Dale McGowan - Raising Freethinkers
Posted: 21 June 2009 10:23 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Dale McGowan has edited and co-authored Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, the first comprehensive resources for nonreligious parents. He writes the secular parenting blog The Meming of Life, teaches nonreligious parenting seminars across the United States, and serves as executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a 501(c)(3) humanist charitable and educational foundation based in Atlanta. In September 2008 he was named Harvard Humanist of the Year by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University.

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Dale McGowan talks about raising freethinking children who are steeped in the values of science and humanism. He confronts some of reasons why some nonreligious parents may continue to raise their children in a religion, including moral education, identity and community. He describes trends within the scientific rationalist and humanist movements to provide secular community, which he argues are being driven by freethinking families. He talks about ways that church is increasingly becoming replaced by secular communities, and how churches are increasingly becoming more like secular community centers, as opposed to worship centers. He argues that raising freethinkers is the opposite of indoctrinating children in atheism, secular humanism or skepticism, emphasizing that “freethinking” is an approach to knowledge as opposed to a worldview. He also argues that parenting should not be focused on the value of inquiry and scientific skepticism, but on wonder, mystery and awe. He talks about the dangers of inculcating elitism among freethinking children. He explains why teaching about religion to freethinking children is important. He addresses ways of confronting death and the meaning of life with freethinking children, including how highly unlikely it is that any of us even exist. He talks about alternatives to lying to children about heaven, including facts from physics about the atoms in our bodies having existed since the beginning of the universe, and how such scientific truths may take on mystical pantheistic meanings. He talks about new social science research on happiness, and how it relates to and informs secular parenting. And he cautions that applying the best social science to parenting shouldn’t mean that we make our children our next science project.

Also in this episode, Michael Blanford, founder of the Skeptical Society of St. Louis and coordinator for the Life Science Lab for the St. Louis Science Center, shares an audio essay about the awe of science for children and why freethinkers should be more emotionally engaged when celebrating evolution as the story of life.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/dale_mcgowan_raising_freethinkers

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Posted: 22 June 2009 02:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I can’t wait to listen to the podcast. I frequently read postings of ‘ex-atheists’ turned xian whose parents clearly didn’t take the time to explain why the concept of ‘gods’ make no sense especially that there are at least a thousand different versions (can they ALL be right?). Children have to be introduced to critical thinking and science as well as freethought, because without knowledge, there can BE no freethought!

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Church; where sheep congregate to worship a zombie on a stick that turns into a cracker on Sundays…

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Posted: 24 June 2009 10:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Another belief in belief’er, he finds religious expression reasonable. apparently skepticism, desire for evidence, are not values that are important. As long as people aren’t too different politically he is fine with whatever crazy shit they believe. He’s advocating the myth that fundamentalism is always less reasonable than “moderate” religion, when it’s actually just different and that much of “mainstream” religion is just as irrational/unjustified. I think it’s dangerous and irresponsible to not care how perspectives are arrived. I take little comfort in knowing that people are “on my side” if they only are because they believe in fairies, I respect those that disagree with me when they have made an attempt at reason and evaluating evidence.

“Irrational” fears are not the same as irrational belief, although one can lead to the other. As far as I know I’ve always been afraid of heights, although I don’t actually believe I’m in serious risk and try to power through climbing. If you hear movement outside you will be biased towards placing consciousness on that, a kind of paranoia, but the difference is whether you form beliefs, or reason your way to a rational conclusion. We’re not all equal, that’s either irrational nonsense, or relativism. Perhaps no one is skeptical all the time, but that does not mean that we are equal, that’s a false dichotomy, there does not need to be a perfect skeptic for there to be a scale. To deny that people are different doesn’t solve anything, it undermines efforts to reduce prejudice.

