Independent Minds: Raising My Kids Without Religion

It really isn’t easy being an atheist. I need to make it clear that I am no militant when it comes to atheism, irreligion, etc… But I do know the difficulty in just normal day to day life when one of us is “not like the others.” I would never say I feel persecuted, of course I don’t. However, if you are a believer, you probably have no idea how often people make the assumption that I believe as they do…or make the comment “I’ll pray for you,” or in some other way bring up what God is doing and how grateful we should all be. I don’t get offended by this, but it does put me in the uncomfortable position of either letting the other person continue in their assumption that I believe the same as him or her, or gently correcting that assumption. I don’t seek out controversy, but I’m not ashamed to be a freethinker either. If you question whether or not what I say is true, as a quick example, just think of the controversy that hummed when President Obama mentioned non-believers in his inaugural address.

So, the question becomes how do we raise our kids. Well, I will tell you it’s not easy since the grandparents on both sides are believers. I’ve had the comment from my mother that I really should get H (my son) into a Sunday School. Even though you may not believe what is taught at the Church, it is good for the kids to get the moral ubringing. Anyone else see a problem with this? Okay, it’s my mother, so I say something briefly about kids not needing a church to act morally, but let it all go. Here’ s the real deal when it comes to kids and religion: I feel it my absolute responsibility to help raise my kids without imposing my views on them. I feel it my absolute responsibility that they don’t just accept ideas just because another person (or many people) subscribe to it. I fell it my absolute responsibility to try my best to save my kids from becoming victims of groupthink, or at least know how to recognize it when they see it.

I spent a good many years reading books on faith and apologetics as a means to convince myself that Christianity was true. I really tried. I think I even fooled myself for a good while. It felt great. I had friends in the church, I knew the roles we each had to play, and I debated with the best of them when it came to theological topics. I prayed, both with others any by myself. I played the role very well…I was even part of the worship team. However, in reality, I was fooling myself into trying to believe what it seemed everybody else did. I even made sure that I let it affect my politics. After all, if I was a Christian, then I needed to be a conservative Republican as well. I did my political thinking through the talking heads on talk radio. They were my source of political apologetics. This paragraph really goes to show the weakness in myself. I let myself go along with the crowd and participate (even promote) groupthink.

Now that I have broken myself free from this, it is becoming more and more important to me that I give my kids the best I can to help them know and trust in themselves. Fortunately, I have time to continue to think this through as my son is three and my daughter one. We obviously haven’t run in to the ideological, religious, or political questions yet. But we (my wife and I) are already setting the stage for this when my son asks questions. Taking a page from Dale McGowan, of Parenting Beyond Belief fame, we answer a number of my sons’ questions with “I don’t know H, what do you think?”, or “Does that make sense to you?” The idea is to let him process his question, and decide for himself whether the answer he’s come up with or been given by someone else makes sense. To his three year old mind, a number of things sound right. It’s not about him having all the “correct” answers at this point as much as it is him learning to think things through for himself and trust himself. We will of course start the same with my daughter as the needs arise.

I mentioned earlier that I consider it a necessity that I don’t impose my religious/political views on my kids. Most who read this are going to say that I’m automatically going to have influence over their beliefs. I agree. This can’t be helped. However, we will not shy away from religion or any other topic. We plan on exposing our kids to religion and religious services…when they are old enough to process these. It’s the same for political ideas. Already, my son has noticed that some kids have one mommy, or they have a daddy, or there are two mommies or two daddies, or a “traditional” family like ours of mommy and daddy. He’s asked about this. I don’t go into a litany of why it’s okay to have different types of families, instead, I just confirm his observation that there are a number of different types of families. I treat it as normal, no big deal (and I do believe it’s normal and no big deal).

These are some of my thoughts and plans at the moment for raising my kids without religion. If my son comes home as an eight year old wanting to attend church regularly because his friend(s) do, I probably won’t let him. If he comes home as a 14 or 15 year old wanting the same, chances are good I’d let him. I feel that we have to be on guard for our kids’ minds for them, until they reach a time when they are mature enough to process information, and hopefully trust in themselves enough to not get caught up in groupthink.

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Distorted Vision- The Wrongness of Secular Parenting?

I was doing a search on the internet for “Secular Parenting” when I came across this article came to my attention.

