When Your Child Tells You He’s an Atheist – And You’re Not

I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer. I have no intention of telling TJ’s grandparents about this, because I don’t think they would understand. If they read this, I suppose that’s on them, but I don’t want anyone trying to change his mind about things – good intentions or not.

“I don’t believe in God. I believe in the Big Bang.”

This is what my not quite 8-year-old said to me this morning when I asked him whether or not he wanted to go to Vacation Bible School next week. His grandma had mentioned it as a potential activity for him since the town summer recreation program ended last week. TJ, however, is not interested in the least. He is adamantly opposed to going.


This Mom Believes in God

I am Christian. I am not your stereotypical Christian, although I grew up that way. I went to Amity Reformed Church, which can be described as Dutch Presbyterian and part of the Reformed Church of America (RCA). I faithfully attended Sunday School every week. I went to church every Sunday until I was old enough to tell my parents I didn’t want to go because it was boring. But I still went to Sunday School and was very active in youth group. I was devoted to my confirmation class, and I took my confirmation into the church very seriously. I believed it all.

My high school Sunday School class was fascinating. We weren’t just being taught Bible stories anymore. We were being taught how to question our beliefs while still keeping our faith. I think this was an advantage of mine that many other young Christians never had. My Sunday School teachers were also our youth group leaders. We talked about scientific, rational explanations for the miracles Jesus performed that were still miracles of humanity, if not supernatural. We discussed making moral decisions as young adults after watching uncomfortable videos about sex and drugs. We did volunteer work and helped out at church suppers and breakfasts for the people who attended the ridiculously early Sunrise Service each year on Easter Sunday.

My beliefs were transformed further when I went to college, although I was still teasingly called “Little Church Girl” by one of my coworkers at the grocery store when I was home on break. I had lived a very sheltered life before college, and I was very naive when I went out into the world. Some things I learned the hard way, and others I learned by other people’s bad examples. I had some very good friends on the college newspaper staff with whom I shared long discussions on every deep subject there is. We were all Christian in some form or another, but we also believed in science and shades of gray and liberal politics. We were all psychology majors, as well – not English or journalism majors, as most would have assumed would be running the newspaper.

After college, I met a still wider range of people with the advent of the Internet as more than just AOL chat rooms. I belonged to a writing community and made connections with people that still hold even now, more than a decade after the website itself became defunct. They engaged me, challenged me, made me consider different perspectives I hadn’t known existed before.

And so I ended up becoming an uncommon sort of Christian who believes in God, but does not necessarily define God the same way others do. I believe God is the name of whatever power it is that does all of those things we can’t explain, the reason we have science, and not necessarily an intelligent being who had personal conversations with people in the form of a burning bush. I believe the Bible was written by men who explained God in the terms they understand, framed by their culture and the world they lived in. I believe that other world religions formed the exact same way, and that every culture’s version of God is essentially the same thing – the force of nature responsible for everything we don’t understand, described in the terms the people were best able to understand it at the time. I believe Jesus Christ existed, and that He understood what we call God better than any of his contemporaries. That’s what made Him special, what made Him such a powerful voice.

That’s what I believe.

But My Son Does Not

When TJ was born, I  still wanted him to be baptized – for tradition if not something even higher. I had serious issues with the pastor of my childhood church, though, and I did not want that man to be the one to bless my son. I became an ordained minister so I could baptize him myself. Mock the Universal Life Church if you will, but even though some people become ordained online for a laugh, I believe that people are called in their own way. The ULC maintains that:

The Universal Life Church Monastery will not stand between you and your God and we recognize that each minister and clergy member has the right to choose his or her own spiritual path. Each minister legally ordained by the ULC Monastery is at liberty to follow any religious path so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others.

So TJ has been baptized, but he has been baptized by me, which allows me to believe that when I baptized him in the name of God, this was not at odds with his own lack of faith in God – since I believe that God is a force of nature and science.

Still, it was kind of a shock to hear these words from my son this morning.

When he said that he believed in the Big Bang but not God, I told him that I believed in both – that I believe that God is the reason the Big Bang happened. He responded that he believes in the supernova that caused the Big Bang. (He reads a lot of fascinating books about science, but they are still quite simplified for elementary school students, so do not explain all of the current scientific theories about how the Big Bang may have occurred. Supernova is not a popularly accepted theory, but I suppose it makes more sense for young minds.)

I told him that his grandparents believe in God, and he rolled his eyes and said ruefully, “Yeah, so do Jack and Ryan.”

