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While most of my adult life I've been trying to accommodate myself as both an agnostic and a non-theistic Catholic Christian, recent events had lead me to reject being a Christian and embracing my disbelief.

My wife is a devoted Catholic, and I had willingly accepted my children (8 and 5.5) to attend a confessional Catholic school. I'm confident that this school promotes some degree of skepticism and critical thinking (even if not applied to religion), and I still have some positive image on religion and its values.

Some time ago, I would not have worried about supporting my children in their religious studies, or joining them in praying, but I now feel hypocritical in doing so, and I expect them they will soon ask why I am not joining.

It is not my aim to raise atheistic children. While I would like them to be skeptic and embrace critical thinking, and I'd probably regret if they chose to embrace young-earth creationism or similar fundamental views, that should be their call.

I would like them to have a positive view on different religions and on irreligiousity. That they will learn that I am an atheist and why I am agnostic and that they can respect that. But also I don't want to jeopardize their success at the school my wife and I choose for them, v.g. this year my oldest kid will be prepared to take his first communion, and that is an obligation at his school.

Any ideas on how to handle this situation from a parenting point of view?

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Have you discussed this with your wife, to see her viewpoint as well? It sounds like you're looking to not offend anyone with broaching the subject, but is there room for your wife to help embrace religion without dismissing your values in skepticism? –  Bart Silverstrim Sep 3 '13 at 15:22
I'd just share your thoughts on it with your children. "Mommy believes this, Daddy believes this." –  DA01 Sep 4 '13 at 3:27

2 Answers 2

If your children have specific questions about why you're not participating in certain religious activities, I would answer them honestly without attacking the subject. You could say you have questions about X that you haven't found answers to and because of that, you cannot participate without feeling hypocritical, or that you feel it's disrespectful to participate in something you have questions about.

It sounds like your children are kind of young to really understand if this is the only subject you're skeptical of. Are you a skeptic about the world in general, or just religion? Do you listen to resources like podcasts from the SGU? Letting the children in on why you think the way you do...the reasoning behind your conclusions (or ongoing questions)...may plant the seeds of critical thinking that will help them better understand what your thought processes are.

I think that you may never completely escape the friction of religion and non-religion in a household if your wife is devoted to Catholicism. Any attempt to introduce your way of thinking may well result in resentment that you're undermining their religious studies. Depending on attitudes of friends and family, you may end up creating a number of problems. When it comes to religious topics I'd probably wait until the children broach the subject with you.

It may be better to instead teach them to view the world with a skeptical eye. Lead by example...show tolerance towards others and other viewpoints. Ask the children what they think of appropriate news stories, then ask why they think that way. Challenge their thinking. Ask questions that demonstrate if they understand why the religion classes teach what they're teaching, and what they think of it. Learn about the history of science and the scientific method.

Much of the harm from religions (or any dogma) comes from the encouragement that "We have the answer, so you shouldn't question the idea." Instilling the use of reason and logic about a wide range of subjects usually spills over into a broad range of topics in life. If the children know it's okay to question ideas and that a parent will tolerate their questioning and accept their conclusions, even if they're contrary to the parent's belief, you may get positive results.

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Your answer makes an implicit assumption that all religious instruction is 1) likely to be dogmatic and 2) opposed to the scientific method. Both assumptions are false. –  justkt Sep 3 '13 at 23:57
@justkt - Only the original question-asker can say for sure if, in his case, the assumption is false. Seeing as he's looking for help at approaching the topic and the description sounds as if it's a sensitive one, I'm thinking he believes himself to be in a precarious position in this area. In my experiences there have been far more examples of religiously-minded folks taking offense to questioning their teachings. –  Bart Silverstrim Sep 4 '13 at 1:08
I grew up in a Catholic environment (I went to confessional school, attended mass, etc.) and inside that environment I found a lot of tolerance on how to think, I learned about scientific method and evolution, and so on. I've praised the values I learned in school even if I've questioned the dogma. I know, however, this is not the case of all experience in confessional education. If I'm certain my children will find the same approach I met, I'd be less worried and I would focus mainly on them understanding irreligiousity. –  Carlos Eugenio Thompson Pinzón Sep 4 '13 at 11:35
That is slightly more in alignment with what I've heard in my area. Just because X was met with tolerance, it's hardly reason to expect it everywhere. I don't know if you're in the deep south of the US, but tolerance is not the default assumption there as it is in the more northern states of the US, for example. –  Bart Silverstrim Sep 4 '13 at 12:52
I'd also add that jumping me for implicit assumptions isn't exactly a friendly way to approach someone about religious tolerance. I tried to word my answer in a manner that was neutral, and I didn't attack anyone's religious beliefs. If you feel the advice I gave is bad, please leave an answer for the original question-asker. –  Bart Silverstrim Sep 4 '13 at 12:54

Regardless of what strategy for explanation you choose, you and your partner should be clear about your stance and what you will present to the kids. A loving, supportive, environment will take care of the rest.

If they kids don't ask questions, it's not a big deal.

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