I'm an Agnostic. When the topic comes to religion, I try to explain to my seven-year-old son what religious persons believe and why I don't share that belief. Until recently, he shared my scepticism.

Where we live (Germany), pupils in elementary school must visit two hours per week of either religious education ("Religion"), offered by the churches, or an alternative. For older children, the alternative is usually ethics, for elementary school children it is often a supervised quiet work time, where pupils are given more or less boring extra exercises that will keep them busy for the time the other kids are in their religious class. Common offerings for religious education are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim.

Since most of my son's friends visit the Catholic class, and since the quiet work time is uninspiring, my son decided (without consulting his parents) to visit the Catholic class instead. The Catholic teacher allowed this, and I learned of my son's decision when he told me of it a week or two after this change had been implemented.

My son loves this class. The children sing a lot, and my son loves to sing these songs at home ("God loves all children..." is his favourite). If they don't sing, the teacher tells wonderful stories that impress my son who is generally very enamored of fantastic stories: he loves The Hobbit, Star Wars and LEGO Chima, and somehow the Biblical tales seem like fantasy come real to him.

My son has given himself a broad education (his teachers and parents are only the facilitators that help him gain the knowledge he seeks, e.g. by reading to him what he cannot or by answering his questions). He is very interested in everything from the natural sciences to history. One of his favourite topics are the Romans (a context, in which I explained to him the formation and development of Christianity), another are the Vikings, Celts and Germanic tribes.

He has been visiting the Catholic class for about half a year now, and last week, after we had watched a documentary on how the Christian faith spread to the Viking north and I said something about how "God does not exist", he told me that their teacher had explained how "during Roman times people understood that the other gods do not exist, but that only God does". A short exchange ensuing from this statement gave me the impression that my son is slowly acquiring a Christian faith.

As I stated initially, I am an Agnostic. I do not know whether God exists. And I liked to believe that I was open to my son finding his own answers to this question. But this development bothers be. Not because my son might find faith. But because his immaturity and gullibility are exploited by an institution (the Catholic church in the person of my son's religion teacher) to indoctrinate my son. Studies have shown that belief is most prevalent and most strong in persons who have been taught that belief as children. A clear indication that what most people see as their "belief" is mostly unquestioned habituation.

I am open to my son educating himself and coming to a different conclusion that I did. But I actually feel violated by my son being "made" to believe by singing songs and listening to charming tales. What I feel is similar to a parent worrying about what watching pornography will do to their children's adult sexuality. Or what playing violent videogames will do to their anger management:

I feel that the freedom to decide is taken away from my son.

But at the same time it was my son who decided to go to that class. And he loves it. So who am I to take that freedom and joy away from him?

I certainly don't think that believing in God would in any way harm my son. I even know from numerous studies that religious faith is a strong factor in finding a happy life. So there seems to be nothing that I need to protect my son from. On the other hand, believing that the Earth is flat wouldn't harm my son either – but is that a reason to let him believe such nonsense? To me, religion is on the same level with any other superstition, from not stepping on the cracks between flagstones to Santa Claus. I cannot quite understand why any adult would believe in something so clearly made up as a god.

So what do you think I should do? I would greatly appreciate your feedback on this.

If you are a religious person, it might help you with finding an answer to my question if you would imagine your child visiting the religious education of another, fundamentally different religion, or avoiding religious education altogether and visiting an atheist or agnostic class instead. Would you let them, if they wanted to and enjoyed it? Or would you want to enforce your own faith or at least protect them from the indoctrination until they are old enough to separate the singing from the believing? And how would you argue for it (apart from your belief that you know the truth)?

In response to some of the comments and answers, I'd like to add:

Intellectually, I'm an agnostic. Emotionally, I'm a torn atheist. Just like many religious people are filled with a painful doubt, or doubters with a secret belief, I don't know whether God exists, but believe, he doesn't. I'm only human, and it is difficult to refrain from believing anything. My stance is with Stanislaw Lem in this matter, who was open to be convinced, but hadn't yet encountered a convincing clue, and in the absence of evidence, chose not to believe. Also, despite my worried question, religion plays no role whatsoever in my day-to-day life. I don't usually think, much less worry, about the existence of God at all.

Reading your thought inspiring feedback has helped me become a bit more clear about what worries me.

What worries me is not that my son might come to believe in God. What worries me is that he is made to believe by habituation. But even that is not what I'm most afraid of. What worries me most is that my son will be taught those aspects of Christian morality that I find unwholesome (such as the concept of sin and the views on sexuality).

This question is not about how or whether to teach my son about Christian or any other faith. It is about how to deal with a situation where my son wants to partake in schooling that he enjoys for social reasons (his friends are there) but that conflicts with my values.

Update [March 2015]

From the large number of views, comments and answers this question has attracted, it is evident that many people share my concerns. This confirms my feeling that I should make a conscious decision and not just laissez faire.

After careful consideration of all the wonderful answers and comments you were so generous to share with me, and a lot of soul-searching to become clearer about what bothers me and what I would ideally wish, I have come to the following insights:

  1. Religion does not play any role at all in my day to day life.

  2. My son is in this class not because he is interested in religion, but because of his friends.

    Or in other words, he did not currently ask about religion, and there is not need to force that explanation on him now.

  3. A person can learn about anything at any time in life. There is no need to learn about religion at the age of seven.


I would prefer for my son to not encounter religion at all, unless he becomes curious by himself.

Since he so enjoys this class, I will let him visit it until the end of this school year, as corsiKa suggested in her answer. During these months I will complement his Catholic education in the manner suggested by Steve Jessop in his answer.

Next year I will tell his teachers that I do not want him to visit the religion class and find something interesting for him to do during quiet work time, as suggested by user3791372.

There were many other answers (e.g. by anongoodnurse, Kyle Strand, Joe, Guntram Blohm, CreationEdge, Marianne013, anonymous, and Cort Ammon) and comments that I found helpful and I have upvoted them all. I choose Steve Jessop's answer, because it addresses the aspect I am most concerned about.

Thank you all!

Second Update [August 2016]

My son has visited Catholic religious class for two years now. Contrary to my intention I let him continue to visit this class, because he so loves to be with his friends, and the alternative is just too boring.

I did pick up a couple of books on ancient and world religions as well as philosophy for kids from the library, and I read to him from them for a few weeks and discussed what we read, until stuff began to repeat and we both got bored by it.

I will let my son continue to visit the religious class next year, but I plan to make him visit Ethics when it is offered in high school the year after that.

My impression is that visiting the religious education did not turn my son into a believer. There was a phase when all the singing and tales of a kind, loving God got to him, but he has grown and developed and I think that his basic curiosity and scepticism are keeping the upper hand in the long run.

Certainly some ideas will have taken root in him, but it is still too early to know how they will influence his life in the long run.

