The Seven Commandments for Children of Atheist Parents

Adapted from Kids Without God, a project of the American Humanist Association, and featuring Darwin the Dog!

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.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I have a serious problem with “I will always tell the truth” for the simple fact that everyone lies and at times, telling the truth is not the best option.

    I have done my best to raise my daughter to tell the truth when it matters but I also know damn well she has lied to me more than once and will again the coming moons.

    My daughter knows when she truly needs to tell the truth but she also knows there is nothing wrong with not doing so.

  • Owen Martinelli

    “We live in a world built on promises, constructed by liars”

  • Anna

    To be honest, these are pretty much indistinguishable from anything you might see posted on the wall of a kindergarten classroom.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Very good point. I flew into my rage after I hit number 5 :)

  • chicago dyke

    lying, cheating, hypocritical, asshole atheists are atheists too. atheist people too poor and selfish to help others are just as atheist as those with the time, money and compassion to give to others. there are even atheists who reject some science, for regional or cultural reasons. 

    atheism is one thing and one thing only: the rejection of the supernatural/concept of god(s)/the unseen&hidden forces in some other place that supposedly affect our world. however it works best for you to say it, that’s all it is. as an atheist, if you can’t measure it, see it and touch it, you’re not going to worship it, let alone believe it is superior to you and everyone else in this world. nor do you put any credence in the notion that what happens after you die, or came before you were born, is more important that what is happening to you, right now. that is the overlap with “humanism” that atheism shares, but again- not to the same humanist extent, in terms of their blatant need for community and creed. any atheist is perfectly OK with the fact that if it comes down to that, we may be the only member in our village/town/city/nation who actively, and sometimes openly, disavows (insert supernatural terminology here). being an atheist is NOT about proving that we too can “jine up and have a singin, shoutin, feel good ho down jess like them xtians” or something like that.i love this blog b/c i run across atheists of all stripes. libertardians, conservatives, people who were raised in a religious tradition and who had a long, slow path to atheism. i even run across snotty agnostics who look down on us and call us “just another religion,” for all that’s ignorant and illogical pish posh. i love diversity, that’s my thing. for other atheists, compassion and community fill that slot. yeah, diversity!but what i will not be is guilted into the belief that atheism = “humanism,” which increasingly, sounds more and more like a new religious tradition more than a form of real atheism. there are no “commandments” in atheism. there is no organization, no club membership or demonstration of loyalty to creed required. if you want to teach your younglings these humanist values, great! but separate them from the “atheist cause,” which itself is a ridiculous construction. the only “cause” atheists have is to enjoy the same freedom of expression on the topic of religion as believers, and the same protections such expressions enjoy for them, but not yet for us. 

  • Taxihorn

    I’m struck by how weird it seems to have a graceful life philosophy for atheists prescribed in a format that mirrors religious moral teaching.  In calling these “commandments” and invoking the name of Darwin, this set of promises really seem like a juvenile and cliche attempt to cross the religious/non-religious divide, by resorting to condescension toward both children and the religious. I suppose atheists can seem so inexplicable and alien to some that it might be necessary to present the possibility of moral atheists in a medium familiar to the religious (it really does look like material from a Sunday-school exercise book), but I’d rather be optimistic.

  • Arkieatheist

    Chicago dyke:  Well said!!!   I too am fed up with tieing atheism to things to which it has no connection.   The so-called atheist organizations or groups I have checked out seem to think that they must be a polar opposite of Fundamentalists of any creed with regard to politics and social issues.  I have repeatedly noted people telling those groups or organizations something similar to  what you have said, only to be ignored.  Their membership would probably increase significantly  if they did as you said, and dropped the “atheist cause” bit.

  • Willy Occam

     I’m with you, sister!  I hate it when atheism gets all tied up with this touchy-feely, quasi-religious crap. 

  • Santiago

    Darwin the dog would be so not proud of me. :(

  • Miriam Mogilevsky

    Holy crap, there’s a lot of evangelical apathy in this thread.

    Want atheism to just mean no god? Fine. But plenty of us want to actually impart values to children in some way that doesn’t involve 1) religion, or 2) forcing them to read the works of European philosophers. Sorry. For me, atheism is my foundation for ethics. For you, it might not be. That’s fine.

