Today I wrote about the Misconceptions of Godless Parenting in this iReport. The comments came from actual discussions with believers. I figured you guys are already familiar with these arguments, but if you’d like to take a look or add your voice, please feel free to comment in either place. I had to whittle down the essay by about half. There was a lot to write about, as I’m sure you know.
Hope everyone enjoys Halloween and all the ghosts and goblins, candy and adult brew!
How can you raise moral kids? How do you explain the origins of the universe to your children? After spending some time on Twitter recently, I realized that these are questions believers ask over and over and over again. (Much to the frustration of the rest of us.) So I’m including an interview I had with Kristen Kemp (KK) of Parents.com to help explain some of these questions for theists and to give unbelievers ideas and language to use in dealing with the never-ending stream of questions.
KK: What does it mean to grow up godless? DM: It means that you’re not trying to convince your children (or yourself) of myths and concepts that don’t make sense to you. For example, kids want to know how the soul goes to heaven. What exactly is a soul and how is it transported to heaven? It means that you’re not teaching your kids to be fearful of an intangible deity in the sky, a God who can hear every thought and see every action. (God is the original Big Brother!) It means that you are teaching your children, instead, to answer to their own conscience. It means that kids won’t look to a prize at the end of their lives; they’ll find the gifts along the way, in every ordinary day, in every ordinary person. These realizations make us live with a lot more awareness and the feeling that we are in control of our destiny.
KK: What percentage of parents are forgoing religion now? DM: It’s difficult to measure. Do we include those parents who reject religion but still believe in some sort of god-force? Do we include those parents who identify as Christians but reject church? What about secular Jews and mixed-belief families? There are also people who, due to a negative perception of atheism and pressure from society, disassociate themselves from the atheist movement.
Regardless, it’s clear that parents who want to raise their kids outside of traditional religion and belief is a growing demographic. We need to advance the awareness that not everyone believes in God, and we definitely don’t want religion forced on our kids. On the other hand, it’s also important for our children to know about the world’s various religions and to have respect for other belief systems.
KK: Why are more people passing on religion now? DM: There are several factors at play. One thing I realized when I started writing about this topic was that parents have been quietly forgoing religion for years. A lot of moms and dads with grown children told me they had raised their kids without god (and they turned out just fine!). Some parents don’t like that religion has become so political, that it judges and preaches intolerance. I think people have responded to the rise of the religious right by speaking up and saying, “You don’t speak for me.” They are starting to come out of the closet now because they’re tired of being bullied. Another factor is that parents are choosing intellectual honesty over unwavering faith. People have questions about God, and they can find answers that make sense. Now, instead of blindly following what the church teaches, people are choosing “boutique spirituality,” skepticism, humanism and atheism. Finally, as parents become aware that religion is not important in raising happy, healthy, moral kids, they feel comfortable “leaving it behind.” KK: What other ways can we teach our kids morals and good ways to live life? DM: Morality doesn’t come from religion. It doesn’t come from a distant God who doesn’t communicate with us. It’s a social construct that we learn first and best from our parents. We must teach our children self-awareness, reflection and empathy. They have to understand that their actions and words can harm others, physically and emotionally. When your child hits you, tell her it hurts and show her the mark it leaves on your arm. Use words to explain your feelings. Show her appropriate ways to ask for attention. Children naturally want to please us.
As humans, we have a responsibility not to hurt others and to help when we can. Let your children see you helping; ask them to join you in helping your community through volunteerism. Positive acts and words will inspire others to respond in a similar way. This is how we make the world a better place for everyone.
KK: Why do you care if kids or teachers talk about their church at school?
DM: Unless students are part of a world religion class, there really isn’t a need to discuss church business at school. It places undue pressure on students of different faiths and views. There is a special place and day for worship and prayer. There is also a special place for learning. We don’t bring chemistry and English classes into church on Sundays, so it just seems fair that we shouldn’t bring religion into the classroom.
