Tag Archives: agnosticism

For Families in Hiding

science picSometimes, atheists email me from parts of the world where apostasy is a serious crime. It’s hard to imagine how frightening it must be to live in a society where, if you don’t believe in god or religion, you or your family could be put to death. When I hear these stories, it makes me realize how lucky so many of us are to live in countries where we can choose to believe or not believe. While things are not perfect, our battles are small in comparison.

This short post is for those families who must hide. I, as I’m sure many do, admire your bravery. You are not alone. There are many parents like you, both near you and far away.

So you ask: How can you raise your child or children as logical, free thinkers without bringing harm to them?
Be sure to read to them – a lot – about all sorts of topics, from all different points of view. Include them in discussions about politics, history, about how things work. Teach them about types of logical fallacies.  Teach them how to question  in their reasoning. Teach them to play chess. Teach them your morality. They will follow your example. They will learn what is important from you and what is not. Stay the course. You’re doing the right thing, the best thing for your children.
Friends and readers — if you have ideas for parents who are raising their kids to be humanists in countries where they could be put to death, please share your suggestions. We’re all in this together, no matter where we live.

We Don’t Need “Saving”

This post is in response to an email I received a few weeks ago. I’m changing the name but the email, in its entirety, can be found below my response.

Dear Christian,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I was inspired to write, in large part, because you said in your email, “I feel that your blog runs people in the wrong direction (quickly) whether you know it or not.”

I will talk as openly and as forthright as I can. People who read blogs like this are searching for their “own kind,” for others who question, who have doubts, who think that something just isn’t right with the whole religion thing. This is one of the many places we hang out.

I am not writing to tell you that you are wrong. In the end, you cannot prove your god any more than I can disprove her. However, is God likely? No. Probable? Of course not. Possible? Sure. And so are flying pigs. If God *is* possible, I think it is sheer arrogance to speak on her behalf, seeing that she isn’t present…and hasn’t been for billions of years. I know, I know, you have the “word of god,” which somehow entitles you to be a mouthpiece for this supernatural being who has shown an awful lot of dislike for the creatures she supposedly created. Well, I have an old book, too, and it says nothing about Adam, Eve, and the other fantastical characters in your bible.

Seeing that atheists do not show up in your church and try to talk your congregation *out* of belief, I’m not quite sure why you folks show up where we gather and try to talk us *into* belief, unless, of course, you think there are brownie points to be earned in saving “souls.”

I believe in the concept “live and let live,” so if you want to believe in your fairy tales and superheroes, and you are not hurting anyone, then good for you. Belief is your security blanket, and I will not try to yank it from you. You have books to recommend? That’s so funny. Everyone has books for us to read, and yet, we are probably the most well-read bunch on the planet.

You say that you keep coming back here, that you find these conversations fascinating, even though you’re not comfortable. May I suggest that you’re energized by the intellectual honesty of these discussions? Perhaps, like us, you recognize the fact that god doesn’t make sense but you’re afraid, so you hold tight to an ego that says, “I am human. Special. Chosen. Loved unconditionally by God. Therefore, I will never die.”

The parents and other folks who read here are brave. It’s not easy to face and accept mortality, that there’s no “big plan,” that we live and die here, on this planet. If we’re lucky, we appreciate this fact and enjoy the short time we have. Sure we could sweep reality under the rug and pretend, but are you really living if you have to lie to yourself, if you have to live in fear that this invisible, deaf and mute god might reject you or harm you at any moment (think great floods and fires)? Do you find it rewarding to argue a position that is indefensible? To hold tight to religious dogma that has brought so much trouble throughout the world and throughout history?

You pray for me? Don’t waste your time. It’s silly. You think it’s going to get you into god’s good graces? Can you prove that? Can you show even a tiny sign that your heaven is “out there”? Of course not. Why don’t you do something for your fellow man instead? With that time you’d use for prayer, volunteer. With the money you give to a church, help others. We put our money where our mouth is. You should, too. The meme to the right explains it all: “God is for you,” meaning god is literally a thing for you and for your emotional neediness.

_____________________________________________________

Hi Deborah,

I wanted you to know that your blog is exceptionally hard for me to read.  Personally I feel that your blog runs people in the wrong direction (quickly) whether you know it or not.  Regardless of my discomfort though I keep coming back to it.  I find the “other side” of the Religious (?) discussion fascinating.   I’m not really sure if Religious is the right word to use in this context.  Anyway my real reason for writing is to recommend 2 books for you:
1) Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes – By: Nancy Pearcey  (the fact that you’re mentioned in the book makes me believe you probably already own a copy.  It’s the reason I found your blog to begin with )
2) The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing, and Why – By: Phyllis Tickle
Finally I wanted you to know that I’m praying for you.  I do believe in a Heaven, and for admittedly selfish reasons I hope to have conversations with you in Eternity.  Which is a really funny concept because eternity encompasses everything (including now).  I hope this isn’t our only correspondence.
Thanks,
Just Another Christian

The True Mystery of Easter

If your kids have ever asked, “What is Easter?” you’ve probably struggled—like me—with how to tactfully explain this odd holiday. To nonbelievers, it’s a day of renewal and rebirth. Maybe you indulge in chocolate bunnies or color eggs. But to many—too many people–it’s a crazy tale unlike any other. God sends his son to pay for the sins of his prototype humans, Adam and Eve. Because Eve(l) was such a naughty girl, lured by a talking snake to violate God’s rules, all of mankind was sentenced to the death penalty. Not exactly a fair God. But, wait, in the ultimate sacrifice, God sent his own son (read: we’re not his children, no matter what the song says) to suffer, die, and rise from the dead so that we may….suffer, die, and rise from the dead, too? Not sure how Jesus was *literally* supposed to save mankind, but the story claims Jesus died so we can live.

Easter makes no sense.

It’s a constant battle of logic between believers and nonbelievers. In an op-ed today in the NY Times today, the author, William Irwin, writes: “It is impossible to be certain about God.”

This is a conversation atheists often have with believers: We cannot claim with certainty that God does not exist. And it’s true. We cannot answer definitively any of the big, important questions such as what was here before the big bang, what drives the force of evolution, and what exists in the rest of the universe. Yet atheists can claim with near-certainty that God does not exist. The story of the big guy in the sky, listening to our prayers, tinkering with our world (or not), is just as possible as dragons, leprechauns, and monkeys flying out of ….. our bottoms.

So, what is Easter? Around the third century, a group of old men determined it would be the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It was the perfect day for planting the food ancient societies needed to sustain them.

Thankfully, we are far removed from those laborious days of growing crops for our families, but why so many of us still believe in crazy myths is truly a mystery.

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.

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?

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,

Debbie

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!


No god/know god. No difference.

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?

 

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.