Ayaan Hirsi Ali Talks About Motherhood

Some wise words from (relatively) new mother Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the author of Infidel, in an interview in The Globe and Mail.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (The Globe and Mail)

When asked whether she will raise her son as an atheist:

It’s very interesting that you ask that. My life before I had my child was abstract. Now, once you have the child, that’s no longer theory. You actually are now bringing up this tiny human being, innocent, helpless.

And so you have to ask yourself, “Do I really want to bring him up with the idea that there is no God?” And my approach is — and my husband agrees with me — no, I’m not going to tell my son there is no God. Why? Because when I was growing up I was told there is a God. I’m just going to tell my son, in regards to morality, once he’s old enough to understand, that there are people who think there is a God, and there are different gods, and there are people who think there is no God, and there are different forms of atheism.

And what if her son decides to follow Islam?

That’s one of the crazy jokes we make. Kids at some point like to rebel against their parents, and so how will I respond? In theory, I think I’ll keep a straight face.

In literature, all the clashes between children and parents, where people who hate homosexuality, the kid comes and says, “I’m gay.” Protestants who hate Catholics, the kid says, “I’ve converted to Catholicism,” or the other way around. People who hate God, their child comes and says, “I’m a devout believer in this.” It could happen to me. My son could come and say, “You know what, mom? I’m a devout Muslim.”

And I have to do what my father and my mother were incapable of doing, which is to say, “Alright, go for it.” I’m hoping it does not happen.

You have to let individuals make their own choices and respect that, even if it’s your own child. And that’s what was taken away from me. My father passed away thinking I still had to go back to his way of believing. My mother constantly tells me, “You’re wrong, you’re wrong.”

I want to be strong enough to tell my son, it’s your choice.

Wise words from one of the most eloquent atheist writers around.

(via Canadian Atheist)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RF7XOM5EJAEGSH2YDZ7TORP44I Amii Lockhart

    Beautiful! 

    There was a period when my youngest son enjoyed going to sleep listening to a televangelist on TV.  That worried me to no end, not just the conscious influence, but any possible unconscious influence that he might be under.  But, I let him do it; it was his choice.

    So far as a young man my son has turned out to be quite reasonable, I’m thrilled to say.  Now that he’s in his twenties I don’t think so much anymore about how Randall Terry was raised by two feminist lesbians.

    • Anonymous

      I would have been worried too. Things we hear as we fall asleep can have a lasting effect on us. To wit: I used a “hypnotism” tape while falling asleep in order to quit cigarettes, long ago. The suggestive remarks on the tape did the trick even though actual hypnotism did not work at all. (Of course, anecdotal evidence is no evidence at all, as we all know. I’m just guessing that this effect is likely not unusual.)

      Glad your son turned out reasonable, in spite of the televangelist.

    • bismarket

      “Worried me no end”, I would have been freaking out but it seems your way worked. I’m pleased & surprised!

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Wait, Randall Terry? Raised by two feminist lesbians? The Washington Post did an article on the family that described his grandmother and aunts as feminists, but it looks like he was raised by his mother and father, since his parents divorced when he was an adult. I’d hate to have to count Terry as someone from a same-sex family!

  • http://twitter.com/Brimshack northierthanthou.com

    Interesting comments. I like that she recognizes the limits of her influence and control.

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    The problem with that approach is that there are many people out there who will not sit back and wait for him to make up his own mind, they will have no problem cramming it down her kids throat every available chance they get (and they will be proud of themselves for doing so).  I know of atheists who have raised their kids that way and then been shocked when the kid comes home from day care or a friends house wanting to say prayers before eating or going to bed.

    If you have come to the conclusion that the sky is blue and your kid asks what color it is, would you just say “you can make up your own mind about that when you know what all the colors are”?  Why not raise them as atheists and inoculate them from supernaturalism when they encounter it?

  • Mairianna

    I am just thrilled that Ayaan has had a baby!  With what she went through in her life, I’m amazed that she would want a child, but that makes me admire her all the more.  She is a stupendous woman! 

    • Aureliadarcy

      Why is she more admirable for having a child? It doesn’t change what she went through.

      • Anonymous

        Part of what she went through was female genital mutilation. Depending on how extreme it was, she got her clitoris sliced off (makes me want to roll into a little ball just writing that) and possibly other sections of her external genitals as well. This can lead to infection and infertility, and it most certainly leads to trauma and doubtlessly some issues around sex, besides the obvious one of having sexual sensation severely dulled, when not eliminated entirely. I think that having a baby having gone through that trauma is something to be admired.

        • Aureliadarcy

          Then you admire her ability to overcome trauma, not the ability to physically give birth to a child (which has nothing to do with overcoming her past or genital mutilation or any of the other reasons she has become famous and admired).  The fact that she is now a mother is irrelevant to her past actions and abuse.

          • Anonymous

             I disagree, and I also don’t think Mairianna’s admiration had anything to do with the physical ability to give birth to a child, something the vast majority of women have and FGM does not prevent, except in the cases where infection causes infertility. Though of course it wouldn’t neccesarily be the case, it would be understandable for someone who had gone through that kind of physical and emotional trauma to basically avoid anything that involves that area of your body. If rape victims  have a hard time often enough becoming comfortable with sex, I can hardly imagine someone who was physically assaulted as a child and had much of her sexual feeling removed would have it much easier.

