What Does Your Kid Really Know about Religion?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | October 8, 2012 | 5 comments

Most parents, I’ve found, want their kids to know about religion. Maybe the reasons are strictly educational, or maybe they’re cultural, practical, even political. Regardless, most of us — whether religious or nonreligious — live in a diverse and complicated society whose collective beating heart is powered by the Internet; our children, we know, will be more successful at living if they understand the nature of faith and its role in people’s lives.

And, yet, so few of us are willing or able to teach our kids about religion. Why is this? We’re busy, of course. We’ve got priorities, and all that. But isn’t more of it a simple lack of knowledge? Wouldn’t most of us be willing to say something if we knew what to say or where to start? It’s not like we can reduce “religion” to some simple concepts, right? The whole subject seems to run wild and far and resist any kind of containment. So where does that leave us?

Consider this:

A U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey conducted in September 2010 found that a little over half of the American public knew that the Golden Rule was not part of the 10 commandments, the Qur’an was the Islamic holy book and Joseph Smith was a Mormon. Even less knew than the Dalai Lama was a Buddhist, Martin Luther inspired the Reformation, the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday and the Four Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

This is not to show how ignorant we are as a society — in fact, I was sort of impressed by some of the percentages — but to offer a starting point. We parents aren’t expected to teach our kids everything; but we should at least cover the “basics” — the basic events, the basic people, the basic places, the basic meanings.

For the next week, I’ll be finishing up a chapter for my book on how parents can “teach religion” without knocking themselves out. (You’re welcome.) My plan is to single out the need-to-know stuff from the rest of it, and suggest lots of painless (if not fun) ways to deliver the need-to-know stuff to your kids’ amazing brains.

So, now’s the time I ask for you input:

What have you done to introduce your child to religion so far? What (if anything) about the subject interests your kids the most? What gets their attention?

And what about you? What has been the biggest challenge in promoting religious literacy in your house? Where do you falter? What tools are you missing?

In short, help me help you.

Thanks, guys!

Oh! And, by the way, congrats to Megan Parker, who won the copy of No! That’s Wrong! in my book giveaway.  See? Subscribers to my blog get cool stuff. (That’s a hint, people.)

And now this:



  1. Fernando Maneca says:

    When my children (5yo girl and a nearly 7yo boy) ask me questions about God I try to be as respectful as I possibly can without betraying my beliefs. So often my answers start with “Some people believe that…”
    Neither has asked me what I believe yet, but I can sense that it won’t be long before they do.
    I jokingly describe myself as “militant agnostic”, but it’s not that far from the truth. I will have to find a way to explain that it’s not that I do not believe in God per se, it’s that I don’t believe in anyone who claims to “know” the will of God.
    Hopefully I will have a few more years before they ask me that question.

  2. Rich Wilson says:

    Five- Six in Jan.

  3. Rich Wilson says:

    I bought my son a copy of The Brick Testament on the weekend (direct from the author, so signed, woot!)

    My Amazon review: http://www.amazon.com/review/R1R2E9J1IE6KZQ/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1620871726&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=

    Ben is fascinated with it, and I’m happy to have a way for him to ask questions about Christianity. Although, it occurs to me that I’m saying “um, there is no ‘why’, that’s just what God said/did”.

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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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