Proselytizing Religion to Atheists

“Do you know you’re going to hell. So is your whole family. When you die, you’re going to burn in hell forever.”

Our 10 yr old son’s response, “I’m not going to hell. And neither is my family. Besides, there is no such thing as hell.”

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Our 10 yr old son’s closest friend was at our dinner table sharing a meal per usual. Half way through dinner he said to our son, “Do you know you’re going to hell. So is your whole family. When you die, you’re going to burn in hell forever.”

He didn’t say it to hurt, though of course it did. Our son’s response, “I’m not going to hell. And neither is my family. Besides, there is no such thing as hell.”

“Oh, yes there is,” the child insisted. “My pastor told me, and showed me in the Bible where it says that all non-believers, people who don’t follow Christ, are going to hell. You and your family don’t believe in anything. You’re going to hell.” He said it as a statement of fact, and for him it was.

My husband and I looked at each other with furrowed brows, both of us looking to the other for words of wisdom. Clearly the boy’s words were hurting our kids, as our daughter was at the dinner table too, and protested loudly at first. Then, being only 7, turned to me and asked, “Is he right, mommy. Are we really going to hell forever after we die?”

“No. Of course not.” I assured her. Then I addressed our son’s friend. “I realize you are a Christian, with certain beliefs, but everyone’s beliefs aren’t the same. Since no one really knows what happens after we die, as no one has come back from the dead to tell us–”

“Jesus has. If you’re good you go to heaven. If you’re bad you go to hell.”

“Do you think your good friend since kindergarten, or his sister, or my wife and I are bad?” my DH inquired gently.

The boy thought about this. “Well, no…” He thought some more, clearly in conflict with what he’d been preached and his experience in the real world. He was at our house constantly, afraid of his own with two older brothers that bullied him relentlessly.

I wanted to say, “Then think for yourself instead of believing your pastor,” but didn’t, of course.

Later, my husband felt a need to mention the exchange to the boy’s father.

The dad scoffed at his son while the boy put on his sneakers to leave. “Your pastor didn’t say that. You misunderstood.”

“No. He said it, Dad. And showed me in the Bible, too. It’s in Revolutions.”

“Revelations.” My DH corrected.

The boy’s father scowled. He didn’t apologize for his son’s earlier words. He simply insisted his son didn’t know what he was talking about and had misquoted his pastor, then bid us goodnight.

The exchange had little to no effect on the boys relationship, or my feelings towards our son’s friend. Children proselytize what they are taught. My sadness and frustration is directed at the Church and their followers, that preach togetherness, forgiveness, but only to those who believe as they do— dividing us, still.

Raising Kids Without Religion

My husband and I are the ONLY parents I know raising our children without religion, or even a religious identity (as in claiming to be Christian simply because your parents claim they are). We’re both devout atheists, and I use the term devout with purpose. We don’t believe in a higher power, or any gods, or even the possibility of one. We are not agnostic. We believe awareness begins at conception and ends at death. Our combination of chemistry defines individual uniqueness, so often mislabeled as a soul. No heaven, or hell, no rebirth awaits us after death. There are no second chances. We all end up the same place as Hitler. We cease to exist. Only our contributions in life remain when we die.

Frightening and harsh though this may seem to believers, the implausible bible stories and the ‘jealous’ (Exodus 20:4-5), malicious god described in them never resonated with either of us. Much to our parent’s chagrin, we grew further from all religious ideology with our spiritual indoctrination. Ancient dogma conjured by men to control the masses by creating an outside deity that could not, and by its own commandments, must not be questioned, religious leaders were telling us not to think, and neither my husband nor I were willing to do that.

We agreed before having kids that we’d raise them without religion. We would not teach them what we do not believe and what we both feel is fundamentally destructive at this point in human development. The value system we hope to impart is based on a keen awareness of our world, and our immense responsibility to preserve it.

Picture a bull’s-eye, we tell our kids, like the Target logo. You’re the center dot, obviously, as you can only perceive and participate in life while living. The first ring out from you is your immediate family; the next is your extended family and friends. The next ring is your community, then your country and then the world. And all rings must be considered when making choices and taking actions.

The Target philosophy is a model for a thriving society. Stopping to consider the radiating effects of our actions forces us to think before we act. Our ability to think conceptually is what separates the human race from all other life here. There is no need to sell our kids on religious dogma such as promises of heaven, or threats of hell. We teach our kids not only to be considerate and responsible to family and friends, but to humanity and all things on earth. We expect them to honor their debt to those before them by striving to deliver a better world to those yet to be.

As atheists we are considered by many to be heathens– uncultured, uncivilized people. Our parents are constantly trying to convert us to Judaism, under the delusion that we are whether we admit it or not. They vehemently express their disgust in our ‘denial’ and barrage us with threats that our children will be lost without a religious upbringing. My brother, a born again Christian, assures us that Christ died for our sins. He promises my children will be ‘saved’ after death from all wrongdoing if they just accept Him as their savior, without considering the catastrophic lack of responsibility this ideology instills in individual behavior.

By everyone’s reckoning who knows them, from family to teachers to friends, my kids are well liked and well respected. They are courteous and conscientious, and more considerate than most adults, and 90% of their so called ‘god-fearing’ peers. They are team players in sports, strive for excellence in their studies [to enable them to become contributing members of society]. They share what they have, and compromise to ensure fair play. And they do all this because they understand their role in, and responsibility to humanity and this planet we inhabit, not by threats of eternal damnation. My children are not lost and experience no spiritual void. They find beauty and wonder in many things, like nature, and sometimes even in the nature of man.

With the advent of technology and advanced weaponry our world has become so very small and fragile. We must stop pretending we are powerless, under the will of various deities, or follow the divisive rhetoric of religious leaders who preach if Christ exists than Judaism is wrong. If Allah rules than Christianity is a lie. Religion has become the problem, giving excuses, or worst, forgiveness for whatever crimes we commit. Christ will not save us from global annihilation. We are all responsible to save us from ourselves.

My husband asked our 3 and 5 year old kids a simple question: “What are you?” Both answered: “Human.” Touché! Religion, skin color, and/or economic status, my children see no division between themselves and other people. This position is mandatory for the survival of our race. We teach our children to recognize their radiating effects on all they touch, and not only acknowledge their mighty power, but embrace the responsibility that comes with it. Humanities future depends on each of us taking individual responsibility for the actions we take in life, not for rewards in an afterlife, but to make it possible for those yet to be to experience living.