  • Taxihorn

     Also, by making these promises into absolute statements (i.e., “I will always ____.”), you set up children for certain failure.  Studies in social psychology suggest that, however well-intentioned an intervention like this might be, people will be more likely to make conclusions about themselves in a negative light if they can’t live up to fixed expectations (e.g., “I guess I don’t have it in me to always tell the truth or always eat right. I should just give up while I’m ahead.”). Might I recommend rephrasing these not as all-or-nothings, not as commandments written in stone, but as incremental improvements that require practice. After all, there is no such thing as a fixed or instantaneous level of intelligence in any area; the children who receive praise for their efforts, rather than for an assumed innate ability, will ultimately fair better as adults.

    Improve your mind: be curious, ask questions, doubt. Improve your body: eat healthy, excercise, sleep, practice hygiene. Improve your social connections: take responsibility, befriend and help others. Improve your environment: make places healthy and safe for yourself and others.

    By presenting a graceful life philosophy in this manner, even the smallest improvement can seem like an accomplishment worthy of praise, and the goals of those who designed this “Darwin the Dog” intervention become feasible for us all-to-human humans.

  • John

    Aaaaaaand let the angry, over-anylitical comments begin! (that’s what we do best)

  • Anna

    I don’t see anything wrong with the  rules, at least taken broadly. But they’re certainly not unique to atheists. Every child in America who spends time in secular environments (public school, sports teams, day camp, etc.) is exposed to the same form of humanism.

  • C Peterson

    Nice. Finally some actual humanist ideals, separated from the atheist baggage. This is what the AHA should be doing.

  • C Peterson

    Atheism in not the foundation of your ethics, or anybody else’s. If you tell yourself that, you have no idea what atheism even is. Telling anybody that is a mistake.

    Your atheism derives from your inherent rationality, and possibly from your ethical system. Don’t confuse cause and effect.

    Atheism does mean not believing in a god, and that’s all it means.

  • C Peterson

    Of course they’re not unique to atheists. Why should they be… this has nothing to do with atheism. These are humanist ideals, being presented by a humanist organization. You don’t need to be an atheist to be a humanist!

  • Miriam Mogilevsky

    I know what atheism is just fine, thank you. Just because I happen not to agree with you on what it is doesn’t mean I’m wrong and you’re right.

  • C Peterson

    No, you apparently don’t know what atheism is. You are factually wrong in this case. You might as well call yourself a Christian- that would be more accurate, since Christianity represents and actual affirmative view, and can therefore inform a person’s ethics.

    To say your ethics derive from atheism makes as much sense as saying they derive from your lack of belief in Santa Clause. No sense at all.

  • Katyusha

    Ummm yeah, so, that’s pretty ridiculous. Atheism means different things to different people. Atheism encompasses the circumstances under which one left religion as well, which is HUGELY subjective and almost inevitably influential to someone’s ethical and moral code, especially if they left said religion because they found the ethics of it to be upsetting/lacking/flat out wrong. 

    Also, the fact that you refuse to even slightly listen to her point of view, instead opting to throw childishly pithy sayings at her about Santa Clause (hi, r/atheism, how are you today?) shows just how dogmatic your own mind is. So, maybe you should stop acting like she’s so dogmatic because she has a broader view of what atheism means TO HER. TL;DR You’re condescending, dogmatic, and ridiculously fundamentalist in your atheist beliefs, so congrats on not being any better than a fundie Christian yourself. ‘Nite, douche.

  • C Peterson

    Wrong. You can’t just make a word mean whatever you want if you want to be understood.

  • Anna

    True, but the title of Hemant’s post is “The Seven Commandments for Children of Atheist Parents.” That seems to be conflating atheism and humanism, since the rules listed here have nothing to do with not believing in gods. Children of religious parents are exposed to secular humanism just like this all the time. I don’t think you would find many Christians, Jews, or Muslims who would have a problem with their children’s public school displaying these rules on the wall.

  • C Peterson

    Unfortunately, the headlines to posts in this forum frequently misrepresent the content beneath them.

    These are ideals of humanism, not just secular humanism, which is why few will find objection with them, regardless of whether they are atheists or not.

  • Hanna

    Wow, people are going crazy with these comments. As you might see on the dog’s collar, there is a humanist symbol. This website was made by the Humanist Society, which means it promotes humanist values. It is not just an atheist site. Relax people.