  • 26
    It may sound harsh to talk about the brainwashing of children. But whether you believe it to be good brainwashing, or bad brainwashing, its still brainwashing.
    – crthompson
    Mar 5, 2015 at 18:02
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    I'd like to point out that "something so clearly made up as a god" is contrary to "I do not know wether God exists".
    – tar
    Mar 5, 2015 at 22:34
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    This is not really a full answer, but perhaps it can help you relax a bit: I visited a Christian Kindergarten, I loved Star Wars and so on as well, and I was exposed to biblical stories and songs in school as well during all my childhood... and grew up to be an agnostic as well :).
    – Layna
    Mar 6, 2015 at 8:03
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    Not a complete answer, but is it possible for you to supply less boring work that he could do outside the religious class?
    – Erik
    Mar 6, 2015 at 10:02
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    I have a German friend, very atheistic with very atheistic parents, whose parents made him go to Sunday school for a while specifically so that he would learn to hate religion...
    – Remco
    Mar 6, 2015 at 11:20

19 Answers 19


I think the key question to ask is,

Is your son capable of not believing what he's told in his Religion class?

If he's capable of disbelieving it, then he's not being brainwashed, and there's no great crisis. You would do well to discuss with him that the facts in religion are less settled than they are in most of the subjects he's learning at that age. The fact that there are different Religion classes, and that the pupils are taught different and perhaps contradictory things in them, might help him to this realisation! However, those you list all have monotheism in common, so you can't contrast with Religion classes that are polytheistic, nor an Atheism class, nor a Deism-Rejecting-Organised-Religion class. Therefore it's important to expose him to the existence of faiths other than those catered to by his school.

Take the example at hand: "during Roman times people understood that the other gods do not exist, but that only God does". This is true, in the sense that it describes the conversion to Christianity of the Roman Empire that you've previously discussed with your son. People did come to understand that, but the fact people came to understand something 1700 years ago isn't to say it's true. Catholics, including his teacher, do believe it is true of course. Explain that Catholic class is there to tell him what Catholics believe. However, not everyone believes it, and you're one of the ones that doesn't. Hindus don't believe it either, or Daoists, or Shintoists, or neo-Pagans. It shouldn't be beyond him to understand that his teacher is presenting one view.

If he's incapable of disbelieving it, because he in effect believes that schoolteachers are always right about everything, then you have quite a good reason to opt out until he's more mature. You're (in effect) in the same position as people who home-school because they don't want their children to be taught that the planet is more than 6500 years old, except that the class is optional precisely because the school accepts there's no need to teach children the things taught in the Religion class. You're being offered the opportunity to pick and choose. If it weren't for the fact he's already in the class, then since you're non-religious yourself I'd recommend to keep him out of any class that teaches one particular religion as truth. I don't know the German school system, when he's older will there be classes that teach the principal beliefs of multiple religions "from the outside", not as truth?

As against that, he's been doing this for six months and he enjoys it and his friends all go. So forbidding him to do it might do more harm than the Catholic teacher is doing. I'd guess he's not yet at an age where he'll believe something simply because his parents believe the opposite, but you have to consider in that light what happens if you forbid something that he wants to do, and refuse him access to information he wants to have, that his school and his society in general don't hold to be harmful.

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    This answer for me is has really got their finger right on the problem. Your kid learns things in science class that are backed up by solid observations, and things in history class backed up by solid evidence. It sounds like this religion class is being taught as if the claims were as well backed up as the claims in math and history and science, but you need to tell your kid that that's just not so when it comes to any religion. Your kid might find the claims of certainty appealing, you need to break that illusion.
    – swbarnes2
    Mar 7, 2015 at 1:07
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    @swbarnes2 Isn't that belief without concrete evidence what people call "faith"? Mar 8, 2015 at 14:43
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    @erdekhayser - it is. There is also a distinct difference between learning about the beliefs, history and customs of a religion (which are verifiable facts) including the unpalatable or contentious parts versus a sugar coated version that attempts to encourage students to adopt that religion outside the classroom... The latter being a specific concern the OP believes to be the case and is addressed in this answer. Mar 9, 2015 at 9:17
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    @erdekhayser: I didn't want to get into the nature of free will, but certainly one of the possible outcomes in the "capable of disbelieving it" case, is that the child is equipped to disbelieve it and nevertheless does believe it through faith and in time becomes a Catholic. But the questioner says they're only really troubled about brainwashing due to the child's naivety, not about conversion of someone who understands what they're being told. Mar 9, 2015 at 11:11
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    ... I take in that in Germany, Religion classes aren't intended for proselytisation, but I also expect they presume the children choose the class for the faith they already belong to via their parents. So there is a kind of procedural problem here, that the system probably isn't designed for this situation, and that's what the questioner has to compensate for. If the class at some later point requires the children to affirm Catholic catechism then that would certainly be a point to assess the situation again, IMO. Mar 9, 2015 at 11:14

Part of this answer depends on how much you teach, and trust, your child to question what he has been taught, and to allow him to arrive at his own conclusions. Leading by example is probably the most important factor in this.

Your son likes the stories. Can you let him hear all the stories, i.e. take some time in Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim classes, as well as your own?

My children were raised in my faith, but were allowed to question; they were also made to study world religions (including Hinduism and Zoroastrianism) and encouraged to compare and contrast to find if there were truths in any of them. If any of them professed to be Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, or wanted to convert to Judaism, I'd probably scratch my head, but I'd certainly respect that.

As it was, they did go through a questioning phase in their late-adolescence-early adulthood.

...imagine your child visiting an atheist or agnostic class instead.

No, I wouldn't have been brave enough to do this. My child is my responsibility (that ceases as they grow older), and to introduce them to world religions (just as with culture) was part of that responsibility. They knew about atheism, of course, but it's hard to teach about a "lack" of something. They also studied philosophy, so know about other systems of morality.

...would you want to enforce your own faith or at least protect them from the indoctrination until they are old enough to separate the singing from the believing?

I did take this road, for the same reasons as stated above. Parenting doesn't stop at the door of religion.

In the long run, though, children will (and mine did) decide for themselves, and I respect that. (One is a soft agnostic, two are non-denominational Christians, and one is a Protestant.) They seem to respect that I believe differently than they do.

The decision to believe is between every person and God (whichever God they believe in) regardless of my beliefs. My responsibility was to guide them in all major aspects of life while they were under my care.

