Things Not to Say to Secular Parents

Oh brother!I found this list I started working on called, “things not to say to secular parents.” So I’m going to discuss a few here in hopes that it might help other parents.

Over the years, I’ve always been a little surprised by the responses from people when I tell them I’m not raising my kids to believe in God. Interestingly, many of the comments and protests from believers are remarkably similar. Yet all of the comments are just as remarkably uninformed.

Here are my responses to some of those questions and comments:

  1. “If something happened to one of your kids, you would want to believe they are in heaven.”

No, actually I would not want to believe this. Let’s say heaven does exist: not only is it dark and cold beyond words, there is absolutely nothing to do. Forever and ever. You exist in an eternity without a physical being, without a mind and you’re sharing the same living space with ex-boyfriends, ex-wives, bosses you didn’t like, and crotchety neighbors. No, I don’t want my children to live on in a perpetual nothingness. I’d want to know that they thrived on this planet, with as much awareness and love as they could stand. I’d want to know that they enjoyed every second of their short visit here. From where I’m standing, heaven is merely ego’s wishful thinking. Heaven is here. Heaven is our awareness that being here is a good thing.

  1. “But you believe in evolution and science. Those are beliefs, too.”

I believe in science, but that is different from saying, “I believe in God.” I believe in science means that I put faith in the people and institutions that are doing the work, that I have confidence in their methods. I could do the math or science myself, if I had the time and the education. But you and I cannot specialize in everything. We cannot do all things. So we must trust that others are doing their jobs, the same jobs that we could do, using the same methods that we were all taught and have agreed are worthy of our trust and confidence. These things are provable and repeatable and verifiable across the scientific community.

“I believe in God,” as many philosophers have noted, is an existential claim that is made when the thing believed is unrealistic, unproven or highly unlikely. There are other such claims: I believe that eating more burgers before conceiving will create a boy baby. I believe that kissing a frog will produce a prince. I believe in the tooth fairy. Vampires. Leprechauns. Water nymphs. God.

  1. “Belief in nothing is still belief in something.”

This is one of those puerile platitudes that just is not true. I don’t believe in unicorns. Do you? No? Is that a belief in something? If so, what?

Many Christian apologists will insist that atheism is a “belief system” or a religion, too. This is simply an attempt to equalize the two, to bring unbelief on the opposite side of the equation from religion, which is a belief system. If, believers postulate, both sides are “beliefs” and if one is free to choose from two separate–but seemingly equal–systems, then it standardizes religion. Religion is now logical like math and science. Science and math now require a leap of faith. Belief and unbelief are simply one of two choices that any reasonable person can make. This is not logical. One person’s belief in God cannot create two religions: theism and atheism.

This concludes my Sunday rant. I should note that, in spite of all the religious silliness I’ve encountered, I adore Pope Francis. He is a great example of a humanist.

Please feel free to add your, “Things not to say to secular parents” below.

Religious Liberty Exemptions, Lawmakers, and Stupidity

Many of you are probably sick and damn tired of hearing about Kim Davis, who has been made famous, or infamous, depending on your view, by refusing to follow U.S. laws and choosing instead to follow her imaginary  god’s law. She represents the problem that many of us have with a certain segment of Christians: they want to impose their religion, their beliefs, and their morality on everyone. It’s not enough that they believe stupid, unjust or irrational things; they want all of us to follow along as well. And if we don’t, well, they’ll bully us until we do.

So Davis doesn’t believe that her god thinks gay marriage is moral? Fine. In her next marriage (and by now surely everyone has heard that Davis has been married four times), she should not marry a woman. All of this has nothing to do with her job, which is to be the conduit of the law for fellow citizens.

The funny thing is, she doesn’t even realize that she is just following silly memes impregnated into her brain by religion, most likely by her pastor. God says homosexuality is a sin. Did she ask god, the same god who also says not to judge, not to usurp his powers? Of course not. She’s just caught up in the script of her church’s morality play.

And now we have the story of a Muslim flight attendant who was suspended for refusing to serve alcohol. Ms. Stanley converted to Islam two years ago, and her very subjective beliefs now affect her ability to do her job. Her god says that she cannot drink alcohol and neither should anyone else.

You know what? If the god of your imagination tells you not to marry someone of the same-sex or not to drink alcohol, good for you. Don’t drink; don’t have a same-sex marriage. But you cannot decide for others, and if it’s your job to serve others, and you cannot understand that you must separate your subjective judgments from your paid work as an employee, then find another job. If my god says I have to fast during a certain holiday, or that I cannot eat meat at certain times, and I work as a server, is it acceptable that I don’t serve food or meat during the times my god says not to? It may seem extreme but it’s the same logic. What if I convert to Religion X, and my god says that I cannot work on Wednesdays–and neither should my clients–because working too much is bad for the soul? Shouldn’t I receive the same respect for my beliefs that others want to give Davis and Stanley?

