Life is Sacred–Unless You’re a Woman

I woke up this morning to find a video of the recent public execution of an Afghani woman on my Facebook feed. (Trigger alert: The video depicts the actual execution.) My eyes teared as I watched this brutal attack against a defenseless and scape-goated woman. She looks back toward her taunters just before her world is silenced. I wish her last view of the world was not one so filled with hate. I hope she was able to remember, in that split second, one gentle moment in her life, one that enabled her to block from her vision the men who claimed to be doing Allah’s will.

(Side note: The video reminded me of the excellent book, by Freidoune Sahebjam, turned movie, The Stoning of Soraya M., based on true events which took place in a small Iranian village in 1986. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I highly recommend both. The movie consolidates some of the religious and political narrative, but captures the heart of the book and the horror Soraya faced fighting a system so utterly stacked against her. Both texts reflect the horrors of fundamentalist religion and belief, capturing the use of religion as justification for evil and immoral acts.)

I am thankful beyond measure that I was lucky enough to be born in the U.S., that my own daughters will be raised in a society within which they can reasonably expect they won’t be executed–publically or privately–because they are women. But I am concerned about this country. I am concerned because the “This is Allah’s will; he told us to do this” line of thinking is becoming more and more prevalent in our political landscape.

We have politicians, Rick Perry, Herbert Cain, and G.W. Bush among them, who sincerely believe that God has told them to run for office. G.W. Bush cites God’s authority in starting the war in Iraq. The Tea Party is essentially using Congress to enact God told me so morality laws, by hook or by crook. (And lest we think our politicians are the only ones say “God told me”, we have a Washington football player who starts a fire in his apartment with a marijuana blunt because God told him to and one Texas woman claiming that God told her to send threatening letters to an OB who performs abortions.)

Seriously?

If anyone came up to you can said, “Santa Claus told me I should give you a piece of candy/hit you upside the head,” you’d likely be looking for the phone number of the nearest psych ward. But for too many people, if I replaced “Santa Claus” with “God”, the reaction would be different. In the candy scenario, some people will praise God and give him/her credit for all the good things in their lives. In the hitting scenario, the same people will say one of two things: 1. that God doesn’t give people more than they can carry (if the bad thing happens to them personally) or 2. God punishes bad deeds (if the bad thing happens to someone else). And these two types of scenarios are exactly where the “God told me to” thinking begins in children–small, innocuous, with a piece of candy or a slight physical hardship. By adulthood, these small, innocuous thoughts become, for too many people, guiding principles whose origins go unexamined and unquestioned. The gap between “God told me to run for political office” and “God told me to publically execute this woman” is not so wide as we find it comfortable to believe.

So, I worry for my daughters. I worry because the move towards fundamentalist thought in our country, started in the 60s (see: Turning Right in the Sixties by M. Brennan), is coming to a terrible fruition just as they begin their lives. I wish I could see into the future. I wish I could know that the great political pendulum will reverse course before the damage is too great.

And I also wish that people would stop, seriously stop, and think critically about their religious beliefs and just what those beliefs entail and who is using those beliefs and how those beliefs are being used.  As Anne Lamott, a writer and theist I admire, says, “And you can tell you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Perhaps that’s the crux of fundamentalist religious belief—that they can’t tell they have created God in their own image, that they use religion as a means to an end.  Perhaps it’s something else entirely. Either way, I’d appreciate if more theists would speak out against fundamentalist religious belief rather than giving it a free pass to wreak havoc in the world. Too many times I’ve been told, “Oh, those types of beliefs come from parts of the Bible that don’t apply anymore.”  Maybe these fundamentalist religious believers didn’t get that memo. Still, that’s not some kind of free pass to avoid dealing with the ways in which the keystone text of your religion is being used to justify all kinds of horror.

(Side note: Yes, I realize that not all religious people subscribe to the fundamentalist thought which is so detrimental to progress and critical thought and scientific inquiry. But I think that too many “moderate” religious people have their heads in the sand about fundamentalist religious belief—they reject it, out of hand, as not being representative of their religion and, therefore, not anything to be taken seriously. Think of the “that’s not really what Muslims believe” response to A. Ali’s Infidel or the “that’s only some extreme Christians” response to E. McElvaine’s Grand Theft Jesus.)

