Secular Parenting Gone Wrong

Parenting Beyond BeliefI’ve actually been getting a lot of ideas from the Atheist Experience TV show lately, which just goes to show that it’s an effective program.  If it makes people think, whether they agree with what’s said or not, I consider it a rousing success.  Great job to all of the people involved in the TV show!

This past week, they had author Dale McGowan on to talk about secular parenting.  It’s a great topic, there are always lots of questions about how kids can be raised to be secular, free-thinking and rational and those are fantastic questions.  However, while I welcome the discussion, I think Dale is doing it all wrong.  The link to the audio podcast version is here, Dale is on right at the beginning of the show after announcements.  They say that their YouTube channel is back up so if you want to watch it, it should be available soon.

Dale wrote a book called Parenting Beyond Belief.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t read it and almost certainly wouldn’t, just because it no longer applies to me, I’ve already successfully raised two secular children and am not planning on doing it again.  I just wanted to point out to people that it’s out there and if it sounds like something you’d like to check out, by all means, I encourage you to do so.

That said, I disagreed with just about everything he had to say in his phone call to TAE and, while I don’t want to put words into the mouths of Russell and Jen, there was a lot he said that they didn’t seem to agree with either.  However, I’m not going to speak on their behalf, I’ll limit it to thinks that I had issues with.

To be honest, and this is just an impression I got, but a lot of what Dale said came off with a very accomodationist vibe.  I’ve talked in the past about how much I dislike accomodationism, just as a philosophical position in *ANY* argument.  It isn’t limited to religion, I don’t think that you should change your argument or moderate your stance because someone might get offended at what you say.  That’s not to say you should be a dick, but your position is your position and you are entitled to your opinion, regardless of what anyone else thinks.  You ought to stick to your guns if you feel strongly about your position, and if you don’t feel strongly about it, maybe you ought to rethink holding it in the first place.

So much of what Dale seemed to be saying is that the parents ought to be keeping their religious, or non-religious, views to themselves, lest they piss someone off.  I think Russell had it right, they’re your kids, you get to choose how they’re raised.  Religious family members might dislike what you’ve chosen to do, but they have no say in what you do.  If they don’t like it, their one and only option is to accept it or to hit the road.  From where I was sitting, it seems he wanted to put on a dog and pony show in front of kids to let them pick their beliefs from among a wide range of alternatives.  That’s frankly stupid as far as I’m concerned.  As atheists, and hopefully as rational atheists, we’re in no way obligated to present idiotic ideas to our children in the guise of being open minded.  We’re not open minded and we shouldn’t be.  All ideas are not created equal, all beliefs are not equally valid and just because people have stupid ideas doesn’t obligate us to put those ideas before our children.  We don’t say “well, we taught you that 1+1=2, but some people believe 1+1=3, so let’s have them tell you why…”  No, those people are objectively wrong, their reasoning has no place in a child’s education.

I think that some atheist parents get completely paranoid over the idea of “indoctrination”.  Oh no, we can’t possibly indoctrinate our kids!  They then go overboard the opposite direction, where they feel they cannot pass on facts to their offspring.  It’s absurd.  No matter what you do, you’re indoctrinating  your kids, no matter what you teach them, you’re putting ideas into their heads that they are going to take seriously.  It’s how a parent-child relationship works.  They are going to look up to you to instruct them how to live their lives and if you refuse to do so, you’re performing an injustice.

If you want my opinion, as a parent of two very well-adjusted, intelligent atheist teenagers, here you go.  Teach your kids from a very young age, not what to think, but how to think.  Teach them how to question authority, how  to examine propositions and how to make decisions based on evidence, logic and reason.  Tell them they should never accept any proposition until they have checked it out on their own and verified it is factually true.  If you do that, you’ve inoculated them against stupidity, both religious and otherwise.  That is really all you can expect, but if done properly, if the lesson takes root, you have nothing to fear.  I found it funny that they kept talking about hell and how traumatizing it is for children.  No it’s not, not if  you’ve done your job right.  We never had to teach our kids that hell wasn’t real, we never had to teach them anything about Christianity or any other religion, we just taught them to think and they rejected it all on their own.  If they come home with a false idea and seem interested in it, walk them through the logical steps.  Why is this idea true? Where is the evidence?  Why should they accept the idea as valid?  Do this every single day with every single new idea.  Make them justify these ideas.  Point out the holes in their logic.  It won’t be long until they are doing this automatically and I think you’ll find they make a lot fewer bad decisions.