KK: How do you explain that the universe came from nothing? If there is no God, how do you explain to children how we got here?
DM: I’ve always told my kids, “I don’t know” a lot. And I don’t know and won’t make up answers. I told them what I know about the origins of life, according to the body of knowledge we have right now. One day, they may know much more than I do, or they may have different answers.
Science is not always right, but it admits to its errors and its uncertainties, and makes adjustments. It can be updated, recalculated and rewritten. Religion doesn’t have that same sort of flexibility because, if religion says it’s wrong, it may no longer exists.
KK: Do you teach your kids that religion is bad? DM: No. I don’t teach my kids that religion is bad. I teach them that belief is a choice. Our family doesn’t find that there is any proof for the existence of God but others feel that there are reasons to believe and that’s okay. We can still find a lot of common ground with those who believe. We’re all on the same page, in reality, and we all can work together to make the world a better place, regardless of what we believe.
From where I’m standing, religion seems to be more about controlling people than helping them. It’s about limiting women’s reproductive choices, prohibiting LGBT citizens from enjoying the same rights as heterosexual Americans and ignoring the needs of the poor.
I recently read article (thanks, LanceT!) that urged Christians to love their neighbors by getting involved in public policy. What does it mean to be involved? According to the author, it means advocating for Biblical “natural marriage;” in other words: one man and one woman. It also means “reducing abortions.”
But abortion and marriage are private, personal choices for individuals to make; they are not community decisions. What right do I have to tell my friend whom he can love? Love has never been bounded by race, age, religion or gender. What right do I have to knock on my neighbor’s door and ask her if she will terminate or carry her pregnancy to term? I won’t be carrying the fetus or raising the child. And it’s not my place to judge their decisions. I certainly would not want family, friends, neighbors and strangers judging me for who I love or the choices I make.
The Bible, of course, being an ancient book, makes no mention of abortion or LGBT issues, but it does, in several passages, instruct followers to help the poor. Yet this seems to be the most overlooked message: For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:11
I hope that Christians will consider offering help where it is wanted and needed. Leaders like Joel Osteen, could rally his congregation to vote for politicians who will help our citizens—not attempt to oppress and control them.
Indeed, if I saw Christians mobilizing to bring affordable healthcare, for example, to our working poor and to bring choices to women and LGBT, I might even think those folks practice what they preach.
This post today is about religion in a different sense. As humans we’re all children of Mother Earth. We only have each other in this vast, quiet universe.
I have healthcare. Many of you do. There are some who read this, though, who do not. It’s not our indigent—no, they are covered by Medicaid. It’s many of the folks who are struggling to make a living but are not offered benefits such as health insurance.
Imagine if you are ill or injured, and you cannot go to your family doctor because a single visit will set you back for months. Imagine if you have children to support. Imagine if you have to go to work, even when you are sick. There are millions of people in this situation, especially in these states.
Whether we identify as a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu or a non-theist, our religion should be compassion.
If you live in Texas, please consider signing this MoveOn.org petition. If you live in another state that has not expanded Medicaid, Google your state’s name and MoveOn.org. There is probably a petition out there.
Lisa Morguess sent me this interesting article titled, The Health Effects of Leaving Religion. It’s a good read if you have the time. There was one story of a girl who was raised as an Evangelical in Nebraska. At 9 years of age, she developed anorexia. Why? Because she was so afraid of maturing into a woman and becoming an object of lust, that she starved herself so that she wouldn’t grow breasts.
All Abrahamic religions teach girls—and boys—that their bodies are bad and sinful. Hell, Mary didn’t even copulate with her son’s father because sex was—ewww–dirty. She is “magically” impregnated.
