Should I teach my daughter to be respectful of religious beliefs?

I am in the UK where RE is broadly Christian and my daughter's school is taught by a vicar and a Christian and stories about floods and rivers of blood and killing the first born sons caused her to get very upset when she was 5 and I removed her from RE. This worked well cos the school is otherwise excellent and she has good friends there.

She is 8 now and wants to start doing RE again as she is no longer frightened of the stories. We spent some time at home looking at all the major religions and their beliefs and creation myths and also at Secular Humanism and the Big Bang and Evolution and taught her to think critically. She absolutely loves science and decided that gods were obviously 'pretend' and announced she is a secular Humanist. She reads a lot and enjoyed The Magic of Reality and The Greatest Show on Earth. She wants to be a biologist.

I am a little worried about certain things she says having never been taught to respect religion more than any other opinion. She has not been taught to disrespect it either and I have told her that other people have beliefs and given examples. However, she is only 8, does not know people are sensitive about their beliefs and still says things like 'Some people think the bible is non-fiction don't they?' and asserts very strongly that the story about God making the world in 6 days is rubbish. One teacher told her that she believed God was watching over them all and she said 'Well, I believe gods are made up.

' I am unsure if this was rude of her and disrespectful of the teacher's belief and I should talk to her about it even tho I do not feel personally that religion should be respected. Religion is nonsense and harmful nonsense but I have never said this tho she knows we do not believe in gods.She does not know about the human rights abuses caused by religion for example. You know how little girls like to right about things? She knows a lot about different gods and about evolution and she likes to share this knowledge. Just as she'll 'correct' someone's maths or vocabulary like other girls do, she will also 'correct' their belief in a god. :-S

Should I work with her about not doing this or am I then buying into the idea that religion has some special right to be respected? I just don't want her to get into trouble cos she prides herself on being a good girl and she really does not know religion is a sensitive subject. In reality tho, if someone says to her that they believe a god exists and she says she does not believe that one does, two opinions have been expressed, haven't they? Neither person has the right to be offended. The same as if a child says God made us and she says we evolved? Two opinions.  If disagreeing is disrespecting then both have been disrespectful? She would never say anyone was stupid or laugh at them or anything. She does not even know many people do laugh at Christian over here. 

What do you think? Should I take some time explaining that religion is sensitive and she should not blatantly contradict it with a different opinion in the same way as she would if someone was talking about a favourite TV programme or song? Or should I let her express her views confidently and then back her up if anyone tells her off? My protective motherhood side is warring with my evangelical atheist side!  Apart from letting her read Richard Dawkins (and not The God Delusion yet) I have not ever told her I think that religion is a bad thing - just that we don't believe in gods so I have not taught her to think my way but I am very pleased she does think this way.  I feel as though by letting her say what she really thinks I might be pushing my own agenda on her and she is a little girl who likes to conform and be praised for good behaviour and hard work. She would get really upset if someone told her off and she would not understand why? It would be unfair for anyone to tell her off and I would say so loud and clear but that would not stop her feeling upset?

What to do?

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Excellent point! Yes, I will not use the word respect at all. Patience is good. It was announced today that evolution will be taught in year 4 and this will help a lot. She gets frustrated because she is so interested in it and knows its a fact and other kids say she is wrong cos of all the 'All things bright and beautiful' singing in school etc. 93% of people accept evolution here so when they teach it in class she will feel vindicated on that at least and perhaps I can use this as an example that she should feel confident in her viewpoint and be a bit patient with those who disagree.

The difference is that the person who teaches bad mathematics doesn't exist. He wasn't raised in a 2+2=5 household, only associate with bad mathematicians, and have a math church and thousands of years of teaching to back him up. He also doesn't think that there's a theorem which proves that his beloved mother is waiting to see him again in heaven after he dies.

Many religious people DO have all those traits. Sure, it's stupid, it's unfair, and it's unfortunate. But this is the world we live in. We can't blame every religious person for being too dumb to figure things out and just write them all off. To do that is to put blinders on. It ignores the sciences of psychology and sociology. It's like being a strict conservative who blames all poverty on the laziness of the poor. Most people realize that there are broad, powerful, and complex political and socioeconomic factors contributing to poverty, just as there are broad, powerful, and complex cultural, historical, and psychological factors that contribute to religious belief.

tell her to be respectful because what if there were Christians asking their kids to be respectful to atheist? and when others are not respectful to atheist or other groups of people it shows there true hateful personality. you can be respectful to people who you dont agree but you dont have to believe everything they say 

Of course. This is a "do unto others..." type of situation.


I didn't even have to read your long post to say, "Of course! We can't cultivate respect for us if we don't set the example."

I agree that she doesn't need to be taught to respect religion, but she should be taught to (in general) respect people and sometimes that may mean not pointing out when they are wrong.  As adults we often have a difficult time deciding how we are going to express our Atheism with different people and in different settings, how in the world can we expect an 8 year old to know how to handle these situations.

My son is now 11 and we have never had a talk about religion.  Religion or lack there of is not much of an issue where we live.  I know he would never have to deal with the issues your daughter had in RE  (that is not an abbreviation we use in US - is it Religious Education?)  Since it does sound like something she will have to face you do need to prepare her.  If I was in your place I would let her know that religion is something that some people take very seriously and personally.  I would tell her some about the evils of religion, but I might also play Devils Advocate :-) and explain to her in a why some people feel they need religion. 

Helen, I find it helpful to keep in mind that when I have sprained an ankle, I use crutches while my ankle heals. I don't kick crutches from under others who are using them.

I also don't let folks who are using crutches tell me I need them.

I wish your daughter well.

Jack Lee's patience not respect post is most valid.

However it just occurred to me. We are confusing the word RESPECT with KINDNESS or CIVILITY.

You respect something you admire or wish to emulate etc etc.... So the word respect and religion simply cannot coexist. But you really should be kind or at least civil to these junkies. I say junkies because religion is just another form of injectable opiate - "comfortably numb" is certainly an appropriate analogy for both.

Civility is needed but I'm not so sure about kindness. The junkies could confuse kindness with respect and continue to shoot up in front of the kids, thus the overall message will be lost. The junkies need to be told out straight to sober up in my view.  

Ah.. a valid point, however mental illness of any form does not go away or improve with a strictures like "sober up".

Right, well I thought the analogy was that of a sort of comforting drug rather than a mental illness? I like the analogy of religion to alcohol in that it isn't a safe drug but it's also a socially accepted one. 

A gradual "weaning off" treatment program might be better than "sober up!" indeed. 


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