This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Parenting Beyond Belief by Many Freethinkers

My friend Audrey recommended this book during lunch one day, as I discussed with her and Ann how my 7 year old was coming home with "jesus" talk.

I was mildly curious as to why she was coming home with "I believe in jesus", or in the past year, "You know Christmas is when Jesus' was born" because, well, Tim and I don't say this so none of the jesus talk was coming from us.

I was wary of this book because I don't really 'label' myself as an agnostic or an atheist. Tim went through several years of being agnostic but concluding, much to my surprise to my secure-in-her-faith Aunt Jean one year, that he was an atheist.

I actually relate more to atheism/agnostic philosophies because what we do have in common is: a disdain for organized religion.

I was concerned that a book about non-religion would be fanatic against religion. I don't need anymore animosity towards organized religion. I'm quite content with my own views. The last thing I want is a book organized to make me hate it more.

But it didn't do that. In fact, it was pretty agnostic :). Although the first article by Julia Sweeney fit into the stereotype I have about non-religious freaks, the rest opened up my eyes to what I could do BETTER to teach my kids their freedom to choose.

And that is what I a certain degree.

When it comes to religion, I have a very jaded view of it. So being religious is like being a republican: you are a bigot and a hypocrite. This is NOT what I want my children to choose. So I probably won't be a very happy parent if my child came home and said "guess what? i'm going to be a Christian!" In my mind, I didn't do a very good job if they feel so insecure in life that they chose to be this thing. It would probably be out of 'love' for a friend, a boy or a girl, but I don't believe it would be anything of their own free choosing.

This book is really a compilation of essays from people who are "freethinkers", that is: agnostic, atheist, scientific, or part of an 'organized religion' itself, the Unitarian Universalists. And although I typically don't enjoy these types of books (self help, guides, etc), I learned so much in this one.

I learned what "secular" really meant and I believe our family to be a "secular" family.

I learned that Darwin was really a shy dude, who made sure he crossed his "t"s and dotted his "i"s before he decided to publish his book On the Origin of Species.

I learned that not only is there natural selection, but sexual selection.

And I find it all very coincidental that MiMi was recently learning about metamorphosis, which will tie all of this together.

I learned that I am definitely neither agnostic, atheist, nor skeptic. But just a person who, based on her own experiences, has her own ideas that actually relate to Unitarians but I'm still not someone that likes organized religion of any sort. I'm quite content in my own supernatural beliefs and have no desire to influence anyone to believe what I believe.

I learned the boy scouts of america (BSA) would rather require a religious connection than to allow any young boy, no matter what his family (or he) believes in, to participate in the BSA.

There were several sections that really captured me and one was a letter from Richard Dawkins, a British biologist, to his 10 year old daughter. As I would assume a scientist would do, he points out to her that "evidence" is what is needed to prove existence of anything. It's powerful and pretty much sums up, in a layman's way, what that means. He lays out three reasons as to why it's bad for believing in anything: tradition, authority and revelation.

Tradition being "that's what believe, so I believe it".

Authority being you are told to believe it by a powerful figure.

And revelation being something like dubya's so-called conversations with god.

Another part that opened my eyes was the mere fact that I, as a parent, am responsible for educating my children about religion. The words that caught me were: if you don't do it, someone else will...and most likely, you won't want that "someone else" teaching them.

I have been neutral in my teachings to my kids. We did celebrate Hanukkah last christmas, because MiMi had been learning about it in school...and was I asked a Jewish friend of mine to give me details of how we can celebrate it. We had fun and learned just a little bit about Hanuka. This, apparently, is a good way to learn about religion.

The seven virtues outlined in Chapter Five, by Dave McGowan was my favorite. It outlines the seven virtues that we, as humans, should live by. No one needs to carve into stone that it's wrong to cheat on your spouse, or that you shouldn't kill anyone. It should be something you just KNOW. Along with humility, empathy, courage, honesty, openness, generosity, and gratitude.

I fear that the first three are lacking in "my" world. Not me, mind you...I feel that I embrace humility and empathy as my religion. My expectation is for others to have it and sadly, not all do. I've written about the douche bag in the past, but it applies to many others who I have worked with. There is a "it's all about me" attitude and "let me save my ass" before thinking about the repercussions of others. Sadly, I am surrounded by people who lack any humility.

