Shortly after I decided to write a book for nonreligious parents about talking to children about religion, I began making contact with a number of atheist and agnostic organizations. I was looking for parents who might be struggling with the sensitive subject within their own families.
One group I contacted was the New York City Atheists. In an e-mail to NYC’s director of communications, I told her a little about my book and asked if I might interview some parents within the group about how they had chosen to introduce their kids to religion.
The answer I received was short and curt.
“As an atheist,” the director told me, “I did not introduce my children to religion.”
Then, anticipating my follow-up question, she said: “Nobody I know at NYC Atheists would introduce their kids to religion.”
Maybe she misunderstood. E-mail can be a hard medium. Nonetheless, this idea — that we, as parents, have no duty to introduce something we don’t believe — is so foreign to me. And, yet, it’s all too common.
Some people believe strongly that to introduce is to indoctrinate, to talk about religion (without bad-mouthing it) is to lend religion legitimacy, and therefore give it power. But anecdotal evidence suggests the opposite is true. To not talk about religion is to make religion into something mysterious, even enticing, for children. Fundamentalist Christian groups, I’m told, gain some of their followers from families who have all but banned religious talk from their households.
I want my kid to know that no topic is too sensitive to be discussed in our household. I want her to feel informed about religion, not confused about it. I want her to make up her own mind. And isn’t that what we all want for our kids? To equip them for life and then let them live it?
How is it, I wonder, that people think they’re equipping their kids for life in our society by pointing out religion’s insidious, hateful and harmful side while not also acknowledging its unique, powerful and even — dare I say it? — positive role in our society?