What Should Non-Religious Parents Teach Their Children About Faith?

Katherine Ozment (herself a “none”) tackles the issue of how to raise kids without religion — but not without knowledge of it — in the latest issue of Boston Magazine:

My children have been inside a church only once in their lives. It was for a family wedding a couple of summers ago, and they were so irritable — the pews were too hard, there was nothing to do, the church was too hot — that I feared we’d be asked to leave. Horror stories of the unchurched child are everywhere, actually. A New York Times article not long ago detailed the etiquette classes now sweeping synagogues because teens were coming to bar and bat mitzvahs not knowing how to behave. A friend who tried taking her children to Catholic mass had to leave after 25 minutes because the kids were complaining that the incense was burning their eyes. “So we went to Dunkin’ Donuts,” she said, “and everyone was happier.”

Dale McGowan, the author of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion (2007), says one of the biggest downsides to not giving kids a religious upbringing is that they are then deprived of the religious literacy necessary to move comfortably in society. “Ninety percent of the world expresses itself or sees itself in religious terms, to one degree or another,” he told me over the phone. “If you don’t at least have an understanding of it, you’re going to be perpetually baffled, and that’s a very disempowering position to be in.”

It’s a personal look at a question a lot of parents are asking themselves these days: How can you teach your kids ethics and morals without all the nonsense churches surround it with? Ozment manages to find a variety of decent answers, any of which might be right for your family.

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.

  • Digital Liberty

    I “understand” it, and I’m still baffled.

  • http://twitter.com/tardis_blue Tardis_blue

    I kind of think the parents are just as unchurched as the children, if they can’t figure out how to entertain their children quietly in one spot for an hour. We went to a Catholic funeral this summer, and I brought Shrinky Dinks, and my son and I sat in the back row (specifically in case we needed to step out with minimal disruption) and colored together. His attention span was just about up when the service ended. People get that kids are wiggly and need distraction and that church services are BORING. Church people regularly take things to entertain their kids with during church services–unchurched people can, too!

  • Glasofruix

    As a kid i’ve never set foot in a church, never. And surprisingly i was well educated enough to not throw tantrums during boring events. It’s not a problem about kids not going to church and bathe in all that nonsense, they have parents to teach them how to behave, if the parents gave up on that role, shame on them.

    the biggest downsides to not giving kids a religious upbringing is that
    they are then deprived of the religious literacy necessary to move
    comfortably in society.

    This is idiotic as well. You don’t need to know religious bullshit to live in a civilized society. There are silly people doing silly rituals, that’s the only thing kids need to know.

    • http://twitter.com/tardis_blue Tardis_blue

      No, I don’t think so. Christian mythology suffuses our culture. People make jokes and references to it all the time. Movies, tv, books, personal interactions–if you don’t have at least a basic, working knowledge of Christian mythology, you’re gonna feel like you’re outside an in-joke on a regular basis. You can teach your kid this mythology without indoctrinating him/her. You do it in just the same way you teach about Greek mythology or Norse. Just read the kid stories and let them know they are just stories. Some of them are even pretty entertaining, just as the other myths are fun to read. We enjoyed myths and legends from all around the world, including Christian ones, and it was just all part of the backdrop. I did explain to my chitlin that there was a difference between the Christian myths and, say, the Greek ones in that many people still believe the Christian ones whereas people used to believe the Greek ones but mostly don’t anymore, and I did mention that fewer and fewer are believing in the Christian ones.
      When my son asked recently about Adam and Eve, he asked to have the actual bible story read to him, so I dragged out one of our several copies (yup…*sigh*) and read it to him. Couldn’t have been a better choice. The damned thing is gibberish. It’s repetitive AND contradictory and just silly. When I finished, he looked at me and said “People BELIEVE that??”
      Anyway, I am a firm believer in educating kids. The more they know, the less people will have to tell them, and the less influence they will have over them when the kids are making their own life decisions later on.

      • WoodyTanaka

        I think that the “need to know Christianity for cultural literacy” thing is very overrated. It is enough to have a basic knowledge of the subject, but nothing more. I don’t see that Christian mythology suffuses our culture, in general. I think there are small areas where it is very strongly infused, but most areas it is not there or only there a very little.

        • http://twitter.com/tardis_blue Tardis_blue

          Well, it probably depends on where you live. I do live in the Bible belt, so it may be worse here than where you live. However, when you are getting mainstream movies about Noah’s ark, just as an example, I’d say it’s pretty common.

          • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

            I think I first learned about Noah’s Ark through Disney’s Silly Symphony:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3mkimHFmo0

            That’s a good source! It familiarizes children with the myth, and no indoctrination is involved.

            • Gus Snarp

              Wow, I never saw that one. Interesting. So far I have learned that Noah = Santa Claus, he didn’t actually build the ark, he just made the plans and ordered his sons, their wives, and the animals to build it, and the wives are so unimportant they don’t have their own names.

              So still a better message than the Bible.

              • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                Heh, Disney cartoons are a good way to become familiar with Christian mythology. They’re also how I first learned about angels and devils. Of course, I didn’t know people thought they were real things, but it certainly made me familiar with them. My brother and I even dressed as a devil and angel for Halloween when I was 6, LOL.

            • Gus Snarp

              I plan to teach New Testament literacy through Jesus Christ, Super Star and The Life of Brian.

          • MonyNH

            I think, too, that it helps to have a basic understanding of Biblical mythology if you want to study, or have a deep appreciation of music, art, and literature.

            Questions of religion come up most often in our house, funny enough, when we’re listening to the news.

        • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

          It’s also not that difficult! People can read a book to learn about Christianity. They don’t need to have been exposed to it in early childhood. And realistically, what’s the problem if an eight-year-old isn’t familiar with Adam and Eve or Noah’s Ark? There’s plenty of time to learn about it later. No one’s going to make it to adulthood without hearing those myths.

        • starskeptic

          This from the person who feels a need to eradicate this ‘non-suffusing’ mythology from the public square…

          • WoodyTanaka

            nope. I believe that the secular government has the obligation to follow the law.

            • starskeptic

              That was a comment on your hypocrisy – not the obligations of government.

              • WoodyTanaka

                Along with all of your other problems, here you go and demonstrate that you need to go learn what the word “hypocrisy” means.

                • starskeptic

                  I forget – using big words throws you.

        • MelissaLitwin

          I actually disagree that you don’t need to know Christianity for cultural literacy. Oh, you don’t need it for just navigating through basic society, but for understanding literature it’s crucial.

          I know I missed a lot when analyzing books in my high school lit classes, because my teachers kept bringing up Christianity-related elements of the stories that had just whooshed over my head. The authors were steeped in Christian ideas of sacrifice, suffering, and redemption. Without having some idea of that cultural background, the stories make a whole lot less sense.

          • starskeptic

            Absolutely – there’s background that serves as cultural framework – even if just to understand ‘why’ we act and believe as we do; not having that is like being a chair with a missing leg.

            • baal

              Nope. The US cultural framework is informed by christianity but you’re overstating the role of christianity in the culture. Enlightenment rationality is a big part and so are the various immigrant cultures as well as normative effects from TV shows!

              • starskeptic

                Yep – nothing to do with the role but the impact of Christianity.

          • WoodyTanaka

            I think you are vastly overstating what is necessary. Certainly there are references to Christian themes in literature, but less so as time goes on, and, frankly, in my experience, the depth of knowledge which is necessary is not very deep at all. A basic primer on the religion, along with basic information about other religions such as Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., is almost all that is necessary. Moreover, someone who studies Christian themes to the detriment of other themes and other things, will likely miss as much, if not more, when studying literature. Can one who is ignorant of Moby Dick but conversant with bible stories, for example, relate to literature about obsession as well as one who is not so ignorant?

      • gg

        Tardis, that is EXACTLY what my parents did with me, and I did the same with my children. I will do the same with my grandchildren if/when they ask me.

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      It’s the same with any long, boring event. You can teach children to be quiet and respectful even if they don’t like or understand what’s going on. And if a child isn’t old enough to sit quietly for an hour, he or she certainly isn’t old enough to comprehend the rituals.

      And bear in mind, children don’t gain religious literacy merely from sitting through rituals. In a typical church service, children will hear people saying that a certain god is real, they will see people praying, and they will hear people read from a holy book. But they’re not going to get a basic understanding of what’s going on. They’re not going to learn about the history of the religion. No one’s going to explain anything to them. You’d have to read a book or watch a documentary for that type of knowledge.

    • AxeGrrl

      There are silly people doing silly rituals, that’s the only thing kids need to know

      This is an extremely immature and short-sighted attitude to have, imo.

      Dismissing an entire group of people so glibly (and insultingly) is what I’ve come to expect from fundamentalist religious people, not atheists.

      And there’s nothing “idiotic” about wanting your child to be well-informed and knowledgeable about human culture, which, yes, includes the religious.

      • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

        Yes, I agree. I think it would be a mistake to dismiss the rituals as “silly.” For me, I think the emphasis would be on explaining the rituals, and perhaps asking what the child thought about the rituals and what they symbolized, whether they were good or bad, whether they were based on something real or imaginary, etc.

  • WoodyTanaka

    “How can you teach your kids ethics and morals without all the nonsense churches surround it with?”

    By teaching ethics and morals. It’s really quite simple. These subjects have nothing to do with religion and are hindered by religion in many ways.

    • Barbara

      A thousand times, yes! Religion centers on obedience to a deity. Any guidance it may offer is simply an offshoot of what society had already deemed morally acceptable. I don’t understand why so many people still falsely assume religion = higher morals. Examine it closely and the evidence is lacking.

      • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

        I’d love to see a concerted effort by the atheist movement to get people to question the basic assumption that faith=good. If we can get that message across to parents who are on the fence, it might make them feel more confident about leaving their children “unchurched.”

        Right now, 99% of American society believes that Sunday School is a good thing. Even if people don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, they still believe it’s beneficial to children. If we push back against that, it might help. The “Please don’t indoctrinate me” billboard from last year was a good start, but I’d love to see more like it.

    • starskeptic

      “teaching ethics and morals” doesn’t begin to address replacing the structure and community that many find in religion; so it’s not simple at all.

      • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

        It is simple if you can get people to stop raising their children in churches. Then they won’t feel like they’re missing something by living a secular life.

        • starskeptic

          read my comment again…

          • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

            You mentioned structure and community. Structure and community can be found outside of religion. I have the good fortune to live in an area where there is no “church culture.” People are not expected to attend church, and they are free to find community and structure from secular sources.

            My point is that people do not miss the structure and community of church unless they have been taught that they are missing something by not getting those things from a church. The solution to that is to make church “uncool,” something very few people do, something that’s seen as irrelevant and unnecessary.

            • starskeptic

              Never said that structure and community can’t be found outside of religion; many folks do and miss it – and it takes a lot of effort to find what was provided to you so effortlessly.

              • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                Well, that’s part of the problem. Getting people to stop missing it entails convincing people not to involve themselves in it in the first place. It’s too late for those who were raised in it, but it’s not too late for their children. And I hope it’s not too late for American society at large. Maybe someday, eventually, we can become like the European countries where attending church is seen as an oddity, something that is done by a tiny minority. Breaking the cycle has to start somewhere.

                • starskeptic

                  I agree – but you’re missing my point; you can’t just convince them – that structure and feeling of belonging to community has to be replaced by something secular…what and how?

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  We do it by making the larger culture secular. By making it so that atheist parents don’t have to worry that if they join a community group, they’ll encounter religion. Parents’ groups and playgroups need to be secular so that atheists feel welcome and can form meaningful relationships in a safe, dogma-free environment.

                  Church isn’t something that has to be “replaced.” It’s only people brought up in religion who seem to feel that way. It all starts with breaking the cycle. It may be hard for the first generation. They might feel like they’re missing something, but once they get over that hump, it should be smooth sailing for future generations.

                  We need to encourage secularization. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, especially in places like the Bible Belt. But it is possible. As I mentioned, I live in an area where it’s common, so I know it’s not some kind of pipe dream. I’ve spent my entire life in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I can assure everyone that secular community is absolutely possible in America. Not only possible, it’s alive and well, and thriving!

                • starskeptic

                  No, no, and no.
                  The question posed by this post (and the linked article) “What Should Non-Religious Parents Teach Their Children About Faith?” is not answered by any of this.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Uh, you seem to be changing the subject a little, but if you’re going back to the original article, I already mentioned how I thought parents should handle teaching children about faith. Give them access to accurate, objective information. If your children are old enough to read, give them books.

                  Provide them with books about comparative religion:

                  http://www.amazon.com/Comparative-Religion-for-Young-Readers/lm/R3A83KM5OB37Q

                  Provide them with books about creation myths:

                  http://www.amazon.com/gp/community-content-search/results?ie=UTF8&flatten=1&query=creation%20myths%20for%20young%20readers&search-alias=rp-listmania

                  Provide them with books about different gods and goddesses:

                  http://www.amazon.com/Gods-and-Goddesses-Picture-Books-for-Young-Readers/lm/RFAITQ76RNBE0/ref=cm_srch_res_rpli_alt_1

                  Provide them with books about skepticism:

                  http://www.amazon.com/Best-Books-for-Young-Skeptics/lm/P7DK3U4TJND7/ref=cm_srch_res_rpli_alt_1

                  But don’t bring your very young children to places where adults seek to indoctrinate them and tell them that supernatural things are real. It’s okay if your child is in elementary school and hasn’t heard some of the myths yet. There are lots of things an elementary school child hasn’t learned about, and there’s plenty of time to learn about them later. You don’t want them to learn about those myths in a biased or frightening way.

                • starskeptic

                  No, not changing it at all. And to complete the circle – none of what I’ve pointed out here is addressed. You’ve answered the question “What Should Non-Religious Parents Teach Their Children About Faith?” with “Don’t have faith” – that’s not an answer…

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Well, now I’m totally confused. I addressed both of your objections. Provide your children with secular structure and community and provide them with accurate, objective information about religion. That’s how my parents handled it, and that’s how I’ll handle it with my own children. What else is there to do?

                  I never said to tell them “don’t have faith.” I said to empower them to make up their own minds. Empowering them means giving them accurate, unbiased information at a level they’re able to understand, presented in a non-threatening way.

                • starskeptic

                  “Provide your children with secular structure and community and provide them with accurate, objective information about religion.”
                  - wonderful answer – couldn’t have said it better,
                  yet where is this “secular structure and community”?
                  “provide them with accurate, objective information about religion.”
                  That’s just a starting point – and it certainly doesn’t mean they then won’t have to ever wrestle with questions of faith.
                  My question to you remains “that structure and feeling of belonging to community has to be replaced by something secular…what and how?” It isn’t just because of religion that we have those needs – whether you think that’s true or not.

                  All your replies suggest a mindset that sees the problem of religion as simply replacing religion with something else. You didn’t say “don’t have faith.” – but that’s what your solutions imply. Just get rid of faith; I am simply saying that the situation is more complicated than that. While you’re ‘empowering’ children (and I guess keeping them in an incubator until they’re adults) – how are you helping them deal with an outside world in which faith is a big part?

                  That’s what that article is all about – skimmed or not…

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Where is the secular structure and community? Anywhere children gather. First and foremost, there is public school. School is perhaps the most important community for young children. It’s where they spend most of their time and find most of their friendships. Elementary school (if the teachers are obeying the law) provides a secular community where children learn important moral lessons along with the usual reading, writing, and arithmetic.

                  Then there are communities that can be found outside of school. Every city has a recreation center, funded by the government, and all of those recreation centers provide classes for young children. My brother and I spent many, many hours at various activities there, and it was a thoroughly secular environment. Even in the Bible Belt, I can’t imagine that the local rec center’s arts and crafts class is going to involve Jesus.

                  And of course there are other voluntary secular organizations that children can join, many of them long term commitments that allow children to form lasting friendships outside of school. Little League. AYSO Soccer. Girl Scouts. I would have included Boy Scouts, but sadly they’ve joined the anti-atheist bandwagon. Parents of sons can try Campfire Boys and Girls or 4-H as an alternative.

                  I can give you examples from my childhood: school, gymnastics, ice skating, sewing, acting, drama, art, soccer, swimming, roller skating, day camp, sleepaway camp, none of which involved even the faintest hint of religion.

                  That’s just a starting point – and it certainly doesn’t mean they then won’t have to ever wrestle with questions of faith.

                  Wrestle with questions of faith? Well, that’s 100% outside of my experience. I’ve always been an atheist. When I was young, I did not know anything about religion, but as I grew up, read, watched, and learned, I formed my own opinions. I’m confused what you think children will need to wrestle with. Raise your children to be confident, make sure they have good self esteem, and try to encourage critical thinking. That will (hopefully) ensure that they are not easy prey for the religious people who will try to convert them.

                  My question to you remains “that structure and feeling of belonging to community has to be replaced by something secular…what and how?” It isn’t just because of religion that we have those needs – whether you think that’s true or not.

                  Most people need community, but you replace religious community with secular community. I already explained what and how. What=secular groups, how=start campaigns to tell people that religious communities are not good, that they’re actually manipulative and harmful, and that it’s “uncool” to put children in an environment where they will be indoctrinated. I didn’t say it was going to be easy, but you have to start somewhere, or things will never change.

                  All your replies suggest a mindset that sees the problem of religion as simply replacing religion with something else. You didn’t say “don’t have faith.” – but that’s what your solutions imply. Just get rid of faith; I am simply saying that the situation is more complicated than that. While you’re ‘empowering’ children (and I guess keeping them in an incubator until they’re adults) – how are you helping them deal with an outside world in which faith is a big part?

