Religion is always a touchy subject, no matter what age you are. For those who are not bringing up their children in a specific faith it has the potential to be even touchier than normal. How does an atheist or an agnostic broach the subject of faith or God with their children? Some might think it’s best not to bring it up at all, but that leaves the children woefully unprepared. Children don’t yet know of the general conversation etiquette of not talking about money, politics or religion. It may not be a conversation they would initiate themselves but should the topic come up and they have been given no guidance they may become confused or frustrated when confronted with those of faith. What’s more being an atheist or an agnostic does not mean an absence of faith, simply a faith in some either more earthly or less defined.
When discussing issues of belief and faith with your children it’s very important to not put the focus on what you don’t believe but rather on what you do believe. If the entire premise you present your children with is that everybody who is of an organized religion is somehow wrong then the only thing you prepare them for is conflict with others. For atheists this can be especially tricky as the whole basis of the atheistic movement is the idea that god is not real and does not exist. So the philosophy in general starts from a rather negative place, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be presented in a more positive manner. When asked by your children what you believe a much more positive alternative to “there is no God” is to say that you believe people control their own destinies. Put the emphasis on the importance of people and the significance of the tangible world rather than on a lack of God.
Of course the day may still come when your child asks you point blank “is there a God?” Think of it as when they ask “is there a Santa Claus?” multiplied by about a hundred. Sadly there’s no easy way around that one and it’s best to just be honest with your beliefs. That said it’s important to instill into your children that many other people do believe in God and it’s ok that they do. Even if your personal reasons for not believing in god include a general rejection of religion overall (which is not the case with all atheists) it’s best to not go overboard on that idea, especially with younger children. If you tell a young child that you don’t believe in God because religion is all about controlling people then you’ve put them in a position where they may rudely (though perhaps unwittingly) be challenging deeply held beliefs of their friends or schoolmates.
For agnostics it may be better to present the idea that you’re open to all possibilities rather than that you don’t know what you believe. Of course most people who identify as agnostic don’t actually fit the classic definition of not being sure what they believe. Instead they tend to consider themselves “spiritual” in a more broad and generalized sense. Within this idea there is certainly room there for some teachings about faith. You can teach your children that there is something greater than the world as we know it but exactly what that might be isn’t clear. As they grow older you can even encourage them to go out and discover for themselves what they think the answers to philosophical mysteries might be.
Those who are determined to raise their children in a specific faith generally have guidelines that atheists and agnostics simply don’t have. That doesn’t mean that those who are not part of an organized religion can’t instill their own thoughts on the matter into their children. Children are eager to learn and curious about all things and will be naturally inquisitive about something as mysterious as God. Just because you don’t believe in God or don’t have clearly defined beliefs doesn’t mean that this is a subject you should fear. Take careful measure of what your faith actually is. Be it in humanity, in nature, or just a general sense of connection between living things. Whatever it might be it is something that you can pass to your children along with all the other lessons you give them to prepare them for life.