Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Being an Atheist Parent

Do you find it difficult being an atheist parent in a nonsecular world?
You know, I really don't. It just IS. It is what I am.
We don't have a cool acronym like WWJD to use to instill fear and loathing in our kids. We don't have Biblical or other religious literature to teach us how to separate and sheep from the goats. Or the pillars of salt or the threat of hell to frighten our kids into good behavior.
Although, I kind of like WWCSD

Intelligence, Kindness, Ethics
In case YOU don't find it easy, I have thought of a few parenting tips for you.
  1. Be honest.  Always answer questions with correct answers, without any sort of mythology. I am convinced that parents use the myth stories for two reasons: to give kids HOPE and to make it easier handling the difficult things themselves. Who WANTS to explain the end of life to a child? Who WANTS to explain that Grandpa is gone for good? Well, I do. I want the kids to know that THIS is the life that we have. All good things that want to do, the must do in THIS life. That lesson makes life and time very precious.
  2. Create customs and rituals in your family that are for celebrating, mourning, being together. Your celebrations can be all about FAMILY and FUN without any of the downer myth stories. I'm sure you already have family traditions that you can build on!
  3. Read many myth stores, including the Christian myths.  These myths are no more believable than any of the other myth stories out there. Explain that these myths were created in order to answer questions that we now understand through a greater understanding of scientific principles. Are we having a drought because someone angered a god? Of course not. The study of weather sciences can explain that. How about where WE come from? Did a god SNAP us into existence? Of course not. Evolution and the Big Bang Theory can explain much of this.  The explanation as to why is there SOMETHING instead of NOTHING...I'm not sure there is a scientific explanation for that one! But that's OK. Sometimes "I don't know" is a totally acceptable answer.
  4. Teach your child to think critically and to ask for PROOF of extraordinary claims. Talk with them daily about how certain groups are always trying to "sell us" their point of view. Watch commercials, then go look at the junk that they represent and seek to sell. Explore how the commercial's job was to make that toy look extremely AWESOME, while the reality of it is that toy is junk. It's a tough lesson, but well worth it! Look for empirical evidence, apply logic and reason, and thinking skeptically. These are the three skills a good atheist parent gives to their children.
  5. Make sure you do not have hateful, vengeful, or angry outlooks at people and things that don't agree with you.  Creating unkind people doesn't help anything! (Yes, I DID just say be nice!)
  6. Allow your children to explore the religions and to learn about the belief systems of each one that interests them, in fact, encourage it! Nothing creates good strong atheists like reading the Bible. Support them in their search. Each of us needs to search and find our own answers. As long as you have given them that critical foundation of being able to think logically, you can sit back and let them go on their own journey. In fact, if you were to discourage this type of exploration, you would be no better than any other authority that seeks to force it's beliefs on others.
  7. Sadly, prepare them for people who may say unkind things about atheists. Help them to understand that those people, regardless of how loud or unkind they are, have ALOT to learn about what makes a truly GOOD person. Religious beliefs, in this day and age, are very public. So expect that. Plan for the worst but expect the best.
  8. And, finally, stress good ethical behavior at all about being Good for Goodness's sake! Because that is what makes you feel great inside. As my son told me one day, Being a good person is its own reward.
  9. Now, doesn't all of this make sense? You're probably doing all of this already! If so, guess what, you are parenting as an atheist. As a secular humanist.
I'm convinced that giving our children the ability to think critically, the skills for thinking logically and rationally, and a skeptical mind are the best gifts we can give our kids as they go out into the adulthood. Further, I am convinced that there is absolutely no reason to give negative messages to kids about religion; their critical thinking skills will do the job.

Christopher Hitchens

You might also enjoy:

Christian Mythology for Kids...and Adults
Ghosts and Bedtime
Kathryn Wants to Know: When Family Doesn't Support Secular Parenting


  1. I that is good advice for any parent. We do all those things. We just *are too. We are secular home schoolers.

    Sometimes the loneliness issue plays a part. I noticed that others have complained as well in various forums.

    You can be a nice person, a good person--but still be ostracized by locals. And that is bad enough. In other forums there is also a prevailing belief that all home schoolers are religious in nature---implication of fundamentalism and/or extremism. So you can find yourself shut out of real time communities and virtual communities based on a lot of different variables.

    So the difficulty isn't in being yourself. The difficulty is finding others who truly accept you and allow one to be themselves visibly and joyfully.

    The sad part is when it feels as if your children are paying for your differences as an adult, and as a family. That can also make it hard.

  2. Sorry about the extra I-- I found my glasses midway through that post when the phone rang. I should have looked harder before posting.

  3. Great article!

    We often talk about "Good for Goodness Sake" in our house. Doing good for an external reward or praise negates doing the good thing. Your son is genius for saying being good is it's own reward :)

    I find that religious people are offended by calling their bible and stories myths. Although, we refer to them as such in our house, I still have this nagging-leftover-catholic-guilt that creates a feeling of doing something wrong when I use myth to describe any Judeo-Christian biblical beliefs. But it is a mythology. Just a less fun one to use as costumes during Halloween ;)

    Are you guys involved in a secular homeschool group in the city?

  4. Yes we are, Shannon. Are you?
    Are you out in West Co by chance?

  5. Karen, it is great to learn more about you. Those of "us " who do have spiritual beliefs (NOT RELIGION!!)or experiences, really(how's that for scientific!lol)are not so different from atheists. Just as you pointed out. We are reading the mythology of the bible for our stories for third grade. And, well, heck, I should have suggested Noah's wife as a costume for Morgan. She just might have bitten on that one! And, well, I do think it is just crazy to even assume that we know about afterlife. After all, this life is enough to handle! And be nice!!! Natural consequences, a great teacher.

    1. Michelle,
      You have one of the most peaceful and kind natures that I have ever run across...glad we are friends!

  6. Hi, do you have a facebook page? Im a new mother who finds it hard to follow blogs and i was wondering if youd write one about how to defend oneself against rude and hateful comments, even from your family. I was raised catholic, my mother recently turned christian, and moving away from her and family kind of cleared my head and let go of my fears about being myself. Im a young mother and my husband and i are atheists surrounded by religious family who keep nagging about when were going to baptize our son..i dont mind doing it to shut them up, because baptism to me is just running some water on a kids sweaty forehead lol..but yes im starting to reveal myself to my family and no doubt feel questions looming ahead..

    1. I do have a facebook page.
      How about this. You send me a link to your facebook page and I'll check it out and "friend" you.
      I WOULD prefer to see you here on my blog, but I'm happy to take some time to get to know you. *wink*

  7. We too are "non believers", it's amazing how hard that can be. I do have friends who are religious, but there is always a slight boundry to our friendships. I just say what i'm thinking now and if someone is offended, too bad, I'm offended by their comments. It does make it hard for kids though, but my eldest just listens now and offloads later :)

    1. Well, welcome!
      I find myself with a myriad of feelings about believers; the overwhelming one I have isn't anger, it's perplexed...

  8. Sometimes I worry that, with being an atheist and whatnot, I'm a bit "too honest"... but, as you say, that reinforces how truly awesome each moment we have in this life really is. Good to remember.


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