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Ask the Patriarch 77
Introducing Agnosticism

from Jared S.

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What is the best way to introduce Agnosticism to a young child?

I have a step-sister who is going through a transitional phase due to a recent tragedy. She was initially raised in a non-practicing Christian home, but somewhat recently (before the aforementioned incident), my mother (her step-mother) had been taking her to Sunday School and teaching her bible verses.

She no longer lives with us, and told me she did not actually want to go to Sunday School. Is there a way I can introduce her to Agnosticism without angering her grandparents, with whom she now lives?

She is currently 11 years old, and will be 12 in May.

The Patriarch replies:


Several years ago, I wrote in Meditation 10:

...children are old enough to know that there are a genuine range of alternatives to their parent's faith just about the same time they learn the truth about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

However, I did not take on the issue of who would be responsible for helping them learn about alternatives. It was framed in terms of responding to queries from young people.

As for you taking on the responsibility of introducing your step-sister to agnosticism, so much depends on the dynamics of the particular situation, that I cannot give you a definite answer, only some suggestions to consider.

You stated that she does not want to attend Sunday School. I think it is reasonable to determine why.

There could be many reasons, such as:

I think it is important to determine what the problem is before you jump in with the solution of Agnosticism. Some of the other issues may be more important to her than getting introduced to a different viewpoint on religion.

But, if it turns out the issue is with her beliefs diverging from that of the Sunday School, then there is an opportunity to introduce agnosticism as one of many options. I suggest you let her lead the way with questions, which you provide answers to. Let her know you are an agnostic, but don't insist that she must become one too. Let her know there are alternatives to what she is being taught - in other denominations, other religions, along with atheism and agnosticism. Then encourage her to look for herself at what is involved in other belief systems. Your aim should be to assist her in finding her own way rather than directing her down a specific path.

I don't know if you can avoid conflict with devout grandparents in this, but you are more likely to keep the issue low key if you point out all the alternatives rather than just one; and if you tend to respond, rather than initiate. A low key and non-directive approach are probably your best means of keeping the lines of communication open.

Best wishes