14 Ways for Christian Parents to Teach Kids about Atheism

14 Ways for Christian Parents to Teach Kids About Atheism

I suppose this a funny title for a post on a Christian parenting blog! But, as I often explain, we can no longer teach our kids about Christianity in a silo and expect them to automatically stand spiritually strong. The challenges today are too great. As I discussed in my last post, the atheist worldview in particular is a threat to the faith of young people.

In today’s post, I want to give you some very practical ideas for teaching your kids about atheism. The first seven are appropriate for kids of all ages, while the second seven are appropriate for middle school and older kids.

I should note that the first several ideas on this list are not necessarily for teaching the specifics of the atheist worldview. They do, however, lay an important foundation for future learning on the topic (e.g., with the last seven ideas on the list).

Without further ado, here are 14 ways to teach your kids about atheism.

 

1. Be intentional in pointing out that not everyone believes in God.

Depending on where you live and your kids’ educational setting, they may or may not have this basic fact fully on their radar. When I was growing up, I was very aware of different religions, but was hardly aware that there were people who didn’t believe in God until I was in high school!

The fact that God is invisible often comes up in our Bible study time with the kids (ages 5 and 3). I use it as an opportunity to acknowledge that it takes effort to understand a God we can’t see or touch, and that some people decide God must not exist if we can’t see him. I emphasize that God doesn’t just make us guess that He’s there, however; He has left us much evidence in what we can see. (See this post for discussion pointers.)

 

2. Discuss reasons why some people don’t believe in God.

One night per week, instead of our planned Bible study time, we let the kids ask any questions they want about God. This week, my daughter asked, “Why doesn’t everyone believe in God if the Bible tells us all about Him?” I was so happy she asked that question, and it led to a great introductory conversation about why some people reject God. At an age-appropriate level, we discussed how some people just don’t want to believe in God because they want to live without objective moral rules; how some people see all the bad stuff happening in the world and decide a good God can’t possibly exist; how some people think the world has just always existed without a creator; how some people think the world would be very different if God existed; and so on.

This can lead to a great conversation about how the decision to accept or reject God (and Jesus) is the most important decision people must make in life.

(For more help discussing this subject, please see my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith. Each of the 40 chapters explains what skeptics say on the topic and offers a concise, easy-to-understand Christian response to discuss with your kids.)

 

3. When talking about stories from Jesus’ life, talk about the reactions he received from non-believers.

One of the stories that baffles me the most from Jesus’ life is when he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath and the Pharisees who were present immediately set out “to destroy Him” for violating their rules (Mark 3:6). If I just saw a withered hand miraculously restored in front of my eyes, I think I’d be convinced that this person had authority from God and I’d chill out on the Sabbath rule enforcement. But, despite this evidence, they still did not believe Jesus was God’s Son and set out to kill Him.

Events like these from Jesus’ life provide a good opportunity to talk about belief and non-belief – that even when Jesus was walking this earth and doing amazing miracles in front of people, there were those who would not believe. The Pharisees were not atheists, so this isn’t a conversation about atheism per se, but it is a conversation that helps kids start thinking about the nature of belief and unbelief.

 

4. Discuss Jesus’ miracles in the context of proving his identity.

When I was growing up, my sole understanding of miracles was that Jesus did a lot of cool stuff when He was on earth – stuff I had to color pictures about. It never occurred to me that there was a reason He did miracles until I was an adult. What a huge point I had missed: Jesus performed miracles in large part to prove He really was God’s Son.

The reason this point is so important to make with kids is that it solidifies an understanding that God never asked us to have a blind faith, where we just have to guess about His existence. Jesus didn’t walk around on earth merely claiming a heavenly authority. He demonstrated his power with visible evidence. When kids get a bit older, they will be ready to start learning the specifics of the evidence we have today (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, the moral argument and historical evidence for the resurrection).

 

5. Acknowledge the uniqueness of the resurrection.

I always think it’s funny when atheists leave comments on my blog to tell me they don’t believe in Jesus because we know from science that dead people don’t come back to life. Do they think this has never occurred to Christians? Do they think I will say, “Wow, he’s right! Why did I think Jesus was resurrected all this time? I totally forgot dead people stay dead!” Yet, this “argument” is repeated over and over on the internet as if it’s proof that can falsify all of Christianity in 1-2 sentences.

