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Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief

Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief

4.5 7
by Dale McGowan, Molleen Matsumura, Amanda Metskas, Jan Devor

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Praised by Newsweek as “a compelling read” and Library Journal as “accessible and down-to-earth,” Dale McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief offered freethinking parents everywhere a compassionate introduction to raising caring, ethical children without religious guidance. Now, for the


Praised by Newsweek as “a compelling read” and Library Journal as “accessible and down-to-earth,” Dale McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief offered freethinking parents everywhere a compassionate introduction to raising caring, ethical children without religious guidance. Now, for the more than 40 million people in the United States who identify themselves as nonreligious, Raising Freethinkers offers solutions to the unique challenges secular parents face and provides specific answers to common questions, as well as over 100 activities for both parents and their children. This book covers every important topic nonreligious parents need to know to help their children with their own moral and intellectual development, including advice on religious-extended-family issues, death and life, secular celebrations, wondering and questioning, and more.

Complete with reviews of books, DVDs, curricula, educational toys, and online resources relevant to each chapter topic, Raising Freethinkers helps parents raise their children with confidence.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Raising Freethinkers is dynamic, thought-provoking reading for anyone, but non-religious parents will discover they no longer need to feel quite so alone.” --January Magazine

Library Journal

Parents who choose to raise their children without religion still face life issues for which religion often supplies answers. This guide to nonreligious parenting is a practical follow-up to McGowan's Parenting Beyond Belief. Primarily in a question-and-answer format, McGowan and educators and scholars Molleen Matsumura, Amanda Metskas, and Jan Devor emphasize respect, independent thinking, and secular humanism when dealing with ethics, death, rituals, holidays, sexual education, and a religious society. Rather than dismissing religion, the authors advocate exploration and understanding of all religions and mythologies. Each chapter concludes with suggested activities to engage children's minds and hearts. Also included are descriptive reviews of recommended books, web sites, films, and other materials. Recognizing the need for community that a church often fulfills, the authors refer to Unitarian Universalism, Ethical Societies, or Jewish Humanism congregations. Web sites and blogs for freethinking, humanist, and atheist groups are listed. Many books exist about religious and ethical parenting, but this unique resource will help parents looking for useful ideas and information on being a nonreligious family. Recommended for public libraries.
—Janet Clapp

Product Details

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Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1: The Inquiring Mind

Dale McGowan

How does white milk come from a red cow?

Why doesn’t the sun fall down?

How is it that all rivers flow into the ocean without ever filling it?

These questions, which could have come from any child today, are from the Rig

Veda, a 3000-year-old Hindu text—and wondering and questioning are surely

much older still. Early Homo sapiens, endowed with the same cranial capacity

as your Aunt Diane,1 had to be asking similar questions 125,000 years ago.And

once oral language developed sufficiently to share these thoughts, parents and

others around a child would have had to respond, one way or another, to the

endless stream of questions.

It’s the human impulse to wonder and ask questions that eventually gave

birth to both religion and science, two different ways of responding to the

same challenge: an overdeveloped neocortex hungry for answers.

In preparing to write this book, I plunged into the current parenting literature

from many perspectives, including religious parenting books. Some

are very sound, like the well-grounded work of Christian parenting author Dr.

William Sears. Some are mixed, including (to my admitted surprise) James

Dobson, who serves up some solid parenting advice along with his unfortunate

enthusiasm for corporal punishment, gender stereotypes, and homophobia.

But if book sales and general prominence are any measure, one parenting

author has had more to say about questioning and the life of the mind than any

other: author and televangelist Joyce Meyer. Meyer has sold over a million

copies of a book called Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind,

for which this passage can serve as an encapsulation:

I once asked the Lord why so many people are confused and He said to me,

“Tell them to stop trying to figure everything out, and they will stop being

confused.” I have found it to be absolutely true. Reasoning and confusion go together.

In 2006, Meyer issued a version of Battlefield of the Mind for teens, including passages

like this:

I was totally confused about everything, and I didn’t know why. One thing that

added to my confusion was too much reasoning.

This mantra comes back again and again in her advice, in millions of books and

throughout her broadcasting empire: Don’t even start thinking. Most troubling of all is

the attempt to make kids fear their own thoughts—right at the age they should be

challenging and questioning in order to become autonomous adults:

Ask yourself, continually, “WWJT?” [What Would Jesus Think?] Remember, if He

wouldn’t think about something, you shouldn’t either. . . . By keeping continual

watch over your thoughts, you can ensure that no damaging enemy thoughts creep

into your mind. (from Battlefield of the Mind for Teens)

Many progressive religious parents are outraged by Meyer’s “fearthought” approach.

But even those of us who don’t consciously sign on to this kind of thinking must look it

squarely in the eye—because it’s in our cultural blood.Most of us were raised in homes

that were religious to some degree, and many of us carry remnants of these fearful ideologies

into our own parenting.Whether we are religious or nonreligious, our attitudes toward

questioning and moral development too often include some undercurrent of anxiety

and mistrust, the unspoken feeling that our primary job as parents is to stave off a

bubbling depravity that lurks just below the surface of our children.

“When University of Texas

sociologists John P. Bartkowski

and Christopher G. Ellison compared

dozens of secular parenting

books with conservative

Protestant parenting manuals,

they found that a literal interpretation

of the Bible’s childrearing

advice contributed directly

to a worship of authority in all

spheres of life, including the political.

. . . They also found that

conservative evangelical parenting

gurus disagreed with

mainstream counterparts on virtually

every issue. According

to their study, secular, sciencebased

parenting advice emphasizes

personality adjustment,

empathy, cooperation, creativity,

curiosity, egalitarian relations

between parents, nonviolent

discipline, and self-direction.

Conservative Protestants, on the

other hand, stress a tightly hierarchical

family structure and a

gendered division of labor, with

a breadwinning father at the top

of the pyramid and children at

the bottom.”

--Jeremy Adam Smith, senior

editor, Greater Good magazine

In this chapter, I hope to make the case that this trembling view of human

nature is simply not borne out by the best of our knowledge.We will focus on

the moment of the question, a moment that is the foundation of freethought

parenting, encouraging an approach that holds no question unaskable and no

thought unthinkable.

I want the idea that questions can be feared because of the answers they might

produce to baffle my kids. I want them to find hilariously silly the idea that certain

lines of thought cannot even be pursued, lest they be caught. That requires

a certain amount of parental self-discipline. It requires the ability, for example, to

not paint the far wall with soup when the 5-year-old asks if monkeys have vaginas,

or why black people have big lips, or who will put her blankie on her grave

when she dies—all three of which have come up at our dinner table. It requires

a firm conviction that there is no rock that can’t be upended if you think there

might be something under it.And, of course, there always, always might.

Let’s begin with a conversation about wonder and curiosity, the incentives

that drive questioning, then dive into the art, science, and joy of questioning


Meet the Author

Dale McGowan (Atlanta, GA) is a writer, editor, and parenting educator. He edited and coauthored Parenting Beyond Belief.

Molleen Matsumura has been a humanist activist and writer for more than 20 years and has contributed to Free Inquiry and The New Humanist.

Amanda Metskas (Albany, NY) is the Executive Director of Camp Quest, Inc.

Jan Devor is Director of Religious Education for the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis.

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Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Will be referring to this book often as my child grows up.
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mamassage More than 1 year ago
What an amazing resource! I have highlighted and dogeared this book to shreds...and I'm only halfway through it. Between the anecdotes and the referrals this book is worth its weight in gold. I can hardly wait to go back through it with a fine toothed comb. Thank you for writing this book. It's been needed for a long time.