This post morphed into a rant, didn’t it? Yes, a mother’s rant about her fears and hopes for her daughters growing up in a world wherein a woman—any woman—can be murdered because, “God told me to.”

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Posted in Ethics and Morals, Freethinking, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

You, too, Can Raise a Moral Child (Maybe)

I recently came across a video clip of Julia Sweeney talking about her encounter with Mormon missionaries for a TED talk. I appreciated the clip for two reasons: 1) I grew up with Mormons and her description of their fervent belief in their religion was spot on and 2) I, too, have had Mormons (as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses) come to my door to evangelize. The clip reminded me of an incident about a year ago when two Mormons (and it’s almost always young men, but that might be the topic of another post) “knocked” on my door. I say “knocked” because they approached my house just as the last of the children from my oldest daughter’s play group were leaving–so they didn’t really knock. If they had, I would not have answered because I don’t answer the door for people I don’t know.

They watched from a somewhat respectful distance at the edge of my yard as my daughter and I said goodbye to the last of her friends. Their short-sleeve white shirts with the little name tags practically screamed Mormon at me. I had half a mind to dash back into the house like I hadn’t seen them, but that would have been rude. I do try to be a respectful person. Certainly, the fact that my daughter was with me worked in their favor. As we finished our last “goodbyes” and kiss blowing, they approached. The exchange went something like this:

MM1: We have a message for you from God.

Me: (Gathering my daughter on my hip) I don’t believe in God.

MM2: He believes in you. He’s sent us with a message.

Me: (Trying to back slowly into my house) Is this something I can read later? We’re about to eat lunch. Do you have a letter from him? Or an email? Fax?

MM1 and MM2: (Confused looks)

MM1: Ma’am, God wants you to be saved. Your little girl needs God. The baby you’re about to have needs God. We want to help save all of your souls. We have a book you can read called the Book of Mormon. It will help you find God.

Me: The Book of Mormon is your message from God? Oh, I already read that. I don’t need another one. But thanks anyway. We have to eat lunch now.

MM1: Oh, you read it! Then we can help you understand the finer points and find your path back to us.

Me: Um, no, there’s no “back”. I told you–I don’t believe in God.

MM2: But you’ve read the Book of Mormon.

Me: Only because I grew up with Mormons. I wanted to know what it was my friends were all proselytizing and why it was all the girls acted like 1950s house wives and why they couldn’t have caffeine but guzzled down chocolate by the bucket-full. I wasn’t Mormon myself. Nor do I want to be.

MM2: But God wants you to be.  How can you raise moral children without God? You can’t. You need Heavenly Father’s guidance to keep your children from becoming wanton and immoral.

Me: (Patently aware that young ears were listening): Then could you please explain to me why the Mormon boys always thought they were going to go all the way to home base with me when they asked me out on a date? Why two of my non-Mormon girl friends were assaulted in a violent, biblical manner, by Mormon boys?  Can you explain why the biggest cheating ring busted in my high school’s history was masterminded by two Mormons? Or the steroid use on the football team was also masterminded by a group of Mormons? I mean, if Mormonism is all it takes to be moral in the world, then why all the immoral behavior?

MM1 and MM2: (Blank stares)

Me: Look, I appreciate you’ve got a hard job trying to convince people to buy into your religion.  And, by the way, your origin story certainly doesn’t help your cause. I get that, I do. But to come to my house and flat out tell me that I cannot raise moral children because I don’t believe in Mormonism is presumptuous and rude. Doesn’t Jesus tell us not to judge lest we too be judged? Yet here you are, judging me for not being Mormon.  Frankly, that’s one of the primary reasons I never really liked the Mormon religion.  You all seem fine and well when you’re individuals, but put you in a group and everyone else is fair game. So, I’m going to take my immoral self back into my house and sit down to a meal with my daughter. I hope you have a nice day.  Goodbye!

I turned and walked quickly back into my house. As I locked the door, I heard them slip their literature into the door frame. The small part of me wanted to fling open the door, rip it into a million pieces, and fling it at them.  But, you know, small eyes were watching and it wouldn’t have been the moral thing (or the nice thing!) to do anyway.  Oh, but the temptation made me smile.

