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Child is 2 years 2 months old.

I am an agnostic.
I don't want my child to believe in God until she is 20 years old. Reason is that I believe that if the child below that age is repeatedly told by her elders to pray to god, that the god exists, and the god can punish them if they don't - then I think the child will follow what the elders say because of her lack of world experience and because of her trust in her elders.

After she is 20, I can reveal to her the world history (wars, natural calamities, gas chambers etc.) and I can tell her why I turned agnostic. Then if she thinks it is wise to pray to god or to demons - I simply won't interfere. It would be totally her decision.

I live among believers. My in laws have shown some photographs of Hindu gods to her and have taught her to fold her hands as a mark of respect.

Child has learnt that and follows the practice whenever she sees a photo of those gods.

I live in India. There is a huge cultural difference as compared to western countries. Therefore it is simply not possible to tell the in-laws to not talk about god to the child.

The in-laws don't live with us. They live far away. But, every year for 2-3 weeks we have to visit them, and they also visit us the same way.

  • How should I respond to the child when she is alone with me?

  • How should I respond to the child when she is in presence of the in laws?

  • Agnoist? Do you mean agnostic? Meaning not claiming any knowledge of the existence or nature of God(s)? – Paul Johnson Aug 21 '15 at 16:06
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    "I am an agnoist and I don't want my child to believe in God until she is 20 years old." That's an interesting cut-off. Curious as to why you picked it. There is a lot of missing information. Do you live with your in-laws? Do you like them? Do you really want to place your 2 year old daughter into the center of your disagreement with her grandparents, etc.? What do you think is best for her? Expanding a bit on your question would make it easier to answer. – anongoodnurse Aug 21 '15 at 16:19
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    20 years is a LONG time, she will learn many, many things about religion and world history before she reaches that age. This includes in school and on the internet. Do you want to shield her from all of that, too? – Erik Aug 24 '15 at 7:42
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    Learning about religion and world history can start as young as 5 or 6. Getting involved with religion I would personally put at around 12. But it's your child, so if you want to put it later I might need to change the answer to suit; just wanted to know your plan due to the late age. – Erik Aug 24 '15 at 7:45
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    It may be useful to distinguish between venerating and respecting symbols or practice of religion. For example, when out to lunch with a devout colleague who prays before his meal, I will wait quietly and not eat until he's done to respect his practice. When our family visits relatives that celebrate a different holiday, we've explained to the kids the background, symbols, and traditions they'll encounter and that we are respecting Relative's practice. This is a nearly impossible distinction for a toddler, obviously, but it may help you when considering how to approach your dilemma. – Acire Aug 24 '15 at 12:09
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I know many people who were raised religious and are atheists, and many others who grew up atheist and are religious. I'm personally religious despite grown up in a fairly skeptical household, and judging by your question, you are agnostic despite having been raised religious.

Given that your child (and mine) will grow up in a world with both religious and unreligious people, I think it's unrealistic to expect you can maintain her in a religion-free zone for the next eighteen years. Therefore, I can only recommend to you my own approach --live out your own beliefs as well as you can, be open about those beliefs with your child, and be as respectful of other people's beliefs as you can be without compromising your own.

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    "as respectful of other people's beliefs as you can be without compromising your own" - I really like that. Well said. – user16557 Jul 6 '17 at 19:16
  • @AgapwIesu I like it also – user2497 Jul 6 '17 at 20:49
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At the moment its just a ritual like saying "please" or brushing hair; she is too young to understand the theology. Later you can discuss your beliefs (or lack of them) and the extent to which she should continue respecting her grandparents beliefs.

If she notices that you don't follow this ritual then thats probably a good time to start explaining that you don't believe, and something about why and what that means.

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You have a nice little problem of getting ostracized.

You do not have to show someone about the ugly side of things. Do what real agnostic do, ask question, use the Socratic method with your kid. At that age, kids are very curious. With you, make sure she isn't punished or lied to for asking questions.

You could also go the other way, instead of hiding things, teach her about the multitude of religions that are out there with their different rituals. Have a Buddhist week, Christian week, ...

Also, I wouldn't worrie too much about her learning other people's culture and celebrating some events.

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First, it's extremely unlikely that a 2 year old really understands the issues and the logical, scientific, and historical arguments for and against any given religion or non-religion. I wouldn't try to burden her with difficult subjects beyond her understanding.

Second, you have to consider just how far you want to go with this, considering that it will apparently create conflict with your in-laws. Yes, you COULD say that as the parent you do not want your child to hear anything about your in-laws religion, and if they insist on talking about it in her presence you will cut off all contact with them. Do you want to go that far? And how rigid do you want to be? Is it enough that they not attempt to "convert" her to their religion? Or must they remove all signs of their religion from their house when your daughter visits? Etc. Responses could range from refusing to let them see your daughter, to simply telling your daughter that they have different beliefs from what you practice at home and she should be polite but not feel obligated to participate and you'll discuss this with her in greater detail when she's older.

