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Dr. Darrel Ray is an atheist, humanist, and psychologist. He is the author of The God Virus, and specializes in issues relating to religious deconversion. [ more ]
If you have an issue relating to religion but no one to talk to, ask Dr. Ray. He doesn’t promise that he has all the answers, but hopefully he will be able to provide insight and experience that will be beneficial for both you and for the many other young people in similar situations.
Child indoctrination


Dear Darrel,

I am a divorced parent of a young child. My ex and her family have already succeeded in convincing my daughter that everything in life is thanks to God, and nothing I have told her to the contrary has convinced her otherwise. How do I teach a five year old to examine what my ex says critically and think for herself before she becomes even more indoctrinated?

From Dr. Ray

As a parent, there are many things you can do that will influence your child’s life, but the one thing you cannot do is determine how he or she will think when they have grown up. All children have a mind of their own; your job is to expose them to a wide range of ideas and experiences, after which they will just have to figure it out for themselves. Using that approach you are much more likely to influence her to be a freethinker.

Do not try and make her into an atheist; rather, help her become a freethinker. That is far more important. Help her become a person who can examine the evidence for herself and make up her own mind. Parents naturally try to mold their children after themselves, but it rarely works out as intended.

I recommend that you take her to churches; lots of them. Take her to a Buddhist temple, a Baptist Church, a Catholic Mass, a Ba’hai, a Mormon service. Go out to eat after each experience and ask questions and listen. “What did you think of the music in their church?” “How do you think this synagogue is different from a Baptist church?” “I wonder what the difference is between the Muslims we talked to last week and the Mormons we met today?” Keep the discussion age appropriate and do not try and indoctrinate her. Soon enough she will start asking questions of your ex and your ex’s family that they will not be able to answer adequately.

When she is old enough, and if you can get your ex to consent, send her to science camp or  Camp Quest (ages 8-17). There she will meet other freethinking children and enjoy a wide range of activities and ideas.

Sit down with her and explore the little kids half of this Kids Without God site together. There are fun things to do that will help her learn to think rationally and  scientifically. As she gets older, help her understand increasingly complex scientific principles, and do fun science experiments together.

Read age appropriate books with her about science, evolution, or mythology. Mythology seems especially interesting to young children and offers an opportunity to ask questions about gods, demons, ghosts, angels, etc. Go to EvolveFish for some good children’s books.

Religions thrive by asserting themselves as the one “true” way to believe in or worship God. By showing your daughter the history and plurality of religions around the world you will help shield her from any one religion holding that power over her. Most importantly, just make sure that you are there for her and lead by example. Little children are drawn to simple, black and white explanations of the world around them, but as she gets older she will learn to enjoy the critical thinking skills you teach her and come to her own conclusions.

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