4 Things Your Kids Should Know About Atheists

 4 Things Your Kids Should Know About Atheists

This week I had the opportunity to be on the radio program Cross Defense with Rev. Rod Zwonitzer (KFUO-AM 850 in St. Louis). We discussed the common atheist claim that believing in God is evidentially the same as believing in Santa, why that claim offers a great opportunity to talk to your kids about the evidence for God at Christmas, whether Christians should include Santa in their Christmas celebrations, and how to keep your kids focused on Jesus this time of year. If you’re interested, you can hear the whole interview online here.

In the course of our conversation, Rod asked what I think is the biggest challenge to kids’ faith today. As I’ve written about before, I said it’s undoubtedly atheism. The percent of atheists in America is quickly rising, and those atheists are often quite vocal about their rejection of religion. Our kids are more likely to hear faith challenges from atheists than from any other group. Because of this, it’s incredibly important that we proactively help our kids understand the atheist worldview (here are 14 ways to do so).

It’s also important that we help our kids have an accurate view of atheists themselves.

I’ve talked to my kids (ages 7 and 5) a lot before about the fact that not everyone believes in God, but I realized a couple of weeks ago that we haven’t talked much about atheists as people. Today I’ll share some highlights from our conversation that you can use as talking points with your own kids (of any age).

Here are four things your kids should know about atheists. 

 

1. Atheists can be just as friendly and moral, if not more so, than Christians.

I opened our conversation by asking, “Do you think atheists can be nice people and do good things even though they don’t believe in God?” My kids looked at me a little skeptically, sensing a trick question, then my daughter said, “No, they would probably be mean.”

That was a perfect opportunity to clarify the difference between belief and behavior. I explained that all people, regardless of what they believe about God, can be nice and do good things…and all people, regardless of what they believe about God, can be mean and do bad things. I emphasized that you can’t necessarily tell what someone believes by how they behave.

When you explain the difference between belief and behavior, it’s a great time to then make three crucial points:

  • The Bible says it’s not behavior that makes someone right with God and allows them to be with Him forever. It’s a belief in and acceptance of Jesus as your Savior (John 3:16). Even though two people’s actions may look similar, their status with God can be quite different.
  • That doesn’t mean that Christians should sin so that “grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). When a person accepts Jesus as their Savior, they are committing to a relationship that should transform their heart; moral behavior should flow out from belief.
  • The fact that people, regardless of their beliefs about God, know some things are objectively right and some things are objectively wrong, is actually evidence for God’s existence (this is called the Moral Argument). Romans 2:15 tells us that God has placed His laws on the human heart whether we choose to acknowledge the Source of those laws or not. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that atheists know what is right and can choose to live moral lives according to that compass.

 

2. Atheists are often ex-Christians.

I next asked my kids why they think some people don’t believe in God. My son immediately responded, “Because no one has ever told them about Him! We have to tell them!” While I loved my son’s enthusiasm for sharing his faith (and encouraged him to do so), I also explained that many atheists used to be Christians; they’ve heard about Jesus and have chosen to reject Christianity.

This is important for kids to understand because atheists who are ex-Christians can be especially impactful in their challenges to believers—they can “talk the talk.” For example, atheists who are ex-Christians are often fond of showing how immoral/contradictory/crazy various tough biblical passages sound. To young people with limited Bible knowledge, it can seem like those atheists know more about the Bible than the Christians in their lives who have never brought those passages to their attention…and it can shatter their trust (just one of many reasons parents should proactively bring tough questions like these to their kids’ attention).

Kids need to know that just because someone knows something about or has experience with Christianity doesn’t mean they truly understand it or are presenting it accurately.

 

3. People can be atheists for good reasons.

Our conversation then turned to some of the specific reasons why people reject God. I asked my kids if they thought atheists have good reasons or bad reasons for not believing in Him. Since we talk a lot about all the good reasons for believing in God, they quickly assumed that atheists must have bad reasons for rejecting Him. Once again, I corrected them.

To use an easily understandable example, I reminded them of how much suffering we see in the world. I explained that one of the most common reasons why people don’t believe in God is that it can be hard to understand how a perfectly good and loving God could allow so many bad things to happen.

I acknowledged that I, too, often find that hard to understand.   

I acknowledged that we can’t explain why every bad thing happens.

And I acknowledged that if we only looked at the evil in the world, it would be a pretty good reason to not believe a good God exists.

But I also acknowledged that we have a much bigger picture of “clues” to consider when we search for the truth about God (e.g., the existence of our universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the complexity of our bodies, how we know right and wrong, the Bible, historical evidence for the resurrection, etc.). I concluded that atheists don’t necessarily reject God because they haven’t thought deeply about Him. They may well have some good reasons for why they don’t believe, and those reasons can sound compelling—even to Christians.

 

4. People can be atheists for bad reasons.

I then flipped the topic of conversation around and asked my kids if they thought people could be atheists for bad reasons. My daughter replied, “Yes, because maybe you just want to do whatever you want and not worry about God. But that doesn’t mean He’s not there.” I loved that example. What we want to be true has absolutely no bearing on what is true. Wish-fulfillment is a bad reason for choosing a worldview.

