Aside from this, I've also seen a few video clips and read some blog posts where both theists and obnoxiously condescending agnostics refer to atheism as just being "another religion". I'm tempted to write a rebuttal, but for Pete's sakes, I just don't have it in me to write the usual atheist responses like: "If atheism is a religion, then 'off' is a TV channel." I could go on and on, spelling out the differences and why atheism, by itself, does not qualify as a religion, even if one is being assertive with it. I'm not going to, because I think that it would fall on deaf ears, and this stuff has already been written about a billion times before. Instead, let me just focus on one very important difference between how I, as an atheist, plan on raising my child when it comes to religious belief. I know that there are some Christians out there sometimes reading this, and I hope that they chime in if I get something wrong of if I generalize too broadly.
The biggest difference between how an atheist like myself, and a Christian (or pick a religion - I'm just sticking with Christians because that's the dominant religion in my country) will raise our children is that I will not indoctrinate my kid as far as religious belief goes. Before I go any further, allow me to explain what I mean by that. If my son asks me if I believe in God, I will tell him the truth and say "No". I do not consider that indoctrination, just as I wouldn't consider it indoctrination if a Christian would answer the same question with a "Yes". That's just honestly answering a question.
My son is three years old. Guess what his religious beliefs are? If you say "atheism" you're only right in the sense that he's an atheist by default, as he has no belief in any gods. However, he's not an atheist like me in the sense that he's examined the claims of theism and rejected them. Why? Because he's not even three yet! How would he know one way or another?
Does this mean that I completely shelter him from any kind of religious thinking? Nope. I have a book of Bible stories in his collection of books. He hasn't touched it yet, but that might have something to do with the fact that he has a ton of books and that one just hasn't stood out to him. I also got him a book about world religions for kids, and it shows pictures of different kids all over the world practicing their various religious faiths. He's expressed mild interest in it, and I've sat down with him. I specifically remember him pointing to a picture of Krishna, and repeating the name after I said it. As far as telling him whether Krishna is real or not, I didn't even get into that. I was just showing him the pictures the same as we go through his big book of animals. It is what it is, and whether it's real or not doesn't even enter the conversation because as of right now, he's in a mode where he's just absorbing information. In other words, I'm not telling him what to think about any of this stuff one way or another.
Can a religious person say the same? I'd really be interested to hear from any who handle this the same way that I do. I suppose that it's very well possible, but I don't think that I'm out of line when I say that most religious people talk to their kids about God as early as possible, and when they do talk about it, they talk about their particular deity as thought it's as real as Mommy and Daddy.
Yeah, Lance, but aren't you doing the same thing? Aren't you telling your son that God's not real?
No. I'm not. I'm not telling him what to believe one way or another. It's up to him to figure it out, and as of right now, he's too young to even entertain it.
But isn't telling him that I don't believe pretty much the same thing? That's a better question, and I'm no fool as to disregard the influence that I'll have over my son's thinking. However, when he asks me if I believe or not, I'll tell him the truth and follow it up with: "What do you think?" If he tells me that he believes, I won't tell him that he's wrong, I'll simply ask him why.
Ahh! There it is! Gotcha, Lance! If he says he believes, you're going to keep asking him questions until he feels too embarrassed to keep believing it!
Hold on, I'm not finished yet. The thing is this: if he tells me that he DOESN'T believe, I will ask him why. I will ask him just as many questions one way or another. I'll specifically tell him that it doesn't matter to me so much what he believes as that he comes to his beliefs on his own and not because he simply repeats me.
I'm not sure where I heard or read this, but I came across a mother telling a story about her young son. She had allowed him to go to church with one of his friends, and one day he came back and informed her that he believed in heaven. She then proceeded to ask him why he believed it, following it up with all kinds of questions to see if he considered the matter thoroughly. About a week later, he told her that he no longer believed it. And what was her response? Was it: "Good! So glad you no longer believe that nonsense!" No. She proceeded to ask him just as many questions - in other words, she played God's Advocate, if you'll excuse the expression. When I heard this story, I said to myself that's exactly how I want to handle it. What I want my son to do is THINK, because I'm confident that if he does so, he'll reach the same conclusions that I do. And what if thinking makes him reach different conclusions? Well then, if my conclusions don't stand up to scrutiny, then I'm the one who should be changing my mind!
Look, I realize that even if we're just talking about Christians here, we have all types. I know that there are some where if their kids don't choose the same faith, they will completely disown them. I also know that there are some Christian parents who would rather that their kids choose atheism or another faith than just blindly parrot what they say. When it comes to indoctrination, there are various levels of it. However, if you raise your kid and talk about God as though he is completely real, then you're indoctrinating your kid with a belief, no matter how innocuous that might even be.
Don't get me wrong. It's possible for you to be religious and not indoctrinate your kid. You could approach this the same way as I am. You could tell your kid that you believe in God. However, don't speak about God as though it's real and something your kid should believe. Tell your kid that it's his or her choice to believe or not. Question your kids when they both believe and don't believe. If they're curious about the atheist position, hand them a copy of The God Delusion. (Yes, I have a Bible in my house, and I'd buy any Christian apologetic book my son might want to read if he expressed interest.) Also, learn what all the atheist objections are - not just the strawman versions that apologists like to throw about. Oh, and also teach your kids about all the other religions and the interesting phenomenon of how geography seems to play a big part in which religion a person follows.
Unless your prevailing message is "You need to figure this out for yourself because I could be wrong", then you're indoctrinating your kid with religious belief. And that's why atheism isn't the same as a religion. Please realize that's my sole point in this - the difference between believers and nonbelievers. Maybe you're convinced that your religion is the truth, and you'd be doing your kid a disservice if you DIDN'T raise him or her to believe. That doesn't change my point though, does it? I plan on indoctrinating my kid to believe that he should brush his teeth and look both ways before he crosses the street. That's perfectly sensible, but it's still indoctrination.
The video above is a talk on Raising Freethinking children. It's good stuff.