Do You Share Negative Views about Religion with Your Kids?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | July 30, 2012 | 10 comments

Fifty-seven percent of the nonreligious parents I surveyed earlier this year said they viewed religion “negatively, with exceptions,” while another 21 percent said they viewed it “both positively and negatively,” depending on the specific religion. This shouldn’t be all that surprising. Hell, even religious people have issues with religion.

I bring it up, though, because I wonder how many parents are (unintentionally or intentionally) passing on these negative views to their children. I honestly don’t know, and because I’m a moron*, I didn’t think to ask that specific question in the survey.

It’s very possible that, in a quest to give kids a chance to make up their own minds, parents keep quiet when it comes to placing judgment calls on religion in general. But it’s also possible that parents feel they’re entitled, if not obligated, to share their opinions. Even parents who don’t wish to “poison the waters” might not edit themselves in every situation — including ones in which their children are likely to overhear.

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you’re not an anti-theist. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have strong opinions about some religious beliefs. (I’d be disappointed if you didn’t!)

So, I’d like to ask you….

Do you share negative opinions about religion with your kids? If so, which ones? And how old were your kids when you decided it was time? Also, do you balance out negative views with positive views, or give each view the weight you think it deserves.

Thank you kindly.

* Your cue to strongly disagree.


  1. Chris says:

    Well, I think that fundamentally that when you express to your child that you don’t believe in religion / theism, it is by default a “negative” view; that is, you are of the opinion that people who believe in religion / god are basically wrong; it’s kinda hard to put a positive spin on that! of course, the manner in which you discuss this can be colored in different shades: while again I can’t really see how to be all cheery, you can at least be neutral; more to the point, you can express that you obviously think it’s ok for people to have opinions / beliefs that differ from your own (although, still, you are communicating that you think they are dead wrong in terms of their fundamental assumptions about the basis of reality!)
    I have never been shy about expressing my atheism to my son; however, I have always been very circumspect about pointing out that a) most other people do believe in god; b) most other people will be at least uncomfortable if not outright hostile if you express that you are an atheist; c) there’s no real reason to bring up the topic or even respond to another child bringing it up because of b) above; I have also made it a point to tell him that even though I don’t believe in god, he is free to make up his own mind at whatever point he wants to, and to change it at any point if he wants to; so, in general, I try to keep things neutral at best, or focus on teaching him to keep an open mind…

  2. Chris says:

    I think an alternate title to your blog might be “Can of Worms,” because with the topics you discuss, you’ve certainly decided to open several.

    In answer to your question, and in a vein similar to Derek’s question “What constitutes a negative view?,” I’d ask is “negative” a negative, or in other words, is there something bad or wrong about having negative views, and is it harmful sharing those views with a child? For example, I have a negative view towards many things—rape, murder, lying, cheating, stealing, and lima beans among other things. I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with sharing those negative views with my child. Why should religion be any different, other than some misplaced sense of political correctness, or trying to tip-toe around a difficult or touchy subject.

    In my opinion, the more important question is, why do I have the view I do of religion, and how did I arrive at my point of view, i.e., are they based on fact and reason, or are they based on fear and ignorance? And, is that something I’m able to communicate to my child? If my negative views are based on fact and reason, and I can communicate that in a manner my child can comprehend, I see no reason not to.

    In my opinion, I feel it important to try to respond to any and all questions a child has as best I can, tailoring my answer to their level of comprehension, and being as respectful as possible to other points of view. So, if my child asked me about religion in general or a religion in particular, I would not withhold my negative views. Neither would I go about sharing my views about religion, be they positive or negative, until such time as I thought it appropriate, like the example of your daughter coming home with her classmate’s comments.

    On top of it all, I’m in a situation where my son’s mother belongs to a religion—Jehovah’s Witnesses—of which I have a very negative view. So, I have to juggle telling my son about my religious views, my opinion of his mother’s religious views, being balanced, while not insulting his mother, all the while she tries her best to indoctrinate him—not an easy balance to maintain.

