I No Longer Believe. What Do I Tell My Kids?

Here is an email I recently received. Any additional helpful advice would be appreciated. [Used with permission]

Hi John,

My de-conversion happened over a 10 year period in full-time ministry. I left ministry 12/31/06 with my integrity in tack. Now I just opened up my de-conversion to my family last summer. My wife, not surprisingly, was relieved. My kids, who we had sent to a fundy Christian school, were disturbed. I assured them I was not going to hell and that I still believed in “God” as much as I thought was possible to believe anymore. That comforted them for a while until we stopped going to church. My oldest child is very spiritual. She enjoys church and misses the Christian school. I too and a very spiritual man. I’ve found some solace in exploring Buddhist philosophy and I enjoy what I’m learning. I’m not fully come to an atheist I’m more agnostic but I’m not a believer in the God of the Bible.

I’ve been reading, devouring many books about the lies of Christianity. Sam Harris’ books have been huge eye openers. As was the DVD “The God Who Wasn’t There.” All of these just conformed my suspicions about my faith. I bought into a fairy tale in 1983 at the age of 15. I had a radical conversion and after high school I began the path toward full time ministry. After a stint in the Army to get some college money, I went to Bible college and seminary. I served in 2 churches as youth pastor. I ran a growing and successful AWANA program. I served on full-time missionary staff with Campus Crusade for Christ from 1996-2001. I launched and ran my own campus church/ministry from 2001-2006. From 1994-2006 I had growing doubts.

In the last ten years I began to see that no matter how much faith or belief I had God was and did not work. Oh I thought he did. I pretended he did. I duped myself in to believing on some level that he was really there for me. In that time a dear friend who de-converted in 1999 asked me this question: “Steve, what has Jesus really done for you this week, this month, this year?” I came up empty. All the trite answers I could give him were just fluff… stuff I had really stopped believe after many, many disappointments with God.

So I found a way out of ministry without going public with my agnosticism. Christians are so mean when someone falls away. I know I was mean myself a couple of times more than I want to remember. I became a financial advisor and I love it. But I played the game for a while because I deeply feared that I would be outcast. That fear is slowly drifting away.

Here’s my dilemma… I love my kids and I raised them in the Christian way. I really strove to live the life I was “called” to live. I didn’t leave because of “sin” in my life. I wasn’t really looking to leave. I just kept searching for reasons why God was not answering my prayers and helping us. So I left because I could not believe it any more. I could no longer tolerate the let downs. But my kids are feeling the pain of it because they still have “childlike faith.”

Do you have any advice? Are there resources for guys like me to help me free my kids from the God/Jesus myth? I do want to encourage my kids to be spiritual. But I just don’t know how.

Any words you would have for me would be appreciated.

Peace!

Steven A. McDowell

Here is my advice:
Steve, you're not alone.

From what I can tell this book will help you and your wife.

You should get a subscription to Michael Shermer's Skeptic Magazine, since it contains a nice sized section written just for kids.

Beyond that there are skeptical meet ups that may be in your area. Get your kids to meet and play with non-believing kids. Do a search for these groups here.

There are also skeptical groups associated with Center for Inquiry that would help introduce your children to skeptical children.

With your permission I'll post this at DC to see if anyone else has some helpful suggestions.

Best to you,
John W. Loftus

17 comments:

goprairie said...

five things

1- replace the sunday ritual - it can be music or readiing or walks or museum visits or volunteering but it should be fun and it should be family.

2- replace spirituality with awe for nature - get out there on a weekly or more basis and dont just let them talk about the beaty god gave us but find things to wonder about and go back and look them up and talk about them and use them to look more deeply next week. this can be the church replacement or it can be more often - a couple days after school - it gets you iinto science and it gets you all into feeling awed at something other than 'god' and it gets that feeling replaced with something you can look up that DOES make sense rather than bible verses that conflict and contradict and never cut it.

3- teach them the science of brain workings to show that beleiving is normal but not necesary - talk about psychology and how people react to things due to evolutionary advantage and talk about sociology and the value of doing things in groups and sneak in evolution without calling it by name. talk about human needs and how they are met by religion and by other things. find goodness in people and their acts and deeds and words.

4- teach them that if there IS a god, he/she cannot be as structured and rule based as churches say so if they beleive they can make room for you to go to heaven with them even if you don't beleive. teach them that jesus may have been instructing on one way in but not all ways in and a loviing god would not bar you for one mistake and would not keep you from them if you are important to them.

