An Atheist Homeschool Mom Comes Out

Kudos to blogger Leanna of Life on the Hill. She lives in Kentucky and homeschooles her children, and she has just come out as an atheist. Her story embodies so much of what I have thought and felt, as well as my philosophy on children and religion. Here are some excerpts from her coming out post:
I have often tiptoed around stating my lack of religious beliefs because, like many people in a minority, I fear being shunned and judged. I’ve described myself with words like non-religious, humanist, and freethinker and have most recently been playing with the “Unitarian” label. But as my kids get older, I don’t want them thinking there is anything wrong with me saying exactly what I am, in terms of my personal religious faith: an atheist. There, I said it. I am an atheist. I AM AN ATHEIST!
Because I homeschool my children, and over 80% of homeschooling families in this country are fundamental Christians (likely higher in Kentucky), it is often assumed that I am likewise a Christian. … I could join one of several wonderful homeschooling co-ops that are available in the area, if I were willing to sign a statement of faith and either teach my children creationism, or teach them to lie and say they believed in it. Neither route is acceptable to me, as I am homeschooling with the goal of better education for my children, not with the goal of indoctrinating them.
I am absolutely not opposed to my kids learning about religion. On the contrary, I try to teach them about as many faiths as I can. I am an atheist after all, but only my children get to decide what they believe.
Some people don’t understand how an atheist can believe in nothing. But I believe in the inherent goodness of people and in the beauty and wonder of the natural world. I don’t feel like I’m missing something by not believing in any gods. When I start thinking about the injustices and randomness of the world, I don’t understand how that could be compatible with an all-powerful, and also all-loving deity. In fact, my head starts to hurt when I consider all of the rationalizing that has to occur to reconcile those two qualities that are attributed to the Judeo-Christian god. To quote Richard Dawkins,  “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”
Read her whole post here.
It may be hard for Christians to understand, but this country can be a very difficult one for atheists to live in. When God is in the this country’s pledge of allegiance and on this country’s money, the claim that we have separation of church and state and freedom of religion rings surprisingly hollow. Furthermore, atheists with religious relatives or living in highly religious areas face stigmatization and even shunning if they come out about their lack of belief. I have lived in a college town ever since coming out, so I don’t feel the consequences that atheists like Leanna will. Perhaps someday I will.
If you doubt what I say about consequences, you need only look at this link. After Fox News broadcast a story about a lawsuit a group of atheists were bringing about the display of a cross using public money, its facebook page was flooded with death threats by people arguing that atheists are not even human. Not just a few death threats. 8,000 death threats. Here is a fairly comprehensive list of the ways atheists are discriminated against in American society today. I’m not whining. I don’t believe in dwelling on problems but rather on moving forward and working to fix them. I’m just pointing out the reality.
On a related note, I appreciate what Leanna said about not wanting her kids to think that there is something wrong with owning what you believe. There is something to be said for modeling honesty, courage, and self acceptance. I also appreciate Leanna’s point about teaching her children about all the different religions and allowing them to make their own choices. My parents picked my religious choices for me. I won’t do that to my daughter.
Note: I feel like my views on homeschooling have been sort of scattered on this blog, and that’s probably because I’m still trying to sort them out exactly. I believe that homeschooling to indoctrinate or isolate (aka “shelter”) is absolutely wrong, and that some parents are simply not qualified, either academically or personally, to homeschool. However, I’m actually very attracted to a sort of freethinking unschooling type of homeschooling. Learning through doing and learning as a family is very appealing, and I have seen homeschooling succeed as well as fail. Yet I have decided tentatively that homeschooling is not for my family because I want my children to have the chance to be normal and have the common experiences I never had. Schools act as social and cultural centers for children, and I want that for my children. I don’t like the idea of being able to control everything about my children’s lives. I also don’t think putting my children in public school means that I can’t teach them as well or that we can’t still learn together as a family. The school will only have them for six or seven hours a day, after all.

I Have Never Seen a Supernatural Entity Create a Universe
You Can Count Me out of Atheist Tribalism
What Kind of Atheist Parent Are You?
#makehomeschoolsafe and Michigan's HB 4498
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    I was homeschooled my last 3 years of high school and it was horrible for me. We were pulled out for educational reasons (supposedly), but it totally became about religious reasons. I have both of my kids in the public school and my son is autistic (he's heading to 7th grade this year) and I wouldn't change a thing. I love seeing the interaction that they get, though it's been a huge trigger for me in some ways. I've been having to process my kids having things that were ripped away from me or denied me, but I'm working on that. I'm just glad that they can have all those things unhindered.

  • Leanna

    Thanks so much for sharing my story. I think you're so right that Christians often don't understand how difficult it can be to be an atheist in this country. Off to check out more of your blog!

