Throughout our recent deconversion, my wife and I have been asked about our children many times. How have they been affected by our loss of faith? Aren’t we concerned with their souls? How will we teach them about morality? They’re all very good questions, and they were the first things that rolled through our minds as well.
Our kids are more important to us that anything else. We have three of them: two girls that are 7 and 5, and a 2-yr old boy. When we were Christians, we worked very hard to teach them about the Bible and instill a love of God within them. Their souls have always been our top priority. When we began having doubts that the Bible was God’s word, we worked hard to keep the kids from realizing anything was wrong. We thought that we might come out the other side of these doubts with a stronger faith in Christianity than ever before, so we didn’t want to do anything that might cause any confusion for our children. But once we came to the conclusion that the Bible wasn’t inspired, we had to start thinking about how to transition the kids out of an ultra-religious household to a completely secular one.
So how have they been affected by that? Actually, they seem to have done very well. We were most concerned with our oldest daughter, because she was old enough to have internalized many of the basics of Christianity. We didn’t want to completely overturn her worldview. So we’ve taken it slowly. Whenever religious subjects come up, we let her express her own thoughts on the subject. We also tell her that people believe many different things — that no one really knows the answers to those questions, and that’s okay. And we point out that as she grows older, she’ll get to make her own decisions about those things too. So far, the kids have seemed very comfortable with all of this. If we had acted anxious and upset by these topics, then our children would have become anxious and upset too. Instead, we’ve been calm and matter-of-fact. We’ve told them that we’re not perfect (I’m sure they suspected that anyway 😉 ) — we once believed a set of things that we no longer believe. They seem to be doing great.
But aren’t we afraid that we could be wrong? Aren’t we afraid that we could be leading our children toward Hell? No, we’re not. I do understand why people immediately think of this question — after all, Hell is a scary place. And we’ve had well-meaning friends and family offer to take our kids to church for us. But how many parents actually worry that monsters might be under their children’s beds? Obviously, no one worries about that because monsters aren’t real. Well, neither is Hell. So my wife and I no longer see a need to worry about a place that doesn’t even exist. And just as we wouldn’t let our kids watch A Nightmare on Elm Street yet, we don’t want people they trust telling them they should believe in Hell and Satan. It only causes undue fear and anxiety. No good comes from it.
The other question we’re often asked about is how we’ll teach our children morality. This is another natural question, and it’s one my wife and I struggled with when we first started doubting the Bible. What would that mean for our morality? But it didn’t take us long to realize that we’ve always had many reasons to live morally that had nothing to do with God or the Bible. I have no wish to cause pain to others, so that takes care of murder, physical assault, theft, slander, cheating, and many other things. I can see why it’s good to live morally just by using common sense and a little bit of compassion.
I’ve been told many times that “because I said so” won’t be a good enough reason for my children to do what’s right. I completely agree. In fact, we don’t use “because I said so” now. But even if we did, how is Christianity much better? It simply changes it to “because God said so,” and while that may seem to carry a little more weight, it doesn’t stop people from doing what they want. I think every Christian would admit to violating the Bible’s teachings from time to time, all the while knowing they’re wrong.
The real key to morality is a desire to be moral. And that comes from teaching children why morality is so important. It’s not important just because some book tells us to live that way, it’s important because our actions have real consequences that can cause either harm or well-being. And we should always strive to spread well-being. That’s not just altruism; we benefit from doing good to others as much as they benefit from receiving it. Humans are social animals. We thrive on connections and relationships, and relationships are strengthened through compassion. When a child learns the real reasons for morality, they are much more likely to live morally. Will they do immoral things from time to time? Probably. But so do Christians. And I’ll have the comfort of knowing my children aren’t bound for Hell just because they did something they shouldn’t have. We hope our children will do good things just because they’re good to do — not because they expect to receive a reward or avoid a punishment.
Finally, our loved ones are very concerned for our children. They worry that since my wife and I no longer believe the Bible, our children will never become Christians. But in many ways, I don’t really understand this. These same family members insist that God’s word is easy to find and understand, regardless of one’s background. If that’s the case, why wouldn’t my children believe it once they’re grown? Why must they be taught while they’re young? If Christianity is true, why must it be ingrained when a person is young, impressionable, and totally trusting? Why do its odds for success plummet so drastically once a person can think rationally? The “truth” of the Bible is either so obvious that my children will have a great shot at converting to Christianity, or it’s not true at all, in which case there’s nothing to worry about.