Atheist Momma Julianne Moore Inspires Happy Dance

150121_THR_JulianneMoore_0327Secular parents may be a minority, but judging from Julianne Moore’s most recent comments to the Hollywood Reporter, we are also in some damn fine company.

“I learned when my mother died five years ago that there is no ‘there’ there,” Moore, a mother of two, told the Hollywood Reporter. “Structure, it’s all imposed. We impose order and narrative on everything in order to understand it. Otherwise, there’s nothing but chaos.”

It wasn’t the first time the Oscar-winning actor had revealed her atheism publicly. In 2002, while appearing on Inside the Actor’s Studio, she gave the world’s best answer to the question, “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say at the pearly gates?”

 “Well, she answered, “I guess you were wrong. I do exist.” 

Still, it was the first time she expanded on the topic to any degree. For instance, in a conversation about the path that her life has taken, Moore indicated that the notion of a godless universe has allowed her to take full responsibility for her own choices and full credit for her own happiness — an opinion I think many secularists share.

“The idea that you’re the center of your own narrative and that you can create your life is a great idea,” she says, referring to a notion in one of her favorite books, Little Women. “I totally believe it. I’ve been really lucky, but I feel I’ve completely created my own life.”

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‘Mommy, What’s Holy Water?’

medium_5993988644For nonreligious kids, holy water is a pretty bizarre concept.

Because it’s water.

Poured in a basin.

And declared to be magic.

I’m not trying to be condescending here. It’s just that kids who have not been raised up in any particular faith group and who have not be taught that “evil spirits” are to be feared, or that souls are something to be cleansed, or that hell is an actual place, or that water can be magic — are going to think the idea of holy water sounds pretty odd.

And, especially when there are some rather distrurbing ideas associated with the concept, secular parents may have a hard time explaining it without dismissing the whole thing as a goofy ancient belief more likely to give you E. coli than to save your eternal soul.

So let’s say your kid asks you, “Mommy, What’s Holy Water?” How do you explain it, you know, nicely? Here’s my suggestion.

medium_3790685521The short answer:
Holy water is water that is found in churches or other places of worship. [Read more...]

Secular Kids are Moral Kids

IMG_4325If you didn’t get a chance to read last week’s Los Angeles Times op-ed piece titled “How Secular Families Stack Up” by Phil Zuckerman, please do. Zuckerman, author of Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions, is a sociologist who has spent much of his career studying secularism and its influence on various societies. I interviewed Zuckerman a couple of years ago for my book and can report that the man is a quote machine. He speaks clearly and intelligently, and he knows how to get to the damn point — which is part of what makes his op-ed piece so effective. Based, in part, on a study by the Longitudinal Study of Generations out of the University of Southern California, Zuckerman reveals that secular families exhibit high levels of “family solidarity and emotional closeness,” not to mention “strong ethical standards and moral values.” In other words, says Zuckerman:

“Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children.”

safe_image.phpEven greater (in my own secular opinion) is that kids raised in nonreligious households have proven to be more independent, progressive and open-minded.

“Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the ‘cool kids’ think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into ‘godless’ adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.”

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Score! Another Point in Favor of Godless God-Parenting

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetAs you may recall, I am a godless godparent to two adorable children, so it was with great interest that I read Chris Stedman’s most recent column for the Religion News Service about agreeing to become a godparent to his infant niece. Stedman is an outspoken atheist, gay activist and author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. His non-anti-religious atheist position (and, no, I couldn’t have said that more clearly) is refreshingly similar to my own, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when Stedman approached the whole godparent thing with compassion and circumspection.

When my sister was pregnant with her third child, I received an ultrasound image in the mail. Attached to it was a handwritten note: “Would you be my godfather… er… sponsor… ah… special person? You know what I mean.”

My niece is now a few months old. Next month, she will be baptized. And I’ve been asked to stand alongside her at the front of the church and pledge to be her godparent.

Being invited to support a loved one’s child is a wonderful honor. But I can also see that, on the surface, it may seem strange that an atheist would sponsor a baptism and serve as a godparent.

What touched me most about the story, though, was not Stedman’s non-anti-religious atheist position (admit it, it’s starting to grow on you), but his sister’s non-anti-atheist religious position (okay, now I’m just fucking with you). A devout Lutheran, she didn’t hesitate before asking her brother to sponsor her daughter. And her reasons were so open-minded, it nearly brought tears to my eyes —a feat that usually requires the sight of Jimmy Stewart singing Auld Lang Syne together with a bunch of his banking customers or video of police officers in Kansas City handing out $100 bills to people with shitty cars.

Here’s the part that got me.

“As far as I’m concerned, you being an atheist is a plus, not something to work around or gloss over,” she said. “I want my kids to grow up knowing that there are good people of all beliefs—atheists, Muslims, Hindus, everyone—and I want them to see that they will be a part of this family whether they grow up to share my beliefs or not.”

