My Daughter the Deist

By June 10, 2010

A week or two ago when my wife was out of town, my daughter (yes, that one) said something at dinner that caught me off guard. “I don’t believe our church is true.” She’s eight. That in and of itself didn’t catch me totally off guard because a month or so before she asked while we were doing scripture reading, “what if our church isn’t true and God is mad at us for going to the wrong church.” At that time I told her that I knew that if she prayed God would lead her in the way He saw fit. As I mention on my Mormon Scholars Testify testimony, I feel like I’ve been lead by God in my life and have had a number of spiritual experiences.

Back to the conversation where she declared her disbelief. It was what she said next that caught me off guard. “I have never had an answer to a prayer; I have never had a prompting; the Holy Ghost doesn’t comfort me when I’m scared, I have to comfort myself. And you know all those miracles in the Bible, I don’t believe them. Sand turning into lice; I don’t believe it; frogs, no; that guy and his hair no.” I was a little back on my heals at this point but like a lot of folks around the bloggernacle, I’m not too attached to Old Testament miracles, so I asked if she believed that Jesus performed miracles. “No” she said. “Healing a blind guy, no. Oh, I can believe that story about feeding all those people, you know, you just break a piece of bread up into a whole bunch of tiny pieces.” I explained that that wasn’t how it worked and she looked skeptical.

Now I was really back on my heals. So I asked if she believed that God created the earth, she said, “Jesus created the earth, daddy, but that was all the power God gave Him; He didn’t give Him any power to do any miracles.” Okay, at this point I was utterly stumped. She’s eight, where did she get all this?

I told her that I believed in miracles and started to tell her about some healings I had witness. “They were at the hospital” she cut me off. “That’s what they do at the hospital, heal people!”

Then her younger sister who’s five started to declare her various disbeliefs as a way to keep up, I think. Then daughter number one declared her beliefs. “I believe in God and I believe that Jesus came to earth.” I asked her why and she said, “I just feels right.” Then she added, “I don’t believe the big bang theory.” Earlier she told us of how she battled some kid in her class who considers himself a Buddhist for arguing against creationism. “I believe we came from monkeys,” the kid said. “Oh yeah,” my daughter responded, “where did the monkeys come from?” He was stumped. After all, he’s only eight.

So my daughter likes deism. Any thoughts? And did I mention that she’s eight?

Article filed under Reflective Posts


  1. I like deism, too. You seem to have a smart one.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 10, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

  2. Holy smokes!

    I have certain Deist tendencies myself (although not to the extent your daughter is taking it), so I personally would be more concerned with her rejection of science (big bang theory evolution). Maybe you should have some FHEs on those subjects. Gently go over the evidences for these things, and expand her horizons. Perhaps then she’ll learn that there is a value to not being too sure of everything.

    She seems like a great kid; congratulations!

    Comment by Kevin Barney — June 10, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

  3. Kevin,

    At 8, our understanding of science is still largely based in a faith in our teachers, so I can see where she would make such a connection.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 10, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

  4. I hope that she’s humble enough (or proud enough — which is it?) to realize when she’s 10 or 12 or 16 or 25 that she has had more life experiences and learned more about everything and that it’s okay to reconsider her earlier decisions.

    And I’d say that even if she had just told you that she believed in every miracle she had ever heard about. We should all re-evaluate our beliefs from time to time — even when (especially when) we remain convinced of an earlier belief. We need to update what that belief means to our older, more mature selves in our inevitably changed circumstances. That’s what wisdom is.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 10, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

  5. She?s eight, where did she get all this?

    That is still my question after reading this. If she got it all from personal reflection and critical thinking then (good for her!) I would handle that very differently than if she is getting it from someone else.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 10, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

  6. Steve, you sound like a wonderful father. I never would have dared utter a single word suggesting that the church wasn’t true to my parents. No chance. So no input from my parents,either. You are inn a very good position. Your kid trusts you enough to talk to you and had a sketchy outline of the basic Mormon story, even if it’s turned a bit on its side. Just wait it out, and see what happens. But, you can talk to her. So, talk. Which, I’m sure you will.