Religions make children feel anxious and ashamed; they fill them with anxiety, guilt, fear and neuroses. Here are other ways that religions encourage emotional and physical child abuse:
The Bible clearly advises parents to spank and beat their kids. Yet if that same parent goes next door to spank his neighbor or his neighbor’s kid, that’s assault. From Proverbs 23: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” And “Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” First, why the hell are we following the advice of a book that is so old and suspect that it uses “thou” and “beatest”? And why would we hit kids with hands, belts or tree limbs? We’re talking about small children who trust and love us, who are too young to defend themselves or understand why we are hitting them. You know how a dog cowers when it’s been hit? That’s our kids. And we teach by example, so what do we teach our kids to do when someone doesn’t listen? Hit them.
The devil, another one of god’s failed creations. (How does a “perfect” creator miss the mark so damn much?) Satan has got to be one of the worst gimmicks of all time. Most religions teach kids that there is a devil waiting for bad girls and boys, as if kids are capable of committing crimes so heinous that they deserve eternity in hell, a continuous, never-ending fire-pit of torture. If you frighten kids early and often, they will grow up believing in Satan, even though they outgrow monsters under the bed and boogeymen in the closet. That’s what emotional abuse and brainwashing does.
Refusing to seek medical care for your child because god will take care of her. It’s hard to believe that, with all the medical advances we have, parents will choose to pray over their sick children instead. But the parents have a sickness, too. They’re infected with the religion meme.
Hindering a child’s understanding of history and science because it conflicts with your book of myths, legends and folktales. It all seems fine until your kid grows up and enters the real world. Trust me. (True story.) When we come across an adult who says, “Humans were designed to run from dinosaurs,” that person loses her credibility. She seems ignorant. Yet can we blame her? She was taught these things, and unfortunately, she’s now teaching her kids the same sh*t.
Praying. Teaching kids that god is in control makes them feel as if the solution will be handled remotely, by someone else (even if that person is an imaginary superhero). It gives away children’s power to find solution for themselves or to seek help, advice or solace from a living person.
These are just a few of the ways religion damages kids. Are there positive aspects to religion? Sure. Traditions. Family time. Social events. A framework for teaching simple morality. But we certainly don’t need religion to have these either, and the negatives far outweigh the positives.
People are free to raise their children as they want, but are they really doing what is best for their kids or what is best for them and/or the business of religion?
Today Shanan Winters is sharing her experience on what the Openly Secular movement means to her. Please feel free to join the conversation. What does this movement mean to you? How will it affect your life or your relationships? Can you even be “open”? Every week I hear from non-theists who are not “out.” Unfortunately, some folks don’t feel they have the choice to be openly secular.
As always, I appreciate the many voices and perspectives. Thank you for guest posting, Shanan!
What the Openly Secular Movement Means to Me
When I was little, we moved to the Key Peninsula outside Gig Harbor, WA. I played a game called “By the Power of Gray Cat” with some other kids in the neighborhood. We loved He-Man and I had a Russian Blue named Gray Cat… we’re so creative. My friends and I would chase the cat through the woods brandishing our stick-swords. We would climb trees, and there was a particularly crumbly stump in my backyard that served as our version of Castle Grayskull. We would stand upon the stump, which was a rather difficult climb, and shout, “By the power of Gray Cat, I have the power!” And then we’d make the death-defying leap, all four feet, to the ground.
Some of our local religious tribe decided we must be witches (you know, “power”… “cat”… only logical conclusion). My family was relentlessly hounded for weeks by these people, and their kids would jump behind bushes, make hex signs and literally HISS at me when I walked by! They would call us every night during dinner, and just spew bible verse over the phone. They pushed my younger friends around at the bus stop, and made all sorts of derogatory comments. They even suggested to my friend’s little sister, who was five or six at the time, that if the “cat” gives her so much “power”, why doesn’t she prove it by jumping in front of the bus? Fortunately, she was strong enough of character to tell them to leave her alone. The harassment only stopped when my mother threatened to turn them all into toads. And it didn’t really stop; they just became silent and accusatory in their glances, rather than outwardly aggressive.
