American Humanist Association | Humanist Network News Ezine Archives

Agnostic Mom: Will Our Children Be Compliant Atheists or Independent Thinkers?

Apr. 18, 2007

Some days my seven-year-old daughter believes there is a god. Hers is a god of lost pencils and favorite foods. On other days, when said god doesnít come through to grant a wish, she announces, "I guess I donít believe in god anymore."

Noell Hyman, 'Agnostic Mom'Her god just isnít as reliable as the Easter Bunny or Santa, who have proven themselves true every year. Her faith in them has never wavered.

Her god isnít even as reliable as our ditzy Tooth Fairy, whose rate of timely appearance was only 60% for a while (sheís doing better at showing up on time now). Trinity wants to believe in everything.

It never seemed right to me to tell my children that there absolutely is no god. They know I donít believe there are any gods. Weíve talked about reasons for believing and not believing. Weíve discussed what type of god it would be who takes time to grant my daughterís wish for her favorite lunch at school, but doesnít answer the pleas of starving children.

Weíve also discussed the lack of evidence and the contradictions that arise when you imagine up an all-powerful, all-knowing god. But I am always sure not to infuse emotional weight in my opinions and I always ask my children what their own opinion is after Iíve stated mine.

It is human nature that fills parents with a desire to pass their beliefs onto their children. This nature contributes to the success of the human race so we donít have to relearn everything ourselves. Naturally, Iíd love to see my children adopt my beliefs. But it is not my goal.

My goal is to encourage reason, imagination, skepticism, an open mind, proper analytical skills, and confidence in their right to form their own conclusions; even if those conclusions contradict my own.

With these tools the children are more likely to commit to a humanist worldview rather than a religious one anyway. Whatever they decide, I want my children to claim their own beliefs and non-beliefs. Even into adulthood children feel a powerful pull of emotional obligation and a need to please parents. I donít want them to adopt all of my beliefs just because of that.

Richard Dawkins thinks it is wrong to label children "Christians" and "Muslims" before they are old enough to weigh the evidence and the alternatives and decide for themselves. Likewise, it makes no sense for us to consider our children atheists or to obligate them to our opinions. This is one reason I refer to myself as ďAgnostic Mom,Ē though my views are atheistic.

I do not know whether my daughter, Trinity, will finally settle down as an atheist or eventually join a Christian Church. My son declared he was an atheist last year at eight years old, only months after making a shocking statement of belief in Jesus. He had asked me if Muslims are bad because they donít believe Jesus is God. I told him, "I donít believe Jesus is a god. Does that make me bad?" To that he burst into laughter. In the months following that conversation he asked me a lot of questions and pursued information about various religions.

When he learned about the word, atheist, after seeing it on a magazine cover, he got excited and said, "Thatís what I am!"

I love that Blake came to his conclusions himself. Maybe heíll swing the other way at some point. But he shows evidence of a critical mind. When visiting Sunday School with his grandparents last month, he detected manipulation in the teacherís tactics. She was presenting a lesson on prayer and she set up a hypothetical situation where one might need help. Blake told me he gave "logical answers" to her questions of what to do in her scenarios, but she would only accept the one specific answer that she was looking for. She said all of his "logical" answers (like "use my cell phone to call my parents") were wrong.

Even though my daughter is bouncing between beliefs because of superficial terms (If I pray for something and I get it, God must be real), I love that she feels the confidence and freedom to do so. She is her own person. That is more important to me than compliance and lock-step belief, even if the compliance could be in my favor.

Noell Hyman writes for her blog, She has been blogging since August of 2005. Relatively new to the humanist landscape, Noell declared herself a humanist some time in the year of 2002 after leaving religion, specifically the Mormon Church. A stay-at-home mother of three young children, Noell's aim is to reach other non-religious parents who find themselves isolated in the struggle to raise a healthy family without religion. Noell wants to make "Agnostic Mom" a humanist and secular household name. Visit:

Appignani Bioethics Center