5- continue to be moral and ethical but tell them WHY you are doing it - they think people are good because they are with god and you must teach them that ethics and god are separate - volunteer for several causes and talk about your reasons - nature restoration, because we need to take care of the earth for future generations, for a homeless shelter or habitat for humainity because we live in a society and care about others, and so on - show them that morality is grounded in intstincts and our need to be social, not god and get them around like peopl who do good for hymanitarian reasons, not religios reasons.

they will come to this on their own and may become ultra religious as a rebellion thing, but they need not if there is not pressure. continue to teach tolerance and do NOT put down religion or religious. teach the good of the other but not the bad of religion unless they begin to ask.

Key: religion serves needs for people and you gave it to them to serve those needs and now you need to give them other things to serve those needs.

goprairie said...

one more note: you might want to rethink the 'spirituality' thing. once many people start down this path and look at science and brain and biology, the idea of even a soul falls away. if you tell your kids that you have given up god but retain spirituality then you find that empty in a year or two, then you have to backpedal on that too. so i would be open to that happening and be careful not to place too much stock in spirituality at this point. stick with science and people. just in case.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi John,
great idea for an article.
Goprairie got me thinking about this a little while back.
thanks goprairie.
I'll follow your lead.

Keep doing what you're doing but take the woo-woo out of it.

Use it as an opportunity to explore each other interests and try them out. Go horseback riding, or volunteer at the hospital, animal shelter, Salvation army, AA, it still feels good to help people without the woo-woo. Tutor kids in the evenings at the community center, make a community center if you don't have one, get involved in youth organizations, Volunteer at the school. Learn or teach a foreign language!

You can do all these things as a unit. Together, a team.

Christianity is, above all, a philosophy of morals and trying to live a righteous life right? Replace it with a search for truth, wisdom, morality, ethics, logic but instead of using the bible, use EVERYTHING else! There are thousands of years of wisdom there for the application. You just have to open your eyes! Don't forget, JOKES DEPEND ON LOGIC. WITHOUT LOGIC THERE WOULD BE NO JOKES!

1. There could still be "meetings" on sundays. There are plenty of precedents rather than churches. Toastmasters, AA, Computer Clubs, etc.
If the meeting format is kept, then topics could be lead by elected speakers, guest speakers or an "open mike" kind of thing. Topics could be on ethics and morals. The speaker could get up there and pose a moral dilemma and talk about how to deal with it. Doesn't have to be "five survivors in a lifeboat one critically wounded" etc, but could draw from real life. they could throw around ideas from philosophers and talk about what context which solution works better in. Values, Ethics, Morals, and finding the balance is critically important day to day. Understanding politics is important too. Understanding that peopole make mistakes and accepting that as a necessary part of society instead of opportunities to mock or take advantage is important too.

2. There could be more special interest meetings, cookouts, potlucks, Picnics, get all the kids together or Adult only organizations, community theater, karaoke, choir groups I loved being part of a gospel choir, and would still love it If christians weren't so biased against atheists.
don't be afraid to be silly.

3. Realize that spirituality is one euphemism for enthusiasm, deep thinking, Meditation is good for you but the woo-woo doesn't follow necessarily, it is only sufficient. ;-) Heck sometimes I get caught up in a deep thought and just stare off into space without even trying. Childlike wonder, a desire to know why, why, why, why, why,
Why do I wonder why I wonder why I wonder? Thats not spirituality, thats just curiosity! Things are cool, you just have to slow down and notice them. Make science fun! Make playdough, make glue, pull the dna out of fruit, go buy a book on 'kitchen science'! Say stupid stuff just to get peoples reaction! Don't take yourself so seriously!

Theres plenty of things that can replace religion, but in some cases you have to throw off religion before you can see them. Usually when you try to be self righteous, you just come off as a jerk. Once you throw off religion, you can finally be honest with yourself and others. What a great feeling! I make mistakes, so what. I like beer so what! I like to see boobs in a movie, so what! I like history and computers and philosophy, so what! I like mustard on burritos, so what!
so what! so what! so what!

measure yourself by the people who love you, not the people that think you are the pillar of the community!

