Question

Today’s question of the day comes from a reader who asks:

I raised my daughter without religion. She’s 19 now, and all her friends have something to belong to, her boyfriends make fun of her over what she puts on forms under “religious affiliation.” She has zero religious belief. I want to make her proud and confident about being an atheist. Do you have any suggestions?

Sounds to me like your daughter needs new friends. And not necessarily atheist friends, but people who will respect her beliefs or lack of beliefs. The majority of my friends and family are religious to some extent and this has never been an issue because we have respected each other’s beliefs if not disagreed on them. Contrary to what a lot of people who write me nasty emails might believe, I don’t have any problem with religious people as long as they don’t try to force me into their dogma. Granted, although I have many religious friends, I don’t think any of them can be considered orthodox or anywhere near a fundamentalist.

As to being a proud and confident atheist, I personally have never thought about it in those terms. I’ve never been proud nor ashamed of being an atheist. I had a well rounded education that led me from my catholic school beginnings to agnosticism and finally to atheism. The book that actually turned me into an atheist was the bible. The trick is to read the whole thing from cover to cover and not rely on excerpts that people are so fond to quote.

I suppose that had I read Dawkins, Ingersoll, or any other atheist books or websites I would have had more confidence in my atheism which probably would only have made the transition from Agnosticism faster. The best way I can think of for you to help your daughter when it comes to belief or disbelief is just to make sure she receives the best education that you can afford. Give her your support whether she’s an atheist or religious and you’ve done your job as a parent.

Does anybody else have anything to add or correct?

Comments

51 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. ninabi,

    Pity that atheists are seen as renegades, loners, people with (supposedly) no rules to guide their behavior.

    Also, too, is that sense of community that religions have. It seems a betrayal of self to pretend to believe just so you have a support network of casseroles when you are sick and ceremonies to mark life’s transitions of birth, marriage and death.

    I discussed this problem with an atheist living in St. Louis. What do we do when societal approval rests on having some sort of faith? Where do we share our thoughts and views and ethical concerns?

    She suggested the Ethical Society. http://www.ethicalstl.org/

    Something that looks like church, acts like church, yet is not.

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  2. mattbucher,

    I am dealing with the same issue (raising my first kid without religion) and a book that has helped me somewhat is Parenting Beyond Belief. There is a piece from Dawkins, Penn Jillette, and a good story from Julia Sweeney on explaining death to her five year old.

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  3. Will,

    Some of you may be interested in this article:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/46214/

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  4. Will,

    But as for the question at hand, the underlying problem here, in my view, is that the parent has an agenda for her child: i.e., the parent wants to MAKE that child a non-believer. And not just a non-believer, but a “proud and confident” non-believer. That’s all well and good … if in fact the child herself really is a non-believer. But how could the child possibly know what she really believes, when her parents have, in effect, forced non-belief upon her? It’s like the 5-year-old who proudly proclaims himself to be a Republican. Really?

    Frankly, I see no difference between this, and the believer who raises their child to be a fundamentalist Christian. These are intensely personal and private issues. They go to the very heart of the individual’s identity. These are decisions that each person needs to make for him- or herself.

    When you love someone, you want for them what THEY want for themself. Not what YOU want for them. There is a small but enormously important distinction there. Love is freedom, especially intellectual or metaphysical freedom.

    I’m a believer, but I’m going to raise my children to discover for themselves what their own beliefs are about the existence of god and the supernatural. If they choose atheism, so be it. It’s their choice what their beliefs are, not mine.

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  5. Neil,

    This is a tough question, and one that I struggle with on a daily basis. I have two teenagers and one pre-teen. My two youngest (14 and 11) and my wife are christians. My oldest, at 16 is an atheist, as am I. In our home, there is total and unconditional tolerance of each others’ beliefs. However, the challenge comes from the social pressures we face in our community, especially living in a very conservative and intolerant area of the bible belt. In our area, if one is not a christian, it’s thought of as just about the same as being a crack-dealing child molester.

    Don’t know if I have any suggestions except to tell you to make sure she receives plenty of love and support from you. This will go a long way in giving her confidence to stand up for her position when she’s around others. This will, in turn, serve her well because there are a LOT of closet atheists out there. If they see her being confident in her position, they’ll feel more comfortable coming out themselves and that’s where her support and social community may rise up from.

    By the way, this church may be a bit far to the left for some, but are you familiar with the Unitarian church? You might want to check it out in your community. You’d be surprised how many atheists go to that church just for the social interaction. They accept all beliefs (including those with none!)

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  6. Will,

    Chris said:
    “The majority of my friends and family are religious to some extent and this has never been an issue because we have respected each other’s beliefs if not disagreed on them.”