            • girl

              Actually rape victims are often quite promiscuous sleeping with many people in an attempt to regain control.  When you are raped you lose control of your body which is a great physical violation so you try to reassert that it is your own and you decide who gets it and when.

              • I_Claudia

                 That may be the reaction for some rape victims, but it’s certainly not the reaction for all of them and I know from hearing testimonies that an avoidance of sex is a common reaction. My general point is that for someone who has suffered severe trauma, there are bound to be differences in how they deal with certain related issues when compared to someone who hasn’t gone through the same thing.

      • Mairianna

        Sorry.  I was speaking from my perspective.  Not trying to start an argument. 

  • Anonymous

    Ayaan could regret this decision if her boy grows up and decides to become a jihadist, or if he wants a “traditional” Somali wife who had her genitals mutilated to guard her against unchastity. 

  • http://twitter.com/HomelessGirl1 Nadia G

    Beautiful words, I’ve ordered her biography and I’m going to start reading it because I’m dealing with the repercussion of coming out atheist , to a religiously delusional mother and very devout family.

    • bismarket

      If you havn’t already, i suggest a trip to reddit r/atheism. You may want to share your story & you can be sure of a lot of support. Congratulations on Joining us rational folk, it’s great your here!

      • http://twitter.com/HomelessGirl1 Nadia G

        Sorry I only saw this comment now, thank you for the support I will check it out now

        • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

          You’re welcome, & you’re not the only one who takes a while answering, take care & i hope you got on well at r/atheism. It’s addictive isn’t it?;-)

          • http://twitter.com/HomelessGirl1 Nadia G

            hey i posted my story and got a good response thank you for suggesting that.

            Here’s what I wrote: http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/tn83w/how_religion_made_me_homeless/

            • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

               WOW, i just read it & am sorry i missed it at the time. Went better than anybody could have expected;-) So pleased that my fellow redditors showed you some love, they get some bad press sometimes. Am i to assume you’ll become a regular? Great story by the way. Peace.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Of course your child will some day make up its own mind. Until then, I would at least tell my children what I believe or not, and why.
     

  • Wild Rumpus

    The only people I can’t stand are bigots (see what I did there?).

    I am sending my son to UU comparative religion classes so he can learn about other religions. That will help him with history, culture, philosophy, and tolerance.

    I don’t want to raise him as an atheist – I want to raise him as a critical thinker and then, hopefully, he will come to the same conclusions as I have.

  • Anonymous

    And so you have to ask yourself, “Do I really want to bring him up with the idea that there is no God?” And my approach is — and my husband agrees with me — no, I’m not going to tell my son there is no God. Why? Because when I was growing up I was told there is a God. I’m just going to tell my son, in regards to morality, once he’s old enough to understand, that there are people who think there is a God, and there are different gods, and there are people who think there is no God, and there are different forms of atheism.

    I used to support this position as the most rigorous one, but I no longer do. I realize now that doing it this way comes from the same “special rules” for religion that made me call myself an agnostic as a child and teen. “There’s no proof either way, so being agnostic is the best option” Of course, for everything else except gods, the absence of any evidence in its favor leads to a default disbelief.

    So the appropriate answer to the question “Is there a God” is “No” just as it would be for fairies, monsters under the bed, dragons etc. Children deserve to get the best information we can give them, and we shouldn’t teach them to treat questions about religion as if they had some different standard of evidence as all other questions. I do approve of explaining about ethical questions and making children aware that many people do believe in Gods and how they should relate to such people, but dodging the question is no longer a position I support.

    • Andrew Morgan

       This was my thinking, and when the rubber meets the road, I think that position is unavoidable, unless you want to never give a straight answer, when pressured, to the question.  “Other people believe this” will quickly meet the rejoinder “But what do you believe?”

      I don’t begrudge the religious for telling their children there is a god per se — I wouldn’t expect them to do less, and I will tell my children that there isn’t one.  But as Ali says, the key is allowing your children to make their own decisions, and as a necessary corollary to that, equipping your children to make those decisions.

      If “raising someone to be an atheist” means “Insist dogmatically there is no god and brook no opposition”, then no, it’s no more ethical to “raise someone as an atheist” than to “raise someone Catholic.”  But I hope we can all agree the phrase might mean something richer than that.

      • Critical G

        You make a good point.  My conception of something richer than “insist dogmatically there is no god and brook no opposition” would be to instill in my children (one day in the future) an instinct for critical thinking.  So rather than insisting that there is or isn’t a god, I’d hope that their starting point would be, “what grounds do I have for believing in the existence of such an entity?”  Or at least, when they’re young, to instinctively ask, “Where does God Himself come from?”

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      The only difference between the “Is Spiderman real” question and the “Is God real” question is, “God” comes with the addendum that lots of other people think God is as real.

