What is the greatest issue with raising your kid an atheist? Now, the religious people would say “morality”. Somehow, they think that without the fear of retribution we all would become lawless and immoral. I must say that I do not kill people not because I fear the eternal fire. It is not even because I do not want to spend the rest of my life in jail. It is because I find it unacceptable. I do not want to live in the society where it is okay to kill people. Therefore, I do not myself. That is a fundamental basis of any culture – the golden rule, the empathy. Which is far more effective in my opinion, than the notion such things and not allowed by someone bigger than you and whose punishment will be horrendous. There is no need to threaten people into the right behavior.
This may be subjective, but for me, the hardest things are the following:
1. Myths and legends
There is a time in our lives when we crave wonder. When we believe in Santa, fairies, Hogwarts, whatever. Magical thinking and illogical connections between the cause and effect are natural at some point, while religious concepts are powerful and they are everywhere. The Western culture is steeped in Christianity, and there is no way even the youngest child can avoid it, so you have to be ready to talk to your child about religion. When someone at school says to your six-year-old he will burn in the eternal fire for not believing in god, it scares him. You say that hell is not real, but then he asks, “How do you know?” Ugh…
Reading tons of myths from different cultures together will help. How do we know there is no hell? The same way we know that Earth is not a giant turtle egg and the British Isles are not the pieces of a huge sea serpent.
2. Preparing them for feeling excluded sometimes
In New York, it isn’t a big deal, but somewhere less populated and diverse it might be an issue. When you friends all say a prayer before dinner, and you say your family does not, you may feel like a freak sometimes (I did, to be honest). When you live in a town, where everyone goes to the same church on Sundays, where everyone makes jokes (respectfully and lovingly) about the latest sermon being too long, you might feel excluded from the community if you cannot join in the conversation. There is a book club of course, but it is not quite the same. So, you have to prepare your kid for the times when he might feel lonely.
Maybe your neighborhood is diverse enough, so with everyone having their own ways, atheism does not raise brows. Lucky you!
3. Teaching them not to attack other people’s views
Being under the constant peer pressure, your kid might want to fight back – even mock them for their beliefs. His desire to prove them wrong is understandable, but try to persuade him not to do it. At least, not yet. When they are older (teens at least), they can dispute and reason with their peers. When kids are nine everything is black and white for them, so personal attacks with name-calling are almost unavoidable.
4. Talking to them about death
Yeah. This is the toughest one. “Mom, am I going to die? What happens when I die?” Religious people have all the answers ready at their fingertips, cut out in a shape of more or less beautiful and poetic tale. We have to do without, and not knowing what to say makes us feel uncomfortable. What the hell, death makes us feel uncomfortable! Frankly, I do not remember what exactly word by word I have told my son back then. Some quantum physics/Doctor Who mesh-up about the stardust we are all made of and being the part of the Universe. I also told him what my grandma used to tell me: we live in the memories of those who knew us, and in all good things, we have done and taught others.
All in all, you will find that the hardest part of your child being an atheist, is for other people to be okay with it.