My Motto:
YOU CAN ONLY GO SO FAR ON BULLSHIT.

goprairie said...

sometimes i can't shut up:
are you familiar with the Patriot Guard? it is a motorcycle group that goes to military funerals to shield the family from Phelps evilness and support the family. a nonviolent but powerful barrier. i am not a motorcycle rider but i rode my jeep to a funeral and stood with them once. these are motorcycle drivers who are as diverse a group as you can find, concervatives, liberals, religious, non-religious, pro-war, anti-war, even pro-gay and anti-gay. but all still think the hate Phelps spreads at funerals of service people is wrong. So they come together and volunteer together and respect each other and treat each other kindly for this common good. This is a extreme example of what i find at volunteer opportunities. and i call them opportunities, not work, because i always always get more out of an event that the work i put into it. always. but at a prairie restoration work day i might find environmentalists, birders, and christians doing it to preserve the glory of god and we get together over our common goal of preserving and restoring the prairie and forget and respect our difference and focus on our commonalities for the day. that is a good thing, in addition to all the other good things that happpen, like meeting and relating to people of different ages and being outdoors and finding the insects and seed pods and well, i do go on, but . . . volunteering is a great thing for a family to do together for so many reasons.

Lee Randolph said...

goprairie can't shut up and
as for me,
monkey see monkey do....

move the sunday meeting to friday or saturday night!

On sunday morning, it is a sin not to roller blade, play frisbee, or take your dogs out to go running around.

emodude1971 said...

My son is only 5, and he's only been to church a handful of times (with his grandmother). One day he was looking at my nightstand and saw my copy of 'God Is Not Great', and he read the title, and looked at me with horror! With only a few church visits, it was already ingrained in his head that God was indeed 'great', and it should not be stated otherwise. I had to explain to him that it was OK not to believe in god, and that what many people believed about god caused a lot of problems in the world. This seemed to help, although at such a young age it is very difficult for him to be 'skeptical'. Young people ARE impressionable, and churches know this all too well and take advantage of it. At this point in his life, all I can really offer him is an opposing view when he is exposed to some type of religious subject, such as a kid on the bus talking about how great Jesus is. It's not that I want to keep him ignorant of religion (in my experience, those who were raised with NO religious education at all ended up as fundies), but until he is older and can handle critical thinking, I'm just playing defense.

Tim said...

Steven,

Perhaps one of the best things you could do for your kids would be to show them that you're not closed to hearing both sides of the issue. Pick up a copy of Letters from a Skeptic and read it openly. Take a look at The Resurrection of the Son of God, and read a couple hundred pages (at least) thoughtfully. It cannot hurt to get a sense of why intelligent, educated people who are aware of the same criticisms that have moved you are still persuaded of the truth of the central doctrines of Christianity. Their reasons may not be the ones that kept you in the fold before your deconversion. Hearing them from advocates at first hand, rather than filtered through the writings of their dialectical opponents, is surely the most reasonable course and will give you a wider sympathy, if nothing else.

As a Christian, I practice this policy in reverse, openly reading various books by atheists (Beversluis, Martin, Everitt, Dawkins, and many more) and discussing with my kids what I am reading, why I am doing it, what the arguments are, and so forth.

Harry McCall said...

Thanks John. This was a very interesting email and many people face this same social pressure when loosing their support group. Plus, the more pious one is, the harder the mental anguish is place on the de-converted / reverse converted.

Reality is simply this: One is ONLY SAVED in the context of their denominational peer group. Put a Catholic at a Kingdom Hall; put an Episcopalian in a Baptist Church; put a Mormon in, and so on and on and their “Salvation” is gone.

Salvation is now very limited and not just simply “Faith in Christ”, but faith in one's sect or denominational doctrines which defines Jesus that is all important. So, although there is not a night that goes by in which Christianity claims that should an atheist die, he would eternally lost / damned, like wise, there is not a night that goes by that a Christian (considered “Saved” by his / her own sect) goes to bed that hundreds of other Christian sects will label him / her “Lost” simply because they are not a member of the CORRECT SECT and its true THEOLOGY which is always felt to be “just a little closer to what the Bible teaches and God wants”.

So again, while Christianity states that atheists are damned all the time, Christianity also attacks itself when a fervent newer sects (which tend to be doctrinally strict) claims that older denominational groups are damned as apostates too. Or as Dr. Bob Jones, Jr. the chancellor of Bob Jones University would preach to us in chapel about the Pope, Methodist Bishops, Billy Graham and others:

“These rascals have sold out wholesale to compromise and apostasy. They have loaded up their sled of deceived people for a toboggan ride straight to Hell!”

If his kids could only get a much broader view of Christianity, they would find out they have already been condemned to Hell by any number of other sects claiming only they are God’s elect. Thus, the Christian “Truth” is highly subjective!

oli said...