  • Deven Kale

    The problem here is that words have meanings, and the meaning of atheist really is just “don’t believe in gods.” I’m sorry, but it’s just what the word means.

    And as C Peterson said, it’s possible that a person’s morality can lead them to their atheism, but not for someone’s atheism to inform their morality. Morality comes from positive beliefs: things that people actually believe in. Atheism is a negative belief, something a person doesn’t believe in (gods). His statement about Santa Claus may have been condescending, but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

  • wmdkitty

    Number 7 should be moved up to slot 1, as it (self-care) is the most important.

  • wmdkitty

    Honestly, I think the values listed above are not “humanist”. I think they are universal, but some people have forgotten them, especially the “Be Nice” one (something I have, and most likely will continue to struggle with.)

  • wmdkitty

    How about “I will strive to”, instead of “I will always”? It encourages the positive action/attitude, while acknowledging that everybody is going to slip up at times.

  • M.I.Mejia

    C.Peterson* is either troll (Ok! You’re a dick, its funny for the first comment; Do you even know how to stop?), english teacher, or jerked up basement feind. 

    *baite for the trolllllllll

  • Dalles80

    i love the contradiction in the 4th and 5th commandments.

    oh, and thinking for yourself isn’t really an option since all information you have is given to you through school, parents, friends and books – all with their own way of thinking and interpretation.

  • Taxihorn

    That works, too! Anything that encourages a personal narrative of effort and continued growth sounds good to me. I think I’m particularly drawn to “I will strive to” because it sounds so much more effortful than more weaker versions like “I will try to”.

  • Jeff , UK

    That’s probably why ‘Always think for myself’ comes before ‘Always tell the truth’ :)

  • Willy Occam

     I also like the irony of No. 3 in context:  Think for yourself… NOW FOLLOW THESE SEVEN RULES!  ;-)

  • Willy Occam

    C.Peterson is definitely *not* a troll. S/he is a regular contributor to this forum, and while occasionally rankling others by calling bullshit where s/he sees it, I believe the comments are generally constructive and/or thought-provoking. Not everybody who expresses strong opinions that go against the tide is a troll!

  • Ibis3

    Blech. “Be nice because it’s the right thing to do”? Even when people are treating you unfairly? Or molesting you? Or bullying you? Or beating you?

    I’m really uncomfortable with these pronouncements, even if they weren’t being put in the mouth of “Darwin” and called commandments.

  • C Peterson

    There was absolutely no intent to be condescending in using Santa Claus as an example. It’s a useful tool in understanding our ideas, since in almost all cases it is possible to substitute “Santa Claus” for “God” and test if the idea still holds together. I wasn’t remotely suggesting that Miriam might believe in Santa Claus, only that if you believe your ethics derive in part from atheism, you should be comfortable with the idea that they could derive equally well from a lack of belief in Santa Claus.

  • C Peterson

    Your point is a very good one. In general, however, I’d not restrict it to just the question of lying. Most humanists accept that no guidelines for behavior and morality can be absolute- we can always construct ethical dilemmas or particular situations where a “rule” needs to be broken.

    That said, such exceptions are analyzed by more complex analysis than we normally expect of young children. With maturity and life experience, we hope that children will grow into a rich understanding of humanism. But I’m not sure how to write “most of the time” into a list of behavioral guidelines intended for children.

  • Foible

    I’m glad that the humanists are pushing a “good without god” message but I’d rather see it done with cartoon people rather than anthropomorphized  animals.    They’re trying to teach human values there, aren’t they?  Then use humans.

    On other pages from that site you’ve got the fake dog calling out fake stories in religious books.   I think this message would be clearer if humans were doing the explaining.

  • CultOfReason

    I don’t think Robert Fulghum is an atheist, but he had some fun rules to live by…

    1. Share everything.
    2. Play fair.
    3. Don’t hit people.
    4. Put thngs back where you found them.
    6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
    7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
    8. Wash your hands before you eat.
    9. Flush.
    10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
    Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and
    paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
    12. Take a nap every afternoon.
    13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
    Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup:
    The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or
    why, but we are all like that.
    15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
    16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first workd you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

    Robert Fulghum,

    All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten 

  • C Peterson

    They are both humanist and universal (or nearly universal). That’s because, fundamentally, humanism is simply about recognizing those ethical beliefs that are, and always have been, widely shared.

