Religion in the home: how much is too much?
November 2, 2010 6:27 PM   Subscribe

If you come from a religious family but are no longer religious yourself: what sort of spiritual upbringing did you have? Did any factors in your home religious life contribute to your decision to leave?

My husband and I are both practicing Catholics. I'm wondering what best practices are for raising children in this (or any) faith. I'll give a little background, but if you're in a hurry feel free to skip to the bold at the end.

So: obviously, my kids will ultimately reach their own spiritual conclusions, which is as it should be. But we would like to give them the best possible beginning by starting them out with a good, solid, well-informed, unprejudiced view of the faith. I'm not overly worried about intellectual challenges to religion, anyway; we're Ivy-educated ourselves, and know too many brilliant, hyper-rational religious people to put much stock in the silly conventional narrative where benighted religion inevitably crumbles when it encounters LOGIC! and SCIENCE! (That's different, of course, from the person of mature and well-informed faith who struggles with doubts-- we've all been there, and much respect and sympathy for anyone who finds themselves in that very uncomfortable position). We're also a family of inveterate debaters, so the kids will (I hope) grow up with questioning, argumentative, analytical dispositions to help withstand some of the facile anti-religiosity out there.

But, based, at least, on the discussions I've witnessed here and elsewhere, what seems to have a still greater influence in people's leaving their faiths are the inchoate states of feeling associated with religion-- that, for that particular individual, religion "feels" dumb while atheism seems smart and cosmopolitan;or that religion "feels" stuffy while unbelief seems exciting, or "feels" outdated while unbelief is modern and edgy, "feels" angry and mean while unbelief seems unthreatening and schmoopy, or whatever. Obviously, these sorts of associations and feelings must have a ton to do with one's early impressions of religion, and particularly of one's religious parents.

I am especially anxious to get this right because neither my husband nor I had what you'd call super-Catholic upbringings-- his family was pagan for most of his teens, and mine, while active Catholics, were pretty easygoing and quiet about matters of faith. By contrast, of very devout and involved Catholic couples we know, a surprising number of them have grown-up children who've left the Church. Naturally, one wonders: is there something about strongly religious upbringings that drives kids away from religion, possibly by denying them the individual space they need to get to know their faith on their own terms? My husband "rebelled" into Catholicism; is there a way to frame it for our kids so they don't feel the emotional need to "rebel" back out at some point?

For instance: if we talk to our kids about their faith (in simplified terms) as children, will that help provide a good foundation to build on, or will it make them assume later that religion is really childish and something one needs to "grow up" from?

If we make religious traditions an active part of family life, will that help make religion alive and important to them, or will it associate religion with fuddy-duddy Mom and Dad, making it something they need to push back against in order to define their own identity?

Sorry for all the detail-- but I hoped that a little background would help this NOT devolve into a thread for debating whether religion sucks or God exists. tl;dr: what I'd really love is if some of MeFi's many ex-religious folk might give some insight into the emotional and relational basis of your leaving your faith. In general, if you've turned away from your childhood religion, can you identify some emotional elements of your upbringing that might have encouraged that decision? What should we be doing or not doing now if we want our kids to give Catholicism a fair shake as adults? Assume, obviously, that there'll be a baseline of good, loving, fun, supportive parenting in non-religious matters. Also, if you had a healthy religious upbringing that you feel helped you stick to your faith, feel free to chime in with positive tips, as well. Followups, if necessary, at telescopictheology at gmail dot com.

Lastly, anonymous because I work in a fairly anti-religious profession, and several colleagues are on Metafilter. Thanks, everybody!
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (70 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I think the best thing you can do is be authentic. Beyond that there isn't much you can do.

That said, I saw a lot of hurtful, hypocritical behavior from my parents as well as others in my religious community. I could no longer identify with people who called themselves Christians but acted in a way that didn't seem loving.

But ultimately, my problem wasn't with my parents. It was with God, and I decided that I could no longer believe he was real.

Parenting is hard; best of luck to you both.
posted by too bad you're not me at 6:38 PM on November 2, 2010 [7 favorites]

Oh, and giving your kids room to question things is really important, I think. My mom would say things to me like, "But you still believe, right?" or, "But you always pray, of course". Leaving no room for doubt is pretty dangerous if you want your kids to embrace the religion you're raising them with.
posted by too bad you're not me at 6:43 PM on November 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

My father never attended church with us, and my parents wouldn't tell us why (or what faith he was/wasn't.) My mother took us to the local Lutheran church every week, but beyond that, church wasn't part of our daily life (we didn't say grace, for instance, and when we misbehaved we didn't talk about burning in eternal hellfire or whatnot.)

When I was the age at which I was to join Sunday School, I told my mother that "I don't believe in this stuff", and her response was "okay, I exposed you to it, but you're old enough to make up your own mind." My older sisters' eyes boggled, because they hated Sunday School but had never thought to try getting out of it. Eventually they stopped going as well, and only my mother continued.

In the (pre-teen) years that followed, I had a few minor run-ins with religious folks that didn't sit right with me: a kid who invited us all to a "carnival with rides" that turned out to be nothing except a religious puppet show in a trailer, for which he received a prize for bringing the most people with him, and a kid who found out that I didn't go to church, and responded by calling me a heathen and throwing rocks at me. Just enough to make me vaguely distrustful, really. By comparison, nobody was telling me positive stories about their religious experiences, or inviting me to things that turned out to be religious and awesome, so the concept and practice of religion gradually faded from my consciousness.

As I got older, I became aware of religion again, in the same way that I learned about other parts of the world before I started traveling; I heard of them, although I didn't truly understand what it was about, and I didn't have much interest in finding out more. On the other hand, my parents taught me tolerance, and lots of it -- so much like I didn't understand what the fuss was about when children of other races started being bussed into my small elementary school, I didn't (and still don't quite) understand why people get so worked up about religion in general. From what I had learned of religion, each purported to be right (which obviously couldn't be true in all cases) and each purported to be tolerant (yet that wasn't playing out in practice) so it just seemed an oddity.

These days, I occasionally attend a Unitarian church, because we're trying to give my kids the same kind of community-oriented grounding that my mother tried to give me when I was young. I have a firmer grasp on how important religion is to other people, and I have respect (in some but not all cases) for religion and religious folks, but it's just not for me and I don't feel any sense of loss. If my kids go on to become extremely religious (one of my two older sisters did), good for them, if that's how they want to lead their lives. And if not, good for them, too.

Hope that's useful.
posted by davejay at 6:43 PM on November 2, 2010

Well, if you accurately communicate the positions of your chosen religion to them (no masturbation, no sex, no gay marriage, no birth control, abortion never justified, women not equal), or if they otherwise learn about these positions, then your children may leave the church regardless of how you personally treat their religious development. To a certain extent you're fighting a losing battle by chosing a faith on the wrong side of so many social issues important to young people. Doesn't really matter how you approach it. I had plenty of problems with how my catholic parents approached my religious education, but ultimately it was the nature of the church itself that made me reject it -- not what my parents did.
posted by yarly at 6:44 PM on November 2, 2010 [24 favorites]

"Naturally, one wonders: is there something about strongly religious upbringings that drives kids away from religion, possibly by denying them the individual space they need to get to know their faith on their own terms? My husband "rebelled" into Catholicism; is there a way to frame it for our kids so they don't feel the emotional need to "rebel" back out at some point? "

In my observation (and there's some statistical evidence that backs this up, though I don't have it to hand), they key point is not whether the home is devout; the key point is whether your religion/belief system is presented as a good thing and they should belong to it for that reason, or whether you present other religions as evil things that should be avoided. Because they will inevitably discover that most Muslims, Jews, Protestants, atheists, etc., are not bad, evil people, and if the foundation of the faith they grew up with is that "The Other Is Bad," when they discover the other isn't so bad after all, the foundation of that faith will crumble.

(Interestingly, statistics show this also holds true of "fundamentalist" atheists -- the more derogatory atheist parents are towards religion-in-general, the more likely their children are to find religion as adults!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:45 PM on November 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh, and somehow, despite being science-oriented and not subscribing to the idea of a higher power and all, I can walk outside on a warm, rainy morning, look up in the sky, smile and feel like I'm part of a greater whole. Turns out I didn't need religion to teach me wonder and respect for the world I live in, or how to live a moral life. That's probably why I don't feel any sense of loss; at some level, I just enjoy the world as it is, and that's all I need to get up in the morning.
posted by davejay at 6:47 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

i grew up devoutly mormon. i left the church, and god in general, as a teenager.

the deal breakers:

1. antithetical to the way i approach the world.
i was discouraged from reading about other faiths and even being friends with wiccans was enough to get a black mark on my record. to question and not immediately accept the answer from the teacher/bishop was frowned upon. i was labeled a problem child for being scholastically curious. the church openly lies about its history. i was told point blank a few things that i later learned was absolutely false.

2. the social politics were brutal.
the social bullshit in the church was too much to bear. it was easily 10 times worse than mean girls, but encompassed adults as well as kids. even though they preached love the sinner but hate the sin, i saw no evidence of that. a girl told a lie about me and because her family had better standing than mine did, her story was believed and i was publicly shamed for something i didn't do.

3. the mormon view of women.
this is a problem all over christianity and religion in general and i'm not here to debate it - but, if i didn't want to be a wife and mother, there was no place for me. when you're taught the spiritual hierarchy there are no doubts as to where women sit on it. i watched too many brilliant amazing women become vessels for their husbands and children to demand things of. i saw women lose their spark and individuality. it broke my heart.

4. the time commitment.
this is worse in mormonism than most religions - but, 3 hours on sunday, 3 hours on wednesday, 1 saturday night a month, 4 all day saturdays a year, after you're 14-every single day for an hour, plus all the random conferences and outreach and private scripture time. this is just too much for a teenager.

and the big stinking elephant in the room
5. protects child molesters and encourages victims to repent.
as a teenager i confessed to being molested, i was told my soul was dirty and that i let satan into my heart. i saw this same thing repeated in more than a few stories that weren't mine and spread all over the country.
posted by nadawi at 6:48 PM on November 2, 2010 [10 favorites]

Sort of the flip side of what you're asking, but though I've left the Episcopal faith I was raised in, I still have tremendous respect for it, and for my parents, who continue to tirelessly live their faith without shoving it on anyone else's face.

Sure, I didn't Love going to church as a kid, but I did like the tradition and structure and community, so I wouldn't let garden-variety kid whining about it dissuade you from having kids involved until they're truly old enough to be making their own decisions. Mostly, your good example will be the best thing you can give them.
posted by ldthomps at 6:51 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was raised Muslim. My family was practicing, but not conservative. We would usually gather to pray together once a day (aghrib, the sunset prayer, since that's when everyone was usually around). We'd fast during Ramadan, I went to Sunday school every Sunday for many years. We attended and were involved in local religious events and things. But my family was pretty open minded when it came to religiosity - intention and giving something a fair shot were more important than abiding by things strictly.

I always had doubts as kid though. I'd question, and stump my Sunday school teachers. I routinely remember not being happy with their responses to my questions. Nevertheless, I still considered myself "Muslim" (in a religious, as opposed to cultural sense) until my early 20's. When I basically admitted to myself that I didn't believe in any of it. Not religion, not god. I don't think I ever really believed, it was just a matter of admitting it to myself. For me it was actually a very freeing feeling - very liberating - not sad. It had nothing to do with the kind of religious upbringing I had. I just didn't believe. I just couldn't come to the same conclusions of how things worked. Not angry, not in response to some emotional element of my religious upbringing. I don't hate religion, but I just don't believe in any of it. It's pretty simple for me.

FWIW, my mom was raised Catholic. Italian, straight up from the motherland Catholic. She converted to Islam, completely on her own convictions. And she ended up being quite a bit more religious than my dad, who was born into Islam.

I think it's wonderful that you and your husband are interested in thinking about this now, and are accepting of the fact that your kids may end up thinking differently. But ultimately, I feel like this is an impossible question. Everyone's experiences are different. Even kids in the same family end up thinking differently about religion. Converting religions or disbelieving altogether isn't something preventable, or you can necessarily pinpoint to strict religious upbringing. All people, even in the same family, are just wired differently.
posted by raztaj at 6:52 PM on November 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

I had a wonderful experience growing up in the Lutheran church and I still left it and all organized religion when I went away to college. I wasn't rebelling so much as I was finally around people who questioned things. My parents never questioned anything, never invited debate, and were exasperated by me asking why all the time - eventually I just stopped.

I was told my whole life that God had everything planned. Once I realized that that meant God planned the death of my cousin's infant, I started thinking maybe God didn't have everything planned and that led me to thinking maybe there isn't a God at all. And now here I am, a parent of two, still not believing in God anymore but raising really, really good people. My kids are kind, loving, generous, and they have big hearts and big minds.