I sure hope that our lawmakers will not be like Davis’ husband, who said, “I’m just an old, dumb, country hillbilly, but I know God…” Once you allow citizens the right to claim religious liberty exemptions, you have created “micro-lawmakers”: you allow citizens who claim this exemption to make and change public policy according to their beliefs and their whims. That is not fair or just. That is not a democracy. Davis and Stanley are not choosing between their career and religion. If they don’t like their job functions, if they feel they are unable to perform, they can find another, more suitable job for their judgmental personalities. Or, like the rest of us, they can perform their jobs realizing that there are some things they don’t like but must do, as long as those job functions are legal and not causing harm to others. However, that requires a certain level of maturity, morality and cognizance that some folks don’t seem to have.

The two cases are a good springboard for a discussion with our kids. Whether it’s refusing to fill a prescription for the morning-after pill or issue a marriage license, should one person be allowed to affect or prohibit the lawful behavior of another? Isn’t this a gateway to more dangerous behaviors, such as: it’s okay to kill others when justified. You know, like bomb abortion clinics or shoot people who are of a different faith?

Let’s hope that our nation’s lawmakers see past this religious ruse.

Freethinking vs. Religious Parents: Same or Different?

eyes are uselessHello again. It’s me, Debbie. I sure miss our conversations. Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the summer.

I wanted to write about a comment I received recently. Here’s an excerpt:

“Free thinking” parents make me laugh. You want the exact same thing that religious parents want. You want your kids to grow up believing the same things that you do, the same things that you taught them.

– Beep

The person who wrote this clearly has some misconceptions about raising kids as freethinkers. We do not want the “exact same thing that religious parents want.” I’m sure Beep is not the only person who thinks this way, so I’m going to write a little about what freethinking parents actually want for their kids and how they approach parenting.

First, if you’re so inclined, a little Wiki primer for you.

If you don’t have time to read through Wiki, I’ll tell you the short version. We don’t tell our kids what to think.

Exceptions: Don’t swallow poison. Don’t look at the sun. Treat others as you want to be treated.

Save for the dangerous absolutes and the Golden Rule, we (freethinking moms and dads) try to approach parenting like the dialogue that follows. I’ll use a question my kid once asked me as an illustration. This is similar to what many parents are asked by their children:

Child says: “Mom (or Dad). Do you think there’s a heaven?”

Free-Thinking Parent Says: “Hmmm. What do you think?” Pause…..”Where would it be?” Pause….”How would you get there?” Discussion…. “What part of you would go?” Long pause. Big questions. Thinking…. “What would you do forever and ever?” A little theoretical pondering…. “Does the idea make sense from what you know of the world?”

A discussion of the possibilities ensue. The free-thinking parent does not say, “Hell no, James! There is no heaven, and you’re going straight to hell to be punished for believing that!” We, of course, know that coercing or forcing our kids to believe in something that does not make sense will just make them rebel. We let them come to their own conclusions because we want them to grow and exercise their faculties of logic and reason. We give them choice. We empower them.

We understand that a belief is just that. It is accepting an idea as true that has no underpinnings to support it. This is why atheism is not a belief system, but rather a lack of belief in someone else’s unproven thoughts, fears, and ideas. If our children rationally decide to believe in God, then they will have, we hope, their own reasons. And they’ll understand that belief in God is ultimately not based on reason, that there is a leap of faith that leaves logic behind.

On the other hand, as Beep confessed, religious parents want their kids to believe exactly as they do. That means, they want them to believe in the supernatural, in miracles and ghosts and evil spirits. They want them to grow up in fear of God’s authority and the Devil’s power. They want them to choose to do the right thing, to be kind and giving and considerate, under duress. What sort of morality is that?  They want them to believe in things that cannot be seen, cannot be proven, and cannot even be understood.

Religious child: “Mom. Why did God let my friend Johnny die?”

Religious mom: “No one knows but God. It’s not for us to understand.”

That is the difference between freethinking parents and religious parents.

Did I leave something out?

