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Raising Secular Humanist Kids
Posted: 01 December 2006 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This is an enormous topic, but in general I’m interested in the community’s experiences raising their children in a non-religious, rationalist way. I am raising a daughter, and doing so as an agnostic and a rational naturalist/materialist is challenging in a predominantly religious and somewhat anti-science, anti-intellectual cultural environment. I’m always looking for new ideas and approaches, as well as books/educational materials/community groups to help. Some questions I consider in my own parenting are:
1) What’s the best way to respond when, inevitably, your child is exposed to religious stories/ideas in school, at a friend’s house, etc and has questions, or complains about not having something a friend has as part of their religious tradition (a holiday, ritual, etc.)
2) What identity label can we give our kids? When my daughter says, "Friend A is Jewish, Friend B is Christian, what are we?" what do I say?
3)How do you handle the subject of death without the easy sop of an afterlife where everybody gets back together and Lives happily ever after?
Obviously, a discussion in this format cannot be comprehensive, but I’m mostly hoping to hear any experiences or thoughts on the subject from those of you out there parenting from this world view. Thanks!

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Posted: 01 December 2006 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I think the answer to #1 and #2 is simple: tell your children the truth. Every Sunday morning my neighbors leave with their children for a church and don’t come back until two hours later. Now, I consider these two hours a complete waste of time. And so do my two boys. Sometime when we see them leaving for a church I ask my boys: “So, what do you want to do today? (Sunday is our play day.) Do you want to go to church with S. and J., or do you want to go to the caves?” The answer is instant. So maybe you’re right that our children might feel left out because they don’t get presents on Hanukkah (for example), but they don’t have to suffer (two hours per week) listening to some nonsense that even the adults don’t understand.

What identity label can we give our kids?

Well, my boys identify themselves one as Batman and the other one as X-man. LOL

Here is my response to your last question. I originally posted this in “DJ Groethe with Richard Dawkins” thread:

My older son is now five, and he has been asking me questions about death since he was three. Before I had kids I thought this might happen, now I realize I wasn’t ready for it. First I told my son that after he dies, which will happen in a very looooooooooong time, he’ll become a flower. I know this is a lie, but there is little truth to it. And he was fine with it for some time. Then one day he told me that he didn’t want to be a flower, but he wanted to be him forever, after which I was speechless. My mother-in-law (who is religious) insisted telling him about “the possibility” of going to heaven. I didn’t agree. I told him the “truth”: after death there is nothing. I explained to him that I was equally afraid of it because I didn’t fully understand it. We talked about the importance of being alive and about achieving immortality through your children. He liked that, it made him feel special. He liked the idea of “helping” me (!) (trough his existence) to become immortal. He still asks me about it once in a while, but I can see that now he tries to look for the answer himself.

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Posted: 01 December 2006 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Re: Raising Secular Humanist Kids

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately for some reason (I’m a 21 year old college student with no kids and not planning on having any for a few years at least). Before I start with some of the ideas I’ve had I’ll address one of your initial questions:

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”] I am raising a daughter, and doing so as an agnostic and a rational naturalist/materialist is challenging in a predominantly religious and somewhat anti-science, anti-intellectual cultural environment. I’m always looking for new ideas and approaches, as well as books/educational materials/community groups to help.

I don’t watch much TV, but Morgan Spurlock has a documentary show entitled 30 Days that had an episode with an Atheist mother who was raising 2 or 3 kids. I recall some short interviews with the kids and many with the mom which gave me some great insight on how to raise kids with a somewhat anti-religious mindset (and by that, I don’t mean hostile to religion, but rather in opposition to some of its concepts). Anyway, you might want to find that episode.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”] 1) What’s the best way to respond when, inevitably, your child is exposed to religious stories/ideas in school, at a friend’s house, etc and has questions, or complains about not having something a friend has as part of their religious tradition (a holiday, ritual, etc.)
2) What identity label can we give our kids? When my daughter says, “Friend A is Jewish, Friend B is Christian, what are we?” what do I say?
3)How do you handle the subject of death without the easy sop of an afterlife where everybody gets back together and Lives happily ever after?

