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Educating My Teen About Religion


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My daughter who is 14 (will be 15 next month) wants to know more about religion. She knows I'm an atheist and her dad is agnostic/atheist. Her older brother is atheist.

 

She's never asked much about religion and god and I haven't forced anything on her. I don't believe in forcing dogma on children. She goes occasionally with her friends to their churches' youth programs but she generally thinks it's all a little silly.

 

Her boyfriend of 3 months recently decided to confront her with the "rumors" he heard about our family being atheist and she told him she's not really sure what she believes. She's decided she wants to make up her own mind about it and I applaud her for that.

 

I started her out with a children's bible to get familiar with all of the stories that most christians know - Adam & Eve, Noah & the flood, Jonah & the whale, etc, etc. She's reading through it quickly and says it's awfully babyish and wants to get into the real thing.

 

I want to give her a "fair and balanced" approach to studying the bible. I am so anti-christian that if she studies with me, I'll point out all the inconsistencies and craziness right up front. I don't want her to read a christian study bible because that will try to influence her to become a christian right up front.

 

Ideally, I'd like her to read a little about the big religions - christianity, islam, buddhism, and hinduism. I'm thinking I may want her to read some Greek mythology too so she can see how closely related all of these stories are.

 

Primarily though, she's interested in christianity since we live in the bible belt and that's what 98% of the people we encounter everyday believe.

 

Any suggestions for her "religious education"?

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If she has read some popular christian apologist books and some rational points of view as well (God Delusion. etc.) she should have a good idea of what's going on with religion. Give her information on how the Bible became what it is today. Point out that Bible Belt Christians are generally anti gay and routinely ignore scientific fact to maintain their belief. Take her to a church that handles snakes or does exorcisms. Give her a science textbook and a copy of Genesis to compare. Watch the televangelists together. Listen to the preachers on the radio. Start her on the Joseph Campbell series. Let her read the Koran and Book of Mormon. Show how the speeches of Hitler, just like an emotional sermon, caused people to suspend judgment and rationality. Remind her that Atheists do good things as well as religious people. Continue to be an example of rationality and virtue.

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Don't forget Judaism. Knowing what their scriptures actually say about the messiah and why they don't accept that it was Jesus is something I wish I'd learned sooner.

 

Advise her to read the bible straight through (with something like the New Living Translation if she can't sit through an older one) and not start with the New Testament. You can go to youversion.com and start a reading plan (I have their app on my iPod.)

 

I think it's great that she's looking to you for help. Tell her to keep her mind open and critical and she should be fine.

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I would have her start out studying the origins of the various religious texts. Since these texts are the foundation for the various religions, their veracity is the key to deciding to follow the religions they represent. If she can dismiss the documents as the fabrications of man, then they won't have any hold over her when a thumper of any religion tries to tell her to turn or burn.

 

 

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If she has read some popular christian apologist books and some rational points of view as well (God Delusion. etc.) she should have a good idea of what's going on with religion. Give her information on how the Bible became what it is today. Point out that Bible Belt Christians are generally anti gay and routinely ignore scientific fact to maintain their belief. Take her to a church that handles snakes or does exorcisms. Give her a science textbook and a copy of Genesis to compare. Watch the televangelists together. Listen to the preachers on the radio. Start her on the Joseph Campbell series. Let her read the Koran and Book of Mormon. Show how the speeches of Hitler, just like an emotional sermon, caused people to suspend judgment and rationality. Remind her that Atheists do good things as well as religious people. Continue to be an example of rationality and virtue.

 

She hasn't read anything on religious views - yet. I have Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation that would be an excellent and very short resource for her. I think The God Delusion would be a bit too much for her at this early stage of her studies.

 

I'm not familiar with the Joseph Campbell series, but I'll look into it. I have a copy of the Koran that she can read after she reads the Bible. I think the Book of Morman is a good idea to include as well. (I've never read it myself.)

 

I like your idea about showing her that emotions can cause people to suspend judgement and rationality. I never thought about showing her Hitler's speeches in addition to listening to preachers - good comparison.

