When your children are in a religious school and you're an atheist
This mom explains why they decided to put their children in a Catholic school.
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'Tis the season of nativity plays, pa-rum-pum-pumming and Father Christmas at school. I quite enjoy all the festivities and happily wish everyone Merry Christmas loudly and cheerfully. The only problem is I don’t believe in God or Jesus or any magic beings in the sky. The other problem is that my children attend a religious school.

This may seem an odd choice for a pair of atheist parents, as we certainly aren’t short of schools in the area. What was going through our minds?

How did we make this choice?

Although our government schools are meant to be secular, they are not. They sing hymns in assembly, have religious societies, and they pray. The schools in our area all seem to follow a Christian religion, mostly of the “arms in the air hallelujah” variety. 

I’m culturally Christian, even though I didn’t grow up in a religious home. When we did occasionally attend church, it was generally an Anglican church. Formal. Perhaps this was why I didn’t mind sending my children to a Catholic school, where people weren’t shouting “Hallelujah, Jesus loves you!” at every turn. 

Although the religion is ever-present and there is mass once a week, the focus is on academics in the classroom and the standard curriculum is followed… unlike some other schools.

Something which amused me intensely on my school visits was when lessons in other subjects were taught using Bible stories – so they’d count the animals going into the ark, but not calculate the area each animal would have required and design the poop-riddance mechanisms the ark would have required if it literally happened. 

We chose the school for its excellent academic record, good sporting programme, and no-nonsense approach to bullying. 

And because out of all the schools in our area, even the secular ones, it’s the only one that teaches evolution (not very well in my opinion, but I’ve made sure to supplement my kids’ education in that regard), something the Catholic church has accepted as fact, even if most Catholic people do not agree with this stance. 

Other religions

I went to a government school and it was far more religious than what our children are exposed to now. Yet I still grew up able to question and think for myself and I can already see that my children are doing the same. 

For me as a child, the first inkling that this religious-thing might not be all that it was claimed was when I started hearing about other religions from friends with other beliefs and discovered that each person vehemently believed that their supernatural being was the one true being. 

When I heard some of the outlandish stories the religions were based on, I started to think about the ones my own religion was based on. Suddenly light bulbs went off for me. 

So I don’t have a problem with others who do have religious beliefs and I don’t mind my children being exposed to these beliefs. We even let our children take part. 

What we do appreciate is that there are children of many religions at the school and the children are exposed to these and encouraged to ask questions about them. 

My son was 5 when he told me that prayers were like wishing – something you did to make you feel better but that didn’t actually do anything. 

I am a little worried about my 4-year-old daughter who hasn’t yet started asking any probing questions. I shall have to ask her a few things to get the thoughts going.

Unpleasant aspects

The general religious message of love and tolerance is okay. I know that in practice we see homophobia and intolerance from religious people. But being exposed to people like that is going to happen no matter where I send them to school and so far I’ve had no concerns about this happening at their school. And hopefully the value system we have at home will override any of that.

Are we the only atheists at the school? No, there is a happy bunch of us who gather outside the church when the children are singing in the choir at first holy communion, who catch each other’s eyes during prayers at school meetings. 

Would you send your children to a religious school if you were not religious? Send us your comments to chatback@parent24.com.

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