1. I used to think this was simple: Your kid says “who/what is god?” Your reply might be that “some people believe that god is an invisible person who exists in the sky that created the world.” (This is true, even though few believe nowadays that god is in the sky, it is important to keep the concepts very simple at first, so you may revise them later when your child has developed his or her cognitive skills).
But it’s not that simple is it? I suppose the emphasis on your part should be placed on the fact that many people believe many different things. At this point it is easy to present a bias and start to negate the beliefs of others. This is a tough choice, one which I think you should probably avoid and simply take a middle ground presenting the facts. You child will eventually ask what you (or “we”, in this case the child’s family) believe. That would be the best time to present what you think.

2. That’s probably the toughest of questions. I’m not sure yet. I’ll get back to you on that one.

3. George has a pretty good example, but I would also consider telling the complete truth: No one knows. Some people think this and others think that, but we just don’t know. Feel free to explain what you THINK, but mention that the best answer (heaven) isn’t necessarily the right answer.

Once again, I’d like to say that I’m a young man still struggling to find the answers, so my advice may not be the best (especially since I’m not a parent yet), but I feel some of these concepts might help.


[quote author=“George Benedik”]Then one day he told me that he didn’t want to be a flower, but he wanted to be him forever, after which I was speechless. My mother-in-law (who is religious) insisted telling him about “the possibility” of going to heaven. I didn’t agree. I told him the “truth”: after death there is nothing. I explained to him that I was equally afraid of it because I didn’t fully understand it. We talked about the importance of being alive and about achieving immortality through your children.

I loved your response George, and I would like to meet Batman and X-man someday, to see how they grow as rational thinkers. I think something you might want to add to the kid that asked you this question is that even if there is nothing after death, he still will be himself forever! Our memories of him will not change, and thus neither will he as a person, regardless of his literal existence.

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Posted: 01 December 2006 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Brennen,

These two videos of Richard Feynman might not answer your questions, but they surely are inspirational:


Richard Feynman on teaching methods.

Richard Feynman on how his father taught him.

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Posted: 02 December 2006 05:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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George, these are wonderful clips. I adore listening to Richard Feynman—what a natural teacher he was.

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Posted: 02 December 2006 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Humanist Network News’s E-zine has a column called Agnostic Mom .

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Fiction is fun, but facts are fundamental.

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Posted: 20 December 2006 08:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Speaking of Richard Feynmann, now seems a good time, morbid as it is, to quote his (supposed) last words:  “I’d hate to die twice, it’s so boring.”  Though flip, his words exemplify the most satisfying way for a non-theist to approach death.  In short:  Don’t worry about!  Live while you’re alive!  Death with a capital “D” is just one more aspect of the religious order that non-theists are supposed to reject.  Sure, we all die, but why make such a big fuss over it? 

As for how best to explain this to a child ... there really is no way to break it to him without having it sting a little, however much you sugar-coat it.  But I would try not to act sullen or somber when talking about death.  Brush it off a little, and perhaps use it as an opportunity to tell him about how he should value life, and how incredibly lucky he is that he was born at all.  And don’t forget to mention that he’ll probably live to be 150 (if Aubrey de Grey is right, that is!  :wink:) 

I don’t have kids, so for all I know these might be horrible ideas.

Your “becoming a flower” idea is a nice approach, too.  :D

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Posted: 20 December 2006 09:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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What identity label can we give our kids?

None, as far as I’m concerned .  Child labels are an abuse.  No such thing as a Christian child - only a child of Christian parents.  No such thing as a secular child - only children of secular parents.  Labels imply an inheritance, a must.  We have to stop it.

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Posted: 21 December 2006 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Child labels are an abuse. No such thing as a Christian child - only a child of Christian parents. No such thing as a secular child - only children of secular parents. Labels imply an inheritance, a must. We have to stop it.

