Do Children Need Religion?

Atheists Can Raise Good Children Without Religion or Religious Beliefs

Directly above shot of happy boys lying on grassy field
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Religion and gods play an important role in how many parents raise their children. Even parents who aren't very ardent in their faith and don't go to religious worship services very often seem to believe that religion is a vital component in any upbringing. This is not justified, however. A child can be raised without religion and without gods and not be any worse off for it. In fact, a godless upbringing has advantages because it avoids so many of the dangers that accompany religion.

The Argument for Childhood Religion

For religious theists, religion provides a lot of structure for their lives. Religion helps explain who they are, why they are in their current circumstances, where they are going, and perhaps most of all tell them that whatever happens to them — no matter who awful or difficult to accept — it is part of a grand, cosmic plan. Structure, explanations, and comfort are important in people's lives, and not just the lives of religious theists. Without religious institutions or religious leaders, atheists have to create this structure on their own, find their own meanings, develop their own explanations, and discover their own comfort.

All of this is likely to be difficult under any circumstances, but quite often the difficulties are increased by pressure from religious family members and other believers in the community. Parenting is probably one of the toughest jobs for anyone to undertake and it's sad to see people who, out of religious zealotry, feel it is appropriate for them to make matters more difficult for others. Such pressure should not, however, deceive people into imagining that they'd be better with religion, churches, priests, or other trappings of religious faith.

Why It Is Not Necessary

Religion is not necessary to teach children about morality. Atheists may not teach all the same values and moral principles to their children as religious theists, but then again, it's likely that there's a great deal of overlap. It's just that atheists don't attempt to base those values and principles on the commands of any gods — nor is such a foundation necessary. Atheists may rely upon any number of different foundations for morality, but a common one will be empathy for other human beings.

This is vastly superior to basing morality on the alleged command of an alleged deity because if a child merely learns to obey orders, it won't learn enough about how to reason out moral dilemmas in new situations — a vital skill given how technologies such as the biological sciences keep advancing and creating new conundrums for us. Empathy, on the other hand, never ceases to be important and is always relevant when it comes to evaluating new dilemmas.

Religion is not necessary for explaining who we are and why we are here. As Richard Dawkins says about how kids are indoctrinated with religious dogmas that are contrary to reality: "Innocent children are being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods. It's time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation. Isn't it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents' religion?"

Children have to be taught religion and theism — they aren't born believing in any gods or with any particular theology. There is no evidence, however, that either religion or theism is necessary in any way adults or for children. Atheists can raise good children without either. This has been demonstrated many times throughout history and it is constantly being demonstrated again even today.