    I presume you haven’t characterized their god as a flying spaghetti monster, right? You couldn’t possibly think that’s a display of *respect* for their beliefs, could you?

    “Contrary to what a lot of people who write me nasty emails might believe, I don’t have any problem with religious people as long as they don’t try to force me into their dogma.”

    Requesting that you stop referring to the divine as a plate of spaghetti … would you consider that to be forcing dogma upon you?

    I really don’t think you walk the walk, Chris. You want one thing — respect, for lack of a better word — but you steadfastly refuse to give it yourself. Referring to my god as a spaghetti monster is profoundly offensive. Just as offensive as the believer saying you’re going to hell, or whatever. That “dogma forcing” pisses me off as much as it does you. But you do yourself no credibility favors by lowering yourself to that level.

    Do you really want to elevate the level and quality of the debate? Do you really want believers to respect your non-belief? If so, maybe you should think about giving a little yourself.

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  7. mattbucher,

    I have little respect dogmatic christians or fundamentalists of any stripe (this includes much of my family). I don’t want them telling my kid that he’s sinning and going to hell because it’s an outright lie.

    I’ll quote an Ingersoll excerpt posted here last week: “No unbeliever should allow his child to be tortured in the orthodox inquisitions. He should defend the mind from attack as he would the body. He should recognize the rights of the soul. In the orthodox Sunday schools, children are taught that it is a duty to believe — that evidence is not essential — that faith is independent of facts and that religion is superior to reason. They are taught not to use their natural sense — not to tell what they really think — not to entertain a doubt — not to ask wicked questions, but to accept and believe what their teachers say. In this way minds of the children are invaded, corrupted and conquered.”

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  8. Will,

    You know how you guys always say that the non-believer has no burden to prove he’s correct? That it’s the believer’s burden to prove? Would that still apply in this situation? A parent is telling a child that god does not exist, and is raising that child to think the same way.

    In your view (any of you), does the parent have an obligation to prove she’s right about that?

    Put a different way, why should the child believe her?

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  9. i’d have to agree with will on this. do not force any belief on a child. just because you raise your child with zero influence on religion, doesn’t mean you can expect your child to be a radical atheist. if she is unsettled about her position in life compared to her friends(as she should at 19), give her absolute freedom to explore the world and find out what makes her comfortable to put in the forms under “religious affiliation”.

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  10. Tome,

    Troll alert! Troll alert! I love how Will tries to pass himself off as someone who isn’t a fundamentalist, and then hijacks the thread. 4 out of 8 comments so far and he’s just getting heated up.

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  11. Alenna,

    One important personal problem with choosing atheism/agnosticism (the rejection of established religions) is the loss of certainty that you are acting well. In general, religions provide an ethic or set of proper behaviors governing you and your interaction with others. Religions provide you with an aim or purpose of your life, a direction for proper action. A man cannot live well without this direction, cannot live a life he feels has meaning.

    When you ask yourself, ‘What is proper? Why should I act in this way?’, a religion provides an answer, while atheism is simply a declaration that you did not find any guidance in religion and that the question remains unanswered. One should not be either proud or ashamed of being an atheist, because atheism has no force on how you live your life. You cannot live an atheist lifestyle or in accordance with atheist ethics because there is no defined atheist creed. Atheism means ‘keep looking.’

    You cannot define your individuality purely through negative statements of group identity. You have to find your own meaning in life and choose your purpose or overriding cause. Let your cause carry you forward in life, instead of merely fleeing those causes you don’t agree with. You’ll find friendships and love among those people who disagree with your cause, and certainly enjoy those who are a part of your life, but even while accepting those, a part of you will demand group identity and the certainty that comes from knowing you are acting for that which is important to you.

    There are so many entities out there with which you can align your life after having rejected religion. You can pursue a political ideology. Go left/socialism and work to promote egalitarianism and redistribution of wealth to the needy. Go right/fascism and promote a Pax Americana, an American empire spreading democracy and your way of life. Go libertarian/anarchy and demand liberty, the reduction of the government, and move away from statism. Go green/conservation and work to promote the environment and the sustainability of living on the earth. Go technologist and work to promote the creation and deployment of new technologies. Work to promote the arts, gay rights, civil rights, property rights, corporate rights, etc. Work for the advancement of science, the growth of the economy, the freedom and liberty of all people, anything that you feel strongly about. There are so very very many causes out there. Find the one that excites you, that you feel is _your_ cause.

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  12. ok… but i dont agree with will on the “referring to my god as a spaghetti monster is profoundly offensive”.

    haha

    i think everyone just needs to lighten up on the issue, really.

