respecting other’s beliefs – life as an atheist family

by Ms. Joy

There seems to be this idea that atheists are just wayward people without any beliefs or morals who just don’t know any better. A couple of summers ago Mr and I were walking with the kids down Spring Garden Road and a very earnest young man came up to us and started shoving pamphlets in our hands. In response to Mr’s “No thanks, I’m an atheist” he said, “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t believe in anything before”. There are a lot of things I believe in. Love. Family. Honesty. Gravity. Kindness. Nature. Science.

Recently, a few of Miss N’s friends have been sincerely inviting her to church. The one that made me angry? Not at the child, mind you. She is doing what her Sunday School teacher and parents have told her to do, but they added the clincher of a treat bag if you are new to the church. Yup. They’ll bribe your children all the way. It may be called a gift by the person who thought of it, but it’s similar to the toys given out by McDonald’s – it’s not enough to sell french fries, there is the extra bait of a toy that will break in three days. I understand why these children feel it is imperative to invite Miss N to church, it is a fun place where they sing songs, eat a snack and talk about the underlying fear of what happens after you die. These children love Miss N and even though they can’t quite articulate it in this way, they think we’re failing Miss N and her brother by not taking them to church.

This part will be touchy for people who do not believe the same as we do and I respect that, I’ll raise my kids and you can raise yours. I do not think religion is for children. I think that they should be exposed to the beliefs of all people and while I will tell my children “this is what Mommy and Daddy believe” I do not expect her to believe the same thing. I’ll ask Miss N what she thinks and she has some really amazing thoughts on the matter, but I will not tell her she is wrong if she disagrees with me about the big beliefs. I do not tell her she is going to hell if she does not believe as I do, that she ought to live in fear for the people in her life who do not because it is unfair to expect a child to live like that. It is not right to speak in absolutes with children because they will believe anything and everything you tell them and they are still developing the cognitive ability to sift through the logic of some claims. Case in point: Boy honestly thinks Batman is a viable career choice (after Miss N encouraged him to come up with a back up plan, he’s settled on police officer/Batman).

Many people don’t understand that atheists have a belief system and that we are just somehow lacking and need to be led to “the right way”. There are a lot of right ways in the world, it’s what makes our world so awesome and awful at the same time because so many of us are walking through the world with blinders on. I am very proud of Miss N that she tells her friends that she has her own beliefs and their church is not the place for her – it’s like school for people who believe in their god, it’s not really our place. Our church is in the museums, in our garden and at the art gallery. Our church is when we come together as a family at the dinner table (every night) and we talk about the world we live in and how we can treat one another with respect and kindness in our daily lives. Miss N asks a lot of big questions, about where humans come from and what others believe. As part of our “lesson in respect” I don’t say that people of other faiths are liars or wrong, I preface it with “Hindus believe… Christians believe… Some people believe…” because it is not my place to judge you for your beliefs. I only ask that you don’t do the same to me or my children.