I grow weary of this charge that atheists cannot be moral because they do not believe in a higher power/God(s) figure(s), much less raise moral children. More often than not, when someone first learns I am an atheist, they too insist that I cannot be truly moral because I do not believe in God or accept His will as an higher authority.  In Behaving Yourself: Moral Development in the Secular Family, Jean Mercer considers this misconception of morality and ethics, challenging the idea that morals and ethics are only in the purview of religion.  She suggests that the parenting practices a child experiences are much more indicative of the resulting levels of morality and ethics the child achieves as an adult. I agree with her assessment. The list of individuals who have, throughout history, questioned the existence of a higher power and who are even so considered to be “moral” or “ethical” is a long one. (A good place to start is Annie Laurie Gaylor’s essay entitled What Your Kids Won’t Learn in School.)

And frankly, the list of individuals who have wrought, and continue to inflict, intense pain and horror on their fellow humans in the name of religion is much longer than the majority of religious people are willing to admit. Simply focusing on the “big” events–the Inquisition, the Crusades, Imperialism, Slavery, 9/11—is enough to make one’s head spin. Somehow, these immoral acts are excused as “not indicative” or “just a part of that time period” or “not our doctrine” or “outliers” or some other excuse for why said religion/religious people cannot take responsibility for the immoral acts. (And lest anyone jump on the “but atheists do immoral things too!” bandwagon:  I fully acknowledge this to be the case, but that is irrelevant to the point at hand. I think all people, regardless of their religious or spiritual leanings/beliefs, have the capacity to be immoral.)

So, yes, I can, in fact, raise moral children because I am, in large part, a moral being.  Sure, I mess up sometimes. I am not always the person I strive to be.  But, overall, I’d say I do a very good job of living a moral, ethical life.  I strive to embody empathy and compassion.  I strive to help my community. I strive to live by the “golden rule” (and really, if we all followed that rule, we’d have a lot less conflict in this world). And I strive to raise moral children.

But am I? Am I raising moral, ethical, empathetic, respectful children?

My oldest is still in preschool. If one of her peers is hurt, if one cries, if one needs help, she is the first (and often the only) child to attend to that person. To me, given her age, this exemplifies a wonderful start and a good foundation for a moral and ethical life. My favorite story, relayed to me by another mom, involves my daughter tending a crying baby. The baby’s mom had to step away from the baby to take her older son to the bathroom. The baby started crying and, as another mom relayed to me, my daughter, “who was in the other room, heard the baby and came running in. She rocked the baby in her car seat and said ‘Sh, sh, baby. I will get you a toy.’ She got a toy, came back, showed the baby the toy. When that didn’t’ work, she rocked the baby and sang her songs until the baby’s mom returned to her.”  My daughter, the child of the only atheist/agnostic parents in her class, was the only child who even acknowledged the crying baby, much less stopped to tend to it as best she could. I’m not sure what the “you can’t raise moral children” Mormon missionaries would think about that.  Perhaps they would see it as an aberration.

So, yes.  Yes, Mormons. Yes theists.  I, an atheist mother, can indeed raise a moral child. You can, too, but you don’t have a “lock” on morality just because you believe some higher power is running your life.

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The People Song

In my first post, I explained that one of the events in my life which cemented my atheism was the birth of my first child. Shortly after her birth, I sat in the glider with her and realized I was going to have to become very mindful about traditions in our family. When I was growing up, so many of the traditions were bound to church and religion; they were “ready-made”.  As an atheist, I didn’t have “ready-made” and the full weight of that didn’t rest on me until that night, my baby snuggled against me as she fed.

One of our nightly traditions growing up was the recitation of our prayers just before bed time, including “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”.  As a child, that prayer always bothered me. I would pester my mom to explain why she wanted me to “pray the Lord my soul to keep” as though I were going to die each night. Frankly, it freaked me out. So, as I sat in the glider thinking about new traditions and thinking about what I wanted my children to value in life, an idea came to me: we’re going to have to sing. And not just about anything, mind you, we’re going to have to sing about love and thanks and people who are important in our lives.