[ Edited: 24 June 2009 11:15 AM by Aj ]
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Posted: 25 June 2009 12:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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DJ,
The show continues to inspire and educate in directions I didn’t known existed before. Thank you for all your hard work.
I enjoyed this interview; however, I think we could take Dale McGowan’s message one step further and use it as a springboard to set a dynamic methodology in motion that would 1) unstick “The Secular Movement” and 2) move it with a more worldcentric, transformative message that would eventually, 3) transcend Secularism.
I’ve recently returned from my first ever, local CFI event after listening to Ronald Aronson, author of the new book, “Living Without God”. Stopping here in South Florida (more specifically Fort Lauderdale), on his national book-tour, the lecture and Q and A time was refreshing amidst a modest but varied audience of would be non-believers.
If my tiny little microcosm of American Secularism is representative of the whole, I think I’ve encountered the general attitude, and what seems to be the regrettably slow evolution of “our movement”. More precisely, I’d like to postulate where it is at its current state, and suggest how it needs to move forward so that we gain significant distance away from the starting-line, and move toward the area of essential change we so desperately need in America. An area that transcends Secularism to the next…Worldcentrism. Surprisingly, this is one is as easy as one…two…three.
Firstly, it’s important to note that a less theistic culture will not emanate from anger and controversy.  Gone are the days of venomous debate with our theistic brothers and sisters…that’s just playing into the hands of those wanting to fight, and let me remind you, that’s exactly what fundamentalist do…fight!  Continuing to play this kind of game is political and social suicide; not for them, but for us. Anger always stems from fear (which is exactly what faith hijacks) and then conveniently fans the flames of contempt, disdain and hatred towards another. Contempt supplies more motive for more ‘would be” believers, and quite frankly, more resolute, angry ones. Thus, in appreciation of this equation, we need to temper our anger when partaking in discussions (notice I used the word discussions rather than arguments) with those who do believe, and to undertake this enormous mission without rejection. When beginning the conversation, don’t choose the attitude of unseemliness toward theists, but rather, take the higher moral ground, if you will. Be inquisitive and suggest agreeing to open-mindedness rather than supporting the notion of “agreeing to disagree”. That gets us everybody nowhere.
Second, when we do converse, we need to do so, on common ground. That being spiritual ground. As a teacher and practitioner of Insight meditation, I am (at times) able to understand that I am spiritual without being theistic. Perhaps relate the deep, personal relationship you have with nature or the awe-inspiring experience of feeling grace when you are sitting quietly, witnessing the flow of your experience unencumbered by your ego. These happenings can (and should be) described and explained not as something mystical, paranormal or metaphysical, but rather as auspicious events deeply rooted with an awareness, appreciation and admiration for the wondrous world around us.
Third, the only way we will affect real social change, is to actively invest in social change, en mass. Secularists need to stand up, “come out” and be visible to the rest of society. Not with flailing fists (as activists fighting against dogma), but rather with an open hand…availing to the believer an opportunity to see that we’re very much, just like them…perhaps maybe even someone they could admire. Showing up in social and civic groups, donning the Secular tee-shirts volunteering in soup kitchens, cleaning-up roadways, helping to shelter the poor, working with Habitat For Humanity, etc., basically helping to provide for those with less. Get it? By demonstrating compassion (the fundamental element of human nature), you become more embraceable. Most importantly, by being involved in a caring, invested group of people who are busy improving life for others, you provide a “welcome mat” for those who are hiding “in the closet” to “come out”, stand up and be accounted for. This is the simple act of selfless service and is something we need to enthusiastically invest in as a solidified group. Not just for each other, or for our local communities, but for our society and for the world. One more thing, let’s not forget the other simple, definitive equation: it always feels good to give.
I’m sure that little group of 30 (or so) non-believers I recently departed from, presumably would have tarred and feathered anyone (at least with anger and sarcasm) who may have stood up to proclaim their “on the fence” position- and that my friends- is where we begin our demise. If we don’t start re-tooling and re-directing our “project” soon, we’re dead before we even get to take our first breath of substantive existence.
It’s now our time to become the leaders of our society…to do so by setting a higher moral example and then, act from there. To forge alliances without anger, to “pay it forward” while transcending egocentrism and ethnocentrism in preparation to make that leap of consciousness toward worldcentrism and beyond. To begin this epic transformation, is really as easy as one, two three.