    Comment by djinn — June 10, 2010 @ 7:29 pm

  7. Sorry for the errors, I’ll try to delay hitting that “Add my comment” link in the future.

    Comment by djinn — June 10, 2010 @ 7:30 pm

  8. Wow, Steve. Wow.

    Comment by WVS — June 10, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

  9. Reflective listening, reflective listening, reflective listening. At eight she mostly needs to know you hear her, that you understand, and that she isn’t shocking you.

    That will give her the most freedom to continue to explore and change her thinking as many times as she wants to or needs to in the coming years.

    If she gets surprise or even mild argument, her young ego will get involved and she will feel more compelled to defend and identify with her position. It’s never healthy to get stuck for years with your own eight year old declarations, no matter what they are.

    You don’t have to agree, nor state more than once how things look to you. Freedom to express any belief without getting a reaction from her dad other than one of wanting to understand is what will help her most to be open to truth in this situation and down the road.

    Comment by mb — June 10, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

  10. I have never had a prompting;

    asked her why and she said, ?I just feels right.?

    Hmmm. So she’s never had a prompting from God but she believes in God because she has been prompted to believe in God? Something’s gotta give there.

    If Deism were accurate then Mormonism would be false. Our entire religion is based on the idea of a God who intervenes at times on the earth.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 10, 2010 @ 10:52 pm

  11. I think the primary focus of Deism is the goodness of man. That is what I like. I think that I have fallen for Thomas Paines later writings.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 10, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

  12. I am all for a Mormon variation on Humanism. The problem with Deism is the idea of a completely non-intervening God. That doesn’t jibe with Mormonism at all.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 10, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

  13. “That doesn?t jibe with Mormonism at all.”

    Sure, well, I am starting to doubt whether I jibe.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 10, 2010 @ 11:25 pm

  14. Unfortunately, I am not 8.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 10, 2010 @ 11:27 pm

  15. Don’t worry Chris, if you and God jibe then you and Mormonism can jibe just fine. (And everyone can jibe with God)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 10, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

  16. Thanks for the advice all. Djinn, I really appreciate what you have to say. I had seen you say that you had similar feelings as a kid so I had hoped you would comment.

    She is really smart. You’re right Geoff. I was just remembering how last month she had a plan to distribute Books of Mormon to all her classmates with her testimony in it. So what does that tell you? (we sort of steered her away from that plan). So perhaps she just likes to do things with a flourish (pro and con). Also, she prefaced her speech with “I don’t believe our church is true.”

    The things is that it was kind of a painful experience to hear her rattle that list off. When all was said and done I felt a little estranged (not to be over dramatic). There are things that are important to us that we hope to share with our children. To use another example (I don’t know if it works). I was really sad when my son (10) told me he wasn’t interested in me reading the Lord of the Rings to him any more, which was like my favorite things to do. But he expressed interest again a couple of months ago. Anyway, theism is much more important to me than that.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — June 10, 2010 @ 11:33 pm

  17. I just with that Steve was my dad. That would be awesome.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 10, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

  18. It looks like you will be in for a real ride with this one.
    It might be time to start her working in the gospel. I am one of those that can not point to any single spiritual event that has revealed to me the truthfulness of the gospel. My testimony is one of confirmation through doing. That might be helpful for her. Include her in service projects or include her in events where she can see the service and devotion of the faithful, and ask her to tell you how they make her feel. She should start to learn to recognize the still small voice and how it makes her feel. When she feels the spirit in acts of goodness, bear your testimony that the feeling is not from inside her but from the still small voice that lets her know father in heaven knows her and loves her. We all need to learn those lessons…. just 8 is a little early to start the journey.

    Comment by Jim — June 10, 2010 @ 11:36 pm

  19. Steve, exclusivity baffled me even in junior primary. I am came to terms with it in seminary and my mission. I have reverted to my pre-8 concerns in recent years.

    Comment by Chris H. — June 10, 2010 @ 11:39 pm

  20. Chris H., You’re a Thomas Paine fan? I’m in the process of totally reevaluating you. My reevaluation meter tells me that it’ll take like 17 hours or something. I hate it when my computer runs so slow.

    Comment by djinn — June 10, 2010 @ 11:51 pm

  21. I taught pain in quite a bit of detail this past Fall Semester. A lot of people know his Common Sense (which is great), but is later works really start to show some depth. Ben Park is the Paine expert around here. I am largely interested in how he transforms over the years. Like Paine, I am a complex and prickly one. I just hope more that six people come to my funeral. John Adams hated Paine 😉

    Comment by Chris H. — June 10, 2010 @ 11:57 pm

  22. Something just occurred to me:

    “Suppose we?ve chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we?re just making him madder and madder.” — Homer Simpson

    Does she watch the Simpsons? Not willing to put this on the good or the bad side of the leger (as defined by the reader) but it might have got her thinking.

