Why I’m Raising My Children To Be Heathens

As a little girl, I clocked in a ton of hours at the Church of the Nazarene. From Easter programs to Friday night youth choir, I participated in almost every activity the church offered, and even won a scholarship to help with my college costs.

But my children aren’t in Sunday school each week. They aren’t familiar with the creation story or Daniel and the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego could just as easily be the names of the kids in their 1st grade class.

According to their grandmother, my husband and I are raising heathens.

I’m actually pretty okay with that. I remember getting dressed up every week, prepared to sit in a pew and giggle with my friends. I went to church to see and be seen, to sing along with the choir, and to hear about how I was going to hell if I didn’t follow the rules.

Sure, I liked hanging out on retreats and “fellowship” with the friends I didn’t get to see during the week, but I never really felt that connection you were supposed to feel at church. I felt like people were always watching, expecting me to behave a certain way because my grandmother was a reverend. I didn’t understand why I needed to be baptized to start a new program or have a say in how things went, or why most of the fun stuff seemed to be some form of sin.

It wasn’t until I got older–much older–that I began to form a real relationship with God. Once I stopped attending church, things actually started to make sense. I developed new thoughts about religion, salvation, purpose, creation, and death. I became open to other ideas, traditions, and practices.

I’m not alone. A number of young people and parents are considered “nones,” people who have no religious affiliation.

In 2012, 21% of Gen Xers and 15% of Baby Boomers describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated. Currently, one third of Americans under 30 consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated with any religion. Seventy-four percent of us “nones” were actually raised with some sort of affiliation, but are finding other ways to connect with Mother/Father God, “the Universe,” or another higher power.

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The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that “46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day.”

Evolutionary scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins likened teaching religion to kids with child abuse. ‘What a child should be taught is that religion exists; that some people believe this and some people believe that,’ he told guests at the UK’s Chipping Norton Literary Festival. ‘What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe. That’s child abuse.

But a 2008 study found that children who are raised in religious households are “rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents.”

While our family doesn’t attend services regularly, we have found a non-denominational church that preaches New Thought and celebrates “the Magnificence of God in you and as you.” The weekly messages are offered on YouTube, the people greet us and the boys with “Happy Sunday!” and warm hugs, and the choir always brings down the house with songs asking the congregation to “be Jesus to somebody,” because “you may be the only Jesus they’ll ever see” (the song also asks you to be the Prophet Mohammed, Buddha, and/or Krishna to somebody).

My personal spiritual practice these days is a blend of the Christian faith I was raised into and parts of other religions. I read Bible verses on my smartphone, pray five times a day like the Muslims, and repeat mantras like the Buddhists. I enjoy yoga, and carry crystals on days when I feel “off.” I give money to the homeless and try to be helpful to most of the people I come in contact with. I try to be more Christlike–without shunning people who don’t subscribe to the concept of God at all.

I believe that God can be found anywhere, from the smile of a baby to the beauty of a flowing waterfall. I believe that all religions are telling different versions the same story–just with different characters. As Pope Gregory VII wrote to Al-Nasir, the Muslim Ruler of Bijaya in 1076, “We believe in and confess one God, admittedly, in a different way…”

Most importantly, I believe that my children should be allowed to follow whatever path leads them to peace, goodness, and purpose.

If that means I’m raising heathens, I’ll take it. God will forgive me.

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Tiffani is the wife and mom behind MyMommyVents, co-creator of The Mommy Conference, and co-founder of the digital collective Sisterhued. Her writing and parenting tips have been seen on The Washington Post, Mommy Noire, Yahoo Parenting, and Fit Pregnancy.
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  1. Michsi
    June 12, 2017 / 6:59 pm

    “It wasn’t until I got older–much older–that I began to form a real relationship with God. Once I stopped attending church, things actually started to make sense. I developed new thoughts about religion, salvation, purpose, creation, and death. I became open to other ideas, traditions, and practices.”

