• Looming Conflict: Bringing Dawkins into My Christian Home

    My oldest daughter turns ten in February, and I just bought her birthday gift online: The Magic of Reality, by Richard Dawkins. If she reads it, it will be an introduction to the kinds of ideas to which her father subscribes.

    I expect my wife to be troubled by the book. For 10 years, she’s worked to teach Christianity to all our children, and to model it within our home. That was the agreement we made many years ago, before we were married or had children. We agreed that any kids would have a Christian identity, and they’d also observe Jewish holidays along with me. Years later, when I started to leave Judaism and identify as atheist, I chose not to present non-belief to the children. I thought it would confuse them.

    Now, my oldest child has reached an age where she can appreciate what non-belief means. I want to share some of what I think and what I like, and the ideas in Dawkins’s book are part of that. My daughter may not read the book. She may not like it. She may disagree with it or be upset by it. But I want her to have something that gives her insight into what her father thinks is true, and why.

    My wife will probably accept and respect my desire to talk to the kids about my knowledge and values. She is an understanding and open-minded person. Nevertheless, she will probably also be upset. How can the book not be construed as a challenge to all the work she’s done: all the participation in church: all the kiddie bibles, books, and videos; all the worship music?

    Here’s my plan, so far. After the book arrives, and before the birthday, I’ll tell my wife the reasons I want to give our daughter the book. My suggestion at that time will be to give the book and later allow our daughter to come to her parents with questions. Or maybe we won’t wait for questions, and we’ll simply talk about some of what the book discusses.

    Surely, there is a way to get out in front of an issue before it becomes a problem. That’s what I’m going to try and do. But I fear my daughter will get caught in the middle of her parents’ (ahem) “struggle for her soul.” I refuse to participate in that kind of thing, because it would be harmful to everyone. The best-case scenario is a new era in the house where we talk openly about belief , and traditions, and truth, and non-belief. We don’t really do that now, not that there’s a great need to. I just happen to think it’s come time to introduce these discussions and develop a family way for them.

    Category: Home Life


    Article by: Larry Tanner

    • NoCrossNoCrescent

      A delicate situation. Let us know how it goes if you don’t mind.

    • simlodonsretreat

      If I can offer one idea… There are teachings that a kid gets in church that are good and not taught in regular schools. Being nice to others, helping people, etc. On the other hand, there’s a lot of stuff that can be harmful and one thing you’ll want to talk about now with your wife and that’s the concepts of sin and hell. Those are huge concepts and they can really mess a kid up, especially about things that your wife might consider a sin and you don’t consider it ‘sinful’. Parts of my family are still dealing with issues beaten (literally) into them as kids as being sinful.

      • lartanner

        I know what you are saying. My wife and I were out to dinner with friends–both of whom are passionate Christians. One of them mentioned being uncomfortable that her six-year-old knew that in Massachusetts same-sex couples could be married. My wife then made a clarifying comment that same-sex marriage was legal, stressing the “legal” to emphasize that legal and moral were not always the same thing. Later on when we were alone in the car, I said that I considered same-sex marriage to be perfectly moral. Fortunately, my wife agreed and we went on talking about other things. But it was an incident like this that made me think I need to be more outspoken about things I consider right and wrong, and why. My wife and I know how to disagree. We also know which disagreements are actually important. Contemplating whether Noah really sailed the world in an ark may be exciting, but doesn’t get us anywhere practical.

    • Good luck, hope it all turns out well.

    • Clare45

      I am surprised that you have waited this long to express your views to your children. What age did they stop believing in Santa Claus? It does not harm children to know that their parents disagree about some things. I agree that you need to discuss this with your wife and children before giving the 10 year old the book, otherwise you might get a hostile reaction.

      • lartanner

        The two younger ones still believe in Santa (I think). Not sure about the older one. The kids do know that I am not a Christian, although I don’t think they grasp what that means (e.g., being “unsaved”).

    • Copyleft

      Hmm… is there any way to focus on positive values that you share, and leave the mythology and supernaturalist claims aside? After all Christianity DOES have some worthwhile points in among the mysticism.

      • lartanner

        Yes, I think so. Although I have not read the book myself, the preview pages make it seem it will directly confront some Christian teachings. My giving the book will in effect be the first time I give my daughter an argument to prefer a scientific view to a religious view.

    • Jack_Ma

      I raised my now adult children as Catholic, and Catholic they remain, though they know me now as an open and happy naturalist. I wish I could undo their faith, but there’s not much I can do at this point.

      It now seems to me that the christian faith, and the other Abrahamic faiths, have at their core an idea that’s deeply injurious to a child’s wellbeing. The idea is that we are, in our fallen nature, bad for ourselves. This idea, if taken to heart, sets a person at war with herself, in a permanently unresolvable conflict. It is the taproot of guilt, shame, self-recrimination and self-suspicion. Good for you for taking this step. Perhaps your children will be spared this toxic idea.

      • lartanner

        Completely agree that the idea we are sinful by nature is poisonous and psychically devastating. My intent is not to spare them the idea but to arm them with the means for confronting it on their own terms.