Tag Archives: godless dads

How to Help Kids Navigate Religion

One of the hardest things I struggled with was, “Do I tell my kids what I really think about religion or do I let them discover how illogical it is for themselves?”

I went back and forth on this because I thought, well, if I tell my kids that I don’t believe and point out the inconsistencies in religion, then they’ll never have a chance to believe. It’s like never giving them a chance to believe in Santa. Once you understand that religion doesn’t make sense, you’ll always understand this. I know, I know. There are folks who say, “But I *used* to be an atheist. And to those folks, I say, I *used* to believe in Santa.  After decades of understanding how the whole Santa thing works, you just cannot go back unless 1) you never stopped believing in Santa, or 2) you’re lying to yourself about what Santa and the Christmas machine really are.

So what *do* you tell your kids about religion? After a short time, I came to understand that I need to tell them, “This is what other people believe. I do not believe this because it doesn’t make sense.” I’d tell them why and ask them, “Does this make sense to you?” I’d use as examples Bible stories or other outrageous claims, such as “God saved me from getting on the plane that crashed.” Really, I’d say to my kids? Why was that person so deserving, and why didn’t God save the innocent children? Prove me wrong, I’d tell them. Help me understand something I do not understand, that doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes they’d try. Oftentimes they said, there was not a way.

On the other hand, you’re left explaining why smart people do believe. And this is something that I’ve also struggled with because even I can’t figure it out. I’ve told my children that people are afraid of many things, but especially of the unknown. They are afraid of dying and of not knowing what will happen to themselves or a loved one. They love the lives they have — and their families. This is all very understandable, and we should have compassion for people, but it doesn’t make them right. It only makes them human. Remember the comfort you got from your security blanket or your stuffed animal when you were little? Well, some adults need external “things” to comfort them when they’re scared. It makes them feel good to hold onto something, but you know that something—the stuffed animal, for example—can’t save you. Well, in the same sense, believing in God feels good and safe. But God—who has no corporeal existence and is just a wish or belief–doesn’t save you.

Now I know that this doesn’t leave much room for kids to develop religious beliefs on their own, but if you think about all the times you’d have to withhold information, tell your kids “I don’t know,” or outright lie about the existence of God, you’ll see that there’s a lot of deception that goes on in “allowing” kids to choose to believe.

Will I be disappointed if my kids one day choose to follow a religion? Of course not. I just won’t be disappointed with myself for encouraging them to follow some mythical rabbit down a hole.

This is what has worked for my family. If you can offer feedback on what to tell kids, please share your experiences.

 

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!

The Invisible People

As I was sitting at a Counting Crows concert last night, I saw a young man in his early twenties walking down the aisles, carrying a mop. His head was down, and he dutifully followed another man, clearly his supervisor, who was pointing to spills, vomit, and other suspicious-looking liquids on the floor. As thousands enjoyed music, drinks, and friends, this guy cleaned up our collective mess. All night, he was led from spot to spot like a work horse, invisible to the majority of us.

We like to think that the U.S. is a democracy where anyone can become anything. In some sense this is true. But for the large majority of us, our destiny is shaped while we’re still in utero: by our genes, hormones, and parents’ social status. This is not new news, but many forget that, for the kid whose parents are barely making ends meet, a job cleaning up messes might be the best he can do, or it might be the best he can do quickly.

Some moms and dads can barely help themselves, and they don’t have the influence or resources to help their kids. I help my teens financially in many ways that other parents cannot. My husband has helped family members get high-paying jobs that they were not qualified for. These are examples of advantages that we neither earn nor deserve, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise. And it is one reason that we should pay a living wage or better to those folks who are not born with the same advantages and opportunities, to the folks who work into the night cleaning up messes or who wash our cars in the heat of the day or who help build bridges in cold weather. It is the reason why mentoring programs are so important and why nepotism not only hurts the health of a business but also unfairly takes opportunities from others.

While hard work does indeed factor into success, whether you become a janitor or a white-collar employee has a lot to do with serendipity.

 

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.

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

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?
DM:
Unless students are part of a world religion class, there really isn’t a need to discuss church business at school. It places undue pressure on students of different faiths and views. There is a special place and day for worship and prayer. There is also a special place for learning. We don’t bring chemistry and English classes into church on Sundays, so it just seems fair that we shouldn’t bring religion into the classroom.