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  13. Will,

    “I love how Will tries to pass himself off as someone who isn’t a fundamentalist, and then hijacks the thread. 4 out of 8 comments so far and he’s just getting heated up.”

    Tome, I’m not a fundamentalist. I’m not even a Christian. I don’t know what else to tell you. Sorry that I don’t fall into your pedestrian little stereotype.

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  14. Will,

    “i think everyone just needs to lighten up on the [FSM] issue, really.”

    Listen, it’s not like I shouldn’t expect FSM references here, so I’m 1) not surprised by them, and 2) not terribly bothered by them either. As a believer, I maintain that it’s offensive to refer to god in that way. But my point is that you can’t profess to respect a person’s belief in God while simultaneously equating that god with a plate of spaghetti. It just doesn’t compute.

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  15. im pretty sure “god” has a sense of humor. anyway, this is getting off topic. slow down and let other people voice their opinions.

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  16. FlamingAtheist,

    Will, what’s the difference between a plate of spaghetti or a piece of bread soaked in wine? Both representing a god right? And both are equally ridiculous to me.

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  17. Adam,

    I have plenty of friends who are ignorant religous types, but we get along fine, because there’s an unspoken rule in adult life that you live and let live. some people over step that, and when that happens to me, I make it very clear that either they accept things as they are, or they won’t be in my life any more, at least in any significant way.

    The idea of how easy it is to cut someone out of your life has made my life so much easier, it’s obscene. Surround yourself with people that make you a better person, and aren’t always cutting you down for your defensible beliefs and you’ll have a much happier life.

    Mind you, it’s much more difficult to do this in highschool where you have to sit next to the idiots all day long…

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  18. jforester,

    humaniststudies.org

    Not a community, but a way to self-educate and get your daughter thinking about the many ways a person can be non-religious.

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  19. Seth,

    My question to her would be, what have you taught her about religion? Or is it this scary mass of humanity that should be avoided? I’m not sure but around that age I was questioning everything and trying to find my own answers. I finally settled on agnostic although I prefer ex-communicated Southern Baptist.

    Will, why are you defending God? Isn’t God big enough to fight his own battles? Why can’t God be a plate of spaghetti? And you say you’re a believer but not Christian so that makes you Jewish or Muslim? Just trying to find a “pedestrian little stereotype” that fits; labels are so comforting!

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  20. Will, I gather you’re not a parent as you speak in the future tense as to what you plan to do upon becoming a parent, so everything you say is in the realm of the noble hypothetical.

    I’m going to let my child discover etc. etc.

    In reality, what is most likely to happen is that you will teach your child what you believe and your child will believe it because it’s what his/her parent believes. This is how most people end up the exact same religion as their parents. Shocking, I know.

    The idea that there is some kind of agenda here when a parent sets out to “MAKE that child a non-believer. And not just a non-believer, but a “proud and confident” non-believer. That’s all well and good … if in fact the child herself really is a non-believer.”

    The idea that a child is born a believer in god is silly. Children will believe what explains their world to them psychologically and that includes what their parents teach them, either through direct instruction of by example. It also includes a great deal of wrong information that appears true because we’re talking about children here.

    The truth is, you MAKE your child lots of things, some by design and some by accident. You try to make your child be nice, polite, cautious, thoughtful, intelligent, funny, whatever. For example, I’m raising my daughter to be a vegetarian because I’m one. In some sense, yes, I am forcing her to be a vegetarian because I refused to give her meat when she was young and because I explain to her exactly what meat is. I’m not radically brainwashing her with hardcore PETA videos of meat packing facilities, but I tell her that hamburgers are cows. She doesn’t want to eat cows, because like a lot of children, she believes that most animals are her friends. She also believes she can run faster than a cheetah.

    Kids are like that. She believes things I say and things she wants to believe.

    She also happens to believe in god, partly because her mother is semi-religious, partly because it’s out there in society, and partly because it works as an ignorance stop-gap explanation. Why is there air? God. That’s easy enough for a four year old to believe.

    If a parent raises his/her child to be an atheist or raises the child without religion that is just as acceptable as raising your child to be a Catholic. I know you play this game very cleverly and never outright say that you think it is a bad thing to raise your child as an atheist, but the subtext there is pretty obvious. Else, why all this hand wringing about letting children discover and not forcing anything and all the rest? When the time comes, I’m fairly certain you’ll do whatever your church believes, whether that be infant baptism or a dedication ceremony and you’ll pack the little tyke off to Sunday school and all the rest.

    You’d be horrified if you let your children just “discover” what’s out there, because they’d shock your dainty sensibilities.