  • Katy-Anne

    Unschooling has always seemed to me to be more of a "we don't want our kids in school but are too darn lazy to teach them ourselves so we'll let them just do what they want and call it school". Unfortunately I've seen it be like that, too. I just can't handle the whole home schooling idea right now at all, and while I know good people that do it and aren't militant about it, I still don't understand them. My husband and I both feel like our parents stole an education, and friends, and opportunities, from us.About atheism…as a Christian, I don't understand a lot of other Christian's attitudes towards atheists. You guys are as much human as we are, and despite what others might say, you have brains and you use them. I can see how it would be hard living as an atheist in the USA. What happened to "freedom of religion" and "liberty and justice for all"? Do the Christians here only believe in that if it is in favor of Christianity? I grew up in a much more secular country than the USA and so the issues aren't as bad, the USA has been a huge culture shock for me even though the two countries supposedly have similar cultures.I have only a slight taste of what it might be like for you guys in the fact that, as a Christian, I'm a political moderate which to most of the other Christians means I'm a rabid liberal. :P Try being an active pacifist who is pro-gun control here in the south where everyone has a bunch of guns and are very, very passionate about them, and where joining the military is next to godliness and where they think that military people should be treated special, even to the point of getting out of speeding tickets and other such crimes just because they are in the military. (By the way, don't you think that being in the military should mean these people strive to a higher standard). I'm not anti-military though, just anti-war and anti-gun. :P The military does great disaster relief work and it would be great if they were used for more peace keeping stuff. But, you should see some of the awful things I have been called, and how there are some Christians who now treat me like trash and try to make me look bad every time they are in contact with me just because I'm a pacifist and a political moderate.

  • Chatterbox

    The homeschooling thing is complicated you're right…I have 3 boys ages 6, 3 and 4mths and i intend to home-educate them (we are in the UK) but i too have fears about having too much control over thier lives and that they may grow up and feel they werent allowed to be 'normal'. I think about it a lot and at the moment i still come down on the side of home-educating, for us, is the right thing at the moment.When i read your story, i wonder what would have happened if you had gone to school but in every other way you're parents had been the same – held the same beliefs etc. If you had gone to school with your home made dresses and extra long hair and extreme fundamentalist views you would have stuck out a mile and every day being amongst your peers, it would have been constantly reinforced to you that you were NOT normal and nor was your family or their beliefs – i'm just wondering in SOME ways, if you weren't better off being homeschooled with the way their beliefs are – i mean because you were a model child for their beliefs then you were constantly praised and your self – esteem built up in that way ( i know religion causes havoc with it in other ways). If you had gone to school, maybe you would have 'seen the light' (realised the errors in their beliefs earlier) and then had to deal with being a rebel whilst still under thier roof or you could have struggled every day with bullying because of the beliefs.I ponder all this because i was brought up fundamentalist and evangelical but was sent to school – school was hell – my mum was way less fundamental and extreme than yours yet i still stood out and was singled out for bullying and i felt that i had to accept it all 'for jesus' . It was impressed upon me every day that i was not normal. I'm kinda just thinkin out loud here i suppose and genuinely wondering what you think would have happened if you had the same parents and circumstances except you had been sent to school?Also, for what its worth, i spent a good 2 years trying dedicatedly to follow a radical unschooling lifestyle and it was really bad for us all – i know it works great for some people, but it was rather a disaster for us and something that i deeply regret – i say this only because as i was researching radical unschooling all i could find was people saying how wonderful it was once you 'get it' – i sometimes feel it would re-dress the balance if their were a few people on the net explaining how it genuinely didnt work for them. I feel like i kinda swopped one religion for another – duh!! I was vulnerable at the time!

  • Sara

    I was 'unschooled', and it was definitely of the 'my parents were lazy' variety. I was taught to read; to write (messily, but still writing), to use a dictionary and an encyclopaedia; basic math (very basic. Even division and multiplication are difficult for me) and; when I was older, taught to use the internet. I pretty much did nothing at all my whole school career except sit in a corner and read novels. It worked out ok for me because I'm one of the older children in my family so my parents had more time for me when I was quite young and actually did teach me those few basic things.It also helps that I had a taste for really big, really old books, so I ended up fairly well-read. My younger sisters haven't fared so well though, I'm genuinely concerned about the second youngest. She is twelve years old, has great difficulty reading, has poor spelling and can barely write, and has neither an education nor the support and encouragement she needs to get one. I don't know. Unschooling sounds like such a good idea, and it really can work out for some people, but if I ever have children I would definitely send them to school. There are some things I'm simply not qualified to teach, and I am determined that they be well educated.

  • Peaslepuff

    I was home schooled on and off, and I loved it. I went to a very religious private for school for a year and was almost suspended (my sister was suspended). I went to public school for several years and hated it. I felt socially awkward. In contrast, my sister did very well at a liberally religious private school and my brother did very well with public school.

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that not all kids learn the same. Even three siblings who were raised together had three very different learning experiences.

    For me, home schooling was nice because it let me decide my schedule, for the most part, and because I didn’t have to wait for the rest of the class to catch up (or, in math, I didn’t have to worry about not getting it before the rest of the class moved on). I received accreditation from a home school center and joined a group at a small church, where I made friends with people who I still keep in touch with. I took online courses as well, and while those friendships didn’t last, I had a great time and the teachers were really excellent, although I did clash with the “principal” and other students on religious beliefs sometimes.

    I was one of the lucky ones. I knew home school students who used it as an excuse to not learn anything, and I had one friend whose family (I realize now) was very much into the Christian Patriarchy movement (and QF, I think).