Importantly, I made sure my kids understood that Christians can be guilty of choosing their worldview for bad reasons too. I gave the example of how many people incorrectly think that if they’re a Christian, their life will be easier somehow (something Christians were never promised).

There’s a significant reason why it’s important for kids to know that atheists don’t always have good reasons for their beliefs: Passionate atheists often engage with an air of intellectual superiority and can make kids feel that they just don’t know enough yet to reject their faith. If kids don’t understand that behind the intellectual bravado there can lie a pile of poor reasoning, they may easily start to assume the problem lies with them.

 

Tell me what you think! What else should kids understand about atheists?

19 Comments

  1. Collin Mc. on December 3, 2015 at 7:08 AM

    Awesome article, and great interview!



  2. Mark McGee on December 3, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    Hi, Natasha. Great article! Former atheist here and I agree with all of your points. It’s so important to make sure our children and grandchildren are knowledgeable about problems with believing in atheism and the amazing reason Christians have for believing in God. Thanks! Mark



  3. Leigh Ann on December 3, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    This was great. Thank you for approaching this topic with kindness towards those who don’t believe! They are God’s creation in need of His transformation just as we are, not our enemies.



  4. Robbienz on December 3, 2015 at 12:16 PM

    Hi Natasha, I am reading (listening) to Ravi Zacharias’ “The End of Reason” which is essentially a critique of new atheist Sam Harris’ book “Letter to a Christian Nation”.

    This is a small book (~130 pages) and one of the best and most beautifully written books I have ever read. The language is excellent, and the arguments are ruthlessly accurate in exposing the meaningless of an atheistic worldview. Common objections that are often used to slay Christians and that have a lot of rhetorical power are clinically dealt with by Ravi as he again and again exposes Harris’ confident assertions for what they are. Over and over again Ravi turns Harris’ own arguments back on to themselves with devastating consequences.

    I am a little surprised at how aggressively Ravi takes on Harris. He is not mean spirited and does not attack the man, but he is ruthless with Harris’ shallow and foolish wisdom and its consequences. The reason for the ‘tone” of the book is that Ravi sees this as such an important issue with deep consequences, and one that we cannot afford to ignore.

    Personally I regard Harris as a clever guy who is completely out of his depth when it comes to philosophy and religion. His shallow thinking resonates well with my own shallow secular atheistic childhood upbringing and teenage years. The problem is, as JP Moreland has said, that “the make-up man is more important than the speech writer”, meaning that Harris’ weak arguments are more than made up for by his confidence and clever rhetoric.

    Highly recommended.

    Robbienz



  5. Robbienz on December 3, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    It would make a good short-read Christmas gift….. you could promote it 🙂



  6. Jason Crooks on December 3, 2015 at 12:29 PM

    Good stuff. One very key thing to clarify is that being a Christian at its core means being born again. “You must be born again,” said Jesus. The vast majority of who you describe as “ex-Christians” were never truly Christians. They were in & around church, learned some things, studied the Bible, even perhaps experienced the Holy Spirit’s presence and made a faith declaration. But they never truly repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, while being fully convicted that they would enter Hell after death if they did not. Sounds weighty I know, but, as your theme correctly suggests, it is very important. Thank you, and thanks for your post.



  7. Andrea on December 3, 2015 at 1:08 PM

    I find that the older I get, I am more and more at peace with not knowing all the answers. In a weird way, accepting that God is too big to understand strengthens my faith. I tell my kids that it’s okay to have questions, and that no one is ever going to have all the answers–even the best pastors and theologians who study their whole lives. The key is to recognize that finding God is a lifelong journey, and as long as you’re looking He will reveal Himself. But an atheist that has decided he knows all the answers, so has stopped looking, isn’t going to find Him, which is sad.



  8. Bernie Dehler on December 3, 2015 at 2:54 PM

    Yup- not much diff between Yahweh, Zeus, Santa, and the Tooth Fairy… all imaginary characters.



  9. Tina on December 3, 2015 at 5:06 PM

    I am an Atheist. I have 3 girls 20, 9, and 7. My 20 yr old when she was about 6 said to me ‘I wanna go to church’. I took her, sat in the pews, listening to what I told was the word of god. Every time I went made me feel worse and worse about being a human being. It was horrible, I hated it. BUT I went for my daughter. I even went to RCIA, (where I was TOLD, by the Deacon, DO NOT READ THE BIBLE, it will only confuse you) it gave me nothing but more questions, more reasons NOT to believe, and more distrust in churches then I already had. BUT I went for my daughter. Every sunday, for 4 or 5 years. All this time I never undermined what my daughter was being taught at Sunday school. I let the teachers teach her. Then one year (as her conformation date approached) my daughter says ‘I don’t wanna go to church anymore’. Puzzled, I asked her why, she always did seem to enjoy going. She responded to me, ‘mom I just don’t get it, and they can’t answer the questions that I have’ so I asked her what her questions were. They were of all the “stereotypical” questions that us Atheists have. (All of which have scientific evidence that disproves what the Bible has told you to do.) She was getting to the point where she would spend all of the time for Sunday school, debating things like, explain why it’s proven the dinosaurs were here millions of years before people (6 days of creation?) Etc. Etc. She made the decision all on her own to be Agnostic (she’s very scientific in her ways of thinking). The decision she made was based from teachings (or non-teachings) of the church. She is truly is one of the kindest, most compassionate, most caring, most morally correct, most well rounded and adjusted person I know.

