Can You Be a Good Godless Parent?

Can You Be a Good Godless Parent? May 6, 2014

When I was raising my two sons, I didn’t often think about ensuring their atheism. What I did was share activities and conversations with them that focused on their critical thinking ability, imagination, and rationality.

Mainly, then, religion was simply absent. Sure, we kept a few anachronistic rituals leftover from the faith of my own parents and from that of their father. Yet, at year end, they never asked me what the little two-foot tree with the six-pointed star on top meant. For them, it was all about presents.

For those who perhaps come from a more intensely religious background or who have only recently found their own inner godlessness, there’s a new book for help with the challenges of secular parenting. Not the first of its kind nor the last, this practical guide is warm without being unduly fuzzy.  It’s entitled Growing Up Godless: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Without Religion, by Deborah Mitchell, Foreword by Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief. Mitchell blogs about this topic at

This book will especially suit those non-religious moms and dads who want a thorough guide to the complexities of raising a moral child, but who don’t want to make to provoke confrontation or make waves in their community. “There are a lot of extreme voices on both sides [of the national dialogue between religious folks and secularists], but I hope that I am not and will never be one of them,” states Mitchell in her Introduction. “Though I may criticize religion’s inconsistencies or hypocrisies, I don’t want to shame or embarrass those who believe in God.”

Here, for example, is what she has to say about social networking etiquette for nonbelievers:

Believers, for the most part, take much greater offense to statements of disbelief than nonbelievers take to preaching. If you are a believer, you are free to say what you want because you are only trying to save others (yet, ultimately, yourself). You are doing a “good” thing, according to your preacher, your fellow Christians, and your God. (We know better.) . . . .

Fortunately, with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, we do not have to participate in posts and tweets from others. So, for the physical and emotional safety of nonbelievers, as well as peace of mind, I recommend staying on the fringe and merely watching the show on social media.

This passive attitude, whether wise (she lives in Texas and has two sons) or merely chicken-hearted, sets her apart from a number of other freethinkers. Thus her advice about raising good, moral children may be more palatable to readers anywhere on the spectrum of belief.

She shares her own experiences as well as anecdotes about other families. She discusses how, without God, to handle discipline, the concept of mortality, the idea of gratitude, and the fact that life isn’t fair, plus much more. In short chapters that feel as though they may have been blog posts originally, she tackles many everyday issues. Some will seem obvious to long-time atheists, such as what to do about Christmas, and how to get the comfy feeling prayer would give you if you believed. For her, meditation substitutes for the latter.

Mitchell’s is a calm, reasonable voice that ought to be widely read and discussed by believers and the godless alike.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

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