I'm a Fundamentalist Christian and I have a brother who's an Agnostic. I simply never worried about what he said to my children when they were around him. I saw no point in creating conflict, and I figured that if in a few visits he could undo everything I said and did day after day, then, well, if he wasn't the one to do it, somebody else would.

In my humble opinion, the best thing to do about controversial subjects like religion and politics is to give the child age-appropriate material about competing ideas and let them come to their own conclusions. We home-schooled our children on and off, and so, for example, I got them books advocating capitalism and books advocating socialism and included both on the tests. (Not when they were 2 though.) If you try to force your beliefs on your child, the more intelligent the child is the less likely it is to work. When they get to their teens, they're going to have a rebellious phase where they question everything you tell them. Being harsh and dogmatic is likely to be counterproductive.

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    My brother has no children and I don't recall ever talking to the children of any agnostic or atheist friends beyond "hello, nice day", so I can't say from personal experience. In general, a Christian could have day-to-day things that he would say about his religion, like, "I just read something interesting in Psalms yesterday" or "I think this proposed law discriminates against Christians". Ditto for other religions. But then an atheist might well say "I just read an interesting book by Christopher Hitchens yesterday" or "I think this proposed law discriminates against atheists". ... – Jay Aug 25 '15 at 14:40
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    The question assumes religious people who actively try to get the child involved with religious rituals, not just off-the-cuff remarks. When that happens, there is no agnostic response other than "that is not true", since there is no alternative religious education happening. – Erik Aug 25 '15 at 14:44
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    @erik Hmm, I don't see the difference there, or at least it's not that simple. Non-belief in an idea doesn't mean you have nothing to say about the subject other than "no". Many entire books have been written discussing and advocating atheism. Many atheists are quite forceful in explaining why they think religion is harmful. Atheists devote considerable effort to their theories of how the universe originated without the need for any god. Atheists discuss their ideas for moral codes that are not based on divine revelation. Etc. – Jay Aug 25 '15 at 15:00
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    @Erik - I am with Jay. In high-school, I was very much an atheist. I often preached atheism to my siblings. During my last year in high-school, I organized a series of talks, teaching atheistic evolution to the other students in my graduating class. During my late teens I started doubting my atheism and came to a firm belief in God and later became what you might call a fundamentalist Christian, and later worked for 15 years helping to translate the Bible into minority languages. Atheists and agnostics can be every bit as dogmatic and evangelistic as members of any other belief system. – user16557 Jul 6 '17 at 19:14
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    @Erik - Atheism, like any belief system, has structure, values, core beliefs. Central to it, is a belief that God does not exist, but there is more to it than just that. There are the reasons for believing that God does not exist, and the implications of a universe without God, and lots more. Preaching atheism is talking about why other people should not believe in God, and how once they do not believe in God, how that can and will affect not just their beliefs, but also their very lives. Look up Penn Jillette's discussion on the obligation of any believer atheist or otherwise, to evangelize. – user16557 Jul 6 '17 at 19:35
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A couple of points to think about. Faith, or non-faith, isn't something you magically throw a switch on. Also, if you want them to reach their own determination about that, then it's not something you can spoon-feed them.

The idea that, at the age of 20, they will be some kind of blank slate that you can suddenly reveal the wisdom of the universe to, in all its glory, doesn't seem like a particularly realistic approach. The 20 year-old will have her own ideas about how the world is, her own questions, and will be looking to explore that on her own initiative. She will be observing the world, asking questions, forming impressions and opinions from cradle through puberty, so you can't expect that you can block that off somehow.

If anything, you trying to introduce a new mindset at that age to her will either be ignored, or resisted, as young adults tend to know everything about everything (and parents know nothing {add eye-roll here}), in their own minds.

A child following those habits is not especially concerning. Maybe she will grow to have a stronger belief in a specific higher power than you do. Generally speaking, kids will take their cues from their parents, and if you are an agnostic, as they get old enough to begin to reason-out the world they live in, they will take note of your approach. If your approach is to keep an open mind to the possibilities, then, much more so than someone who is spoon-fed faith and ordered not to question, she will be open to possibilities and making her own determination.

I'm agnostic, myself. I don't have a problem with the idea of God, or even Christ, but I do have a problem with the people who use those ideas to impose their own rigid and arbitrary rules upon others. My kids were both baptized and raised Catholic, and I never specifically spoke against the Church, but my kids definitely noted my more Deist/humanistic view of the world, and my own penchant for questioning the reasons why, and not just accepting status quo.

In the middle school, my son declared himself agnostic, but still wanted to be an altar boy because he liked the other kids and liked the summer trip to a major league baseball game. I told him that I was fine with one or the other, but it would be wrong and somewhat dishonest to be agnostic and to be a Catholic altar boy. My daughter has someone stronger views and opinions, and has generally held herself to be atheist since right around the start of puberty.

