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  • Few months back I turned agnostic.
  • Don't have children yet.
  • Other family members are believers, I am not.

My mother tells me to pray to God and ask him to increase my salary/happiness/safety etc. I can deal with my mother.

My in-laws ask me to pray to the God before embarking on a journey. I do as they wish (to make them happy (not a big deal for me)).

Now, when my relatives tell my future child to pray to God for the above mentioned reasons, how should I explain to him(child) that this God didn't protect the gas chamber victims so there is no reason that you should expect him to help you to get good grades in exams, etc?

I think the child will ask - then why is the grand mother praying to God?
I don't have an answer to this.

My brother and his wife have taught their child (2 years old) that if you do bad things God will punish you.
I want my child to not to do bad things because the bad things are bad, not because God is going to punish.

I want that when he grows up (about 15 years of age) then he should decide for himself whether he wants to follow religion or not

  • till then he should have a free mind. He should be dependent on himself for his acts, not on God.

I don't even know what to do with the "fairy tales" thing. Every comic book for children has these fairies, and witches.

I don't know if it is wise to first explain to a child that the fairy did that, and then if he asks is it all true?? What to reply - yes, it is, but god is different than fairy? OR no, this story is to make you go to sleep!


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"till then he should have a free mind" = You're agnostic. That gives him or her a leg up for having an open mind from the start. –  DA01 Nov 2 '12 at 7:19
    
Some of your topics have already been addressed: teaching morals -- explain why some people believe -- on split-religion families –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 4 '12 at 13:25
    
You are Agnostic or atheist? Agnostic in my definition let others believe what they believe in but do not proactively interfere while personally not believing in them. I am Agnostic. –  PravinCG Nov 10 '12 at 7:06
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3 Answers

Speaking as an atheist whose child has religious grandparents, my method has been to put religion on a par with any other choice in life and not elevate it to have any special place as more or less important than a great many other choices in life.

If someone believes in God and wants you to do the same, then it's up to you to decide if you want to. It's no different to me than having a friend/neighbour/relative who supports sports team A, and wants your child to do the same. The child should be presented with the knowledge that such things are personal choices, without judging that choice. I explained to my child that her grandparents believe in God and go to church, I also explained that I do not, and I backed it up by saying it's just what we have chosen to do, no-one is right or wrong in their beliefs, so when they send her religious materials at Christmas and all that I don't deride them, I simply use it as a real life example about how everyone is different.

Until such time as they can make such a decision independently, it's simply unfair to attempt to force them to believe anything that they don't naturally have a tendency to do so. You wouldn't force a child to change his favourite colour because your parents prefer Green, in fact you simply wouldn't try to enforce any preferred colour, you just explain that there are all these different ones, and you can prefer what you like, and furthermore you can change your mind at any time, no one choice is correct.

I personally would steer away from any talk of gas chambers, by the time they are in any way prepared to be faced with such a concept, much less understand it, they will likely be old enough to have started to make their own choices anyway. And, as you say, you only recently changed your own mind, so don't expect a kid to live through life with what he first is presented with.

A more important lesson when it comes to the grades thing and all that is that the only people who can help in such matters are the child themselves, and the teachers/friends/relative they are surrounded with. There is simply no replacement for trying your best, and no amount of praying/hoping/wishing/begging (whatever you prefer to call it) is going to make up for not doing so.

As for Fairy Tales etc, kids don''t (in my experience) tend to believe what they see quite so rigidly as we might think as adults. There is no need to explain that cats don't talk should they see a cartoon with a talking cat. Tooth fairys, elves, pokemon etc etc, this list goes on. Ignore the medium, concentrate on the message - if a cartoon is about being friends, that's what you talk about, not the fact that the people being freinds are 1 eyed fluffy aliens who don't really exist. It's the same with the Christmas stories I get given for my child, the message is more important than the scenery, so you can take values of kindness, charity and so on from a story, without them having to believe in (for example) Noah's Ark, or 3 wise men etc.

