October 02, 2014

Atheist Mama: My kids will never experience the fear of knowledge that I did

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From the time I was very small, I was a horse-obsessed child. I am still an obsessed adult, but the time to go riding is short and scarce, much to my chagrin.

When I was a child, I had book upon book upon book about horses. Fiction, nonfiction. How tos. Guides to breeds. Magazines. At one point, I pulled articles from my various magazines and organized them in binders. I bought all of the supplies myself, organized it by topics, put them in document protectors, made copies when pages backed up onto each other, created tables of contents. By the time I no longer had time--and I kept it up all the way through high school, for the record--the series was seven volumes long and included a detailed index to help me find topics that I wanted to reference. I use a similar system today to organize notes and reading and potential blog posts.

All in all, it was a topic I was heavily invested in, and yet, it was one that first introduced me to the perils of a fundamentalist Christian mindset and biblical literalism.

You see, that image above appeared in every one of my beloved books, and every time, I skirted uncomfortably over it. I had heard it preached from every single pulpit that I sat in front of that Darwinism was wrong, that the bible was the literal, inerrant and inspired word of god, inarguable.

For a child of ten, eleven, twelve, the messages hit home. I was "saved" at nine. I wanted to be a good Christian, and I certainly didn't want to anger the Lord.

So I dedicated myself to accepting that the books that I loved were wrong. I pitied the scientists that believed in evolution. Those poor lost souls...

I actively avoided any sort of knowledge that would conflict with my beliefs because I did not want my faith "challenged".

Now that I am an atheist, I wonder if my younger self was on to something. ;)

It strikes me as terribly sad today that I spent so much time investing in not paying attention to conflicting views. Even if I had examined and rejected them, I feel like I would have done due justice to my younger self--but instead, the stress was placed on not studying those topics because they were wrong.

When I was twelve and thirteen, I attended the small unregulated private school run by our church. The takedown of evolution in our science books was pretty complete, it seemed. I had no other frame of reference, and I accepted it.

When I moved and began attending public high school, I learned evolution to "pass the test"--terminology even our teacher used--in tenth grade biology. I never really considered the merits of it.

This view trickled into my overall view of science. When you question one really big facet, it undermines the entirety of it. That's a point that I can't emphasize enough.

I'm not talking about questioning as in scientific questioning, either, but questioning it by putting it on theological grounds. That kind of questioning is absolutely unhealthy for children to be exposed to.

Today, I'm rabid about encouraging my kids' love of science. My oldest stepdaughter shows a burgeoning interest in the scientific and has found herself enthusiastically inundated with books and materials, especially works that highlight female scientists. My boys are amassing a large nonfiction library and we don't shy away from subject.

I think this is one of the marked shifts in my parenting since we de-converted. Our bedtime stories are less Chronicles of Narnia (although we are still working our way through those) and more creation myths and world religions and books about fossils. It's an interesting shift to a focus on reality for us.

And I find reality absolutely fascinating.

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