Now, I’m musically inclined, but I’m no song writer. I spent the better part of two weeks trying on different ideas and lyrics, but nothing seemed to fit. Then I decided the only thing to do was to take a tune I knew she loved (cue “Hush Little Baby”) and create new lyrics to fit the tune. After a couple of nights, I had what would come to be known as “The People Song” pretty much hashed out. So I began to sing to her, every night:

Let’s think of all the people we love (insert 2-3 names) in (insert place) [repeat until entire family is included]

Now that we’ve thought of the people we love/It’s time for us to go to sleep/As we sleep this night we know/The people we love, they love us so.

Until my second child was born, my oldest heard this song every night just before she went to sleep. She quickly learned to hum the tune. I also discovered that any tears from a bump or fall were generally quieted by me merely humming a few bars. This tradition–it’s powerful stuff!

Once my youngest was born, the grandparents or daddy started to do bedtime with my oldest because, inevitably, my youngest would want to breast feed right at my oldest’s bed time.  My husband, being less musically inclined than I was, couldn’t remember all the words, much less get the pitch within range; my oldest, who knew the tune but couldn’t keep the lyrics straight, wasn’t much help.  So “The People Song” fell by the wayside.  Until last night.

Last night was the third night we’ve had a new bedtime routine because our children are now sharing a room at night. (And I am very thankful this means that I get to be more a fixture in both their bedtimes now!) My oldest was reading her books when my youngest finished up her feeding and I started to rock her and sing. Of course, “The People Song” was the last song I sang before I put her in her crib. I was two stanzas in when my oldest came over and climbed up in my lap and sang/hummed the rest of the song with me, her arm draped gently across her sister’s shoulders. After the song was done, we rocked that way for a while longer, and my oldest looked up at me and said, “I like ‘The People Song’ mommy. I love my little sister. I love you mommy”.

That moment reaffirmed for me that the traditions I created would be a very important part of her life—so I must be mindful, I must choose well.

 

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The Lies We Tell

My oldest daughter and I have participated in a parent education co-op preschool (similar to this one) for the past two years. Part of my education, as a parent student at this school, is grounded in the idea that parents need clear principles guiding their work as parents. Our teachers have been open to how parents obtain or define these principles and, regardless of creed, most of the parents included something along the lines of “be honest with my children”, which seems like a no-brainer to me.

Honesty certainly makes my list (in part because I value honesty in relationships and in part because I am a terrible liar); I strive to be honest about a host of issues which arise each day with my children even when it would be easier not to. And I actually feel very strongly about it.

Which brings me to my neighbor and her children.  Our children spend quite a bit of time together. In the past we split time between our homes somewhat evenly, but after my dog died, she did not want to come to our house.  I got the sense that she does not handle death very well, so out of respect, I demurred for a long while. But then my oldest child wanted to share some of her special toys with my friend’s son and started asking when he was going to come to HER house. Again. And again. And again. With the tenacity only a toddler can muster, she would not let it go, so I suggested we meet at our house for our next get-together.

When they arrived, my oldest was beside herself with joy. She had all her toys lined up and ready to “go”, but her friend passed them by as he looked for our dog. He asked, “Where’s the dog?” to which my daughter replied, “She was sick and she’s dead. She’s not in pain any more. I miss her too.”

My friend’s face fell.  She hadn’t told him.  Her son’s face crumpled in confusion.  “What’s dead?” he queried.

My oldest started to explain, “Dead is when…” but my friend cut her off. “The dog’s not here right now, son, she’s away on vacation.”

My oldest looked at her, confused.  She knows what a vacation is and I had, at one point, explained to her that dead did not mean vacation because she had told me, “Doggie’s gone, like a vacation” not long after our dog had died. So she knew that what my friend was saying was not right. And she screwed up her little face to argue her point.

At this point, I was at a loss. My friend and I had talked about the importance of being honest about death when my dog had died.  She had told me that she was going to explain it all to him; she’d even borrowed one of our books to share with him. I had not imagined she would avoid telling him, though I can certainly understand the impulse to avoid the conversation. Nor had I imagined that I would be stuck between her and my daughter in this manner.

