Tag Archives: growing up godless

Gratitude and Ideas for Problem Solving

This post is about two topics. For starters, I’m honored that Nessun Dogma published my book in Italian this month, making it the first secular parenting book in Italy. I hope there are many more secular voices to follow. While I’m on the topic of gratitude,  I’m honored and thankful that Sterling Publishing thought I had something worth sharing. Most of all, I’m honored that people take the time to read this blog–so thank you for reading and for the interesting comments and conversations we’ve had over the years. That ends my secular prayer for Sunday, October 18th.

Another thing I’d like to share today. Working in the corporate world again, I look at things differently than I did a decade ago. I see young kids, fresh out of college; I see the employees close to retirement, looking weary. Having kids who will go into the workforce in the next few years, I think, “What skills do my kids need in the business world, if they choose to go there?” Working hard and team work are still important, but creativity and problem-solving are more important than ever, no matter what your job function is. With many jobs becoming automated, creativity is still something that humans have that computers do not. It helps to be able to look at the work flow and see how everything fits together, and how things could fit together differently. Creativity and logical reasoning are not skills that the schools are particularly strong on nurturing. In fact, public education discourages kids from creating their own solutions. I remember this struggle in math class with my older kid. Sameness is valued over uniqueness.

What we need to do is teach our children how to couple creativity with problem solving. This is something we can nurture at home by asking our kids to solve problems or to consider the many possibilities in solving problems we have. For example, the vacuum doesn’t start? Why not? What are all the possible reasons? How could we fix it? Is there more than one way. Let them try to figure out why and how.

Playing chess help kids problem solve because it’s a game of logic and strategy. Also, reading–a lot–helps. Reading creative works as well as magazine and newspaper articles about many different topics helps expose children to a variety of ideas across many knowledge bases. If your child is too young to read complex material, you can play this game, which I used to play with my kids. Start with a banana. At about a year old, I’d ask my kids, “What is this?” (holding up a banana). “What is it used for?” I’d ask. “Food?” What else? “A smile.” (Put the banana in front of your face like a smile.) “A telephone?” “A frown?” “Decoration?” You’d be surprised by the answers kids come up with. But you can use this game to start kids thinking, and you can apply this idea with about any household item. Looking at ordinary things in new ways is the basis for problem-solving.

Because we have such easy access to so much information, what we know is not nearly as important as how we think about what we know.

If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share them!

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.

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 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?
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.



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 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.

Religion and Child Abuse

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

GUEST POST: The Openly Secular Movement by Shanan Winters

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.


Morality of Theism vs. Atheism

First. Welcome to an updated version of Kids Without Religion. There are several reasons why I decided to move the blog, but I won’t bore you with that.

I wanted this site to be a place for anyone without god and/or religion, whether they have kids or not. After reading the latest surveys indicating that atheists are still viewed as suspicious, immoral and untrustworthy by the theist public, I figure we need to stick together. Personally, I’m more apprehensive of believers, but I’ll get to that in just a second. As always, please feel free to contact me if you have a question, comment or would like to guest post. If there’s a particular topic you’d like discussed by the community, just let me know. It’s always better to have the ideas of many when trying to find a solution.

One more thing: I’ve added a “Resources” page, which I’ll continue to update. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

Onto the post for the day…..

Two recent surveys remind us that atheists are still distrusted and disliked.

In this August 2014 study (and this one a couple months earlier), atheists caused more feelings of “moral disgust” among those surveyed than did “Muslims, gay men and people with HIV,” groups that are also perceived to “threaten” values.

Never mind that America supposedly values individualism. When it comes to belief, we’re supposed to be Stepford theists. Skepticism, the very foundation of science, is not valued as an individual trait.

I understand why we’re a threat. The fear is that if non-believers don’t imagine a god is looking over our shoulders, then we won’t be good boys and girls and play by the rules. God is some sort of adhesive holding together the moral framework of society. Where there is a deity, there is no murder, infidelity, dishonesty, rape or thievery. People do the right thing when they think god is looking, right?

Let’s be honest. It’s theists we should be wary of.

What believers fail to see is their morality is not theirs. It’s not. It requires an invisible god to be “complete.”

Believers are a threat to society because their morality is not self-governing, not independent. They need “guidance” and approval from something outside themselves. And if that something, that God, wants them to kill you—or their kids or their mother—then, like Abraham, they’ve got to man-up and do the deed. This might seem like a joke, but if you believe in God, then you have to obey him and his laws, and that even means doing his dirty work.

These sorts of studies about attitudes towards atheists are always disappointing. They also make me wonder if people like us who don’t believe will be more reluctant to “come out.” I’m certainly concerned about our kids. Will society consider our children untrustworthy or some sort of threat?

This is the reason I wait a little while before telling people that I don’t worship their god. It’s easy to make judgments about people you don’t know, but a helluva a lot harder to make assumptions about the people you do know, especially when they’ve been helpful or kind or they “act just like Christians.”

