Editor's Note: It’s not unusual for people who have fallen away from religion to return to their childhood faith when they become parents. But what about nonbelievers, spiritual seekers, or interfaith couples? How are they raising their kids? A recent article reports that some parents join houses of worship whose beliefs they don’t share just to give children the benefits that religion can bring. On several discussion boards, Beliefnet members shared their experiences and opinions on whether kids really need organized religion and the best ways to expose kids to faith.



Let Children Decide

I feel that faith is a personal issue. My husband and I did not attend church, having been forced to as children. We both hated the Christian fundamentalism that had been forced down our throats, and decided that our kids could choose if they wished to attend church or not. They opted to go, one is now an Anglican Priest.

You Can't Teach What You Don't Believe
I don't like the idea of lying to children about something as important as religion. Religion isn't just a fairy tale to the majority of the world, it's a serious attempt at understanding the nature of the universe. It's as much a search for truth as a means of obtaining comfort. Telling someone that there is only one way to God when you don't believe it yourself is rather irresponsible. I also don't see how anyone can be qualified to truthfully answer questions about faith and religion if they don't believe themselves.
I think it would be preferable to be truthful with children. The most important thing is encouraging children to be tolerant of all religions, and I believe this can best be achieved by exposing them to a variety of different beliefs and encouraging them to make their own choices.


Mixed Faiths, Good Kids

We did not take our children to any church services, but allowed my mother to send them to church camp in her denomination. My husband is Christian and I was raised Christian but became Pagan/Wiccan as an adult.  They seem to have learned well and now that they are adults, I am very impressed with their characters.

Support Their Search

One of the most difficult tasks a non-believing parent has is encouraging a child to ask questions and explore and ultimately decide for himself. Keeping my agenda to myself was essential.

Just because I have come to a certain conclusion (humanism) after being raised Episcopalian does not mean that is the only path and I have no more right to indoctrinate my child in that belief than a fundamentalist Christian has in promoting that faith exclusively.

I do, however, believe that faith exploration (especially with children through mid-teens) needs to be experienced with a parent--to question, seek clarifications, explore differences, etc. Keeping an open mind and open heart is critical --it is ultimately a very personal decision we all must reach and a child needs to know that the parent supports and encourages the journey to find a faith that works for the child.
Their path may veer off and change or reach a dead end. Support and encouragement along the way are part of the parent's job.

Could Lack of Spirituality Lead to Crime?

There was a time when many people walked away from organized religion and decided to follow their own path. The problem being that their children had no [grounding] from which to find their spirituality. Church was the home of spiritual lessons and philosophy. Without any experience in church, where would these lessons in spirituality arise? How can a choice of religion and/or spirituality be made without any grounding upon which to decide?

Look around...many children are involved in crime, abuse, weapons, harm to one another and this is on the rise. Could the lack of spirituality in their lives have contributed? Just a thought....


Raising Independent Freethinkers

"Some people walked away from organized religion and followed their own path...from what ground can their children do the same?" How about through individuation and the natural rebellion and questioning that young adults experience when they are raised to be independent freethinkers? How about through personal soul-searching, something we all do naturally?

My parents were raised "church of God" and "southern baptist." One became an atheist, the other a very spiritual agnostic. All children learn/know what their parents and extended family believe. My parents turned away from the idea that God was who their religions taught them, an egotistical, insecure entity that needs us to worship him in order to be happy and not wipe us out and condemn us to eternal hellfire. They gave me a wonderful platform in which to find spirit.


Kids With No Practice Are 'a Little Crippled'

I benefited from being raised in my parent's faith, even though I left it by the age of 21. It set a good, solid foundation for me and I am grateful each day for having had an example of spirituality shown to me. It gave me a language, and space in my mind and life to someday fill with my own faith. I think that kids who don't grow up practicing any faith are a little crippled when they get older, because they don't know "how" to do it. Those "muscles" never got exercised when young.

My parents shared with me what was of great importance to them, it was a gift. I chose something else, but I am better for having had a faith, rather than no faith.

Present Multiple Viewpoints

In my opinion religion is not something that we decide for others, including our children. The best we can offer them is our own truth, and the understanding that they must seek their own.

I have a 7 year old and a 10 year old in my life. Neither of them have been raised with a religion. The adults in the house are an Agnostic with Buddhist leanings, a former Roman Catholic with Agnostic leanings, and myself. Also in their lives is my mother who is some form of Christian and my stepfather who is a Unitarian.

We handle religion like we handle everything else. We answer questions when they ask them. We answer as honestly as we can and try to present multiple viewpoints where we can. We ask questions when they pop out with some religious comment, to find out where it came from and what they believe about what they just said. We do not force them to believe any one thing, nor attend any church or class. If they ask to go, one of us will take them.

But childhood should be a time of learning, stretching yourself...save the big decisions for when the thought processes are more developed and the child can know themselves well enough to choose.

Don't Give Mixed Messages

My wife and I had to talk to our daughter about religion at age 6 because she was told that we "talked to the devil" by one of her daycare-mates. We were otherwise of the attitude that she would be allowed to make up her own mind.

At best, the idea of "exposing" your children to religion can only work if you send them to different denominations, as well as different religions. Just exposing them to one church or faith will promote the idea that there are only 2 choices; church or none.

I have no problem with children being raised in the religion of their parents; that simply makes sense, but to provide a faith to your children that you don't believe in? The least that will do is send a fabulously mixed message to the child(ren), and undermine your authority as a parent. I can't see any angle that makes it a good idea.

We Came Up With Our Own Rituals

If parents don't share their spirit life with their children in everyday ways--wonder at rainbows, joy in flowers, grief at death and sorrow during difficulties--it can be very difficult to all of a sudden start talking about it. …children do need some kind of spiritual life even if it's nebulous and not grounded in a particular book.

As a humanist I've worked really hard to share my "faith" with my kids. We talk openly about other people's beliefs but we do not approach humanism (or atheism or agnosticism) as being negative or lacking in some way. We have had to come up with our own rituals and traditions which can sometimes jive with the Judeo-Christian calendar and sometimes don't. All of our life milestones have been given a formal celebration or grief framework in which to express our spiritual side. So far my kids (now 15 and 17) seem to be on solid spiritual ground and are comfortable with their decisions about what they believe in.


A Curious Child Can Lead the Way

I can say for sure my renewed interest in faith and subsequent choice of converting to Judaism was spurred on by my daughter's exit from toddlerhood and into the world of inquisitive youth.

My wife and I were trapped between religions (Christianity and Judaism) and had mostly Jewish practice with nominal Christian belief. When we spoke to a local rabbi, he motivated me to make a decision one way or the other, largely for my daughter's sake. He did encourage me to explore Christianity, but in the end my wife and I both decided Judaism was the religion for us and our daughter.

They Have the Right to Their Own Beliefs

I raised my children in Unitarian Universalism. They are now: one unchurched and liberal, one Pagan, and one married a Jewish woman and I have two Jewish grandchildren. They learned acceptance of other faiths when their UU RE classes visited various churches and temples. We discussed religion at times and I told them that they had the right to their religious beliefs or not: and I explained my beliefs but those did not have to be theirs. I'm very proud of my diverse family.


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