Lest my kids ever feel shamed when encountering such a statement, we spend a lot of time talking about how unique and “crazy” it is that Jesus came back to life. A sample conversation when talking about the resurrection goes something like this:

“Now, do dead people ever come back to life normally?” (No, never.)

“Who is the only person that could come back to life?” (Jesus)

“Why?” (Because Jesus is God’s Son, and only God would be able to make that happen – we would never believe a “regular” person could come back to life.)

Of course, this conversation doesn’t get you all the way to why we believe the resurrection actually happened (see The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus), but it plants the seeds that the resurrection is a totally unique event that we have reason to believe in – and not because we believe people naturally come back to life from the dead.

 

6. Ask what your kids have heard at school (or church!) from kids who don’t believe.

As I discussed in my last post, it’s likely that your kids are encountering peers and teachers who don’t believe in God and they’ve almost certainly heard things that you would want the opportunity to weigh in on. That said, it doesn’t mean they are automatically sharing all this with you. Ask them regularly what they hear about God from kids and teachers. This gives you the opportunity to address it head-on.

 

7. Read apologetics books for kids together.

Here is an excellent list of apologetics resources designed for kids of various ages.

For elementary-age kids, you’ll see there are very few apologetics resources available. There are two excellent books for this age group that are not on this list, however: How Do We Know God Is Really There? and How Do We Know God Created Life?, both by Melissa Cain Travis. These are the first two books in her “Young Defenders” series, and they teach the basic ideas of the cosmological and design arguments, respectively. Each book explains its subject through the telling of an entertaining story that captures children’s attention. They are appropriate for the 5- to 10-year-old range. Definitely check out these wonderful resources!

 

8. [Older Kids] Discuss relevant current events from newspaper articles.

If you get in the habit of periodically visiting Christian news sites like The Christian Post or Christianity Today, you’ll see all kinds of articles that are relevant to the discussion of Christianity and atheism (the Tim Lambesis story and the launch of Atheist TV are just two examples). Make it a point to print out one article a week to discuss with your kids. It’s an excellent opportunity to get them culturally savvy before they leave home.

 

9. [Older Kids] Introduce atheist memes for discussion.

Long before your kids encounter any kind of intellectually sophisticated atheist arguments, they’ll likely encounter bite-sized attacks on Christianity via social media (e.g., in memes). Now, to be fair, no side wants to be represented by their least sophisticated proponents. I’m sure any atheist that reads this would bristle at the notion of teaching your kids about atheism by using memes. But the unfortunate truth is that such memes have a lot of emotional impact and are likely to reach your kids before more sophisticated atheist arguments. Choose memes from a site like this one and discuss what is being said.

 

10. [Older Kids] Read stories of people who turned away from Christianity.

If you Google “ex-Christian stories,” you’ll find an array of sites where former Christians post their de-conversion stories. These can actually be great discussion starters. Having the opportunity to talk about these experiences before your kids leave home is ideal for minimizing the shock factor of hearing such stories later. Talk about the person’s rationale for leaving and ask your kids what they would say to that person. Ask if they’ve ever thought some of the same things, and encourage them to be open about any doubts – now is the time to address them!

Here is an example case study of a Christian-turned-theist.

 

11. [Older Kids] Challenge your kids with a role play.

Want to see how prepared your kids currently are to address challenges to their faith? Try a role play. You be the atheist. See how your kids respond. Here’s an example for you to say: “I don’t believe God exists. There’s no evidence! I believe in science. Why do you believe in a God you can’t prove exists?” This is the most basic of claims – see what your kids do with it. Keep pushing back on them after they respond. Use what happens as an opportunity to look for learning opportunities in the areas that come up.

 

12. [Older Kids] Watch debates between a Christian and an atheist.

There are many debates available to watch online (for free). Sit down as a family to watch one and encourage everyone to take notes on the points that were strongest and weakest for both sides. Use it as a springboard for discussion when the debate is done, and follow up with study on any new points. Here are a couple of examples to consider:

William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist?