    • Not an easy balance at all! But you are so right that it’s a balance. I think the most important thing is to be as specific as possible when sharing religious views. Telling your son about negative behaviors associated with certain religious people is completely valid — and necessary — while making generalizations about religions (even if you REALLY, REALLY believe they are true generalizations) carries many potential downsides. Especially for you because there is a possibility that your son will try out the Jehovah’s Witnesses at some point during his life. I think you just want to make sure your son knows you will not be disappointed or angry with him for “wearing that hat” — and, in that way, you are modeling for him how he should treat other people who believe things that he doesn’t. As long as he is a good person, and has arrived at his identity on his own, that’s all that matters, right? I think your best bet is to letting him know you respect the JW as a group, and certainly respect his mother, but that there are actions that some JW members take that you just can’t support and then explain why. I think a hugely important rule-of-thumb is to comment on behavior, not belief, when it comes to talking to young children. This way, we let them know that murder is murder is murder — it doesn’t matter why it’s committed. It’s all bad. The same goes for lima beans. YUCK! :-)

  3. Derek says:

    For me the question is what constitutes a negative view?
    When we speak with our children about religion we treat them all much the same — as myths. We give no more credence to the myths in the bible than those in the iliad.
    No doubt many christians would view this as having and sharing a negative view but I consider it a neutral view.
    The one difference with ancient religions is that we make it clear that some people actually believe the torah, bible, khoran etc. are true and that yaweh, jesus & allah are gods and those people might be upset if we act as though they’re mistaken.

    • What an interesting comment. Is saying people are mistaken a negative? My hunch is yes, only because, taken one step further, you’re implying that people who believe these things are delusional, in denial, ignorant… or some other adjective that is equally unfavorable. Then again, if you’re saying these things are completely untrue BUT that it’s totally fine, even good, that people believe them — that’s not necessarily negative, right? Just thinking this through… Any thoughts?

      • Derek says:

        With my kids I avoid suggesting that others are mistaken but rather say that though others may believe these things we (since my wife is included) do not.
        That may be a fine line to walk but it’s one that’s going ok so far. It is the reason I mentioned telling my kids that other people may get upset if my kids were to tell them they’re wrong or mistaken.
        We’re being honest and matter of fact about it with our kids while trying to ensure they are not mean to kids either at school or socially who are being indoctrinated into their parents religion.
        A quote from my 7 year old about a friend was ” and her family believe in god but we don’t”. She said it at though it was no big deal and of no serious concern which made me very happy.

  4. Corinne says:

    First I’ll start by saying that we do not discuss religions very often, we live in Europe where the subject is not of paramount importance.

    When talking about religion, I try to answer my boys’ questions when they come up, I never bring the subject up myself. I always try to not state my opinion on the matter, unless they specifically ask me what my opinion is. If asked, I will answer truthfully, whether the answer is positive or negative (I actually cannot think of a subject where it would be positive).

    So, the short answer is yes, but only if my opinion is asked. My partner (their dad) does the same.

  5. MarkY says:

    I want my daughter to think rationally so I do share my negative views of religions, consciously. If I leave her to learn for herself, I am putting her to a disadvantage when faced with religious relatives and other community members whose basic programming is: “Indoctrinate, Indoctrinate”.
    I feel the same way about spelling & grammar, I’m happy to say that she can construct a sentence and read pretty well (she starts school next month), if my wife and I hadn’t taught her that before sending her out into the txt-speech population of the public school system, we wouldn’t feel that we’d have done our jobs as parents.
    I we all decide what to believe based on what we’re told (who, in turn, do the same). Why not get in first with your kids, after all, I believe I’m rational and right, why shouldn’t she be right as well?
    All the irrational religious parents are doing it.

  6. Bill says:

    Good question: I do often share my negative views with my 9yr old daughter. Normally it’s unintentional, but I do occasionally let her know how I really feel about religion. I also, at the same time, encourage her to think for herself. I ask her why she believes the things she does, and encourage her to stand by her beliefs and find proof (at least enough for her young mind) that they are good beliefs. I encourage her to embrace the few outstanding morals taught in the christian bible, and discourage her from placing blame on an unknown entity for her and others’ downfalls.

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Due out March 31, Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious offers a well-researched look at a timely subject: secular parenting. With chapters on avoiding indoctrination, talking about death, vaccinating kids against intolerance, dealing with religious baggage, and getting along with religious relatives, the book offers a refreshingly compassionate approach to raising religiously literate, highly tolerant and critically thinking children capable of making up their own minds about what to believe. The book may be pre-ordered by visiting Brown Paper Press.

      Natural Wonderers is my new blog published by the Patheos faith network. An extension of my previous blog — Relax, It's Just God — Natural Wonderers offers stories and advice on raising curious, compassionate children in secular families.
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