One of the very few parenting books written specifically for the 1 in 5 Americans who lack a belief in God Parenting Without God is for parents who lack belief in a god and who are seeking guidance on raising freethinkers in a Christian-dominated nation. It will help parents give their children the tools to stand up to attempts at religious proselytization, whether by teachers, coaches, friends, or even other family members. It also offers advice on teaching children to question what others tell them and to reach their own conclusions based on evidence and reason. Above all, the book argues that parents should lead by example—both by speaking candidly about the importance of secularism and by living an openly secular life.
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About the Author
Dan Arel is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in AlterNet, American Atheist Magazine, the Huffington Post, Salon, and many other outlets. He lives in San Diego, California. Peter Boghossian is a full-time faculty member in the philosophy department at Portland State University and the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
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Parenting without God
How to Raise Moral, Ethical, and Intelligent Children, Free from Religious Dogma
By Dan Arel
Pitchstone PublishingCopyright © 2015 Dan Arel
All rights reserved.
DEALING WITH RELIGION
Teaching religion to your children is no easy task, especially if you are an atheist. Of course, religion should be taught because, regardless of what you believe, it is such a major part of our world culture. But how do you begin? On what religions do you focus? And how do you properly teach that some people actually believe in talking snakes without ridiculing those people in front of your children?
It is important to remember that the Bible and similar texts are works of fiction and should be taught as such. We do not teach Greek mythology as "maybe true." We treat it as the fiction we know it to be, and modern-day religion is really no different. Even if a deity of some kind were to be discovered, I think we can easily agree it would not be anything dreamed up by any of the world's religions.
It is easy to think that by rejecting religion wholly, we are doing our kids a disservice and indoctrinating them as atheists. We're not. You are not going to teach them about Zeus and be careful not to mention it is known mythology. This goes for all the world's religions. If we know something is made up, call it made up. The Bible, the Quran, they are a farce. Teach them as such.
As stated before, even if a magical man appeared in the sky tomorrow proving he was the creator of all things on earth, this would not change the fact that religious books are myths. Anthropological and historical evidence prove this. So now that we have got that out of the way, let's discuss some good ways to teach religion.
I was taught one religion, which was my parent's religion. I was taught a little about other religions, mostly other forms of Christianity and only a little about Judaism. I can tell you now, this is not the best way to teach a child about religion, and this is not what I would recommend.
Teach all the major religions, Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, and you can work in the extras like Mormonism and Scientology later. Don't overwhelm them, but you can start from simple beginnings. Much of the Torah and Old Testament are the same, so you can easily start there when covering Christianity and Judaism. Give this information in pieces. Maybe a weekly chat. It doesn't have to be overly formal or a school-like project. Rather, use examples from the news and the outside world to explain why things are happening and why or how people's beliefs play into these events.
This is also a good time to talk about creation myths that were later debunked through scientific evidence. Each religion and all cultures have their own creation story. It is important that children know this and understand that such stories are in fact myths. Understanding them and how they were debunked is a great tool for understanding how science works. Teaching religion and teaching science will often go hand in hand, contrasting creationism and the Adam and Eve myth with what we actually know from DNA mapping and the Noah's Ark myth with the archeological and geological evidence that disproves a great flood of biblical proportions.
An examination of such myths can open an interesting discussion about how religion came to be and why it still exists. If these stories are fake, why are they still around? Shouldn't we have grown out of them? Why haven't they died off yet, just like all previous religions?
The short answer here is yes, eventually religions like Islam and Christianity will die off. However, if you really think about it, today's religions are not that old in comparison to human history. Yes, they are old, much older than many now-extinct religions, but religion is now more engrained in our culture than ever before. This makes it much harder for it to just die off naturally, although we can see that it is dying off, as each year fewer and fewer people identify themselves with a religious affiliation. The "nones" (people who check "none" on a census form next to religion) is the fastest growing "religion" in the United States. That is inspiring to see.
Ancient cultures could not explain natural occurrences the way we can today. They did not have science or the scientific method. The sun rising and setting was beyond their comprehension. Earthquakes, storms, and all sorts of natural disasters or wonders confused them, so they made up stories to explain what was happening.
We can still see this today, such as when less than honest religious leaders blame natural disasters in the United States on things like same-sex marriage or abortion. For some reason, they believe that when their god doesn't like same-sex marriage, the best way to tell us is to kill hundreds of people in a tornado in the Bible Belt. Nothing gets a message across like killing those who worship you!