My husband grew up Catholic and while he admits that his family's church was fairly liberal and open-minded (being an East coast Catholic church), he took the guilt angle (original sin, confession, we're all sinners and there's no guarantee to heaven) very much to heart. He stopped going to church as soon as he could and he still has issues with guilt. He was a very sensitive child, so I can see him really internalizing the sin message. He is incredibly anti-religion whereas I am mildly anti-religion, while he believes in God and I don't.

I think each person is so different in the way they think through things...I don't think anyone could have predicted that I would leave my church and stop believing in God, and I don't think anyone who knows my husband would expect him to believe in God while being so vehemently anti-religion. I don't know if there's any way to make sure your kids give Catholicism a chance as they get older, but I think the best way to try is to be open to debate and open to open-mindedness.
posted by cooker girl at 6:54 PM on November 2, 2010

I grew up in a Catholic family that went to curch every Sunday when I was younger, though this became more sporadic as we all grew older. I also went to a Jesuit school with prayer before every class and a weekly mass.

I'm not religious now because the religion I grew up with felt like a kids' club, with games and dress ups and ceremonies and a few secrets, and I reached a point where I was too old for that, but hadn't quite reached the stage of comfortable faith that it seemed most adults had. As a teenager, I couldn't see any real point to it all as anything besides comfort and ritual.

I think a key point occurred when I was travelling overseas after having finished high school. I was on the road, so there was no obligation or expectation that I attend church, so religion no longer had a routine in my life. More importantly though, I was experiencing an amazing array of breathtaking moments and glorious adventures and incredible friends, and the world was richer than it ever had been before. In the past, I would have thanked God for those moments. At the time, however, the God I'd been brought up with (and, perhaps more influentially, the God in the media and popular culture) was a petty, small-minded authoritarian who was intolerant towards gay people, who prevented the use of condoms in AIDS stricken Africa, and who was covering up abuse.

If there was a way to praise the world, to be thankful for all I had and to share an enthusiasm for life with others, and to do so with a religious background, perhaps I would have remained within the church. In reality though, the aspect of Catholicism that focuses on gratitude and celebration of life is coupled with a dogma and a set of moral absolutes that were at odds with the way I thought the world ought to be. On a perosnal level- the priests who taught me, and my religious parents and relatives - I knew that religion could bring joy and comfort and strength to people. On the social level, however, the church was not just failing to offer what it once did, but was now actively involved in working against things I felt to be right.

In short, I turned away from the church for two reasons: the significant gap between religion as a child's game and religion as an adult's choice; and the disparity between the lessons of love and inclusion I learnt at school with the preaching and dogma of the church as a larger body.
posted by twirlypen at 6:57 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a relatively devout Mainline Protestant family. Dad's family is very hardcore Methodist, Mom's is slightly less rigorously Episcopalian. We generally went to an Episcopal church. I attended parochial schools for all but my last two years of high school. I don't consider myself a Christian anymore, but I'm not atheist, either. If I had to specifically describe my own faith now I'd say I'm agnostic with Pagan and Buddhist tendencies.

I know a lot of people who've left the religion of their parents because they felt it was too harsh or conservative. I feel the opposite. My parents, and the church we attended, presented a very rosy view of what Christianity is about. "Love thy neighbor as thyself", the really beautiful parts of the New Testament, being a morally good person, stuff like that. They also encouraged me to think seriously about spiritual questions and to be true to my beliefs.

Ultimately, that led me to decide I didn't believe in the main doctrines of Christianity, and thus it was hypocritical of me to consider myself Christian. The amazing thing, though, is that when I was 14, my parents asked if I wanted to be confirmed. When I said no, because I wasn't sure I was ready to commit myself to being Episcopalian (this was long before I decided I wasn't a Christian at all), they actually took that seriously. I know very few parents, of any religion, even parents who aren't devout at all, who would do that. It's one of the most important parenting decisions my parents ever made, and it really set the tone for my whole adult relationship with them.

To be clear, I did give Episcopalianism, and Christianity in general, a fair shake. And my parents definitely tried to encourage me in that direction - they were just respectful of my wishes when I told them in a mature and reasoned way that I'd thought long and hard and didn't think Christianity was for me. I still see the Episcopal Church as a pretty damn cool denomination (see my comments in this recent thread), it just happens to require me to profess beliefs I honestly do not hold.
posted by Sara C. at 6:58 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was raised in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. I checked out of it mentally and spiritually pretty early on--it did not make sense to me in a world where I was simultaneously being told that women were equal to men and that I should be respectful of other people's beliefs and backgrounds. The congregation itself was warm and kind, the pastor cold and unwavering and unwilling to brook discussion--but I would have eventually had to leave even a warm and kind pastor behind, with such dogma as the church insists on sticking hard to presenting.

I hung on to the general belief in Christianity for some time, but as nerds do, I did a lot of reading and thinking about it, and too much reading and thinking is no good for blind faith. What started as a journey toward finding a belief system that made sense to me ended in finding that a belief system made no sense to me. It took me many years to "come out" as an agnostic to my family.

I married a light agnostic who was raised Presbyterian, one who kind of thinks maybe there's something out there (I'm a hard agnostic: I am pretty certain there's nothing out there, but I don't think it can be proven any more than the existence of something can be). We were happily attending the Church of Brunch for many years, but we missed the singing, and we had kids we thought could benefit from having a larger community and more influence on their moral compasses than we could provide alone.

So, like many a former or lapsed religious person before us, we became Unitarian Universalist, and now our kids go to Sunday School and learn about cherishing the planet, getting involved in their community, and what exactly the beliefs of other people are that they're supposed to be respecting. My husband inevitably gets teary during songs; I inevitably get teary during sermons that remind me that we're all just trying and none of us are the best we can be, yet. The major Christian holidays are a part of our church life, as well as certain other cultural and religious celebrations which are always presented respectfully and not in a condescending or play-acting fashion (as many Unitarian Universalists are also Believers In Something, but simply find their place within a UU congregation: I know pagan UUs, UUs who also practice various Eastern religions, Jewish UU's and many Christian UUs as well as agnostics and atheists of all degrees).

His parents are like whatever, they'd probably rather we were a little more mainstream but they would never actually say it. My mom is just hoping that some offhand mention of Jesus sticks with the kids (they basically think he is an awesome guy right up there with Martin Luther King, Jr), and probably prays for us all every night, but she has always enjoyed visiting our church with us and I think she appreciates how much we are moved by the services and the people.

Some Sundays we still just do brunch, because sometimes eggs and lying around in pajamas are what the spirit craves.

When we visit family, we cheerfully attend their churches with them. I usually enjoy it very much--church was a big part of my life until I went off to college, even once I stopped really feeling most of the teachings. I've always had a soft spot for Jesus.

For what it's worth, and this has been controversial with people: I had my children baptized at my mother's church, the church I grew up attending (although by a different pastor). It was extremely important to my mother, and somewhat important to my husband's parents (although the fire-and-brimstone scriptures read during the baptisms freaked them out a bit), and important to other, mostly older, family members, and it was no skin off our noses to do this thing that mostly just made people happy. I went into each ceremony believing in my heart that what I was doing was respectful and in honor of people I loved who truly believed my babies would go to hell otherwise, and that it was a small thing I could do to allay that fear, even though I don't share it in the least.

I hope my children approach their own spiritual life with reason as well as heart, and my greatest hope is that they never forget that they are part of something bigger, whether they call it God or they just call it living on this earth.

I wish you luck figuring out what works best for your family. Feel free to Memail me if you want to discuss anything further.
posted by padraigin at 7:04 PM on November 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Never claim that yours is the only "true" religion or at it's heart, superior.

I remember being taught that our monotheism was somehow "valid" because it was an improvement over the backward and child-like pagan societies of ancient Rome and Africa. As a child, I was interested in dinosaurs and evolution, so this idea made sense to me and was attractive. Later, I wasn't able to incorporate the existence of angels, the devil, holy ghost, jesus and a hierarchy of saints into that paradigm and my faith withered on the vine.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:06 PM on November 2, 2010

My parents assumed I had faith just because they did. I wasn't baptized until I was 9 (due to some family dispute over differing traditions), and they never asked me if I wanted it or what I thought about it. They simply arranged the whole thing, gushed about how this was the most important day of my life, and thought I was crying out of joy during the ceremony. I was actually crying because I felt marginalized; my thoughts on God, faith, and my own baptism didn't seem to matter at all.

Truth be told, even as a youngster I never had faith, but that event pretty much solidified my atheism. My suggestion is to give your children the latitude to express their ideas on faith (positive or negative) without judgment, and to treat their opinions and questions with respect as you guide them through their thought processes.
posted by jenmakes at 7:11 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mother is nothing if not someone who keeps her promises. She grew up Catholic but my dad's family is Protestant. They married in a Catholic church, with the standard condition that they agree to raise their kids Catholic (there's the promise). The problem this led to was that my mother was so hell-bent on keeping her promise that she wouldn't take my questions seriously when I found myself troubled by various doubts and observed inconsistencies. My doubts could not be countenanced, because they threatened her integrity. So I was forced to attend church every Sunday, and never once could get her to empathize with my frustration. I finally turned to a priest I'd known since 2nd grade, and he was very sympathetic to my position. Thanks to him, I regained some respect for the church, though it's still not for me.

The Sunday after I turned 18 was the last time I ever attended Mass (weddings and funerals excepted). That was more than 20 years ago.

We're also a family of inveterate debaters, so the kids will (I hope) grow up with questioning, argumentative, analytical dispositions to help withstand some of the facile anti-religiosity out there.

This can only work, I think, if you allow them to turn the harsh light of their argumentative talents on religion, too. It has to be their choice, not yours. You get to show them, not make them.
posted by jon1270 at 7:25 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I could go on about this subject, but I'll just highlight one (seemingly trivial) thing that really pulled me away from religion: as a child, I found church to be very, very boring. I spent a lot of time in both Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, and it was always a chore.

I wonder now if I would find religion more appealing if I had not had the experience of forced boredom as a child. As an adult, I can appreciate the aesthetic richness of a liturgical service; even the meditative beauty of an Orthodox Liturgy in which I cannot understand a single word that is spoken. But my childhood associations just make me happy that I now have my Sunday mornings to myself.

So... this seems like a tough one... but maybe it would be a good idea to not make your kids go to church. Don't even make it seem like they're expected to go. Let them come to appreciate it themselves.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:31 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
"In general, if you've turned away from your childhood religion, can you identify some emotional elements of your upbringing that might have encouraged that decision?"

In my case I had one parent who was staunchly but quietly atheist and another who was staunchly and vocally Christian. Over the years the religious parent became more and more conservative, both religiously and politically. That parent went from Methodist to Baptist to Pentecostal to Messianic Jewish. The atheist actually mellowed out quite a bit over the years and went from being a bit distant to open and more outwardly caring.

When they divorced after almost 33 years of marriage, the religious parent went off the deep-end emotionally, politically, and religiously. The atheist parent handled it pretty well. None of the several children have a very positive relationship with the religious parent (many have essentially no relationship at all), whereas the relationships with the atheist parent have improved. This is true for the children that are religious as well as those that are not.

So I learned a few things: First, you didn't have to be religious to be a good person, quite the opposite, in fact. Second, religion didn't actually provide stability for the religious parent: every few years the new sect would be the right and good thing, and the old sect would be impure and inadequate. It also didn't provide stability during and after the divorce.

So if I had suggestions it would be not to teach that religion is the only way to be good or happy. Empirical evidence will eventually prove you dead wrong. I would also suggest trying to be stable in your beliefs or at least not claiming that your beliefs are definitely and exclusively correct. Otherwise if your beliefs change then it puts the lie to your earlier claims of exclusive truth.

The best thing you can do is be good parents. If you set a positive example, your children will try to emulate you in many respects, including your religious views.
posted by jessamyn at 7:34 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was raised in a very religiously devout household. Two things contributed to my rejection of the religion.

My mother cherry-picked snippets of religious writings to justify her abuse of us, and to claim we had to be unquestioningly obedient. If religion can be used that way (with the support of the local religious community even), I don't want any of it.

Much of the religious writings were things with which I can agree, but some were absolutely not. The religion's writings insist that you have to accept all of it, 100%. I can't accept those few positions, therefore--according to its rules--I must reject it all.

It's the best religion I've seen (and one of the elements of our religious education was to study many varied religions to learn what we could from all of them), and it's still too flawed for me to want to participate. If there's a God, s/he/it is doing a crappy job.
posted by galadriel at 7:38 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm ex-religious, and was brought up in a religious household. The things that turned me off religion were mostly outside my parents' control, but here's a couple:

as you say, talking about (simplified) religion to kids - my parents talked about religion with me a LOT when I was between the ages of 0 and 9. Afterwards, almost never. I was left to figure it out. It left me with quite a childish view of religious doctrine, so of course that didn't stand up to intellectual scrutiny later. Reading more advanced religious debate and apology later fixed that problem, but not until it was almost too late.

not having a clear sense of which aspects of Christian belief my parents agreed with and which they didn't - so a lot of contradictory doctrines and beliefs (and superstitions) were presented to me from various family members, youth groups, schools without any clarity as to how to reconcile (or disregard) them. I got the feeling that my parents' own faith wasn't clearly thought through, and that religion as a whole is messy and contradictory. From the relatives who did have very rigid views, I got a sense of dog-headed, blinkered fundamentalism, refusal to see other people's point of view, etc. Obviously you want to navigate some path between those extremes. In particular, I think it's useful if your kids understand WHY you believe some things and not others, and get a sense that your own position is well thought-out and not merely a matter of having been born into a particular family with a particular set of beliefs. It would probably be good for them if they learn strategies themselves for critically thinking about beliefs without automatically discarding them.

