September 04, 2014

Atheist Mama: The hardest part of discussing religion with my children is not allowing my feelings to bleed through


It's really crazy to think that I am even writing this post. Just a year ago, it would have been unthinkable that this would even be an issue.

And yet it is.

I have trouble keeping my feelings on religion in check while talking to my children about religion.

I know, I know--angry atheist, blah blah blah.

I'm relatively new to nonbelief. My feelings are still running high--I feel like I was deceived, like religion had a negative impact on my life, and like I would have been better off without its influences. These are my personal perceptions--I fully understand that many people have positive experiences with faith, and they are more than welcome to them.

Balanced against this tendency, however, is my belief that my children should have the right to choose their own path. I was indoctrinated; I do not want, in my fervor to get away from religion, to inadvertently indoctrinate my children.

So how is an "angry" atheist to handle it?

Well, it's tricky.


My first step has been to be honest about what I believe, and to reinforce our ability to disagree on beliefs and still love each other deeply. We talked about that some here.

My next step is to introduce outside sources that channel our discussion. Last week, we talked about my secular parenting reading list. What Do You Believe? has been a great resource. Because the book breaks down religions and looks for common ground--and because it is told from a factual point of view that doesn't glorify any religion over others--it makes it easy to discuss religions as a historical and social phenomenon, which allows me to disconnect from my feelings on the subject. It's just like handling any other topic of interest. This allows me to engage with the topic intellectually, without triggering an emotional response. We can engage with the topic, and I can avoid going, "This is all bullshit," and everyone is happy--especially me, since I avoid putting quarters in the swear jar.

Finally, find ways to introduce religion. Don't let the first time your kid enters a church be when they are teens trying to fit into a youth group (yes, that felt really weird to type). Go together, have conversations about it. Visit synagogues and mosques and Buddhist temples. Experience it together and have the conversations. Participate in Unitarian Universalist religious education courses if you can. Religion is a fact of life, and the simple truth is, we all have to come to terms with it.

Kids need to understand religion to understand important social and political overtones in the world we live in. They need to understand in order to develop empathy, and they need to understand in order to truly formulate their own opinions on the subject. Simply imparting ours isn't enough.

Does this mean blindly allowing our children to attend any religious institution or event? Not at all. Dale McGowan explains my biggest fear in this quote from Parenting Beyond Belief:
Evangelism of children nonetheless seeks to cut off the process of independent thought before it begins. It’s this aspect of religious indoctrination that is most unacceptable—the idea that doubt is bad, that unquestioning acceptance is good, that there is only one possible right answer, and that someone else has already figured out what that answer is.
This is the part that scares me, and it's the part that we should guard our children against. It's the reason we should be actively involved in introducing them to religion--because I, personally, refuse to let religion do the creeping in.

And creep it will.

 Introducing our children to religion is one way of arming them for freethought. In a society that often attempts to indoctrinate our children in one way or another--if it's not religion, it's beauty standards or ethics or morals or politics--this is one of the many ways that we teach them to think for themselves. It's how we introduce the idea that no one has all the answers--and that not having all the answers is perfectly alright. Some of life's mysteries will be discovered, and some will remain mysteries--and we will all grow and learn from them.

I was also struck by this quote, from Michael Shermer in the foreword to PBB:
...my hope is that whatever it is you decide to believe about whatever subject, you have thought through carefully each of those beliefs and at least tried to make sure that they are your beliefs and not those of your parents. It matters less to me what your specific beliefs are than that you have carefully arrived at your beliefs through reason and evidence and thoughtful reflection.
This quote perfectly expresses how I want to teach my children, not only about religion, but about life. If I could impart one overriding concept, it would be this.

I will always love you.

I will always cherish you.

I will always support you.

This will be true no matter what you believe, so long as you think and seek and search and question for yourself.

That is my overarching parenting mission. And if someday, I sit back and review my life, and at that I have succeeded--then I will consider this life to have been good. I will consider myself a success.

A new generation of freethinkers. The Next Generation.

It's quite a purpose indeed.

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