3 Things Secular Parents Do That I Wish They Wouldn’t

3 Things Secular Parents Do That I Wish They Wouldn’t June 9, 2015

HidingLook around the Atheist Channel here at Patheos, and you’re bound to see gripes about religion. Look around the religious channels, and you’ll see gripes about non-believers. The “other side” (whatever that happens to be) is almost always the easiest target — and often, let’s face it, the most deserving.

But sometimes the best posts are the ones that take aim at ourselves. After all, they aren’t listening to us anyway. They’re too busy listening to themselves.

So on that note, I’m going to throw out three gripes I have about us. They are all things I see secular parents do with relative frequency.

1. They shield their kids from religion. 

This is a headline that ran recently in the Daily Mail: Atheist mother bans her children from going on school trips to churches and mosques because she doesn’t want them to be taught about religion .” 

An atheist mother has stopped her children from going on school trips to churches, mosques and synagogues — because she does not want religion forced on them.

Claire Baker, 32, of Middleton, Manchester, believes an atheist upbringing is as much a choice as being brought up with a religion — which she wishes to avoid for her son and daughter.

Instead, the mother — who is a support worker for adults with learning difficulties — would prefer her children Benn, 12, and Katie, eight, to learn first aid, because she thinks it would be more useful.

Now, on the one hand, I totally get it and I admire her for standing up for herself and bringing attention to the concrete usefulness of medicine over the perceived usefulness of prayer. ButI think this is overkill at the expense of the kids. Here is a school that is seemingly interested in cultivating an understanding of various religions— not just one. And that seems worthwhile to me in this day and age, when religion is so very polarizing and Islam, particularly, is vilified relentlessly. In fact, I would fully support my daughter’s school if they decided to visit a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a temple or a sweat lodge. The only condition I’d set is that the school educate kids about atheism, too, because if the point is religious tolerance, that must extend to nonbelievers, as well.

2. They make fun of religion. 

Okay, let me get one thing straight: It’s totally okay to make fun of religion. In fact — and maybe you have to have a well-developed sense of humor to recognize this — it’s totally okay to make fun of anything. Jokes are jokes are jokes. You can laugh or not laugh, but when it comes to jokes, nothing is  sacred. (See, The Aristocrats if you don’t believe me.)

But making fun of religion around children is different. Kids’ brains are a bit like sponges, more pliable and vulnerable than ours. If you say something (or show them something) that pokes fun at a tenet of some major religion (say, this video on communion based on the book Awkward Moments Children’s Bible, for example), that could really confuse a kid or give them the wrong idea about the people who practice that religion. Humor is beyond important, but should be age-appropriate. I think we should make sure that our kids are informed, first and foremost, and that they have a well-developed sense of compassion and understanding before we introduce them to jokes that could derail those things. Does that make sense?

3. They pretend they’re religious.

I know it seems like I’m picking on the British today, but here is yet another recent story out of the UK that illustrates my point. This one ran in Christian Today under the headline “One in eight parents fake religion to get into faith schools.”

The number of children lying about their faith to ensure their children are admitted to good schools has considerably increased, a new poll has revealed.

A survey commissioned for ITV’s ‘How to get into a good school’, found that 12.6 per cent of parents have pretended to practice a religion they don’t believe in so they can get their child into a reputable faith school

And then:

Perhaps more shockingly, 13.7 per cent of parents admitted to having their child baptised to improve their chances of admission and a further quarter (253 parents in total) said they would do the same.


If we were talking about parents in Islamic States who were lying about their non-belief because their kids would literally face execution for following in their footsteps, I’d call that good, old-fashioned priority-setting. But these parents are lying (cheating, you might even say!) to get their kids into “good” schools. Good schools where kids will, presumably, learn to not to be cheating liars.

You see the fucked-up irony of it all, right? I mean, it’s not just me, right?

So, yeah, you want to get your kid into a good school. Or you want your kid to avoid a fight with Grandma. Or you want to let your kid enjoy the “benefits” of religion — Heaven! Community! Something to do on Sunday morning! — without the belief part. I get it! And it’s your right. And, frankly, as moral infractions go, it’s not high up on the list.

But it is lying. You are lying to your kids. And when you lie, you teach your kids it’s okay to lie. At the very least, you teach them it’s okay to lie to their own kids.

And look at the societal impact, as well. The more we hide our true beliefs, the longer certain parts of society will continue to treat non-belief as a moral defect and the more likely  shame, or even subjugate, our worldview in favor of their own.

Again, it’s the prerogative of every human being to lie to their kids — and to others — about their beliefs. And to make fun of religion. And to shield kids from religion.

I just wish they wouldn’t, that’s all.

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