Finally, my parents had strong negative moral views about particular things (sex, pop music (yes really), marriage or relationships outside the faith, swearing) which I wanted to reject. I didn't understand as a teenager how to reject those without rejecting their faith that seemed so closely connected with these. I kind of had the attitude that they were wrong about these things, therefore their whole world-view was suspect too. I don't know the solution to that.
posted by lollusc at 7:51 PM on November 2, 2010

Be willing to discuss and to answer questions. Be open to the idea that the Church may not have all the answers and that change may need to happen. My parents have always been fantastic about these things, but even their open-mindedness could not keep me a practicing Catholic. (And my mom is the kind of person who once called up the rectory to ask why the priests were sitting there idle while a homeless man was half a block away with a sign that said, "Will Work for Food.")

I went to an all-girls' Catholic high school which was, in many, many ways, hugely empowering. In some critical ways it was also totally cuckoobunny wingnut insane. On the one hand, we had this great message of "you can make the world a better place," and on the other, "if you have sex, your boyfriend will beat you and you'll develop an eating disorder and have an abortion and end up in hell." While it seemed plausible at the age of 15 that those things could happen, warnings like this seemed increasingly crazy with time.

In the end, I just couldn't lend my presence or tacit approval to an organization that spent decades hushing up the sexual abuse of children. I couldn't be part of a church that treats women as second-hand citizens; St. Paul's views on women make me so angry I feel like I'm going blind. I just can't be part of any group that says that because they are male, Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer are more representative of God on Earth than are Mother Teresa and my badass mom.

Other people may have different priorities.

I wish I could tell you what would have kept me Catholic, but I have no idea what would've done it. I mean, I couldn't have been raised by better people...but part of my parents' amazing work has been to teach all of us to question essentially everything. They certainly don't believe everything the Vatican lays out as doctrine, but culturally the Catholic Church was a monumental part of their upbringing. In their small Midwestern town in the 40's and 50's, your parish was a huge signifier of your ethnicity, the language you spoke at home, the food you ate, the school you went to, the friends you played with, the neighborhood where you lived. For each of them, their parish was their tribe. Announcing that you were changing your religion would have been akin to announcing your intent to become a bald eagle. Obviously, things are different today.

Maybe look at your own reasons for being Catholic? You mention that your parents were easygoing and quiet about matters of did that affect you?
posted by corey flood at 7:59 PM on November 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

My experience is somewhat similar to too bad you're not me. My parents were Catholic, although my father didn't really practice (only went to church very occasionally, don't think that he prayed, but if push came to shove I think that he would have answered that he had no doubt that there was a God and would identify as Catholic).

Main problems for me? The kids at the Catholic school that I went to were the most unchristian, unpleasant people I have ever had the misfortune of spending time with. And by and large, the students there came mostly from blue collar families, mostly lower middle class, with a few from middle class families. I don't know if there was anyone at that school who came from an upper middle class family. Still there are always those who have more and oh how they lorded it over those who had less. It just flew in the face of everything that we were learning, but no one ever called them on it. My life became exponentially better when I was able to transfer to a large public high school.

At an early age, I had some real problems with the teachings of the Catholic Church, primarily how we were taught at an early age to believe everything in the bible then later told that the Old Testament was meant to be parables. Either it's the truth or it's a lie; don't do the whole bait and switch. Also, even though I hadn't then been exposed to any other religions, I also had a problem early on with the whole, "we are the only true religion, and everyone else is going to hell" thing. Once I discovered that most other religions claimed the same thing, that pretty much sealed the deal for me.

Finally, my mother, who was the more genuinely religious of my two parents, died when I was seven. For all the talk of heaven and the afterlife, I never felt that my mother was somewhere else looking down on me or "with me in spirit." She was just gone. I don't think that I turned my back on God or organized religion because I felt betrayed by this tragedy, but that the tragedy exposed the lie that there was an afterlife to me. That was just my experience. I know that other people who've had a loved one die feel differently, but as I child, I felt that if there really was a "heaven" and my mother was there I would "know." When I didn't, the doubts started to creep in and were added to by the other doubts that I had about Catholicism as I grew older and began to question a lot of the things that I'd been taught.
posted by kaybdc at 8:00 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

is there something about strongly religious upbringings that drives kids away from religion, possibly by denying them the individual space they need to get to know their faith on their own terms? My husband "rebelled" into Catholicism; is there a way to frame it for our kids so they don't feel the emotional need to "rebel" back out at some point?
There's a fine line between being religious and having it take over every waking moment of your life. And you also kind of have to give up caring about whether your kids are with it or not.

For instance: if we talk to our kids about their faith (in simplified terms) as children, will that help provide a good foundation to build on, or will it make them assume later that religion is really childish and something one needs to "grow up" from?
The religion classes that I went to (I guess other places call it Sunday school, we just called it "religion", as it was never on Sundays) used age-appropriate language as we got older. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

If we make religious traditions an active part of family life, will that help make religion alive and important to them, or will it associate religion with fuddy-duddy Mom and Dad, making it something they need to push back against in order to define their own identity?
There's no way of knowing what's going to happen. My experience: As an impressionable little kid, I was willing to buy it all, up to a point, as it was all nice stuff about "love your neighbor" and old morality tales. But then the emphasis on "belief" came in and I was like, How is it your business what I believe in? None of it really made sense after awhile. Also I always felt awkward and out of place with the other kids who were from another more affluent town. I begged my mom to stop making me go but that didn't work of course. I don't think she was ever that religious but it was more about the rituals and "This is just what one does so you have to do it." This kind of thing is really unattractive to kids.

I would just keep doing whatever you do Church-wise and don't be demanding or overbearing about it. The kids will pick it up and either run with it or not.
posted by amethysts at 8:01 PM on November 2, 2010

My sister and I grew up in an Anglican household. My father was raised Catholic, my mother Anglican; I have actually never quite figured out how my father identifies now, though if I had to guess I would say vaguely Christian, and more spiritually-minded than denominationally-. In any case, my mother is/was a practicing Anglican, not extremely devout but regular Sunday church-going, and as such we would go to church with her while our father stayed mostly stayed at home or came for Christmas mass etc. Not quite saying grace before every meal, but generally particularly nice ones or at least Sunday dinner. While faith seemed to be a very intimate thing for my father, who never liked to talk about it, my mother was always open to discussing it and I recall at one point when I was having doubts she arranged a few meetings with our priest (whom I grilled relentlessly, actually.)

Both my sister and I thus went through Sunday school, Communion, Youth Group, Confirmation together. My sister was also in the church choir and was generally friends with a few different people than I, as she was three years older.

Confirmation notwithstanding, by the time I was leaving high school I'd largely stopped church-going without putting much thought into it. It wasn't "cool" etc etc. My mother tried her best to keep me from leaving it (looking back, she mostly wanted me to make it a conscious choice), but good luck forcing a teenage boy to go to a perceived-boring 2+ hour event weekly. In university, it was actively a choice, as the various religious groups around campus were highlighted at one point during frosh week in a very open, welcoming tone, and the nearest Anglican church turned out to be one short block away from my dorm. Eventually I got around to doing some serious introspection on the matter, attended a few masses to collect my thoughts, and so on.

From then on I stopped identifying as Anglican, though I still would have considered myself loosely Christian. Sometime over the 7-8 years since then, I realized that was no longer true, and that every time I gave it any thought I came closer to considering myself agnostic, which is where I am today - firmly agnostic rather than atheist.

My sister, for her part, continued in church choirs even throughout university. After her degree, she cast about professionally for a few years before deciding to go back to school to join the Anglican church. She is currently a deaconess and will be ordained as a priest in a few short weeks.

So... que sera, sera?
posted by pahalial at 8:02 PM on November 2, 2010

I stepped away from religion because of, among other things, the "sheep/shepherd" (slave/master) imagery. I will not subordinate myself to anyone, not some boss, and sure not some god-damned god.
posted by BostonTerrier at 8:15 PM on November 2, 2010

I was raised by two very observant Catholic parents (my father was in a religious order before - well, obviously - he met my mom).

I consider myself lapsed, in that I don't attend mass regularly and my views on a lot of things are more modern than the Church's are. Spiritually I subscribe to a more gnostic view, which in many ways is not in direct conflict with church doctrine (well except for the part about gnosticism being heresy...but I digress!) Personally I am not against spirituality whether one finds it inside a church or not, and while I am sure there are many who will disagree with me, Catholicism has a far richer and deeper spiritual aspect to it than many other things masquerading as Christian these days.

I would say the one thing that turned me off the church but good was Catholic parochial school, where I spent my entire schooling from first grade through ninth. The reason for this is that the teachers and the woman who ran the school were horrible role models with serious anger management issues and blatant streaks of petty meanness. Even at a young age I perceived that the so-called "moral" education I should have been receiving in their midst was seriously lacking if their lead was the one to be followed. In terms of being a place where ideally there would have been loving support, no (obvious) favoritism, and gentle guidance, I didn't get any of that from my schooling and if you will pardon my language it really fucked me up until I came to terms with it in my mid 20s. I was miserable there and suffered for years until I finally found the voice to get myself out of it. (Academically, it is debatable whether I gained much more from Catholic school than I would have in public school; however the public school district I would have otherwise attended is nationally regarded as being in the top in the nation, so now I wonder if I actually missed out there as well!)

So -- my main advice to you is that if you ever desire for your kids to go to Catholic school and maintain have nice feelings about the Church, really check the place out, talk to parents, and get a vibe for how it is run. Make sure it is a truly supportive atmosphere in every respect and listen to your kids if you start hearing otherwise.

Also, give your kids choices and control with regard to how deeply they want to immerse themselves in the Church. For example, let's say you hope both of your kids get confirmed. Make sure that is something they actually want to do and don't feel pressured to do so just to make you happy, and help them understand what the sacraments mean and what the implications are. If you want them to enjoy Mass, or at least behave during it, don't put it upon them as something they'll feel dragged to each week. Go to kids' masses if possible, and be flexible when they're ill or tired out from things and don't want to go, if you feel it's a legitimate reason. Answer their questions about stuff honestly, including when the answer is 'I don't know,' or 'That's something I have a struggle agreeing with.' And remind them that no matter what church someone goes to (or doesn't go to) or what religion they follow, if they believe there is a God then ultimately, God doesn't care because he loves them anyway.
posted by contessa at 8:16 PM on November 2, 2010

I was raised Catholic. My parents are well-educated and quite Catholic, being raised in very Catholic households themselves. Mom teaches in a Catholic high school and goes to church often, she even used to be choir director for many years when I was younger. Dad is the kind of guy who doesn't want to go to church very often, but still insisted us kids go for our own good. I even went through confirmation in grade 7, and was a believer then.

You know what ultimately turned me away from religion? Christian camps, and the narrow-minded people who run them. My favorite example -- one side of my family was Mennonite, so my parents decided to send me to one of their camps to learn more about that. One night my camp counselor effectively told me I'm going to hell because I pray to the saints instead of Jesus direct. The saints are dead and can't hear my prayers, so Jesus hasn't been getting any prayers from me and I'm going to hell for that. I was eleven. My mom came and bitched out that counselor. Skip the religion camps.

I've had several incidents like the aforementioned one in my lifetime, where people accused me or my friends of not being proper christians because of the way we practiced our faith. Would God really care so much about being worshipped in *exactly* the right way? Who's even to say Christianity is right, for that matter? There are tons of religions out there with the same vague premise, why would there be only one right answer? I guess I would have felt more comfort in my own faith while growing up if I'd known more about how to deal with the fanatics and the concept of other religions. I talked to my mom once in a while which helped, but often I was too turned off by the whole experience to want to even bother.

But now I'm dating someone who is a practicing Catholic and I go with him to church after years of not going. Why? well, at this point it just feels relaxing and meditative, the rituals and the music. He likes it, and I can find enjoyment in the experience again. I don't really care anymore that I don't have that same faith I did when I was in grade 7. I'm agnostic, and comfortable with that.

For what it's worth, my boyfriend made a lot of friends through the Catholic Youth organizations, which I think has kept a lot of them actively engaged with the church and provided them with support from peers over the years. Some do become disillusioned with religion over time, but I think it seems more the act of enjoying the ritual that keeps most of them there too.
posted by lizbunny at 8:22 PM on November 2, 2010

For me it wasn't so much a rejection as a drifting away; the lesson my parents taught me by making me go to church most Sundays until I was 15 or 16 was that there's real value in belonging to a local community of like-minded people. The teachings of the UCC as I remember them spoke to the more positive tenets of Christianity (You know, things like being decent, kind, and non-judgmental towards others) and having taken those lessons to heart by the time I reached my teens, I just didn't feel the need to keep going, and my parents never once cajoled or guilt-tripped me into continuing to attend past 10th grade or so.