I did what any self-respecting mama would do: I asked my oldest to come into the kitchen with me to get a snack for everyone. When we got there, she did exactly what I knew she would do, she started telling me that “Doggie’s not on vacation. Doggie’s dead. Why did my mom’s friend say that?” So in the most honest and simple terms I could muster, I tried to explain to my child why some parents are not honest with their children about some things. We didn’t have a lot of time at that juncture, so I told her we could talk about it more that night.

My friend called me later that night. She did not apologize for misleading me about not telling her son about our dog. She did not apologize for lying in my daughter’s presence and saying our dog was on vacation. Instead, she told me she was mad at me that my oldest had told her son our dog was dead and she had spent the better part of the evening trying to calm him down and explain what it all meant.

My retorts were endless, but I squelched them. I value her friendship, even if we clearly did not see eye-to-eye on the issue of death, grieving, and young children. I did not, however, apologize to her for my daughter telling her son the truth.  Instead, I asked her quietly, “Why didn’t you tell me you hadn’t been able to tell your son? Why did you let me believe you had told him, like you said you would? If you had told me, I could have helped. Not knowing threw me for a loop.”

The line grew quiet. I almost thought she had hung up on me. Then she said, “I did tell you that I would, didn’t I?  I just can’t bring myself to do it. I just can’t”.

Our resulting conversation lasted the better part of an hour. Three days later, when my oldest daughter was on an outing with her grandparents, they came over again.  This time, both she and I were there to help her son begin to understand why our dog isn’t here anymore.

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A Win in the Wilderness

I have recently felt like a small boat buffeted by increasingly rough and high waves. War on Women? Check. Attacks by the Christian Right on basic freedoms? Check. War against Science and Logic? Check. Every Child and Educator Left Behind? Check. This list goes on.  I have even started making a list of states we cannot move to due to their heinous reproductive rights laws (Arizona, Texas, most of the South, Michigan).

But today, today I felt a small glimmer of hope when North Dakotans struck down the so-called Religious Liberty Amendment, the latest attempt to chip away at Women’s Rights, reported here by the Daily Kos:  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/06/14/1100085/-North-Dakotans-decide-they-already-have-all-the-religious-liberty-they-need?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+dailykos%2Findex+%28Daily+Kos%29.

Perhaps the tide will turn. Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point, notes that trends start with one event.  One seemingly small, innocuous moment which tips public opinion one way or the other. Charles Duhigg expounds upon this idea in The Power of Habit, noting that Rosa Parks’ famous refussal to move to the back of the bus sparked the Civil Rights Movement because it was buoyed by her loose-knit ties to a larger, cross-sectional community within Montgomery, a community which pushed her one act of rebellion into a movement. (I should note here that December 1, 1955, was not the first time Rosa Parks had defied segratation laws; it was the first time her defiance became larger than her as an individual.)

North Dakota’s refusal to pass this amendment is not the only challenge the GOP has faced in this continuing War on Women.  Mississippi’s persondhood law did not pass. The fallout after Komen’s executives cut Planned Parenthood funding is still being felt as executives resign and Walk for the Cure participation is down.

Knowing for sure if North Dakota’s refusal to give in to the circular logic of the far right is the tipping point is impossible at this juncture.  Even so, news like this gives me a faint glimmer of hope.

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“Neener, Neener” or “My Kid got into a Better Preschool than Yours!”

Theoretically, I know a lot about school choice.  I know a lot about the importance of play-based education in early childhood. I know a lot about privilege (and I am privileged in many ways). I know a lot about building a solid educational foundation for my children’s success as learners in a formal school setting.

And then I had to enroll my oldest in preschool.

The process was arduous, a minefield of “he-said, she-said” type underground networking to find the “best fit” for my child. The playgroup moms I had come to value became, suddenly, very tight-lipped about where their children would be going. Some schools refused tours or set tour-application dates publicly but used back channels to accept applications so they would be completely full by the time the “public” showed up to tour. Some schools privileged “first come, first served”, so parents camped out hours before the start of the official application opening. Some schools said they privileged admission based on one criteria (say, geography) and I later discovered that they also gave priority to certain religious affiliations or parental professions. And very few programs fit my ideal desire for my child: a 2 or 3 half-day a week play based drop-off program whose teachers held an ECE credential.