    Comment by djinn — June 11, 2010 @ 12:00 am

  23. Paine was a dyed in the wool atheist when such heresy–as opposed to the “religion is cool” public voice “religion sucks majorly” private voice adopted by those founding fathers that planned on being elected (and it worked!)–got one thrown out of the US. He washed up in Russia, as I dimly remember. Pray tell, what did you teach?

    Comment by djinn — June 11, 2010 @ 12:07 am

  24. I can’t help myself, but Chris H., you understand why the John Adams…center.. faith….. might be somewhat amusing?

    Comment by djinn — June 11, 2010 @ 12:26 am

  25. Exclusivty just seemed stupid, to me; to adopt my 8 year old voice (or pretend that I’ve grown up beyond it.) Seminary was just sitting through stupid stuff to please my parents and not get thrown out. Really really really stupid stuff which I knew better than any of my three teachers by quite a long shot. But I’m annoying like that. I suspect that I’m semi-high-functioning autistic. (I was always the one to raise may hand, but then I read “The Quest for the Historical Jesus” by Schweitzer when I was 13. My parents had no idea.

    You may have a similar little time bomb on your hands. Good luck. Steer her towards math. It’ll keep her occupied. It turns out that pretty much all of us on the autistic scale are not really capable of teleological thinking–just a warning. Not enough evidence.

    Comment by djinn — June 11, 2010 @ 12:34 am

  26. Of course, I also never mastered the art of closing a paragraph.) So there.

    Comment by djinn — June 11, 2010 @ 12:35 am

  27. On second thought, I realize that my commment didn’t quite have the… ok, if failed completely. All I meant to do was discuss my own situation so you could be of some help if you had a similar child. I was so annoying as a teen, my poor seminary teachers. But I didn’t directly confront them; I just baited them. Man, I was mean. I see something similar in some of these posts on the blogosphere. Drat. Personal growth is always so annoying.

    Sounds like you have a lively wonderful unpredictable daughter, best of luck. And I mean it.

    Comment by djinn — June 11, 2010 @ 12:45 am

  28. Now I’m going to have to be nice or something. I’m going away to pout. Expect a reformed djinn (what is a reformed djinn anyway? I don’t get to spin?) Sigh. Best of luck on your amazing adventure which is child-raising.

    Comment by djinn — June 11, 2010 @ 12:48 am

  29. Wow. Seven straight comments. That’s a comment storm even by djinn standards.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 11, 2010 @ 1:05 am

  30. Sorry. Please feel free to delete them all. Hangs head in shame. I know I’m not supposed to do that.

    Comment by djinn — June 11, 2010 @ 1:35 am

  31. Thanks for this personal (familial?) post, Steve. I agree with the comment above that the fact she is talking to you about this is a great sign. I echo the counsel of just reflective listening.

    Comment by Ben — June 11, 2010 @ 3:30 am

  32. once when i was home teaching, i asked a 5/6 year old what the book of mormon is. she said something like, “stories that aren’t true.” shamefully, i could not help laughing. which embarrassed her to the point of tears. (yes, i know, i am a terrible person.) she was just confused, not skeptical.

    i’ve never experienced real doubt with little kids and wouldn’t know how to handle it. one of my worst fears it that i will inadvertantly stifle my kids natural inclination towards belief by my critical mind set. just because my existence is tortured, why should theirs be?

    on the other hand, maybe occasional doses of skepticism administered at an early age might be better in the long run. then it wouldn’t come as such a shock at 20 or 30. i don’t know.

    Comment by g.wesley — June 11, 2010 @ 9:51 am

  33. djinn,

    If you read “Age of Reason,” Paine is quite clearly a deist, but it would be hard to label him as a “dyed in the wool atheist.” His gripe is not with faith and religion but more establish religion and dogma which might lead us to ignore freedom or to treat others cruelly.

    You seem to be off a bit on his bio and I do not have to address it here. Eric Foner’s book on Paine is excellent (though it focuses mostly on the political).

