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.