I really don’t understand why so many atheist parents have so many problems just standing up for themselves.  They’re  your kids, they’re your responsibility, you have every right to teach them whatever values you hold and whatever beliefs you have.  Do not ever allow a family member, any family member, to come between you and that extremely important fact.  It’s better to eject a family member from your life than it is to let them poison the innocent minds of  your kids.  Raising your children to be productive, intelligent and rational members of society is your #1 job in life.

Don’t blow it.


12 thoughts on “Secular Parenting Gone Wrong

  1. I see a lot of arguments in my future with religious grandparents on both sides. I'm not worried about them swaying how I raise them, but I kinda worry that they'll tell them religious crap when I'm not around. I'll have a lot of correcting to do.
    My recent post The Last Moral

    1. I never had that problem, my wife's parents are atheists and my parents have been only marginally religious, getting less religious all the time. We were very adamant with everyone that they would not be taught religious bullshit and anyone we found teaching them religious bullshit would forfeit their visitation rights. No one ever tried it, I'm not known for saying things I don't mean.

    2. My parents are hardcore evangelicals. It's rough. And I know they're going to cry and say I'm damning my child to hell when I won't teach them about God. I know they're going to try and try to "save" my kids. Ughhh. *dread*

      1. My wife's parents have never been religious and mine weren't overly religious by the time we had our first child, but I remember there was one time when my mother asked if we were going to baptize our daughter and I said no, very matter-of-factly. The subject never came up again and since then, I know my mother is only vaguely religious, if at all. Everyone in my immediate family, if I had to classify them, I'd say they're atheists, or at least they give no outward sign of any religious belief whatsoever, which I think it a good thing. It keeps them from poisoning the minds of my kids with their nonsense.

  2. I agree completely. My children are still young (oldest is almost 3), but you have outlined my exact strategy. Well said.

    1. Thank you. Unfortunately, I see a lot of people who think that exposing their children to religion, usually the culturally dominant religion, so they can make a "choice" is the way to go. I don't see them exposing their children to Zeus or Molloch or Mithras as valid choices. The irrationality of these positions is just absurd.

      1. That was actually *sorta* the way I was going to go. Not presenting them as valid choices. But showing a bunch of different religious mythologies and stories. Show, here's what some people believed about Greek gods, and Egyptian gods, and Norse gods, and Native American gods, and Middle Eastern gods. Here are their creation stories and legends. I think it would be entertaining, and give perspective so that Christianity doesn't have this allure of forbidden magic or something. It's just another mythology.

        1. That's actually not a bad idea at all, there are stories that primitive man told each other about the world around them and for those things they didn't understand, they invented gods. That's essentially what happened and unfortunately, we still have a lot of those primitive people today who haven't learned that these were just stories and not real things.

  3. I heard this program, and you have seriously misrepresented it. He did not say that "parents ought to be keeping their religious, or non-religious, views to themselves, lest they piss someone off." He said exactly the opposite: that it's a big mistake to not let your kids know what you think is true, and that too many atheist parents are afraid to do that.

    It's important not to make a cartoon of the positions we don't agree with, and that's what you've done here.

    1. I don't think I've misrepresented it at all, even Russell and Jenn were looking at him like… huh? Russell even had to bring up his own strategy, teaching reality and nothing but. The one thing we don't want to do is throw a bunch of crap at our kids and see what sticks. The idea that he was taking his kids to various religious groups and allowing people with different beliefs to proselytize to them really doesn't strike me as a wise way to raise children, any more than I think we ought to allow schools to throw any oddball belief at them is a good way to educate children. Now I can only speak for myself, but I've spend a lot of time studying the issues, evaluating the evidence and critically examining the beliefs and I'd like to think I have a pretty good grasp on things. I'm not claiming to be superior, I'm saying that I very well understand the religious underpinnings and I have yet to find a single theist anywhere who could present a rational, evidence-based reason to take their beliefs seriously. Therefore, there is no reason that I can think of to present these non-supported beliefs to my children, or to anyone else for that matter. So long as your children are taught from a very young age to question everything, to always demand evidence, to never accept things emotionally, etc., you're not going to end up with religious or credulous children. Personally, I think that's a very good thing.

  4. Rachella is right on the money here. I wish I had a bit more time to spend here—I ran across this on the way to something else—but I will say that your emotional reaction to Dale seems to say a lot more about you than it does about Dale. You indoctrinated your kids, that's okay. That was your choice, and it sound like it worked for you. But I'm so confused as to why you would disparage parents who have decided not to do the same with their own kids. There are a million reasons not to indoctrinate kids—I'd humbly suggest you look into that a bit more before urging your readers to follow in your footsteps, instead of in Dale's.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPG only)