A bit inflammatory, don’t you think? I wasn’t suggesting ramming my ideology down my child’s throat. But if you’ve had the chance to watch children, you know they are very much in the process of becoming. Certain characteristics come with genes, others are acquired and many of the latter are deliberate choices. So when a child grows up in a society in which most people have multiple identity tags (Christian, Irish, Liberal, Vegetarian, etc), they will be asked for theirs. Expecting them to bravely refusing to offer one to their peers is a bit much to ask in kindergarten. Besides, part of the becoming is trying on and discarding a variety of identities or identity features. I was just curious what other secular folks offer their kids given that the “opposition” has a variety of simple, well-established labels and ours (secular humanist, bright, etc) seem to require a lot of explaining and clarifying.

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Posted: 07 January 2007 12:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Teach her how to think

If you teach your child to to think critically, to question, and to analyze the bombarment of information that she will encounter in her life, then you really don’t need to TELL her anything. My six-year-old son has been taught way too much about god in Georgia schools. When he asks me about god, I ask him what he things about it. How old is your daughter?

Mine is in her early teens, and I was purposeful in NOT telling her much about my disposition. She adopted her own identity as an athiest because I taught her that she creates her own reality, not the teachers at her school or the religious right that dominates the south.

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Suppose we’ve chosen the wrong god? Every time we go to church, we’re just making him madder and madder.
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Posted: 07 January 2007 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Welcome, Angieruns.
My daughter is 6. She went to a Jewish Community Center pre-school, though we are atheists and not cultural Jewish. She was exposed to lots of ritual, which she loves, and some terrible biblical stories (you know, how God kills all the children except the Jewish ones, which the Creator of the Universe can only identify by the lamb’s blood painted over their doorways!). I’ve tried to be fairly neutral about the subject of God, though I share with her my open-minded yet skeptical feelings about God’s existence when she brings it up (as in when they she mentions that the reason the planets circle the sun is that God made it that way). I did tell her I thought the killing-the-children story was nonsense because I thought that was way too pernicious and frightening a thing to teach a child. And I certainly emphasize making up her own mind and not accepting as unqeustionable truth anything she is told, even by me.
My wife gre up in the South, so she’s especially interested in helping our daughter avoid the kind of saturation w/ evangelical Christgianity she endured. Thanks for your respponse!

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Posted: 07 January 2007 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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The delusion is so pervasive in the south that I am as non-vocal as possible about my beliefs. The fact that I am a secular humanist could actually cost me career opportunity.

I grew up in Miami and spent the better part of my adult life overseas, so the culture shock of the bible belt has been difficult, to say the least. It is not helpful that my husband, a southerner, thinks that I am going to burn in hell. smile

I am often perturbed when my two little kids come home talking about Jesus, but it is best for them not to form their opinions until they can dicuss them in a defensible way among the deluded.

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Suppose we’ve chosen the wrong god? Every time we go to church, we’re just making him madder and madder.
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Posted: 07 March 2007 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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As a father of two girls, I think this topic is very important.  What I have done is take a more skepitcal approach when they ask about god and what people believe.  I simply tell them that nobody knows.  I tell them ” people will tell you all kinds of things and will want you to believe them, but nobody really knows what happens when you die”.  Of course the age of the child would dictate what the talk includes. We approach the subject of sex the same way. It is a mistake to all of the sudden at some age have a “sex talk”. It is something that is ongoing.  When they have a question, you address it then and there. Don’t overwhelm, but take the opportunity to have a good, frank discussion that answers the question and maybe a little extra. No embarassment.  My 14yr. old gets the whole non-religious thing. I have been discussing critical thinking with her for a long time.  I think my 9yr. old will be even better at it because I have started with her c.t. even younger. Also, I think a good thing to go over is what people all over the world think. Hindus/Jews/Jains/Chrisitans/Muslims, all have these strange ideas,  why?
They start seeing the absurdity of it all , “my invisible man is better than your invisible man and I am going to kill you over it”.  Also, required veiwing at my house is “Cosmos” depending on the childs age it helps frame their world view. My 9yr. old doesn’t understand it yet. She wants to see the Bill Nye videos.  Great! I could keep writing but this is already too long,more later.  GA :D

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Posted: 03 January 2008 08:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Posted: 04 January 2008 03:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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mckenzievmd - 01 December 2006 06:32 AM

