Both my wife and I are non-religious and identify as non-believers. Our son goes to a church of england school, and today, has been sent home with a bible and has been told he is to read a passage, and then draw a picture of what he thinks about while reading the passage.

While i have no objection to my son being taught about religion, i do not want him to be taught a religion.

How do i explain to a four year old that this is a set of stories that some people believe, and some do not, and there are different stories that others believe and others do not?

  • 1
    Why a Church of England school? Sep 23, 2016 at 22:48
  • Because it was that, or a catholic school, that is all that is in my area
    – bizzehdee
    Sep 23, 2016 at 22:54
  • As your child grows older, I would concern to him that religion promotes discrimination against certain groups of people, which is probably the easiest way to prevent him from believing in one, also by showing the specific parts of the biblical texts.
    – Bradman175
    Oct 18, 2016 at 2:05
  • Im not trying to prevent him from believing any given religion, i want to give him the tools to understand that the world has more than one religion and to analyse what is said, rather than being indoctrinated to one
    – bizzehdee
    Oct 18, 2016 at 19:38

4 Answers 4


The last sentence sounds like a perfectly appropriate explanation to me.

Do some teaching at home. Ancient Egypt had a fascinating religion, as did Mesopotamia. The Greek myths are fun to read to a child (I started reading them to my kids at about that age). Explain that at one time people actually believed these stories, but today they are regarded as just that: stories. Norse mythology is fun as well. (Do Norwegians believe them today? I doubt it.)

The Bible is a collection of very old books gathered into one volume; each book tells a story. It is also respected by many today as representing the truth, as is the Quran/Koran by some, and the Tanakh by others.

And so it goes.

Find out the position of the school. If they respect all faiths, ask them if they respect atheism as well. If not, just teach him at home. At his age, alienating his teacher(s) will not get you a very desirable result.

Remember that actions speak louder than words. If you want to teach him to respect the right of all people to hold beliefs that differ from yours, speak to and about his teachers with respect and kindness. That will be a great gift to your child as he grows into an adult who might end up with beliefs differing from yours as well. ;)

  • 1
    I dont mind if he grows up and as an adult, chooses to believe, but, as a four year old, it is indoctranation. I want to offer all posibilities to him and let him make up his own mind when he is old enough. The school seemed like they had made the decision for him. I explained to him that "this is what some people, like your teacher, believe, but others, like mummy and daddy do not" and read the story with the same mindset as if i was reading The Gruffalo to him
    – bizzehdee
    Sep 28, 2016 at 14:19

According to the Church of Englands Church Schools and Academies web page:

Church of England schools are established primarily for the communities they are located in. They are inclusive and serve equally those who are of the Christian faith, those of other faiths and those with no faith.

If you have not already done so, you should explain your views to your son's teachers.

I think the message you want to convey to your son is a bit too abstract for his age. You could show him instead. Get age-appropriate books and other materials for a few current and historical religions. Show him what four year old children are being taught in other cultures.


The real world sometimes stinks. Once you send a child off to school you lose a significant amount of control over the child's life.

You have two problems: (1) What the school wants to teach about religion. (2) What you want your son to believe about religion.

For problem (1) you need to find out what the school guidelines are and be sure that the teacher isn't being overly enthusiast with teaching religion. If the school condones this teaching then you're stuck. If the issue is that critical, then you might have to move.

Whatever you do with the school needs to be done without the involvement, or knowledge, of your son. You don't want to turn him into the "weird one."

Frankly since the child came home with a bible I'd guess that the school is on board.

For problem (2), I'd start with a discussion about magic. Read a story about magic or watch a movie about magic and start the discussion there.


My wife and I are both nonreligious; I've been atheist for 50 years. When God comes up at school, we've had pretty good luck just explaining that, as you say, this is a set of stories that some people believe, and some don't. My wife explicitly adds that God does not actually exist, while I just mention that I'm one of the people that doesn't believe in him and thinks Jesus was an ordinary human. We've generally started these explanations when our kids were 4 or 5.

Thus far, we've had no problems. Granted our kids don't go to a religious school, though there's mention of God in our pledge of allegiance. I was in your kid's position half a century ago, and my parents ended up taking me out of the school when I complained about how much they talked about God in school, but that was a Catholic school rather than an Anglican school.

Incidentally, I don't see a problem with kids reading from the bible. There are lots of good stories in there, whether or not they're true, and even nonreligious scholars consider the bible a useful historical source.

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