Because it is broken up into segments, I thought that I’d write a quick response to each segment, rather than one long post on the whole thing. There are some decent points in the article, and I have no doubt that the author has the best of intentions, however there are some problems here.

First, the author equates “vision” with “expectations.” This is a minor quibble, but I think it’s important to realize that the two are not the same. I equate a vision for my parenting with how I want things to turn out and who I would like for my kids to be when all is said and done. I want my kids to feel loved, confident in themselves, and individual thinkers who don’t just blindly accept appeals to and from authority. My expectations are how I expect my children to get along in life. They need to be respectful, courteous, and kind. In reality, these expectations are more of myself than the kids as I need to teach them how and why to be this way.

The author states that our culture shapes our expectations in parenting. I have no argument with that. This is commonly understood that we behave according to the culture in which we’re raised. One only need visit another country to see that there are differences. However, because this article is an appeal for biblically-based parenting, I think it needs to be mentioned that our culture also has a strong influence on our religious faith as well. We’ve all heard the argument before, the religious faith you follow tends to be the faith of your parents or those around you with the most influence. This of course is not every situation. My parents are believers, yet I left the fold. There are plenty of examples of children rejecting their parents’ religion for another. I do think it is safe to say that generally speaking, our environment strongly influences our religious outlook.

Some parents think that their children will just run on their own. The modern mentality often incorporates this mindset into their lifestyle. I suppose there are some parents who think their children will just “run on their own.” However, the very next sentence says, without any evidence mind you, that this is often the mindset of the “modern mentality.” Firstly, is it just some parents or is it broad-based? Secondly, since you are separating modern mentality from biblical mentality, I think great care needs to be taken with how biblical you want your parenting to get. I’m not going to sit and list a bunch of examples, we’re all adults, but you know the common arguments about how children are treated by parents:

1. Disobedient kids should be put to death (Romans 1:20);

2. Tamar (and her unborn baby) were to be burned to death by her Father-in-Law, Judah, for prostitution until he found out HE was the father of the unborn child…then she was called righteous (Genesis 38);

3. Children should obey their parents in everything (Colossians 3:20);

4. Women are ceremonially unclean for twice as long following the birth of a daughter than a son (Leviticus 12).

These are minor ones that I’ve picked. There are numerable others where God orders the mass execution of entire people groups, God orders Abraham to sacrifice his son (as a test of faith)…which fortunately He stops just in time. I know the arguments concerning societal laws vs. God’s laws when it comes to these examples, however, my point is that isn’t our rejection of killing our kids because they are disobedient an example of this “modern mentality?” Our society has changed. What are the biblical ways of raising kids vs. the modern? Why are the biblical ways better? If the bible is inspired of God, how do we choose the correct way of raising our kids?

The author goes on to cite three news examples to buttress his argument. Once again, the problem is there is no corroboration of his point. In the suicide example, he states the statistics without providing any substance. It is just said that their “despair hit so hard that they gave up on life.” Well, this is true I’m sure. What’s the point though? I’m sure he intends to say that biblical parenting would solve the suicide problem, but where is the argument for it. WHAT IS BIBLICAL PARENTING?

The second example is sexual intercourse among teenagers.

By the ninth grade it is said that 34 percent of teens have had sexual intercourse. This rises to 60 percent by the twelfth grade. Okay, what’s the answer here? Abstinence training? Is sexual intercourse bad? I’m sure he wants to argue that it should only take place in marriage, but he doesn’t even say that. He just states the statistic. But he does add his own opinion here:

All the guilt, horror and shame occurs because their parents did not care for them.

Wow, that’s quite a statement. Sex results in guilt, horror, and shame? I’m sure it does sometimes. My observation (and opinion, since we’re just giving opinions it seems) is that guilt, horror, and shame tend to happen more because of unrealistic ideals placed on kids from either religious beliefs or their unreasonable parents. Teenagers are human and humans are sexual beings. Should teenagers have sex? I don’t think the majority of them are ready for the emotional result of sex. But to shame and guilt kids for behaving according to their nature, seems to me a bad way to go about it. At that point it’s not about trying to help kids navigate their desires and feelings, it’s about punishing them. I don’t believe most kids would naturally feel those feelings of shame, horror and guilt without the outside imposition of others. Of course, shame can be felt by kids depending on the situation. But to say that all sex of teenagers results in this is unfounded.