  • Bryan

     So you think the lack of a belief in god does NOT inform your ethics? Your moral beliefs and worldview didn’t change one iota when you decided there wasn’t a god (assuming you were religious beforehand, like I was)?

    I personally find that silly. Yes, “atheist” DOES mean “someone who does not believe in god(s)”. But that belief (or lack thereof) has implications for how you live your life. You probably don’t see going to church as a “moral” thing to do. You’d probably have the opposite position if you believed in god(s). So while atheism ITSELF isn’t an ethical position, it still informs and influences the moral positions you DO hold.

  • Bryan

     Oh yeah, and my “lack of belief in Santa Claus” does influence some of my ethics. I believe it’s wrong to waste good cookies and milk on an empty living room. :)

  • C Peterson

    Correct. I don’t believe my moral beliefs derive at all from my lack of belief in a god. (However, I never believed in any gods, and never had any religious indoctrination.)

    I’d welcome an example of a moral belief that stems from atheism, but can’t think of any, and haven’t seen any suggested. It appears to me that both atheism and a particular set of ethical views that is commonly- but far from universally- found in atheists stem from the same source, which is a rational, reflective way of thinking. But that isn’t the same as saying that atheism is responsible for any of those ethical stances.

  • i will let you know

    Yea nice is not in my blood..what’s mine is mine!! share,yeaaa nahhh i can’t do that either..i love my cigs,coffee and raising hell to much,i cringed and snarled at that list!!

  • Deven Kale

     Hey, you don’t have to tell me. I was defending you. I understood your point from the start.

  • Deven Kale

     It’s not surprising that a persons morals/ethics would change when deconverting. Like I said before, a persons morals/ethics come from positive beliefs. When deconverting, you realize that those old Christian* beliefs no longer have any truth value, and your morality changes to accommodate that new lack. So it’s not becoming an atheist that informs your morality, it’s that your Christianity* no longer does.

    *Christianity assumed. Obviously, it could have been something else.

  • Thegoodman

    I find it almost hilarious that anyone has a problem with these things as advice for a child.

    Many of you seem to be drinking a little too much of the #5 Koolaid and not enough of the #4. They should be consumed in equal doses.

    I love the atheist community because of how well read we/they are into philosophy. I also get annoyed with the atheist community because so many well read amateur philosophers seems to enjoy splitting hairs.

    These commandments are 50k foot life lessons for young children. If you read into them as being anything beyond this the problems with the list are yours, no one else’s.

  • C Peterson

    Thanks, I understand that. I just felt it was important to be absolutely clear that nothing in my comments was intended as condescending, mean spirited, or anything of the sort. It was an honest statement of opinion.

  • Foster

    That’s actually quite debatable, DK.  Many encyclopedias of philosophy define it as the active denial of the existence of any God or gods, rather than the lack of belief in Him or them.  And this makes sense.  My toaster is atheist by your methodology, since it lacks belief in any gods. Even a toaster that had “Jesus is Lord of my Breakfast Table” written on its side would be an atheist toaster, technically speaking by your terms, which is somewhat counterintuitive.  What Katyusha is saying has a good deal of merit: we need to define our terms more carefully rather than berate others who have different views on this point if we want to communicate.  

  • Foster

    More important than care for the world, and honesty?  I’ll take an honest person with cavities over a shameless liar with perfect hygiene any day.

  • wmdkitty

    I said nothing about hygiene.

    If I do not take care of myself — eating properly, taking my meds, getting enough sleep, etc — I CAN NOT take care of others. Therefore, making sure that I am in the best shape I can be (physically, mentally, emotionally) also ensures that I am capable of caring for and helping others.

  • Deven Kale

     It’s fairly obvious that #7 is about more than proper dental care, and I’m sure even Foster would notice that. He’s just trolling you, trying to get your goat. Don’t give him the satisfaction.

  • Deven Kale

    Whether it’s an active denial of gods or a passive disbelief in them, it’s still a negative belief: something we don’t believe. I have an active disbelief in Santa Claus and unicorns. Those still don’t inform my morality any more than my disbelief in gods.

    Claiming disbelief informs morality implies that a certain negative belief predicts a certain moral ideal. So, is it my disbelief in Santa Claus that makes me think homosexuality is okay, or is it my disbelief in Unicorns? Maybe some other disbelief that I haven’t even mentioned? Is it your disbelief in Cthulhu that makes you think trolling is okay?