    For the record too, Will, you constantly interpret references to the FSM as to “my god.” What makes you think that anyone is referring to “your god.” You’re conflating a deity with your conception of a deity. If you want to be offended, go be offended by people who profess to believe in the same god as you (Judeo-Christian, I’d wager) and claim to speak for that deity and insist that that deity wishes bloodthirsty things to happen to others who don’t share your beliefs. That does more to damage the brand image of your personal god than any old plate of spaghetti.

    (For the record, I’m a non-orthodox Pastafarian. Claims that the FSM has meatballs are tasteless in my opinion. Clearly, large portions of portobello mushrooms were seen in the vision, but human error has corrupted the message.)

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  21. When you love someone, you want for them what THEY want for themself. Not what YOU want for them. There is a small but enormously important distinction there. Love is freedom, especially intellectual or metaphysical freedom.

    See, that’s the giveaway right there that you’ve never had a child.

    My daughter wants to eat candy all day, so should I want for her what she wants? Obviously not. Obviously, my role, my job, my duty, as a parent is to step in and say, “Some things are bad and some things are good. Some of that is opinion but some of that is fact. Eating candy for breakfast lunch and dinner will make you sick and fat. Therefore, no, eat your edamame instead.”

    Likewise, if your five year old son or daughter decided s/he wanted to belong to a snake handling church because “snakes are cool,” you’d probably forbid that. I’d bet money on it.

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  22. Will,

    FlamingAtheist asked:
    “Will, what’s the difference between a plate of spaghetti or a piece of bread soaked in wine? Both representing a god right?”

    The FSM concept is intentionally ridiculous. It is desinged for the express purpose of mocking believers. In terms of good-faith dialogue between those with differing views, it’s analogous to the fundamentalist Christian who tells you you’re going to hell for refusing to accept Christ as your savior.

    People sincerely believe in the eucharist. It is an incredibly important ceremony for many people. No one seriously worships the FSM.

    No atheist who seriously respects another person’s religious views would invoke this patently offensive concept. And just because you as an atheist do not find the FSM to be offensive does not mean it’s not offensive. Of course this mocking concept not offensive to those who get their kicks out of mocking believers.

    Even if I might agree with you that bread-worship is equally ridiculous, it’s the intent that distinguishes them. At least in my mind.

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  23. I think that mom needs to mind her own business.
    At 19, her daughter needs to get an opinion of her own.

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  24. James,

    No atheist who seriously respects another person’s religious views would invoke this patently offensive concept.

    I might be wrong here, but isn’t it the FSM used against religious people trying to push their views (creationism) on other people?

    That you are offended by it speaks volumes to your true intent methinks.

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  25. I’m curious as to why all the commenters seem to automatically assume that the emailer is a mother. Nothing suggests that in the evidence provided. Am I missing something?

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  26. Will,

    Seth asked:
    “Will, why are you defending God? Isn’t God big enough to fight his own battles?”

    My understanding of god is that he/she/it does not fight battles, and does not take an active role in creation. So I defend God because I believe in God and because God has left it to me to speak what I believe is the truth. And because *God* does not deserve all of the blame for the horrors perpetrated in the name of *religion* throughout history. God and religion are two totally different things, and I get involved in these discussions, in part, in an attempt to stop people from conflating the two.

    “Why can’t God be a plate of spaghetti?”

    God can be anything. Are you denying that the FSM is designed purely as an instrument of mockery?

    “And you say you’re a believer but not Christian so that makes you Jewish or Muslim?”

    Not sure if you’re being serious here, but if you are, this is precisely what I mean by conflating God and religion. I believe in God, but I don’t practice or subscribe to any particular religion. Sorry to evade your labels. It’s not intentional, I assure you.

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  27. Will,

    The Critic said:
    “Will, I gather you’re not a parent as you speak in the future tense as to what you plan to do upon becoming a parent, so everything you say is in the realm of the noble hypothetical.”

    and

    “See, that’s the giveaway right there that you’ve never had a child.”

    Close, but no cigar. I do have a child, but he’s still very young, around a year old.

    You make some good points. I have to admit that my parenting ideal is just that: an ideal. Will I be able to achieve it in practice? I honestly have no idea, but I’m certainly going to try.

    But I must give you great deference on this issue, because you not only have children, but also have experience in raising children way beyond my own. I’d be an idiot to completely discount your experience. If I’m just a naive idealist, I guess I’ll figure that out soon enough. But I gotta try, no?

    I appreciate you characerizing that effort as noble. But I must quarrel with a few things you’ve said…

    “The idea that a child is born a believer in god is silly.”

    In my personal experience, it’s just the opposite. I was raised in a single-parent non-religious household, and even from a very early age I remember having a belief in God. Of course I can’t say for sure that that belief did not come from some exterior source. But if my memory and feeling about it is any indication, the belief came from within.

