Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Yes, I'm Raising Atheists

Quite happy that her
atheist parents told
her the truth.
Yes, I'm raising atheists, and I'm doing it unapologetically.
Many of you reading this are regular visitors to Purgatory (though in a broader sense I feel compelled to say we're all inhabitants), so please excuse me if you have heard this diatribe on why my children are being raised in such a manner. But some principles warrant being restated over and over again, like Check both ways before you cross the street, or Don't forget to wear appropriate body armor during the Zombie Apocalypse.

But why am I writing this? I was on Atheist Underworld reading Bright Parenting: Are You Raising Them To Be . . . Atheist? The writer is a mother and had just been asked if she was raising her children as atheists. This is her response.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat while I thought of a response to the question. After a few moments I finally found the words, “No, I’m not raising them to be atheists I’m raising them to think for themselves if that leads them to atheism, which I hope it does, then great. But, they aren’t atheist they are children.”
Meh, maybe I'll just leave a comment, I thought to myself. Then I read this.
As much as I would love to lump my children into my belief system without giving it a second thought, that isn’t free thought parenting, that is religious parenting [emphasis mine]. They are individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. 
Well, I think I've just been insulted. This requires a post.

Not Telling Your Kids That There Isn't A God Is Doing Them A Disservice.

Child: Dad should I put my hand in the fire?
Parent: No, the fire is going to burn you.

As parents we want to believe that our children are geniuses and grasp awesome facts that we as adults are too cynical and blind to see.

Let me say this clearly: Most young kids don't know what they're talking about.

Do you know what my nine year old spends 90% of his waking hours thinking about? Pokemon. Regurgitating facts about fire, air, and water Pokemons. Role playing Pokemon battles with his six year old sister. So let's get real, kids do have their own thoughts and feelings, but those thoughts and feelings are not gold. Just as I will tell my child not to put their hand on a hot stove, I will tell them God doesn't exist.


Both are dangerous.

You are just doing religious parenting, Andy.

No. Religious parenting and atheist parenting done correctly (once again, I'll repeat it: atheism done right is skepticism focused on religion)  are two different things all together.

Simply put: my math is better.

Place me at a table with a religious parent (we'll say the parent in question is a Christian) with pen and paper and have us explain why we hold our particular views, it would go something like this:
Religious Parent
I was brought up that way.
God said it, I believe it!
I really, really feel God exists.

There is no demonstrable evidence that God exists.
The bible is full of contradictions and is clearly a man made book.
Every pro-God argument is weak and full of fallacies.
Their math is 2+2 = You're going to Hell if God isn't your copilot.
Mine is 2+2=4
To carry to metaphor forward, proper atheist parenting is not only coming up with the right process, but with sharing the right answer with your child.
The right answer needs to be restated occasionally.
We live in a God saturated culture. That guy is everywhere, from the Pledge of Allegiance, to holiday  celebrations like Christmas and Easter, to marriage and funeral ceremonies.
Kids will assume God is real.
The fish doesn't realize that it's in water.
My six year old told me the other day (read full post here) that she believes in God because it's in the Pledge. My response? Her brother is reading the Percy Jackson books which are full of Greek gods and while the three of us were discussing the stories I mentioned that Zeus and God are both made up.
Not only am I inoculating them from the God meme/mind virus, but I'm telling the truth.
Language requires using shorthand all the time. 

It seems that some atheist parents don't want to pigeonhole their parenting style. That the term atheist parenting doesn't denote all the nuances of what they do.

When making out the census I check off white. A more precise term may be Northern European mongrel, but that would just gum up the works. I also tell people I'm an atheist and not I rank myself a 6.9 on the seven point Dawkins Belief Scale (1 being total belief in God and 7 being a total disbelief in God). The shorthand statement vis a-vis parenting is, Yes, my kids are atheists. Ask them if they believe in God and they will say no. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, I'm betting it's a duck. They are functionally atheists. Will they stay that way? I don't know. No skeptical parent knows if their kid is going to stay a skeptic just as no Catholic parent knows that their kids are going to grow into Catholic adults. Right now they're atheists.

Atheists need to be confident in our doubt.

Epiphenom is a site that explores scientific research regarding religion and atheism. The post Safety in numbers reviews a study where subjects were lead to believe that atheists (a highly untrusted group) are much more common than previously thought. Guess what? Subjects' opinion of atheists improved.
So what's going on here? Well, Gervais outlines all sorts of possible explanations. It might be that if they think that atheists are common, they conclude that some of the people they've met around the place must be atheists after all - and they were OK. Alternatively, they might think that, if there are a lot of atheists, then a lot of people must think that atheists are OK. There are various other ways in which simply being more numerous can make a group of 'others' seem less weird.
We need to act on our beliefs in the real world.  We will eventually gain acceptance by society by being "out".


Pride in who we are.

Pride in raising our children as atheists.



  1. Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!

    My mother (atheist) always cringes when I flat out tell my highly inquisitive five year old the truth to his questions. "When we die our bodies turn back into food for the earth". "Our dog is not in doggie heaven". "God is a myth like Perseus and Medusa." "People evolved over millions of years." And so on and so forth. She thinks I'm "pushing " atheism. I say I'm teaching him how fascinating reality is.

    I loved your blog. I'm glad I'm not alone.

    On a side note: I did have to curb my son's desire to inform anyone who said "god" to us not to blurt out "god is a myth!"and explain to him that some people believed in god and we had to respect that. Unless they got pushy.

    1. You're not pushing atheism on your kids. I think telling your kids that leprechauns don't exist is OK, too.

  2. I have non-religious mom friends who are vague about it and they say they want their children to make the choice for themselves. This annoys me to no end. I think it's bullshit. I'm not afraid to tell my kid the truth and I don't care how offended other people may be by that.

    1. I wonder if this is a clas related issue amongst atheists. I am in the middle, middle class and have found that the godless in the higher socio-economic strata are less likely to tell their kids that God doesn't exist.


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