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Courting Controversy: Essay on Raising an ‘Only’ Child Kicks Up a Storm (GWEN IFILL SAID MY NAME)

safe_image.phpSometimes you set out to court controversy.

When, four years ago, I decided to write a book about talking to kids about religion in secular households, I knew I’d ruffle some feathers. It’s religion, after all, and it’s children. And if there were ever two subjects open to some passionate f’ing opinions, it’s those two, right?

And yet. And yet! Four years later I’ve rarely seen the kind of seething anger I’ve seen in the last 24 hours, since my largely tongue-in-cheek essay about the benefits of having an only child was published on the PBS NewsHour website. Titled “The case for having only one kid,” the piece recounted the many reasons people have given me over the years to have another child, as well as some reasons of my own to cap the family tree at one.

The essay gained traction almost immediately. By mid-morning, hundreds of people had shared the story, and dozens had commented — not always kindly. A great many
parents were offended, seeing my defense of having one kid as disparaging those with more than one. Others didn’t get my sense of humor (or find my humor at all humorous). Others thought my story amounted to meaningless drivel.

But among all the insults were a great number of thoughtful comments and even some really fascinating debates — all of which helped the story build momentum. Lots and lots of momentum.

By the end of the day, the essay had been shared so many times on Facebook (upwards
of 25,000) and had generated so many comments (more than 300) that it was the No. 1 story on the NewsHour’s website — far above any, you know, actual news. It was also the No. 1 story on all of  (“Even PBS Kids??” my daughter asked, when I told her.) [Read more...]

‘I Love God, Even Though God Is Not Real’

I realize my last blog was depressing as shit. Sorry about that. Hey, it’s been a rough few days for all of us. But I don’t hang around here trying to bring you guys down. So here, to put a smile on your face, is a little blast from my past. I re-read it today and it did manage to put a smile on mine.


Nov. 10, 2011.

The best part about writing a parenting blog? Sometimes your kid composes the blog for you. Remember the time she drew a picture of G
od, and it turned out looking like a yellow cyclops with male pattern baldness and a handlebar mustache? Good times.

Well, it happened again this week when Maxine walked into my room while I was getting dressed and showed me this little goody. If you’re not familiar with kindergarten composition, it’s meant to say: “I love God, even though God is not real.”

See what I mean? Silver platter.

So here’s the story.

It’s Monday morning, and I’m telling Maxine about Eid al-Adha, which I wrote about for Monday’s blog. I’m explaining how Muslims all over the world are celebrating a holiday that consists of sharing meat with people who don’t have food, etc. I ask her if she wants to hear the “God Story” about how the holiday came to be, and she answers with an enthusiastic “Yes!” So I tell her about Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son to God. The name Abraham rings a bell for her, and she asks if she can get down her “God Book” (which is what she calls her beginner’s Bible) and flips through the pages looking for Abraham.

He’s, of course, hard to find because every other man pictured in this book is a middle-aged white guy with a long beard, but we eventually find him and she’s thrilled. Then she goes on to show me a picture of Noah and his ark and insist that it’s a picture of “God making the world.” At that point, I duck out of the room to get dressed, and leave her chatting happily to herself about God and Abraham. [Read more...]

Paris Shooting: Depressing News Gives Way to Depressing Thoughts

If news of the Paris shooting by Muslim extremists didn’t leave you shattered, here’s a little something that might. A story posted recently on the German news website Deutsche Welle features the picture you see below under the following headline and subhead:

IS to turn Syria schools into religious indoctrination centers

Over 670,000 children have been deprived of education after the Islamic State ordered schools to be closed. Schools will be reopened only after the curriculum is Islamicized, with religion replacing standard subjects.



Devastating right? The only thing worst than senseless acts of terrorism is knowing that the terrorists are trying very hard to turn an entire country of children — children who wear Minnie Mouse pajamas and flowered headbands and silly smiles — into more terrorists.

Here’s the bulk of the DW story:

“In December there was a decree of the Islamic State ordering the stoppage of education in areas under its control…This is seriously affecting the schooling of an estimated 670,000 children,” The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesman Christophe Boulierac told the press.

The Islamic State ordered that schools teach only those texts that were “compliant with religious rules,” Boulierac said, adding that teachers in IS-controlled areas of Raqqa, Deir-al-Zor and Aleppo were to undergo training.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says IS intends to eliminate all courses except Islamic religion, as it regards subjects like mathematics, philosophy, and chemistry as “blasphemous.”

Around 4.3 million children in Syria are enrolled in school in these areas, the Syrian Education Ministry said. Of these, at least 2.1 million were out of school or not attending classes regularly.

And if that wasn’t all bad enough, there’s this: [Read more...]