                  I’m baffled why you think providing children with accurate, objective information is “keeping them in an incubator until they’re adults.” I’m not trying to keep children from being exposed to religion. I’m trying to make sure that the exposure they do get is not biased in favor of supernatural, and that it’s not emotionally manipulative and harmful. No one said anything about trying to keep children from learning about religion. There’s a time and a place for that, as I said.
                  As for dealing with the outside world, why do you think it is so hard? I’m a lifelong atheist. I was exposed to religion as a child. I read books about it. I heard that some people were Jewish, and others were Catholic. It wasn’t a big deal. Heck, I even went to Mormon camp when I was 14, with a friend, and Baptist camp when I was 15, with another friend. I dealt with it just fine. By that point, I was able to critically examine what people were telling me. It wasn’t emotionally difficult. I didn’t have to “wrestle” with anything. It was an interesting cultural experience. That kind of cultural experience is fine for a child to have as long as he or she is old enough to understand it.

                • starskeptic

                  “Anywhere children gather.”

                  Seriously?

                  That’s neither structure nor community in itself. That’s a Paul Ryan answer – ‘how do we build community? – by having communities.’
                  “Most people need community, but you replace religious community with secular community. I already explained what and how.” – no you didn’t – and I’m still waiting for that answer.
                  All of the things you listed are also available to people of faith – there’s nothing unique about them. But having an identity that is commensurate with a religious identity and community is something that non-believers do not have and that’s what many secular parents want their children to understand if not experience themselves.

                  A Catholic can walk into any Catholic church – anywhere in the world, even if they don’t know the language…and feel right at home and know exactly what’s going on and what’s expected of them. What do secular people have to turn to that even approaches that level of community? *Hint* it’s not any of those things you listed.

                  “Wrestle with questions of faith? Well, that’s 100% outside of my experience.” – not a single person in your life believes in some kind of god or higher power? I find that hard to believe. It’s naive to think that, because you didn’t have to “wrestle” with anything’ means your kids or anyone else in your life won’t.
                  How do we build secular communities?
                  If your answer is “by building secular communities”, I’m done.

                • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

                  You seem completely unable to conceive of any sort of community existing that doesn’t look exactly like a church.

                • starskeptic

                  You completely missed my point too – but inadvertently underlined issues that are very much at the heart of what secular parents ‘wrestle’ with: how much of anything positive from one’s religious experience should one share with their children? Do secular organizations need to take cues from churches in order to address the need for structure and community – or avoid anything resembling them?

                  I think my original statement (the one Anna took issue with) stands:
                  ["teaching ethics and morals" doesn't begin to address replacing the structure and community that many find in religion; so it's not simple at all.]

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Yes, seriously! School is a community, without a doubt the most vital community for a child. But anywhere children gather for long periods of time is a community. I’m confused why you don’t seem to think that they are communities.

                  I explained how to build secular community for children. If you want a concrete example, then here’s one: Start a day camp that operates during summer vacation and school holidays. Make sure it’s secular. Advertise to all the local children. Children will come. Many will come more than once, summer after summer, holiday after holiday. They will form friendships. They will sing special camp songs.They will perform special camp rituals.

                  This isn’t that hard! I attended such a camp, for three or four summers in a row, in elementary school. It was a sports camp, but we also watched movies, did arts and crafts, had special lectures and presentations in the gym, won awards, and did lots of fun stuff. This was a thoroughly secular community, and it’s easily available to any parent who wishes it. There are such camps all across the country. If secular camps of this nature are lacking in the Bible Belt, then start one!

                  As for identity, you seem to believe there is some value in religious identity. I do not. The phrase “I am Catholic” is not a good thing. It doesn’t refer to anything good. There’s nothing about being Catholic that will help a child down the road of life. On the contrary, it will teach them negative values. Why are you hung up on labeling people? A child doesn’t need a label. It would be a better world if all labels (gay, straight, atheist, etc.) were not used very often because there was no reason to segregate people according to race, religion, or sexual orientation.

                  A Catholic can walk into any Catholic church – anywhere in the world, even if they don’t know the language…and feel right at home and know exactly what’s going on and what’s expected of them. What do secular people have to turn to that even approaches that level of community? *Hint* it’s not any of those things you listed.

                  So what? I’m not seeing the value in that. Why is “that level of community” a good thing? It’s not based on anything real. The only reason it exists is because those poor children were indoctrinated to believe that Catholic rituals are important. Not only are they not important, the things they promote don’t even exist.

                  Wrestle with questions of faith? Well, that’s 100% outside of my experience.” – not a single person in your life believes in some kind of god or higher power? I find that hard to believe. It’s naive to think that, because you didn’t have to “wrestle” with anything’ means your kids or anyone else in your life won’t.

                  Of course they do, but it’s nothing I have to “wrestle” with. Your terminology implies some sort of struggle. Why should it be a struggle to understand that some people believe in the supernatural? A child might be confused why they would believe it, but it does not have to be emotionally disturbing. I knew that religion existed, and that some people followed it. Took me a while to understand that a lot of them took it seriously, but I was aware it existed. And… so what? It didn’t bother me. Should it have bothered me? Why should it have bothered me that some of my friends came from Jewish, Catholic, or Hindu families?

                • starskeptic

                  Yes, seriously! School is a community, without a doubt
                  the most vital community for a child. But anywhere children gather for long periods of time is a community. I’m confused why you don’t seem to think that they are communities.

                  Your athleticism at jumping to conclusion is Olympian in quality!
                  I Never said school isn’t a community! I said it isn’t unique to secular people.
                  You stated “Anywhere children gather.” as if simply grouping kids together means that that makes a community – it doesn’t.

                  Congratulations! Your second paragraph is something new! An actual answer to my question! It still doesn’t address Katherine Ozment’s article. And it pales in contrast to religious communities – but it’s a good start!

                  As for identity, you seem to believe there is some value in religious identity. I do not. The phrase “I am Catholic” is not a good thing.

                  Another gold medal for the long jump!

                  I believe there is some value in religious experience -literary, historical, etc. I think the phrase “I am Catholic” is a real thing used by real people that we have to interact with. Refusing to acknowledge that is saying that the only experience that matters is your own – oops – but that sounds self-absorbed, doesn’t it?

                  There’s nothing about being Catholic that will help a child down the road of life.

                  Not only is that blatantly false because it’s stated as an absolute – You can’t possibly know that – especially being raised as an Atheist.

                  So what? I’m not seeing the value in that. Why is “that level of community” a good thing? It’s not based on anything real. The only reason it exists is because those poor children were indoctrinated to believe that Catholic rituals are important. Not only are they not important, the things they promote don’t even exist.

                  I’ll rephrase that:

                  “sorry – your providing housing to the homeless, life skills training, food banks and all the community outreach you do is meaningless because you’re Catholic. Matter of fact, it isn’t real because I, personally can’t see value in it.” (I think that gets me a bronze medal)

                  Of course they do, but it’s nothing I have to “wrestle” with.

                  Obviously – because the only person who matters in your little universe is you. Everything you wrote in your last paragraph is all about you – when the issue I raised there was about how it applies to others in your life. I take it back – bethelj’s pronouncement of “arrogant” seems to fit better.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Why does it need to be unique to secular people? You were asking about secular community, not atheist community. IMO, there is no need for a specific atheist community as long as atheists are able to live their lives free from religious harassment.

                  I want my kids to find community with all different types of children, not just children of atheist parents. It sounds like you’re one of those Greg Epstein, Alain de Botton types, who want atheist communities to replicate churches. Sorry, but I’m not taking my kids to an “atheist temple.” I think “church culture” is a huge part of the problem in the United States, especially in places like the Bible Belt. I would rather atheist organizations spend their time, money, and energy fighting against church culture, not mimicking it.

                  You stated “Anywhere children gather.” as if simply grouping kids together means that that makes a community – it doesn’t.

                  Anywhere children gather can be a community, just like I said. And I further specified for long periods of time. You accuse me of ignoring things, but I listed multiple examples of long-term secular communities for children, and you have ignored all of them.

                  Or, you’ve said they “pale in contrast” to what the religious can offer. That’s just your opinion. My camp might not mean much to you, but it was great for me. There’s a lovely documentary called Camp Beaverbrook (not my camp, but a secular one) about a group of adults talking about the impact their summer camp had on their lives. Try to track it down; it’s worth watching. One woman credited the camp with saving her life. She came from an extremely dysfunctional family, and the weeks she spent at camp each year gave her a glimpse into a better kind of life.

                  There are also stories of people whose lives were changed radically by being immersed in a loving, caring school enviroment, with teachers who pushed them to succeed and provided them with a safe place away from home. Secular communities are important, and they can have a tremendous impact on children’s lives. Denigrating secular communities by saying they “pale in contrast” to religious ones is just plain wrong. Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, youth sports teams, etc. can all have a hugely positive impact.

