Curse You, Pottery Barn Advent Calendar! (Or Maybe Not)

Two years ago, I did that thing where you see something in a Pottery Barn catalogue that makes your heartbeat quicken because it is perfection and you want it — no, you NEED it —and while you are picturing what it might look like on Instagram, your credit card number is flying into your computer (along with the expiration date and your three-digit code on the back), and the Thing That Is Perfection has arrived in a much-too-large box on your doorstep, packed by people who are absolutely not out to protect the environment.

That’s happened to you, right?

IMG_5870Anyway, in this particular case, the perfect thing was a hanging Advent calendar with pockets of various sizes in which to put toys and trinkets for your little one to find during the month leading up to Christmas. Joy!

After receiving the rolled-up bit of fabric and disposing of the refrigerator-sized box, I started scouring my surroundings, and the Internet, for terribly cute little knick-knacks and what-nots to wrap in terribly cute paper and arrange in terribly cute little pockets.

The result was all, well, pretty terribly cute.

My daughter loved it. I Instagrammed it. All was right with the world.

But, by the time Christmas arrived, I was sort of over it. [Read more...]

It’s Not a Contest. But Young, Single, Secular Women Are Winning Anyway

Thank God I'm an Atheist

Let’s hear it for the girls!

According to Women Give 2014, a study by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy out of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, young women who are both single and nonreligious are beating out their male counterparts, their middle-age counterparts and, most significantly, their moderately religious counterparts when it comes to charitable giving.

According to the study, young, single women who identify as having no religious affiliation:

• give roughly twice the amount to charity than do young nonreligious men.

• give more than two and a half times the amount to charity than do middle-age and older nonreligious women.

• give roughly twice the amount to charity than do women who are religiously affiliated but do not attend church frequently.

The last bit is interesting because for years it’s been assumed — and rightly so — that religious people are, on a whole, more charitable than nonreligious people. Makes sense. In most religious communities, helping the less fortunate is a priority, a necessity even. One could argue that giving to charity is part of their faith. [Read more...]

5 Reasons Not to ‘Fake Religion’ for the Kids

PlaceboI once read a blog post on under the headline, I’m Not Religious, But I’m Considering Faking It For My Daughter. The writer, Lindsay Cross, explained how she felt guilty about denying her 5-year-old “the chance for faith.” She wrote: “I feel bad thinking that she won’t grow up with the community and the support of a church. Even though I chose not to follow that path as an adult, I want her to be able to make that choice on her own and when she’s ready.”

Cross, a former Presbyterian married to a former Catholic, said she lost her faith but still appreciates the role religious institutions play in her community, particularly for children.

“… churches provide moral outlines and community structure for children,” she wrote. “There are studies showing that children who attend church get better grades. Other research says kids who attend church are better behaved. Still more shows that religious teens are less likely to use drugs.”

I was thrilled to see Cross write so openly about this. I think “faking religion” is far more rampant than people let on. Parents who believe that their children might benefit from the perceived comforts of God, or worry their non-belief will confuse or even harm their children, are more likely to give religion the old Silent Treatment or even take active steps to mislead their little ones — at least in the beginning. I recognize the complexity of the situation and don’t wish to make anyone, least of all Cross, feel bad. We’re all in this together. And each person’s situation is unique.

That said, faking belief is not the answer, and here’s why.

1. We must model the behavior we want to see. Honesty is a basic building block of morality. Lying or intentionally misleading kids about important subjects is not the example we want to set. Eventually, the truth will out, and our kids might get the impression that honesty is negotiable in our eyes. We lie to them now. They lie to us later. We mislead them now. They mislead us later. Trust me, it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of a lie — now or later. [Read more...]

Evangelical Authors Buy Their Way onto New York Times’ Bestseller List, Giving Poorer Authors Moral High Ground

BYKO9MACYAAFM8w.jpg-largeOne Sunday, about a year ago, I read the New York Times’ Bestseller List for advice and how-to paperbacks. It wasn’t just a passing glance. At the time, I was trying desperately to finish my own advice book for secular parents and wanted to see what was winning people’s hearts and minds in that particular category.