Six Facts About Ryan Bell’s Former Faith

Ryan-Bell-Headshot-300x199This week, former Seventh-day Adventist pastor (and fellow Pathos blogger) Ryan Bell will finish up his so-called Year Without God — meaning he will officially announce what other news outlets have already reported: After a year of studying the intersection between faith and non-faith, Bell has landed rather solidly on the non-faith side. “I don’t think that God exists,” he told NPR.

In other words, his year without God will soon become his life without God.

So say we all: Welcome, Ryan!

Now, I know quite a lot about what goes into not believing in God (because it’s a whole lot of nothing, frankly), but I didn’t — until very recently — know a single thing about Seventh-day Adventism. And, as it turns out, it’s a pretty interesting little Christian religion they got going on over there.

Here’s some stuff I dug up about it.

Unknown1. Jesus is coming… and SOON.

Seventh-day Adventism (and, yes, the “d” is lowercase; don’t ask me why) grew out of Millerism, a movement founded by William Miller in 1833 and based on the belief that Jesus was returning to earth somewhere in the 1843-1844 vicinity. Biblical math being what it is, Miller did have to move the exact date of Jesus’ arrival a couple of times, but EVENTUALLY he settled on Oct. 22, 1844. The problem was — and this is going to shock you guys — when that day came, nothing happened. Millerites called it “The Big Disappointment.” I’ll say! After that, the movement split up. Fast forward to 1863 in the great state of New Jersey: The few folks who stayed the course changed their name to Adventists and found a super-clever way to save face. How?  By telling themselves that shit did, in fact, go down on Oct. 22, 1844 — just not the shit they thought would go down. Instead, they reasoned, Jesus had moved into a certain sanctuary within heaven and began his process of “investigative judgement” — that is, judging human beings and deciding who deserved to go to heaven. Jesus is definitely still planning to come VERY SOON, they say, but this time none of the world’s 17.2 million SDA congregants is banking on a specific date. Smart. [Read more...]

How to Unravel the Santa Myth Without Breaking Your Kid’s Little Ol’ Heart

This is a reprint from a blog I wrote last week for the PBS NewsHour.


FullSizeRender-293x300When I became a parent nine years ago, I made this deal with myself: No matter how uncomfortable it might be at times, I would always tell my child the truth. Way too often, it seemed to me, parents risk the trust of their children by telling them lies — white lies, black lies, all the lies — and rarely are any of them really necessary or justified. Plus, honesty was a value I wanted to model.

That worked out great until Santa Claus came along and screwed everything up.

I don’t remember when my daughter, Maxine, first heard about Santa. Chances are good I wasn’t even aware of it. The symbol of “the spirit of Christmas” is so ever-present in America — steeped in our culture the same way God is steeped in our culture. As an American child, there was no way Maxine was ever going to miss the Santa boat.

Seen in the right light, Santa is not a lie; he’s a mystery.

Still, it takes parental support to keep the Santa boat afloat, right? Parents buy the gifts; parents fill the stockings; parents take their kids to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap; parents help pour the milk so the kids can make sure Santa is greeted warmly when he shimmies down the chimney at night. And, if I didn’t want to burst the little bubble implanted in Maxine’s head by society, I was going to have to do what I said I wouldn’t: lie.

I’m not the first to have mixed feelings about Santa Claus. In his 1993 book, “The Trouble With Christmas,” Tom Flynn laid out five main arguments against engaging in the Santa myth with children:

  1. To perpetuate the Santa myth, parents must lie to their kids.
  2. To buoy belief, adults often stage elaborate deceptions, laying traps for the child’s developing intellect.
  3. The myth encourages lazy parenting and promotes unhealthy fear.
  4. The myth makes kids more acquisitive, not less so.
  5. The myth appears to exploit age-appropriate cognitive patterns that religious children use in forming their ideas of God.

[Read more...]

Quick! What the Hell is Hanukkah?

These are the things I’m ever able to remember about Hanukkah:

— It rhymes with Monica.

— It last for eight days.

— The colors are blue and white.

— Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.

— And something about a candlestick.

Listen, I’m not proud. I’ve already admitted that my brain, as Thomas Dolby so eloquently put it in the year 1988, is like a sieve. It’s no use coming down on me now. But in my own defense, what I do remember is factual — only the candlestick is called a menorah (rhymes with fedora) and “Dreidel” is not just a song but a game — and not some Kick-the-Can alley game, but a full-on poker game. Like craps. And do you know how much I like craps? Because the answer to that question is really, really a lot.

Of course there’s a bit more to Hanukkah than that — and my friend Mira (who teaches Judaism and speaks fluent Hebrew) was able to tell me all about it. (And she only laughed at my ignorance a couple-few times. Thanks, Mira.) So here it is: your friendly Holiday Cheat Sheet, Episode 4. [Read more...]