I would be careful in this situation with your kids and not yank them out of church too urgently. Doing so may have unintended consequences. Volunteer however to drop your kids off at church and pick them up afterwards (not sure how old your kids are and hence whether this is viable).
Offer them the choice. Fun sunday family activity or church then fun sunday family activity. Don't make them choose between the two.

I'm always deeply disturbed by parents that drag their kids into their faith and i feel that cutting your kids off from the god squad would be a similar abuse. Let them decide on their own what they want to do. Just provide a positive rolemodel, free of religion and show them how you don't have to be religious be to moral.
Certainly is religion comes up in conversation, give them your full measured opinion. In fact, explaining why you deconverted might be a very good idea.
I think at the end of the day, if they love you and look up to you, they are likely to drift away from the church of their own free will. But if you force them to sever their ties, you may end up with youthful rebellion, and that can often last a very long time. Let them make their own choices, and give them ALL the information, from both sides.

oli said...

I would be careful in this situation with your kids and not yank them out of church too urgently. Doing so may have unintended consequences. Volunteer however to drop your kids off at church and pick them up afterwards (not sure how old your kids are and hence whether this is viable).
Offer them the choice. Fun sunday family activity or church then fun sunday family activity. Don't make them choose between the two.

I'm always deeply disturbed by parents that drag their kids into their faith and i feel that cutting your kids off from the god squad would be a similar abuse. Let them decide on their own what they want to do. Just provide a positive rolemodel, free of religion and show them how you don't have to be religious be to moral.
Certainly is religion comes up in conversation, give them your full measured opinion. In fact, explaining why you deconverted might be a very good idea.
I think at the end of the day, if they love you and look up to you, they are likely to drift away from the church of their own free will. But if you force them to sever their ties, you may end up with youthful rebellion, and that can often last a very long time. Let them make their own choices, and give them ALL the information, from both sides.

SAMisMe said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting. I will have lost to read tonight.

goprairie said...

it is sad to think, but there may some who will think it in the best interest of your children to make negative comments about you and your beleif system. that is why it may NOT be in their best interests to let them go to church without you. religion is not about church, it is about beliefs, so you can certainly allow them to continue to be chistian in their beleifs without allowing them to attend a church unsupervised. they certainly should know that even under their system, salvation is not dependent on church attendance, so you are not 'depriving' them by replacing that with family time.

oli said...

Goprairie, i hadn't considered that. Having been out of the church circle for so long i often forget the kind of politics and spitefulness that can lurk under the table at any kind of social organisation.

Good luck Samisme.

David said...

I would at least offer the option that regardless of if materialism is TRUE...some people find meaning and fufillment in life through "spritual" means.

Even if it is all false...billions have lived vibrant, loving, and wholesome lives while committing logical fallacies abound and never understanding what ad hominem means.

Kids are looking for meaning...don't just stomp it out. Let them grow and gradually understand. If someone walked up to me when I was a child, and told me I was just a clever animal who was going to die one day and cease to exist....I may have committed suicide. Now thats not normal but play it safe with your kids in my opinion. Gradual!

Jennifer said...

And you can just let them believe and support them in their own search for spiritual truth.

My kids are my kids and we are a family so wherever my husband and I go, they go. But if one or all of my children became an atheist I would allow them to seek out friendships which fit their own beliefs. I would still tote them to gatherings the family goes to just because we go, but I wouldn't force my views on them.

My husband doesn't go to church with me so sometimes one or more of my children stays home anyway.

What I'm saying is, you'll make the same mistake you may accuse others of making by trying to change your childrens' minds.

I just think it's OK for one or more of your kids to be different from you and let them participate in what is important to them while still being who you are. It's OK for a girls to grow up with a skeptical dad, I did. I'm thankful for his endless questions which made me think and for his honesty with his own doubts.
Even now he says the only thing that keeps him from letting go of God completely is that it is such an innate desire in every person's heart.

I think it's OK to just live your life and let your kids be different.

Jennifer said...

Samisme,
I just wanted to mention for you that you may enjoy the writing of a man named Rene Girard. I don't know where you are in your journey, but you may like him.

Freddy said...

I'm late on this, but I have recently became a born again human being. I have two kids that "church" regularly with my wife. She is not a hard core fundamentalist or anything of the sort. She is a believer.

At this point, I have stopped going to church and I do not do anything to persuade my kids to stop their belief in God. BUT, they are only 10 and 5 and still believe in Santa. I think when the oldest finally gives up on Santa, I will ask her to understand critical thought and as she gets older, I want her to examine what she believes and why. I honestly try not to influence my daughters towards my interests. Freddy