Jack and Ryan are twins who were in his second grade class. They were best friends…until they weren’t. Further discussion with TJ this morning determined that religion was the cause for their falling out. They were talking to him about God, and TJ told them he didn’t believe in God. And it didn’t go over well.

If TJ is so firm in his belief in science over religion that he was willing to lose a friendship he cherished over it, I respect that. I’m sad that his friends couldn’t accept him as a non-believer and decided to shun him after that, but I realize what a grown up decision my boy made.

I will not try to push my beliefs on him, but as he gets older, I will encourage him to learn more about various world religions so he can have more knowledge of other people’s beliefs. We will have to discuss trying not to accidentally offend people who hold different beliefs; this is as much an Asperger’s discussion as a religious one, as we both have a tendency to say things that come out wrong with “tone” we didn’t intend.

I hope that TJ does not lose more friendships due to his beliefs. I wish more parents would teach their children to be tolerant of different beliefs, that we could all live together in a respectful environment free of prejudice and hatred. I’m tolerant of pretty much any beliefs other than hate and intolerance. I wish the world could be that way.

I accept my son’s rational belief in science. Do your children’s beliefs differ from your own?

Christina Gleason (975 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I'm a multiply disabled autistic woman doing my best in this world built for abled people. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including Twitch Sings and Plants vs Zombies 2. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead.


  1. >Jack and Ryan are twins who were in his second grade class. They were best friends…until they weren’t. Further >discussion with TJ this morning determined that religion was the cause for their falling out. They were talking to him >about God, and TJ told them he didn’t believe in God. And it didn’t go over well.

    This is religions poison in a nutshell.
    It causes perfectly fine young friendships to break. These kids broke with *him*, i’m absolutely sure, and not the other way around.

    Nowadays so many Christians are crying they are being ‘prosecuted’. The religious have a knack for intolerance, and it shows again in your story and in many others.

    As a fellow atheist and firm believer in our strength to rule our own world, make our own rules and respect one another, I am very proud of your boy. If he keeps that love for science, he might do great things one day.

  2. > I believe that God is a force of nature and science.

    Then, your son hasn’t contradicted you at all. And it’s great if you plan to guide your son through that path. With the scientific explanations for miracles, but without losing the awe in them, and so.

    In fact there’s some of us who call ourselves atheists but also believe “God” is actually a force of nature, and unexplainable source of good luck for some people.

    Not to argue with you or anything, I really can’t say I *know* you just because I read this, but if you don’t believe in everything the Bible says, and you don’t think God is a vengeful old man who will send us to hell if we masturbate, I don’t think you can call yourself a Christian.


    • I believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings about loving your fellow man, not judging people because no one’s perfect, etc. It’s more like Christian Humanism, but I think it counts. I also allow for the possibility that God does have some form of sentience or intelligence, but I think we weren’t meant to take the Bible literally, more as allegory. There could have been intelligence behind the formation of the universe, but I don’t proclaim to know for sure. Alas, saying that to many religious people is akin to blasphemy.

      • Then why have the bible, at all? You can’t pick and choose just to make the bible look better.

        • The Bible contradicts itself many times. There are 66 different books written over the course of centuries in at least four different languages. I don’t think God, whoever or whatever God is, would have given me a brain to think with if he intended me not to use it. You cannot accept the entirety of the Bible as literal truth without simultaneously accepting completely opposing things that cannot both be true.

  3. My husband and I are deconverts and we are trying to raise our children to be skeptical thinkers. My oldest (5 at the time) also had a similar experience at school. A few of the children at her school are being raised in fundamentalist churches, like I was, and talk about God on the playground. My child said that no one could know for sure if God existed and got verbally lambasted.
    Incidentally, she was also involved in a fight on the bus for related reasons. The topic was if two women could get married with the other kids claiming ‘no’. Since we know women who are married to each other, my daughter spoke up. She left the bus in tears.
    I don’t want her to be ashamed of what she thinks and knows, but I don’t know how to teach her to protect herself against those who are taught to attack thoughts that are different from what their religious authorities tell them.

  4. I wish more parents were like you. A lot of parents would probably shun their kid, tell the kid he’s wrong and make him go to church. This is especially bad considering that being an atheist is already difficult — it’s been compared to being gay, and there are similarities there as far as being “in the closet” or being ridiculed by society. Good for you for being supportive and accepting of his lack of belief.