People are scared of things they do not understand, so it makes a lot of sense that ancient people would have created good forces such as gods to protect them and bad ones to represent things they were afraid of or knew to be dangerous. What better way to control children from exploring dangerous areas, or going into the dark than stories of evil beings?
These ideas make sense, as does the growth of such ideas. Christianity was harnessed as a power grab. How better to control Rome than to unify everyone under one belief and one set of "holy" rules. It was never an accident that many of those rulers who learned to harness the power of religion also seemed to have a direct line to God himself. This convenience most certainly helps enact laws when they come from God directly.
Explaining this helps show how religious myths move and evolve, from culture to culture. It enables us to understand how something not true can so easily continue to be believed, as it develops and morphs in ways to fit with the norms and morals of different societies.
Then there are some bigger subjects upon which to focus when discussing religion with your children. Teaching that religion exists is one thing, but diving into what people believe and why certain beliefs are harmful is another.
Many of us were taught to not discuss religion or politics. These seemed to always be taboo subjects. In more recent years, this taboo has been stripped away when it comes to politics, and it seems everywhere you go politics is being discussed, with everyone wanting to share their opinions or analysis. Yet religion has managed to position itself in a way that people still feel it is off the table.
Many of us, often called "new atheists" for our outspoken activism and frequent quoting of the Four Horsemen (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Danielle Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens), have begun to chip away at this taboo and are openly discussing religion in public places. The idea that religion is untouchable is crumbling, and we can pass this torch onto our children. Some of our children may grow up to be religious, or just indifferent to religion — that is, even if they do not identify with it, they won't feel the desire to speak out against it. The important thing is that they feel comfortable speaking about religion.
Religion needs to be on the table and we have a right to critique, praise, or criticize its actions at any time, for any reason. This starts by teaching our children about religion, its place in the world, and its history. It also starts by us not passing on the idea that certain things should not be discussed.
We are at a turning point in world history, a point where more and more people are leaving religion behind. With each new generation, more children are being raised in families that do not attend church. This presents us with a unique opportunity to raise children who are able to think critically and question assumptions. While it is great to think about parents not forcing a religion on children, they do them a disservice by ignoring it, or simply just accepting it at face value. These children will not be equipped to question such ideas when they are inevitably brought to them. They are at risk for simply accepting a stated belief as factual. This is exactly what the religious leaders around the world want. We should not give this to them.
Teaching religion does not come easy, but there are many reasons we must do it. There are numerous beliefs that are a part of religion that should be broken down: heaven, hell, sin, sex, faith, and the physical and mental abuse that comes with some of the fundamental (and sometimes not-so-fundamental) beliefs of various religions.
We are going to explore these different aspects of religion and break them apart to better understand them. We, in turn, will pass this understanding on to our children. Doing so will gradually change the course of religious domination, not only in the United States, but also around the world.
My goal in changing how the world thinks about religion is not to make people stop believing in a god or gods. I care little for what people believe in their own private lives. However, I care deeply about what they do with those beliefs. If their religious beliefs teach intolerance and hatred, or are used to support war, genocide, female genital mutilation, honor killings, or laws that protect or honor such rituals or beliefs, then we have a problem, and I will stand up against every such instance and fight it with every means available to me.
This is a battle that can be won with education. No blood will need to be shed to rid the world of such beliefs. They will fall victim to reason, logic, and evidence. These beliefs have a terrible weakness, and that weakness is the power of the human mind when used to its full potential.
It will not be a bullet or a sword that kills religion, or even kills God; it will be the rational mind. These poisonous ideas only exist in the minds of those who wish to hold them as true. By raising generations of critical thinkers, we begin to weaken this virus that infects the minds of many people. Reason can be looked at like a vaccine. With reason, you teach a child to block and combat such ideas, using different ways of thinking and processing information.
Here is a good time to note something that is very common in the atheist community: the idea that religion is a mental illness. It is not, and calling it so is insulting to those who suffer from real mental illnesses. It also presupposes that we have ways of curing someone from religion through medicine. We do not and will not. Religion is not a disease in the medical sense. It is one, however, in the social sense, and just as we call faith a virus knowing full well there is no actual virus, religion and faith are ideas that exist in the mind and are cured through rational thought, reason, and logic.
