Out of the Mouths of Babes

Yesterday, I received a comment from David, who asked me to perform a little experiment. He wanted me to ask my 3-year old son where the sky came from, and the birds. David felt certain that my son would answer “God,” even though we’ve never taught him about God.

I thought this was a great idea. My wife did too. We were honestly very curious how he would respond. And I actually want to thank David for this idea — it was a good one.

So when I got home yesterday, my wife and I took my son aside and asked him where trees come from (I couldn’t remember David’s specific suggestions). My son said, “In the summer!” Remember, he’s only 3 :). So we said, “Yes, we see trees in the summer, but where do they come from?” His reply, again, had to do with summer.

So we tried asking about the sun. Where did it come from? “In the summer,” was his response, but we tried again. My wife said, “Yes, we see the sun in the summer, but we also see it in the winter. Where do you think it came from? How did it get here?” He finally seemed to understand what we were asking — I don’t think it had ever occurred to him to wonder about any of that before. To him, everything is just here. So this time, he answered, “I don’t know.” But he didn’t seem bothered by that answer — it really didn’t seem to phase him at all. We let him get back to his Play-Doh after that.

I know David might be disappointed by this, but I hope it won’t bother him too much. When I was a Christian, I don’t think I would have attached any real significance to it. And as I said, we’ve never told him anything about God, or Jesus, or religion at all. Whenever he’s seen a Bible, he’s simply called it a book. About a year ago, we were taking a walk through the neighborhood, and he saw a small statue of an angel in someone’s yard. He called it a butterfly. He’s just had no real exposure to religion.

This has been interesting for me and my wife. When we left Christianity, my son was just around 20 months old, but we had stopped believing around the time he was 1. It just wasn’t enough for him to absorb anything. My daughters, however, were 7 and 5 when we left (younger when we stopped believing), so there was more of an impact on them. I’m not sure how they would answer the question David posed. In the end, they would also probably say “I don’t know.”

I’m okay with that — it’s probably the best possible answer. And if they grow up and become theists, I’ll be okay with that too. I’ll want them to make that decision. I know that what my wife and I think will make an impact on them — it would be ridiculous to pretend that it won’t. But we always make a point of telling them that they’ll one day make up their own mind about these things. And no matter what they decide, it won’t change our relationship with them.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting enough to take this from the comment thread and move it to its own post. Thanks again to David for coming up with the idea.

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8 thoughts on “Out of the Mouths of Babes”

  1. Interesting!

    My oldest is still a fundamentalist Christian because he was much older when we left Christianity (he’s 15 now – so he was roughly 11 when my journey started but about 13 when I had officially exited). My other kids now are 13, 9, 6, and 5 (so subtract a few years off those ages). Anyway – my 13 year old and I have had some good talks and she admitted to having doubts all along but feared hell. The other ones didn’t really notice or care that we left. I love that they are able to grow up without all the worry about having to be loyal to a particular god or religion – and no need to fear hell. Of course they will have questions as they grow up but we can give our perspective as those questions come naturally to them – not try to hurry all those thoughts and questions along out of fear. No need to hammer any of it into them – they can just be kids.

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  2. Thanks for sharing that, Brenda. Our kids were actually one of the deciding factors for us. We knew that leaving would effectively sever us from the rest of our families, but we just couldn’t bear bringing the kids up in the church environment. We still think very highly of the people we worshiped with. We both loved that church a great deal. But we didn’t want our kids to grow up believing in Hell when we knew it wasn’t real. Like you, we’re so glad they don’t have to grow up with all the worry and fear (and guilt!) that goes along with religion.

    It’s interesting that your oldest is still a Christian. I can understand that though. We felt that if we had stayed in for another year or two, it might have grabbed our oldest too. Has your deconversion been difficult for him? If you ever feel like talking more about that, I’d love to hear about it. Or if you’ve posted about it, you can just direct me there. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read of your blog so far.

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  3. My deconversion was (and is) still very difficiult for our oldest. And even though my husband isn’t a Christian anymore either – the fact that it was my struggle that started the whole thing plus the fact that I went to the point of creating a blog about it, etc (and I’m an atheist while my husband is more agnostic) – well the tension has been between my son and I the most.

    It was really difficult at first. There were tears and blow ups and a lot of tension – and just a severing of a certain type of relationship. I homeschooled him until he entered public school in grade 5 – and not just homeschooled but Christian homeschooled. He turned out to be what I had raised him to be – a full-blown Jesus Freak (and I say that affectionately). Because of that – I’ve never tried to force my views on him and over time he has matured and realized that he needs to do the same for me. So we just don’t discuss religious topics at all.

    One tension that remains a bit is with my 13 year old daughter because it bothers him that his siblings are not being taught about god and he wanted her to start attending youth group, etc. I didn’t say she couldn’t but had some talks with her giving her my perspective and she so far has chosen not to go. I know it’s hard for him because he doesn’t want his siblings going to hell because of me so I know his heart is in the right place.

    It saddens me that we will probably never have the closeness that we would have had if I’d remained a Christian. There is a wall there that we both have to deal with.

    Thanks for asking. Our extended families were not very religious (they are be-a-good-person type of Christians) so there was no fallout there for us. They don’t think we’re going to hell or anything. That must have been very hard for you and your wife and kids.

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  4. Yes, it was (and still is) very difficult. I’ve written about it here. However, we’ve been lucky in that it’s peaceful in our house. My wife and I are on the same page, and my kids were young enough that they hadn’t formulated any real beliefs of their own yet.

    I feel so sorry for your situation! I think I can imagine a bit what it must be like, because my conversations with my parents and siblings have been very difficult. Though having to go through that with a child would be even worse. I feel very sorry for your son too. I know what it’s like to think people you love are going to Hell, and I so hate that he has to experience that. I hope that he’s able to find some peace with it.

    Luckily, time is on your side in many ways. As he grows up, he’ll probably start to have some of the same questions that first haunted you — especially since you’ve already helped pave that ground for him. Maybe he’ll one day come to agree with you. If that happens, your relationship with him would probably be even stronger since he will have worked through so much of that on his own. Your other kids will get to avoid that.

    Thanks for sharing all that. I really hope those tensions get worked out for you — and sooner rather than later!

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  5. Hi Nate,

    I just posted–on my blog, of course–a poem that I think you may like. You may have read it before, who knows? Nice post, btw.

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  6. I haven’t even dared to imagine that he might come to agree with me in the future – but you’re right – it’s a possibility. Mostly I’ve thought, ‘Well – at least he’ll be one Christian who knows an atheist and knows they have thought out their position and are not immoral monsters!’

    If he does ever go through any major doubts then you’re right – he’ll know that I went through it too and came out the other side. I’ve modeled honest questioning and following those doubts even when a huge part of me wanted to run back to the security of my former beliefs. Although that sounds more heroic than it was. Once I saw all the problems with Christianity I couldn’t undo those realizations.

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  7. This is interesting and I’m going to ask my 5 year old twins to see what they say.

    We stopped going to church when they were about 2. We don’t discuss religion with them either but talk about science a lot around here.

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