Both went to church, went to Sunday school, prayed when young, but since we didn't force religion down their throats, they pretty much made up their own minds. Trying to control when and how your daughter makes that decision is kind of the antithesis to having her make her own decision.

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I completely understand your dilemma (at least most of it). I am an atheist, and I don't want my child to grow up believing in God any more than I want him to grow up believing that the earth is flat. Within my paradigm, these are both things that are simply blatantly untrue, and I would be negligent as a parent if I distorted my child's ability to see truth by trying to get him to believe untrue things.

HOWEVER, at his age, with his imagination going wild, he likes to imagine that all sorts of imaginary things are real, and that is just fine, because imagining that dragons and faeries and Santa Claus are real is not the same as being asked to believe in something like God.

We are never told that dragons control/oversee our lives, or that we need to be thankful to dragons for the good things in us. From my perspective the most damaging things about religion are the teachings (not espoused by all religions, by the way, so I'm not saying this applies in all situations) that the sources of human goodness and human evils are external, rather than coming from within. This cheapens the good things that people do, and partially absolves them of responsibility for the bad things.

I, too, have religious in-laws, and we see them A LOT. I actually rather like them, and in general they are great for my son - they love him a lot, they like to play with him and read to him, and they're really nice to me, too. But they have a very hard time respecting my wishes regarding religion, and whenever we stay with them and my son wakes up before I do on a Sunday morning, his grampa whisks him off to church while I'm still asleep. Likewise grandma used to have him pray before going to sleep on the occasions when he would sleep at their house. I spoke to them each separately about it, and grandma was able to acknowledge that as the parent it was my decision to raise him without religion, but grampa gave me a lot of push back and has kept sneaking my son off to church. They both still sometimes give him books which claim that hope and love and other such things come from God, but it isn't too hard to quietly take those out of circulation when we get home.

Ultimately, I cannot control my in-laws' behavior, and they do my son too much good in other ways for me to consider just not seeing them. All I can do is be consistent in my own home, and keep expressing to my in-laws my concerns, discomfort, and disapproval of the ways in which their actions undermine my parenting and what I have determined to be best for my child in the long run. I console myself with the knowledge that he gets a lot more exposure to me and to his dad than he does to them, and that when he reaches an age where he has enough curiosity to ask, I have studied enough and thought deeply enough about religion and philosophy and history to be able to speak with him very coherently on the subject. But, ultimately, I can't control my son, either, and he will make up his own mind.

I guess I would suggest that you might have good success in expressing your wishes to your in-laws if you recognize the things about them in relation to your daughter that you DO appreciate, and verbally acknowledge those things to them, while at the same time expressing your concern that teaching religion to her at a young age could hurt her later in life, and that your choice as a parent is not to do so, and you hope they can respect that. It sounds to me like YOU may have had an experience growing up that shattered your religious world view, and that it was hurtful to you. Likely part of your motivation is to protect your child from having a similar experience, and it may help to share your story with your in-laws, too, if they're having a hard time understanding where you are coming from.

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Treat it like any other rule where you and society disagree on how to raise your child. Imagine if you said "I don't want my child to drink soda until she is 20", and go from there.

Setting the rule

  • Obviously in your own home, explain the rule and don't break it yourself (this should be fairly easy)
  • For people your child is around a lot and who might break the rule, explain the rule. This means telling your inlaws that your child is not allowed a religion until she is an adult and making sure they understand it. Worst case, this could mean you cannot leave your child alone with them if they keep breaking the rule and refuse to accept that you as a parent make rules regarding religion. (Just like with any other rule). It also means explaining this to teachers, any parents where your child goes for play-dates and others. (No different from any other rule)
  • When you and your child are with strangers and they try to break the rule, tell them the rule and remind your child that religion is for grown-ups and she should not engage in it.

Explain that other people do differently

Your child will observe that others behave differently from her and are allowed to do things she is not. This happens with every kind of restriction others do not have. When she is very young, she might not understand, so you will need to remind her that you are the parent and you make the rules.

As she gets a bit older, you will probably need to switch to justifying the rule somewhat, as children will start to ask why they are not allowed things. "Religion can have a huge impact on your life and should not be started with lightly" is probably good enough for quite a while.

Also explain that while other children and people are allowed religion, that is not bad, just different. She will still need to deal with these people and you don't want her going around telling people that their religion is bad for them as it will not make her social interactions any better.

Prepare for conflict

This comes in two flavors. First up; pretty much any child will start rebelling against the parents around puberty. So at that point, your child might start showing an interest in religion. They might try to get involved with a religion in secret, which could be dangerous. I would personally recommend allowing them to go to meetings under your supervision, but considering that is still a decade off, it might be completely different by then.

The second conflict will probably be with your family and perhaps broader society, who will not understand. That depends a lot on the people around you and is probably out-of-scope for this question, so I'll just leave it with the general warning.

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  • Have edited the question. If you edit your answer, please inform me otherwise I won't know. Thanks. – Aquarius_Girl Aug 24 '15 at 7:26

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