Many atheist parents want a magic bullet for raising atheist children and I’m here to tell you, there is no magic bullet.
Earlier today someone asked me a tremendous question; it's a question that I often hear as a critical question from the religious and as a conundrum from the secular. The question came to me like this:
I am wondering how to raise a child that is five years old saying they do not believe in a god. I am unsure if they really know what they are talking about.
I come from a mixed family of theists, my oldest daughter an agnostic, and myself being an atheist.
How do I help her transition into public school where they say the pledge. She seems very observant and I want her to be freethinking, full of imagination, feel loved, while still respecting others.
I hope I can do the right thing for all my children.
I love talking to parents. The best ones question everything, think of things to worry about or question, and seek out information to continue to improve. Never fear the not knowing!
Of course, I can't speak for ATHEISM (no one can!), but I can speak to this question as an atheist parent.
My simple answer is this.
I am not raising atheists; I am raising children.
It is not my goal in life to pass my atheist paradigm on to my children. It is my goal in life to give my children the freedom, the reasonable thought, and the information to make decisions for themselves. If their conclusions are that there is no supernatural deity (among many other conclusions, hopefully) well, that is a decision that they will come to after many years of truly exploring ideologies freely, changing opinions, improving their pattern of thought, living in an open world, and exploring this world broadly with eyes wide open.
I can not see a five year old as having a personal philosophy. Can you?
Five year olds generally know what they have been taught and they know how to please the beloved adults around them.
The bad part of that: religions focus on kids at those early ages.
The great part of that: they don't have to carry our baggage.
The bad part of that: kids absorb religious messages around them.
The great part of that: our kids can explore so many things and develop their own philosophies about the world.
The bad part of that: they are targets for mixed-messages and overzealous family and friends who fear for their souls.
The great part of that: they learn that self-contained belief systems never really remove the fear of this life, they only expand it.
Raising children without religion is a journey. It is what makes parenting secular.
Raising freethinking children? That is the goal. There is absolutely no magic bullet or magic moment, rather a series of moments. There are no manuals, no conferences (yet...or few of them), few groups you can join, few communities to be a part of, no esoteric knowledge. Rather, it is an ongoing question and answer period, an exploration of the grey areas of life, a place of peace and clear thought, and a celebration of choice!
Take the time to learn about the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the rock cycle. Read about dinosaurs. Look at the stars. Plant a garden. Read mythology stories from all over the world. All of this reading and activity will give your children a natural basis for answers to important questions.
You will have ongoing and wonderful conversations with your free thinking children and they will amaze you! Never fear their questions. Never fear their confusion. Never fear their exploration of other belief systems. With your support they will know that they can explore ideas and accept them or reject them based on what makes sense.
Man in the sky with an afterlife on the clouds?
Hmmm, what can we see through this telescope?
What do the astronauts see way up there?
Scary, hot place under the earth where people go to live forever?
I see from my research that these miners can't live very far down.
What do we know exists there and how do we know it?
Hmmm...I can see this little bird beginning to decompose,
sending its molecules into the soil to enrich it.
What can we see happens next?
You are offering them evidence-based information and teaching them that our non-secular world has injected some very unnecessary and confusing messages into our day. They have the freedom to look carefully, think critically, pick out mythology from fact, ask the questions, and create a unique paradigm, uniquely theirs.
So the short answer is that we aren't out here trying to raise atheists; we are out here raising freethinking human beings who have the luxury, the time, and the encouragement to figure out their own personal philosophy!
OH! And about the Pledge of Allegiance question, why not learn it ahead of time with her? Why not talk about what it actually means? Why not talk about each sentence, its meaning, and your daughter's options regarding if she wants to say it or how she might like to say it, or other options. Just inform, educate, discuss, and sit back and watch her amazing brain go to work!