Mom, do you believe in God?
These conversations always happen in the car. I think it helps because she knows I won’t be making eye contact and I can be easily distracted if she’s done talking about whatever dread subject she’s raised.
“Hey Mom, do you believe in God?”
“No, I don’t believe in any gods. I’ve never seen enough evidence to convince me there’s anything supernatural.”
“I think most of the kids at school are Christians or something, and they said if you’re an atheist you live a terrible life.”
At this point I was half rolling my eyes, half mad. I don’t remember the next bit very well, but I think Chloe opined that this didn’t make sense to her, using me as her sample. So that was flattering as well as reassuring. She also wanted to confirm, “We’re atheists, right?”
Dawkins would be proud of me – I told her Dad and I don’t believe in any gods, but that doesn’t dictate what she believes. She said, “Well, I want to be an atheist.” Just goes to show no matter how you try to inculcate skepticism and freethought, while letting your children have freedom of conscience, they have very strong labeling and tribalist inclinations!
Turns out she doesn’t believe in any particular god, but she really likes reading myths and legends about gods, so she wasn’t sure if that would put her in the theist category. I assured her that in fact, many atheists started as believers, but when they got into myths and legends, it eroded their faith. It’s perfectly consistent not to believe in gods but to like stories about them.
I asked, “When they said ‘lead a terrible life,’ did they mean you’ll be unhappy and miserable, or you’ll do terrible things?”
She replied she wasn’t sure, so I noted that our family was pretty happy and healthy, and that we also tend to do good things for each other, our friends, and our community, so it certainly didn’t seem to be true. I also mentioned that if they mean atheists do bad things, she could tell them that in prison populations, there are hardly any atheists, but there are lots of Christians.
At this she seemed very interested. In fact, a bit too close to gleeful. I think I’ll have to have a discussion about diplomacy on this subject matter post haste. But at least it gave her a concrete example, beyond the bounds of our little family, that atheism doesn’t make you evil.
And so it begins. It’s going to be interesting as the kids all get older. I’m hopeful they can be educated into more acceptance. I’m pretty sure these children were unaware that they actually know atheists. And if anyone can be a good ambassador for atheism, it’s my sweet, generous, funny, intelligent, friendly daughter.