So how do we overcome these misperceptions? How do we help an uniformed, fearful public understand that people, regardless of what they believe or don’t believe, are capable of doing bad and good and all things in-between? How do we make them understand that we are not a threat to “their morals”?

SPAM and a New Site

You guys have probably figured out that someone with too much time on their hands hacked into my account and sent out a post about the Netherlands this morning.

Haha. So funny, right?

It was posted on a separate cached page, so you won’t actually find it on the blog.

I am upgrading the site, and I hope that it will have a lot more to offer.  So, I’m sorry for the spam this morning; I will be back to posting again soon.

The (In)Efficacy of Prayer

In response to the request for prayers from the family of the 9-year-old who tragically shot her instructor in Arizona, I posted this, which I think many of you will understand:

Dear God: 

As a compassionate American, I was asked to pray for the family of a shooting victim and well as the children affected by the accident. I’m not sure what the hell you’re supposed to do about this, God, or what it even means to pray, but first, a little background.  (Read the rest here.)

GUEST POST: Religion in France by Patricia O’Sullivan

Patricia O’Sullivan, as many of you know, is a regular part of our conversations here on this blog. (She’s also a novelist.) She has written an interesting post about the religious environment in France. I don’t see the U.S. approaching the level of secularization that France has achieved, but I think most of us hope for this.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Patti!


In the summer of 2013, our family moved to France for a year. Although we are not religious, we enrolled our children in Catholic schools that had experience dealing with international students. A few months into the school year, I overheard my kids discussing how there was less talk of religion at their French Catholic schools than in the public schools they’d attended in Mississippi. How could this be possible?

All schools in France must teach the same curriculum as set by the ministry of education. Religious schools are no exception to this rule. Thus, classes in religious education are outside of the curriculum. Younger children in religious schools are often required to participate in religious education, but my children, one in middle school and the other in high school, had the choice to opt out.

In 2004, France’s National Assembly voted to ban religious symbols at school, namely those students and teachers might wear such as a cross, a Star of David, or a head scarf. Nine years later, the minister of education implemented a secularization charter, reaffirming France’s commitment to secular education and a secular state. The charter bans teachers and staff from talking about religion to students and opens up all course subject matter to “scientific and pedagogical questioning.” Students may not be excused from lessons that question the teachings of their religion (such as evolution and sex education), teachers may not refuse to present lessons that do the same.

Because the charter was approved while we were in France, I posted an article about it on social media to share with friends and family back home. Their responses, most of them negative, really surprised me. Some of them, written by people who either work in public schools or have children in public schools in the U.S., expressed shock at the ‘religious repression’ in France. I explained that the French viewed the policies as a way to protect the integrity of education and to protect children from unwelcome attempts at proselytization, but the folks back home didn’t buy it. In fact, one friend wrote that keeping God out of the schools was harmful to children.

Many Americans are familiar with the concept of ‘cultural Jew’, a term used by Jews who don’t attend synagogue or even believe in God, but who take part in select traditions as a way to remain connected to their heritage. France is similarly ‘culturally Catholic’. Church bells ring out on Sundays, many holy days are also bank holidays, and bakeries do a swift business selling special breads and pastries associated with Catholic saint days and other holy days. From mid-December to early January, town plazas are decorated with Christmas trees (but not nativity scenes) and the sidewalks and pedestrian malls are crammed with hundreds of colorful booths where one can buy foods, crafts, and gifts for Christmas. In addition, many of the most popular tourist attractions in France are Catholic churches, abbeys, and shrines. However, over a third of the population of France is not religious, and of the 40-50% who are Catholic, only 4.5% of them attend mass regularly, and fully half of all self-identified Catholics in France say they don’t believe in God. The French have somehow figured out how to keep the holidays, the foods, and the monuments to religion while getting rid of all the rest.

Muslims in France (the next largest religious group) are much more likely than Catholics to maintain their religious beliefs, but they get little support from the government in this. Neither of the two Eids are bank holidays, civil servants may not wear religious clothing (like a headscarf), and women are forbidden from wearing face-covering garb in public.

Before WWII, France had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. In recent years, rising anti-Semitism in France has resulted in a growing Jewish exodus from that country to more welcoming countries, particularly Israel.

There are so many ways I could conclude this post, but I’ll focus on two points: It would seem from the example of France that people like cultural traditions, but dislike religious authorities telling them how to conduct their lives. And when people don’t feel coerced to put up a religious front, many of them abandon religion. On the other hand, there are those who feel the pull of religion despite a lack of cultural or state support for it. The thing is, when people are allowed to choose, their belief, or unbelief, is a more honest reflection of who they are. I’m not holding France up as a religious utopia (particularly for non-Catholics), but I learned to appreciate there how a nation can hold onto its cultural and religious identity while truly allowing people the choice to believe or not believe.

Patricia O’Sullivan is a teacher and novelist who lives in Mississippi with her family.