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by Abigail Van Buren

Open Minds Are Useful When Discussing God With Kids

DEAR ABBY: I would like to respond to "Agnostic Dad in South Carolina" (Feb. 16), who wondered about how to answer the inevitable "Is there a God?" question his children will ask. My parents had strong but differing Christian faiths. They compromised when bringing us up, and we went to the church nearest our home (another denomination). Further, when we were teens, they allowed us to "sample" other religious traditions to determine what would suit us best.

I became agnostic, and like "Dad in S.C.," was unsure what to tell my son. My husband and I do not belong to any organized religion and didn't take him to church as a youngster. Instead, we introduced stories from the Bible at bedtime, and allowed him to attend his friends' churches when he asked to. More important, we showed him that all people are to be valued and that differences are to be respected.

Our son is now in his late 20s. He's a gentle, caring person with an interest in people from other cultures, religions and circumstances. Whether he is agnostic, religious or an atheist is a personal matter to him. He's comfortable with his beliefs and doesn't impose them on anyone else. As a parent, I couldn't ask for more. -- FREE-THINKING MOM IN WASHINGTON

DEAR MOM: Thank you for writing. Many readers were eager to offer guidance on this subject to a fellow parent. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Despite eight years of Catholic education, I'm an atheist. My wife is a Lutheran. We've never argued about it because we feel everyone has a right to religious freedom. We have three sons, whom she took to church and Sunday school regularly with my complete support. We discussed in advance what our answer should be when the God question came up. Our response was: "Some people believe there is a God and others do not. You will get a sound religious education, and when the time comes, you will decide for yourself."

Our sons are now adults with families. Two are religious; one is not. At family meals we join hands and say grace. Some recite it -- some just listen -- and everybody's happy. -- HARMONIOUS IN ILLINOIS

DEAR ABBY: There is no problem for "Agnostic" and his wife to "handle." If his children ask if there's a God, he should model honesty for them and say what he thinks. So should his wife. If the kids get two different answers, they will learn that not everyone shares the same opinion. Suggesting that "Dad" not express his view plainly, without input from his wife, amounts to recommending that they collude in providing a dishonest answer. -- EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY IN IOWA

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I are agnostic parents of two adult children, both of whom are tolerant, open-minded and decent people. My advice to "Dad" is to read some of the excellent books that are available about discussing God and religion with children. He should also look into the Unitarian Universalist church, which does not push any one creed but encourages people to find their own beliefs in a supportive environment. -- NANCY H. IN TEXAS

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)