Mike Licona vs. Bart Ehrman – Can Historians Prove Jesus Rose from the Dead? (I should note Ehrman is an agnostic, not an atheist.)

 

13. [Older Kids] Read a book together by an atheist and then a rebuttal by a Christian (or vice versa).

I recommended before that parents read one or more books written by the influential “new atheists” – Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris or Daniel Dennett. Several parents emailed me and/or commented that they would be scared to introduce their kids to this material. While I understand it’s a challenge that forces us out of our comfort zones, it’s extraordinarily important to understand that your kids will hear the arguments of these writers  whether you introduce them or not. Why not take the opportunity you still have to discuss these challenges with your kids? You don’t have to have all the answers first. Study it together.

One example combination I would recommend is The God Delusion followed by Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God (a fantastic response).

 

14. [Older Kids] Check out atheist websites together.

I came across a website this week that graphs all the “errors and contradictions” in the Bible (check it out here). Visually impressive sites like this can be very impactful for kids and adults alike. Knowing your kids will see this kind of site eventually, why not take the time to sit down and look at one together? As in these other ideas, use it as an opportunity for questions to arise and then discuss your kids’ thoughts.

 

Have you proactively talked to your kids about atheism? Why or why not? If so, how have you done it?

21 Comments

  1. Daniel on August 19, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    In regards to #3 (and by extension, #4): Other parts of the Bible warn that someone preaching wrong doctrine must be rejected even if he does miracles or accurately foretells the future. For starters, there’s Deuteronomy 13:1-5, which the Pharisees may have had in mind. Healing on the Sabbath may have seemed like a clear signal that Jesus was not acting on Yahweh’s authority. Yes, the Pharisees were looking for a reason to reject Jesus, but they may have felt that they were supposed to be suspicious. They didn’t dispute that Jesus had supernatural powers, they just questioned the source (as in Matthew 12:24).

    Nowadays, people would tend to question whether a miracle had really occurred at all. If we see a cripple apparently healed on the spot, can we be sure that the person genuinely was crippled this morning, and isn’t crippled now? Even most Christians witnessing such an apparent miracle would rightly be skeptical. Could it have been a trick?



  2. Hope on August 19, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    Boy, wish I was more active in my walk with God when my children were young…and you were blogging then!!! Many of your suggestions reads very much like common sense suggestions for avoiding whatever the popular morality cause is (having parented in the ’80’s when the moral majority was all about causes…something which has been a part of our society for a very long time) – but your blog, your suggestions are focused on the heart of the issue, our relationship with God, and not the symptoms in our society, drugs, sex, etc…Thank you for your blogs, your honesty and your walk with God. I pray your children will thank you not only now but in the future. And I most of all sincerely thank God for the work He has done and pray He will continue in your life.



  3. Rosa Colaco on August 19, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Wonderful suggestions Natasha! With 2 of my kids ages 13 & 11 years I’m reading/studying through age-understandable portions of William Lane Craig’s: On Guard though it’s designed for High School ages onwards & so far, so good. It’s been such a faith-booster for me personally & I especially am thankful to know there are so many resources/tools aplenty for equipping our young people. My 13yr old daughter has expressed shyness at sharing her faith with non-believers but I’m seeing that reading through Craig’s book (among other books I intend to also study with my guys) through the perspective of reason is slowly but surely giving her a “handle” on her faith, so to speak–which consequently is confidence-building.



  4. Rosann on August 19, 2014 at 5:33 PM

    This is great Natasha! It’s an excellent resource I’ll be printing off so I can have this valuable conversation with my girls.



