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.


24 responses to “Things Not to Say to Secular Parents

  1. Oh my, you called the pope a humanist. I wonder how Catholics would feel about that.

  2. 1. But you had her baptized/christened though, didn’t you. (generally uttered as a statement rather than a question because, of course, a negative response would be unthinkable!)
    2. Ah but I bet if you met the right person you’d get married in a church (I’m a single parent).
    3. But you tell her that there’s a heaven, right?
    4. But you’re bringing her up in Christian country. We’ve always been Christians. It’s anti-British to be anti religion.

  3. “But how do you explain miracles to your child?” (As if “God did it” is an explanation.)

  4. @Kathy & thepixelatedparent Ahhh. Yes. Good ones! I wish I had carried a little notebook with me and written them all down!

  5. I recently got, “What about the void in your child’s heart?” To which I said, “What void? She seems awfully happy and quite content to me… “How do you teach her right from wrong without the fear of consequences?” Excuse me? Why does my kid need to fear anything, and she knows and is aware of the consequences, she needs to learn to respect them, not fear the fiery eternal damnation if she chooses to get a tattoo or become a Republican crazy person 😉

  6. Of course, there’s the ubiquitous “How can you teach morals without religion?” Makes me want to pull my hair out.

  7. “I’d sure hate to be on the wrong side when judgement day comes around.” – said in my presence about me but not directly to me by an older holy roller family member.
    I’m pretty sure that my volunteer work at the North Texas Food Bank, my anti-littering stance, my donations to countless school/scout/sport/health issue fundraisers, my willingness to take in a teenage niece who was failing her junior year of high school and lead her to straight As and a diploma, my good deeds of scout chaperoning and PTA board volunteering, along with countless other soul saving activities would probably get me a lot further in the big house than her judgements and snarking, if there was such a thing.

    • @Crystal If you were part of my family, I’d certainly be proud of you. (Although, we’re all kind of a family…) That’s a wonderful thing you did for your niece, especially since I know you’re not that old yourself–and you probably had to make sacrifices to do that.

      Being judgmental seems to be a perk of religion, and it’s part of the glue that keeps folks in church. Kim Davis comes to mind. So judgmental about others when she should just work on herself.

  8. Hi! I just had some questions about this hat I was wondering if you could help me out with.
    1. Eternity is outside of time. We have never experienced that kind of thing before so how do you know you’d hate it so much?
    2. The faith you are talking about here seems to be blind faith. Christianity does not call us to a blind faith, but instead it gives proof and reason to believe in God. How do you prove that something is provable? And because you cannot observe God does that mean he can’t exist? I’ve never seen, touched or smelt mars but I’m pretty sure it exists.
    3. Doesn’t the fact that you believe there is no God mean you are believing that fact? I think I just need some more clarity on this point…

    I hope I don’t come across as rude or argumentative because that’s totally not how I mean it and I’d really appreciate your thoughts

    • Hi Anne,

      In the more than ten years I’ve been blogging about this topic, people who usually leave comments such as yours don’t really have questions they need “help with.” So, let’s just be clear about that ruse and about the fact that the questions you ask are the questions all people of faith pose. Still, I will address your questions as if you are, in earnest, trying to examine and understand your own belief as well as those around you.

      1. Neither you nor I are in a position to claim any knowledge of “eternity,” although we both use this language, which is part of the language of religion. Eternity is a concept, which cannot be measured; it’s theoretical, just like “electric engines have infinite torque” or “black holes have infinite mass” or “when traveling at the speed of light, the mass of an object becomes infinite.” So while I use the term to mean “a long, long time,” I actually have no idea if eternity exists nor do I have any emotion, such as “hate,” wrapped around eternity. In fact, there’s no proof–at all, in any way– that “heaven” exists “out there” so all this is moot anyway.
      2. Please look up the definition of the word “faith.” Seriously, you know the answer to this question. The burden of proof does not lie with me to prove your god exists. Here’s an example, I have a dragon that lives behind my house. You don’t believe me? Prove that he doesn’t exist. Prove that my dragon doesn’t exist. Can you do that? How about my troll? My tooth fairy? However, you CAN prove that mars exists–and you should certainly know this much–so your analogy does not work here. We’ve even determined there is water on mars. Do you have a space probe or telescope that shows god?
      3. I really hope you are serious here in asking these questions. I swear there are churches out there that train their followers to ask the same illogical questions. Okay. I’m going to interpret your convoluted statement: No, I don’t “believe” in God. What you’re basically asking is question #3 I mentioned above, and maybe you know this, maybe not. Not believing in god is NOT a “belief.” Do you believe in dragons? No? If you say, “I do not believe in dragons” is that a belief or a statement? So, if you don’t believe in my dragon, it’s just your belief against mine, right? Both claims are equally valid and true, right? No, that’s not right.