It may not be what you want to hear, but my parents' relaxed attitude and trust in letting me find my own path had as much to do with me drifting away from my church as other peoples' overbearing, dogmatic parents had to do with leaving theirs.

I think the best thing you could do when your kids ask (as they almost certainly will) "Why do we have to go to Church?" is to tell them why church is important to you, what you get out of it. Present it as something that you want to share with them... that's much easier for a kid to understand than "Because I said so" or "Because you're going to go to hell if you don't!"
posted by usonian at 8:31 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Grew up on the fairly evangelical edge of the Church of Scotland. Knew I wasn't one of the fold when I commented that you've got to be generally nice to people, and was harshly corrected by a parent that I had to believe as it was written, or face perdition. Also had a hilariously awkward brush with hardline Calvinist Predestination as a teen. This home church group so deluded that one of the members was assured of salvation despite his embezzling thousands and attempting to kill his wife — he was Right With God™, so could do no wrong.

Many years later, half of my god died when my talented artist friend from childhood took the family car and committed suicide by driving into a wall. The other half died when a dear college friend was stabbed to death by a wee ned when my friend disturbed the assailant trying to steal his car.

All we have is one another. Cherish that, and don't make up a Big Dad to hide your fears.
posted by scruss at 8:50 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My parents were rational: "While you live here, you go to church. When you leave home, you can do what you want." I went to mass every Sunday growing up, but I had been a skeptic about damnation ever since confirmation. I disagree with everything the current Pope says, and I dislike the man, and much of his doctrine. Philosophically I reckon I am a free-thinker, but culturally I identify myself as a Roman Catholic. (I liked Pope John XXIII).
posted by ovvl at 8:52 PM on November 2, 2010

I've been a humanist for about fifteen years. But I think I started to become aware that I didn't really have the kind of faith I was expected to have when I was in junior high school. I was expected to go to youth group and ended up stuck in the basement listening to the youth leaders, who had Pentacostal tendencies, singing and swaying and testifying in earnestly fanatical platitudes. I was raised Methodist and UCC, and my mother in particular is very religious. My father is an ex-Catholic. They were both very active in the churches where we were members, and my brother and sister still are closely involved in church activities.

Several things weakened and finally did away with whatever beliefs I had in my late teens/early twenties. First, the Mainline Protestant church where my family was active suddenly and stealthily went fundamentalist in the 1980s, and when my parents spoke up against it, they were forced out (and the locks changed behind them). Then, in college, I started dating my future husband, who is a wonderful, thoughtful, deeply ethical man, a scientist, and an atheist, and I realized that any religion that would condemn him to hell was not one I wanted to subscribe to. And this was a sore point with both my parents, who insisted that if he really loved me, he'd convert to Christianity. My father lectured me that our marriage would fail, because "we didn't share the same values." Which led to the final nail in the coffin: when, decades after imparting this wisdom, he left my mother for another woman, and married her in another UCC, and was absolutely unrepentant for the way he treated her. My loss of faith then, while not entirely rationally-based, was complete.

So, reflecting on that experience, I would say, first, that a child's experience of church and its community is important. Children should feel loved and accepted and supported by a congregation. Second, you should know what your child is being exposed to. My mother was completely unaware that I was being told by my youth leaders that if I truly had faith I'd start speaking in tongues. Third, you should live your faith to the best of your ability and give your children spiritual role models who do the same. When your child encounters grown people who claim to be deeply religious but behave in ways that contradict their professed values, make sure to talk about it with them.

Finally, even if you do your best, there is still a good chance that your child's faith won't be as durable as you might hope. The reasons for this are incredibly complicated, but chances are that they won't have as much to do with you as you might fear. If this happens, please don't take it personally. Even if at some point your child is no longer a devout Catholic, those early lessons will have stuck, and they will have warm memories of their religious upbringing. Despite the ugliness I've described above, a lot of my memories are very positive, and some of the people in those congregations were very important to me and I remember them affectionately. My mother is still deeply hurt that I am no longer a Christian, and although we gloss over it now, it is painful to me. But I still go to services with her when I visit home--I love the hymns. And if the belief in a Triune God is no longer with me, the teachings of Jesus always will be.

Good luck.
posted by tully_monster at 9:01 PM on November 2, 2010

I think it's great that you're asking this question! My boyfriend and I both grew up Catholic and are now happily attending a UU church, but got here in very different ways. His parents were officially Catholic and forced him to go to church with them every week.... unless they didn't feel like it, in which case no one went. As a result, he put religion in the category of unpleasant social duties, and never really identified as Catholic.

My family was more genuinely dedicated and in some ways had a fairly creative approach to religious practice - there were a few years when my mom wasn't happy with our Sunday School teachers, so we got a homeschool version involving a lot of arts and crafts, "processions" around the house on saints' feast days, etc. I stopped going to church regularly in college when I realized I didn't agree with a lot of Catholic teachings, but I still consider myself to have a very Catholic-type spirituality (e.g., I still go to Easter Vigil every year, because I can't imagine a more profound experiential take on how self-sacrifice is essential to love).

If you have an intuitively-oriented kid like me, make sure they get to see all the richness of Catholic practice, and give them a little bit of freedom to find the parts that work for them: Marian devotion never did much for me, but everything about the Holy Spirit does. I had good experiences with youth groups, but as people said above, watch out for weird social dynamics and excessive social conservatism. Make sure your kids know it's safe to talk to you about their worries and doubts, and that if they leave the church (which, who knows, could even be temporary) it doesn't mean cutting off their relationship with you.
posted by synchronia at 9:02 PM on November 2, 2010

The two paragraphs beginning with "So: Obviously..." are especially thick with, well, things that aren't going to do you any favors. The thoughtful, even-tempered, Ivy-educated musings on how nobody's reasons for not belonging to your faith are any good are as telling as they are familiar.

In practical, sticking-to-the-question terms, this will present a problem eventually. In words, you'll raise your kids to value both faith and reason, and I have every confidence that they will do so, proudly. Unfortunately, in spirit, they're probably just going to inherit your dueling superiority complexes. They will look for company and friendship on both 'sides', run into (mutual) disappointment over and over, and not have a clue where to direct their resentment about it. (The odds seem pretty good that they will not eventually decide everything is all Catholicism's fault, but the problem here is really a larger one.)

Meanwhile, there's their relationship with you. The attitudes that motivate this preemptive management of the other people's spiritual journeys will leak out all over the place, all their lives, from offhanded remarks to the apprently frequent Healthy Debates. (I know those well-- all the encouragement to participate in the utopian meritocracy of the intellect, none of the courtesy and adult responsibility to help me name and understand the unavoidable power dynamics.) You will radiate the message that leaving the faith is unacceptable in a way no stated commitments to neutrality can undo. Again, you might still technically get your desired result out of that, but you might not either, in which case you won't know in time to talk about it because they'll probably be hiding things from you, and anyway why put that strain on things at all?

Anyway. I just realized that sharing all the details of my own experience would seriously blur the lines between MetaFilter and MOFB, and besides, walking up to people and going Hey guys I have a problem! I'm really worried my kids might grow up to be like you!! Please give me your best tips on how to make sure this never happens!! Thanks for reading! :-) does not make Storytime happen. Suffice it to say you can file me under Nonbelievers Are Just Slaves To Their Emotions with all the others. In my case, the faith left me, not the other way around. I didn't choose to abandon anything, because I was never given permission to. I just cried, hard, over the things that bothered and hurt me, until something deeper than I even thought of as myself rejected it for me, slowly and quietly, out of self preservation.
posted by jinjo at 9:11 PM on November 2, 2010 [33 favorites]

Father was a baptist preacher, mother is Mormon (their marriage failed, clearly). Raised in very religious household.

For me there were a few things, some mentioned above, that really made me lose my faith.

1. Each religion purported to be right (which obviously couldn't be true in all cases) and each purported to be tolerant (I have never experienced a truly tolerant Christian church).

2. Many Christians are either closed minded fundamentalists or hypocritical because in order to except woman being equal, geology, gay marriage/rights, evolution, abortion they must pick and chose which parts of their religion or the bible to believe in.

3. My mother and school taught me to think for myself. Church tried to teach me to accept what I am told and not to question god's plan.

I can't think of anything my parents could have done to keep me in church. It answered none of my questions and added nothing to my life. I remember specifically taking a part time job on Sundays just to get put of it when I was to afraid to say I didn't believe.
posted by saradarlin at 9:57 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

In general, if you've turned away from your childhood religion, can you identify some emotional elements of your upbringing that might have encouraged that decision?

I'll double down on jinjo's excellent point that "How can I make sure my kids don't grow up to be like you?" is a nasty question to ask people, whether or not it was intended to be nasty. That said, you wouldn't have converted to Catholicism if you didn't think the Church was right, so I can't blame you for wanting to know what external factors might push your kids away. Unfortunately, I think that Catholics are more likely to rebel because of factors internal to the faith rather than external.

So here's my story. I was raised Catholic. My parents were liberal, but devout, and are still active members of the parish. I was an altar boy, went to Mass every Sunday and on holy days of obligation, played organ for the Christmas Eve mass, was a substitute CCD instructor, the whole nine yards. We talked about the homily over Sunday dinner, but never dogmatically; for all the devotion, my parents also have questioning, argumentative, analytical dispositionswe was encouraged. Further, Catholics are considered to be idolators (and therefore socially and morally inferior) where I grew up, and so I made sure to learn what the Church actually taught and think through why.

This meant spending a lot of time wrestling with the Church's reasons for its positions on divorce, abortion, birth control, masturbation, and homosexuality. The arguments are very poor, even in the hands of able apologists like John Finnis or Ratzinger. And clearly, their positions wreak massive suffering around the world. Still, I figured that if I thought about it more, it would make sense -- that there was a good reason for all of it I just didn't know about. I called myself agnostic for a while, but it was really just a long, dark night of the soul. I wanted to believe, I just couldn't come up with an argument for why those beliefs were reasonable.

Then the child molestation scandal broke.

Priests raping children is pretty bad, but the real scandal was how the Church covered it up, then defended the cover up. It's old news now, but Law's initial response was that it was an internal matter. There were even some noises (quickly abandoned) about the Church not being within the jurisdiction of the civil authorities. Worse (if that even can be said), the cover-up had no consequences. Law was removed -- eventually -- but given a sinecure in Rome. Variations of that story played out in diocese after diocese.

However difficult I (wrongly) thought the issues of abortion, homosexuality, etc. were, "Don't rape children or cover up the rape of children" is obvious. Blindingly obvious. And yet, the Church was not suffering from a weakness of will, but arguing why its limited actions were proper! And they were strikingly, obviously, completely wrong.

I had an epiphany. I realized that I, and likely many others, had as good or better a claim to carrying out sound moral reasoning than the Church. The reason I had so much trouble reconciling the Church's teachings with counter-arguments about morality was that the Church's teachings were flat out wrong. Not just wrong, but wicked. And all of the sudden, I didn't have to apologize for them. So I rejected the authority of the Pope, forsook my Easter duties, and was formally (albeit automatically) excommunicated at 19. At that point, I stopped wanting to believe, became an atheist, and never looked back.

Now, the Church still has these odious beliefs and shoddy arguments, and with each passing day, the position on homosexuality is becoming more transparently analogous to the LDS's old ban on people of African descent. They don't seem to be any closer to accepting responsibility for the child molestation or cover up, either. Those are going to grate on any kid being raised Catholic, especially those raised to dispute and question, because the critics are actually right. Still, there is nothing wrong with encouraging them to take the good and leave the bad -- most Catholics are "cafeteria Catholics," including clergy -- or you could teach them that there are plenty of good ways to live in a faith beyond Catholicism.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:32 PM on November 2, 2010

The reason I left my church and didn't go back, on the night I left, we were having a bonfire and I just sat in my car, looked over, and felt intensely that I didn't belong there. That no one cared whether I was there or not.

After I left I realized a lot of problems I had with them, like their shutting down our charity center based on one person caught selling the (free) clothing they'd been given. And the Pastor buying laptops for himself & the youth pastor, and a several-thousand-dollar electronic projector, with church money while we had members who couldn't heat their homes or feed their kids.

I stayed away because they started coming to my job (Walmart) and harassing me each week, telling me how I was going to hell. I realized through therapy that I had been living in a horrible spiral of fear and guilt induced by this church... fear of missing the rapture, guilt over every tiny sin. One example of the way they abused me was when I told the pastor's wife that I had been sexually abused and afraid because my abuser was back in town, she declared that I had sexual demons and they sat me down and allegedly cast demons out of me. One woman went so far as to claim that she physically saw the demons leaving me. It was always a problem with me - depression was because I wasn't right with God, there had to be something I was doing wrong. Or I was doing something right and the Devil was making me depressed to make me give up. So even if I was doing everything all right then I still couldn't be happy.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:38 PM on November 2, 2010

For me — raised very, very Protestant — "leaving" the church was a result of something my parents did wrong, and several things wrong with the church environment we were in.