KK: How do you explain that the universe came from nothing? If there is no God, how do you explain to children how we got here?
DM: 
I’ve always told my kids, “I don’t know” a lot. And I don’t know and won’t make up answers. I told them what I know about the origins of life, according to the body of knowledge we have right now. One day, they may know much more than I do, or they may have different answers.

Science is not always right, but it admits to its errors and its uncertainties, and makes adjustments. It can be updated, recalculated and rewritten. Religion doesn’t have that same sort of flexibility because, if religion says it’s wrong, it may no longer exists.

KK: Do you teach your kids that religion is bad?
DM: No. I don’t teach my kids that religion is bad. I teach them that belief is a choice. Our family doesn’t find that there is any proof for the existence of God but others feel that there are reasons to believe and that’s okay. We can still find a lot of common ground with those who believe. We’re all on the same page, in reality, and we all can work together to make the world a better place, regardless of what we believe.

 

 

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 Lord’s Followers Giveth to Themselves and the Lord’s Followers

I hope that everyone is having a great summer. If there are new readers who joined after my talk at the Fellowship of Freethought, welcome! I hope you will contribute to these discussions.

Derrick suggested that I solicit guest posts from our community of readers. I would love to share this platform with others who can offer their unique perspectives on the frustrations, challenges and/or solutions of living in a theist nation. Some of the best discussions on this sites have been the result of guest posts. If you are interested, please shoot me an email at kidswithoutreligion@gmail.com.

I appreciate Derrick starting us off with a great read that definitely resonates with me.  I look forward to reading the comments!

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The Lord’s Followers Giveth to Themselves and the Lord’s Followers
Taketh from Others

First, go read this article.

If anyone asks why atheists get so fed up with the religious world,
this is a good list to present them. Atheists suffer systematic
discrimination. There are still eight states in the US with laws on
the books preventing atheists from holding public office.

Theists seem to do everything in their power to stigmatize (and the
irony of that word is not lost) atheists. What they fail to realize is
that atheists are doing nothing more than standing up for their rights
as much as theists demand theirs. However, when atheists do it,
theists claim it is an attack. Theists want to believe that atheists
are trying to take something away from them while failing to admit or
realize they are the guilty party.

Most atheists do not care if theists want to believe in god. It is
their prerogative to believe. In fact, it is enshrined in the US
Constitution that the government shall not impede their right to
believe. Atheists are simply requesting that theists respect atheists’
right to not believe and to stop shoving beliefs down atheists’
throats. Christians believe atheists single them out, but it is
actually the reverse. Many christian sects are imbued with a
missionary tenet telling them to go out and convert. In the dark and
middle ages, this got taken to the extreme (just ask the jews about
The Spanish Inquisition). This continues in the modern day, and all
one has to do is look at Warren, Michigan, as an example.

One would think by this example it is only the laws against murder in
the US that keeps people like this mayor from actually burning
atheists at the stake. Here was a case of atheists simply asking for
equal access and to have their rights respected only to be met by a
public official who refused.

Theists tend to believe in their right to propagate their religious
beliefs willy-nilly in public places. All one needs to do is do an
Internet search about christmas displays or displays about the ten
commandments (too many links to list). Once more, theists get bent out
of shape when atheists ask for equal access. The question must be
asked why one group believes it should be favored over another. Why do
only theists get to make public displays? Part of the reason lies in
the fact they are fighting for the hearts and, more specifically, the
minds of the young. Theists would do everything in their power to
completely disparage and demonize (yes, irony again) atheists in order
to stop the young from questioning theists’ position of power. Simply
asking someone if such-and-such a belief is true is viewed as an
attack. This is why of late theists started playing the victim card.
They are trying to win by sympathy and not by logic. Anything that
questions their position of privilege is deemed hostile, and it seems
to them that looking wounded is better than appearing reasonable.

Atheists just asking for their rights to be respected must, if the
above is true, be seen as an attack. Hence, theists by nature must do
what they can to suppress atheists. It is not atheists who are really
hostile toward theists, but most often the other way around. When
atheists get tired of getting kicked around and start standing up for
themselves, theists are doubly offended. The basic act of telling them
to stop trampling atheist rights is an effrontery. To allow theists
an equal and free voice jeopardizes the very heart of theist
institutions. Ultimately theists are fighting against democracy and
freedom. This may be what they cannot tolerate the most about
atheists: atheists are all about democracy, equality, and freedom.

­ Derrick

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)