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    In school, my son cannot "look in" on different classes, but has to decide for one. But I like the idea of exposing him to different faiths. Because actually that is one atheist argument: "When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." (Stephen F Roberts) So, instead of taking him out of that class, I could "counter-indoctrinate" him with other faiths, until the contradictions force him to dismiss them all. Ha!
    – user4758
    Mar 5, 2015 at 18:44
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    @what I realize you're probably partly kidding in your last statement, but there's no "contradiction" in rejecting all but one set of beliefs, regardless of the content of the particular set of beliefs selected. As long as your son believes that Catholicism itself has no internal contradictions, the beliefs of other religions will have no bearing on whether or not Catholicism is a reasonable or self-consistent belief system. Mar 6, 2015 at 0:14
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    Perhaps no contradiction, but after learning about multiple belief systems, it can seem arrogant or parochial to assume that the one you've selected is more likely to be true than the others. Education might not turn everyone into agnostic atheists, but I think it could encourage empathy and humility. Mar 6, 2015 at 10:58
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    Teaching atheism is probably more of a class about questioning everything, not teaching nothing.
    – user7643
    Mar 6, 2015 at 17:38
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    One of my favourite books as a kid was a collection of Greek mythology. Later I found Hindu, Egyptian, Norse and other stuff. At some point I saw the parallels: the stories coincide. You notice that Zeus = Odin = Jehovah. So read mythology to your kids. Gets it all in context.
    – RedSonja
    Mar 3, 2017 at 8:38

DISCLAIMER: I consider myself an agnostic, and have recently been leaning toward the atheist end of the agnostic spectrum, but I think I'm significantly more inclined toward the possibility of God's existence than you are, and I happen to know a decent amount about the Catholic Church and to have a pretty healthy respect for it (though I have never considered myself a Catholic).


Let him continue going to the class as long as he wants to, and to attend worship services (such as Mass) if he so desires. Continue to explain your own doubts about faith and religion and to encourage him to think critically about these issues.

Critical thinking and freedom

I think you're right that many people's faith is largely "unquestioned habituation" (a pretty apt phrase), but I find it unlikely that your son would fail to think critically about religion given that you are clearly setting a precedent for doing so (by explaining both your impression of why religious people believe what they do and why you don't share any of those beliefs).

Moreover, the Catholic Church actually emphasizes the freedom of faith more, I think, than most religions (albeit in a somewhat non-intuitive way), so I think you're unnecessarily cynical in your perception that his "freedom to decide is [being] taken away".

Attempting to suppress "wrong" ideas

Since your son is interested in Catholicism, has some emphasis on the freedom with which one embraces faith, if you attempt to prohibit him from learning about and participating in the Catholic tradition, you will immediately set yourself up to be perceived as an enemy of free and rational truth-seeking. That is, if you demonstrate to your son that you do not trust him to reach conclusions on his own that (in your mind) are "correct" but must instead force him away from certain viewpoints, then you will appear to be attempting to suppress his own exploration, which will appear both hypocritical and inherently wrong, and will make him more skeptical and distrustful of you and your views.

The Church, theology, and seeking rational viewpoints

In fact, the Catholic Church is one of the more "rational" religions: they have a strong emphasis on the scholarship and philosophical underpinnings of theology, and on constructing a coherent, comprehensive, and consistent worldview. Unfortunately, this worldview is in my opinion very poorly transmitted to the majority of Catholics; one could jestingly but somewhat truly say that the average Catholic is in fact not very Catholic. I would encourage your son, therefore, to do a lot of reading about the beliefs of the Church and to talk to members of the community who have actually studied it, especially as he gets older. You may wish to do the same, so that you can have a better understanding when you talk with him about his beliefs. (I recommend On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard; I've only read the chapter on freedom--which is part of my basis for the comment above--but that chapter alone is excellent, and I expect it's the norm for the book. Another good source is the blog Bad Catholic. Unfortunately, I don't know of any more age-appropriate reference materials, but these may be useful for you even before he's old enough to read them.)

Opposing viewpoints

Reading what Catholic theologians (as opposed to adherents) have to say about the religion will encourage your son to think critically about the internals of the religion, but I'm sure you are more concerned about whether he will think critically from an external perspective, i.e., about whether or not Catholicism actually presents a reasonable worldview at all. You are already giving him things to think about by presenting your own reasons for not believing, but it may be useful (again, particularly as he grows older) to give him external reading material for this. LessWrong, and particularly the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky, might be a good start (see, for instance, this post).

Religious participation

If your son decides to start attending Catholic Mass, you should consider attending it with him, if only to understand what it is he's experiencing. Regarding the particular issue of Communion, I would recommend that you receive a blessing (by crossing your arms in front of your chest, palms open and facing toward yourself) rather than the host.

Similarly, you should encourage your son not to mindlessly follow along with songs; he should be thinking about whether he really wants to be singing these songs, and at no point should he feel obligated to sing. At the moment, he'll probably just keep singing; but as he grows older, he may go back and forth about whether he wants to actually participate in the singing, and you should remind him that this is perfectly acceptable. The emphasis is on not letting oneself be (or feel) coerced.

Growing up

Finally, remember that your son is only seven years old. As you mentioned, this means he may be more susceptible to religious ideas. However, it definitely does not mean that he's particularly likely to maintain whatever beliefs he acquires now through his adolescence or his college years--let alone for his whole life! I mentioned above that your son's study of different belief systems should increase as he gets older. Some people, such as James Joyce, grow up as fervent believers only to reject their faith when they reach adulthood (Joyce presents a compelling semi-fictionalized version of his own "anti-conversion" experience in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man); others, such as Thomas Merton and C.S. Lewis grow up atheists but acquire a strong faith relatively late in life.

You are not sending your child to a religious camp. You, as a parent, are in an excellent position to be one of the prime influences on your child's views as he gets older, and you've made it clear that you will be encouraging him to continually doubt and question religion. You will also have many opportunities to expose him to non-religious and anti-religious views from outside the family--which will therefore be untinged by the "uncoolness" associated with the things one's parents believe.

In short, you are raising your son to be a critical thinker and to seek the truth; I do not think you risk indoctrination by allowing him to attend a class that he finds valuable.

  • 2
    @anongoodnurse I realize this probably comes off as a defense of Catholicism, which is perhaps too focused on the specifics of OP's circumstance rather than on the general question, but since I happen to know a decent amount about Catholicism, I think it's probably worth exploring the aspects that are relevant. I certainly don't mean for this to be a piece of Catholic apologetics; I am not Catholic myself, and have thus added a disclaimer at the top. Mar 6, 2015 at 0:07
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    Why you are entirely against OP's idea of banning their child from attending a religious class that they wish to attend is quite on-topic. Mar 6, 2015 at 0:14
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    @R I like the idea but I'm skeptical that it could be formulated in a way that I (personally) wouldn't find overly restrictive. For instance, proponents of gay marriage often consider any opposition to gay marriage to be inherently bigoted, but the Catholic argument against it is in fact highly principled (not to say whether I do or don't agree with it). Similarly, it's probably always a form of bigotry to generalize about the adherents of other religions, but true belief in a single religion (usually) requires rejection of others; that's a narrow line. Mar 8, 2015 at 5:13
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    @KyleStrand: Principled and bigoted aren't mutually exclusive. Mar 9, 2015 at 4:04
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    @R.. I take "bigoted" in this case to mean "irrationally prejudiced against other people." By "principled," I mean "rational and well-considered." So I did mean to draw a contrast between two conflicting ways of reaching conclusions, which may not be completely mutually exclusive but are pretty close. Mar 9, 2015 at 15:15

Ultimately, this is a decision you and your family need to make. There's no right answer. How you feel is fairly common; the feeling that the churches are 'taking advantage' of children to indoctrinate them is from one point of view a logical one.

