Review: Parenting Without God

Review: Parenting Without God August 22, 2014

parentingwithoutgodby M. Dolon Hickmon, author of ’13:24- A Story of Faith and Obsession’ cross posted from The Freethinker

Parenting Without God by Dan Arel preaches to the choir of atheist parents

Parenting Without God (2014, Dangerous Little Books) is the highly anticipated first book by Dan Arel, a secular firebrand best known for his science reporting and op-ed pieces on secular parenting, humanist values, and church/state separation. In addition to writing freelance for Alternet and The Huffington Post, Arel pens a regular column in American Atheists Magazine.

Given the author’s reputation as a debater, one might expect Parenting Without God to offer a pointed critique of the Christian approach to parenting. However in this brisk little book, Arel resists the urge to engage his detractors and instead “preaches” directly to the “choir” of atheist parents.

The result is a bounty of practical advice, including ways for parents who are not religious to address issues like death, sex, and morality. Arel does take the time to outline a few of the pitfalls of religious parenting, including reliance on harsh corporal punishment and the deliberate cultivation of guilt, shame and sexual neuroses; however, these passages are not argued but rather presented as statements of fact. For those who harbor no secret doubts about their decision to parent apart from a church, Arel’s lack of defensiveness should prove refreshing and confidence-inspiring.

Few words are spent describing Arel’s own moderately religious childhood, but what he does say seems to reflect a basic lack of personal spiritual trauma. This does not soften the author’s zeal for humanist ideals, but rather appears to lend balance to his vision:

[One’s] duty as a parent is not to raise an atheist but to raise someone with the tools to come to their own conclusions towards the world.

While allowing that children have the ultimate right and responsibility to choose their own faith, Arel does not shy away from calling out abusive religious practices, as when he discusses the nine year old bride of the prophet Muhammad and the occasionally deadly child-whipping advice of bestsellingChristian author Michael Pearl.

In his aptly titled first chapter, Arel pins down what may be the chief problem for secular parents: Dealing with Religion. Through a progression of well-organized segments, Arel offers practical tools for insulating and inoculating one’s children from the religious influences that permeate our culture.

He discusses peer pressure, religious in-laws, and the presence of proselytizers (like the Good News Club) in public schools. He offers tips for exposing kids of all ages to hands-on science education, and suggests exercises that encourage young people to reason, ask questions, and demand evidence.

The second chapter is called Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life. Building on his earlier foundation, Arel explores these weighty subjects on a both a personal and societal level. On the subject of sex, he deals first with topics such as promiscuity, birth control, and masturbation; next, he considers the broader range of related subjects, including sexual orientation, gender stereotypes, and the principals of equality. On death, Arel’s approach is cautious but forthright, and his offerings on the search for meaning are substantive and optimistic.

The third section – Get Active – widens the lens to consider ways that secular parents can carve a path that makes parenting without God easier for atheists now and in the future. Here again, Arel offers actionable ideas that range from running for office to calling out inappropriate religious instruction in your own child’s classroom.

The final section consists of a series of essays on parenting from other non-theists, interspersed with a thoughtful minimum of commentary.

As the father of an almost three year old daughter, I found this book to be especially timely and relevant. My own childhood was deeply marred by my parents’ involvement with the Baptists and Pentecostals. For me, those early religious experiences were marked by toxic fear, shame and guilt, in addition to the psychological devastations of religiously motivated physical abuse.

There is nothing that I could want less for my daughter. Yet, if Parenting Without God has a central message, it is that knowing what you are not going to do isn’t a plan. For children to succeed, parents must offer them a better, truer view of history, the universe, morality and themselves.

A parent himself, Dan Arel humbly acknowledges the uniqueness of each parent’s task:

No two parents are the same. I cannot expect that everything that works for me can work for you, but I hope that I can light a spark.

This sense of child-rearing as a process of discovery permeates Arel’s book from beginning to end and is, I believe, what truly differentiates the secular ideal from the rigid prescriptions of religious parenting.

Though not a comprehensive manual, Parenting Without God provides an impressive treasure map of ideas and resources for conscientious parents who are already convinced of their own atheism.

• Writer and activist M. Dolon Hickmon examines the roots of religiously motivated child abuse in his debut novel “13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession“.

Comments open below

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession by M Dolon Hickmon

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  • Astrin Ymris

    It’s good that Arel addresses dealing with proselytizers, because according to a Pew Research Study, “…the unaffiliated have one of the lowest retention rates of any of the major religious groups, with most people who were raised unaffiliated
    now belonging to one religion or another…”

    I noted when a Catholic apologist was bragging about the Church’s growth in Africa and Southeast Asia that they were having there best success in Christianity-naive environments. It figures.

  • guest

    I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know what tone Arel uses. This paragraph does make it sound very much like any religous book for parents who are trying to raise their children to think and belive like they do:
    “In his aptly titled first chapter, Arel pins down what may be the chief problem for secular parents: Dealing with Religion.
    Through a progression of well-organized segments, Arel offers practical
    tools for insulating and inoculating one’s children from the religious
    influences that permeate our culture.”

    “(author) pins down what may be the chief problem for Christian parents: dealing with other religions, humanism, atheism, agnosticism. Through a progression of well-organized segments, (author) offers practical tools for insulating and inoculating one’s children from other religious and philosophical influences that permeate our culture.”

    What do I want to say? It seems like parents who are convinced that what they believe is “right” or “better” will want their children to adopt their philosophies, beliefs, faith or whatever. It doesn’t sound all that much different from moderate people of faith discussing how to keep their children in the faith without isolating them.

    I hope he teaches parents to be examples of respect for other people’s beliefs, even when one doesn`t share them.

  • guest

    There are plenty of Christians who don’t believe in hell, and plenty of persons in authority have persecuted some belief or another and advocated forced conversions or recantations. Islamic extremists are doing so right now in Iraq.
    My point is to teach our children to understand faith or lack thereof as something personal and inalienable. One can discuss and debate faith, one can question practices within a religion, one can even try to convince others that their belief is better than theirs. But that generalization you’ve taught your children is already teaching them something that isn’t true of all Christians. It’s like teaching them that all Muslims believe in waging holy war (not just the spiritual one).

  • guest

    Respect doesn’t mean agreeing with, understanding, liking or even accepting the validity of someone’s beliefs. You can respect a person’s right to believe in the flying spaghetti monster and think that it’s ridiculous, but out of respect for that person, you won’t ridicule them for believing what they do.

    If that’s the way you see it, then you’re talking about respecting harmful practices, not a person’s beliefs that are practiced without harming anyone,

    The way I see it: Your stereotypical bumper-sticker-on-car Christian teaches kid that “Jesus saves” and that all the unsaved are going to hell, AND he teaches his kid that he should respect other kids and whatever those kids and their families believe.
    Stereotypical atheist parent teaches his kid that there is no such thing as a god, heaven or hell and that life ends at death. There’s no such thing as eternal life. And that parent teaches his kid to respect other children and their beliefs.
    Teachers are trained to respect all the kids in their classrooms, so when the Jesus-kid and the atheist kid start discussing their beliefs with each other, the teacher doesn’t side with any of the two and simply keeps the debate from turning into a mudslinging match, and when J-K and A-K go home and tell their parents all about the other kid’s beliefs, their parents congratulate them for being respectful of each other.

    That`s the only way to live in religious tolerance.