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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Right! Thanks everyone. Drawing particularly on the thoughts of John Kelly, Jack Lee and Helena around respect vs civility/kindness/patience etc,  I have drafted a letter to the headmistress saying my daughter wants to restart RE, what her views are currently and what I intend to work on with her. There is a subtext of 'do not dare discriminate against my daughter' which I hope is quite clear.

Dear so and so,

I am writing to say that we are quite happy for Lucy to resume attending all RE classes from Year Four. You will recall that when we last spoke about this, I explained that she is a child who thinks very deeply about things and worries and at that time her main fear was of an immortal and omnipresent Christian god whom she had come to associate with mass drownings, rivers of blood and killing first born sons. She had begun to have panic attacks and be unable to sleep. This is no longer the case.

This is largely due to the wonderful Miss Hitchcock who has achieved the perfect balance of making Lucy feel supported and able to talk to her about her worries without giving them excessive attention and therefore encouraging or validating them. It is also due to the advice we have had from a psychologist which involved not enabling her to avoid all mention of death, violence or supernatural beliefs and helping her to put her fears in perspective and addressing them rationally.

To this end we have spent time with Lucy looking at all six major religions, many creation myths, secular Humanism and evolution and encouraging her to think critically about them. This began as a way to put her worries in perspective but has become a great interest of hers, evolution particularly. She has many children’s books about this and we have read The Magic of Reality and The Greatest Show on Earth together. Lucy has concluded, at this time, that she is a secular Humanist, that gods are man-made and that creationism is disproven by evolution. You will be aware that her father and I are secular Humanists and as such, we encourage her to form her own opinions from evidence rather than tell her anything is true or untrue and to regard this as a life-long process.

We now have a much more confident child and one with more of knowledge of religion, Humanism and natural science than many adults.  Her opinions are strongly held and my current concern is related to this. In the first term of Year Three, the children were required to draw pictures of where they believe they came from. This resulted, Lucy tells me, in 29 pictures of gods and Lucy’s own attempt at depicting a single celled organism gradually evolving into a human being. There was much debate about this in the playground afterwards and Lucy tells me that she and one of her friends (whose family also has no religious belief but who drew a god in the class because it was easier) still frequently have the same debate with a number of children – a childish version of creationism versus evolution. I am not at all worried about Lucy being outnumbered in this regard because she is more than capable of defending her own position and enjoys doing so and none of them are taking it too seriously.

I have no reason to think that religious education at Alderton Junior School will be less encouraging of an atheist viewpoint than they would a minority religious one. However, in our society, religious belief is often considered worthy of respect in a way that atheistic viewpoints are not and expressed views that gods do not exist can be interpreted as intolerance of the belief of others almost akin to a racial prejudice whilst the expression of the opposite view that a god does exist is not usually considered to be intolerant of those with different theistic belief or atheistic ones. Lucy is eight and her thinking is still black and white and she cannot appreciate this subtle distinction. She may well say something like ‘Why don’t some grown-ups know that gods are just pretend?’ or ‘Why do some people think the bible is non-fiction?’ (Both of those questions have been asked of me recently.) She will be bewildered and upset if she is then ‘told off’ for not respecting the beliefs of others because her curiosity is genuine and she has no wish to upset anyone.  Miss Hitchcock will confirm that she is a child who always wants to be kind and takes great pride in being ‘good.’

To this end, Lucy and I are going to work on polite ways to disagree with others generally and why saying ‘You are wrong’ and ‘That’s not true’ is impolite whilst saying ‘I disagree with you’ and ‘I do not accept that’ makes it clear you are simply stating your own opinion which is different. She does understand the concept of ‘hurt feelings’ and I will explain that people get hurt feelings much more when you disagree with their religious beliefs than when you disagree with their favourite book or TV programme. In short, I will endeavour to help her understand that religion is a sensitive subject for others but that this does not mean she should not argue her position strongly, confidently and politely when it is appropriate to do so – ie – in classes where this is being discussed or in private conversations in which everyone wants to participate.

Please will you make the year four teacher aware of this and also make Miss Hitchcock aware of how grateful we are for her part in improving Lucy’s confidence and making her love school again?

Helen Pluckrose.

Sorry, its quite long, but if anyone has got this far, please tell me what you think?

Heh nice, you basically said "I'm going to teach my daughter not to point out that she's smarter than you all."

I like that :D

I have a bit, haven't I? :-S  Also should probably cut it down quite a bit! Thanks. :)

..i think its highly important that parents teach children to be respectful of others; regardless of the whos or why fors. My daughter, Veda, is 4 years old and she is questioning the existence of the "God" that her friends and a lot of her family believe in. I feel its crucial that I, as her mother, encourage her to be honest and to question anything that doesn't make sense. Her biggest struggle at the moment is the fact that there is no mention of dinosaurs on the ark. I brim with pride, to be honest, but I will not sway her any way. I want her to believe what she believes because she weighs the evidence and makes an informed decision.. not because I tell her what's what. It seems I digress.. lets see.. the point is this: all children should be respectful of what others believe.. failure to do so is no less than an insult.. if we hope to debunk the myth of a fairy tale god who incites war and bigotry.. we must not offend his  flock. 

I guess I am a little ambivelent on this matter. Because on one hand I raise(d) my children to be Atheists, because that is what both my husband and I believe to be true. But on the other hand I know how much trouble it got my oldest into both with peers and religion classes (dunno if you guys have those mandatory religion classes in elementary school) - So I suppose I chickened out a little with my other kids, and sorta pull a 'don't ask, don't tell' thing. I'd never tell them to not stick to their guns, but to maybe not "wear" it in public.

I felt guilty that my oldest got in all those trouble for defending what we taught her from home. Which landed her in situations she had not needed to be in otherwise. And I am not about to make an atheist martyr out of her. So I told her to just ignore people and their jesus/mohammad talk, and walk away. So in a way I think both things, but I can't help but to think that it's not her fight, it's mine.. You know what I mean right?

Should they be respectful to religion? Well, I think you should be respectful to people who are respectful to you. So if those people are okay with her being atheist, I think that she should be okay with them being  religious.. (Of course if people are pushing their God on you, then it's no longer respect, and it's whole other discussion)

Yes, I DO know what you mean. That is what I have tried to explain about feeling torn on this. I want to support my daughter to think critically, I am proud of the way she has considered religion and the conclusions she has come to and I want her to stand up for what she feels to be the truth. The problem is that it's me who is a 'fight your corner, don't be afraid of controversy, challenge everything' type and always have been and she is not. She is a 'Why can't we all just get along, please like me' type. This is why I am so afraid of making her an atheist martyr as you so beautifully put it and having her fight my battles. Even tho she has come to these conclusions on her own she cannot realise the hostility she could encounter because of them. I would thrive on that and take on all comers - she will just get upset.  However, I do not want to tell her other views are just as valid and worthy of respect because they are NOT and she knows that. She asked me if there is any evidence for gods and we googled it and thought about the things that came up - miracles and near death experiences related to loads of different gods and she decided they were no evidence at all.   Its very tricky. Thanks for your response.


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