Beginnings and Endings and Easters

Well it’s Easter once again.  Congratulations. We all made it to another season of rebirth and renewal. When my kids were little, I’d buy them a kite, a book or a box of Legos, and we’d talk about what Easter means. For some it’s a holy day. For people like us, it’s a holiday. For some folks, it’s both.  I’d explain to them how many of our neighbors believe that, to fix his screw-ups to save flawed human beings, God gave himself his only son Jesus to redeem the rest of his daughters and sons. Sort of. God’s other children killed Jesus, who then came back to life and said he forgave all the rascals who betrayed him, and that gave all humans, forever and ever, the option, if they should choose to accept Jesus into their hearts, to be “saved” and to go to heaven.

Whew. Makes perfect sense.

Of course, a believer’s trip to heaven is in no way guaranteed and can at any time be revoked by the capricious god whose half-assed plans included committing crimes against his children when he became enraged and who continues to allow his children to suffer, physically and emotionally, at the hands of those who believe in him.

After explaining these things to children for a few years, they start to see how ridiculous this tale is. One day you realize, as I now realize, that you no longer have to point out the inconsistencies and the illogical in these cultural tales. Once trained to spot the absurd, kids learn how to recognize it on their own.

Yet Easter, like Christmas, is still a day of fun and celebration. It’s funny that two of the most important Christian holy days of the year have become entwined with cartoon-character narratives, Santa and the Easter Bunny. For you and me, they’re all tall tales: God and Jesus and not unlike Thor and Adonis. All these stories are just entertainment; they’re a diversion from the reality of life. We live; we die; we experience pain and pleasure, never understanding how or why life started to begin with. The biggest conundrum: all life dies, all species have a beginning and an ending. Even this planet will one day cease to exist.

It doesn’t matter, though. We have the opportunity to live now, to experience. Each day is a microcosm of our life: in the morning we are born and in the evening we slip into the coma of sleep. If we’re lucky, we are reborn in the morning to enjoy the time we have in between those two points again. Every day is truly a gift. Every day is like Easter.

While I’m here (writing, I mean), I should apologize for abandoning this blog for so long. I took another full-time job, and it has kept me very busy.  In addition, having written about the same topic for so long, I felt as if I were starting to sound like a broken record. It’s the same stuff, the same people, the same objections, the same issues. Every week, I received e-mails from believers with the same silly platitudes: “God uses pain and suffering to draw people to him….We live in a fallen world…Only God’s perfect love can save us.” Blah blah blah.

What you and I know is that, once you’ve saved yourself and your kids from religion, there’s not much else you can do. There will still be extremists, there will still be weak people who will fall for anything, and there will still be people who fool themselves into thinking that their proselytizing is somehow righteous, not realizing they’re nothing more than little children trying to gain their god-daddy’s approval and ultimately, a reward.

Yet in many ways, thanks to the Internet and social media, the society we live in has become more aware and more understanding of the variety of beliefs and lack of beliefs in our country and our world. Yes, I know there is ISIS & co, but the number of Americans who actually try to join their ranks is exceedingly small.

I see how secular our children’s generation is, how even those who believe in god do so with much less conviction and with much less arrogance. These kids, many just don’t care if you have religion or not. I hear them talk. They seem to embrace the “live and let live” approach to belief and nonbelief. It is only a matter of time before the ideas of our generation, the ideas that religion equates with morality and that everyone must believe, dies off. Even beliefs have a life cycle: they’re born, they live and they die.

I have enjoyed this journey, writing and discussing religion with all of you. I will still write from time to time, but not nearly as frequently as I once did. Feel free to drop me a line at if you want to say “hi” or ask questions.

Hope everyone has a great day celebrating with friends and family. In the big picture we are all family, and it would be nice if we could all be friends.



Teenagers, Religion and A New Year

Some days, having teenagers makes me miss the terrible twos. On the other hand, there are things that are very endearing about teens. They wake up, metaphorically speaking. They find and define themselves.

With teens, you have to lay the groundwork early. They don’t like preaching on any topic, religious or otherwise. When they get to a certain age, you stop telling them what to think and how to think. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. They don’t want to listen, and if they are listening, they’re probably going to take the opposite path you’ve suggested.

Of my two kids, I was concerned the younger one would turn to religion and never have an awakening. He seemed to be more of a follower than a leader, afraid of standing out or being separated from the crowd. I didn’t push. I didn’t criticize him for his curiosity about religion: I knew that pushing him could turn him into a hard-core Christian.

I just hoped that my kid wouldn’t grow up to be one of those types of believers, one of those who credited god for saving him from some sort of terrible accident or for giving him hepatitis to save him from a plane crash. That sort of ridiculous logic is self-serving and irrational. God made you sick so that he can save you. It’s the sort of microscopic thinking that focuses on the self rather than on the self’s place among other, equally important selves. Yes, Virginia, there are other people in the world. Some of those folks are asking why your god betrayed them; why he allowed their spouses, girlfriends, children, parents or siblings to be on a plane that went down.