                  Congratulations! Your second paragraph is something new! An actual answer to my question! It still doesn’t address Katherine Ozment’s article. And it pales in contrast to religious communities – but it’s a good start!

                  Why are you so condescending? I’ve tried to be polite in this discussion.

                  Another gold medal for the long jump! I believe there is some value in religious experience -literary, historical, etc. I think the phrase “I am Catholic” is a real thing used by real people that we have to interact with.

                  Yes, that’s your opinion. It’s not my opinion. I do not think there is any value in the phrase “I am Catholic.” The Catholic church is a vile, corrupt, homophobic, misogynistic organization. It might be a real thing, but it’s a bad real thing. The supernatural claims it makes are not real, and many of the lessons it teaches are very harmful, such as guilt, shame, fear of hell, fear of sin, etc.

                  There is value in learning about Catholicism. There is no value in teaching innocent children to identify as Catholic. One does not have to be Catholic to learn about the literature or the history associated with the Catholic church. As I mentioned elsewhere, like all people who grow up in California, I did a school report and project on the California Missions when I was in fourth grade. Every child will learn that without identifying as Catholic.

                  Refusing to acknowledge that is saying that the only experience that matters is your own – oops – but that sounds self-absorbed, doesn’t it?

                  I’m sorry, but I refuse to say there is is anything of value in teaching children to believe in false and immoral things. There may be some nice things associated with it, but the core of the belief system is rotten. And most of my family is liberal Catholic, so I’m not talking out of ignorance. I’ve seen the baptisms and First Communions. I know what they teach in CCD class.

                  Not only is that blatantly false because it’s stated as an absolute – You can’t possibly know that – especially being raised as an Atheist.

                  All right, so please tell me what about being Catholic will help a child down the road of life? Don’t you care about the awful prejudice such a child will be taught? Don’t you care about the terrible messages about gender and sexuality they will receive?

                  I’ll rephrase that: “sorry – your providing housing to the homeless, life skills training, food
                  banks and all the community outreach you do is meaningless because you’re Catholic. Matter of fact, it isn’t real because I, personally can’t see value in
                  it.” (I think that gets me a bronze medal)

                  Boy, you’re an expert at changing the subject! I was very clearly referring to the supernatural teachings and the rituals. Those are not based on anything real. Their god is not real. Their afterlife is not real. I did not say the charity work the individual members do is “meaningless,” although since you’re mentioning nice things like food banks, you ought not to forget that a lot of Catholic churches direct their time and money to bad things like anti-abortion activities.

                  Obviously – because the only person who matters in your little universe is you. Everything you wrote in your last paragraph is all about you – when the issue I raised there was about how it applies to others in your life. I take it back – bethelj’s pronouncement of “arrogant” seems to fit better.

                  What? You specifically asked me about how I related to religious people in my life, and then when I answered, you accuse me of being arrogant and self-absorbed? That takes the cake! Then you conveniently ignore that there are entire countries full of people (not just me) who don’t have to “wrestle” with questions of faith, and say I’m the one with the narrow focus.

                  There’s no reason for children raised in a healthy environment, taught good self-esteem, critical thinking skills, and kept away from poisonous attempts at indoctrination to “wrestle” with faith. How big a problem could this possibly be, if there are entire countries full of people who don’t suffer from it? I didn’t suffer from it, my brother didn’t suffer from it, my mom who never went to church or Sunday School (in the 40s!) didn’t suffer from it, etc.

                • starskeptic

                  The Catholic church is a vile, corrupt, homophobic,

                  misogynistic organization.

                  – Filled with a lot of people who are not vile, corrupt, homophobic, or misogynistic. But that doesn’t matter to you.

                  How big a problem could this possibly be, if there are entire countries full of people who don’t suffer from it?

                  what an absurd thing to say! You know nothing, Jon Snow!

                  I’m done – reason is wasted on you.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Argh, that’s exactly the point! You have nice, normal people being taught to identify with a vile, corrupt organization. That’s why the phrase “I am Catholic” has no positive value, because Catholic dogma is not a good thing. It’s all based on false supernatural claims and immoral teachings.

                  And you’re done with me because I said that there are countries full of people who don’t have to “wrestle” with faith. But it’s true! Not every country is like the American Bible Belt. Please, if you haven’t read it, try Society Without God by Phil Zuckerman. It’s all about life in Sweden and Denmark.

                  Oh, well, if you’re really done with me, points for the Game of Thrones reference, I guess.

                • bethelj

                  My public school experience was not one of vital community, not at all. Any situation where the mature adult to child ratio is so skewed is ripe for bullying, as mine was. I do not and will not send my kid to public school. I’ve talked to quite a few women who have agreed that school was pretty rough socially.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  I’m sorry about your experience. Not all public schools are places of vital community, just like not all private schools are. My boyfriend attended a Catholic elementary school. There were 35 kids to a class, and he and his sister were eventually pulled out of there due to bullying. Not just verbal harassment, but violence including punching, kicking, spitting, and pulling hair.

                  Anywhere children gather can be a community, but it takes work to make sure that it is a healthy and safe community for all. Bullying can happen in any setting where adults do not supervise the children properly and take active steps to reinforce that bullying is wrong. Bullying can also happen in religious environments, as my boyfriend’s experience shows, such as parochial schools, religious camps, Sunday school, youth groups, etc.

                  In some areas, private schools may be better (academically, socially) than public ones. The public schools are excellent in my city, but if they were not, then I would send my child to a private secular school. When choosing a school, bear in mind that not all private schools have a good teacher-student ratio. Public elementary schools where I am generally range from 20-25 students per class. Private schools vary; some are higher, some much lower.

                • bethelj

                  I agree that bullying can occur in all types of environments because humans are innately tribal and their interactions problematic. My son goes to a Catholic school. He has 13 other kids in his class. They take a firm stand on bullying and he has not had nearly the problems I had – so far. My public school was one of the “good ones.” I got a mediocre education at best and experienced girl-on-girl aggression and bullying at all the levels – elementary, middle, high.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  One of my parents is a teacher, so I’m pretty invested in public education, but I agree that all types of schools can do a good (or bad) job when it comes to bullying. There’s a lot more focus on it these days. The best schools take an active stand against it, with plenty of education for the children and zero tolerance for the type of things that many of us witnessed growing up.

                  I personally had a very happy time in elementary school, but I did come across harassment in middle school. There were good academics at all the schools I attended, but such things do vary quite a bit, depending especially on socio-economic levels. I was quite fortunate to grow up in a fairly wealthy suburb, so there’s a lot of attention paid to the local schools. It’s not the case in all places, and if I did live in a place with poor public schools, I would not hesitate to choose a secular private school.

                • bethelj

                  Both of my parents were public school teachers, my grandmother was too, and I taught too, at one point, in a Russian public school. I just really did not have a good experience. There were classes that were good; I had a handful of excellent teachers. But my band director was abusive and many others were just phoning it in. I got the same stuff over and over again. “Can you find the pronoun?” I didn’t really understand how to study or how much there was to know until I got to college. And I was in the advanced track!

                  Our local public schools have a very bad reputation, particularly for middle and up. Most people in our situation have left the city because the education choices are limited, but we don’t want to live in the suburbs.

                • bethelj

                  It’s arrogant to think that because you don’t need something or value something that that something is therefore valueless to everyone else. People who have never eaten chocolate do not consciously miss chocolate, but if they had it would they wish they’d never tried it? Religion offers meaning to many, many people, and not just meaning, but identity, a way of marking the passing of time and life milestones, soothing rituals, and a tailor-made multi-sensory experience. If I lose my faith in God does that mean I will never want to touch my rosary beads again? Or sing hymns or light candles in a context other than just lighting candles for the heck of it? Sure, I can make up new rituals, but I will not be sharing them with a specific community as a member of a group who believes the same things I do. I will not be doing them as a way of reliving the past and teaching the future, of being a part of something very personal and yet greater than one person.

                • starskeptic

                  Much more elegantly put than my clumsy attempts…

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Self-absorbed? The fact that there are countries where the vast majority of people spend their entire lives outside of religion means nothing to you? It seems to me like you’re the one with an incredibly narrow focus. It’s as if you believe the culture of the Bible Belt can be applied not only to all Americans, but to all people worldwide.

                  I’m taking on the claim that religion is necessary. It’s not necessary. There’s plenty of evidence that people in secular countries live happy, fulfilled lives without believing in a deity or an afterlife, and without performing archaic rituals every week. Have you read Society Without God by Phil Zuckerman?

                • starskeptic

                  You’re taking on a claim no one here has made! That’s the kind of thing self-absorbed people do.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Then what are you saying? Why do you keep acting like not having religion is a huge deal for atheist parents, if you don’t think that religious structure and rituals are something that people desperately need to have replicated?

                  You ask a lot of questions, but I have absolutely no idea exactly how you are proposing atheist parents raise their children.