 

I've also ordered some books for her for young atheists. One of them is Disbelief 101. Again, though, I want her to think for herself. I don't want to completely influence her with my atheistic view of religion. I've always told my children that I'll support them in whatever beliefs they decide are true for them as long as they arrive at their decisions truly INFORMED.

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Don't forget Judaism. Knowing what their scriptures actually say about the messiah and why they don't accept that it was Jesus is something I wish I'd learned sooner.

 

Advise her to read the bible straight through (with something like the New Living Translation if she can't sit through an older one) and not start with the New Testament. You can go to youversion.com and start a reading plan (I have their app on my iPod.)

 

I think it's great that she's looking to you for help. Tell her to keep her mind open and critical and she should be fine.

 

We are going to use a chronological bible reading plan so that it makes more sense on a timeline. I've printed one out from www.intothyword.org. We'll read some about Judaism specifically when we finish the Old Testament.

 

I, too am glad that she's looking to me for help. She has always followed in her parents' footsteps in trying her best to think rationally. :cloud9_99:

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I would have her start out studying the origins of the various religious texts. Since these texts are the foundation for the various religions, their veracity is the key to deciding to follow the religions they represent. If she can dismiss the documents as the fabrications of man, then they won't have any hold over her when a thumper of any religion tries to tell her to turn or burn.

 

Any websites or books that you would recommend to get us started on studying origins of religious texts?

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I would have her start out studying the origins of the various religious texts. Since these texts are the foundation for the various religions, their veracity is the key to deciding to follow the religions they represent. If she can dismiss the documents as the fabrications of man, then they won't have any hold over her when a thumper of any religion tries to tell her to turn or burn.

 

Any websites or books that you would recommend to get us started on studying origins of religious texts?

 

Some Mistakes of Moses by Robert Ingersol is really good. Anything by Bart Ehrman. You can find several lectures he has given for free on Youtube. I really like Ehrman because he and I have similar backgrounds in Christianity, although he was far more educated on the subject. He was a sold out fundie at one time. I find him intellectually honest. When he picks a part of the bible apart, it's legitimate.

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Robert Alter is a Hebrew scholar (and an ethnic Jew who I believe is an agnostic) who translations of parts of the OT, including the Pentateuch, Pslams, 1 and 2nd Samuel. He translates from a literary/cultural perspective. I think he's brilliant.

 

Phanta

 

Edit: Specifically what I think is helpful is that the footnotes often describe the difficulty of translating some words or phrases. These are often sorted out via the translator's theology (i.e. a Christian translator will sort it out by applying their larger doctrine or dogma to the murky text).

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She ought to be taught to think for herself and I applaud you for that. Personally, I'd be a little more neutral than some others have recommended. I'd have her go straight to the source, the Bible, read some, and then let her ask questions, find the answers from both the Christian perspective and from the non-Christian perspective, help her with her efforts, ask her if she would like to hear your views (but do not force your views on her) and then continue until she is satisfied. If she would like to ask questions of a pastor, I'd let her so long as afterwards she let me know how it went with the pastor. I'd let her meet privately with the pastor, but I'd make sure the pastor was well educated and not some kook, bible thumper. At least a seminary degree (masters level).

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She ought to be taught to think for herself and I applaud you for that. Personally, I'd be a little more neutral than some others have recommended. I'd have her go straight to the source, the Bible, read some, and then let her ask questions, find the answers from both the Christian perspective and from the non-Christian perspective, help her with her efforts, ask her if she would like to hear your views (but do not force your views on her) and then continue until she is satisfied. If she would like to ask questions of a pastor, I'd let her so long as afterwards she let me know how it went with the pastor. I'd let her meet privately with the pastor, but I'd make sure the pastor was well educated and not some kook, bible thumper. At least a seminary degree (masters level).

 

Good advice!

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I was the same age as your daughter when I started questioning and wanting to know about the religion I was supposedly believing in. Not to say your daughter will end up being christian because you're not - I just think that's a naturally curious age to start wondering about the big questions. It was for me.

I agree with just letting her read a good bible - I used a Harper-Collins Study Bible all through college, and it's a good text with footnotes on translations, comparable texts (like where one text quotes another), and all kinds of fun little textual study tidbits - it is NOT an apologetic's "study bible" at all. It's a little on the heavy side, but it's reliable, and something she can continue to use, for any reason she chooses. I count it a good investment, book wise.

if you want to save some money on books, and find texts and info on other religions, sacred-texts.com is a great source.

