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Do Objectivist parents encourage their children to explore religion?

asked Oct 20 '10 at 13:38

Tammy's gravatar image

Tammy ♦♦
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edited Oct 20 '10 at 14:11


Encourage? No. But we have, in our daily lives and in our studies (we homeschool) encountered various religions and we do discuss them.

When my oldest (now 8.5) was very little, I was concerned about how I'd handle the issue of religion. I needn't have worried. What's happened is that the children encounter something religious, whether learning about Greek myths or driving by a local church, and they'll ask a question. And my husband and I answer their question honestly and directly.

We've answered basic questions such as "What is a church?" and "What do they do in a church?" (Answers: "A church is where people go to do their religious stuff." and "Depending on their religion, they usually pray to whatever god they worship and listen to someone talk about their god or their religious ideas.").

And we are beginning to encounter more complicated questions such as "Why does Grandma believe in a god?" and "Why did Jesus Christ (whom they know as the "god of the Christians") get killed on that cross like that?" Even the more complicated questions are fairly easy to answer, though the answers are less easily understood by the children. "I don't really know why Grandma believes in a god. I think it's because she is hoping to go to heaven after she dies." Which then leads to all sorts of questions about what heaven and hell are, and how do you know they are real, etc. And they were horrified by the crucifixion, and were very confused by the idea that someone dying could save the world like that.

In general, I present the information as neutrally as I can, and I find that comparing current religions to ancient ones (like the Greek myths) is extremely helpful in explaining ideas. So Hell = Hades, and the Greeks had many gods, but the Christians only have one (we haven't encountered the Trinity yet). The main difference between the Ancient Greeks and Christians is only that there are lots of people who believe in Christianity these days; there aren't so many Athena-worshipers.

In addition to presenting religious information to them in a neutral manner, we are similarly neutral about whatever their current theological musings are. We have been very upfront about what we think about religion (that there are no gods, and that many religions started out as a way to explain the universe and give people ideas about how to behave well, but we don't need those ideas any more now that we have science and a better morality). But when any of the children has mused aloud "I think I believe in a god!" we respond with "Oh? Tell me more." and use that as a jumping off point for discussions (many of which are often amusing, as our oldest was convinced for a while that god was a squirrel who lived in the woods behind our house!).

So, no, we don't encourage our children to explore religion, but neither do we shy away from discussing it. Keeping our answers direct, honest, neutral, and developmentally-appropriate has had the happy result in the children drawing their own conclusions about religion--namely that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and that it's a form of magic, which everyone knows isn't real.

answered Oct 26 '10 at 15:01

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rationaljenn ♦
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1

Great answer. When I was about five, I asked my mother what Heaven was. She told me: "Well, some people think that when you die, you go up in the sky." She added: "But we've been up there in airplanes, and we didn't see anybody." I grew up atheist.

(Oct 27 '10 at 06:32) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image

My parents are Objectivists. They never encouraged me to "explore" religion. I don't know of any Objectivist parents who have done so with their children. And I can't think of a rational basis for it. What merit or value is there in religion? If none, why encourage anyone, especially a child, to spend any time on it at all? At best they waste their time, at worst they are hoodwinked by religious arguments. What good could come of it?

answered Oct 21 '10 at 01:39

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jasoncrawford ♦
10011766

I generally encourage my son (age 7) to learn as much as he can about anything which interests him. When he runs across various religious topics (e.g., does god exist) we describe what other people think, what we think, and then finish up by asking him to weigh the evidence and decide what he thinks. He's a profoundly practical kid, and very familiar with the distinction between fact and fiction, so there's rarely even a moment of hesitation before he declares himself to be on the secular side of those topics.

We do, however, find it necessary to follow up such discussions with explaining why other people don't naturally come to that conclusion, and how best to deal with them. Frankly, his response to any sort of religious stuff is to openly mock it, and to question the sanity of anyone who believes in it. Our most difficult discussions related to religion have been how to maintain a polite relationship with a religious person (when it's appropriate to do so), and not so much on any issue of religion itself.

answered Apr 11 '11 at 02:19

Andrew%20Miner's gravatar image

Andrew Miner ♦
976415

edited Apr 11 '11 at 02:53

I prefer to let my child find out about religion on his/her own, while I remain always ready to answer any questions that my child might think of asking me. I also want my child to know enough about religion so as not to be surprised when he/she discovers it in others or in the news or at school, etc. Beyond that, I see no value in "exploring" religion any further or helping my child to do so; there are so many far more important and demanding activities to pursue and learn.

answered Oct 21 '10 at 01:34

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
467718

Would you encourage children to explore mind destroying drugs? If I had any children I would tell them about religion at some point, just like I would tell them about the existence of LSD, but I would tell them to stay away from both, and I would certainly not encourage them to explore them. Once a child is old enough, if his interests in chemistry and biology lead him to want to study LSD, then I would cautiously approve. Similarly, once the child is old enough if his interests in philosophy or history lead him to want to study religion, then I would cautiously approve. But in neither case would I approve for the exploration to involve personal consumption.

answered Oct 26 '10 at 12:49

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Francisco ♦
1606

Hmm, that's a good analogy, but not perfect. Using LSD physically damages your brain, as I understand. Encountering religion, if you're honest, does not. I'd much rather that my child go to church than take drugs.

On the other hand, studying LSD as a chemical seems much more valuable than studying religion. At least LSD is real. If you study religion, all you're really studying is people and how so many of them can be so wrong for such a long time.

(Oct 26 '10 at 14:41) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image

Religion in public life and institutions makes it a little harder to explain people's beliefs to children. Why do we say, "One nation under god?" Why does the courtroom on TV say "God," why are there TV programs about God? Jenn's historical approach is excellent, I believe, but the prevalence of Christianity today, and its official representation create an inevitable conflict that has to be addressed. Why people would believe fantasies, and why some of those fantasies have an official place in our world, and what that means for the child's future in that world, etc. need to be thought about at each level of development. It comes down to the same thing it comes down to in philosophy, the choice between reason and whim, and that is an important subject in raising children.

answered Nov 07 '10 at 16:06

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Mindy Newton ♦
(suspended)

Mindy, are you in any other forums?

(Apr 20 '11 at 11:45) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

I answered this question in a recent edition of my Rationally Selfish Webcast.  An audio recording of my response is available as a podcast here: NoodleCast #68: Live Rationally Selfish Webcast. The discussion of this question runs from 1:01:00 to 1:07:05. 

My Answer, In Brief: Kids should learn about religion, as a cultural and historical force. Parents should not dogmatize against religion, although parents should openly explain their own views when asked.

answered Apr 09 '11 at 02:03

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Diana Hsieh ♦
10004246

edited Apr 14 '11 at 01:14

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Asked: Oct 20 '10 at 13:38

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Last updated: Apr 20 '11 at 11:45