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We are a worldwide social network of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

I have a big problem and I would like some suggestions from people with more experience.

 

I have a niece. She turns 4 next month. I would like to know how to deal with her and how to let her know that all she is taught about god and religion is not true, but in a more subtle way, because I don't want to seem like I'm imposing anything. This wouldn't be a problem if I wouldn't be the only atheist in her life, but I am, and everybody else either doesn't really care about her and/or is not that pious but not actually an atheist, or is a religious nut. I kept quiet until now because I don't want to do anything that would affect my relationship with her, and some of you have already found out the hard way what religious people are capable of, but she already sings out of the blue "hallelujah" (and I'm not talking about that great song), "god have mercy" and stuff like that, and she already believes that if she won't be good, if she won't kiss icons, if she doesn't cross herself (is this the correct saying?), etc. she will go to hell. I don't know if she knows what hell really is supposed to be, but that stuff is obviously already stuck in her mind. She is really chatty and what I tell her might slip out someday and that might not turn out good for either one of us - I don't really care about myself in this situation, but it would be even harder for me to guide her at least as best as I can which is far better than what the rest of the people that should do it actually does... or doesn't. So, I would like to be able to do something about it because I really care about her, but, again, I don't want to be obvious.

 

Oh yeah, I have not told anyone that might be in contact with my niece as well that I don't believe that a god exists, even though some might have deduced that when I threw away all the religious stuff I had like 6 months ago, but, from that, they might as well think that I'm just mad with religion.

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I don't think you can do much for your niece directly, she's her parent's business first.

Your best bet would be to feed her with all sorts of other fairy tales, calling them such.

One day she might be able to equal all fairy tales as only tales.

Keep on caring for her though...

I was afraid that I would get such an answer... It means I really can't do anything.

Read her other fairy tales such as Aesop's Fables, or African Folk Tales. Her parents might even enjoy these stories, but it would be better to read them to her while going for a walk.

You can do what I do with my friends. If and when the subject comes up (and you can easily lead into it, y'know) and she or her parents or whoever say "something religious" you ask, simply, and quietly, "You don't **really** believe that, do you?" or - even more subversive - "You don't *have* to believe that you know."
I think your niece will react positively to such statements - more so than the adults.
I guess I could do that, but I don't really like to talk to her parents and I think my niece is far to young to appreciate and learn something from such subtleties - her parents, both 24, still don't.

I think your best bet is to tell her, casually, not making a big deal out of it, that you personally don't really believe there is a hell, or that she'll go there if she doesn't cross herself. If she asks why you don't believe, don't elaborate, she's too little, just say nonchalantly that "some people believe, others don't" just like some people root for Lazio and others for Fiorentina. A first step for kids' awareness and questioning is for them to know that not everybody believes the same.

 

As for the adults, if you hear the mom or dad (is she your sister or your brother's kid?) or grandparents blatantly scare her with hell, you may want to gently mention (in private) that she's just a little girl and you worry she'll have nightmares or grow up to be fearful if she's fed that scary stuff into her brain.

Thank god I only have a sister, otherwise I would probably go nuts with so many problems, not that I'm so sane right now.

A quote popped into my head while reading your second paragraph. If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people. In this situation it is more than true. My sister's husband (I don't really like to call brother-in-law a person with whom I've spoken close to an hour put together in three or four years since I've been made aware of his existance - counting greetings as well) doesn't really care about many things, and clearly, as a Romanian, he's religious (only) by default. My father is what some might call a religious zealot, and, like most religious zealots, he keeps saying the same old things over and over again, but my niece is somewhat fond of him as well - he's not really a bad person, but he has no clue what's going on, and he keeps barking towards everyone he meets, after all, they think they're doing god's work or something. Also, my niece is kind of a little opportunist, and she likes you if you give her something, even though she forgets about it 10 minutes later (apparently she likes me all the time because I more than often defend her and I'm always the only one that reasons with her - and not yells at her, or even worse beats her -whether it is time to eat or not eat something that she's not supposed to, and anything you can think a child would or would not like to do - too bad that I'll probably never have my own children); so my father buys her stuff, and when she hears religious stuff coming from him, she buys into it (I'm actually assuming here, because I haven't been in the same place as my father and niece since her baptism - I'm actually her godfather as well), and my sister goes to church sometimes, and she takes her as well. In my opinion, my sister is really lost, as lost as I am - not really a happy childhood for neither one of us - but at least I am trying to make some sense out of my life. I haven't spoken to my father since January 1st 2010; in 2009 I haven't spoken with him from May until late December. Religion was not a reason for that, at first, but it is a big reason now. I rarely spoke with my sister, because I can't stand her whole behaviour and attitude towards everything, especially my niece, and more so because she keeps making the same mistakes my mother made while raising her - and that drives me insane. I know, I should try and make it more obvious, but I have made a habbit out of keeping my thoughts to myself, so, until now I have just been avoiding her. Anyway, there isn't any communication, so your advice would work in better circumstances, but then again, that quote keeps popping in my mind... if there would be any chance of reasoning, I wouldn't be in this situation at all. Oh yeah, and there's my mother too. She has some icons in the house and she lits a candle every now and then, but she said once that she doesn't go to church because she can't really believe all that. I don't have a good, not even decent, relationship with my mother either, so I haven't insisted on that, but I guess she was only talking about church in general and not god too. So... what do you say about that? I guess I'm not in the most pleasant environment, but, well, this is it for now, and I'm trying very hard to make it as pleasant as possible, because I fear I'll literally go crazy - there have been a few signs of that in the past two years. To sum up, my family isn't really reasonable by default... if you add religion... well, you would have to experience it to know what I'm talking about. I know other people are in far more worse situations, but I have always been an adept of reason as a solution to any problem - probably that's why I finally got out of religion, and if I can't have that, well, then I really don't have anything to keep me going. Oh yeah, my father said when my sister got pregnant that he wants nothing to do with that bastard, bastard that now calls him grandpa.

Ouch. Your situation really sounds pretty bad. I'm sorry that's the way it is for you now but remember that it does not mean it'll always be like this. You mother seems to be the most approachable person at the moment. Who knows, maybe she is waiting for you to open up to her.  However, I'm just talking since i don't know your family and their interactions.

 

Remember this:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina,

Yeah, I guess what I've said doesn't really present the actual facts. The fact that you take my mother as the most approachable person proves it. I can't really say which one is more approachable, but she is definitely not approachable. I guess I can wait for my niece to grow a little and then try to talk to her directly. The fact that we get along so well could help, even if a little. I already try to convince her that smoking is gross and she seems to agree, and she often imitates me, even the most insignificant things and gestures - so that could really help me a lot.
Since you only see her sometimes, I will say what works in these times. The same thing I did for my nieces, I do for my grandchildren. What I do for my grandchildren is this:

When they start talking about Bible stuff, and the stories and dogma, I relate it to the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa, unicorns, fairies, and leprechauns. When she crosses herself, just knock on wood and giggle. She is 4, and is at this phase not so good at separating fantasy from reality. By the time she is around 8, she'll begin putting things together, and soon it will all seem like so much superstition to her.

When my grandkids talk about Noah's flood, I remind them that it's a story to explain things people didn't understand long ago, but that we know more now. Then I tell them an Aesop's fable. Eventually, they'll equate it all. It takes time, and every seed planted will sprout someplace.
Good luck~

Well, it is worth a try. Thanks for the tip.

Well, I'll always be ready to listen to what she has to say, but I guess I was looking for something with a more quick effect. Thanks for replying.

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