I'd have to dig a little further, but I think I have other websites about other religions hidden somewhere in my old religious studies class notes. Somewhere in this mess. :P The internet is a great place for info, you just definitely have to be careful about the misinformed, or overly-fluffy. Beliefnet is ok for most casual studies, but was not acceptable for us students of religions, obviously. It's unbiased, which is good, but much of it is more like a magazine than a real in-depth study of any faith. So, it's ok for starters, but not much meat to it.

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I was the same age as your daughter when I started questioning and wanting to know about the religion I was supposedly believing in. Not to say your daughter will end up being christian because you're not - I just think that's a naturally curious age to start wondering about the big questions. It was for me.

I agree with just letting her read a good bible - I used a Harper-Collins Study Bible all through college, and it's a good text with footnotes on translations, comparable texts (like where one text quotes another), and all kinds of fun little textual study tidbits - it is NOT an apologetic's "study bible" at all. It's a little on the heavy side, but it's reliable, and something she can continue to use, for any reason she chooses. I count it a good investment, book wise.

if you want to save some money on books, and find texts and info on other religions, sacred-texts.com is a great source.

I'd have to dig a little further, but I think I have other websites about other religions hidden somewhere in my old religious studies class notes. Somewhere in this mess. :P The internet is a great place for info, you just definitely have to be careful about the misinformed, or overly-fluffy. Beliefnet is ok for most casual studies, but was not acceptable for us students of religions, obviously. It's unbiased, which is good, but much of it is more like a magazine than a real in-depth study of any faith. So, it's ok for starters, but not much meat to it.

 

Thank you so much for the resources! She and I started last night reading an NLT translation of the bible called The Book. I know that it's a phrase by phrase translation and not a reliable as a word by word translation, but I think it's just right for starters since it's in "plainspeak." After reading for just 30 minutes in Genesis, she's already seeing the discrepancies: the moon as a light, the 2 different ways Adam and Eve were created, the fact that they didn't die when they ate from the tree like God told them they would and where the hell did this woman come from that Cain married in the land of Nod? -(for some reason, this especially bothered her)

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Rumors that your family was atheist? WTF? :twitch:

 

Oh yes! We've had several incidents occur over the past few years. When my daughter was in 5th grade, about 6 of her good christian classmates backed her into a corner (literally - in the classroom) and demanded that she admit that she believes in god. Of course she did; she was afraid. (My son was in 9th grade that year and began to "admit" that he was atheist and word got back to the younger kids through one of my son's classmate)

 

In 7th grade, twice she came home from school with her heart broken because another "boyfriend" had just broken up with her when they found out that her brother was atheist. Even the girls stopped talking to her for a brief period of time. She cried a lot about that and wished her brother wasn't so outspoken 'cause it was "ruining her life."

 

Now this year, she's in 9th grade and we're at it again with the boyfriend questioning her about her atheist family even though she's been careful not to talk about religion with any of her friends in high school. She thought it would be better now that her brother has gone on to college. Maybe not.

 

I guess she's had enough and wants to explore it herself to decide what she really is so she'll be able to firmly stand up for herself the next time this issue comes around. Let's hope so!!

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Oh yes! We've had several incidents occur over the past few years.

 

Jesus Christ, where do you live? I grew up in the Los Angeles area and nobody gave a shit. Or if they did, it wasn't nearly so acute. There was an outspoken atheist kid at my elementary school and we thought nothing peculiar of him, he was just another kid. One afternoon I made a kneejerk argument against his saying he didn't believe in god (along the lines of "how can you say that?") and he said "you're stupid" and I didn't know how to respond to that so I let it be.

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Oh yes! We've had several incidents occur over the past few years.

 

Jesus Christ, where do you live? I grew up in the Los Angeles area and nobody gave a shit. Or if they did, it wasn't nearly so acute. There was an outspoken atheist kid at my elementary school and we thought nothing peculiar of him, he was just another kid. One afternoon I made a kneejerk argument against his saying he didn't believe in god (along the lines of "how can you say that?") and he said "you're stupid" and I didn't know how to respond to that so I let it be.