We worked through it, though.  And I’m happy about the school my child is enrolled in for the fall. But the process has left a very bitter taste in my mouth which is best captured by a luncheon I had with several playgroup moms last week. The conversation settled on preschool within the first 10 minutes and went something like this:

Mom1: What preschool did you all pick for next year?

Mom2: We were looking for a rigorous academic program, so we chose Super Special Charter Preschool, which focuses on teaching reading to its 3-year olds.

Mom1: Oh, really? I thought you were interested in a play based program?

Mom3: Why would anyone do play based at 3? Our kids need to be challenged!  I enrolled my child in Super Lab School at Fantastic University.  I even put our name on the list before I was pregnant to make sure we got a spot.

Mom4: Wait, before you were pregnant? You never mentioned this.

Mom3: (Innocently) I didn’t? Oh, I must have forgotten.  This school is so hard to get into. We basically had to call three of our colleagues who happen to know the director to get in.

Mom2: I tried to get into that program, but it was full!  Super Special Charter Preschool’s head teacher used to teach at the Lab school. At least we have that.

Mom3: Yes, we’ve got to get them prepared for the rigors of Kindergarten…

At this point, I wanted to check out of the conversation and order a stiffer drink than the mocktail by my plate. The rigors of Kindergarten? And you “forgot” to share the name of this fantastic school with us 18 months ago when we were all talking about preschool placements every time we got together? Seriously? Please put the kool-aid down!

I think these types of conversations and this type of thinking happens when critical thought gets thrown out the window. How many times had we, as a group, discussed the importance of play? Read research based articles about the importance of community in children’s lives? Shared information about the play based preschools in our area so we could maybe enroll as a group? But when the rubber meets the road, these moms threw all of that out the window and said “I will not share. I will not help other moms. I will not be a part of a larger community. I will focus on the welfare of my own child and refuse to share any information which might lead them to the preschool I want my child to go to so I can hopefully increase my child’s likelihood of getting in?”

Something IS wrong with education in the U.S. and it’s starting long before K-12. I couldn’t help but feel sad and, yes, even deceived by how the preschool question had played out in my child’s play group. I listened to the group discuss the various preschools their children would attend in the fall for several minutes before one of the moms turned to me and asked where my child would be going to school. When I told the group my child would go to a Play-Based Co-op Preschool, they were shocked that a teacher would remotely consider such an nonacademic environment for her child to attend must less actually enroll her child at said school.

They should not have been shocked.  The research is clear: Play IS the work of children. We do them no favors to pretend otherwise or try to “accelerate” them with academic preschools and Baby Einstein and Time4Learning’s Preschool reading program.

I am finding it difficult, however, to maintain this path in the face of intense peer pressure to do otherwise. I can see how falling into the trap of pushing your child to do more and do it faster and sooner is so easy–it would be so much easier to “go with the flow”, but doing so would be to the detriment of my children. So, I am “staying the path”, enrolling my child in a play based program this fall. My child is only young once and there is plenty of time yet for super-structured, get with the program, academic pursuits. Providing a solid social and critical inquiry stance foundation is something I value more than being able to say my three year old can read and write.

Posted in Childrearing, Education, Parenting | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Birth of Freethinking Parent

I am a mom.  I am an atheist. These identities are neither mutually exclusive nor contradictory in my life. In fact, becoming a mom is what prompted me to be more honest about my lack of belief in god. I am supposed to be the ethical compass for my children, but how could I be that compass if I was too busy lying to myself for the readings to be true? I had spent years in my former professional life dodging the question of my “belief”, but the weight of my baby in my arms, the tug of that little mouth on my breast, made me realize I could no longer hide. Children are little lie detectors–and mine would eventually ferret out my dishonesty and that dishonesty would undermine my relationship with them. I couldn’t have that.

So I began the process of “coming out*” to my family and friends.  Those who saw me and listened to me were not surprised.  Those who had not truly seen me or listened to me were not only surprised, they were aghast that I would “open my arms to hell”, “reject the one true God”, “throw my baby into Satan’s eager grasp”, and “refuse the most important relationship in your life”.  These comments are the “highlights” of many of my theist (mostly Christian, though some Muslim and Jewish) friends’ reactions. These reactions stopped my “coming out” process in its tracks–I could see that “coming out” was going to be trickier than I thought it would be. I had been naive enough to believe that geography (in regards to where I live) was on my side in terms of tolerance, but this assumption was incorrect.