My parents forced religion on me, in an omnipresent, "You must be at church every Sunday and Wednesday morning" way, and in the way they discussed everyday issues with me. I didn't always feel that my opinions or feelings were valid, because according to my parents, they were "things I needed to figure out with God," and my problems were always turned into religious problems.

I guess also, my parents are heavily, heavily morally conservative, to the point my mother would get offended if we were supposed to say the line "Oh my God" in a drama class production. I didn't get why I was supposed to think the same socially acceptable things were bad as they did.

Something I hated from the church itself was the emphasis on "belief" — I think someone mentioned this upthread. I've decided since that one's core beliefs aren't something that are easily changed, and I just didn't believe in the church. They could tell me to believe, but it wouldn't change anything. I just didn't. I don't know what I do believe, specifically, but it's been easier to figure out since I left the church.

In addition, a group of kids in a religious environment (for me, both my Christian school & the youth groups I attended from 1st grade through senior year of high school). The kids were mean — and this was a shockingly universal thing. If Mean Girls ever wanted a sequel, I would recommend they set it in a high school youth group (or perhaps that's Saved?).

You're already taking a step in the right direction by being open-minded, though. If my parents had let me know that they supported me regardless of what I believe in (and I later realized they do, I just had to find this out in the right way), my life would have been less stressful. I guess the key overarching statement is don't force your beliefs, and make sure to let them know you love them regardless.
posted by good day merlock at 10:47 PM on November 2, 2010

Short and sweet: the main problem in my family with religion (and pretty much everything, ever) is that we DO NOT TALK ABOUT IT. Didn't, still don't, thus I grew up having no idea what my parents truly believed and just assumed that we all blindly followed whatever our preacher said. Which caused some problems for me in the "dealing with everything" department when I started disagreeing with the preacher.

I think you're on the right track. It sounds like you'll talk about what you believe and why, and you'll allow them to question, you'll all bounce ideas off each other. That's the most important part, to me, is having an active, open-minded role.

Good luck.
posted by adrianna aria at 10:54 PM on November 2, 2010

I will not say that this is the reason I lost my faith, this incident stands out in my mind: I was very into both science and religion as a young teenager. I thought I had found a way to reconcile them both, and I wanted to share it with my mom.

My theory, which I thought was totally original, was that people and God perceive the passage of time differently. Therefore, the creation in 6 days thing actually happened over millions of years. God, existing as long as s/he had, viewed time as much shorter than how we count the passage of time on Earth. I thought it was innocuous and brilliant.

So I eagerly started telling my mom about it, and she stopped me. She told me that if I wasn't going to tell her exactly what the Bible said, she didn't want to hear it. That one small incident wasn't enough to end my faith, but it did encourage the tension I felt between faith and science. It also made me feel isolated, as my view of the world was so quickly rejected.

Again, it wasn't the reason I left the church, but it did really affect how I felt about faith vs. science. It sounds like you'll be encouraging them to think for themselves, so you might not have this issue. Still, if there was one thing that my parents could have done to positively affect whether I retained my faith... they could have listened.
posted by studioaudience at 11:06 PM on November 2, 2010

I guess for me what did it was the closeminded judgemental way that my family views everything.

A few things that really stand out to me is the attitude of if your not one of us you'll go to hell. Doesn't matter if your the nicest sweetest buddist, agnostic, or whatever... oh, and the UU's, according to my mother there is a special place in hell for them! Those UU's accept everybody!

No playing cards, no dancing, no making noise... don't do this or that or hell's waiting.

What finally did it for me, when my marriage fell apart after my husband raped and beat me, the general attitude was that I needed to "swallow my pride and go home, that me leaving was a sin." That a man can't rape his possession. Most of the family quit talking to me.

I am not a judgemental person, and if I were to accept the ways that I was taught I feel as if I would have no choice. I also have a very hard time differentiating between what it means to be a christian vs fundamentalist old school nazarene.

Now that I have desecrated my holy temple by getting tattoos and coming out of the closet as a lesbian you can imagine what the reaction is.

Live and let live, teach love by example instead of hate and fear of others, and encourage questions. When the do ask you take the time to come up with an answer besides "because", even if it means you have to get back to them on it.
posted by Jenny is Crafty at 11:09 PM on November 2, 2010

Basically, I became an atheist when several people I knew died suddenly (1 medical complication, 1 car accident, 1 old age). Emotionally, religion made me feel powerless, condemned to suffer, and possibly at fault for not praying enough. Atheism told me that it wasn't my fault. Atheism also gave me a more convincing understanding of why bad things happen and how I, if I wanted, could help stop bad things from happening. I thought that more science could have saved my friends' lives (with better healthcare and safety systems), but more religion would have done little (more charity and temperance, but also more emphasis on prayer and more acceptance of death as something good).

This change happened gradually from about age 12 through 17. I was raised attending a Methodist church most weekends (and Sunday school, vacation bible school, etc.) and remember taking it pretty seriously (sometimes I would try to convert non-Christian friends). I also read a lot and did very well in school (also, I resent your arrogance and your implication that my belief system is silly. Do I need to tell you that I went to an Ivy too for you to listen to what I say? I also wonder whether "well-informed" Christianity includes acknowledging ontological uncertainty and the validity of other faiths or other Christian denominations.)

Other things happening at this time that might have made a difference included one parent converting to Catholicism from Methodism (which led to some serious discussions of religion and what good religious practice is). My extensive extracurricular reading also got into philosophy and the history of science at around this time. I was also confirmed as a Methodist (I regret this). I came to the conclusion (YMMV) that science (experimentation, forward-looking) led to the technologies that make my life pretty awesome and make people rich enough to afford to give more value to human life, while religion (poverty, chastity, obedience) seemed to encourage a world full of poor, sexless, and hopeless people. I also learned more about the history of different religions, and was surprised at the number of other respected religions that originated after Christianity.

A bit later, some relatives got divorced, and I suspect their strict religious beliefs (man as head of household) made it more difficult for them to resolve their differences and made them feel trapped in an unhappy situation for a long time.

I suspect a good apologist could have talked me into staying Christian by helping me form a set of internally consistent Christian beliefs. I've talked at length with some "brilliant, hyper-rational" religious people as well as atheists, and it seems like disagreements happen when peoples' belief systems change what physical events they recognize as facts.

I suspect that if both my parents had stayed Methodist, I would have taken longer to leave the faith. I also felt that what family prayer we did do was formulaic (always before mealtimes, almost always the same) and I think a stronger example of prayer from my parents would have encouraged me to stay in the faith.

Currently, I seek God by working (as an engineering grad student) to better understand the world's physical laws and to design machines that will help people (and continue to help people as long as the science is remembered). If I'm lucky, I might even contribute to answering a philosophical question such as what causes consciousness.

I'm happy you guys will (presumably, in keeping with Catholic tradition) have a lot of kids and help them become well-educated. This is why I'm answering the question when you'll use my answer to help give your kids beliefs I disagree with.

Please PM me if I come across as not mature or well-informed.

Good luck.
posted by sninctown at 11:22 PM on November 2, 2010

I was raised Muslim, not Catholic, but I've thought about why I turned away from Islam quite a bit. There are many reasons, but I think the biggest one was the constant stream of judgement from other Muslims. My dad is a Muslim, but my mom (raised Catholic but left her faith, actually) never practiced Islam. My dad sent me to an Islamic elementary school, where almost all of the kids had two immigrant parents while I had only one. As an English speaker who essentially saw himself as American growing up, I was constantly being corrected by Muslims about how I prayed, things I said, ways I lived my life, be it from teachers, fellow students or even random strangers who happened to be attending Friday prayers at the mosque attached to the school.

For example, much more recently, a hijabed stranger began speaking to me in Arabic, and when I said I didn't speak it, she said, "Oh, you should be ashamed of yourself, that's the language of the Quran!" I was not a kid at this time; I was 20 years old. No one gets to tell me I should be ashamed of myself within five seconds of meeting me.

Many times I've tried to consider this question in an impartial way, almost from an anthropological perspective. Why did so many of the Muslim kids I knew in childhood grow up and continue to practice Islam, when I don't? Why didn't it stick? What factor contributes to someone continuing to practice Islam into adulthood? I think one of the answers to that is finding a socially rewarding role in the faith. Social expectations and rewards are strong motivators.

If you are, say, helping to organize a weekly church social function that allows you to feel like you are involved in the community, that you are doing something good for your fellow congregants, and that you are connecting to other people, that is a hard thing to drop. Or maybe your commitment is lower, but attending services still help you stay connected to the community, spend time around people you know and meet new people. That's a valuable social resource.

Also, on the flip side, you may be less likely to turn away from your faith or engage in unacceptable thoughts or behaviors for fear of what your fellow worshipers will think.

I never found any role in Islam aside from outsider or chided misbehaver, and by the time I reached maturity I was too disconnected from the community to give a fuck about what they'd think if I stopped practicing. But I still see Muslims my age (mid-twenties) praying with family and friends and they seem to enjoy sharing their faith with each other. For me a mosque is only a source of anxiety, but for them it's a place to connect to their community.

I'm not sure how useful this will be to you, but yeah, I think this, and not the debate between science and faith, or any other issue, was the key thing that separated me from religion.
posted by malapropist at 12:56 AM on November 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

I read your question a few hours ago, just before I went to bed. I was so offended by it that I tossed and turned, trying to figure out how to respond. By the time I came back to reply, jinjo had already written the response I had planned to write. (In truth, jinjo's response is more eloquent and less acidic than what I had planned.)

It's tempting to tell my story. After all, how many personal stories are more dramatic and heartfelt than the story of losing one's faith? However, you seem to be asking this question not because you care about me or my story but because I am exactly what you don't want your kids to be. Ouch. So, yeah, no story for you. And no hints for how to stop your kids from making their own decisions, either.
posted by TEA at 1:18 AM on November 3, 2010 [8 favorites]

I was raised Catholic, and am now an atheist. Here's the sequence of events:

- Our church was part of the religious-left: lots of emphasis on charity, forgiveness and celebration, no hellfire and damnation. My mum insisted on morning and evening prayers and regular attendance at church. This was sometimes embarrassing when my friends found out, and sometimes boring, but I didn't feel the need to rebel against it and at times it was a genuine comfort. During my teens I became more devout, joining the choir and the youth group, volunteering with the local charity, etc. I truly believed.

- Because I am intellectually curious, in my late teens and early 20s I started looking into the more academic side of religion in order to learn more. I read up on apologetics, and essays by current leaders on current issues.

- I couldn't reconcile the official stance of the Catholic church on issues like divorce (my father was an alcoholic and physically abusive), homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, masturbation and so on with the God I'd been taught was so compassionate and understanding. I returned to my academic readings and the answers were profoundly unsatisfying. They merely hand-waved away the distress, hurt and anxiety of people I knew and loved. I looked into other religions and found that this was something they mostly had in common.

- While I was still struggling with this, I got on the internet and into debates on religion, on the side of religion. I learned there was little factual basis for the historical claims of the church. At this point I became one of those people who describes themselves as 'spiritual'. I couldn't truthfully claim to believe in the precepts of Catholicism, or other formal religions, but I still believed in God.

- Eventually, I came to understand that buffet belief is hypocritical, and that there is insufficient evidence that God exists. I miss singing in the choir, but I'm generally happier and healthier now. I make time to stop and chat with the people from my old church when I see them, because they're still lovely people even if I disagree with them.

My mum couldn't have prevented it. I prayed for help, I asked priests for help. It made no difference. At the time it was quite painful, and I resisted the loss of my faith.

In my opinion, the only thing that could have stopped it was if I'd never been taught to be thoughtful or compassionate. My mum still values those things, even though it means we now disagree on something very important to her.

Your "please help me stop my kids from turning into you" question is prideful and insulting to the intelligence of the people you want help from. I hope the responses from the atheists here will help you understand what real atheism is like, instead of the strawman idea you have now. I hope you'll still teach your kids to be thoughtful and compassionate, even if it means that later in life they'll reject something close to your heart.
posted by harriet vane at 4:21 AM on November 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

To add to the emotional aspects which you asked for: my mum was supportive of my devout teen years, didn't get the reading side of it but was supportive of it anyway, and generally a loving parent who tried to do her best for me in every way. She had her own doubts in difficult times, and when I said I had some too she encouraged me to work through it, saying that it would deepen my faith. In short (unlike my previous answer): she did everything right.

My father was largely absent from my life, and I don't feel like he contributed to my religious opinions either positively or negatively.
posted by harriet vane at 4:36 AM on November 3, 2010

My late MIL was a college chaplain. A professor told her that she was skeptical about bringing up her children in any religious tradition.