    Your statement also seems to be contradicted by human history. It is undeniable that there is some sort of impulse toward belief in God or the supernatural. From the moment we stopped being monkeys, we started worshiping something. It seems implausible that this impulse is PURELY societal, totally inorganic.

    Frankly, I don’t see your basis for concluding that no children could be born believing in God. Yes, absolutely, many children can be and are influenced by their parents. But that doesn’t mean that ALL children are.

    “I know you play this game very cleverly and never outright say that you think it is a bad thing to raise your child as an atheist, but the subtext there is pretty obvious.”

    This is disappointing to hear. I strive for good-faith in these conversations. I’m always disappointed when that good-faith is not returned, which happens frequently. But I’m even more disappointed when I’ve come across as not having good-faith, because then I’ve done a poor job of communicating. The LAST thing I’m trying to be is “clever.”

    But you’re right to an extent. I do think it’s bad to force your child to be an atheist, just as I think it’s bad to force your child to be a Christian, or any other religion. I meant what I said in comment #4.

    “When the time comes, I’m fairly certain you’ll do whatever your church believes, whether that be infant baptism or a dedication ceremony and you’ll pack the little tyke off to Sunday school and all the rest.”

    I’ll remind you that you were also sure I had no children. Also, neither I nor my spouse are a member of any church, so there won’t be any ceremonies or Sunday school “and all the rest.”

    In other words, I’m fairly certain your prediction is completely wrong.

    “If you want to be offended, go be offended by people who profess to believe in the same god as you (Judeo-Christian, I’d wager) and claim to speak for that deity and insist that that deity wishes bloodthirsty things to happen to others who don’t share your beliefs.”

    Believe me, I am. I absolutely detest those kinds of people, the bloodthirst fundamentalist types. I don’t know what I can do to prove this to you, but I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALIST, pretending to be something else. Can you please just take me at my word about that?

    Also, once again, if you were to wager that I worshiped the Judeo-Christian God, you’d lose. I think the moral of the story is to quit making predictions and wagers about what my beliefs are. You’re like zero for three in this one post alone. I’m not hiding the ball, and I’m being as candid and honest as possible. There’s no need to read between the lines.

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  28. Will,

    The Critic said:
    “Likewise, if your five year old son or daughter decided s/he wanted to belong to a snake handling church because ‘snakes are cool,’ you’d probably forbid that. I’d bet money on it.”

    Now THAT’S a bet you might win. :)

    Seriously, I have to defer to you to some extent here. You have experience and practice in an area where I only have theory and ideas. It’s implausible to think I’d allow my child to join a snake handling church when he was 5. Point taken.

    But would I take him to snake church so he could see what it’s like and see what they believe? Absolutely. Same with any other church. And will I tell him that some people don’t believe in God at all? Yes, of course. My ideal is to expose my children to as much as possible, and let them make the decisions when they’re capable of making those decision.

    In that sense, I reject your candy analogy. There’s a tremendous difference between inculcating your children about health/hygeine habits versus spiritual/metaphysical beliefs. Do you not agree?

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  29. Dylan,

    In your reply you use a language that seems typical of a religious interpretation of aetheism – indeed the word atheism refers to god or a god belief system that is irrelevant. We should call ourselve ‘realists’ for clarity, or the ‘non-deluded’ (I like the latter). Please let me enlarge on that.

    ” … respect her beliefs or lack of beliefs.”

    “I’ve never been proud nor ashamed of being an atheist.”

    Lack of belief? In what? I assume she believes (or rather knows) that the world can be explained by science. This isn’t a lack of belief. If you choose to believe that god exists, in the virgin birth, that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden – or not – you still have a belief. If you believe in something else (such as reality) it isn’t a lack of belief. By using the term ‘disbelief’ you infer and recognise something to believe in. ie you cease to be an atheist by your own definition.

    “… this has never been an issue because we have respected each other’s beliefs if not disagreed on them.”

    How many christians allow you to suggest that there isn’t a god? Do they respect your belief, or simply allow you time to come around to the truth? In fact most religions (remember that these are constructs to exert power) have a punishment for non- belief. Ask your religious friends what will happen to your non-believing ass when you die, then you’ll see how they respect you. Try to get them to role play an atheist with you – see how far you get. Try and get them to explain where god fits in todays science. Conclusion – they believe you to, at best, have strayed, at worst, to be either deluded or in part possessed.

