Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Adventures in Atheist Parenting – My Son's First Experience With Church

This last weekend was Easter, but it was also my birthday on Friday.  I don’t really ever pay attention to Easter, so it snuck up on me this year as it does every year and it wasn’t until after my fiancée and I had booked a hotel and made plans for the entire weekend that we realized Easter was on Sunday.  My sister generously watched my son for the weekend and consequently ended up, with my permission, taking him to church.

And here is why that is in no way a big deal.

I knew he could handle it.

My son is an imaginative and curious 7 year old who enjoys new and different experiences, so it made sense he would want to go.  He’s aware of my position regarding religion and god, but I’ve also stressed to him that his belief or lack thereof is personal and will likely evolve into many different positions over time.  I’m open and honest about what I believe while also being aware of what I say about religion when he’s around.  I know how impressionable he is, how much he pays attention to what I say whenever I talk, and I try very hard not to impress to intense a bias about religion upon him.  If I had thought he would accept what he heard unquestioningly, I don’t think I would have been comfortable with him going, but I know my kid and I’m confident about his ability to critically consider information.

I was familiar with the church.

The fact is, I’m not going to church.  It’s not my scene, I’m just not into it.  However, the church my son attended was one that I’ve been to several times throughout my life and it’s run by a family who I know well enough to feel comfortable with my son going there even without firsthand knowledge of the exact content.  This assumption ended up being a good one – the sermon (related to me by my mom, an agnostic who herself decided to attend church along with my son for the first time in a very very long time) was a history lesson about Martin Luther and the reformation.  My son enjoyed the informative parts and thought the music was boring.  Sounded about right to me.

I trust the people he went with.

Regardless of our difference of opinion regarding religion and the existence of a god, my sister and I respect one another as parents.  Because of this, I felt comfortable with my son going to church with her and without me because I was confident that my sister would intervene in the event that anything uncomfortable occurred.

Exposure to alternative ideas is generally a good thing.

My fiancée and I are both atheists, my mother is agnostic, my ex-husband is an atheist Buddhist, and my late father was a very vocal atheist.  My son is getting plenty of exposure to that particular point of view, and so the opportunity to expose him to other perspectives is exciting to me because I feel like it’ll be interesting for him.  I know him well enough to know that he can handle having the normal positions he’s used to challenged, questioned, or disagreed with and I’m excited to see what kinds of questions he comes up with if he decides to go to church regularly.  Though he says he enjoyed the experience, I haven’t heard yet about him wanting to go back.

Social interaction.

Finally, this is a more personal reason I felt OK with my son going to church.  I am not what one might describe as a “social butterfly” and I feel sometimes that my son suffers because of that.  I don’t do the whole “play-date” thing – that sort of mom culture makes me cringe and want to back slowly away without making eye contact – but I also feel bad that my son doesn’t have more friends who he goes and does things with.  Church is one of those places where people gather and friendships can be made.  There he has the opportunity to potentially experience a specific kind of social interaction that I in my adult life find myself avoiding at all costs.  Just because I’m not down with polite laughter, PG jokes and small talk about weather n’ shit, that doesn’t mean he has to be uncomfortable with those same things as well.

That’s it.

There you go.  Those are the criteria I felt were important for my son to attend church and for me to be comfortable with it.  Truth be told, it wasn’t a decision I agonized over in the least.  And if he decides he wants to go back, that’ll be fine too.  He’s old enough to start looking into all of the different opinions out there.  Whatever he ends up believing, if anything, I’ll still love him.  Even if he *cringe* becomes a creationist.

In that case, however, I probably will make fun of him.  I’m not super mom.

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Steve in ATL

I’m most impressed with your willingness for him to go to church regularly, should he choose. I’d highly discourage my kids from doing this…NOT because I don’t want them going, but because I just KNOW I’m gonna have to wake up early on Sundays to get him ready for school.

Sleeping in on Sunday is one of the perks of atheism!!


Steve in ATL

ARGH, I meant “Ready for church” not “Ready for school.” d’oh.

fred jones

I come from a different country where religion is rarely even mentioned as it’s considered generally to be irrelevant. So my take is quite different. I’ve only been to a church service once in my life as a kid when I was young and found it terrifying when they started babbling in voices to themselves. They inserted a full service into a wedding my family went to. I’ve never known anyone who regularly went to church, in fact anyone who does is generally viewed as being simple minded and probably being taking advantage of. I think you have every right… Read more »


Fred what country are you from. Id like to move there…


Fred – I don’t think letting him examine other points of view is necessarily not standing up for my own values. I think that sound ideas withstand testing and weak ones tend to buckle under the same scrutiny. He’s his own person – he can come to his own conclusions. He gets a healthy dose of what I believe and why I believe it at home as my partner and I often get into lively discussions when he is around, so I don’t see any harm in him being exposed to the ideas he knows I think are ridiculous. In… Read more »

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