What I found was sort of devastating. Five of the top six slots belonged to Christians authors with Christian books: David Jeremiah (No. 2); Joel Osteen (No. 3); Theresa Caputo and Kristina Grish (No. 4), Pam Grout (No. 5) and Billy Graham (No. 6).  That’s when I knew: Barring a miracle (and obviously I don’t believe in miracles), I would never see my book on that list. As in: never ever. So I did what any bummed-out author would do. I tweeted about it:

Writing a book for secular parents? Do yourself a favor and DO NOT read today’s Bestsellers list. 

Fast forward to this morning, when I read a headline in The Daily Beast: How the Religious Right Scams Its Way Onto the New York Times Bestseller List.

Wait. What?

According to the article — which was written and reported by Patheos blogger Warren Throckmorton — there has been a trend among some evangelical authors (not all, of course) to buy their way onto bestseller lists. They do this, allegedly, through marketing firms that buy a particular title (or pay others to do so), thereby boosting that book’s ratings and allowing “New York Times Best-Selling Author” to appear before the writer’s name until the end of time. (Lucky bastards.)

But the jig is up. Or is headed in that direction anyway. According to Throckmorton: [Read more...]

‘I Don’t Know if I Believe in God. That’s My Religion.’

For many reasons, I’ve been loath to label myself according to my lack of religious beliefs. Atheist certainly fits, but it’s not a label I feel reflects who I am as a person, so I don’t go around flaunting it or anything.

When it comes to my daughter, I’m even less likely to want to label myself — partially because I’d rather she not categorize herself too quickly. It’s fine if she wants to adopt a label, of course, but it should come from her own feelings and not from a desire to belong to one tribe or another.

For a long time, my husband and I didn’t even mention the various tribes. When we talked about matters of faith, we just used the term “beliefs.” (“Some people believe this… Some people believe that…) But, as time has gone on, we’ve begun to label various religions a bit more often, pointing out that people do use their beliefs to identify with others.

At 9, Maxine now fully grasps that different families belong to different religions. And luckily, she has friends from various religious groups — Catholics, Christians, Jewish and Hindu — so she doesn’t appear to feel “left out” of any one faith.

But apparently she has been thinking about the whole idea of “having a religion” because, a few days ago, I overheard her talking to her 5-year-old cousin Jack about it. Jack’s Dad is Catholic and sometimes Jack attends Mass, though his parents are careful not to label him, either. [Read more...]

I’m Not an Asshole — I Just Play One in the Comment Sections of Other People’s Blogs

commenter1I’m sitting in my home, at my dining room table — which, at the moment, is doubling as my office. My laptop is open in front of me. My coffee is hot. My daughter’s at school; my husband is working. The dog is sleeping. The parrot is preening. The house is perfectly quiet and peaceful.

I log onto the Internet and opened Disqus — the portal into the comment section of my two-month-old blog here at Patheos. I haven’t read the comments in a while, and there are many new ones. Many for me anyway. I read some, and suddenly the peacefulness of my house is overwhelmed by voices. Angry voices.

Irritation, frustration, condescension and disrespect are evident. Some commenters use all caps to emphasize their points — the literary version of shouting. They’re not all shouting at me; most have turned on each other. One commenter, then the other. Back and forth. Lobbing tennis balls over the net, each claiming the point.

Sometimes they throw balls at me. “What you do is horrid,” one man tells me. “Its rape of the child’s soul. I hope you see it some day, because you are a shuttle-bus driver to hell for more souls than your own.”

But mostly their arguments are unrelated to my personal opinions. Mostly they’re just relentless debates between believers and nonbelievers over evidence (and lack thereof) of various beliefs. These are, to me, the least interesting of all debates, anywhere, ever.

On the Disqus dashboard, I click on one of the most offensive commenters. [Read more...]

In Lieu of Heaven: Give Kids Permission to be Happy

This is the last post in a weeklong series offering secular parents some practical advice on handling death, and talks about death, with young children without relying on (or resorting to) religious imagery. Last week, my advice was to give kids permission to be sad. But it’s not the only emotion we should encourage.


