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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The accusation that criticism of religion is akin to racism is a deceptive rhetorical trick, and should be challenged. No ideas should be placed beyond the realm of critical analysis.

This short essay may help you. (I am co-author.)

Indignation is Not Righteous

Teach her how to be respectful of people and how those beliefs are tied to their identities and considered possessions.

An attack on the beliefs becomes an attack on them. You don't need to respect the beliefs.  But you need to respect that people value those beliefs and not trash their stuff so to speak.  

This is what I propose.  Bringing up points in respectful conversation that undermines those beliefs is not trashing them. It is simply questioning them.  But kids tend to have very black and white mentalities, so they may resort to scorn if they aren't taught that they need to respect people enough to be courteous even when they have ridiculous beliefs.  You respect people, not their beliefs.  But that means you don't scorn them either.  You just voice opposition with that respect for people that enables us to all get along better with each other.  

Respect for others helps people not close off themselves as much.  It fosters cooperation.  Also when the less mentally endowed practice a principle of no respect for people with ridiculous beliefs, they don't realize that the beliefs that seem ridiculous and unworthy of consideration are the truth.

So respecting people to the point of not scorning their beliefs helps foster the open-mindedness that we need to instill in society in order to get the stupid people to listen.

Yes, that's a good balance. She is still very black and white but she understands 'hurt feelings' Perhaps if I tell her that people get hurt feelings about religion so its better not to say 'You are wrong' but instead 'I don't believe that because....' Then I am encouraging her to have confidence in her views but teaching her that some subjects are sensitive. When she understands that, if she wants to be confrontational (as I admit I am) that will be her choice. Just want her to know people will feel more strongly about religion than most things because she is the kind of child who never wants to upset people but she will stand her ground if she thinks its important so want to encourage that too. Thanks.

Excellent way to put it, John Kelly. That's a mature attitude instead of a confrontational one.

We live in the heart of the bible belt in north Texas and only recently left "the faith" as a really BAD and DANGEROUS mindset/idea.  I explained to my son that he is no more an Atheist than he is a Republican.  He has time to make that choice when he becomes an "adult."  I don't want anyone to harass him because he is a the son of two Atheist parents ...which is HIGHLY probable in our small community.  We recently converted to Atheism; and so far we're met with uncertainty and sadness/pity by our "church family" we reject their beliefs. But not one has come to our home, called us to be prayed upon, or anything!  LOL  ... it's almost as though the leadership in the church only visit new and the "vulnerable."

I've asked my son to be respectful of anyone's journey.  Its not OUR burden to convert any one to our way of THINKING...even though religious people are supposed to rally and "recruit" (the uninformed).  So, I keep my son informed.  He knows a lot about the bible as we were pretty active participants...(I REALLY tried to be righteous!).. and had been baptized when he was almost 9 years old of his own doing--and later confessed that he wanted to please others--not just his parents.  So, he's entering puberty soon and is an avid reader ... he asks a lot of questions (which is great!) and I ask him in turn, what he thinks about his daily interactions with both believers and non-believers.  What he recently shared with me is that there is a lot of drama with Christians as they seem to be very emotional ("gooey" even) as they relate around him..feeling/reacting not observing and responding...which is our goal for him.

We'll see where this goes...but, as parents there are a lot of influences and pressures out there and I stay plugged in to his world as much as possible.  I also have adult children from a previous marriage that were not raised in a religious home.   They do not know enough about Christianity to decide if its something they buy into--but, they don't have any desire to participate either..  My younger son will make an"intelligent" decision when the time his religious background never made (logical) sense!..and seems relieved that he doesn't have to "accept" it after all.   :)

Yes, I feel sure raising a child as a critical thinker rather than an atheist is the way to go. Your son seems very sensible and balanced.  I got a bit worried when Lucy said she was an atheist and told her she did not have to label herself at 7. Then she asked me why she should not call herself an atheist because she did not believe in gods and was there anything I had not told her which shows that gods are real? Had to say there was no evidence for gods to my knowledge and she said 'So why should I not be an atheist then?' Good point. Trying to get the balance between encouraging her to have opinions but not influence her towards mine.

What is going on in Texas? I keep hearing from mature adults in Texas who have been Christian until recently and gradually become atheist. Have to say I think this is great. :)

My first response is that kids should be taught that some people have beliefs that are just silly and we're expected to put up with them until we can bring about change.

I think the word "respectful" is the key here. Do we respect a bad maths teacher, who tells our kids 2+2=5, and that the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the two sides + 10? Or a bad geography teacher, who tells us that Africa is a part of France, and that you can drive to America from Norway in a day?

Of course we don't. So why should we respect someone who teaches us a redundant belief system that should have been kicked out along with bow and arrows and leeches?

Perhaps the word "patience" might be more appropriate? Patience, of the kind one has with the dim witted or misguided?

Spot on Jack. Spot on.

I think that's a better choice of words that I personally will adopt and share with my son as well! 

Well said. Forget the "teach her to respect the people" nonsense people have been spouting here. If they're theists then what she needs is "patience."

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.


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