But those seven virtues are lacking even more in organized religion. "Openness"? Are you kidding? If you don't believe what I believe, you go to hell (btw, for your information, we are already there).

What about homosexuality?

What are religious fanatics grateful for? God, jesus, whoever. But not for the children, or for the nice neighbor who helped them with their lawn. It's all god's doing. "thank you god for this people's choice award". Hello? The people voted for you...not god.

Generosity? That only comes to those who believe the same as they believe. Religious fanatics don't want to help anyone who wants to get married to the same gender. Look at the boy scouts! You're an atheist? Well you can't be a boy scout...

Sure. There are some good ones out there. I believe that faith in third world countries is far "richer" than what the Westerners believe. I believe there are many people, like me, who believe in something based on their own lives.

But the masses of hypocrites outweigh the minority of folks who truly just "believe". It's hate and it's ironic.

I will end with a quote from Chapter Seven, on Wondering and Questioning, by Stephen Law:

If there is no God, then perhaps it is up to us to give life its meaning. The purpose of our lives have is the purpose that we give to them. If that is true, then we each have a big responsibility. You can choose to live a meaningless life or a meaningful one. What sort of life you live is up to you.


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  2. ah man Cindy... this is a good one. I do consider myself a Christian but I have my own personal beliefs. I can't just take what I hear as *truth* because to me everything is simply someone's interpretation. To me, its all subjective. The validity of evidence is based on what you believe or *feel* is right. You stated the seven virtues as something you should just *know*. Think about that though. We don't just *know* anything. We are born and we learn what our parents and the world teaches us. The one thing I have learned and believe whole heartedly is there are conflicting sides at work. For every person who believes in those seven virtues, there are 2 others who don't. People who have been treated like they don't matter and haven't seen the love that many of us are fortunate to have had. In short, I think I believe in God/Christianity because I am thankful for the life I have. I feel blessed/fortunate for so many things and I know many others who are just as deserving but not as fortunate/blessed. I have a feeling of needing/wanting to give back because of all I have and I think that feeling is my connection with God. Hopefully I worded this so it didn't offend you and maybe it is even somewhat provocative.

  3. JP: it is provacative...and i have dear, life-long friends who are extremely religious...but they know and respect my beliefs...and even laugh along with my blasphemy :). And *that* is what I appreciate in others. I know what you are saying about learning the seven virtues and I agree with that, but didn't want to go into that deep for the post. The issue is, an average person doesn't need to have a bible tell him what is right and what is wrong. And for me, one should do it because it's right...from your soul, and if that is from a god, so be it...but no one should be persecuted for not believing, for being gay, for being a different religion, for anything other than being a bad person.

  4. Let's see here...Yes. I agree. And that's really cool that you guys celebrated Hannukah just because MiMi was interested. I think I'll get that book out of the library.
    Here, my dad is super-atheist, but not one of the fanatics. He just doesn't care about the religious people enough to bother arguing. My mom's Christian, but sometime's it's tough to tell exactly why or how serious she is about it. Like, she doesn't see anything wrong with homosexuality and doesn't go to church every Sunday...yet she freaks out whenever I try to talk to her about religion. I don't think either of my sisters really think about it all that much, but would probably label themselves atheist...and then there's me. And I'm not really sure what I am, although I don't believe in any sort of supernatural being in the god-sense. Higher dimensional beings...sure, but I'll need to see proof, and that doesn't make them any better than us.
    So I agree with you on pretty much everything you said up there.
    And the boy scouts? That's terrible!

  5. Hi Olivia! I am quite pleased to see your response! I think you'll like this book. It's not too preachy but more informative...and since it's just a bunch of essays, you can skip one that doesn't interest you.

    But it is difficult to deal with parents that have two different views...although it sounds like there is a bit of a 'healthy?' balance between your mom and dad. My parents weren't very big on religion but my mom and dad's extended family are: my mom's family are extreme Catholics and my dad's side are extreme Southern Baptists.

    I think you are a smart girl, very well-read, not just in books, but in pretty deep life thoughts :). I think you'll figure out what it is you accept easy enough on your own. :)