My MIL replied, "You know what they call those kids? Seminarians."

(Years later, one of the children in question is sympathetic to a Campus Crusade-style group.)

I was raised Catholic, and the breaker for me was observing, firsthand, at 12 or so, the distance between what happened at Mass and what happened outside of it. People who had just given the handshake of peace gave each other the finger in the parking lot; priests ignored it when women came to the church in off-hours to cry. And I only got six sacraments, but my crush at the time was entitled to seven. So that whole Catholic thing was right out for me, and my parents shrugged their shoulders.

Now I have kids, a little boy and a little toddler. We don't go to church. I have a good friend who's Quaker and I talk with her about her faith and practice--and when I see someone doing good in the world, I point it out to my son and explain why I believe that behavior is good and which religious traditions (leaning heavily toward Quaker) it resonates with. We also live in a heavily fundamentalist part of the world (our butcher thinks we're going to hell, but still helps us pick cuts of meat) and my kids will need to know the basics of the Bible if only to decipher what these folks are talking about. When we come across a reference to the Bible (like spotting a David and Goliath puzzle), I pull out the Barbara Taylor Bradford-edited "Children's Stories of the Bible from the Old and New Testaments Deluxe Edition" and we read a story together (with much commentary from me about political/historical/social/ethical context).

With any luck, he will grow up recognizing that there are fundamental stories with competing realizations, and that labels are less important than being ethical. YMMV.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:40 AM on November 3, 2010

I was raised, from Early On to just after I turned 5, as Lutheran. I didn't quite get it all - at that age I think few people did.

But the day before my fifth birthday, my mother's father was killed in a car accident. (The incident - a garbage truck hitting a 1968 Dodge Dart - was used by some politicians to push putting up barriers on highways in New Jersey.) And my mother told me, years later when I could understand, that she spent most of the wake and funeral in a nearly blinding rage as people kept telling her "It was God's will."

They kept telling me that, a five-year-old, and I decided that whoever this God person was, I didn't like how he did things and I wasn't going to deal with him anymore.

I had some flirting with Evangelical Christianity in college - some of the guys in my dorm were of that bent, and I liked it - but a lot of them were very hypocritical, who would have serious prayers about avoiding premarital sex (this was the mid-80s), and then go out on Friday, hook up with girls and talk on Saturday morning about "banging the chick".

Later in life, I played with Wicca, then general paganism, then started meditating and slid into ecstatic trance states and got recruited by the Gods I now follow (it's a long story that I'm simplifying a great deal, but for me it makes quite complete sense).

So I went from a standard sort of upbringing, to a major incident that made it not care about religion, to a sort of distrust of it, to something that works for me.
posted by mephron at 5:11 AM on November 3, 2010

I was raised in a fairly strong C of E family; went to church every Sunday, joined the church choir and then began attending church services around three times a week. I began questioning my religion when I was around 7 or 8 years old and lost my faith for good when I was about 14. I am now just about the most militant of atheists it is possible to be without actually being, you know literally militant.

I honestly do not think my loss of faith and subsequent atheism and anti-theism had anything to do with the way my parents raised me - well, beyond the fact that they exposed me to religion at all. By that I mean that it was the mere fact of being exposed to religion that caused me to start doubting it. As I grew older I thought carefully about what was being said in the services, what was being preached in the sermons, what was written in the bible, the prayer books and so on. And it was my own thinking about these things that caused me to begin suspecting they might be as nonsensical at their core as they seemed to be on the surface. I can honestly not think of a single specific thing my parents did or said on the subject of their faith that affected this process, or would have made any difference to it. I thought about my religion for myself and I judged it to be intellectually untenable.

what seems to have a still greater influence in people's leaving their faiths are the inchoate states of feeling associated with religion-- that, for that particular individual, religion "feels" dumb while atheism seems smart and cosmopolitan;or that religion "feels" stuffy while unbelief seems exciting, or "feels" outdated while unbelief is modern and edgy, "feels" angry and mean while unbelief seems unthreatening and schmoopy, or whatever.

I honestly see no evidence of such trivial atheism in my life, and I know countless atheists, both in RL (I'm British, we're mostly irreligious anyway) and online. Almost without exception the atheists I know who were former believers became atheist as a result of personal intellectual analysis similar to that I described for myself. I imagine there are so-called atheists out there who designate themselves thus for superficial, trend-driven reasons such as those you suggest, but I can honestly say I don't know of any. My advice to you would be to beware of thinking that a child's loss of faith is most likely to occur for such bogus reasons. What causes lasting atheism in believers is critical thinking.

If you want your kids to give Catholicism a "fair shake" then be honest and open with them about everything Catholicism involves. Don't try to sugar-coat the more "difficult" elements of the religion. Answer all questions to the best of your ability - and be prepared for tough ones. And please, don't belittle or dismiss any of these questions. Admit it when you don't have a good answer and admit it when your child has a good counter-argument. And above all, do not give them a hard time should they choose to reject your faith. That, I would suggest, might be one thing that could temper a young atheist's anti-theism more than anything else.
posted by Decani at 5:28 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

My parents are wonderful people who raised me with love. As a kid we went to church and Sunday school every week and I liked it. Our church taught love and acceptance and was very easy to belong to. Two of the things that led to my eventual drift away as an adult:

1. The idea that Christianity is the only true religion, everyone else is wrong. Just could not buy it - how convenient that I was born to parents who were born into the right religion, and half(?) the world was out of luck unless they chose to go through the difficult process of abandoning their family and culture and the religion they were born into, to convert to "my" way. Did not compute. (That my church was very tolerant of other religions and de-emphasized evangelicalism only compounded my confusion: we should tolerate it if it's Wrong?)

2. Mild, low-grade hypocrisy (though that word is too harsh and judgmental for the way I feel). As a teen I very much took to heart Jesus' teachings that if we really believed, we would sell every thing we owned and follow him. Yet here we were with a comfortable home, lots of possessions, absolutely no intention of giving them up. We'd give generously, but not to the point of true discomfort to ourselves. Had a conversation with the parents about it; don't remember the details, but remember feeling that when I expressed an interest in giving away all my stuff and going to work with the poor, they were vaguely discouraging - like they wanted me to grow up to have a "normal" life with nice things. Similarly, when they took me to a Billy Graham rally and I felt "moved" to go up to the stage when called, they kept me in my seat. Probably just didn't want to lose me in the crowd, but the message I got was, "believe, but not THAT hard." I concluded that we were part of the church for the good feelings and comfort it provided, but not really devoted enough to do the hard parts of being religious.

Obviously there's a lot more to it but that was the beginning.

And sorry, but yes, for me religion crumbles whenever I look at it logically. It's not a "feeling" and it's not "facile anti-religiosity." If I wanted feelings I would have stayed in the church; it felt really nice as long as I was willing to suppress logic and to pretend I was being a good Christian when I knew I wasn't. I really miss those nice feelings sometimes, especially at the holidays.

So there's your story.
posted by evilmomlady at 6:16 AM on November 3, 2010

I'm not overly worried about intellectual challenges to religion, anyway; we're Ivy-educated ourselves, and know too many brilliant, hyper-rational religious people to put much stock in the silly conventional narrative where benighted religion inevitably crumbles when it encounters LOGIC! and SCIENCE!

Please don't make the mistake of believing that simply because you know intelligent people who are able to rationalize the dichotomies of faith and science that your children will also choose to do so. Many equally intelligent people are unable or unwilling to do so, and your kids may fall into that category. Then what?

Religion is an intensely personal choice. Even though they're your kids, your children are very much individuals with all the rights and obligations of every other member of society -- including the right to choose for themselves whether to hold onto the religion you expose them to, to embrace another religion, or to case off religion entirely. There is no one thing you can do to ensure that your children will give Catholicism or Christianity a fair shake as adults, just as there is no one thing you can do to make sure that they will wind up being moral, upright citizens, or doctors or lawyers or anything else. Even kids raised within the same family at the same time turn out differently.

I suggest that you find a way to present your faith in an honest, warts-and-all light, and work on making sure that you can accept, love, and engage your children as adults regardless of what their personal choices may be. How will you react if your children rebel against the church? What will you do if one of your children is gay or has an abortion? What if he or she is a good person, a good Christian, even, but violates some basic tenent of Catholicism? I don't ask these questions lightly. Your question as posed does not offer any suggestion of your accepting your children regardless of their eventual decisions, but is asking for tips and hacks to keep them in the faith regardless of their will.

Your best practice request can boil down to something found within your own religion: Do unto others as you'd like them to do unto you. How would you like your parents to treat you given that their beliefs differ from yours? How would you like your kids to treat you if their beliefs differ from yours? Can you extend the same openmindedness to your kids that you'd like to receive from others?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:21 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I spent a lot of time in my church growing up. Mom divorced Dad before it was acceptable to be a single mom, and the church community were the only people welcoming to us. There were group trips, sunday school, large church picnics with spftball games, and holidays were celebrated within an inch of their lives. The Christmas pagent was to a packed church with a six row choir and a pipe organ.

God was good and I could feel his love through this community.

Then we got a new father, a loathesome man who disliked children and embraced the holy rollers into an elite club. There was laying on of hands with eye rolling and moaning, and holidays were quick in-out services. A lot of people left the church. So many left that our elders contacted the bishop because our church was dying.

We were told they had someone looking for a church and they would fix us right up. They didn't tell us the father had been caught cheating on his wife with a member of hos congregation. This came out when his wife declined to host our Christmas dinner, and his mistress came instead.

I felt personally betrayed by the church, having seen my father cheating on my mother.

I left the church but not god, until it came out thqt the bishop had known and that's why the father was shuffled. Right around here, the catholic church annulled a long-time marriage, declaring the children bastards, simply because the man was a Kennedy.

I no longer trusted the church. I questioned everything I'd been taught or believed. I felt the church was corrupt and hated women.

I began studying religions, looking for that celebrated families and women, and worked with how the world worked - in balances.

Paganism seemed to mesh with my needs and my family were okay with it. I practiced for more than a decade; not as a woo-woo crystal wiccan, but as a green spiritualist who enjoyed her herb garden.

Then came George W. Bush and Jesus being shoved down my throat and being used to shape laws. I quickly realized people didn't mind beimg as cruel as possible to each other because things would work out in the utopia of afterlife. I wondered how people would act if this life was all they had.

Then came the push against science, the elevation of the purposefully stupid and lowest common denominator, and degradation of women and their rights. Religion didn't just blow up planes, it erroded rational thought and destroyed culture and hope.

Today I believe in people - their imaginations, failures, determination, and innovations. I believe in living this life and treating people with compassion and respecting their dignity.

It feels like I grew up and left really inspiring fairytales behind. I'm not sure there was any point where I could have been turned back to the church by loved ones.

Just love your kids, teach them good things, and then hope you did well.
posted by FunkyHelix at 6:23 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was raised Catholic, and that particular religion -- Catholicism, rather than something less strict -- led to my not believing in God. What happened was that I started finding out about various Catholic things that didn't seem plausible to me -- indulgences, transubstantiation, as well as sinfulness of homosexuality, etc. Once I realized that I didn't believe in those things, I started to realize that I didn't HAVE to believe in any of it, and the whole house of cards came down.

I'm not sure how you can apply that to raising your kids, but there you have it.
posted by cider at 6:23 AM on November 3, 2010

My mom & step-dad raised us (four of us) Seventh-Day Adventist. Although they are still devout, not a one of us still practices or even strongly identifies as Christian. I haven't been to a church in over eight years except for a funeral.

Leaving the faith I was raised in was not something I did lightly. It was extremely difficult and obviously caused bad feelings between me and my mother. My mother also said "my kids will ultimately reach their own spiritual conclusions": however, she was not prepared that our conclusions would be different from hers. She still seems to act like I am in a "phase" or "just being rebellious." So, like others have said, you may need to be prepared to accept reality if your kids' spiritual conclusions are not your own.

My answer is going to be tl;dr so main ideas that drove me away are highlighted.

But, as for your question: do not force. DO NOT FORCE. Some of my most godawful memories that still make me feel queasy to remember are Saturday mornings at our house. Four kids, none of whom wanted to go to church -- there were instances of physical coercion (and what some might call violence) to get us all into the car and down the road. Any opposition to going to church, no matter how sanely and calmly stated, was met with desperate rage that Satan was talking through us to try to rip the family apart and send everyone to hell.

There were lots and lots of rules and guilt and isolation. We could not do ANYTHING on Saturdays except "be together as a family" which was a weekly waking nightmare. If we broke the rules (turned on the TV, read a book by a non-SDA publisher, listened to secular music, went swimming, rode a bike, etc.), there were lectures and recriminations. The guilt was tremendous and it's a crappy thing to do to a kid just so they'll stay in church to make you happy.

