there are many other things about the church that are at best unsettling. I think that, while this specific issue is a few years away for us, I'm glad to have posed the question because answers like these have helped us both to define- and perhaps redefine- our perspectives.

You can always incorporate beliefs of a strong family unit in the way you raise your children without having to drag them to church on a regular basis.  As the birthers of your own children, you get to choose how you raise them.  If you want them to think critically, value family, and treat others well, raise them that way!  You don't need a church to do that.  Isn't that the typical belief of a theist:  How can you possibly raise decent, moral children without the influence of the church? 


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