  5. Hi Christina,
    My grandson has not been baptized, or indoctrinated into any religion. He is the most loving, giving and kind little boy. He loves all people, will share what he has without question. If someone is hurt, he is there with sympathy and encouragement. I was disappointed when my son and his wife said that they were not going to baptize or raise him in the church, but in hindsight I see him more as an example of who Christ would have us be and so I am one proud Gramma.

    • Joe Bigliogo says

      You don’t need God to be a good person. In fact there is no benefit to religion that cannot also be achieved by secular means. Jesus (assuming he existed) was overall a cool guy but there area few things attributed to him that are immoral such as his endorsement of slavery… “slaves, obey your masters. even the cruel ones”. Sorry Jesus but if you don’t roundly condemn slavery, you are a tool. There is other advice in his sermon on the mount. Google Matt Dillahunty’s Deconstruction of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, it’s an eye opener

  6. ron gefaller says

    Just to muddy the waters here a bit. I am a doctor, researcher and a Christian. I have a hard time believing that there is Not a God when I see people’s health change and I look at the human body in awe and wonder.
    Religion is not a bad thing, or either is a belief in God. What men do with it and in the name of is not always good.
    Religion has shaped and formed society in many good ways. It has given us a code of conduct and way to live with each in peace and love.
    My opinion is that atheists are disillusioned because of what people have done with God. God is not at fault for our failings and is not the problem.
    There are allot of things in the universe that I cannot explain and maybe never will be able to. That does not mean that i do not believe that they exist.
    Let me leave with this, God loves all people, even people who do not believe in Him. God wants us to be more “Christ like” – not a bad thing to be if you read up on it. God wants us to share love with each other. Again not a bad thing. I fail to see a down side in this.

  7. Ron, I really respect that belief! I am an atheist who recently came out to my Christian mother and she didn’t take it very well. My reasoning was this:

    1. Most Christians today do not follow the bible. They have not read the Bible. They don’t know anything about their religion. Therefor, the only reason they still continue to be “Christians” is because they were taught that a rejection of science and acceptance of Biblical ideology was the only “right” thing to do. So in reality, most Christians aren’t Christians.

    2. I looked at myself and asked if I truly lived by the Bible, if I truly believed. If I truly had a relationship with God. My conclusion was that the only reason I wasn’t already an Atheist was the fear of Hell.

    3. Science contradicts Creationism. Evolution contradicts Creationism. I believe in the former two. Therefor I am not a Orthodox Christian. Neither is anyone who believes in those things.

    4. Science has real tangible evidence, whilst Christianity has general guidelines that prevent you from praying for something that may reveal God’s identity. This is to prevent faith destroying realizations that the faith you follow is a hoax.

    Roger, you are a doctor. You know how incredible the Human body is; you’ve seen it first-hand. You believe that the Human body is so durable due to divine intervention, but Evolution has an explanation as well. Our bodies were built entirely around survival and genetic reproduction. Which as a male I think is easy to understand since urges hardly ever leave us alone. It would only make sense that in our most primal states all we ever did was eat, sleep, and sex. That’s basically what Evolution says we were meant to do, and we seem to have a passion for it currently.

    I agree with this authors outlook on the Bible. I think it was a early masterpiece of Allegorical writing. The Devil and sin being the representation primal urges. Jesus Christ representing self-control and personal identity. The unfortunate reality is that it was released to a very simple-minded people and therefor was mistaken as a literal work.

    However I would not be surprised if the science community discovered something like a God. Perhaps the Universe is just a very large super-computer that would resemble God. Until we truly understand what makes something conscious we really won’t know.

    Or perhaps I am a naive sixteen year old that will unfortunately burn in eternal hell-fire for all eternity. I sure hope not.

  8. Hi, I enjoyed your post. My oldest son declared he was an atheist at the age of 21, while attending Liberty University. I was actually pretty devastated at first but also happy in a way, that he was forming his own conclusions. It started me on a journey though, which I ended up writing a series called, My Son Told Me He’s an Atheist. http://lifeafter40.net/2014/04/20/my-son-told-me-hes-an-atheist/

  9. Joe Bigliogo says

    Maybe your son is right and you are wrong.

    • Joe, I do not believe this is a question of right or wrong. No living person can know the truth. If there is a God and an afterlife, we’ll learn about it when we die. If there’s not, well, it won’t matter much to us when we’re dead. My point was that I feel like my role as a parent is to let my son make his own discoveries and decisions without pressuring him into believing as I do. There are many religious parents who force their children to at least go through the motions of their chosen belief system until they become adults. I feel that is counterproductive.