Many people suffer at the hands of religion, and some may have underlying mental illnesses that allow religion to take further advantage of them, but would any of you reading this, who used to be religious, claim that you used to have a mental illness? I doubt it, and most often the people who are told they have a mental illness are the ones who do the unthinkable, or are so blinded by faith they reject obvious evidence. A parent who lets their child die or be abused in the name of religion may have their own set of mental issues, but it isn't religion. Religion was the driving force that preyed on those mental issues and guided the ideas in their head on how to care for their children. Many parents who have let their children die of curable diseases in the name of Christian Science and faith-based healing have not suffered from a known mental illness. Rather, their ability to reason had been destroyed by religious brainwashing and indoctrination. They suffered from a lack of reason. They suffered from an inability to tell fact from fiction because they were raised in such a way that robbed them of that ability, usually from a young age. I bring this up only because I do not want people teaching their children that those who believe in religious claims have a mental illness. I would prefer that they see religion for what it is: a socially constructed belief system that can lead people to do very terrible things. It is a social construct that can and should be destroyed, but it is not an illness.
When religion is applied to logic, rationality, critical thinking, skepticism, or any other form of questioning, it begins to fall apart at the base. Religion will not tumble if we aim only for the top. We must go after its groundwork. We must start in the very basement of these ideas. With each brick we remove, the foundation becomes unstable. If we can destroy the foundation, the rest will crumble under its own weight. This is where victory is won. This is how we begin to change the world.
Just as Rome was not built in a day, religion will not fall overnight. Our own children will be lucky if they are the ones to witness its demise, but the deconstruction starts now.
Religion is easy to discard. It offers nothing that humanity does not already have, and anything good that comes from religion is pure coincidence. The Bible offers zero moral guidance that did not exist before religion and that could not exist after. To quote Sam Harris from his book The Moral Landscape, "Faith, if it is right about anything, is right by accident."
So while I respect the rights of individuals to have any beliefs they please, I see no reason to offer these beliefs any respect and absolutely no reason to allow them a place in public policy.
When politicians allow their religious beliefs to dictate public policy, the oppression and discrimination of those outside of their particular belief system is guaranteed. This is clearly against everything the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted the U.S. constitution and set forth to create a secular country.
The world we are trying to create for our children has no room for an American theocracy, and it is only when more parents stand up and say enough is enough, do their best to educate our children on religion and its harm, and raise them to know it is okay to question and criticize these beliefs without fear, that we will set a course for the future to see the religious reign of terror eradicated. One day people will look back and tell stories of their ancestors who believed in sky gods and took their moral guidance from a book as silly as the Bible.
One day, the LGBT communities, minority communities, atheists, humanists, and anyone else who stands outside the religious ideas of normal will be able to claim a victory when our country finally gets off its hands and rebuilds the wall that separates church and state.
Religion and religious belief do not need to be wiped off the planet for this to be achieved, but they do have to be put in their place. That place is inside churches, synagogues, temples, or any other place of worship, including your own home, but religion has no place in the daily lives of citizens who choose to have nothing to do with it.
Religion should be kept far away from our public schools. Many make the argument that it belongs in a theology class, but theology should be a college elective, not taught to young impressionable students going through the grade-school system. If religion is to be brought up, it should only be in a historical context. A history class is the perfect place to discuss the explosion of Christianity in the Middle Ages, the Crusades, and 9/11. Ignoring the religious influence on such events would hurt the student's education.
Prayer has not left our schools. Saying that it has is an outright dishonest statement by the Christian Right, which, among other things, is attempting to blame school shootings on the lack of religion in our schools. The truth is that prayer was removed from schools only when led by a teacher or staff member. Students are more than welcome to pray on their own or in groups, but the school's staff cannot lead it. It is as simple as that.
When politicians debate a bill in Congress, no longer should they yell about what the Bible says or their own personally held beliefs. They should debate solely on the position of what is good for the American people. Enough majoritarianism. It is time to bring in an age of egalitarianism.
Our Constitution claims all men are created equal, and it is about time we finally realize that we are all equal. If we cannot do this, our country cannot last, and if we do not do this, ours will be a country in which we do not want to raise our children.
Excerpted from Parenting without God by Dan Arel. Copyright © 2015 Dan Arel. Excerpted by permission of Pitchstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Peter Boghossian,
1. Dealing with Religion,
2. Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life,
3. Get Active,
4. Other Perspectives,
About the Author,