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Ask Pastor Paul: We Are An Atheist and A Jew -- How Should We Raise Our Daughter?

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Ask Pastor Paul: Spiritual Advice for the Real World.

Have a spiritual question, ethical dilemma or religious curiosity? Don't be shy! People of all backgrounds, ages and creeds are encouraged to submit questions to

Dear Pastor Paul,

An atheist and a Jew walk into a bar ... and get married ... and have a kid. We never had an issue with religion until the subject of what to do with our daughter came up. Either you raise a child believing in God or you don't, there isn't really a middle ground. We had started to come upon a consensus that the Jewish holidays would be celebrated for a family unity thing, but then she said that she didn't want me to tell our daughter I am an atheist. I refused and said I couldn't simply lie to her all her life. This is where our impasse stands. Any suggestions?

Dear Friend,

Whether in a religious or secular household, every set of parents will make decisions about how to instill their values and beliefs in their children. The teaching can range from ethical mandates and cultural identity, to questions of 'ultimate truth.'

Even when both parents are from one tradition they will never believe exactly the same thing on these crucial and complicated questions. So, raising a child always involves compromise between the parents, as well as some acknowledgement that, in the end, the child is going to believe what she or he believes, no matter what you teach them. Want proof? Ask any preacher about what their kids believe -- 'preachers kids' are infamously naughty.

You say 'either you raise a kid believing there is a God or you don't and there isn't middle ground.' But maybe there is. Instead of approaching your daughter with a negation of the belief in God that your wife is attempting to instill, why not teach your daughter about what does give you inspiration and wisdom to live a good life. While your wife can talk about the teachings, rituals, and texts of her Jewish faith, you can talk about the wonders of science, or the knowledge of the secular philosophers, or the inspiration and aesthetics of the great artists.

Your wife should not restrict you from teaching your child about what you hold to be most important, just as the focus of your teaching should not be reduced to the mere negation of what your daughter has just learned from her mother. At some point, she will assuredly ask you what you think about God. You do not have to lie. But try to answer in a way that respects your wife's beliefs, while saying that you believe in these other things.

Whatever you do, don't make your daughter the battleground of your (a)theological debate.

Ultimately, your daughter may be all the richer for having grown up in what is essentially an inter-faith household, learning from what both the secular and the sacred worlds have to teach us.

Have a spiritual question, ethical dilemma or religious curiosity? Don't be shy! People of all backgrounds, ages and creeds are encouraged to submit questions to

If you are in spiritual or emotional distress, please contact a clergy person or mental health professional who can help you. If you are in crisis, please contact the crisis hotline.

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