  5. Heather on August 20, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    great tips. I would also add that we need to be pro-active in pointing out the ‘spirit world’ when it comes through, in order to show kids that there is indeed an unseen world that affects this world. As an example, on America’s Got Talent, there was a guy who introduced his ‘spirit friend’, Desmond. And Desmond performed tricks through this man that intrigued and amused the crowd. If you watch the man’s interview, you can definitely tell that it is demonic. I had a chance to tell my kids (after seeing the interview and changing the channel before his ‘show’) that demons are real and this man’s power was because of demons. I also have told them some of the clearly demonic harassment I went through (at myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com in the Supernatural Stuff and Spiritual Armor post. If we can point these clearly spiritual things out to kids in a conversation at their level – without scaring them, but letting them know it in a matter-of-fact way – we can give them a frame of reference when mysterious things happen and help keep them from being intrigued by what seems like ‘cool stuff.’ Plus we help them realize that the invisible world is indeed real, so you can’t deny the existence of it- of God and angels, demons and hezv



  6. Heather on August 20, 2014 at 9:37 AM

    Oops, the touch screen wouldn’t let me finish or fix the last line. That last line was supposed to say, ‘of God and angels, demons, heaven and hell.’ I’m trying to teach my kids to evaluate these things biblically so that they know they are real and can be discerning. It saddens me that so many people were amused and intrigued by this demonic show. Scary.



  7. Paul Short on August 20, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    Natasha once told me that she didn’t intend her blog to be a forum for debate, and I respect that. But there’s a couple of things worth clarifying.

    “…we discussed how some people just don’t want to believe in God because they want to live without any (moral) rules; ”

    That’s a common assertion, but I’ve never yet met an atheist who believes that. I realize that it’s tempting low hanging fruit, but honestly, it shouldn’t even be there. Every atheist that I know bases his lack of belief on the evidence.

    In your 12th point, you say that Bart Ehrman. “…is an agnostic, not an atheist.” Remember that gnosticism and theism make distinct and separate claims. For example, most atheists are also agnostic. This chart is often helpful
    http://actok.org/?attachment_id=460

    Finally, there’s one thing I’ve been meaning to ask Natasha, but I’ll take input from anyone who wants to chime in.

    In my opinion, there’s generally two reasons to get involved in Christian Apologetics. The first is to validate an existing belief. The second would be as an evangelistic tool to convince another person of the rightness (or wrongness) of a belief. (If you’d like to add a third, please do so)

    I’ve always assumed that Natasha’s main purpose was the first option. Is that generally correct?

    The reason I even bring it up is because I see so many Christians using apologetics as an evangelical tool, not realizing how easily many of those arguments are brushed away. For example, on the surface the Kalam Cosmological Argument sounds like a great defense of Creation. But the skeptic will simply point out that Kalam is based on Arguments From Ignorance and move on. Frustration ensues.

    So, bringing this back to how we talk to our kids…Do you all intend to use this information to validate and confirm what you already believe (which Kalam will do for you), or is it your intention to arm your kids with information to spread the gospel (which Kalam won’t do)?



    • Bruce on August 20, 2014 at 7:17 PM

      Apologetics study is useful because it trains one to make the case for the Christian world view in the public square. The more “Unchristian” the world becomes, the more difficult it becomes to present the gospel effectively. Young Christians need to be taught that there is extensive evidence that our world view more accurately reflects the world as it is than the atheist/naturalist world view does. The Kalam is just one step. The argument from the existence of objective moral values is far and away the best argument for a creator. When you combine good arguments for the existence of God with arguments for the historicity of the New Testament, a very good case can be made for Christianity.



      • Paul Short on August 20, 2014 at 8:47 PM

        So Bruce, it sounds like you’re claiming that apologetics is useful for both scenarios that I put forth. Is that correct?

        So what is your reaction when a young Christian goes out with these new tools and meets someone who can address all the arguments? Kalam? Argument from Ignorance. Morality? Euthyphro Dilemma. So we’re still basically at square one.

        So what do you tell the Christian in this circumstance? Take careful note, that, I’m not saying that all the arguments in favor of Christianity are provably wrong. (They may, in fact, be right). I’m questioning the wisdom of evangelizing using this particular method. And I’m basing that question on how badly Christians come off as witnesses for Christ when they use these methods to evangelize.



