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Raising Children Without God
Raising Children Without God
by Dave Silverman
I often get requests for advice from parents who wish to raise their children without religion, or who at least want to provide a religion -free influence in the lives of their children. While I am far from an expert in the subject matter, I have what I think are some pretty good ideas on raising nonreligious children.
My ideas (not all are mine -- I openly admit to having stolen the last one from Ellen [Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists. Ed.]) are outlined below in no particular order. This list is as anything but complete, and suggestions and additions are welcomed. However, I hope and think this will help answer some of the frequent questions I get on the subject.
Address the issues of gods as common nouns. There is not one god, there are many. Thousands in fact, all the same and all fictional. Talk about Zeus, Qetzalcoatl, Thor, and Jesus. Explain how these gods were used in the past (to answer unknowns), how followers of these gods were absolutely positive of the god’s existence, and how they even killed in their names. As gods got old, new gods came along, for no real reason other than a need for change and the progress of science. Now, there are far fewer gods left, and many people still believe in them, for the same reasons they believed in ancient Tiki gods.
In my house, I have a sculpture of Neptune on the wall. In the sculpture, Neptune is blowing on a ship, filling its sails. My four-year-old and I talk about it often. How silly those people were - to think that an old man in the sky was watching them, and blowing their ship along the ocean!
By equating all gods and mythologies in their minds, they will be more skeptical when someone tells them that one of them is real.
Teach them magic tricks. As early as I can remember, my dad gave me magic tricks to astound my friends. I would tell them “There’s no trick - it’s Magic!” All the while, I knew those who believed it were being fooled. I learned that there is always a trick, always an explanation, even if I didn’t know what it was at the time. Sound familiar?
For older kids, there’s a wonderful game out there called “MindTrap”. It’s this great card game where you try to think outside the box to solve a problem. Here’s an example:
A black dog is standing in the middle of a street with no streetlights and no houses. A car with no headlights comes around the corner and stops before it hits the dog. Why? Because it was daytime.
This game encourages critical thinking, problem solving, and rational processes. I love it!
Get some hands-on, face-to-face charity in there. Show them how good it feels to help someone. Tell them this is the Atheist way (which is true) - hands that do are much better than lips that pray.
On a related note, see if you can find people on TV who are praying instead of helping, and point it out.
Finally, and most importantly, make sure your kids know that your love is unconditional. Gods provide unconditional love, and there is a temptation to go to that ideal if it’s not at home. Naturally, you love your kids, but some of us are less adept at communicating that love to our children than others. This needs to be reinforced over and over again until they are about 50 years old.
Here are some suggestions from some other Atheist Parents
I write this essay as a result of talking with several people who have undergone this process, as well as my experience both as a Jew and an Atheist leader. In this essay you will not find all the answers you need to make raising an Atheist child easy, but it is my hope that you will be able to get some ideas.
Whether we have a Constitution or not, and whether we win a court case or not, we must all recognize that this is a Christian-dominated nation. There are great, ornate churches everywhere, often the tallest and most beautiful buildings in town. Christmas and Easter are not only national holidays, but marketing extravaganza, with displays and commercials sometimes visible a full six months before the holiday. Even as I write this essay, It is august, and Christmas displays are present all over the local mall.
So what do you do when your child asks what you are, why you are Atheists, and why you are so different from everyone else? What do you say about Christmas, and how do you explain bigotry to your children? Hopefully, this essay will shed a some light on these subjects.
How do you explain to your children that 90% of the population of the country (their world) disagrees with you on such a basic premise as the existence of a deity? For the answer to this question I did some research in Jewish books, figuring they would be faced with a similar problem. However, they talked mostly of the culture around Judaism, and not of the explanation that could be ported to Atheism.
So here's a suggestion that comes from my talks to children in schools and emails. The number 90%-10% is too daunting for some kids to understand. They don't like to be in that much of a minority, understandably.
What they like better is a larger breakdown. Instead of saying \94% are believers, and 6% are Atheists\, tell them \14% are Catholic, 26% are Protestant, 2% are Jews, and 6% are Atheists\. That way, every time they meet a Jewish person, they'll meet someone more rare than they are. They will also have a better understanding of the diversity in this country.
Also, it's important to set up ideals and role models for children to admire. Unfortunately, for some reason, Atheist sports figures seem to be hard to come by, but there have been tons of great historical Atheists in our history. Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Susan B. Anthony come to mind. For more historical nonbelievers, check out http://www.visi.com/~markg/atheists.html and for living ones, see http://www.primenet.com/~lippard/atheistcelebs . Highlighting the great Atheists out there will give them a sense of community, or at least quell any loneliness or lack of pride resulting from other kids.
As far as those other kids are concerned, your main problem will be bigotry. I once read in a book about raising Jewish children that the only thing that can be said on the subject is that it exists. The point is valid: bigotry cannot be understood by children, and that they must only know it's out there and try to avoid it when they see it. I would go further, however, and teach them to combat it, either actively or passively.
Ø Actively: Challenge bigotry. When someone gives them a hard time, your child should ask the bigoted kids why they think like that. Remember, bigotry is learned, and usually not very well. Therefore, the purveyors of bigotry will only know that they should think Atheists are bad, but not likely why. If your child prods them into examining their (most likely) parent's bigotry, they may actually rethink those positions. Nothing will raise your child's self esteem more. This works better the older the children are, but I've head good things about this active approach in kids as young as 9 or 10.
Role playing helps. Pretend you're the bigoted kid and write down what he might say and the corresponding answers. This will help increase your child's confidence in confrontational situations.
Ø Passively: Avoidance is always the easiest route, and sometimes the best. This is for you and your child to decide. Teach your child what the stereotypes for Atheists are, and talk to them about what the other kids are saying, and try to do the opposite. Lead by example. For example, if yur kids are being harassed because Atheists are \evil\, teach them to be nice especially in front of the other kids. By simple, nonconfrontational actions, they may be able to quell any problems they are experiencing.
Got more suggestions on raising an Atheist child? Send them up!