    ‘Atheism’ isn’t a label except when coming from a platform of believing – it infers a factual base that you identify with. I mean how many of you are proud to and identify with breathing air? Having fingerprints? Detached lobes? How can you base yourself on a non-belief in a fairy tale? This is simply the language of religion, which apparently we don’t have. It is frustrating to have to address god, when he is a fiction, as if it should have some impact on our lives. We seem to equate ‘respecting’ someones religion with not questioning that they think the world was created 3000 years ago in 6 days, that all coke shall be servants and women are forbidden to be teachers (and you should stone your wife to death should she collect wood on the sabbath). Imagine going a doctor and being told, when you argue with him when his ‘cure’ involves opening an artery to release the bad humours, that you are disrespecting his belief system?

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  30. Will,

    “I’m curious as to why all the commenters seem to automatically assume that the emailer is a mother.”

    I guess it was just a hunch. It doesn’t seem like the type of thing a dude would send an email about. To me, the tone said “mother.”

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  31. Will,

    Dylan said:
    “We should call ourselve ‘realists’ for clarity, or the ‘non-deluded’ (I like the latter).”

    Of course you prefer the latter. It has an element of scorn and condescention not present in the former. “Those who believe in God are simply delusional.” Hopefully, no one will notice that you can’t prove God doesn’t exist anymore than I can prove he does.

    Really, there’s no basis for your assertion that believers are delusional. The believers might be right. You simply cannot refute that. And if they *might* be right, exactly how are they be delusional?

    Have you left absolutely no room for the possibility that YOU are wrong? That, my friends, is faith. The same kind of faith many of you are railing against: belief (or non-belief) in the absence of proof.

    You write a long post about how atheists shouldn’t focus on contrasting themselves with believers. Yet the name you choose to give to this philosophy, non-delusionism, is a direct acknowledgement of theism. This is a tragic admission that your philosophy, despite your intentions to the contrary, is little more than a reaction to someone else’s philosophy.

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  32. and this is why i propose a middle path. you guys could go on and on in this debate and never go anywhere. just like it always has. just like it always will. the cultural human perception of reality has gone from the purely metaphysical realm, all the way to the very tip top of the scientific pyramid. now it comes crashing back down to try and find some balance between the two.

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  33. Al bukaki,

    What a wonderful debate; thoughtful, profound, intelligent and civil. This can only serve as a fine example of how to adopt a meaningful approach to addressing the concerns of the parent above. That is, to explore the myriad of opinions and beliefs (or non-beliefs) of other rational and fair minded human beings. Provide many answers, but ensure that the final decision, as to what those elusive truths may possibly be, is down to the individual. Simply put, provide the means to make up one’s own mind. I for one have been enlightened that little bit more, and will continue to do so when presented with constructive arguments such as those above. Bravo!

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  34. Brian,

    I do not believe in god or gods, and I do not call myself an atheist. I have no interest in religious or non-religious dogma. I do not have to react to other people’s propaganda. There are other things to belong to that do not involve either the belief or disbelief in a god.

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  35. Will,

    Hey Al bukaki, I really appreciate your comment. It’s dejecting when you put a significant amount of good-faith, honest effort into a dialogue like this, only to be greeted with comments like Tome’s above (#10). I checked back in here expecting at least a few of those, but was pleasantly surprised to find your very kind comment instead. Thank you.

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  36. Will,

    l’elk!, if you have an opportunity, can you tell us a little bit about this “middle way” you’re proposing? The contrast between the “purely metaphysical” versus the “very tip top of the scientific pyramid” is interesting, but, beyond advocating tolerance for differing views, I’m not sure what you mean about a middle way.

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  37. Will,

    This has been an interesting discussion, but, after having reread it from the start, it’s clear to me that one comment stands out head-and-shoulders above the rest. It’s from The Critic in comment #20, where he or she is talking about his or her daughter:

    “She doesn’t want to eat cows, because like a lot of children, she believes that most animals are her friends. She also believes she can run faster than a cheetah.”

    Awesome. That alone made this all worth it for me. Thanks.

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  38. I’m not sure I would support a church for atheism, but I do think that questioning the different aspects of it – not just like reaffirming yourself but actually questioning it would be helpful to those of us who are atheists. I also think churches have the function of being a support network – and for younger folks who need guidance from an older person who isn’t their parent it would be nice.

    I also think that some religions have giving back to their community as a main priority, and I think that doing something like that would be nice. I was always uncomfortable about medical missions for myself since I’m not religious but there aren’t many that aren’t affiliated.

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  39. Atheist Mom,

    The Critic, you are absolutely right re allowing children the freedom to make their own choices. Only a non-breeder could ever idealize the parenting process into “present all sides. let them make the choice.”

    In fact, I see religion as dangerous and insidious.