    • Annie

      I agree.  And though I tell my child that there are some people who believe in gods and some people who don’t, I also tell her that we don’t believe, and that we think the people who do are wrong.  There is no reason to entertain delusions…  especially if you don’t subscribe to them yourself. 

      In a recent interview, I was asked what I would do if my child grew up to be religious.  I started with the cliche but also honest truth by saying that I would love her no matter what, but then I skirted the rest of the question.  I gave a nonanswer by saying that I hope I have done my job as a parent and given her the tools necessary for her to see for herself that religion has no value.  I couldn’t answer the question, because the truth is, I’d be mortified.  The idea of my child growing up to join a group that would not value her, simply because she is female, is far worse than the idea that she would grow up to believe in imaginary friends or accept ancient stories as words from gods.   I am doing all I possibly can to raise a strong, independent, open-minded but skeptical thinker.  Yes, I want her to make her own decisions.  And yes, I want her to think for herself and define her own life, but I don’t see joining any sort of religion as accomplishing these things.  Honestly, I get irked by people who say, “Well, we will just present all of the options and let the children decide.”  I can’t do this.  Just as I don’t teach my child about intelligent design (except when pointing out its flaws and lack of any evidence), I wouldn’t teach her that religion is an option she could possibly choose later in life. 

      If she did choose it?  Well, of course I would still love her.  But I would also  feel  that I failed her in some great way. 

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4VYQXMYJ3MGO74VD6Q7VZIYOQA Bonnie

         Neither of my parents were religious, and when I was about 16 I became “born again” briefly (yes, it was about a guy I liked…). My mom did the right thing – she just ignored it for a few months and it went away.

        Children might experiment with religion but as long as they don’t become addicts, we have done our job as parents.

  • chicago dyke, evolved outlaw

    this is how i was raised. i went thru a very long period in which i was fascinated with religion, but i never really seriously entertained belief. it was touch and go for a little while hanging out with some cool pagans, but the more i studied various religions the more i could see that atheism was the logical choice. for me.

    let’s say the kid does decide to embrace some type of faith. would some of us consider this a sad sign on intellectual weakness or giving in to peer pressure? yes. but OTOH, what if the child has some experience in his life, like a love who is of faith, or an event that causes trauma and questioning, that leads them to embrace a faith because it brings peace and happiness? i don’t want people to use religion for a crutch or to cement relationships, but if those choices maximize happiness i am ethically bound to at the very least say, “it’s your choice.” 

  • Anonymous

    I don’t understand why she is considered a role model by some atheists.  Since the moment she entered the Netherlands, she’s been a serial liar and opportunist.  She made the absurd suggestion that Muslims should convert to Christianity rather than become atheists.  Maybe that sort of thing is necessary to remain an AEI scholar in good standing but it’s hardly something to be applauded.

    • Anonymous

      Are you referring to the lies she used to get away from the control of people and societies that cut off her clitoris and forced her into marriage with a relative? By opportunist do you mean someone who has to live in hiding because she dared to criticize such practices via art in concert with murdered Theo van Gogh? I doubt the money she makes on books is worth the daily danger of being butchered by 7th century thugs. Surely she could have found an easier path to opportunism than standing up for women against the inherent violence and oppression of Islam.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

       She made the absurd suggestion that Muslims should convert to Christianity rather than become atheists.

      It was more along the lines that for deeply religious people, giving up religion altogether might be a lot more difficult than switching the rules a bit for something with less stones and baby cutting.   Agree or not (and at the time I didn’t, and now I’m not so sure) it wasn’t ‘rather than’ it was ‘better than nothing’.

  • bismarket

    At the risk of sounding Clichéd & Trite, the woman is an inspiration, to have achieved what she has in her (relatively) short life is amazing. Sadly she will be forced (at least for a little while) by motherhood into reducing her activities, but i look forward to when she again regularly shows up on my “Atheist Radar”. Islam &/or Somalia can produce Women like this, yet subjugate them into silence. One has to wonder what the world has lost due to religious misogyny? To borrow a Quote from the US Religious fundamentalists “She may have cured Cancer” but instead (aged 10) she’s marrying an old family friend. 

  • Greisha

    She did not say she would lie to her son about her own religious views.  She did not say that she would not teach him critical thinking.  She just said that she would not force her own view on him.

    We did the similar things and our daughter turned out right and well.

  • Anonymous

    She doesn’t sound very wise to me.   Apparently she doesn’t understand the difference between telling the truth and anextended lie.    Telling your kid there is no god is a five minute exercise.    Forcing your kid to believe in god takes years of falsehoods, intimdation, threats, and  destruction of natural critical thought processes.   It’s the difference between telling your kid there are no monsters under the bed, or telling them there are monsters and they’ll eat you unless you do what we say, then forcing them to pray to them every night.

  • Anonymous

    I was raised an atheist, and it has left me free of paranoia that I am being watched and has given me the peace to know I won’t be judged and sent to eternal torment. Why not give a child this serenity from the start? I am delighted my niece and nephew are being raised the same way.

  • Anonymous

    We teach kids that Zeus, unicorns, and leprechauns aren’t real.  Why is letting the kid in on one more myth such a big deal?


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