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Great question, and great answer! –  Christine Gordon Nov 2 '12 at 11:38
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Nicely said. It's important not only for kids to come to their own conclusions but also to respect the beliefs of others even when they don't agree with them. Personally, I tell my kids that the Bible is a story and like many stories it is not generally true even though there are some facts within that are true. But I also tell my kids about Santa Clause and the Tooth Mouse (we were in Switzerland -- they have a mouse instead of a fairy) knowing that someday I'm they're going to realize that they're just fun stories. (Except Santa... even I believe in Santa!) –  Brian White Nov 2 '12 at 12:42
    
This is a great answer. The only real trouble is what about all the people who don't respect atheists and will insist that we agree with their beliefs? For instance, Grampy who told my 4-year-old son that he would burn in hell because he doesn't go to church. (We don't visit Grampy anymore, but the damage is real and lasting.) –  KitFox Nov 2 '12 at 14:49
    
However you are trying to raise your kids, someone always oversteps the mark. If this happened to me I would disagree (politely) and if I was not present at the time I would certainly take them to task later. As for the child, stick to the rest of my answer, I would tell them that I think that he is completely wrong, and try to think of another example when they had also been wrong about something else to show that people can be wrong. Something this extreme I would probably mention that no-one has ever been to or seen Hell, and as far as anyone knows it's just a made up place like Narnia –  stuffe Nov 2 '12 at 18:22
    
+1 for concentrating on "message over scenery", that actually is great way to handle such things. –  mthomas Nov 4 '12 at 20:26
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I live in a christian household with a five year old sister, and I am similarly concerend. Luckily my parents faith differ, so I can talk with her about a lot of things, even things like evolution. She's very smart, but if either my parents succeed in setting their particular religious beliefs into her heart, it may be difficult for her to one day reason on the matter in an entirely objective way. Something I do is to tell her always ask questions. Two words that I taught her to always say are 'why' and 'how', and she really enjoys saying them. Maybe you should encourage your future child to be as inquisitive as she can (which sets a challenge for you as her parent). This way you might, in a way, proof her against unreasonable ideas, and may even find one day that you have a lot to learn from her too.

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+1: why + how = science! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 4 '12 at 13:26
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how = science while why is often answered by religion. The two things can compliment each-other nicely, either way skepticism is a healthy thing for kids (you really are better off with an independent thinker) as long as you are prepared to parent a skeptic - for example, mine is six and already figured out about Santa and often seems a bit like a lawyer in training. –  balanced mama Nov 8 '12 at 2:26
    
I have to backup balanced mama here. Why is can be used in very non scientific ways. "Why does the apple fall from a tree" can be answered scientifically "because of the attractive force of gravity" or religiously "because that's how god wants it". It's always good to encourage your children to question things though. –  Warren Hill Nov 30 '13 at 20:53
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Do you mean you are Athiest? Agnostics believe in some sort of universal energy, force or being and often adopt bits and pieces from a variety of religions to form their own metaphysical understanding rather than following the practice of any one religion. I ask because in some ways, it impacts the answer.

If you are an athiest and believe your child should also be an athiest, you can join groups that offer resources for raising kids and helping you in explaining death as well as how to respond to other's religious beliefs.

If you mean you are an agnostic, why not take your child to a mixture of church services, temple meetings and synagogues. You can also try pamphlets and materials from a variety of resources including a variety of belief groups and books and materials published by other agnostic groups.

In either case, I suggest taking the higher road and be as respectful of other beliefs as you can. This is family after all. There is nothing wrong with simply stating that different people believe different things and that while Grandma believes God is real, you don't - or saying that "while Grandma believes in a God that would" . . . "I believe in a (God, Force, Energy, Higher Source, Being - whatever) that would never . . . and does . . . instead."

Just stating the different beliefs without putting a judgement of a value on it gives your child the message that you believe what you believe but don't have to be judgemental about the others (trust me, if the others in her life are less respectful about it and get pushy - you'll know nad your child isn't likely to appreciate it as much as your, more respectful manner - your actions will speak far louder than words ever could).

When your child gets to the age that he or she starts asking what is real, you can speak frankly about it from a standpoint of proof vs. faith. At this point, if your child says anything like, Grandma says you are going to hell is she right? You can say, she believes that when people die, unless they believe exactly like she does that they will go to hell. Because she loves you, she tells you this to convince you to believe like her. I believe she is wrong and there is no proof that she is right. You can then go to "grandma" and stress to her that she is upsetting your child and while you love her and understand her motives, you need her to back off.

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Agnosticism is a but if a fuzzy term and can be an umbrella for a variety of particular stances--including which you describe. But it also comes in other flavors as well: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism#Types_of_agnosticism –  DA01 Nov 8 '12 at 3:59
    
I did not mean to say what I described was the only type of agnostic. I was simply differentiating between agnostisism and atheism which claims there is no deity whatsoever because to me it creates a slight difference in how to address the question. –  balanced mama Nov 8 '12 at 4:01
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