My family isn't all that different, though I would say my wife and I are closer to being "agnostic" (I use quotes, because the modern usage of the word agnostic is not really accurate for what it should mean) than you are, at least from your post here. We largely don't care about religion one way or the other.

Our approach when our kids are old enough to ask questions, will be to encourage them to learn about religion if they're interested in it. We have a religious relative or two that we expect to eventually push a bit, and we'll encourage them to make themselves available to talk about religion. We don't mind the idea of going to a church if our kids want to (most likely, if they have a friend who goes).

Mostly, though, we intend to discuss religion frankly with our children when they are interested. We won't push a particular viewpoint, but will be direct and honest with them in answering their questions. A seven year old undoubtedly can have some very interesting questions, and having sufficient understanding of religious theory - not just religious doctrine, but a more complete understanding of the why and what, as well as history. If you can discuss religion intelligently and in detail, and not denigrate it outright, your child will have a good basis for making his or her own judgements.

This fits in with our parenting philosophy - we don't believe in forcing things on the children (as much as possible), but letting them develop as independent people. My feeling is that while a seven year old might be vulnerable to indoctrination to some extent, that as they get older if they have good examples in their life of both religious and non-religious people, they will as they age figure things out for themselves.

  • 9
    @Joe But there is a difference between "encouraging your child to learn about religion if they're interested in it" and allowing a religious institution time alone with your child on a regular basis. In my son's case the teacher spends 90 minutes per week with my son, over months and, if he continues, over years. Now think of psychotherapy. Many therapies have a similar or lower frequency and are proven to be effective in changing the personality of a patient. So what I'm allowing that institution is a religious group psychotherapy of my child.
    – user4758
    Mar 5, 2015 at 18:54
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    @what I'd like to think my children, raised the way they are, will be able to make sound judgements for themselves in that matter. I plan on giving them the analytic tools to make the judgement for themselves: that's the main reason religions can 'brainwash' people, if they don't think for themselves. Give them that skill and you don't have to worry about brainwashing.
    – Joe
    Mar 5, 2015 at 18:58
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    @Joe My son holds his teachers in high regard and is, as far as I can tell, unable to believe they may be wrong. I have had him in tears when I tried to explain to him a mistake his German teacher made, and he is still convinced that I must be wrong, he adores her so much. This is exactly what I experienced with his religious class: He quoted his religious teacher to me to "prove" me wrong. He is one of those children who is in constant competition with his father, unable to accept being corrected by me. And all his best friends are in that class, they cannot all be wrong!
    – user4758
    Mar 5, 2015 at 19:09
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    @what That will change over time - that's normal at 7 but by 10 or 11 it won't be true any more, typically. My hope is that my children neither believe their teachers nor myself: but they learn from both, and make their own judgements.
    – Joe
    Mar 5, 2015 at 19:11
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    @what: Based on this comment thread, I wonder if you would be better off opening a new question trying to understand why your son trusts his teachers more than he trusts you. While the German system of soft-forcing religious education by making the alternative unattractive to kids sounds wrong and messed up, I don't think this problem would be arising at all if your relationship with your son had a solid foundation. Exploring why your son doesn't trust you (note: the fact that you asked this question might be a hint) is likely to have better practical results. Mar 7, 2015 at 15:31

I think you may find some insights in my answer to a related question, but I also have some advice specifically for your situation.

Treat it like school

Your son is taking classes, so it's your responsibility as a parent to be involved with his course materials, help him to learn, and help him develop critical thinking and analytical skills. In this case, your son's class happens to be a religion class.

There's no reason to deprive your child of an educational experience that he enjoys. By disallowing him this opportunity, he'll only be learning the lesson that sometimes parents make arbitrary decisions based solely on emotion (even if he's not able to articulate that lesson in any terms more complex than, "It's not fair!").

Many aspects of the Bible are considered by scholars to be historical accounts. The Bible isn't purely theology. So you can treat events that are commonly accepted as having actually happened as history lessons.

Have open discussions

Other aspects of religion classes directly relate to theology. For obvious examples, we can look at the story of Moses. As you discuss such stories with your son, you can insert some commentary from a scientific standpoint: "According to science, it's not possible that Moses parted the Red Sea. So, it's possible that didn't actually happen, but the story was meant express how Moses and his people overcame a lot of difficulties to escape the Pharaoh. Christians and Jews believe that their God helped Moses actually part the Sea."

Hopefully, my illustrates a few things:

  1. It's your responsibility to have an understanding of the topics and lessons his learning if you want to provide meaningful, relevant feedback.
  2. You can phrase things in such a way that illustrates not everyone believes these things: "Science says..." vs "Christians believe..."; "Their God" instead of "God"; "[Other religion/non-religion] believes..." instead of just "Christians believe..."
  3. It's important to be non-confrontational, non-judgmental, and not to deride the other beliefs.

When you're going over these lessons, it's important that your son gets a voice as well. If your son's current opinion is different than your own, then your tone or treatment of him shouldn't make him or his opinion feel invalidated. If his opinion is the same as your own, then your tone or treatment of him shouldn't be designed to instill pride. Basically, you don't want this to be an emotional or psychological issue. The worst case scenarios are that he parrots what you believe or doesn't voice his beliefs because he doesn't want to offend or upset you.

You're raising a child, not an automaton

What you're trying to do is guide your son, so that he learns to exercise his own mind, and come to conclusions about the world and life based on the use of his own faculties.
If he can reason, and analyze, and take in information from a variety of sources and viewpoints, then he'll (someday) be able to come to a decision on his own regarding his Theological stance. It's not any better for him to be indoctrinated with your beliefs than it is for him to be indoctrinated by the beliefs of a given church.

You may not see "results" immediately, and that's okay. Your son has a lot of life to go through yet, and there are many factors besides parents that can influence adoption of beliefs. In this case, you should be concerned with his long-term journey, not his short-term path.

In the end, you'll have to trust in your child. Give him the tools that lend him fend for himself, and then allow him to use those tools.

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    As an aside: I don't have a religious affiliation. I also don't identify with the various versions of agnosticism or atheism or skepticism. Maybe more of an Abstitheist, than anything. However, I believe that in our world it's important to be educated on religious matters. They influence culture and policies, and so if you don't understand the beliefs you'll be missing out on understanding a big part of how the world works.
    – user11394
    Mar 6, 2015 at 2:32

Disclaimer: I live in germany, so i had my religious education in german schools, but i'm 47 right now, so my experience is 30-40 years old and might be a bit outdated. However, i don't think that very much has changed since then.