        • Bruce on August 21, 2014 at 6:32 AM

          Hi, Paul
          OK, I can’t let this get too long because I have to go to work!
          When I teach young people I build a cumulative case. I have borrowed extensively from J. Warner Wallace. He wrote a book called Cold Case Christianity which I can’t recommend highly enough. He was an atheist until age 35. He used the tools from his profession as a cold case homicide detective to evaluate the claims made in the Gospels. After many months of study in this and other areas, he came to believe that Christianity is true. Since I too, came to faith later in life, his book really resonated with me. This book and others motivated me to “get in the game”. I now teach young people (and not so young), the good arguments for the Christian world view.
          I’m puzzled by your characterization of the Kalam as an argument from ignorance. I have seen Dr. Craig present it numerous times, and it relies extensively on the current understanding of cosmology. There seems to be little doubt that the universe sprang into existence at some point in the distant past from nothing. I’m sure you are already familiar with the Borde Guth Vilenkin (sp?) theorem, and the arguments pointing to a non eternal universe from 2nd law, problems with an actual infinite, etc. So I won’t recite them here. I don’t think the Kalam is really controversial is it?
          While it’s true that we can’t know what began the universe, we can make some very reasonable inferences based on what we do know. Current cosmology seems to confirm creation “ex nihilo”.
          As to the Euthyphro dilemma, a number of Christian philosophers have addressed this. Greg Koukl @ STR.org is the one I am most familiar with.

          My goal in teaching young people is to prepare them for high school/college and the world generally. The world is becoming much more hostile to Christianity. I actually think that the hostility to Christianity is a by product of the erosion of the idea of objective truth. I think many times the hidden assertion is not that Christians are wrong, but, that since there is no objective truth, it logically follows that no one can be right. And, if the premise is true, the conclusion does follow. So I’m careful first to make the case that objective truth exists and is knowable. Greg Koukl says “we should be egalitarian towards people and elitist towards ideas”. I think this captures it perfectly. All people deserve to be treated with respect. Some ideas are better than others. Some ideas are wrong. And it’s no crime to challenge an idea no matter how dearly held. (Sorry, probably wandered a little off track there!)

          What I am trying to do when working with young people is make the point that how they “feel” about their faith is not relevant to it’s truth value. It is true or false regardless of how you feel about it. It’s great to know something “in your heart”. But you really don’t know it unless you know it in your brain.

          When you know it intellectually, you have a confidence in evangelizing. It makes you a much better witness for Christ. I have found this to be true in my own life. I have equipped myself to engage intellectually to a fairly high level. Consequently I engage in conversations with confidence. Below is the curriculum that I use. This is totally my creation so I deserve any blame for overlooking something obvious! These are designed to be approximately 1 hour lessons, depending on interaction.I would be happy to continue this conversation with you, either on this blog or via email. My email is brucedhall@gmail.com. I don’t know where you are located, but I’m in central Iowa if you would want to meet and talk face to face.

          1. Bruce’s testimony (to build a relationship with the young people). If time, show Jaclyn Glenn video and break down.
          2. Make the case for apologetics from scripture.
          3. Does objective truth exist and is it knowable. (This might only take 20 minutes or so)
          4. Laws of logic
          5. Tactics by Greg Koukl. (Brief overview, this could be a 10 week course in itself)
          6. Rational thinking/logical fallacies. Covers subjective vs. objective, what is an argument and goes over logical fallacies.
          7. Arguments for the existence of God-Cosmological argument.
          8. Arguments for the existence of God-Moral argument
          9. Cold Case Christianity Lesson01 (Historicity of the New Testament)
          10. Cold Case Christianity Lesson 02
          11. Arguments for the existence of God: Fine Tuning of the Universe.
          12. Arguments for the existence of God: Teleological argument.
          13. Bible problems (Bart Ehrman’s trouble verses)
          14. The problem of Evil.
          At some point it would be beneficial to talk about abortion & same sex marriage. I am equipped to make the case for the pro life position and I know the pro choice side pretty well also. I have not done quite as much study on same sex marriage, but I believe that it is the topic that is going to cause believers, particularly young believers much more difficulty. I am able to handle these discussions with tact and grace. We have to remember that if your youth group is any size, they almost certainly know someone who is same sex attracted.