As for isolation, I was in my twenties when I got dumped into the real world where everyone is not SDA and is not going to give a shit about my weirdo beliefs. There is a lot that might draw you to private schooling for your kids, but please don't if you want them to respect the faith at all. Religious faith can be very delicate at times, but it will only be strengthened if it is given the chance to develop in the face of challenge and opposition. Developing it in a bubble means you've got to stay in the bubble forever, or else it will be dashed when you realize that not everyone who smokes or drinks or does yardwork on Saturdays is automatically into bestiality and baby-eating. Probably one of the strongest factors in my decision to leave was discovering that my parents were just plain WRONG about people who were also not SDA. There are good, loving, caring, compassionate and kind people who do all sorts of things that are "bad" according to SDA.

So in sum: don't be a stickler for rules; be flexible about your kids' intelligence leading them elsewhere; don't throw them into an isolating environment and hope that they'll just never get the chance to think any differently. I applaud you for not only wanting to raise your kids in an environment that you feel is the best for them, but for recognizing that it won't be easy and they'll eventually be autonomous adults. Be honest, authentic, and answer their questions as though they are on your level already (even if the answer is "I don't know," or "I wonder about that, too."). Good luck.
posted by motsque at 7:11 AM on November 3, 2010

I don't know if my upbringing qualifies as "religious", my father's parents were heavily Methodist, my mom came from a roughly Lutheran family, though that my grandmother played organ in both a Lutheran church and a Synagogue and that grandfather never really expressed a preference.

But growing up I was taken to synagogue on Friday evening, for a while my mom was choral director in a Congregational church, so we went there on Sundays, and whenever we visited grandparents we went to the appropriate church/synagogue (sometimes both in the same weekend). And in my early teens, despite my refusal to have a Bar Mitzvah, I was dragged to religious education until all of us kids got together and rebelled.

Even at that I kept searching into my 20s before I finally declared myself atheist.

My parents nowadays seem to end up at either a UU church or a synagogue, I think with their latest move they're settling into the former.

I still would enjoy a framework for communal ritual and contemplation, and that ready-made community that a religious organization gives, but I'm not willing to accept all of the negative things that come along with a church/synagogue/whatever in order to get that.

Even as an adult living in Marin County, where the "new age" people building their own rituals and belief systems were everywhere (I met my partner in a hot tub at a gathering of a neo-Tantra group in Tiburon), I found that attending some sort of ceremony usually meant not disrupting it while I watched people play political and mind control games that I couldn't abide.

Unlike others here, I don't begrudge you your "how can I make my kids not be like you", I often think that life would be way way simpler if I could just believe and conform and find a group that worked for me, but it hasn't happened, and I doubt it will.

As others have pointed out, hypocrisy within the organized religions was a big thing that drove me away from them. In my case, the Zionist portion of the synagogue's religious education was filled with enough contradictions that I started looking critically at other parts. I've now come to accept that much of the evil I ascribed to religion in my earlier days is just human nature, but from the Crusades to witch burning, a set of traditions which lead naturally in my mind to the cover-up of pedophile priests I looked around and said "wait, all of this raw evil is associated with people who claim religion, let me look elsewhere".

If I were trying to reconcile all of this and participate in an organized religion, I'd focus on the feelings that the rituals gave me more than the dogma. I'd downplay the influence of the centralized organizations and their claims on morality, and clearly label the religious texts and myths as metaphor and myth, because they can't stand up to logical inspection.

Smart kids are going to question their religion and, I dare say, abandon it. If you want to keep them within your traditions, show them the strength of the community that your religious organization provides, show them how that group of people makes the world, both in general and their world, better. Show them how those personal connections make your life richer.

Because if I found a religious community that offered those things to me I could probably see my way past the contradictions and issues inherent in the tenets of a religion. But right now I don't even see any UU or UCC congregations which really provide those things to me as well as secular agglomerations of people do.
posted by straw at 7:14 AM on November 3, 2010

Attended Catholic school for 9 years (K - 8). Had a great time. Parents were both very active with our local Catholic church on top of that so I got a good, heavy exposure. As I got older, two things caused me to decrease my activity level to it's current 0.

First was the "don't ask too many religious questions, just trust what were're telling you is true and agree with it lock-step" vibe I got at school.

Second was the two-sidedness I perceived of Sunday church-goers the other 6 days of the week. As I got older, I referred to them as "Convenient Catholics". My father being the ultimate example of someone who was very public with his church participation (lector, Eucharistic minister, board president) but not always the most "Christ-like" person in the way he spoke to and treated others outside of church.

For many years we've taken our children to a local UU Church occasionally with the hope that they would get some "building blocks" to make their own decision with later in life.

I am content believing in a "higher power" and leaving it at that. My wallet is not part of the formula this way, either.
posted by davidvanb at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2010

Raised Catholic, married Catholic, raising four (shut up!) kids as Catholics.

My parents didn't make a big show about their faith. We went to church weekly, and (mostly) went to Catholic schools. However, they very much did live out the parts of Catholicism that emphasize service to others, and that made a big impression on me. Things like meals on wheels, quiet support of the parish, and grace before meals as a reminder that we were lucky to have the things we had -- i.e., the idea of divine grace.

When, as a teen ager, I went through my (necessary) period of questioning every-damn-thing, they just told me that someday I would find that I needed my faith & my church, and so not to reject it with too much finality. And they were right: when I started to grow up I realized that I missed both the ceremonies as well as the reminders provided by Mass attendance that I really wasn't All That. So I read a little -- mostly Thomas Merton -- and thought about CCD, high school religion, and college (secular and Jesuit) classes and the readings at Mass. I am not exactly the person I wish I was, but I start the day with one reading in the morning and I am workign on it.

As far as the household atmosphere, we say prayers each night, we go to Mass, my daughgter is an acolyte, and the kids who are old enough go to CCD. When they ask why we go to Mass, I tell them it's part of who we are, and to listen to the readings because they're not just good, old stories, but tell us a good way to live with others. When they get older I will have to talk to them more about my conflicts with sex abuse by priests, and about the intolerance that I think isn't part of the New Testament message, but for now we're doing all right.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:45 AM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was raised Catholic, complete with Sunday school, vacation bible school (for both, attending and later teaching), camp/social events, church at least once a week, daily prayers and regular confession, and all the rituals up to Confirmation treated as A Big Deal.

I started having a major crisis right around Confirmation, because I knew I didn't believe in everything I was hearing but that event in particular is all about consciously deciding and affirming for the first time as an adult your faith. Frankly the two things that sealed it were the church's stance on women and gays. I will never forget the morning in Sunday school, I couldn't have been more than 10 years old, when the teacher wound up sharing with us that she had been married and her husband had beaten her but she felt she needed to stay married because divorce would be a horrible sin, even in that case. He left her or something, they were separated at that point but not by her choice, and she came off as wanting more than anything to be a nun. But anyway. Her telling us she couldn't live with the guilt if she had divorced him chilled my bones. Later during a weekly confirmation meeting discussing things at a different church (we switched churches because my mom felt the first one was too conservative), the group leader lady was explaining to us that gay people should never be allowed to take communion because you can only take it when your soul is wiped clean (your "sin count" pretty much) from confession, and confession is only valid if you promise at the time in your heart to try your best not to sin again, and "homosexuals know they're going to sin again, so their souls are never clean" or something like that. Disgusting.

This was also right around when I was getting way into the notion Judeochristian tradition wiped out any possibility of a more female-ok, or at least "bodies are ok" paganism in favor of disembodied, abstracted patriarchy (weird, I just heard "Jezebel" on the iPod this morning), as well as finding taoism and Buddhism much, much more in line with my own emotions and convictions about how to live life. Mixed all together I'd had enough.

The funny thing is I remember struggling with missing the ornate ritual of it all, as well as things like studying saints and angels, those fable-ish stories and motifs, and holy days. All of that stuff. I still really miss it. Later in college I delved into functional/sociological approaches to religion and was moved thinking about all the reasons humans want and need it in some form or another, and how even when one straitjacketed form comes in and overtakes another, sublimated needs still come through somehow, they find a way (easy examples: Catholicism in the New World, where esoteric saints and feast days are still a huge part of things; the theater and catharsis of flagellation, anorexia, self-mutiliation among nuns and outer religious sects of christianity).

I don't have a problem with the church anymore, and I realize--it got told many times to me when I first was trying to articulate why I left--it could be argued it was a matter of just "a few bad apples" and if I'd just find the right church community I'd be fine and all that. (There actually is one right in my neighborhood, well known for being gay-friendly and very community/brotherly love-oriented.) I know this. But it's a general foggy feeling I walked from, those early childhood memories of sin and guilt for everything and seeing how they affected people close to me--my mother is the most Catholic person ever, in ways that strengthened her life (funny enough she was rebelling in a way by being so; her parents were not religious at all and her going to church was a way of escaping the household the years her mother was mentally ill as a repressed housewife and never left the house, literally, for over a year) but also make her repressed emotionally in weird ways I don't wish to be.

I don't have the anger and spite so many people (Mefites included) have. But maybe that's because I made a calm, thought out, firm decision so many years ago, a painful one, and have made it a point to never look back. I can't live a life that, from my point of view back then, would force me to neuter myself physically and emotionally. I just didn't fit the mold for all that. If I thought it naturally fit, I might have stayed if I could've found more tolerant, loving worship communities. But I'm too physical and...something in me bucks wildly against what feels like artificial constraint. Can't do it.
posted by ifjuly at 8:58 AM on November 3, 2010

I, too, find your question off-putting, but it does not affect me as much as being forced into the Catholic Church has affected me, so I will share some tidbits of my first 18 years of life in the hopes that you choose not to force your children into (or out of) any religion:

Reading in the bible about how God wants people to pray to Him in the quiet of their own hearts, not out loud in public for show - the pharisees are sinners for doing so. Then a big deal is made gathering everyone together to watch the Pope, on TV, praying out loud, in public, for show.

Learning that the people in the Church are the ones I was going to get to spend all eternity with in Heaven, when all the people I wanted to spend time with (beyond immediate family) were not in my Church and would, consequently, be damned to hell.

As a youngster, maybe 12, asking about other religions and wanting to explore. My father, thinking he is meeting me in the middle asks, "Well, would you like to attend some other services to see what they are like?"
Wow, I think, this should be neat. "Yes."
He says, "Have anything in mind?"
I hadn't expected this to work, so I was caught a bit off guard and had recently read about Buddhism so that's what I mentioned.
He laughed a bit and said "No, I was thinking more along the lines of Presbyterian or Baptists."
I continued being forced to attend Catholic church.

Learning that birth control is a sin and, as a young teen, finding my parent's condoms.

My father, a math major and teacher, pilot for 30 years (air force and commercial), is a man who knows a bit about math and physics and science in general. He also (still) tries to convice me that the world is 6,000something years old when the same sciences that keep his planes in the air tell us the world is slightly older.

Being taught in catechism class that upon receiving the sacrament of Confirmation and becoming an adult in the Church I would be fully and wholly responsible for my own soul. I took this seriously and chose to be confirmed as St. Francis of Assissi and read everything about him I could through the years of required classes. Then the bishop came to our church and I took part in the sacrament of Confirmation to join the Church as an adult. The next week I told my father, "since I have now been confirmed as an adult in the Church and I am responsible for my own soul, I choose not to attend Church this week." He laughed and said "That's now how it works." Those few words of his immediately and irrevocably un-confirmed me, un-communioned me, and un-baptized me because he was right, that is not how it works.
posted by iurodivii at 9:11 AM on November 3, 2010

I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, my great-uncle was the Bishop of Maine for a number of years. So we were pretty super Catholic- went to mass every weekend and said prayers every night at bed time. I've read a pretty decent chunk of the Bible. I will give my high school some props for teaching a religion class on "religions of the world," where we learned a lot about other religions (just not Protestantism, for some reason), and we were never taught that other religions were bad or evil. My parents never pulled the "you/they are going to hell for doing x,y,z" routine, and they were fairly laid back about religion all things considered.

I started to question organized religion in general in high school, and my faith in Catholicism specifically in college. Mostly, my problem was with the place of women in the church. Once that took seed I just found more and more things about the Church as a political/social/historical entity that I didn't agree with, to the point where in college I explored what it would take to get excommunicated because I really regretted the fact that since I was confirmed in high school I was technically counted as Catholic for life by the organization. Oh, and I balked enormously at getting confirmed, I really didn't want to and at that point wasn't sure if I wanted to commit to being Catholic, but my parents strong-armed me into doing it. Possibly the straw that broke my back was my mom getting her second annulment from the church on extremely dubious pretenses (the second annulment was for her 20 year marriage to my dad, so she could then marry the guy she met on the internet and left home for... and then they couldn't get married in the church anyway because they wouldn't tell the priest that they were open to the idea of having more kids). I also remember one particular confession session in high school where I told the priest I wasn't sure what the point of going to mass was if I didn't feel like I was connecting with God at all there and it just felt like I was punching in on the clock, and he said that he didn't always feel like going to mass either but God just wants us to show up every week. That didn't make much sense. If I felt more in touch with God sitting in my room reading the Bible, didn't that count for more than being a warm body in the church?