    See this is exactly what I would say about myself, but I wasn’t always able to put it into words. My husband is Muslim, and he is always telling me he wishes I went to church more. I really don’t feel like I need to attend church to have a relationship with god, and be a good person. Church these days has gotten away from the word imo, people interject their personal thoughts into things that they shouldn’t when preaching. So most of the time, I’m fine reading my bible, praying when things are good and bad and minding my business.

    • June 19, 2017 / 1:25 am

      Thanks for reading, Michsi! It’s hard to articulate personal feelings about religion sometimes–especially when you’ve grown up a certain way. Church is the building–we should seek to have the relationship in our heart with whatever we call our higher power.

  2. June 12, 2017 / 7:01 pm

    I. Love. This. Post. !!!
    Maybe because I was raised by a mom that grew up like you but never put that pressure of knowing every verse in a bible onto me and my siblings.
    I was not baptized as a child. Teenager. Young adult. Etc…and have not had my only child baptized either. I do believe when she gets older, she will come to her own conclusions about what it means to be one with Jesus and to walk in his path. Maybe one day, I’ll also walk in his path. Until then, I’ll read bible verses sent to my phone and clap on beat during Celebration of Gospel on BET.

    • June 19, 2017 / 1:27 am

      Kat, I still haven’t been baptised–my mom told me it didn’t make sense to “go down a dry sinner and come up a wet one.” I’d feel like a hypocrite if I just went through the motions and rituals of church without being totally committed to the ideals. I think everyone should be able to make their own spiritual decision when they get older–but that we as parents also have to expose our kids to different religions and cultures.

  3. June 12, 2017 / 7:24 pm

    Wow! All of this! I guess I’m raising a healthy heathen of my own. I struggled with it, sometimes I still do. Thanks for sharing.

    • June 19, 2017 / 1:28 am

      Hey, Mikelah! Welcome to the “nones,” lol.

  4. June 12, 2017 / 7:57 pm

    I can relate to much of this. I jokingly call myself and my children heathens because we don’t have any religious affiliations, not even in thought (e.g. being Christlike). My main focus is to lead and teach by example- self-control, empathy, giving, determination, etc and the ol’ skool quote, “love/treat others how you want to be loved/treated”. We have a local secular group, but I didn’t really enjoy it. About the song you mentioned, that sounds nice! I like the idea of how your church incorporates all beliefs without a “one and only” mentality. That’s awesome! Sharing!
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    • June 19, 2017 / 1:31 am

      And sometimes that’s all you can do–be the best person you know how to be. There’s a Bible verse that says you’re supposed to “train up a child in the way that he should go,” so I’d say you’re doing a great job.

    • June 19, 2017 / 1:32 am

      So true! I think it’s important that young adults find their own way to connect–without being forced to.

  5. Tatiana
    June 12, 2017 / 11:19 pm

    I absolutely love ❤️ this!

    • June 19, 2017 / 1:33 am

      I appreciate you taking the time to read it!

  6. June 13, 2017 / 6:21 am

    Interesting & provocative & confusing.
    Children absorb what is taught and modeled and ultimately even with religion they have to make their own choices and hopefully they’ll make the best choice.
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    • June 19, 2017 / 1:33 am

      Thanks for reading! A strong foundation can help guide children later in life.

      • Shantini
        June 29, 2017 / 8:00 pm

        Tiffani! What an awesome post!! So you know we go way back to singing on the youth choir at Nazarene days, so I totally understand and can relate to the sentiment! I really enjoy the inclusivity that you get to live and practice on a daily when you release the pressures of suscribing to one religion. I too have a blended sprirtual practice. I don’t know about you, but it has been incredibly free-ing to chose other and define it for myself. Again–excellent post! I shall tune in more often!

        • July 1, 2017 / 7:49 pm

          Thanks for reading, Shantini! I wish more people were open to letting others figure out their spiritual walk instead of pushing one on them.

  7. Tawana
    June 26, 2017 / 12:18 am

    This!!!! I can totally relate to this , as this is exactly what i go through and struggle with eery day.But i’m coming to peace with it and will just go my own way.

    • July 1, 2017 / 7:50 pm

      I think once you’re peaceful with a decision, you know it’s personally right for you.

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