There are other believers, ones that I know, who don’t think god saves. He is a fair god. A rational god. He is out there, just watching. He does not receive blame; he does not receive credit. That sort of god makes more sense. If, at any point in my kids’ lives they are going to believe, I hope they believe like that.

Many times over the past few years, the younger son has pretended to be a Christian so as not to offend or be different from his friends. Like most teens, fitting in was more important than being true to himself or acknowledging his doubts. I figured it was best to let him decide what to believe or not believe, and what to share with his friends.

Yet I was relieved to hear yesterday that, when confronted with a bit of evangelizing about god’s greatness and how He saved a man from near-death, my kid offered his two cents to the conversation: “Yeah. God is so perfect that he tried to create a world without sin and couldn’t.”

This is a big step for him: he’s looked at the god myth and decided that it doesn’t make sense. Rather than swim in the nonsense of someone else’s beliefs, he vocalized his thoughts.

This is the most we can hope for our kids as they grow and mature: that they don’t simply repeat what we say or what their friends say but that they learn to listen, think and question and come to their own conclusions. Our children’s nonbelief—or belief, if that happens to be the choice they make–will be much more solid if they arrived there on their own two feet.

Another year has passed already. Seems like I was just wishing you a happy 2014. I am glad we all made it full circle to this point again, to another New Year’s Eve. I hope all of you have a healthy and happy 2015, filled with large and small wins on the parenting front.

Hugs and cheers,



The saying goes: There are no atheists in foxholes. Of course, it’s Christians who say that.

For those of us who are without god—atheists, skeptics, agnostics, humanists—we know that, if you have reasoned your way out of a belief in god, a crisis or catastrophe won’t make you a believer.

This past summer, my son had an accident. You can read about here in Brain, Child, if you want. (Or for frenemies, if you are nosey.) As I was driving to the hospital, I remember thinking, “Should I pray?’ It didn’t take me long to realize that this was a reflex, something I’d been trained to do as a kid, something I’d heard so many others do.

The truth was I realized how alone I was at that moment, driving to meet my son at the hospital. How alone my kid was on the helicopter, strapped to a board, scared.

But my faith was not with god, a god who allows children to suffer from disease and abuse and malnutrition. My faith was with the people who were taking care of my son—with the staff on the helicopter, with the doctors and nurses who checked him out, with the surgeon who would open him up and with the anesthesiologist who would put him to sleep—and wake him.

When we have a moment of crisis in our lives—or a tragedy—what we need most are the people around us. We need their support, their kindness and their expertise. Prayers to an invisible and impotent mythical man are ineffectual.

Yet you and I know that the majority of Americans do not think this way. Kent Brantly, the doctor who contracted Ebola, said after he was discharged from an Atlanta hospital, “God saved my life, a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers.” Never mind that researchers have been working on a cure and a vaccine or that Americans risked their health in transporting and caring for him. The same god who allowed him to contract Ebola in his volunteer work also, apparently, cured him. That god allowed thousands of West Africans to die from the virus since the 1970s, but somehow managed to save all the Americans who’ve been treated here in the U.S.

All that makes perfect sense, right?

People who believe these things will continue in their slumber and perhaps pacify themselves with the belief that there is a god making all the tough decisions about who will live and who will die, who deserves to be healed and who is not as deserving. And they will feel “blessed” when god has saved them while others will feel betrayed when god does not answer their prayers.

But you and I will not feel betrayed by the universe.

And you and I will know who to thank.

And we will not offer prayers to those who are suffering.

Because we know that all we have in this universe is each other, and we must help when we can with words and actions. It’s not God who is “I am.” It is you and me. We are love, peace, grace, joy, strength, safety, shelter, power, creator, comfort. We have a beginning and an end, and we share the same middle–all the points in between. If you are reading this, we are connected by these words and by time and by similar world views.

We don’t belong to god. We belong to each other.

Misconceptions About Godless Parenting

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!

Godlessness, Morality & Other Important Questions

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 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?
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?
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.



The Bible Says…Control the People?

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.

Health Insurance and Religion

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.

I wrote this column to bring awareness to the topic. Please consider writing your state leaders and asking them to accept Medicaid expansion for the working Americans who are caught in the doughnut hole.

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 petition. If you live in another state that has not expanded Medicaid, Google your state’s name and There is probably a petition out there.