                • starskeptic

                  Are you in some kind of a bubble? Not having the kind of ritual and community that a lot of folks find in religion is a huge deal for many non-believing parents. That’s the point of Katherine Ozment’s article and this post.

                  I think religious structure and rituals are something that people have evolved to feel a need for; religion fills that need for a lot of people. Not all non-believers have been as fortunate as you in never having been saddled with a religious identity. But not all of that religious upbringing is negative. A lot of non-believing parents want to share those positive aspects of their own religious experience with their children and have absolutely no idea how to go about doing that in a secular way. And even loading their kids to the brim with ‘activities’ leaves them feeling that their kids are missing out on something. That’s what they struggle with.

                  but I have absolutely no idea exactly how you are proposing atheist parents raise their children.

                  - Well – that’s a relief, finally, because I didn’t make a single suggestion or proposal about it…all I did was ask questions. Because I don’t know myself.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Right, well, then we’re finally on the same page, because I agree with you. That’s why I said it’s going to be hard for the first generation. They’re going to feel like their kids are missing out on something. But breaking the cycle has to start somewhere. Society will never change if parents don’t take that first step.

                  I sympathize with the atheist parents who were raised religious and think their kids are missing what they had, but really, my advice would be to suck it up and deal with it. Raise your children in a strong, confident manner. Teach them to be critical thinkers. Educate them about religion, but keep them away from settings where adults will try to indoctrinate them.

                  You don’t have any suggestions or proposals, apparently, but you keep attacking me for the ones I’m making. Why? Aren’t I the type of person these newly-atheist parents are worried about? I’m a grown-up example of one of their children. Isn’t sharing what worked for my family relevant to the conversation? I grew up secular, with no exposure to organized religion, and I’m a proud, confident atheist today. Isn’t that what most atheist parents want? To protect their kids from religion and make sure they don’t fall prey to those who will try to convert them?

                  Out of curiosity, how were you raised? And how are you raising your children, if you have them?

                • bethelj

                  It’s arrogant because she proposes to make policy stopping people from enjoying what she never enjoyed.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  Excuse me, make policy? Please don’t falsely portray what I’ve said. I have never, in this thread or any other, suggested passing laws or creating policies to prevent people from following religion. I spoke only of trying to persuade people that religion and indoctrination are not good things, particularly parents who are on the fence and who are unsure how to raise their children.

                  It’s the marketplace of ideas. Religious people advertise their views all the time. They try to persuade other people that their beliefs are true and correct. So why shouldn’t atheists also try to persuade people? Frankly, I don’t even care very much if other people are atheists, but I think a campaign against harmful childhood indoctrination would be welcome and would go a long way towards countering the cultural assumption that faith is a virtue.

                  I take it you are Catholic. You’re not the intended audience for the original article, and you’re not who I was referring to in all of my comments. I was talking about non-religious parents and how they deal with raising children in a religious society. If you enjoy being Catholic, that’s up to you. I’m not about to stop you from going to church or teaching your kids whatever you want.

                • bethelj

                  I am Catholic. I have doubts about my religion’s theology, but I don’t doubt that I love all of the beauty, culture, rituals, hymns, etc. about it. I think that when you say “You can’t miss what you never had,” you’re being simplistic. My nephew is a sports fanatic. He’s been shooting baskets since he was 18 months old. He father has deliberately facilitated his access to sporting events, which is great for him. What would it have been like had he been raised by parents who disliked or were ambivalent about sports and not had that access? I have to say that he would have been worse off for not being able to explore something he is so passionate about. And I say that as a person who doesn’t care for sports.

                  I am a doubting person, but the atheist community holds no attraction for me. I don’t particularly care for science. I have no desire to gather together with other atheists and complain about religious people. Nearly all the people I’ve ever loved have been religious, and they are GREAT people. There are no rituals, no inspired art, no music, no sense of history that stem from a lack of belief. All that is important to me. Very important. It’s hard to make community; American community has been coming apart at the seams for 50 years now. Yes, people can build it without religion, but ARE they building it? Not where I live in flyover country, not outside of churches.

                  Your casual “it will be hard on the first generation, yes,” is lacking empathy, at the very least.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  I can understand that you feel an attachment to those things. But for me, the comparison to sports is a little off because religion isn’t just a matter of personal taste. I don’t like sports either. I’d rather stare at the wall than watch the World Series or the Super Bowl. But sports aren’t harmful to children (well, not as long as safety precautions are followed). Sports teams don’t make a bunch of supernatural assertions and follow that up by trying to get people to believe immoral things. Baseball teams don’t threaten non-baseball players with an eternity of torture simply because they don’t want to play baseball.

                  The problem with religion, for an atheist, is that it’s simply not based on anything real, and that the claims it makes are at the very least irrelevant. Teaching children to be passionate about something that doesn’t exist is, IMO, at least an intellecual disservice to them, if not a moral one. And most religions don’t stop there. They also teach things that are frightening and immoral as well as false, such as the existence of “hell,” “sin,” and “devils,” things that that can be actively harmful and cause children a great deal of stress, fear, guilt, and shame.

                  I do get the appeal of many of the rituals. I like lighting candles. I like Christmas carols. I understand that it’s sweet to see little children dressed up for a Christmas pageant. If that’s all religion was, if everyone understand that it was based on a myth, that it was just something to act out to feel connected to previous generations, then no harm, no foul. But that’s not all religion is. It takes those supernatural claims seriously and posits an entire belief system that, from my perspective, is not based on anything in reality.

                  I am a doubting person, but the atheist community holds no attraction for me. I don’t particularly care for science. I have no desire to gather together with other atheists and complain about religious people.

                  Well, then we have something in common. I don’t particularly care for science either, and I don’t get together with other atheists to complain about religious people. Atheists are a lot more diverse than the stereotypes give us credit for. My life certainly doesn’t revolve around atheism. The only atheist-related thing I ever do is visit this blog. The rest of the time, I’m busy with work, family, friends, pets, etc.

                  I’m not an atheist because atheism is attractive. For me, that approach is entirely wrong. Whether something is attractive has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not it’s true. I don’t think atheism is attractive or unattractive. I’m an atheist simply because I don’t believe there is any evidence to support the claim that deities are real.

                  Nearly all the people I’ve ever loved have been religious, and they are GREAT people.

                  I’m not doubting that. Most of the people I love have supernatural beliefs, and they are also great people. But they are not great because of their supernatural beliefs. They are great people regardless. There are also a lot of horrible people out there who have supernatural beliefs! Statistically, most people you love will be religious because most people in our society are religious. It doesn’t say anything about the validity of the belief system.

                  There are no rituals, no inspired art, no music, no sense of history that stem from a lack of belief. All that is important to me. Very important.

                  But that doesn’t make the belief system true. Hinduism has art, rituals, music, and history, too, but almost no one born in Western culture thinks for one minute that the Hindu deities are real. I believe you when you say such things are important to you, but why exactly are they important? If what they’re promoting isn’t real, should they be important? Should they be perpetuated?

                  We don’t have to destroy art, music, or culture just because we stop believing something is real. We can still have those things, just like we still have the Ancient Greek temples and ruins. We can understand something as a myth that people in previous centuries believed, and still appreciate the aesthetic value. The old cathedrals in Europe are a great example. I’d never want to tear down the Sagrada Familia or Notre Dame. They’re beautiful buildings. I just don’t think the god they’re used to promote is real.

                  It’s hard to make community; American community has been coming apart at the seams for 50 years now. Yes, people can build it without religion, but ARE they building it? Not where I live in flyover country, not outside of churches. Your casual “it will be hard on the first generation, yes,” is lacking empathy, at the very least.

                  It is hard, and I don’t want to be dismissive of people’s feelings. I know it will be difficult for me, but the question is whether it’s worth doing. If you feel (as I do) that religion is a hindrance rather than a help, then a bit of personal inconvenience is worth it if you can help bring about a more secular society. Otherwise, things never change. The buck is simply passed to the next generation. And we can’t expect change if people aren’t willing to take those difficult first steps. It’s the same with building secular community. If everyone thinks it’s too hard, if it’s easier just to go to the church down the street for community, then the cycle will never be broken.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  I didn’t say religion was valueless to everyone. Obviously, religious people find value in it. But it’s certainly valueless from an atheist perspective. I would go further than that and say that I think it’s unfortunate that everyone in our society has been socialized to think that religion is a good thing! From my perspective, religion is most definitely not a good thing. Most religions teach false and/or immoral things, and people do not need to have a religion to have happy lives. Our culture tries to socialize people to believe that, but it’s not true.

                  My point was that, no, people are not born needing religion. Children don’t spontaneously, all on their own, decide that they need religion in their lives. Most children are brought up in a particular religion, and they find themselves continuing to follow that religion as adults. Their belief in the supernatural and decision to follow religion didn’t happen because of a free, conscious choice they made. It happened because their culture, society, and family influenced them to believe that religion is true, and told them that they need it in their lives.