Also, i was baptized as a (protestant) christian, had 13 years of religion at school, and consider myself an agnostic now. So, indoctrination seems not to have worked for me. And, considering how many germans had religion at school (virtually all of them, at least in the former western federal countries), and how many are visiting church except on christmas (very few), indoctrination doesn't seem to have worked for most of them. And, i'd claim that schools don't even try to do this

I think your son should be able to decide for himself what he believes in. To make an educated decision, he must know how the religions he considers adopting work. Which are the christian values? Which values does christianity share with judaism, islam, hinduism, and buddhism, and where are the differences? How do you apply the teachings of your religion to everyday life?

Throughout my school education, these were the biggest parts of the education we got, mixed with a little church history. When exams included questions like "What would be appropriate methods of tackling this and that moral dilemma", it was the well-founded answers that gave good grades, not the "The church says X, so you should do X" ones. Even if i consider myself an agnostic now, i think i learned a lot in those lessons that helps me make my own, morally sound decisions. And even if you don't believe in god, i'd assume you accept the main christian values - charity, helpfulness, forgiveness, peacefulness - as concepts that are worth while pursuing, not because some god will punish you for violating them, but because they will make your life and the life of your neighbor better.

So, at least for german public schools, and the average teacher, i'd say there's nothing to fear.

Still, i suggest talking to your son about what they did and learned on a regular basis. This will allow you to intercede in case anything pushes your son into a direction you don't want. You will be able to discuss what he learned with him, give him different views from what his teacher told him, and discuss with him how well - or badly - concepts of the bible apply to today's reality. It will also alleviate your fears of him being indoctrinated.

In the end, the decision will be your son's anyway. To you, it shouldn't matter if he believes in no god at all, the christian god, the flying spaghetti monster, or something else. The important thing is how his belief will affect his life and his behaviour, that he gains the ability to apply moral values to his behaviour, and knows how to decide between different courses of action and take responsibility for them. Attending classes and learning religion will most likely enhance these capabilities, not impede them.


I think children go through a phase at that age. I'm 43 and German. My parents are atheists. My father by conviction (1st generation), my mother by tradition (3rd generation atheist). At age 6 I joined the protestant version of the religious education classes at my school, because it was taught by my favourite teacher. I drew lots of camels. Age 11 after switching to secondary school, I dropped the subject and never looked back. Today I share my parents beliefs.

My daughter is 8 and attends school in Britain. Despite it being a non-Church affiliated state school, when she joined age 4 I found out that they were signing religious songs in school assembly and that their compulsory RE classes emphasised that there were many faiths, but never considered the possibility that faith might be optional. (Cue homework with questions: "How is the birth of a baby celebrated in your faith ?") I did emphasize at home that I didn't agree with this and that the school was wrong to force this on her (at 4 grownups are always right - this was very confusing for her). She also developed a strong interest in Greek Myths and in the end she processed the Christian God as just "one more God" from a story. Now at nearly 9 years old, she has lost all interest in the subject and is approaching the family consensus (there is no God). So my advice would be to let your son continue his classes, but voice your opinion where you disagree. As you son matures and starts seeing his teachers more critically your voice will carry more weight than theirs.

  • 1
    The idea "at 4 grownups are always right" is pretty disturbing and probably responsible for most/all cases of child abuse. Children should be taught as soon as they can understand it that this is NOT true. Mar 7, 2015 at 18:18
  • Don't you think I did tell her that, pretty much from birth ? That doesn't stop young children idolizing their teachers. Mar 11, 2015 at 15:17
  • 1
    Well that's probably a good question topic in itself - how do you teach young children that adults aren't always right? Mar 12, 2015 at 2:23

I can see that you are very conflicted and I imagine that is difficult. Normally, I don't respond to threads like this, but considering the subject, I felt compelled to share my experience in this area. Perhaps it will help you!

I was raised in a very religious Protestant home. I genuinely believed in God, 7-day creation story, and Adam and Eve. I was taught to believe that my faith was the ONLY right faith and every other religion was wrong. I was taught to cast off virtually all scientific theory (evolution, dinosaurs) as deceitful. I felt strongly about my beliefs until I was about 12 years old, then things started to change.

The school in my district was not a very good school and my parents were worried that my education would suffer. So, they enrolled me in a local Catholic school known for providing a good education. Though I was Protestant, I was required to attend Catholic religion class. My parents were careful to remind me that not everything I would hear was right because they were Catholic and they didn’t know the truth.

Within the first week of my new school and Catholic education, I started to see something interesting that (it seemed) no one else saw. The religions were very similar in many ways. My parents never told me that! But, I also saw something that shook me. One day as I sat in Catholic religion class, the teacher made a point to remind the class that the Catholic Church is the only right church and all others were wrong (hummmm, where did I hear that before?). The Catholic teacher said that non-believers would go to hell. After the teacher made that statement, I asked how he could say something like that. Declaring that non-believers will go to hell is passing judgment – which according to Christian belief is a reserved for God alone. I pointed out that the Bible says “judge not lest ye be judged” and the religion teacher was judging non-Catholics and condemning them to hell. Clearly, I was sent to the principal’s office for disrupting class but this was a valuable lesson for me. With that, I realized that BOTH religions completely disregarded aspects of faith that didn’t suit them and they refused to acknowledge similarities or shared goodness of the other religions teachings.

Because of this experience, I wanted to learning about other religions (Hindu, Muslim, Judaism). I was less interested in faith, per se, and more interested in understanding how religion impacts people’s lives and behavior throughout history. And, over time I have found that virtually all religions have good and bad parts to them. In the end, exposure to religion can be a good thing! For me, it sparked strong interest in sociology, anthropology, history, and science.

Based on these experiences, I recommend the following. If your child has expressed an interest in religion – let him learn about religion… But make sure that the exposure is balanced. Teach him about ALL RELIGIONS! Show him the good and the bad in all the different religions. Show him how very different religions are similar and where they are different. And, show him how faith impacts the behavior of people with whom he will interact for the rest of his life. This type of education will help him to learn tolerance and understanding for all different kinds of people. You were right to say that your child is gullible - children are so trusting! As his parent, the best thing you can do is help him learn tolerance and balance by exposure to a variety of different religions.

Best of luck. I hope this helps!


Our family is approaching this same decision. I found this quote from user what helpful

there is a difference between "encouraging your child to learn about religion if they're interested in it" and allowing a religious institution time alone with your child on a regular basis.

I suggest teaching your child that:

  • No human is perfect
  • Anyone can make mistakes
  • Anyone may have been misled, and as a result, may mislead others
  • It is always ok to change your mind about what you believe in light of new facts. Point out that even religions of faith do this.
  • Everyone has some amount of doubt in the things that they believe, a lot or little.
  • For some things, like the nature of God, no proof is possible. Yet, the human ability to have a strong belief in something, regardless of proof has always been a major factor in human achievement. From unparalleled advancements in construction due to religious monument building, to scientific discovery and invention caused by a culture of persistent faith in the scientific method, society excels when belief is fostered and encouraged.
  • Conversely, suffering is the result of belief being forced onto people.

