Friday, December 20, 2013

Aussie Atheism, a Question from Lindsay

secular parenting humanist homeschool blog raising atheist skeptical freethinking humanist parenting

I received this question from a truly THINKING reader of my blog several months ago. I've finally gotten to it!
Thank you very much to Lindsay for asking a question that is on my mind often! 

Lindsay writes:
Karen, I don't know if you've covered it before, but I'm curious about the difference between being an atheist in the US versus Australia. I'd imagine it would be easier in Australia and maybe talk about how you'll handle that attitude once you are back. I could be off, but from what I've read, atheists are among the most distrusted minorities in the states, that's why I'm trying to do the research now. It probably sounds odd but I'm still struggling to become a parent, I just want to be ready when that happens, and it's taking forever so I keep focusing on the future I want... I hope that helps a bit, best of luck. 

Lindsay, thank you for this question.  Interestingly enough, my kids have often encouraged me to write something on this issue and I just keep forgetting.  LOL

Australia does have churches and religion and very devout people.  The difference:  people are very private and respect the privacy of others about belief systems and personal philosophy.  I have many friends in Australia who of whom I have NO IDEA what their religious beliefs are.  It just isn't discussed publicly.  Privately, yes.

One of my first gatherings down here, OH, I will never forget this, I was new to the group and we were all sitting around, about a dozen mothers, while the kids were doing their own things.  People were asking me questions about our homeschooling, about America, about our stay in Australia, and whatnot and the whole time I, inside, had this creeping anxiety about the what religion are you? question. We all know how divisive that question can be in the States, how divisive it has been for us.

I blurted out We are atheists!

There was silence, people looking awkwardly at one another. Why?  Because no one cares!!!  No one judges on the basis of religion.  It is just not talked about.  
Yeah, so there I was, feeling awkward for bringing my American identity to that secular nation. At the time I couldn't even really understand why it was so awkward; it took me awhile to figure it out.

Elizabeth has had times, too, when she has blurted out the fact of her atheism only to have friends look at her with startled curiosity and say, Okaaaaaaaay.....

Since that time I have had many conversations with people of a variety of belief system and practices, many atheists and secular people and we have learned about the Australian secular identity.  For the most part people in Australia truly practice a culture of peace.  Potentially divisive attitudes are respected, accepted, and now let's move on!  America could learn alot about peaceful and loving coexistence from Aussies. They have their problems, of course, but the overall vibe is one of peace and acceptance.

When we thought about moving back home to the verbose Christian majority, we felt sad and discouraged about the American weakness in this area.  Our own friends and circle of acquaintances in general are all loving and accepting people of a variety of belief systems who all view US as loving and accepting people. It's like a wonderful little microcosm of truly civilized families. We no longer feel the need to hide or go into hiding.  We already have a truly interesting and vibrant group of friends who share in our belief of true freedom.

But the overall conservative acerbic tone of the US really turns us off, embarrasses us, and does not encourage our loyalty to our own beloved country. We LOVE the USA; we are not always proud of it.

And, Lindsay, it does NOT sound odd.  What you don't know yet is that all people who are deep thinkers, empathic, freethinking or not parents DO ALOT OF THINKING and QUESTIONING.  These are the people who don't accept having "answers" handed to them on a silver platter. Your need to probe, to understand, and to analyze are all indications of the love and effort that you will put into being the best parent that you can be. I applaud your research, your questioning, your willingness to know more, and your kind heart!  My sincerest wishes for the family that you desire.  

Just a quick reminder to visitors and readers, you can also find my writing on:
and now

If you enjoyed this post you might also read: 
Mind the Gap
Or you might enjoy:   Books for your skeptical child
Or this one:  A Culture of Peace


  1. Lindsay ~ I, too, wish you love, hope, and dreams-coming-true as you build your family. <3
    Karen ~ Love this, my friend. I have dreams of Australia dancing in my head...
    I am appalled on an almost daily basis by the constant assumption here in the US that everyone is Christian and believes all the same things; and if you're not or you don't, then there must be something wrong with you and you need to be "saved". Saved from what... Individuality? Freethinking? This is a big reason why we homeschool--so that our children can develop their belief system without having teachers and peers grill/condemn them about what they believe and why.

  2. Oops. Perhaps, you're not aware Karen? Unfortunately our country is now governed by religious zealots who recently started saying toddlers of single mothers should be taken from them and given too Christian families. As well as a few other issues. Our politicians are mostly Christians/ Catholics etc too.

  3. There are plenty of bigots in Australia, but there are also MANY more who won't accept bigotry. Most Australians have a very wide/mixed circle of friends. Yes, we have our cults and fundamentalists too, but the Australian character is one of being a maveric: we don't like to 'fit in' and be defined by one classification. Even the bigots don't realise how diverse their personal circles can be! Remember the Tupperware party you came to at my place? 20 ladies with not one single common background who had fun and didn't think twice about comparing their experiences and viewpoints, safe in the knowledge that their views will not be ridiculed. We had 20 different cultures, 20 different religions (or not!), 20 different family structures, 20 different education levels, etc. The ONE thing we all had in common is our ethics. All the ladies you met have children, and put their children's needs first followed by their partner's.

  4. That was a very interesting question. I've been to the US twice, back in the 90s, and any culture shock I experienced was certainly centred around religion. I stayed with friends and their families and without having been asked about my beliefs, I was expected to accompany them to church and participate in their activities, asked to say grace etc. Now out of respect for my hosts (parents of my friends) I was happy to go along to church (I like the experience of new things) but they were horrified I hadn't brought along 'good clothes for church' so I didn't end up going. But yeah, there was a massive difference to how things 'are', where religion/Christianity is concerned, to how it is here in Australia.

    My homeschool friends here are a big mix. I've actually met two families who I assumed were secular, but later realised they were quite religious. Not once had they brought up their faith, and not once had my atheist friends brought up theirs because really, nobody minds! Personally, I've been to events hosted by Christian families (in one family the father is a minister) but faith never came in to it. I've never had the experience of being made to feel like I am a lesser person somehow, or in need of salvation, at a homeschool meet but I have heard of some friends attending activities advertised in home ed networks, only to rock up and find there was a very strong Christian theme present and the non-Christians felt very uncomfortable (one friend had gone to an event where the women there took it upon themselves to try and convert or 'save' her, understandably she never went back!). I've found stories like that here are incredibly rare, but when I look at a lot of American homeschool blogs or check out secular forums, I see just how pressured some secular home ed families in the US must feel, because they seem to only have Christian networks around them.

    Our country's leadership right now is depressing :(

    1. I truly appreciate your comments because I have been accused by some as falsely reporting the environment in the US as compare to Australia.
      Moving out of our country has been such a HUGE eye opener. Things that you see as "normal" and "how things are" that are truly cultural are so interesting to discover.

      We, too, now have some wonderful friends who may or may not have strong religious beliefs; we don't know. And we still love our friends tremendously and they love us.

      Yes, I will very much miss this.
      If you read back in my blog aways I have told some stories where the kids were hit HARD with anti-atheist rhetoric as well as times when they were out and out DISSED by both adults and kids for being freethinkers.
      We will all miss this country for it's PEOPLE .


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