                  There are countries where very few people believe in a deity, and where going to church is seen as an odd, strange thing to do. Those people are not suffering. They are living happy lives without religion, as I did, and as the many Americans also do. The United States is not (yet) one of those countries with low rates of religious adherence, but there are things that the atheist movement can try to do to help our country become more secular. I think a campaign to take on the societal perception of faith as a virtue would be a good start.

                  I don’t know what to say about the people who are attached to their rituals. The only reason they’re attached to them is because they were brought up with them, and they find them safe and comforting. The solution is, unfortunately for them, to stop new generations from becoming attached to religious rituals. I have no problem with people getting together to light candles. I have a problem with telling children that the act of lighting candles has some supernatural aspect. There are plenty of secular rituals in our society. Tons of them, in fact. Focus on secular rituals. Meaning, identity, community, etc. can all be found from secular sources.

                • bethelj

                  I would quibble with your generalization that they are all leading happy lives (or sad ones, for that matter; it’s individuals we are talking about). Alcoholism and suicide rates are very high in these godless meccas. For years Finland was the suicide capital of the world.

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

                  Yes, children are taught religion, but no one taught the first religious inherent, and religious rituals worldwide resemble each other even when those religions have never intersected. Religion flows from humanity to address needs people have. You may not agree with it, but I’ve known countless people for which their church was everything. Joining a soccer team may meet the need for community, but it doesn’t meet the human need for solemnity, for remembrance, for beauty, song, candle lighting, observing the passage of time, for feeling utterly in tune with the people surrounding you. As society splinters into smaller and smaller groups to address individual needs of expression, this need for communion will only grow, not shrink.

                  You sound like you have no need for these rituals. Fine, but different people have different needs. I would say you are the outlier and not a representative of the majority. Communist Russia forced people to give up their religious rituals and holidays, and the people there consoled themselves in superstitions and alcohol, copious amounts of both.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  There is absolute evidence that people there live happier lives than those in more religious countries. Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland all rank above the United States, along with other, more secular countries such as New Zealand and Canada.

                  http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/04/happiness-world-bhutan-meeting-denmark.html

                  Naturally, were are not talking about every individual. We are talking averages. It is certainly not inaccurate to say that millions of people live happy, fulfilled lives in countries where attending a church is seen as odd and strange, and rates of belief in a deity and an afterlife are very low. This is not to say that people in more religious countries cannot also have a good quality of life, but it shows that religion is unnecessary.

                  Yes, children are taught religion, but no one taught the first religious inherent, and religious rituals worldwide resemble each other even when those religions have never intersected.

                  Sorry, I don’t understand the first part of your statement. What do you mean no one taught the first religious inherent? Did you mean adherent? There was no single first religious adherent. Religious systems evolved over time. You might want to read up on the evolution of religious thought, beginning with prehistoric religion. In any case, prehistoric children (just like modern children) were not born believing in the supernatural. Those children believed what their elders told them to believe.

                  And resemble each other? Have you ever attended a non-Western religious ceremony? Have you ever been to, say, a Sikh Gurdwara? I have, and let me assure you, what goes on there bears absolutely no resemblance to Christian rituals. It’s baffling to me that someone could watch a shamanistic ritual in the Amazonian rainforest and say that it resembles Sunday morning services in small-town America.

                  Religion flows from humanity to address needs people have. You may not agree with it, but I’ve known countless people for which their church was everything.

                  Yes, and I find it sad that church would be “everything” to someone. They weren’t born believing in the tenets of their church. They didn’t come into the world with a need for that religion. The vast majority of people in American society are taught to believe in a particular god by the time they are toddlers. As they grow up, the indoctrination becomes more intense. They are told that they need to believe in this god to be a good person, to live a happy and fulfilled life. But it’s not true.

                  Structure and community does not have to come from religious institutions. They can be (and are) found in many other places. One of the worst things about religion is that takes advantage of people’s need for community in order to spread its dogma. The whole purpose of most religions is to gain adherents and indoctrinate the next generation. They do that by making their communities seem attractive to outsiders. They do that by claiming to have the answers to life’s questions.They do that by claiming to have special moral authority.

                  Joining a soccer team may meet the need for community, but it doesn’t meet the human need for solemnity, for remembrance, for beauty, song, candle lighting, observing the passage of time, for feeling utterly in tune with the people surrounding you. As society splinters into smaller and smaller groups to address individual needs of expression, this need for communion will only grow, not shrink.

                  This is something that you apparently have been taught that you need, but if you have never been exposed to religion, you would have absolutely no desire for whatever specific rituals you are thinking of. And, please, beauty, song, candle lighting, and observing the passage of time are not unique to religion. There are tons of secular rituals, and hey, some of them involve lighting candles and singing, too.

                  You sound like you have no need for these rituals. Fine, but different people have different needs. I would say you are the outlier and not a representative of the majority. Communist Russia forced people to give up their religious rituals and holidays, and the people there consoled themselves in superstitions and alcohol, copious amounts of both.

                  Who’s talking about being forced? We’re talking about people choosing to stop indoctrinating their children. If you don’t indoctrinate children and expose them to religious rituals, they do not have a need for those rituals. Do you have a need for the rituals of the Kayapo people of the Brazilian rainforest? Of course not, because you have never been exposed to them. If you had been raised in a Kayapo tribe, you might feel sad not to pass along the monkey mask ritual to your children, but your children are going to get along along just fine without it.
                  Again, there are entire countries full of people (not just me) who live happy, fulfilled lives without having been indoctrinated into a certain religion. These people do not believe in a god, they do not believe in an afterlife, and they do not gather with other people to act out religious rituals. Just because it is not the norm in our society does not mean that it is the norm everywhere. The level of religiosity in the United States, in fact, makes the U.S. an outlier among developed countries. Other first-world nations simply do not have the level of religious adherence that we do.

              • baal

                I don’t find it all that hard to find stuff for my kid to do with others.

                “Effortlessly” doesn’t mean “good idea”. Going to church has a range of costs and for me, raising my son to be an atheist, doesn’t include going to church regardless of how “effortlessly” it would be to do so.

                • starskeptic

                  “effortlessly” – ’cause being raised an Atheist means not having to work at it.

                  “I don’t find it all that hard to find stuff for my kid to do with others.”

                  –good for you

      • Glasofruix

        Yes but there are other means to get warms and fuzzies from a community than going to a church for a brainwashing session, school is one of them. I mean as a kid i spent the biggest part of the day in school, with my friends then i had sports and during week-ends and breaks it was usually family time with uncles and cousins and stuff. So basically i was never out of a community feeling, and that’s without a fart of religion.

        • starskeptic

          That’s all well and good, but that’s you – an individual. Having a “community feeling” isn’t the same thing as actually belonging to a community. How do we accomplish that without falling back on crazy ideas like Atheist “churches”?

      • WoodyTanaka

        The Structure and community some find in religion are not “ethics and morality”. You are stupidly conflating the two.

        • starskeptic

          No – you are stupidly assuming that I am.

          • WoodyTanaka

            Really? Am I? Let’s see… I make a point about the ability to teach morality and ethics without the nonsense of religion by the simple expediency of teaching ethics and morality. YOU respond by babbling some nonsense about it being not so simple because of the structure and community issues — something completely separate and apart from what I was discussing. So, no. I’d have to say that I’m not assuming anything. Rather, you are foolishly making the mistake in crediting Ozment’s underlying premise with anything other than the laughing derision it deserves.

            • starskeptic

              No, the mistake I made is in assuming that you are capable of marshalling enough brain tissue to sustain a single rational thought. If the only reaction you have to Ozment’s article is “laughing derision” – you are a bigot, plain and simple and the secular movement would be better off without you in it.

              • WoodyTanaka

                Oh, you’re calling me stupid. How quaint.

                When are you going to learn how to read? Nowhere did I say that laughing derision is the only reaction I have to Ozment’s article. For fuck’s sakes, I was originally answering Hemant’s question and not commenting on Ozment’s article. But what is worthy of derision is the same nonsense that you brought up about community and structure.

                And the secular movement would be dead without people like me. If it were up to the likes of you, the movement would quivering in the corner, too afraid to state it’s belief for fear that the faith-heads would be upset.

                • starskeptic

                  No – not calling you stupid – recognizing you as stupid. And when are you going to learn how to write? – “anything other” implies that your derision is the only reaction that matters – your other comments suggest that it’s the only reaction you had. We can add ‘arrogant’ too – since you think that anyone who isn’t being a complete dick toward those who don’t share your beliefs isn’t doing enough. Nice work – mission accomplished.

                • WoodyTanaka

                  “Recognizing.” Cute. And I’m sure that when someone “recognizes” Bill Gates as being “not that rich” or “recognizes” Michael Phelps as being a poor swimmer, Gates and Phelps give them the same pity-filled chuckle I’m giving you now.