This should make indoctrination a little harder to achieve in your child. Then I would let him continue to attend the Catholic lessons if he wants, but also require at least a cursory investigation into at least 2 other belief structures(of his choice) that are neither Christian or Agnostic/Athiest.

  • Thank you for that helpful feedback and all the best to you and your child.
    – user4758
    Aug 19, 2016 at 19:49

The decision of whether to allow a child to attend religious services is a complicated one. As a general rule, a large number of people believe "Religion is good, as long as it's my religion. You know, the right one." That attitude can make it difficult to trust the religions.

I found a few quotes that feel dissonant to me. Before going into my opinion on how to proceed, I wanted to draw attention to them. I think that a lot of this situation can be resolved within your self, so it's helpful to see places where you are not necessarily thinking consistently with yourself. Think of these not as attacking your psyche, but rather suggesting places where you can find breathing room while trying to act on a really difficult subject.

My son has given himself a broad education (his teachers and parents are only the facilitators that help him gain the knowledge he seeks, e.g. by reading to him what he cannot or by answering his questions). He is very interested in everything from the natural sciences to history. One of his favourite topics are the Romans (a context, in which I explained to him the formation and development of Christianity), another are the Vikings, Celts and Germanic tribes.

This quote shows an opinion that your son is an independent self, not simply believing what he is told, but actively questioning and learning in his own directions. This seems dissonant when paired with:

I am open to my son educating himself and coming to a different conclusion that I did. But I actually feel violated by my son being "made" to believe by singing songs and listening to charming tales. What I feel is similar to a parent worrying about what watching pornography will do to their children's adult sexuality. Or what playing violent videogames will do to their anger management:

(Note the part about the world is dissonant with the previous quote, but the rationalization is all about "What I feel," not any statement about your son).

Now let's look at a dissonance which comes right from the question itself:

Should I allow or forbid my son to visit the education of a religion that I do not share?

Contrast against...

I feel that the freedom to decide is taken away from my son.

These lines also strike me as dissonant. If I may be so bold, it strikes me the freedom you seek to take away may not be your son's, but rather your own freedom to decide for him.

Now, we've found some dissonance in our own head. This can be frustrating, but it can also be revealing because where there is dissonance, there is wiggle room to break free from your own opinions and get closer to what may be "the truth" about the situation.

I have found there is a balance between responsibility and control. When they are balanced, people are happy. When they have more control than responsibility, they act immaturely. When they have more responsibility than control, they act fearfully. When raising a child, we start with tremendous responsibility and great control (other than naptime. There's no control over naptime). In the end, we will lose all control (at the very least at our own passing), and in the best cases, we lose most or all responsibility (its called growing up).

The interesting journey happens in between. There's some magic ideal floating around that somehow we retain complete responsibility and control until they hit 18, then responsibility and control plumit and we see if the kid (I mean "newly minted adult") thrives or not. I don't know where this ideal came from, it really isn't very helpful for making decisions. I like to think the curve is a bit more fluid, with more room for the kid to do awesome amazing things well beyond the parent's control.

So you've hit one of those interesting points. Without you realizing, you lost a bit of control. It's okay. It happens to all of us (no, I mean it... all us. Every last one). The issue is that you feel you still have responsibility which is no longer balanced by control.

Good news: this is something you can do! You can balance your feelings of responsibility against the reality of your control. You even have choice in the matter!

  • You can reduce your feelings of responsibility.
  • You can gain control.
  • You can do a mix of both.

Now if you ever want the kid to get out of the nest, at some point you're going to have to reduce your feelings of responsibility. I'm not going to claim that you should just "suck it up" and let him do what he wants, but recognize that there may be some flexing here on your behalf. Now, let's get into the control bit, which is where you're really interested.

We can simplify the task of controlling another human being into thinking of the carrot and the stick. True, the world is far more nuanced than that age old metaphor, but for a first pass which gives you room to explore your own solution, carrot and stick is good enough. You can either act in a way that tries to draw your son to you (and your opinions), or act in a way which drives him away from others (and their opinions).

When you have complete responsibility and control, the stick is pretty easy. Just tell those nasty teachers to mind their own business, and shove your son back into quiet time. It's not so simple anymore. You don't have complete control. Your son likes his religious time. He feels it is beneficial to his person. It's too late to just rewind the clock and try again. (this is a good thing. Life is far more interesting without do-overs).

The stick is surprisingly ineffective here. What can you actually do to "forbid" your child? He believes he is better for these religious times, so you are literally going to have to say "Believe me, momma/pappa knows best." You are going to have to drive him away from that side of him.

What does it look like from his perspective? Either you rescued him from something bad, or you drove him away from something he liked. If its the latter, now you're the bad person, and you'll find you lose even more control. If its the former, then that means he believes you know best. I word it that way because of the word "believes." For the stick to work in your favor, you are literally dependent on him believing that you know better than the rest of the world. That's a scary statement of responsibility for someone who prefers the label "agnostic" over "atheist."

I don't recommend the stick, its just ugly. So what does the carrot have in store? Carrots have a nice treat: they can grow a young child's mind. If he can talk to you, and try to accept your beliefs as well as those religious ones, he will be a better person (and will prove that he's above silly brainwashing).

Talk with your child. Use what control you have to work with him to open up about religion. You gave an anecdote suggesting he believes God is real. Don't use a stick to beat that out of him, use a carrot and work with him to help him understand how to believe such things without losing track of everything else he is.

For all you know, this could be a watershed conversation with your child. Perhaps this drives them to explore philosophy. There's centuries of material of philosophers trying to grapple with the realty and un-reality of God, gods, spirits, physics, and generally all sorts of stuff. Perhaps this drives them to explore debate. There's centuries of material of debaters explaining how to use different techniques to sway opinions (and how to identify them when they're being used on you).

Or perhaps this is just a phase, and they come back to "sharing your beliefs." In that case, aren't you glad you chose not to use a stick?

I do have to give fair treatment to the other side of the argument: there is the fear that one's child is going to become a religious fanatic who denies their own parents and spits on their grave. Phew that was a frightening image to type out. Look, I prefer carrot over stick. Treat it as an opportunity. If you let them explore now, they'll still talk to you about it as they explore. There's no sense in delaying it until an age where they no longer are interested in talking to good ol' mom and pop.

Now go back to thinking about carrots!


In the end, it is really something you need to discuss with your son.

The decision as to what path he goes down will ultimately be his. If not now, then as he grows toward adulthood. It doesn't matter if his choice is the same as yours, or if it is different. It doesn't matter if he chooses agnosticism, atheism, or a faith shared by his friends. He might even make one choice now, and revisit it later. The choice will be his.