      • Joe Bigliogo says

        I say this because virtually every God believer I’ve ever heard of hopes and prays their sons and daughters will “see the light” and be open minded enough to come around to believing in the God they do. As an atheist I’d like to pose the question back to the theists. How open are you to the possibility God doesn’t exist?

        • Joe (and Logan too),

          What I want more than for my son to “see the light” is to just learn about various world religions so he can understand the perspectives of other people without becoming a “militant atheist” the way many religious people are “militant evangelists.”

          I’m not really open to the possibility that God doesn’t exist, but what I believe instead is that God is the name our ancestors gave to the driving force of the universe they couldn’t possibly understand. I believe that humanity made God in its image, not the other way around. I am unsure about whether or not sentience was required to create the universe. But we literally have no idea what happened before the Big Bang, so anything is possible. Science started at THAT moment. My personal concept of God is that God is what (not necessarily who) created the laws of science in our universe. I also believe that the major religious figures throughout the world had more cosmic understanding than any of their contemporaries, so they tried to frame things for those who would become their followers in culturally relevant terms. This worked out better for some than for others. I subscribe to Christian philosophy both because that was how I was raised and because Christ basically taught people to “be excellent to each other.” It still fascinates me to learn about other world religions, because I don’t think they’re necessarily wrong either. It’s just that, people being people, the powerful often twisted religion to use as social control upon the masses, and the original messages were lost.

          If you believe in science as an atheist, our beliefs are not dissimilar. I do believe in an afterlife due to the anecdotal evidence of my grandmother, who nearly died in childbirth, and said she had the choice of going toward her dearly departed mother’s arms on one side, or back to the sound of the crying baby at the other side. She chose my uncle’s newborn cries. It’s not scientific proof, but it’s enough for me to believe in something after death…perhaps heaven is part of the theorized multiverse.

        • Joe Bigliogo says

          Interesting turn of events. My Christian mother who was at one time quite devout has recently declared she no longer believes in God. My father who never believed but simply went along as I did is now more open and candid about his unbelief. It’s very possible I have had some degree of influence on her change of heart after many philosophical conversations.
          The question of God’s existence vs non-existence can be distilled down to a philosophic axiom called “the primacy of consciousness” vs “the primacy of existence”. As an atheist I hold to the primacy of existence since we have no evidence of existence emerging out of consciousness while all the evidence points to consciousness being an emergent property of brain function.
          In one of our conversations I offered as an example the experience of being under general anesthesia while undergoing an operation. This is where all synaptic activity is temporarily shut off in the centre of our brain that controls consciousness. This is not like being asleep since there is no awareness of time having passed. While we are “out” we don’t think, emote or dream, rather six or seven hours that pass are like a blink of an eye. If all awareness in the brain can be artificially shut down for an operation it seems logical that when the human brain shuts down permanently (as in death) that consciousness too is shut down. I realize this is not proof positive but it is a solid indicator that human consciousness (and awareness) is tied to the bio-chemical functions of the brain. In other words my “soul” is my brain.
          As to personal experience, we cannot judge the experience of others since they are so diverse. What we can say is that having a “personal” experience doesn’t meant the subject knows the “cause” of the experience. Attempting to ascertain cause is subject to “allocation errors”, something the human mind is really good at doing. Whatever the case people are going to believe what they believe and sometimes change their minds as well. All that matters to me is that we are able to co-exist peacefully with others regardless what we believe.

      • I sincerely respect the approach of a parent letting their son or daughter make their own discoveries and decisions. Kudos. To Joe’s point, while I was a Christian parent with a son who had abandoned the faith, I respected his independence and self-discovery but I’ll be honest — I hoped he would “see the light” in the future, as Joe put it. Since I personally believed the Christian message, that message made it clear that Jesus was the only way.

        After a very long journey of my own, I left the faith too. And I still respect the approach of letting our children learn, discover and make up their own minds. But truly, I hope they don’t embrace fundamentalism as I find it a destructive force in the world.

        In regard to ‘knowing the truth’, it raises the question, “could there be a god?”. Certainly, I think that’s a possibility. But I came to reject the Bible as a source of truth along with the other man-made religions that are in the world. Their holy books are rife with contradictions, factual errors, scientific errors and horrible logical fallacies. So what does that leave us with? The truth that science has revealed to us is that all life on this planet is connected. Evolution is proven and true. We homo sapiens happen to be the most advanced from an intellectual point of view, and our imaginations (fueled by our fear of death and the desire to live on forever) have created the notions of heaven and hell. But all without evidence.

        I’d love to believe in a heaven. But science and logic tell me it’s a fantasy.

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