                  And an inability on your part to muster reading-comprehension skills on anything but an elementary school level does not constitute an inability to write on my part. I did not imply anything. You inferred it, because of your aforementioned shitty reading skills and your inability to think coherently.

                  I was quite clear. It was Ozment’s underlying premise that I believed merited derision and commented upon. I had other reactions to her work, but didn’t express them because they weren’t relevant. You, stupidly, made serial false inferences about my thoughts because, I must assume, you suffer from some chemical or structural brain dysfunction.

                  Finally, as for being dicks to people who don’t share my beliefs: that’s nonsense. I believe in using any effective tactic to force governments not to violate the Constitution, but beyond that, I don’t give a shit what people believe. They can worship squirrels for all I care. Just don’t get the government to pay for it, keep it out of the public schools and don’t expect me not to give my opinion that they’re being stupid asses. Beyond that, I have better things to do with my time.

                • starskeptic

                  You’re “a fine man”, Woody.

                • WoodyTanaka

                  Your ravings about me being more than a single individual has demonstrated your inability to think in any rational manner. So, I am done with you. Make whatever lame response to this message that you wish. I won’t read it.

                • starskeptic

                  …there may be a god after all…

    • AxeGrrl

      What’s the best way to teach ethics and morals? real life.

      Every single day of our lives we interact with other people ~ and every single one of those interactions is a (potential) lesson in ethics. As such, there are countless real-life situations that can be used as springing-off points to discuss morality/ethics with your child……

      and when you use real-life as the primary foundation for such teachings, there’s no BS baggage in the form of lingering misogyny, bigotry, etc you have to ‘explain away’.

      • starskeptic

        Oh – nicely put…

  • C Peterson

    A friend who tried taking her children to Catholic mass had to leave after 25 minutes because the kids were complaining that the incense was burning their eyes. “So we went to Dunkin’ Donuts,” she said, “and everyone was happier.”

    And healthier… and I’m not talking about breathing incense. Ruining your arteries is nothing in comparison with ruining your mind.

  • Santiago

    Hemant, do we get credit for reading that “long” article? :)

    I teach my boy about religion as the ocassion arises (visits to cemeteries, funerals, weddings, baptism, etc). We also celebrate our saint days at home and most secularized/christian festivities (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, etc). I want him to be aware of that component of our culture. He would be the poorer without it.

    I was raised Catholic (kinf of) and my wife was raised Methodist. We want him to know about the traditions of our families and we want him to know there are people of different faiths out there and why they elebrate or observe certain traditions.

    I also want him to learn that just because we do not believe in certain things he does not need to be contemptuous or disrespectful of the people who believe them. Understanding is of key importance to us.

  • ecolt

    I grew up in a religious household, but one in which we almost never went to church aside from weddings, baptisms and funerals. Even if I wasn’t used to being in a church, I knew enough to sit still and not cause a distraction when I was there. It wasn’t about what building I was in, it was about being taught that when adults are doing their thing you don’t act like a brat.

    Personally, I think it’s impossible for children to completely escape the “religious literacy” of our culture, specifically because it is so prevalent. No house exists in a vacuum – kids will always have extended family, school, news, etc to expose them to things their parents don’t believe. I have three stepkids whose mother is religious, but even at our house the topic is still brought up by grandparents, videos they watch on youtube, and a hundred other ways. This idea that kids exist solely under their parents is rather silly to me, at least once they’ve reached school age.

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      Exactly. Even if a child doesn’t care anything about religion, he or she will still learn about it through the larger culture. Any child who goes to school is going to be exposed to religion in history class, sometimes in elementary school, but certainly by middle school and high school. I learned about the California Missions in fourth grade, Greek and Roman mythology in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and all religions in World History from ninth grade onwards.

  • http://twitter.com/tardis_blue Tardis_blue

    Am I the only one annoyed at the assumption that you have to be Christian to teach the golden rule? Lol! Christians do NOT own that idea!

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      Not only do Christians not own it, they didn’t even originate it! Versions of the Golden Rule were present in many ancient cultures:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule#Antiquity

      • C Peterson

        Not only do they not own it and didn’t originate it, but they seem much less likely to observe it than the unreligious, given how many Old and New Testament passages contradict it.

  • FilthyCreature

    Long time atheist and recent Unitarian Universalist here. Been involved for nearly three years, since just before my first child was born.

    It seems a lot of atheists don’t just deny existence of a deity, they
    hate anything organized so even the word “church” makes them gag… We love belonging to a caring community, free of dogma. It’s our weekly family outing to go sing some songs, listen to an inspirational speech, and then have lunch with a whole mixed bag of people; Buddhists, Wiccans, Lesbians… but mostly self described humanists. I often get to debate theology with theists in a caring, respectful way.

    The UU church helps to reinforce what I teach my kids about ethics and morals – without all the supernatural nonsense. They teach the following principles to children:

    1. We believe that each and every person is important.
    2. We believe that all people should be treated fairly and
    kindly.
    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
    world.
    7. We believe in caring for our planet Earth, the home we
    share with all living things.

    When my kids are older, they will take comparative religion studies with UU to learn about all faiths. As a slightly bitter atheist, I want to make sure that my kids get a well rounded perspective of the world and not just my biased perspective. If I indoctrinate my child with only one world view, then I am no better than the religious people who deny all other world views.

    The biggest thing I will personally teach my child, besides ethics and morals, is critical thought. That is a parents real job – not to deny competing ideas, but to critically evaluate all ideas. That’s why we’re teaching him about Santa Claus… one day I expect him to say “wait a minute… a fat old man who plays with elves is watching everything I do and judging me on it to determine if I get my reward… that makes no sense.” And I will be so proud of him on that day.

    • http://wholestrides.blogspot.com/ Nicole

      Yep. A lot of us do. The idea that people be compelled to congregate in a certain location at a certain time and listen to one person espouse knowledge on the rest of us, a group of ‘like-minded’ people…. Yea, it’s a cop out. It’s being so used to the idea of church that even if you don’t believe in religion, you still feel compelled to attend church.

      • Phil Cleaver

        Hey, I’m Unitarian too and you have a warped sense of what goes on.
        I am compelled to congregate in a certain location at a certain times because that’s when I get together with my friends. If we had a weekly book club or weekly hikng group, then we’d be compelled to meet at a certain location at a certain time.

        If I want to learn from a teacher, then I need to listen to a teacher espouse knowledge.

        There is a difference between anti-theist and anti-social

        • http://wholestrides.blogspot.com/ Nicole

          Who said anything about being anti-social? I’m social, but not within the construct of a religion. Even a “religion” that espouses to be different from other religions. Unitarian is still a religion.

          • Phil Cleaver

            Depends on your definition of “religion”. There is a great diversity in personal belief with most calling themselves atheist, agnostic, or humanist. There is no discussion of a common deity. There is no overall authority – churches are run by the members, not a pope or other authorities.

            I am an atheist too, and nothing about UU conflicts with that.

            For me, it’s a social club that focuses on improving the lives of all people and the friends I have there are helping me to raise my children with high ethical and moral standards without theology or dogma.

            Some people say hockey is their religion, some say nature is their religion… I guess with that definition, UU Is a religion too.

    • starskeptic

      Any church that has it’s own joke book it okay with me.

    • AxeGrrl

      Great post, FilthyCreature.

      (that was fun to type :)

  • Jane Maple

    Why on Earth do people agonise over this? To me the classic accusation put to the gullible would seem to apply, “If your mind’s too open your brains will fall out.”

  • http://www.dougberger.net Doug B.

    Well first of all secular humanism isn’t a religion but the end of the article had the point that one doesn’t need church to meet the religious part of life if you think that is what is missing. I grew up in religion before I became an atheist and secular humanist and I am perplexed that non-theistic people want to have church at all. It isn’t needed.

    To me learning about religion is like learning about sex you don’t actually have to do it to know what it is or what is about and your best friend will tell you plenty about it on the playground during recess. Parents don’t need to go out of their way to teach kids about religion.

    • Phil Cleaver

      …so you want your kids to learn about sex from other kids in the playground ???

      • http://www.dougberger.net Doug B.

        No of course not but just like when sex is brought up kids will ask their parents about religion and the parent hopefully will be honest like mine was when I had friends testifying to me all the time. She explained that religion has good parts and bad parts and it was up to me to believe or not.

        Her honest response started me down the road to non-belief.

        I just don’t think parents have to church their children religiously or not. The idea that it is needed is in fact a relic of religious privilege in this country.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Dale McGowan, the author of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion (2007), says one of the biggest downsides to not giving kids a religious upbringing is that they are then deprived of the religious literacy necessary to move comfortably in society. “Ninety percent of the world expresses itself or sees itself in religious terms, to one degree or another,” he told me over the phone. “If you don’t at least have an understanding of it, you’re going to be perpetually baffled, and that’s a very disempowering position to be in.”

