Benefits of Teaching Children about Atheism

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As Richard Dawkins has pointed out on many occasions, children are not born into political parties. No one ever refers to a small child as the “Republican girl” or “Democratic Boy” over there. Although being raised in a strong politically-minded household certainly has an effect on children; it is not uncommon for a child to grow up, examine the issues for themselves, and become an entirely different political affiliation than their parents. While this may cause some bickering at the family dinner table, only in the most extreme cases does it tear families apart or cause an irreparable rift.

When speaking about a child’s religious upbringing, however, there is a noticeable difference in the initiation process. An infant is born and indoctrinated into whichever religion is practiced within the household. The majority of the world’s predominant religions have a ceremony of some kind that welcomes the new child into the religion which takes place soon after birth. There is usually an additional welcoming ceremony that takes place around puberty in order to solidify their place into the religious order. This ritual typically occurs around when the child has reached puberty and can explain the particular beliefs that they have been taught. Most religions consider this the age when a child can make a choice about their spiritual future; however, there is an inherent bias toward “choosing” the religion of the family. Rarely are other religious beliefs presented to the child in an objective manner, and most religions have serious repercussions, whether in this life or in an ethereal afterlife, for not adhering to the family’s religion.

It is this concept of consequence which is the key separator between the two areas of religion and politics. Both are emotionally charged and very personal beliefs; however, whether or not a child becomes a Democrat like their mother or a Republican like their father is of little consequence in the larger scheme of things. Yet, to a religious parent, it is imperative that their children observe the intended religion, lest there be dire costs; perhaps in life, but most assuredly after death. A child has little concept of life outside their family. It is absurdly illogical to expect them to be capable of making a reasonable decision regarding, what they are being told is, their immortal soul when faced with such an immense concept. Many of these same parents wouldn’t expect their young children, even at the age of puberty to have a strong and definite belief about politics and economics. Yet, the everlasting penalties for religious observance seem to far outweigh the temporary costs of having particular political ideation.

Atheist parents have a much easier task at helping children navigate the difference between real and make-belief.

It is never a question of having to explain that the extraordinary things that occur in fairy tales is not real; yet, those same occurrences in the religious texts must be considered real. Even religions that allow for allegorical interpretations still have otherworldly beliefs that can be difficult to explain while differentiating between fact and fiction. For an atheist, it is all allegory of sorts. All religion is allegorical as well as the morality plays of fairy tales. It is quite simple to explain the difference between magical thinking and the reality of physical cause and effect.

Atheism can provide a good structure for reality for young children as they begin to understand the way the world works and their place in it.

By not expecting children to distinguish between which magic is real and which magic is not, it gives them a basis for how they can understand that which is real and not. It gives them a good foundation for science and basic logical reasoning. Atheism is mere that, “Not Theistic”. There is not a religion to follow; there are not beliefs to understand. There is not a contradiction to internalize which implies that “The physical world follows all of these rules; except when religion applies and then it doesn’t.” There is no reason to explain that the universe was “created” in a certain way and yet it’s very own creator chooses, on a regular basis, to ignore all of the rules which it created in the first place.

Children are provided, instead, with a consistent way of viewing the world and its inhabitants which do not require random and human-created rituals for manipulating it. The rules for manipulating their surroundings are universal and can be done by everyone. They have a specific causal relationship with their effects that don’t include the random moods of an emotional being or beings. It is important to provide children with this concrete base.

As they are not being provided with a religious construct, there are no consequences for deviating from this path as they grow more aware of other methodologies. They are not given a label to begin with, so there is no label to attempt to peel off should they decide to follow a certain religious belief as adults. There may be disagreement at family meals, but no more so than any child who grows to pursue another political affiliation. There are no eternal afterlife consequences for choosing not to be an Atheist.

The children, should they decide to adhere to a set of religious practices will never be told by those they love the most that this decision will send them to hell, separated for all time from their parents and loved ones. This threat would be traumatic for any son or daughter, regardless of age. Not predisposing children to a religion offers them the comfort that their parents will never worship a system that would exclude them for merely having a difference of opinion or understanding. Atheism offers children the comfort that the same thing happens to them that happens to all children, all parents and all living things.

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