 

We live in a small town (population 12,800)in Louisiana, Bible Belt USA. You can stand in the middle of town, throw a rock in any direction, and hit a church. We can boast that we have 62 churches. If you are gay or non-christian in our town, you are SOL.

 

Sure, it would be nice to move but our jobs keep us here, especially my husband's government job. Plus, my extended family all lives in the same state. We're stuck here, at least until we retire.

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There is Parenting Beyond Belief, also is there a Unitarian Church in town? Or other place to take a comparative religion course?

 

Now, beware. At her age, there are evangelical groups that would love to attract her with their fun, lively youth groups/indoctrination opportunities (like Young Life). Watch out. BTDT. Your daughter does need to know about religions and cults.

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We live in a small town (population 12,800)in Louisiana, Bible Belt USA. You can stand in the middle of town, throw a rock in any direction, and hit a church. We can boast that we have 62 churches. If you are gay or non-christian in our town, you are SOL.

 

Ah, that explains it all, I reckon.

 

Sure, it would be nice to move

 

I never suggested you should, but it seems you guys kinda wish you could. Personal question: do you think your kids are going to strike out for greener pastures once they're old enough?

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There is Parenting Beyond Belief, also is there a Unitarian Church in town? Or other place to take a comparative religion course?

 

Now, beware. At her age, there are evangelical groups that would love to attract her with their fun, lively youth groups/indoctrination opportunities (like Young Life). Watch out. BTDT. Your daughter does need to know about religions and cults.

 

I love Parenting Beyond Belief! It's definitely on my bookshelf. My daughter does go to church with friends on Wednesday night to their youth group stuff. We always talk about it when she gets home. It seems to be pretty light - teaching kids how to get along, helping others, etc. Every once in awhile they have some weird bible study. This is one reason I want her to read and discuss the bible at home with me and not with them!

 

When I was 12 and going to a Baptist summer bible school, I remember almost getting pulled into being "saved" and then baptized because of all the fear they were instilling. Thank goodness my mother had the sense to get me out of there pronto! If I see any signs of that pushy behavior toward my daughter, she'll stop going also.

 

Oh, and there is a Unitarian church about 45 miles away. I've thought about checking it out. Comparative religion in our town? - no way!!! The ONLY religion is christianity!

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When I was 12 and going to a Baptist summer bible school, I remember almost getting pulled into being "saved" and then baptized because of all the fear they were instilling. Thank goodness my mother had the sense to get me out of there pronto! If I see any signs of that pushy behavior toward my daughter, she'll stop going also.

 

I wish my folks would have done that for me. In fact, I'm pretty sure they would have liked to. I got roped in by the Pentecostals at age 15.

 

Most people don't know this, but L.A. certainly has its share of holy rollers. In fact, L.A. is one of the places where that shit all got started! (Azusa St. Revival, Aimee Semple McPherson, There Will Be Blood, etc.) Southern California has a sizeable and influential fundie contingent, especially in Orange County, but fortunately the Greater L.A. Area is so frickin' vast that they're not much more than a pint of piss in the jacuzzi when it comes down to it. Noticeable and annoying but not enough to kill the party.

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Personal question: do you think your kids are going to strike out for greener pastures once they're old enough?

 

Absolutely! They both say they want to get away from all of this. They are both too liberal in their thinking to ever fit in with small-town southern Americans.

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After reading for just 30 minutes in Genesis, she's already seeing the discrepancies: the moon as a light, the 2 different ways Adam and Eve were created, the fact that they didn't die when they ate from the tree like God told them they would and where the hell did this woman come from that Cain married in the land of Nod? -(for some reason, this especially bothered her)

 

Genesis 3 was the straw that broke my camel's back. They didn't die, the serpent told the truth, to the point that god HIMSELF said (paraphrasing) "Oh shit, they're more like me, better boot them before they see the tree of life!" That bothered me deeply. Glad she caught that. :)

 

Also, Looziana?? I'm in NOLA, ya know. If you wanted, we could meet over coffee and I could talk with your kid. I'm good at being unbiased (mostly), and know an awful lot about religions, if I say so myself. Twas my degree! :)

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