    I like Dale McGowan, but that’s absolute nonsense. Not giving kids a religious upbringing doesn’t sentence them to a lifetime of ignorance. There’s a time and a place for learning about the Bible, but that time is not when you’re five years old, and the place isn’t where a bunch of adults are trying to get you to believe that the stories are real.

    I was an atheist child, through and through. A complete heathen, in fact. I never even saw the inside of a church until I was 12 years old. Yet I learned about religion. I learned about religion in history class. I learned about religion through reading books. I learned about religion from television and movies. I learned about religion when, as a middle school and high school student, I visited churches, temples, and synagogues.

    I don’t feel that I was at all disempowered by not being dragged to indoctrination sessions as a small child. On the contrary, it allowed me to be free to formulate my own opinions. Giving children access to accurate, objective information empowers them by letting them evaluate these subjects on their own. They’re able to think critically about the issues precisely because they haven’t been subjected to the same biased assumptions as children being raised in religious environments.

    • starskeptic

      Not what McGowan is saying at all; refusing to acknowledge something that is embedded in the human experience is self-limiting. Just because you don’t feel dis-empowered doesn’t mean it’s trivial for others to deal with.

      • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

        What is McGowan saying then? No one’s talking about “refusing to acknowledge” religion. I already said that there is a time and a place for kids to learn about it, and indeed, our society is set up so that children do learn about religion at different points in their education.

        Giving children a “religious upbringing” is something else entirely, something that I think is highly inappropriate and highly biased towards supernaturalism. I don’t want to keep children away from religion. I want them to learn about it from objective sources, in a way that empowers them to evaluate those claims critically. I strongly believe that children are not disempowered by a secular upbringing. They are empowered by it.

        • starskeptic

          …empowered to the point that some secular parents are so confused about what they believe that they don’t even teach about the golden rule? Again – there is structure to religious upbringing that is lacking in “objective sources” that needs to be addressed – not just glossed over because you didn’t have that difficulty.

          • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

            I have no idea what you’re talking about. What parents are “so confused about what they believe” that they don’t even teach the Golden Rule? None that I’ve ever met. Are you suggesting that secular parents have some sort of problem teaching their children right from wrong?
            My parents are not atheists. They’re exactly the vague, non-religious sort that you’re talking about. They might not have known exactly what they believed regarding the supernatural, but they knew that they wanted to raise us so that we could make up our own minds. They did not feel it was appropriate to tell us to believe in gods, and certainly not appropriate to take us to a church that would tell us what to believe.
            There is nothing good about “structure” if what’s being taught is not only false, but immoral. Sunday Schools, for example, are highly structured places where children are often taught that things like “sin” and “hell” and “devils” are real. There is nothing good that can come out of such structure. There’s no benefit to it. The moral lessons learned in such places might not even be moral at all, and those that are come with a healthy dose of harmful indoctrination.
            You think there is a problem with “objective sources” because there is no structure (not true, since any organized secular group with young children will be brimming with secular moral lessons), but the solution to that is not to expose children to subjective sources that teach false and immoral things.
            It seems to me that you are inventing a problem that does not exist. Parents in highly secular countries where attending church is considered strange and odd do not have a problem teaching their children morality. Neither do parents here. It’s having a religious culture (like the Bible Belt) that creates the problem.

            • starskeptic

              You obviously didn’t read the article that this post was about. And you’re spending all your time responding to me making giant leaps to conclusions nowhere contained in my comments.
              Humans have spent tens of thousands of years selecting each other for behaviors that, even if Michael Shermer’s “God module” isn’t an actual physical thing one can point to on a scan – it might just as well be. That means that our needs for ritual and structure and community are innate. Europeans have replacements for religion and church that address those issues, American don’t – taken as a whole. Simply removing religion from the equation does nothing to address those needs.

              • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                I read McGowan’s quote, not the entire article. Now that I’ve skimmed through it, I still don’t see a problem. Never having heard the term “the Golden Rule” does not indicate a lack of morality, or a lack of teaching morality. There’s no indicate that the children described were not taught right from wrong. They simply weren’t taught that particular phrase. I’m not sure I knew it when I was in elementary school, but I sure as heck knew how I was supposed to behave, and why.

                That means that our needs for ritual and structure and community are innate. Europeans have replacements for religion and church that address those issues, American don’t – taken as a whole. Simply removing religion from the equation does nothing to address those needs.

                The thing is, if you live somewhere other than the Bible Belt, we do have secular structure and community. I had it. It’s possible to have it. And I would disagree that there is some kind of “innate need” for religious-seeming rituals. It’s only the people who were exposed to them in early childhood who seem to find them pleasurable. I find them creepy as all get out. And we do have secular rituals. Lots of them! Especially for children. We have holiday rituals, birthday rituals, school rituals, sports rituals, etc.

                As for the Europeans, what are their replacements for religion and church? Secular community, right? Well, we have that here. In some places. And it would be possible to have it in more places, if we concentrated on getting across the message that going to church isn’t something that’s good for you, that it doesn’t make you a better person, and that the lessons your children are learning there aren’t good ones.

                That’s why I mentioned the “Please don’t indoctrinate me” billboard. I think we need more like it, especially in places like the Bible Belt. Get people to question their assumptions. Make going to church seem uncool, odd, and strange, and you’ll have less people interested in attending one.

                • starskeptic

                  Again jumping to conclusions not supported by what I’ve written. Can you, for a moment, acknowledge that there’s an entire world outside of your experience? It’s wonderful that your upbringing allows you to say “I had it.”. “In some places” means we have a “Secular community”?. – Not by a long shot.

                • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                  If you’re saying there are places in America where it’s impossible to have secular community, I would disagree. Even in the Bible Belt, there are public schools. There is Little League. There is 4-H.

                  Yes, it’s much harder in the Bible Belt, but that’s where trying to change the culture comes into play. We can at least try to change the perception of religion in society. It may be a slow process. In the meantime, what are you advocating? You seem to be acting like you think atheist parents should offer up their children and let them be exposed to settings where religious adults will try to indoctrinate them. I’m saying that’s the worst possible idea!

                  Again, I already listed all of the ways that atheist parents can handle faith. Make sure your kids are provided with accurate and objective information about religion, expose them to structured secular communities where they can form friendships with other children, and, if you really think it’s necessary, emphasize all the secular rituals and holidays that are present in our culture. Or invent new ones. Have an “unbirthday” or “half birthday” party every year. Have a spring bonfire. Light candles every night in December. Do whatever you want to make your home a warm, cozy place, and to mark the passage of time.

                • starskeptic

                  “If you’re saying there are places in America where it’s impossible to have secular community…” No, and not the point – since we’re repeating this in two places, I’m abandoning this one….see above.

  • xeon2000

    This is an odd topic now that I think about it. My dad’s side of the family never really went to church, I don’t think any of them claim any particular denominations, although if you asked any of them if they believe in God they might shrug and say “I dunno, I guess so.” How did my grandparents raise three boys in the 1950s this way? They did a fine job and were respected members of the community that caught no flack for their lack of religious fervor. So what gives?

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      One of my parents was raised the same way. She and her brother were never taken to church or sent to Sunday School. Her family had a Lutheran affiliation, but only utilized the church for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. This was in the 1930s and 40s, so bringing up children without religion isn’t a new thing.

  • Sven2547

    I love Greek mythology. It’s filled with fascinating stories and characters and ideas and lessons. I’d probably take the approach of telling my kids about Bible myths the same way I’d tell them about ancient Greek myths.

    In the subject of attending worship services, I intend to wait until they ask about it. If they want to try it out, I’ll be happy to bring them to one or more and see what they think.

  • SeekerLancer

    “So we went to Dunkin’ Donuts,” she said, “and everyone was happier.”

    Sounds like an excellent solution to the problem.

    As for a real answer, lead by example.

  • Georgina

    One advantage we Europeans have with our 150 years of enlightenment, is that we are able to teach religions along with history.

    England had its religious wars, Mary versus Elizabeth, the James versus Charlie, Fox, Cromwell, the Moors, the Vikings and the Japanese. And there are lots of gods, Ra, Isis and Thor (my favourite). There is safety in numbers – in religion as with anything else.

    Children can be taught world mythology without defining people as this or that.

    Not “they are catholics”, but they are members of the catholic church.

    The Rise and Fall of Rome – all those scantily clad goddesses – no hijabs there!
    The gods of Asgard – might is right and not much else.
    Sun gods, moon goddesses and the sun setting in a puddle. Really, if you teach your child what other people believe early enough, there is no danger that they could ever get conned by what the shamans are selling.

  • Robin

    A New York Times article not long ago detailed the etiquette
    classes now sweeping synagogues because teens were coming to bar and bat
    mitzvahs not knowing how to behave.

    “A New York Times article not long ago detailed classes now sweeping northern states because young people were coming to the south and not knowing how to handle slaves.”

    Then I suppose the right answer is more slaves.


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