    I personally think god is the longest running hoax ever. As long as a person is raised correctly, I don’t think there is a need for the belief in god. Treating people with love and respect is not uniquely christian. I don’t think it’s god that people are lacking, it’s respect, it’s education, it’s PARENTING that missing in today’s world.



  10. MrPrentiss on December 3, 2015 at 7:08 PM

    I hope that centuries from now people can look back on this like we look back on the dark ages. It’s time for the sake of real peace on earth and good will to all peoples we give up this divisive need for somebody other than yourself to belive in. May they look back on us the way we view Zeus and aphrodite. Good stories, nice parables, but nothing more.



  11. Aviv on December 3, 2015 at 9:37 PM

    Hello, as someone who does not believe I wanted to say that I really appreciated the level of maturity and respect that was present in this article!

    Thank you, keep up the good work!



  12. Ericka N on December 3, 2015 at 10:07 PM

    I wanted to take a moment and thank you for teaching your children about what atheists are like as people. Your conversations sound very much like the ones that I have with my kids except I am explaining Christians. I think it is important to have these sort of discussions to not only arm our kids with information and critical thinking but also to teach them how to be respectful to one another. In particular the fact that you told your sweetly enthusiastic son that some atheists know of and still reject your idea of God. I can’t tell you how many times my daughter was harassed and bullied in primary school by overly enthusiastic Christian kids. In first grade, a group of kids would surround her at recess and screamed VBS songs in her ears at the top of their lungs until she fell down sobbing. Not exactly the way to win one for team JC, kwim? Her twin brother didn’t have problems like that, just interesting discussions with his devout best friend. I wish more people were able to politely and intelligently discuss differing opinions or worldviews. It sounds as if you are doing a lovely job at raising a few more



  13. Natalie on December 3, 2015 at 10:59 PM

    As an atheist I must admit I was leary of this article’s title but was pleased to find it was very respectful. I do want to say though that atheism is not a worldview. Just because I don’t believe in God does not mean I share the same views or beliefs on other things as fellow atheists. You need to be careful to not generalize a group of people. Oh and my character as a person is not due to a stamp on my heart by God, it’s due to how my parents raised me and my respect for fellow human beings.



  14. Amiee Whitson on December 6, 2015 at 5:38 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing these insights. My children attend private Christian schools and we so often take for granted their non-exposure to worldly views. While they are still under our roof it is vitally important to discuss these difficult topics. I really appreciate the reminder!



  15. Michelle on December 7, 2015 at 5:48 AM

    Hai! I don’t know I’m a teenager but this is really informative! YES!! I feel so conflicted by them.Bless you so much!! I feel a bit happier.Thank you!!!



  16. Matthew on February 18, 2016 at 6:50 AM

    Tina,
    As a Christian, I was utterly disappointed (and a little disgusted) to hear that the church you had attended couldn’t provide the answers you daughter was seeking. I would highly encourage you to read “The language of God” by Francis Collins, former head of the human genome project and current president of the National Institute of Health. He was one of the most influential people in helping to open my eyes and see that science and the bible are not mutually exclusive when understood properly. I think you would greatly benefit from this book and the information on his website, Biologos.org.



  17. Dick DiTullio on April 9, 2016 at 4:44 PM

    A Jewish Rabbi said, “There will always be suffering. Without God there is only suffering.”



  18. Abigail on September 20, 2017 at 1:35 AM

    Hey there! I’m actually an atheist (formerly a Christian) but I really liked this article. I liked that you acknowledged that atheists are not bad people just because they don’t believe in a God. In the area I live in its very difficult to even say that you’re an atheist without people assuming that you are immoral so it’s nice to see someone with an open mind.



  19. fran dalton on October 2, 2017 at 8:34 PM

    i am devestated that my 16 year old grand daughter says she is atheist. she denounces God. My heart is breaking. I do not want her to go to hell and afraid she might because of her disbelief. I am raising her and her sister, 11, because my daughter died in 2010. i know she doesnt believe because of this. its other reasons. i try to talk to her but i always end up leaving the room crying. she actually wants a Bible for this Christmas and I plan on getting her the best one possible for her to understand. I am just scared,. I am far from the perfect Chritian myself but the only mistake i wont make during my life is one that would send me to hell. what should I do? what shall I say. any advice accepted,. thank you for your time