I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. I fully understand that their behavior is not “All Christians.” Fortunately for us, not all of the kids in the neighborhood were participants in their harassment, thus we did have friends besides each other. Most of our friends were, in fact, Christian, and some even attended the same church as our harassers. It was a handful of houses… but it was also half of the kids at our bus stop. For me, the Openly Secular movement is incredibly important work. The way I see my children, I have one who is very secular, and another who leans toward belief (not sure in what yet…) Regardless of where they land spiritually, I want them to have every right and opportunity that would be available to anyone who is “conventionally Christian.” The way our political spectrum is shifting, I see this as less and less of a plausible future for them. Hence my thinking that this Openly Secular movement is extremely important. We need to start dispelling fear, and we need to do it now!
My experience with the neighbors of my youth definitely made a bad impression, but it wasn’t life changing. I’ve never been one to accept a Christian belief structure. I’ve tried… I gave it my best shot at one point, just to “fit in” and “keep the peace” with certain people — who are no longer a part of my life. It’s not me, and it never will be. I harbor no resentment toward those who peacefully go about their lives and live by their faith. I just wish the lack of resentment was reciprocal more often than not. I think it goes beyond “judgment” or lack thereof, as well. I’ve known plenty of people who have said, “It’s not my place to judge, and I don’t… but let me tell you all about my life in Christ. Aren’t you interested?” And I’m like… Um… isn’t that being kind of judgmental in itself? At the very least, it’s extremely presumptuous.
The ability to live a life with or without religion should extend to every individual, without fear of harassment, bullying or attempted conversion. We don’t all have to believe the same thing to get along. Learn who a person is rather than what church he attends. Find out a person’s passions rather than judging her based upon her choice in belief, or lack thereof. And for the love of gods (or none), teach your children to be open and inclusive. Maybe we can still turn this ship around. Maybe if each and every one of us is “Openly Secular,” we will become less of an unknown, and thus less feared.
I was moved to write this piece for Salon.com because of the recent surveys about attitudes toward nonbelievers. A brief look at the comments makes me realize that some folks can’t see the woods through the trees. They get stuck on one or two lines and run in a different direction. The point of this article was that we still face discrimination and that our kids are also vulnerable. The majority of Americans believe that atheist (or secularist or agnostic, etc) = immoral.
Religion causes people to feel certain. Most believers think that their stance is right, not just for them but for everyone. They use their faith as a club, as a weapon. They believe it makes them better people. Not different. Better.
Look. I get it that some folks are convinced god exists. Good for you. I won’t try to talk you out of it. I don’t want to argue. I just don’t give a damn. Go ahead and believe what you want. But for godssake, please don’t tie me or my kids to the bumper of your belief and drag us along in your religious parades. Leave us alone. Allow us not to believe. Accept us. Don’t try to change us or sell your religion to us. We all don’t have to be on Team God to get along.
I was recently talking with another reader about this. If you think, especially in the south, that people don’t discriminate, you’re wrong. I have friends and acquaintances that, once I was out publicly, put a huge distance between us. No more lunch. No more hanging out. A few unfriended me on social media sites. And that’s fine. If that’s who they are, I don’t want the friendship. There are millions of people in the U.S.
Other people–readers here–have family who have ostracized them. For what? For harming them? For stealing from them? No, for being different.
However I do mind if I—or others like me—face discrimination when we apply for jobs. No, businesses aren’t supposed to discriminate, but they can search the Internet. And I do mind that evangelical politicians infuse their religion into our laws. The Merry Christmas bill? Give me a break. Rick Perry’s anti-abortion bill? Please. Doesn’t his god tell him not to judge? These textbook fights in Texas? It makes us look ignorant. The references to god in the pledge and on our money and in our public buildings–ubiquitous, but not in a super-natural way.
Religion, whether it’s here in the US or in the Middle East, grabs us–all of us–whether we believe or not–and infects us in one way or another. How can we inoculate ourselves?
"I cannot conceive of a god who rewards and punishes his creatures or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I-nor would I want to-conceive of an individual that survives his physical death. Let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egostim, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with a devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature."
Question? Comment? Would you like to guest post? You can reach me here:
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