Author Dan Arel
My focus is on the religious attack on science and the ill effects it has on our children, particularly in our educational system. Proper scientific education through free thought and critical thinking is key to our future. | @danarel
My son was born twelve years after I realized that I was an atheist, but for many, they already have children when they come to this conclusion, and in those situations they may have raised children in their religion. When talking with your children about the loss of your religious beliefs, you will be explaining that the very core things you believed and taught them with sincerity, are things you no longer believe. This loss of belief has bigger consequences than simply saying you no longer believe in a god. You are telling them you no longer believe in the idea of heaven, thus you do not believe they, or you, will be reunited in a wonderful afterlife as promised. You are also telling them that you believe you wrongfully threatened them with hell for their actions that went against what you previously believed. We all see the removal of hell as a positive thing –and it is– but the fear of hell for believers is real, especially in children, and some have needed support groups to overcome that fear. So while we know we are all better off without the threat of hell, telling your kids you believe you lied to them about it may not be as easy.
So, how should you approach this? It will depend on your children’s age(s) and how attached they are to religion and their belief in god, but this does not have to be a negative conversation. This could be a joyous conversation; you are enlightening your family and opening up a whole new world. Think about how many scientific theories you are taught to ignore because they contradict your faith, you can now explore these with your family, especially if your church endorsed creationism, you are now able to learn about evolution and understand the truth to how all life on earth came to be.
Sit the family down, explain that you no longer believe there is a god –or that you have strong doubts, depending on your situation– and explain how you came to that conclusion. Encourage your children, or spouse, to ask questions. How does this make them feel? Have they had doubts, too? Also, explain this does not mean they have to give up their faith; you are not changing their minds, you are telling them you have changed yours. The most important part of the conversation is explaining the journey; what events made you start to question, and what steps did you take to answer that question? Explaining your journey to your children will show them how seriously you took this matter, that you did not lie to them in the past knowingly, and that the reason you are telling them how you feel now is because once you realized that it was all a myth, you did not wish to lie to them further.
I cannot predict here how your children could take this news, some may accept it and realize they feel the same, some could reject it and think you are wrong. You may get mixed emotions, happiness, anger, confusion. What you should remember is that you need to be supportive of whatever their reaction is. If they are mad, it’s okay, they wont stay mad forever and they need to work through the thought process of this news. If they decide to stay religious, don’t tell them they cannot be. As as a parent, you will need to examine the church and decide you are comfortable with what they are teaching your children. The hardest part of this will be explaining that some friends through the church, or school, may not react well. Religious parents have a history of banning kids from going to non-believers’ homes. You may be friends with a family at the church who will cut you out of their lives. You most likely realized this as you came to your conclusion of atheism, but your kids will need to understand this as well.
Overall, the best advice here is communication and honesty. Be prepared to share your story and answer questions, and be prepared for a variety of emotions; if you have multiple children, expect a unique reaction from each. For those parents dealing with coming out, I point you to my previous post about The Not Alone Project, a place for those struggling to come out to friends or family can come together and support each other. The best thing for becoming open with your atheism is a strong and supportive community.