          I don’t claim that any one argument is going to be convincing. But I claim that the Christian world view is much more coherent than the atheist/naturalist world view.
          Bruce



        • Leigh Ann on September 1, 2014 at 6:24 PM

          I think that one of the most common mistakes among those who take a mainly evangelistic stance with their apologetics is that it leaves out an important step: LISTENING. If the whole point is to trade arguments back and forth until one of the parties is exhausted of all the current knowledge that they hold on the topic, what is accomplished? There is more to apologetics than “winning” the argument each and every time we have a conversation.
          I can’t remember if it was Koukl or another apologist who mentions the importance of putting a “pebble in the shoe” of the other person. If we go in for the win with every single comment, have we listened to the other viewpoint thoroughly (or to the Spirit, for that matter?) and aimed our conversation at the point that will nag at the person’s heart and mind long after we have parted ways? Pebble in the shoe. 🙂
          Those with whom we have conversations are, as we believe, also made in the image of God and worthy of a respectful discussion that focuses on THEM more than our own display of intelligence. When we approach it as a contest of arguments, “winning” gives such a sense of closure! Ask questions; learn HOW to ask good questions! Just as we are not going to smack ourselves upside the head upon hearing that the resurrection isn’t believable because dead people stay dead (d’oh!), the atheist or agnostic or Christian doubter, etc. is not going to throw their hands up in surrender at the idea that the anthropic principle points directly to a Creator.



          • Matthew on February 18, 2016 at 9:18 AM

            Paul, I think you’re dismissing positive apologetic arguments too easily. Now, I do agree that some people are going to object to arguments like the moral argument and the Kalam argument and provide counter-arguments, but it doesn’t flow that therefore those arguments are invalid or useless. On the contrary, we need to go a step further and teach our kids how to respond to said objections. For example, the euthyphro dilemma fails to defeat the moral argument because there is a third option; namely that something is good because God IS the good.



    • Heather on August 21, 2014 at 10:02 AM

      Paul, the reason I think it is important to spread and defend the gospel is because we believe that heaven and hell are very real and because those are the only two choices in the end. If we believed this – and that salvation only comes through Jesus – we would be the most unloving, selfish people to not share this with others. Christians are simply trying to help others find their way out of the fire, too. (But we are still human and make mistakes in how we act.)

      And can I ask – do you like the idea of being accountable to God for your life and choices? Have you read through the Bible, beginning to end, to really know what you are rejecting? Or have you just listened to the arguments that fit what you want to believe. May I suggest taking a year to seriously give God a chance before rejecting Him out of hand. A friendly challenge from someone who wants to help others find the love, healing, and truth I have found.



    • Heather on August 21, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      Paul, Honestly, what have you got to lose by giving God, faith, and the Bible a serious shot. After all, if I am wrong about God and the Bible then it won’t make any difference in the end, whether it’s that we all simply die and disappear or ‘all good people go to heaven.’ But if you are wrong, it makes a serious, eternal difference for you. Please consider this carefully.



      • Paul Short on August 26, 2014 at 12:59 AM

        Heather, a few notes that may help you. First, there are no demons at work on America’s Got Talent. Mike Super and his “friend” Desmond were simply using illusionist tricks that have been around since the 1800’s (and probably centuries before). If you google “spirit slates”, there’s volumes of videos and explanations about how this stuff works. In addition, spend some time watching anything Penn and Teller have done over the past 10 years. A little understanding of what “magic” really is will help dispel that understanding.

        If Penn and Teller isn’t your cup of tea, then fire up Brain Games on the Nat Geo channel. Every episode will show you how your brain plays tricks on you and how those tricks often make it easy for people to fool you with trickery.

        Finally, do your ministry a favor and discard the platitudes about how if I honestly gave god a chance that he’d reveal himself to me. Every atheist I know has compelling reasons for their disbelief. You don’t know me, or my relationship with theology. To suggest that I spend a year in some exercise to find god in an attempt to satisfy your assertion of Pascal’s Wager is condescending and insulting. To put it mildly.



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  9. Pat Minagrelli on September 2, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    A very well thought out article. Those are some excellent suggestions, especially looking at atheist material together with older kids. Also, watching a Christian/atheist debate, such as one with William Lane Craig, would be a great way for your kids to see the difference between Christianity and atheism and why Christianity is the truth.



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