    Comment by Chris H. — June 11, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  34. Steve, I’m glad you wrote this, because sometimes I feel alone and a little scared. My daughter is much the same way, and has been ever since she was about 5 or 6 (she’s 10 now). She often says what’s the point of praying? I’ve never had a prayer answered. I’ve never felt the Holy Ghost. Etc. She insisted she didn’t want to get baptized, and I was surprised when she suddenly changed her mind. She’s also told me on several occasions that she will NOT be a member of the church when she grows up. This stuff absolutely kills me, because it’s the polar opposite of how I felt when I was her age. Anyway, I’m enjoying the insights and dialogue.

    Comment by meems — June 11, 2010 @ 11:06 am

  35. mb and Ben. I did try to listen calmly, but the truth is, I was shocked. We’ve have some experience with trying to act calm when you’re not exactly (like when the kids ask you about sex) so I hope I did okay. But I felt like a deer in the headlights.

    Half my brothers and sisters left the church which I know was painful for my parents. You do want to be able to connect with your children on that level and I felt like a got some perspective on how that might feel.

    Again, not to be over dramatic. We had a nice time reading the scriptures last night and when had the missionaries over a few nights ago, my wife told them vaguely that our daughter had some concerns (I was worried that she would feel singled out but my wife said it went really well). They talked about Moroni 10:3-5 and she said that that process made a lot of sense. So as you’ve all said, this should be an interesting journey.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — June 11, 2010 @ 11:17 am

  36. Thanks for sharing, Steve. Certainly no advice to give but sounds like your daughter is fortunate to have someone perceptive enough not to just chide her and drive her disenchantment deeper. We all get a little heady, I think, with newfound analytical powers, don’t we?

    Comment by Ryan T — June 11, 2010 @ 11:36 am

  37. meems, that’s tough. My daughter was fine with getting baptized and isn’t particularly militant in her skepticism.

    We had a funny incident when she went to a school performance one Sunday. We try to avoid such things but let her choose. This upset her older brother (10) whose a real straight arrow and who always chooses not to do Sunday activities. After the event I overheard him chiding her, “You’re not Mormon,” he said. “Yes I am,” she said defensively. “You don’t act like one. You’re probably going to leave the church when you get older.” I told him to knock it off, but that little dinner conversation made me worried. Big brother was at a friend’s house, I don’t think she would have brought it up in front of him. So lots of interesting dynamics.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — June 11, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

  38. Yes, Steve. My 9 year old son is more of a “believer.” Last fast and testimony meeting he got up (to my surprise) and gave a heartfelt testimony about how his prayers about a certain subject had been answered and he knew Heavenly Father heard his prayers and answered them. So, there you have it!

    Comment by meems — June 11, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  39. wow. your daughter seems to be really bright. i feel a lot like her except that i didn’t have these revelations until i was a freshman in high school. do some research with her and keep letting her choose what she believes in. i am a deist and if you google deism you will find some very interesting web sites. your daughter seems to have many of the same views as i have. i’m glad that a young generation seems to be so religiously open-minded with reason and logic.

    best of luck 🙂

    Comment by Katlyn — June 15, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

  40. That is one smart little girl. Many great people of faith express doubts like hers. They still serve society and God. I think they’re better for having doubts, frankly, or at least the courage to express them. Maybe that’s the difference between us. Although you’d never hear the general authorities express dissatisfaction with God’s job performance. It would be nice once in awhile.

    Comment by annegb — June 17, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

  41. Thanks again all. This Sunday she said she didn’t want to go citing her disbelief. Her beef is basically that she finds OT stories that she’s learning to be silly and immoral. So I told her that next week she could go with us to gospel doctrine and she thought that sounded like a good idea. We’ll see how it goes.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — June 17, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  42. Steve,

    You have your hands full. Congratulations. I bet as time moves on and you continue to to teach and pray that those experiences will come to her. May I suggest that you have an FHE and listen to Matthew Cowley’s talk “Miracles”. You can download it online and it is powerful today as it was when he gave the talk. If you cannot find it let me know and I will forward it to you.

    Comment by ThomasB — June 22, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

  43. Thanks Thomas, I’ll take a look.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — June 24, 2010 @ 11:18 am

  44. #9, very well said.

    Comment by Chris Smith — July 8, 2010 @ 4:12 pm


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