From what you describe, you have explained your views to him, and he has made the effort to educate himself and be aware, and will question. That means you have done your best - which, in the end, is all that a parent can do. And he is doing well in preparing himself for whatever choice he might make.

It is certainly appropriate that you discuss your concerns, and views on the situation, honestly with him. But, equally, you need to listen to his views because he will have a view on whether or not he is being unduly pressured or indoctrinated. Whether you agree with him or not, you need to respect his right to choose.

His choice will be based on his personal values, and who he is. Just as your choice was, and is, based on your personal values and who you are.

  • As nice as this sounds, at age 7 the parents are responsible for decisions concerning the child and it is the parents that have to decide if they want to allow a religious institution the opportunity to try and 'recruit' their child.
    – Ivana
    Feb 14 at 14:17

I don't understand why this is a problem for you. It may be that you are actually an anti-theist rather than an agnostic. How can you, on one hand, make statements to your son that "God does not exist" and on the other hand claim that you "don't know whether God exists"? You are being inconsistent.

Perhaps God does exist and your son is finding that being. In that case perhaps you might consider what your son is learning and think about it yourself, at least to try to show that what he is learning doesn't actually disprove your theory that God cannot be known.

In any case, if there is no god, then isn't one goal of life, in your opinion, to be happy? And if your son is happy in learning about god and finds happiness in this way, what reason do you have to stop him?

After all, your agnosticism allows for the case where there might actually be a God.

To answer the title question, to be a fair agnostic and allow for rational inquiry, you should allow your son to explore the teachings of this religion and then engage him in rational, reasonable discussion once he is of age. I believe that honest atheists would demand no less right for "free thinking" for their children as they demand for themselves. And true Catholicism embraces reasonable discourse and inquiry as well.

  • 4
    Can you answer the question that was asked? This isn't quite a normal forum, where there's discussion around a topic; instead, this is a place to ask questions and get answers. Wander by the tour when you have a moment, and remember you can edit your answer at any time - can you add something that directly addresses the question? Mar 5, 2015 at 23:40
  • 1
    @PaulMarshall Andre has indeed answered the question; in the third paragraph. In fact, in my opinion, this is quite a good answer. Mar 6, 2015 at 10:40
  • I think he has answered part of the question, but not all of it; the OP is also interested in long-term effects of the additional teachings of Catholicism, beyond just a conviction that God exists.
    – Acire
    Mar 6, 2015 at 12:51
  • @Erica The long term affects of the teachings of Catholicism can be found by studying the lives of the saints, who are the ones who have most closely conformed their lives to those teachings. Nowhere else on Earth can be found people who have greater joy, even in the face of terrible suffering. Being Catholic can only help his son be joyful in a world where there is much suffering today.
    – Andre
    Mar 6, 2015 at 15:28
  • I suggest you incorporate into your Answer, since it's the OP who was interested -- I was just pointing out a core part of his question :)
    – Acire
    Mar 6, 2015 at 15:30

You do have every right to be concerned: if the course was merely education of religion, your child would not be singing songs.

If you pull him out to protect him from these perceived dangers, there is no way for you to rationalize to him why except "it's for your own good". You can't explain to your child that passing the offering plate without putting an offering in it is an embarrassing thing. He will hear the words, and maybe the individual concepts, but not the social implications of a statement like that.

And even if you did, what would he do with this knowledge? He is likely to bring it up in his classes, and the teachers certainly wouldn't appreciate that. He wouldn't be equipped to hold a debate on the matter, he could merely say things like "well my dad says", and then they will refute the statement. Now he has to make a choice between believing you and believing them, and I don't see that, at his age, being a healthy thing.

So if you take him out, it has to be a "because I said so" thing.

If you are going to pull him out, don't do it in the middle of the year. He's already done this far, and once he hits summer break it's likely going to be out of sight, out of mind. Next year, ensure he has a solid alternative, one that is going to interest him more. This is going to take a lot of work on your part. You will have to design the course work for him, and have the proctor for that time period give him the work you design. You said he was interested in middle age European history, so why not build on that? Make up lesson plans for that time during which he (and who knows, maybe other kids with similar minded parents) can learn about all the exciting things the Vikings, Celts, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians (I'm just listing tribes from Civilization II right now, don't mind me...) did during history.

If you take the time to teach him the things he's fired up about, he will not forget it his entire life.

  • Actually, from what I gathered, I would classify the OP as an agnostic and a strong atheist. There is no contradiction there. Agnosticism is the view that you cannot decide about the truth of the existence of gods and similar. This is not tied to deism (believing in the existence of gods), weak atheism (not believing in gods) or strong atheism (believing that god does not exist) – I know a Catholic priest who identifies himself as agnostic.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Mar 6, 2015 at 21:07
  • Can you please edit to parts which actually address the OP's question ("Should I allow or forbid my son to visit the education of a religion that I do not share?") and not a discussion about the problems with religion itself? You may well believe that the entirety of your answer is on topic, but that is not the case. Mar 7, 2015 at 0:32
  • It is necessary to show the rationale for why a parent may choose to remove their child from a "religious education" class, and that those reasons cannot be explained to a seven year old.
    – corsiKa
    Mar 7, 2015 at 2:46

If you have trained him well, he will be able to discern truth from error, and you must respect his ability to do so himself.

There is no danger in exposing a person to an idea that you believe is false, because if it is in fact false he will determine it is so. The real danger is in withholding from your son information which you believe to be false (in religion or otherwise) because in doing so you may accidentally shield him from the truth. Falsehood is easily dispelled by a rational man. Truth, however, is not always so easily found.

In other words: running information through too many filters corrupts it. Let him get his facts from the source and he will learn to make wise decisions. If he doesn't receive information from all sides, he will only learn to follow your decisions and not to think.

  • I totally agree with not withholding information, but I tend to believe that the best moment to give information to a child is when they ask for it. We have talked about sex, divorce, racism, the Holocaust, child abuse, and so on, but only when my son asked about this and only in as much detail as he was interested in. The problem with this class is that my son is not there for the information, but for his friends.
    – user4758
    Aug 19, 2016 at 19:46

I think that your son choosing to attend a religious class because his friends do is fine. I was sent to religious boarding school and read novels in class and in church and during prayers.

My mum was deeply atheist -- ("Anyone one who believes that stuff is not smart.") My dad is deeply Anglican. ("Anyone who doesn't believe is 'sad'.")

I think learning to question any deeply held beliefs is always good. I think that we learn to have an open mind because we are willing to start from a place that says, we are not always right. Sometimes there is new information that we need to allow to change our opinion.

I respect that other people do not think what I think. Sometimes I think they are not right, or even stupid, and sometimes I learn something. I respect that a person believes in god, even if I do not -- as long as it does me nor anyone else any harm. Don't force me read or listen or perform to your beliefs but if you wish me Merry Christmas/chag sameach/Ramadan mubarak, I'll take it as the good wish it is meant to be -- not as an insult.