The last example is the over-medication of kids. I’m not an expert in child psychology, and I won’t pretend to be one. I’m sure plenty of kids are being medicated when they needn’t be, however, just because we suspect it’s a problem doesn’t mean that biblical parenting is the solution.

I think my main problem with at least this portion of the article is that there are no arguments in favor of biblical parenting. There isn’t even a description of what biblical parenting is. Only in the conclusion does he come close to offering this: Families were designed as close working units to provide an element of affection, provision and protection. Without this support from their families, the children will go unloved, needy and vulnerable. I can’t argue with this statement…I do believe the family is an appropriate vehicle in which to raise a child. The problem is this isn’t a just “biblical” view of parenting. I think the vast majority of parents, both believers and non-believers alike can agree with this statement. However, what is the definition of a “family”? Here we get into old mindset vs. modern mindset. Is it only a man and a woman with children? I suspect that would be his argument. He never defines it though.

I know that the vast majority of people who read this website will be believers who are looking for a quick shot in the arm of motivation. But that doesn’t make for good or justifiable argument. It’s opinion that is disguised as expertise, and to expect that people should automatically accept this is not appropriate. This is an example of group-think, not true inquiry.

Self-Interest

The first in a series of “Why I won’t raise my children in religion” is based on the subject of self-interest.  I ask that you stick with me here as the will take some explanation.

I have a personal philosophy that every significant action we as humans take is based out of self-interest.  When I say self-interest, I don’t mean it negatively.  In fact, it is self-interest that drives us to act humanely.  When driving down the road, I know that it is in my self-interest to obey the law in order to stay alive.  Likewise, it is also in my interest to make sure that I am not the cause of injury to another so as not to violate my values.  Our very foundation of laws and ethics are centered around each of us living as well and as long as possible.  I don’t believe that we obey authority strictly because we don’t want to suffer the consequences of not obeying, but that the reasonable person will obey because he or she knows subconsciously that the laws are there to preserve.  This is why civilization works.

The first issue I have with religion of any stripe is that it is perhaps the only activity in which we:

  1. Invent a figurehead (God) who is infinite, perfect, and conveniently inexplicable;
  2. Worship this figurehead for *his* infiniteness, perfection, and inexplicability;
  3. Decide to love this God and commit ourselves to a lifetime of devotion; all so we can
  4. ATTAIN SOME SORT OF PARADISE AFTER OUR DEATH.

My question is this, if there were no salvation, would all Christians love Jesus and devote their lives to him?  I think not. (Think Pascal’s Wager)  Religion is a way to try to pursue our own self-interest and gain a sense of belonging all while espousing the altruistic nature of it.  We can feel good about ourselves because we are part of a group that is devoted to “something greater than ourselves.”  In short, we love God because of what we can get out of it.

The problem is that this is not a true love relationship. It is far too one-sided to be any true relationship.  Trying to love an invisible, infinite, defineless being is pretty difficult.  Religion loses the relationship focus and becomes susceptible to political and ideological competition.  It also becomes less about the virtue of the core beliefs and more about knowing that my worldview is superior to yours because of all the other people that agree with me.  Indeed, religion and faith are tools to classify and divide, not to pursue the altruistic values in which they are shrouded.

Recognizing the inherent self-interest with which we all live our daily lives, we can see and appreciate the unique qualities and independent nature of every person.  We are all different; we look at the world from different perspectives.    We can think for ourselves, come to our own conclusions, and with the exception of our selfish behavior, be ethical in our dealings with other because we inherently see how that behavior benefits us in the long run.

The problem with this worldview is that we are also selfish. There are plenty of examples of how we act in selfish ways every day as opposed to acting in our self-interest.  I view selfishness as the “I want what I want” complex.  Damn the consequences.  Selfishness is different than self-interest.  Self-interest is acting in a way that agrees with our values and the values of society in order to be a productive and respected person in the long-run.  Selfishness is the short term interest that tends to go against our values and the values of society, and consequently, somebody loses.

When it comes to parenting my children, I think the trick is helping them to live according to self-interest, not selfishness.  If my son acts in self-interest, he will be ethical, helpful, loving, and good because he will inherently understand that living according to these values will be good for him in the long run.  However, he does not need the Church to set the rules for him and tell him how to act so he can earn his great reward after he’s dead.  No, living in the present, enjoying life now, and getting the daily reward of feeling good about himself for living according to his values is so much more pleasurable.