At this point, I don't regret leaving the church at all, and my one stipulation for bringing up our kid is that I refuse to bring him up in the Catholic church. I don't feel like I'm missing anything in my life for a lack of organized religion; I don't need the community and I don't need a church's guidance in how to live as a decent person. Honestly, though, I can't think of anything my parents could have done differently that would have kept me in the fold. My brain just isn't wired for religion.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:37 AM on November 3, 2010

I was raised in a very church-active liberal mainstream Protestant family (Methodist for most of my childhood and to this day)--not just regular church-goers, but a pillar-of-the-church-community sort of family. I think I started questioning whether I actually *believed* in God in late high school, and my transition toward atheism was complete by the end of undergrad.

It really was nothing my parents did or didn't do--I didn't resent going to church/Sunday school/choir practice/youth group every week, I didn't and do not disagree with the basic tenets of the church (except, you know, the biggest one). In fact, in 8th/9th grade I even en-deepened my involvement and started attending a born-again group! In fact, I sometimes I really miss the emotional and relational side of the church.

For me, in the end, it WAS all about the "silly conventional narrative where benighted religion inevitably crumbles when it encounters LOGIC" (which is, you know, a really insulting way to put it).

For what it's worth, my sister grew up in the same environment, of course, and remains quite actively religious to this day. She went through a much stronger teenage rebellion than I ever did, but it didn't involve losing her faith. It's a crapshoot, and as a parent of teens, I can tell you--you can't control the outcomes nearly as much as you might hope.
posted by drlith at 9:41 AM on November 3, 2010

I was raised Catholic and was by all accounts a very religious little kid. Church every Sundays, prayer before dinner, religious education classes.

I stopped believing in God when I was thirteen; I was up all night thinking about it and I couldn't make it make sense. I thought about all the other Gods people believed in throughout history and how they believed just as fervently as my parents. And I thought about how empty prayer is -- how whether you pray for something you might get it and you might not but either way it's somehow proof God exists. It just didn't wash, when I really thought about it. It just seemed like a better deal than being scared of dying. It is probably a better deal than being afraid of dying, actually.

Other than that, the moment that I sat in a church and heard a priest repeat the line "Wives, be submissive to your husbands," and later had another priest tell me in a religious education class that even if a woman was beaten by her husband, getting divorced was a sin. Plus, making being gay a sin but being forced to carry a baby a perfectly logical breakdown.

The shrugging disinterest my family has in any of these matters, as if the church 'doesn't really mean it' made me lose respect for them, in particular my mother's willingness to sit there and listen to a line like that one without the smallest objection.

Anyway, that's my story. Good times.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:48 AM on November 3, 2010

I am late to the discussion, but wanted to--after some thought--throw in my experience. Because I was raised a Unitarian. My father was a Unitarian minister, and has degree in divinity and religious history from the University of Chicago. My religious upbringing was very different from most peoples. And I left the UU's.

I went to church every Sunday, went to church camp once in a while. I went trick-or-treating for Unicef. We acted like Christians, celebrated the holidays yet I had really no education on what Christianity really was. I felt weird and left out, but at the same time, I had a lot of fun at church and met some wonderful people. Today I think UU is a cop out, and I am offended by their reliance on their sanctimonious intellecutal superiority. I think a lot of people escape to UU because they don't know where else to go.

I usually don't talk religion with people, but this is where I stand today: I like church, I love God and I try to make sure that I express my gratitude daily. I am very lucky. I have gone to a lot of different churches, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal and Christian Science. In the end though, it is often the people that make the church.

I think holding too closely to the letter of the doctrine can violate the spirit of the doctirne, whatever doctrine it is. The most spiritual people I know are the kindest. They listed to people, they give back, they try to make the world a better place. They also will argue their position to open their minds. I can find people like this all over, but I have to go look for them.
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:00 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bona fides: I was raised in a very Catholic household. I am now as Dawkinsian an anti-theist as they come.

Your glib dismissal of opposing worldviews as immature, irrational, ill-informed, inchoate, shallow, trendy, facile, and self-evidently inferior to your own loudly contradicts your claim to value honest debate and intellectual analysis and, I can almost guarantee, will do more damage to your children's putative faith than twenty of these threads could ever repair.

A recurring story in this thread is that of the well-meaning believer confronting inflexible authority and, finding no room to bend, simply breaks. Get familiar with that story, because unless you make some profound changes to your attitudes about belief, your children are going to live it. And you'll be left wringing your hands, wondering how you went so wrong when you did everything right.

Here's some hyper-rationality for you: Your fundamental principles are broken. Fix those first.
posted by Zozo at 1:42 PM on November 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Amusingly, I'm currently debating (or at least, we started out by debating) religion with my mother.

I had always wondered why I felt different from other Christians, confused and hurt that I wasn't "hearing God" like so many others seemed to. I felt unable to talk about these things because
a. My mother would have treated it not so much as a betrayal, but as something to "help" me with. As if it were a problem we needed to solve.
b. It would have hurt my mother, as exhibited by her occasional mention (especially when us kids got older and we had morning bible studies) about her being worried that "we didn't have Jesus in our hearts". I just didn't feel like having her focus on me for this reason would be a good thing, for whatever reason.
c. My mom is more than a little.......hypocritical, in ways I can't get her to understand. She's a very angry person, although she refuses to see that too. Granted, we're all human. No one's perfect. But when someone who's supposedly a Christian or otherwise loving God and doesn't otherwise seem very happy, and in fact lashes out like crazy when you hit home about her being not-that-Christian, it's a good example of just how beneficial religion really is.

Just be as honest and real as possible. If your children end up questioning your religion, there's not much you can, or should, do to reverse it. And whatever you do, do -not- freak out if your kid does denounce your religion. My parents screamed and yelled and dragged me to church. I was 21 years old, TWENTY-ONE, and had gone home for the summer from college. Their making it a big deal sure helped some post-decision rebelliousness though.

I'm a 22 year old atheist. I didn't make this decision because I thought it was cool, or rebelling, or even because it's not what my mother would want. I first toyed with it as an idea, considered it as if it could be real, and found I could be happier in the long term.
posted by DisreputableDog at 3:20 PM on November 3, 2010

Oh, supporting everything /too bad you're not me/ says. Leaving no room for doubt, simply assuming that _of course_ your kids pray, or read their Bibles, or enjoy your church or any number of things can make them wonder what the alternative is.

However, please don't make your kids into those vapid, empty-eyed little Christian creatures that are so common these days. They better understand why they believe, what exactly they believe (the -whole- Bible or just the New Testament or what?), and what happens when they meet someone who doesn't think what they think. There are people out there who will, without even trying, get your kids to question their beliefs with just a few sentences.

I'd also encourage you to have your children read books -about- the Bible, about other religions, and about the non-religious.
posted by DisreputableDog at 3:30 PM on November 3, 2010

If we make religious traditions an active part of family life, will that help make religion alive and important to them, or will it associate religion with fuddy-duddy Mom and Dad, making it something they need to push back against in order to define their own identity?

Not my own story, but my father is an atheist in part because his parents kept doing stuff like that. If you're going to take up traditions just because you think it's best for the kid, rather than do the traditions that you would do regardless, he's going to pick up on that and get the sense that it's just a thing where people go through the motions.
posted by RobotHero at 3:56 PM on November 3, 2010

If we make religious traditions an active part of family life, will that help make religion alive and important to them...?

I think the operative word there is "active". One thing that gives me respect for my religious upbringing is that we were involved, as a family, in our religious life.

We were involved in our church congregation - not just showing up for church every Sunday, but participating in the choir, Sunday school, being acolytes and cross-bearers, all that stuff. It was a community we were part of, not just this boring place we went to hear boring people spout off about boring crap nobody believes in.

We also did a lot of religious (especially holiday) traditions at home, with our parents explaining the meanings behind the traditions and that this is a part of our background and heritage, as well as a way of expressing our spiritual beliefs.

My grandfather is a history and theology nerd, and I remember lots of dinner table conversations about somewhat abstract religious issues. I didn't always understand what the adults were discussing, but it was clear that these were ideas that they were engaging with, and that it was all very important to them. They were also very good about trying to answer questions like "What's the Reformation?" or "Do you believe in Hell?" and get us involved in thinking about religion, both as an institution and as an expression of spiritual belief.

Of course, none of this stuff insured that I stuck with their form of religion as an adult. But I will say that I have a much more positive view of Christianity is than a lot of people in this thread, and active engagement and discussion/explanation is largely the reason for that.
posted by Sara C. at 4:41 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm really enjoying the stories in this thread, as someone who was raised in an evangelical Christian household but who is no longer religious. I'm always fascinated by these kinds of stories, I feel like such a weirdo sometimes because I grew to reject my parents' spirituality and it seems like the majority of people I know didn't do that. At the most they drifted from the church, but have kept the traditions and beliefs that their parents taught them intact in some form.

I'm not going to tell you what not to do in raising your kids religiously. My parents did everything right. They're wonderful, reasonable people who raised me in a supportive and loving environment. I just grew up to believe differently, for a whole bunch of different reasons completely unrelated to my parents or the churches I was raised in.

I WILL tell you to be prepared for them to choose to believe something different than you. No matter what you do, your kids are going to grow up to have minds of their own, and make decisions of their own. They may reject everything that you've taught them to be true, the best thing that you can do is LOVE THEM ANYWAY. My parents have done this, loved me despite the fact that I have made decisions in my life that are not what they would have chosen for me. And it means the world to me. They haven't "lost" me in any way in my losing their religion, we have a great relationship, and I actually have a lot of respect for their beliefs that I wouldn't have had if they had disowned me, or told me that they were disappointed in me.

(side note: by "love them anyway", I do not mean love them but give them massive amounts of guilt or tell them that they are going to hell or evangelize to them or be sad when they won't go to mass with you anymore. Accept them and who they are, always have your arms open to help them have a positive relationship with them. The way my parents have treated me has shown me what tolerance really means, which is a lesson that many religious people are not at all good at).

And remember that even if they don't grow up to be Catholic, they will keep in them the core of many of the lessons that you teach them about love, forgiveness, family, grace, and faith. The way my parents have lived their lives has taught me a lot about what it is to be a good person, and I feel like there is still a lot that I have to learn from them.
posted by sherber at 5:06 PM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

These were the two biggest turnoffs for me, growing up in a very conservative fundamentalist church:

1. I think that I would have actually been very open to staying in the church if it had been full of people I admired and wanted to emulate, like the thoughtful, kind, intelligent, classy, reliable parents of many of my school friends. But that church was full of mean, angry, gossipy, drama seeking/causing people. It's hard to really articulate what I mean, but even though I wouldn't call most of them hypocrites, because they all did really try to follow the letter and the spirit of the Bible, I wouldn't have called a lot of them good people. If the church is full of people that your kid will want to be like when they grow up, I think that will help; if the church is full of people your kid detests and wants to avoid, I think that will hurt. If the church is full of happy and pleasant people, I think that will help. If it's full of a bunch of bitter/cold/unhappy people, that will hurt.

2. The sexism. Looking around at some of the doofuses in my age group there, and a lot of the older male members who were true losers, it was not only annoying for them to talk about female submissiveness etc., it just made the whole thing seem so ridiculous and made up. It just became impossible to suspend my disbelief and pretend that I was the weaker vessel to them. I'm not extremely familiar with Catholicism, so I don't know how much of a problem this would be in your church.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:28 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was raised Catholic with all the usual trappings: Sunday school, vacation Bible school, singing in the kids' choir, etc. I started questioning some of the tenets of the church pretty early on. The fact that we prayed for "respect for all life, especially the unborn" when what people really meant was "don't allow abortion" bothered me from a very young age. Someone who was very close to me had chosen to have an abortion that I felt was far more respectful of that potential child's life than having the baby would have been. So from age 12 or so on I stayed silent for that part of the prayer. I also felt very strongly that no one's religion was the "right" one, even back when I still believed that there was such a thing as God. And I remember believing this even before Confirmation, which was a ritual I went through because it was meaningful to my parents, not because I wanted to be a member of the Catholic church. Even before I decided that I didn't believe one had to stay celibate to be closest to god (I know a number of married clergy of other denominations I feel are just as "holy" as priests I knew growing up), I thought that it was hurtful and ridiculous that I was part of a religion that ALSO said I couldn't serve God in certain ways because of my gender. As soon as I went away to college, I stopped attending Mass altogether, and acknowledged that I was what I had been for a long time already, an agnostic. More than a decade later, my own personal beliefs have turned to atheism, based on my own personal analysis and feelings about how the world works.

My parents were not especially dogmatic Catholics, and my mom (who converted after having been married to my dad for a few years) believes clergy should be able to marry and that women should be able to be priests. She also doesn't believe that abortion is wrong. When I ask her how she can disagree with many of the fundamental tenets of the religion and still consider herself a part of it, I've never received a satisfactory answer. So what will your answer be to your daughters and sons?
posted by MsMolly at 2:06 PM on November 5, 2010

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