What Do Atheists Tell Their Children?
The other day, I read a post titled "What Do Atheists Tell Their Children?" in which a Christian ponders unfortunate things he imagines atheists tell their children.
As a former Christian of 30 years and current atheist, there is so much that is misunderstood about atheism, and about atheist parents in particular.
Having been on both sides, I can say that Christian persecution is practically nonexistent when compared to atheist persecution. Being a Christian never cost me friends, but being an atheist has. For simply writing this post, I stand to lose friends and blog viewers. I was never afraid to admit I was a Christian out of fear for my safety, but I am as an atheist. Many Christians have an extreme fear of atheists... mostly due to misunderstanding. Because of this, I think it's important to be honest about what life as an atheist parent is like. It is important for people to see atheists not bad people... despite what their religion has told them. So, for those who wonder what an atheist tells her children about the topics covered by Toma Haiku, let me share my experience with you.
“We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” ― Richard Dawkins
In the beginning there was a speck. It exploded, hurling tiny specks everywhere. This "dust" started clumping together, slowly getting bigger and bigger. Eventually, it got really big, and it made planets and stars. Those stars eventually exploded and created elements in the explosion. The planets grew large. One of those planets was our Earth. Life slowly evolved from single cell organisms to fish to reptiles to humans. Those humans had babies, and eventual us.
The Meaning Of Life
As a Christisn, the meaning of my life was to be good enough to get to heaven. As an atheist, the meaning of my life is to follow happiness, to do things that challenge me, to work hard for things that I want, and to raise my children to be happy, curious, thoughtful adults.
What Happens When You Die
I tell my children that there are many, many different things people think happen when you die. I explain the current major religion's views on the afterlife. I tell them they are free to believe what they want.
I also tell them I believe that when we die we our bodies decompose back into earth, giving life to plants and animals in the future. I believe our consciousness will return to how it was for us before we were born. Neither bad nor good. Just nothing. Most importantly, I tell them we have just one chance to live our dreams, spend time with those we love, to accomplish everything we want to. That makes my life more precious than anything. There is no paradise that we can spend eternity with people, easing our mind for pushing off spending time with them off today. My life isn't meaningless, in fact, it's the exact opposite. My life truly is my everything. I've been told that as an atheist, I must have nothing to live for. No, I have nothing to die for. I have everything to live for.
And yet, despite no promise of heaven, my children are still good, and I think the people who know them would agree. I'm regularly told by parents, teachers, and strangers how nice, thoughtful, kind, and good my children are. They're good because it feels good to be good. My kids actually have an advantage in "being good" because they're not good just because they think someone is watching. I've read a few studies that have discovered religious kids are meaner and less altruistic than nonreligious kids, and I've noticed this to be the case as well. Of course, we do have religious friends that are nice, wonderful, and thoughtful, but I've found these children to be the exception rather than the rule.
As an atheist, morality has never actually been discussed. My children, while not perfect, know to do what's right. We model appropriate behavior at home. Every now and then, we ask them to treat others how they want others to treat them. That's it, and it works.
"Without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine." ― Penn Jillette
When children are younger we can get away with influencing them to do things as we do, but what possible argument can we make once they are old enough to decide for themselves? I ask them questions. Lots of questions. My goal is to give them the questions to analyze their behavior so they learn how to make the right choices on their own. Why did you hit your sister? How would you feel if a someone else did that to her? How would you feel if somebody hit you? Do you want her to feel that way? How do you feel when you see her crying? What can you do next time this happens?
How do I teach an adolescent children that stealing is wrong? Well, I'm sure they know, but I would tell them stealing from someone because it would be wrong if somebody stole something from them. How do I teach them that smoking is wrong? Again, they already know it's wrong because is harmful to their body and can make them very sick.
I feel my children are too young to know about sex, and abortion as well. I am pro-choice, and will discuss it with them when the time is right. I will also support my children's decisions regarding this matter.
Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
We celebrate Christmas with a gift from Santa. We hide Easter eggs. It's fun tradition that we all enjoy. When the children start figuring it out, we'll tell them the truth in a thoughtful, respectful way. I'm also aware that by not participating in a religion, that my kids are more likely to see through the Santa myth at a younger age than their peers who believe in God.
As a former Christian, I know this is hard to understand. Many people think atheists simply don't want to believe that God is real. It's not that. It's more like in the Wizard of Oz when the sheet is pulled, and we see that the grand Oz is nothing but an illusion created by man.
It's not that I don't want to believe in God, it's that I can't. Just like you as a Christian can't believe in. It's that my personal experiences have pulled off the veil that once blinded me, and that I just can't. I've seen the man behind the curtain.
Just as there was no longer the real possibility that Oz The Great existed after the man behind the curtain was revealed, there is no real possibility that God exists for me.
As an atheist, I encourage and support free thought, education and scientific conclusion, and tell my children that I believe God flat-out does not exist, though I did believe for a long time that he did.
When we take into account how many religions, all claiming to be right, have existed over time, there are just too many gods for a child, or anyone, for that matter, look at all of the evidence and decide for themselves which God is correct.
So who are these crazy people who believe in the imaginary man in the sky? Are they actually crazy? No. They're simply believing what they were told. Their parents told them, and they want to believe their parents were right, so they believe too. I don't tell my children they're stupid, as the author of the original artical assumes, but rather that they're just doing what they think is right.
Can my children be raised to trust Christians? Who my children trust has nothing to do with that persons religious beliefs and everything about who the person is.
And what happens if Christians are right and there is a God? I can't entertain the thought that there really is a god. Rather, what if they're wrong, and there is no God? Well, then these people have wasted years of the only life they will ever have worshiping an imaginary being. They will never get that time back, and in a life that will one day end, time is the most important thing you have.
The human spirit.
I don't believe a human spirit. I don't need to address this with my kids, because they aren't under the impression there was one to begin with. I believe the holy spirit is just a name Christians give to thinking. I believe "hearing God" is actually just thinking, that Christians have interpreted to be God.
I've experienced love, and believe it is all nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain. It's not that I'm "scared because accepting that the human spirit exists is the first step on the path to knowing God." It's that I legitimately believe God is no more real than Zeus or the Tooth Fairy. I'm not "secretly denying my spirit". I believe there is nothing there to deny. Denying the holy spirit is not the "peak of personal ignorance" as I've heard one Christian state. My personal research and experience has shown my the Holy Spirit is nothing more than the thoughts in my brain. I know my reality can't be comprehended by a believer. We see the world different ways. Seeing the world as I do can only be done by a nonbeliever.
I do t need to tell my kids they don't have a spirit. They never thought they did to begin with. But, yes, I teach them I believe when we die, we decompose into elements. Then, one day the sun will explode, taking our old bits far into the universe where they could become bits of other planets, stars, and maybe living things. They will live on forever as a part of the universe.
"World-class-fuckwit Richard Dawkins said that teaching your children about religion is akin to child abuse."
While I do see the harm that is caused by religion, I have never called it child abuse. And again, my children are not harmed by not having a Holy Spirit any more than they are harmed by not having magic or being able to fly.
As far as the idea that belief in God should be left to decide based on their own pursuit of truth and knowledge, well I simply don't believe that is helpful. God is either real or he isn't. Period. It's not true for some people and not true for others.
I'd rather pass along my extensive knowledge about the God myth to my children rather than having them devote years to discovering the myth on their own. I can think of hundreds of ways they could be doing something more productive than contemplating the existence of an imaginary figure. That said, if they do decide to believe in God one day, I'm okay with that as well.