Brasilmagic\’s Weblog

Venting to the World

Divorce, Religion and Kids

We are living in a very diverse world. Almost every continent has had its share of immigrant waves. Western Europe has received immigrants from Northern Africa and the Middle East for decades. The United States has had recent waves of Hispanic, Asian, Indian and African immigrants. One of the consequences of this multiculturalism is that there are more and more mixed marriages, not only in terms of ethnicity but also in terms of religion.

Jewish-Christian marriages have been common in the United States since the early 1900’s, when the first Jewish immigrants arrived. The number of Judeo-Christian marriages intensified after 1939 with Hitler’s hostility to Jews in Germany. Many Jewish-Christian couples in America now celebrate both traditions, with very little conflict.

More rare are marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, but I believe they are also growing in numbers. Children tend to follow the mother’s religion, since men have been traditionally less involved with the raising of children. But what happens after there is a divorce? What happens when the father is a non-believer, and agrees to raise his children in the mother’s religion as a way to keep domestic peace but no longer is married?

Like in many divorces, differences sometimes become a point of contention. As an atheist myself who raised two great children without any religion, I know very well how religion can be a complicated issue. Take the story of this divorced father of two: a Hispanic immigrant who has abandoned Catholicism to become an Agnostic, or “almost atheist” in his words. His ex-wife is very Catholic and takes their son and daughter to Church every Sunday, as well as following in all the Catholic Church rites. Their teenage daughter recently was “confirmed” with a church ceremony. The father objected to what he called “indoctrination” of his daughter, with no success. He felt helpless and obligated to attend the service, where he was appalled at the “discrimination between middle class whites and poor Hispanic immigrants who ignored each other during the whole ceremony”. Furthermore, it pained him to see his daughter going through rituals that he understands as “based in lies and myths”.

The most famous case of divorced couples with opposed religious views is the Michael Newdow case. Michael Newdow is an atheist who opposed his daughter reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school. In 2002, he filed a suit in behalf of his daughter against the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Even though the case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court, it was overruled because Newdow did not have custody of his daughter. For secular parents, the difficulty is that there is an added stigma to being non-believer in a country where religion is associated to “being good and moral”. Atheist parents are usually powerless against a religious parent who has a stamp of approval from society, school and other family members.

So what can a parent who is opposed to the religion their ex belongs to do? I think the best solution is to talk to your child as she or he grows up. Offer an alternative point of view. Teach your child about your religion or lack thereof. Tell them that you will let them decide what’s best for them when they grow up, and hope for the best. Engaging in battles with your ex over what religion or non-belief you will raise your children just adds to the tension of divorce and may alienate the child. Letting your child know what your position is and that they have a choice seems to be the most civil way to deal with a sensitive issue such as religious belief.


February 12, 2011 - Posted by | Atheism, Being a mother, Religion


  1. this is not a Religious issue, this is a human issue. You are separating man and woman based on their differences of religion. People will have differences,do you blame the issue or do you blame the persons inability to see through their differences in the name of Love.

    Comment by Todd Chavey | February 19, 2011 | Reply

  2. I’m a step-mother to 3 children who are being raised by an extremely Mormon mother who is home schooling them. My husband and I aren’t very religious and it bothers me that the children “have” to do something a certain way because of the religion. I don’t know what the best way is to explain that there are other ways of thinking to these children. Any suggestions?

    Comment by Katya | July 18, 2011 | Reply

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