Happy KidAfter a person dies, the only thing we have left of them is our memories. Yet so many of us don’t talk about dead people because we feel even our happiest memories lead us to melancholy. We assume the only way to avoid the painful end is to not begin at all.

But honoring our dead and keeping them “with us” is part of how we cope with our losses. Suppressing those memories can deprive us of both joy and comfort.

This may not come naturally to most of us, and may require a bit more “work” on our part. But I do think that making a point of recalling the happy times, of treating our loved ones’ memories as an invitation to laughter, not tears, is a wonderful gift for children. Working Grandma’s favorite recipe into a mealtime, telling Grandpa’s favorite joke, or recounting the copious amounts of liquor Great Aunt Tilly used to consume at Passover every year are all healthy ways of coping—not just with their deaths, but with death in general. [Read more...]

In Lieu of Heaven, Give Kids Permission to Be Sad

This weeklong series offer secular parents some practical advice on handling death, and talks about death, with young children without relying on (or resorting to) religious imagery. Here’s Part Five:


I’vCry it oute talked before about Russell Friedman, co-founder of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks (CA) — and I really like what they guy has to say. Friedman spent nearly three decades counseling people in the midst of grief, and he talks a lot about the commonly held myth that it is both good and helpful to comfort grieving people.

To be sure, the desire to comfort our children is what makes so many parents feel compelled to tell their kids about heaven, right? Heaven seems to take the edge off of death. Heaven gives them an alternative reality. Heaven makes them a little less, well, sad.

But trying to make something that is terribly sad into something “not so sad” is no help at all, says Friedman. Sadness, he says, is such a healthy emotion at times of devastating loss. It’s completely appropriate. And trying to remove the sadness when someone is grieving is unhelpful, inappropriate and unhealthy.

To make his point, Friedman pointed to the emotion of happiness. Would we ever tell a loved one that they ought to feel less happy about a job offer because they might lose that job some day? Would we tell someone to not feel so good about their engagement because 50 percent of marriages end in divorce?

[Read more...]

In Lieu of Heaven, Give Kids Something to Do

This weeklong series offer secular parents some practical advice on handling death, and talks about  death, with young children without relying on (or resorting to) religious imagery. Here’s Part Four:


BurialA side benefit to keeping pets is to familiarize kids with the idea of death, to let them “practice” mourning, and to remind them that life goes on after loved ones die. But, so often, we shield our children from the reality of a pet’s death and, therefore, miss opportunities to let our kids build up their own coping mechanisms.

By encouraging your children to be present when your pets are euthanized and/or allowing your children to be involved in the mourning process with you (rather than, say, leaving the room to cry), you are teaching your kids how to mourn and move on. You are teaching them it’s okay to cry, and that grief — no matter how painful — is not life-threatening.

Likewise, invite your children to participate in mourning rituals when family members die. Modern therapists not only condone taking young children to funerals; they encourage it. Unless the child refuses to go (which rarely happens, I’m told), young kids should be able to witness and participate in the catharsis that funerals bring. Also, children need confirmation of death much more so than adults do. Without it, they may view death as something mysterious and temporary, rather than a real, permanent state. They may even await a loved one’s return. [Read more...]

In Lieu of Heaven: Give Kids Confidence

Part Three of a weeklong series.
Click here for parts One and Two.

superhero-kids-dayDid you know that psychological research has all but debunked Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ “Five Stages of Grief,” made famous in her bestselling book On Death and Dying?

In fact, when it comes to losing a loved one, grief doesn’t work in “stages” at all. In The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss, author George Bonanno writes that resilience — not denial, anger, bargaining, depression or acceptance — is what truly defines loss and grief. His scientific studies, conducted over 20 years, show that most people weather the deaths of loved ones relatively quickly and thoroughly. Mere weeks after devastating losses, many people are able to experience genuinely positive emotions, even laughter. And this is not denial or drugs doing the work — but rather our own natural resiliency, Bonanno writes.

Personality has a lot to do with grief reactions, of course, and some do experience grief in the Kubler-Ross-created image. But, in general, studies show, grief has an oscillating pattern. It comes and goes in “waves,” which is what, mercifully, allows us to take care of ourselves and those around us. [Read more...]