I have no trouble asking friends about their religious beliefs and trying to understand them. History is chock-full of religious reasoning, so I think it is very important to have religious education.

I think your son will ultimately do as all children do. He'll grow up and be his own person. You have little control over what he ultimately believes, but you can influence him by talking about the subjects that interest him and explaining your position respectfully.

I thought I was completely atheist until someone explained that in their religion they believed in 'x'. My immediate thought was "how could anyone believe that"? I then understood that I thought of my dad's religion as 'normal', but this one was complete fiction. So apparently, I am not an atheist, I am a questioner-- at best an agnostic.


I'm getting in way late in the game, but ...

Christianity and Islam are partially based on getting others to join---evangelization. As such, their education of children is designed to promote joy through some universal concepts of peace, love, and hope. To children, the education does not include violent conflict or derision outside of the fantastical: parting of the Red Sea, Jesus's miracles, etc.

However, they WANT you to join. They are motivated for you to join, and they may tell you that your soul is at risk for not joining. This is particular to missionary religions.

In comparison, Chinese get morality education daily in a Communist country where God-based religions are frequently prosecuted. They turn out just fine with a strong moral center (except perhaps for persecution of the religions).

You mentioned one of the opportunities was Judaism. Judaism is determined by birth. There is no effort at evangelization; in fact, it's discouraged with the possible exception of Reform Judaism. The theology is practically identical to Catholicism, as is the moral education (with the obvious main difference in accepting Jesus as the Messiah). Most of my Jewish friends are agnostic at best, but they respect the social customs. Judaism is interesting in that it's a matriarchal society. It is quite empowering for women to be exposed to it.

It is now close to two years for you. It would have been interesting to try different exposures. I don't think you would have seen such evangelization in Judaism. (After living among Catholics for years, my kids and I decided to convert for complicated reasons; this is atypical.)

In America, mixed marriages have become increasingly common with the children typically being raised the religion of the parent who cares the most about the subject, if receiving religious education at all.

Social science suggests faith reduces risk of suicide but criminality is unaffected. People succeed or fail in life on their own merits, but moral training of some type promotes togetherness, and this is something all humans benefit from. Many parents would follow your path of presentation without judgment, but keep in mind convincing people that they're right to the exclusion of others is the norm for evangelization ("acceptance" is a relative term when the instructed conclusion is that your neighbor is going to hell for not sharing your belief system).

I'll disagree exposure doesn't promote conversion. It does. It obviously does. The possible exception is with non-missionary religions like Judaism. Don't be surprised if your child joins Catholicism. Hopefully, this won't upset you.

  • +1 for this "They are motivated for you to join"
    – Ivana
    Feb 14 at 14:28

You seem to be wanting affirmation that pulling him out of these classes will be OK. Of course it will. These hours that he's spending learning about a star-wars-like character could be spent furthering his practical, of-use education. From personal experience, teachers of religious education push their own personal ideology and dress it up as "Religion". This is unacceptable.

This may seem an obvious point, but you seem to be blaming the school for giving him uninspiring work if he doesn't go to a religious class and making it an almost deliberate choice that he has to go. This will be because there will be a few kids who don't study R.E., and so the school doesn't bother to set work, the teacher most likely just makes it up on the spot. This is not an excuse.

Take some responsibility for his learning and set him some work yourself for this quiet time through discussion with his teachers (I think the teachers will be very responsive to this idea). Maybe he's weak in a subject and needs more work - you could buy exercise books for more work to be marked by you and him together (he is your child, and more parents should get more involved in their children's learning).

Maybe he likes a particular subject and wants to do more work in it. Teach him the importance of reading / self study techniques etc, maybe a musical instrument etc. The teachers who 'babysit' the kids who don't study these religious studies will mostly either be teaching other classes at the same time, or themselves have free periods to do marking or other teacher work, so they won't care what he does as long as it's safe, he's safe and not a burden on them.


Your son is just a human and he will always face this kind of situation. Forbidding him to make his own choices and mistakes will have the effect that he will never learn the consequences of his decisions.

I see you are seeing your kid as a victim of brainwashing rather than having had the empowering chance to choose how he will spend his time, and this is what emotionally disturbs you.

Suppose your son had to choose between studying newtonian mechanics or relativistic mechanics, and he choose to study the first. Of course, we know that relativistic mechanics is more "true", and you could always interpret that his physics teachers are brainwashing him into believing newtonian mechanics.

I feel that the scenario of studying newtonian instead of relativistic mechanics would not make you feel your son as a victim, but studying religion instead of non-religion will.

Dont take religion too seriously. My mother is catholic, my father was long atheist or agnostic, and I was atheist too (I am an engineer). But in a certain point of my life, believing in some aspects of religion proved to be very useful to me and my father, so we both have a little of this view on us.

You can always learn from both sides. You will learn thru your kid some good aspects of religion, and he will learn from you some good aspects of your religion (in my view, atheism is also a religion). Why to strive for monotony when you can have the benefit of a colorful life, where everybody is giving their contribution?

About the aspects of religion that for you are unwholesame: You can always tell him that he doesnt have to believe those two specific aspects that you dont like, so you can overwrite the teachings that he has! You dont have to be powerless against this two points, you can take an active role and change it! :)

  • Can you please edit to parts which actually address the OP's question ("Should I allow or forbid my son to visit the education of a religion that I do not share?") and not a discussion about the problems with the OP himself? You may well believe that the entirety of your answer is on topic, but that is not the case. Mar 7, 2015 at 0:35
  • @annongoodnurse: an answer alone is not usefu if the person doesnt feel enganged to apply it. When I wrote a lot it was to put a sense behind my answer, which allows for more engagement on its implementation. Mar 7, 2015 at 8:25

My question to you would be why does the religious convictions of your child matter at all to you? You have to realise that there are no guarantees when raising a child.

Even if someone as radical as Madalyn Murray O'Hair could raise a Baptist minister for a son then it really shows you that whatever upbringing a person may have, people become the people they want to be.

It all comes back to the nurture vs nature debate. You raise your child as best you as you can. You provide for his / her earthly needs until the day comes where he can manage on his own but ultimately your child will become the person he wants to be.

If your child wants to become a serial rapist, he will. If your child wants to join the Roman Catholic church and go to India to become the next mother Theresa, then that is what he will do.

We provide as parents to the best of our abilities for our children but unfortunately, it is nothing more than a dice roll when it comes to what we get for children, there simply is no guarantees.

Just take Oscar Pistorius for an example. He was given every chance to excel, He went to Pretoria Boys High, a school that has produced more than one Noble prize Laurate and look how he turned out? Murderous scum.

If the only fault my child had was being religious then I would still consider my parenting a success, there sure is many worst things he could be doing with his Sundays that going to church.

  • There are no guarantees, but certainly there is influence.
    – Ivana
    Feb 14 at 14:29

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