    I never had to “make” my daughter into an atheist. I simply told her that a lot of superstitious people she would meet have these views, and she would be running into them all her life. It’s been many years since I have been able to influence what she thinks. She just asked me yesterday how she can deal with people who invite her to church. She’s highly independent and at school at a university in another state. At this point, my influence is negligible.

    It’s very difficult to convert a child who wasn’t raised in “the faith” to religion. Faith depends upon a child-like mind to be able to accept the absurdities it postulates. I knew my children would have no faith in any god if I didn’t foist it upon them at a young age. I never forced any beliefs upon them. My daughter had many Christian friends growing up–it would be very difficult not to. She went to church with them, she went to Sunday school with them. All I ever asked of her was that she weigh all their claims against real-world evidence.

    Regarding “teaching both sides and letting them choose,” I didn’t teach them that the world may be flat and it may be round. I taught them the facts of the real, physical world. That’s letting them choose for real.

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  40. Angry Sam,

    This is completely anecdotal, but as a 25 year old my experience is that most Gen Y people you meet who aren’t super active in church really don’t care about the specifics of your faith or “lack” thereof.

    I’m with Chris on this one.

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  41. Michael,

    It’s only natural to accept the beliefs of your parents. I was raised by my grandparents, and proclaimed to be a Christian until I was around 17 (I’m 21 now). I’m an atheist now, and not ashamed of it. I did so because I didn’t know and was honestly afraid of not believing. It’s different now, and I couldn’t imagine believe that again.

    You can’t let your child decide for him or herself, because if you’re an influential parent, they’ll want to be like you and accept the things you accept. They’ll choose for themselves in the long run.

    My grandmother told me when I went to college “Don’t let them take your religion and turn you into a liberal.” I’m a liberal atheist, but I’d have to be, wouldn’t I?

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  42. To me, there’s something very strange in this sentence:

    her boyfriends make fun of her over what she puts on forms under “religious affiliation.

    For the love of all things bright and shiny, I can’t recall the last time I encountered a form where I had to fill in ‘religious affiliation’. Nor can I think of any situation where my (lack of) religious affiliation would be anyone’s business but my own. [disclaimer: I live in The Netherlands.]

    As for advice, I’ve got nothing. I get along very well with my religiously affiliated friends, although we don’t exactly see eye to eye on religious matters. I can’t be bothered by most of it, as it’s their life and they should live it as they see fit. And for the things I can be bothered by: I’m always game for a good argument.

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  43. Tixy,

    Dear parent of a 19 year old,

    your daughter is way cool. tell her she might enjoy reading the art of war, confucious, tao, the greeks, the enlightenment, philosophy, ethics, mythology, all sorts of stuff. Tell her that she can learn something useful from a disney b film, but she can expect a silly song and dance and guff. tell her not to lie and cheat, especially to herself. tell her what a bait and switch scam is. when i was about 20 i read a book called ‘influence(r cialdini)’ which has quite a few useful tips for life among humans.

    I should add that some philosophies and religions do touch on some behaviours that are universally benificent to the living world, such as positive thought, charity, respect, and civility. And gardening.

    best of luck,

    Tixy

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  44. outeast,

    Try Europe.

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  45. lumpi,

    I would tell her that some religious person making fun of “what she puts on forms under ‘religious affiliation’” just makes a monkey out of him/herself.

    It’s a bit like a Star-Wars geek making fun of you for saying that Yoda lives on Tatooine.

    Have mercy with the people who need religion for their life to make any sense. Don’t make fun of them yourself. If they (try) to make fun of you, grant them their ridiculous laugh but remember that, deep inside, you know it better.

    And move on to the next topic. Christ, they can’t talk about religion all day (and if they do, I agree, find new friends).

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  46. Damn, Will, 0 for 3 huh? Well, I also said Howard Dean would be President, so don’t pay any attention to my guesses.

    And sure, there does seem to be an early primitive societal urge to worship something and yes, a lot of children grow up believing in something supernatural. That much I’ll give to human nature. In our ignorance of things, we try to fill in the blanks — we are, after all, a pattern making species and if there’s a blank, we throw out our educated guesses (like someone has no children or is a Christian or whatever, just a couple casual examples). And if you don’t know what causes thunder and you’re a child (or a primitive person), chances are you’re not going to get to the scientific explanation, you’ll go with something greater than yourself is causing it. As we also have a tendency toward anthropomorphizing things, is it any wonder that this “greater power than ourselves” we grant some kind of personality?

    It’s like my daughter and her cow friends again. Oddly enough, the personalities of these cow friends reflect the same interests and viewpoints of my daughter.