These reactions also pushed me to ask important questions: How could I raise ethical and moral children without religion? How could I publicly and safely identify as atheist? Were there resources, in the form of groups or texts, which could support my own education and that of my children? Was I really an agnostic? How do I interact with other parents when issues related to theism and belief crop up? And how do I make “peace” with my theist friends who now believe that I am their number one evangelical calling?

I realized quickly that parenting resources specifically for the atheist parent are few and far between.  While many wonderful child rearing and parenting books exist which are not specifically theist, inevitably I would reach a point in these books which made it clear to me that the writers were theists or, at the very least, had no problem encouraging the magical-thought-as-reality approach to child-rearing. And the children’s books themselves presented an entirely more disturbing class of theist and/or magical-thought-as-reality assumptions which I could not abide. I began inhaling books and texts written by atheists, humanists, agnostics, and freethinkers in an effort to understand how to raise ethical and moral children within this framework. While these books were edifying, parenting was not a topic they addressed directly.

Into this void came Parenting Beyond Belief, edited by Dale McGowan: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/.  Finally, a book which spoke directly to me, answered (or provided a clear jumping off point for) many of my questions, and assured me that I could raise moral and ethical children without religion. This book, and its many referenced resources, gave me the courage to continue “coming out” and being honest about who I was as I moved within my community. Eureka!

And then my dog died. And the theists in my life arrived “en masse”.

I posted my dog’s passing to several different groups, as many people in my life knew my dog had been sick and I didn’t want to spend the next several weeks having to “relive” the announcement. Further, several friends and family members had been calling, texting, emailing, and Facebooking comments for weeks, so announcing my dog’s death in several venues seemed appropriate. In the span of a week, I received:

  • several public comments stating my dog was “in heaven” or “with God” and so I should be happy,
  • several public comments stating that I now had the perfect opportunity to introduce my children to God’s love,
  • several private messages and emails encouraging me to see the purpose of life and embrace God now so that I can give my children the gift of knowing their dog is in heaven waiting for them in the afterlife,
  • two children’s books, sent to my home, which used very religious terms to explain the death of a pet, from people to whom I had initially “come out” when I began publicly identifying as an atheist,
  • several “fire and brimstone” type messages saying that I needed to accept God or I would never see my dog again and her death would be meaningless, and
  • one message which told me that my dog’s death was God’s way of telling me I’d better start believing in him again or my children and I would burn in hell.

I did the only thing a grieving pet owner and parent should do in a situation like this one–I got mad.  And then I decided I should get even. And then I realized that getting even would only serve to perpetuate, in these theists’ minds anyway, that I was a Godless sinner with no moral compass.  In essence, I realized that getting even would mean sinking to their level.

The best revenge, my mom always told me, was a life well lived. What better way for an atheist parent to have a life well lived than to create a resource and space for other atheist parents? And so, the idea for Freethinking Parent was born.

I hope this blog will serve two purposes:

1. As a space for me to document my journey as a Freethinking Parent. I use the term “freethinking” deliberately. I am an atheist, yes, but my parenting partner is an agnostic. My mother is an atheist, but my father is a theist. And my in-laws are liberal theists. My children are, therefore, going to be exposed to a variety of beliefs and thoughts regarding the existence of god(s) within this extended family structure. My purpose is to imbue them with enough respect for free thought and critical thinking that they do not blindly accept what any of us have to say without a lot of “whys?” and “can you prove that?”

2. As a space for other freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, humanists, non-theists who are parents or who work with children or who are grandparents/aunts/uncles/etc to come, read, learn, be educated, ask questions, experience a supportive community of like-minded thinkers. I think such a space is important because much of what we experience within society is not nearly as secular (or accepting) as it should be.

These two purposes create a tall order, but I am very much looking forward to this adventure.

*I put coming out in quotes because I feel I am borrowing a label from a group of people who are far more persecuted in our society than atheists/agnostics are. I am open to suggestions of other descriptive terms to use for atheists who begin to identify themselves to family/friends, but I cannot now think of a term which more accurately reflects the process.

Posted in Atheism, Freethinking, Introduction/New Topics, Parenting | 3 Comments