This is an enormous topic, but in general I’m interested in the community’s experiences raising their children in a non-religious, rationalist way. I am raising a daughter, and doing so as an agnostic and a rational naturalist/materialist is challenging in a predominantly religious and somewhat anti-science, anti-intellectual cultural environment. I’m always looking for new ideas and approaches, as well as books/educational materials/community groups to help. Some questions I consider in my own parenting are:
1) What’s the best way to respond when, inevitably, your child is exposed to religious stories/ideas in school, at a friend’s house, etc and has questions, or complains about not having something a friend has as part of their religious tradition (a holiday, ritual, etc.)
2) What identity label can we give our kids? When my daughter says, "Friend A is Jewish, Friend B is Christian, what are we?" what do I say?
3)How do you handle the subject of death without the easy sop of an afterlife where everybody gets back together and Lives happily ever after?
Obviously, a discussion in this format cannot be comprehensive, but I’m mostly hoping to hear any experiences or thoughts on the subject from those of you out there parenting from this world view. Thanks!

1. I would suggest a ‘comparative superstitions’ approach. Just explain how people believe different things, that you believe in a rational world, and that it will be up to her to decide for herself.

2. I suggest secular humanist. It is a ‘positive’ phrase, rather than atheist.

3. hmm thats a toughie! Maybe the lion king? “when we die we become with the grass” or some such phrase!

With reference to religious holidays etc, i suggest taking the ‘bender’ approach. make them up, and if they happen to take the form of a drinking contest, so much the better!

Ski.

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Posted: 05 January 2008 05:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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mckenzievmd - 01 December 2006 06:32 AM

This is an enormous topic, but in general I’m interested in the community’s experiences raising their children in a non-religious, rationalist way. I am raising a daughter, and doing so as an agnostic and a rational naturalist/materialist is challenging in a predominantly religious and somewhat anti-science, anti-intellectual cultural environment. I’m always looking for new ideas and approaches, as well as books/educational materials/community groups to help. Some questions I consider in my own parenting are:
1) What’s the best way to respond when, inevitably, your child is exposed to religious stories/ideas in school, at a friend’s house, etc and has questions, or complains about not having something a friend has as part of their religious tradition (a holiday, ritual, etc.)
2) What identity label can we give our kids? When my daughter says, "Friend A is Jewish, Friend B is Christian, what are we?" what do I say?
3)How do you handle the subject of death without the easy sop of an afterlife where everybody gets back together and Lives happily ever after?
Obviously, a discussion in this format cannot be comprehensive, but I’m mostly hoping to hear any experiences or thoughts on the subject from those of you out there parenting from this world view. Thanks!

For Debra and me, these were easy. We never doubted how we would present things to our kids. In our experience, we simply presented our kids with the truth as we saw it. Maybe the key is just to be very firmly grounded in (for us) Humanism.

1. Our kids never felt as though they were missing anything, so they never complained, not once. Raising children with love, joy a sense of wonder and fun (they had as much fun with Santa as anyone, they just knew it was pretend) is imperative. If they don’t feel that way, if they feel that something is missing, you’re going to lose the battle. Hate to say it, but you will.

On the more general topic of how to handle what happens when children are exposed to something:

At other homes: Our kids always handled the situations at friends’ houses. Theistic parents were more worried about our kids than we were about our kids being in contact with theistic parents or kids. For example, when our daughter was maybe seven or so, Debra heard her reading from Hans Kung’s Does God Exist, a copy of which was on a shelf by her bed. Apparently one of her friends made the mistake of bringing it up.

At school: We took no prisoners. We made it very clear, respectfully but firmly, that any kind of pushing religion in a public school would not be tolerated. The Paszkiewicz matter was not the first time we faced it. That’s because every other time the school or its representatives knew better than to mess around.

2. Again, it was never an issue. Don’t worry about labels. We’re people. Call yourself a Humanist sometimes if you like, but don’t be dogmatic about it. The whole point of what we’re about is people. So just be that.

3. Tell them the truth. Express an appropriate degree of seriousness about it, but don’t make it sound like a disaster. Remind them that life is for living.

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I cannot in good conscience support CFI under the current leadership. I am here in dissent and in support of a Humanism that honors and respects everyone.

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