    Personally I don’t think any of those negative beliefs inform any of those moral ideals. It’s my positive belief that homosexuality is inborn that tells me it’s okay. It’s your positive belief that your god only endorses heterosexual relationships that tells you it’s not okay. It’s your positive belief that the feelings of atheists are less important than having fun which makes you think trolling them is okay.

    It’s positive beliefs that inform our morality. Since atheism is a negative belief it cannot inform our morality, regardless of whether it’s passive or active. Claiming that it does can be excused if you haven’t really thought about it, but with you that’s obviously not the case. With you, it’s being willfully ignorant, or deliberately deceptive.

  • C Peterson

    It’s incredibly rare to find an atheist who makes an active denial of all gods, absolutely. Most atheists are skeptics, which means they are open to the possibility they are wrong.

    I don’t believe in any gods. In most cases, I’m comfortable stating that actively: I believe, beyond reasonable doubt, that no gods exist. Another active assertion: I believe, beyond reasonable doubt, that General Relativity accurately describes gravity. I am willing to make those statements because the evidence overwhelmingly supports them. They have risen to the level that we can essentially treat as factual. But neither are provable. Either might be proven wrong tomorrow. I very much doubt that will happen, but I’m open to the possibility.

    Atheism for me, and atheism for nearly all atheists, remains the simple lack of belief in any gods. No matter how likely they are to hold the opinion there are no gods, they accept the possibility they are wrong. How many theists can say that?

  • Deven Kale

    I really like changing “promise” to “will strive.” Actually, I’d like to print these out for my 5yr old son with “will strive” on them. Any graphic artists recognize the font so it won’t be an obvious fudge?

  • Ned Ludd

     Quite right, and as  atheist Dr. House says, “Everyone lies.” I would add that everyone lies everyday. Sometimes big, more often small white lies.

    BTW, there are at least two popular televisions that feature an atheist as the hero: the aforementioned Dr. House and Bones. They are among my favorite watching. Maybe Homer Simpson is too.

  • wmdkitty

    Excellent shows, all.

  • ReadsInTrees

    Rule #1: The Doctor lies. 

  • Courtney Coburn

    Many similarities to the Unitarian Universalist 7 Principles:
    1. We believe that each and every person is important.

    2. We believe that all people should be treated fairly and

    3. We believe that we should accept one another and keep on
    learning together.

    4. We believe that each person must be free to search for
    what is true and right in life.

    5. We believe that all persons should have a vote about the
    things that concern them.

    6. We believe in working for a peaceful, fair, and free

    7. We believe in caring for our planet Earth, the home we
    share with all living things.

  • Nightfly04

    people, re read number 1 and number 4….

  • Al Dunbar

    I agree with you and C Peterson. I think those on the other side of the argument may just be sensitive to the common misbelief that if there was no higher power of some kind, then there would be no reason for any kind of ethical belief system. That is a  leftover component of religious belief that, like the belief itself, some need to still get over.

  • Athenasbylisa

     I agree.  You need to use common sense.  I am 33 so I am old enough to make my own decisions and I recently went away with my boyfriend for the weekend.  My mom asked me what I did. We actually went to a fetish flea and he tied me up, stripped me naked, and flogged me in front of everyone.  I think that this was a good opportunity to lie to my mom.  I don’t think either one of us who be comfortable talking about the truth. I told her that we explored the town.  I think that I made the right decision.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    That’s awesome :)

  • Charity Campbell

    Everyone lies everyday? Even as an atheist I seriously beg to differ, but maybe you’re lying about that fact :P

  • Baal

     I don’t lie very often and have a reputation for never lying.  I actually go out of my way to state unbelievable things with a straight face so folks will get the idea that they need to consider what I say and not just assume I’m being truthful.    Regardless, not lying is more valuable than most folks will admit and not all cases of hurt feelings are valid.

  • Anna

    What about them? They’re the same rules you would see in any organized setting involving large numbers of children.

  • Deven Kale

     I see no problem here. #4 is a general rule to always consider the feelings of others in your actions. #1 is a more specific rule stating that being nice is a reward unto itself. There’s nothing wrong with a little overlap in your rules.

  • amycas

     Thank you. It needed to be said, and you did it well.

  • mints11

    For those with content blocked. Can someone tell me what does the images say?