    Soooo, fast forward, it’s thousands of years later, a kid grows up with this sense of things greater than him/herself and there’s plenty of god talk in the air all around you. Christmas, Easter, your grandma, whatever, and without being able to recognize what is happening, that vision of “greater than” becomes what a child has learned other people think it is: a vengeful man in the sky who expects certain behaviors and doles out rewards or punishments. Sounds an awful lot like a parent. Voila.

    I mean, it really is that easy, that subtle, and that pervasive. One doesn’t need to look for supernatural externalities to get to a very convincing explanation.

    I’ll hazard another guess here (to extend my streak, natch), but chances are that you won’t go for that explanation and will repeat that you’re not sure when or how or from where, but somehow you always knew there was a god. That’s fine. Believe that if you want or can’t not believe it.

    But the point most of we atheists here is that there is nothing wrong with raising a child without faith. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that anyone should feel guilty for. It’s one choice that a parent makes among literally thousands. That it bothers believers (including yourself) means nothing, no more than meat eaters being disturbed that my daughter has never had a burger.

    Non-sectarian, non-fundie religious people will frequently opine that you’re cheating your child out of experiencing wonderment and the mystical sense of transcendence, but that’s bosh. Plenty of atheists get that feeling from contemplating the amazing universe around them, in all its delights and mysteries. Scientists still don’t understand how the tongue processes the taste of salt. That’s fantastic to me. That just knocks me for a loop. I get more satisfaction toying with all the ramifications of that than I get from short-circuiting the process and going straight to “well, that’s how God made tongues–his ways are mysterious.” I get wonder from flowers. I’ve occasionally gotten transcendence from being alone in the woods (and sometimes through hallucinogens).

    The world (and universe) is plenty big enough for wonder, amazement, feelings of the numinous, of the interconnectedness of all life and matter, of something greater than yourself, without troubling yourself about what some deity wants you to do or think. And surprisingly enough too, all of that amazement and wonder and feelings of interconnectedness is sufficient unto itself to develop a robust system of ethics and morals that is reasonable and doesn’t rely on divine carrots and/or sticks.

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  47. As to my point about candy, I think it’s valid because we’re talking about children. The definition you have of love wanting something for a person because they want it and not that you want it for them is a bit more of a love for a mature person to some degree.

    Children don’t know what they want for themselves in the long run because we’re born with short-term desires and we develop the capacity for long-term ones. What children want for themselves is generally summed up by the word “more.” More toys, more time to play, more hugs, more candy, more everything. As a parent, you make choices about what you want this little person to have and part of what you are trying to instill with YOUR choices is the ability of the child to grow up and understand precisely what it is THEY want so they can take over the decision making process from you.

    You do this through small, but increasingly larger, doses of responsibility. You let them make small mistakes so they learn from them; you try to prevent them from making huge mistakes that could be harmful.

    But by the time you get to the stage of letting them make significant choices rather than “what shirt do you want to wear today” you’ve already passed the whole “do I bring them up with or without religion” question. Years have gone by, and I doubt you’re going to wait until your child is six or seven before you bring it up or before s/he brings it up.

    My daughter picks her own clothes and certain things to eat (no juice after 6pm genearlly speaking, for instance); she does not pick what time she goes to bed or if she is allowed to run in the grocery store parking lot.

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  48. Tess,

    I read this blog yesterday about atheist parenting that I really liked.

    http://elliptica.blogspot.com/2008/04/with-thanks-to-my-atheist-mother.html

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  49. Well, I think if they’re true friends, they’ll get over it eventually. I’ve had problems like this in the past, and it took me a LONG time to get over my confidence issues, especially with the way some hardheadedly-Christian kids can be so cruel to those who hold different (or no) religious beliefs.

    I guess what I mean is, you don’t have to be a douche to stand up for yourself or your beliefs….but you don’t have to take it lying down, either. I find that the best way to handle religious “harassment” is to:

    (a) try to keep a sense of humor about it (kids are mean as hell sometimes, but as weird as it sounds, they aren’t always trying to be jerks about it…it just sort of happens that way. Don’t assume they mean ill unless they make it very clear that they do).

    (b) at the same time, don’t take no flack from nobody. If they’re being irritating, sometimes you just have to ask them non-confrontationally to buzz off….and if they won’t let it go, then maybe you need to get away from ‘em for awhile. Let ‘em know you mean business.

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  50. tiki187,

    Personally, as long as I can remember, I have been an atheist. I have been very proud of my non-belief.

    I did not pontificate the virtues of my lack of belief in a god. During the pledge of allegiance I stood up and spoke it like every one else, I just did not say “under god.”

    She just needs to be personally secure in who she is and what she does and not believe.

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  51. Lawnmower Joe,

    People always make fun of me or look at me in a weird way because I don’t believe in God or any hocus pocus…

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