Atheist Parenting: Raising Children Without Deities
I've been an Atheist claiming Agnosticism since I was 9 years old. I stopped believing the day before I was baptized into the church. The pastor sat me down to ensure I realized the seriousness of what I was doing and invited my questions. He couldn't give me any answers that didn't center around blind faith and I needed more than that, even as a child, before I could agree to devote my life to an unseen being. I still was baptized out of respect for my grandparents, and 'faked it' until I was 12, when I finally told them that I didn't believe in their God and broke their hearts.
Raising my daughters as a skeptic that still has respect for what others believe is difficult for me. Atheists are viewed as people with no moral barometer, unholy and all that's wrong with the world in this Christian dominated nation. I see it all too often here in The South, with countless old ladies blessing my children for being adorable or asking what church we go to. I find myself hesitant to tell anyone that brings up religion with me that I'm an Atheist. I've had enough of the horrified looks to last me a lifetime, so I normally just nod and smile.
I grew up in a staunchly religious home - one of Seventh Day Adventists. It was hell. Practicing vespers was the worst part of it - from Friday at sundown until Saturday, or Sabbath, at sundown there was no television, no shopping, no secular activities permitted. We were to rest and reflect on the Lord and all he'd done for us in the previous week. I was never allowed to attend dances and rarely to listen to any music other than gospel, which may explain my early affinity for Sam Cooke, Al Green and Mahalia Jackson. If it wasn't gospel it was Kenny Rogers or or Johnny Cash or Johnny Mathis or Frank Sinatra. Not that that's a bad thing - Kenny Rogers is my man.
Seventh Day Adventists don't mess around when it comes to God and following the The King James Version of The Bible. And none of that New Testament cancels out Old stuff that I see preached by other denominations. No nitpicking and choosing what was convenient for our lives while maintaining our right to judge the rest of the world. We were disallowed things that most people think are prohibited only to only Jews or Muslims. We were taught to recite passages that most people had never heard of. We were imprisoned by our religion and it's insane requirements for everlasting life with God.
For example, I was taught that eating pork, shellfish, fish that swam without scales and certain other meats was unclean, and therefore disallowed. I can still pretty much recite the Deuteronomy verse “And the swine, because it divideth the hoof, yet cheweth not the cud, it is unclean unto you. Ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcass.” And the one from Leviticus: "But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you."
Now, even though I am an Atheist, I still don't touch it. I will eat pepperoni on my pizza once in a blue moon, but I've never even been tempted to eat the wrong type of seafood, or a pork chop, or a piece of ham. I was once bullied into trying a piece of lobster that was about the size of a pinhead and soaked in butter but as soon as it hit my tongue I started retching and spit it back out. I just could not do it.
It makes no sense, but what makes even less sense is that I'm passing this ungrounded neurosis onto my children. I do not allow them to eat pork or seafood other than salmon, occasionally. Why am I doing this? I have no clue. But I also have no intention of allowing them to eat any of the 'unclean' meats in the future either.
Religion made me bat shit crazy.
I'm guessing that my girls will be crazy enough too without me teaching them that a "cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree...[source!]"
I'm not teaching my daughters to be Atheists. I'm not teaching them to be anything at all. I am Atheist, and they will know that from the start. When the questions start, I will explain everything that I can, I will give them all the details of every deity that I can find on the internet. I will explain to them why I myself don't believe, and why I do not care either way. I will be sure to teach them to never scoff at or mock the beliefs of others (to their faces at least) and to never act intelligently superior, even if others may act morally so.
If they decide they need their soul saved later on in life, more power to them. My grandparents will be very pleased that although I strayed from the path of righteousness and salvation, my children had the sense not to stray with me.
If they decide to become Atheists, it's my job to prepare them for the religious bigotry they'll face and to be able to stand their ground. I will help them prepare a respectful argument that centers around the infamous Stephen F. Roberts quote: “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
I think that's all I really can do.
Contributing Editor Maria Young focuses on shaping her daughters into awesome, open minded people - without the pressure of trying to ensure they don't burn in the fiery depths of hell - at her blog, Immoral Matriarch.