I have hesitated to share this story for awhile now because I know what the default reaction will be from a large chunk of our society (that I am forcing my views on my children). As many of you know, I am an atheist. But unlike many proud Christian parents in this country who happily announce to the world that their children are also good Christians, I prefer for my kids to make up their own minds. I have never discussed my views on religion with any of my three boys. If they have questions, I will answer them but I do not tell them what they should or shouldn’t think. The only thing I ask is that they approach everything in their lives with a respectable level of critical thinking.
A couple of months ago, however, the inevitable conversation came up. Again, I did not bring the subject up, but one night, the oldest boy came to me (the other two were at a sleepover) and said, “Dad, what’s an atheist?” My response to him was simply, “Well…an atheist is just somebody who doesn’t feel that any gods or supernatural beings are necessary to explain the world around us. ‘Theism’ is belief in gods. The prefix ‘a’ means without. Therefore, an a-theist is simply somebody without belief in gods”. His response back to me was, “Oh. So…you mean like you and me?” To which I replied, “Son, I’m not going to tell you what you are or are not. I think figuring out how we view the world around us is a journey that each of us needs to take on our own. But since you’re asking…yeah, that’s how I view the world”.
I want to reiterate that I have never discussed my views with any of my children before this conversation. I’m sure they pick up on subtle clues, but I have been far less direct than people who drag their kids to church every single week and drive into their heads that Jesus is the one and only way to salvation. The oldest boy loves science. Always has. And even at his young age, he was having trouble reconciling the stories he’d heard from the Bible (we did go to church for awhile because it was important to their mother) with what he knew to be true from actual observations of the world around him.
So many people think that religion, or at least belief in some supernatural power, is something that just comes naturally to the human brain. I’m not convinced that it is, though. If we had the level of understanding of the physical universe that we have today, but we did not have religious dogma passed down from generation to generation, would there really still be any need for it? I don’t think there would be.