      I hope I didn’t come across as rude or argumentative or condescending, it’s just that I (and I’m sure the rest of the secular community) get frustrated with believers masquerading as truly interested in learning more about why so many of us don’t believe.

      • You are such a well-behaved woman. I salute you.
        My response had most likely been snarkier as (as you suspected) the person “wanting help” is a troll and thus a perfect mannequin for her religion.

        • @Konsta – Funny that they never come back and respond. I used to think people might actually be earnest about their intentions. The Internet has definitely made me more cynical.

    • ” Doesn’t the fact that you believe there is no God mean you are believing that fact? I think I just need some more clarity on this point…”

      I’m going to cover this in a little more detail DM.

      @Anne – It is a fact that we do not believe in god, it is not a fact that god does not exist. A fact, to you, probably, is something that is true, just like false means that it is not true. When an Atheist uses the word “fact”, it does not mean something that is true; rather it means, something which has a preponderance of evidence to support it’s likelihood. That is the scientific definition of fact. So, in the case of something like Evolution, we who follow science (99.9% of us anyway) consider it a fact, and a theory. It is a theory because we have a framework of it’s nature, we can make predictions which are found to be true. If Evolution made a prediction that turned out to be false, then the “Theory” of evolution would be altered to accept this new data. New data can entirely scrap a theory as well. But every time we do experiments to determine the reliability of a prediction made by the theory, it comes up true. Since no experiments that we have developed produce negative results from their predictions, we call the theory a “fact”.

      So we do not believe in god not existing as a fact in the sense of something which is objectively true. Most of us (there are some extremists on our side of the fence, to be sure) would accept God’s existence as a fact if proof were provided. But proof to us is narrow. We cannot accept the hearsay of people who lived thousands of years ago. We cannot accept emotional appeals. We cannot even accept our own feelings on the matter. We are driven to accept as fact only what we can prove to be fact.

      so no, the fact that we don’t believe does not mean that we believe in the fact that God doesn’t exist.

  9. @Anne, your question #2 says that Christianity gives you proof that god exists. Please fill all of us in. What proof is it, exactly? And how does that proof differ from the proof of a Muslim god, a Jewish god, etc?

  10. Excellent post, Debbie.
    I think one of my favorite responses from believers is something along the lines of, “But don’t you think you should believe just in case? What if you’re wrong?” As if belief – true, bone-deep belief – is a switch one can flip. I mean, once you know something, you can’t unknow it. Like, once a kid figures out that there’s no Santa, they can’t just PRESTO! go back to believing that Santa is real. You can try to talk yourself into something, but it takes a whole lot of mental gymnastics.

    • @Lisa “I mean, once you know something, you can’t unknow it.” That’s exactly what I say to believers who claim they “used to be atheists.” It’s not that easy to believe in magic once you realize magic is phooey.

    • Kind of sad in this day and age that many of them feel that this is a critical argument. Pascal had his wager a LONG time ago, and it’s pretty pathetic that we secularists tend to know more about it than any religious fellow. I just ask them what if they are wrong about Vishnu?… what if they are wrong about Zeus? What if they are wrong about the sect of christanity that they believe in?

      (Thanks Hitchens for giving me that.. you will be missed forever.)

  11. Wait… There’s no Santa?!

  12. “But you believe in evolution and science. Those are beliefs, too.” No, they’re not. Evolution is a fact. Science is a method of investigation, not a belief system.

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