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Posted: 26 June 2009 04:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thomas Donnelly - 21 June 2009 10:23 PM

He also argues that parenting should not be focused on the value of inquiry and scientific skepticism, but on wonder, mystery and awe.

For the record, I just have to correct that sentence, which nearly made me ill:  “He also argues that IN ADDITION TO focusing on the value of inquiry and scientific skepticism, parenting should encourage a deep sense of wonder” is much more accurate.  “Mystery” is one of my least favorite words, and (though I have’t listened all the way through), I rather doubt I used it in the interview, and I would never substitute wonder for inquiry.  The former flows from the latter quite nicely.

Also, Aj:  You’ve made a cartoon out of several things I said.  The discussion with my son, for example, was not to equate his irrational fear with religious irrationality, but to back him off of unthinking arrogance, to give him a sliver of empathy for the people he was calling stupid—something I suggest everyone try.  And I assure you that I am as far from being a “belief in beliefer” as you, thanks.  I don’t think all outcomes are equal and quite clearly never said or implied that.  I simply advocate letting my kids sort it out for themselves rather than cramming my own conclusions down their throats.

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Posted: 26 June 2009 04:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I enjoyed this episode a lot.  I sense freethinkers moving onward from house cleaning mode, dismantling and binning old superstitions.  At least that’s the way I find my own thinking nowadays.  Without any really deep thought, it’s easy to see life as something to be lived positively and directly, not that much more than necessary in the negative debunking way.  We have Paine Ingersoll and many modern voices to help clear our heads.  So my granddaughter and I can converse along the lines of wonder and curiosity of a six year old, prompted by someone that could not have had such a headstart in rationality.  As well as all the usual fun stuff!

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Posted: 26 June 2009 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I was very interested in this topic because I have two children and a religious partner. I have given the boys exposure to Christianity, Buddhism and other philosophies and haven’t said that they have to follow one or the other. I had this intuitive notion that if I tried to force them to be Atheist or Agnostic that they would rebel and become bible thumpers. Also I believe that life as a believer actually has benefits for the believer because there is this supportive community within the church which is wonderful. If one or the other decides that he wants to be a Christian then the upside is being part of the larger community and being in a milieu which is socially supportive and engaging. If they decide to follow me then I can’t offer them any more than the truth and the fact that they will have to be self sufficient. I really “get"the idea of secular jews or secular christians or secular anything. We in the rationalist community have nothing to offer people in this area. I wish we did but we don’t.

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Posted: 22 July 2009 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Social aspects?  Free to explore all various avenues of spirituralism (or not)?
This may be a case to look into a local Unitarian Universalist Church.

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

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Posted: 26 July 2009 07:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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DaleMcGowan - 26 June 2009 04:04 PM

...was not to equate his irrational fear with religious irrationality to back him off of unthinking arrogance…

By… equating irrational fear with religious irrationality. In the context you make it pretty clear that’s what you’re doing. We’re all critical thinking sinners.

DaleMcGowan - 26 June 2009 04:04 PM

And I assure you that I am as far from being a “belief in beliefer” as you, thanks. I don’t think all outcomes are equal and quite clearly never said or implied that.

Then please retract your statements on “reasonable religious expression” and recommendation of telling children to speak to religious adults about their irrational beliefs. No, you didn’t say that all outcomes were equal, you thought that some religious outcomes were fine and some were not, and you probably filter the access to the market place of ideas, You probably wouldn’t tell your kids to go talk to a religious fundamentalist, or someone with dangerous and harmful beliefs.

DaleMcGowan - 26 June 2009 04:04 PM

I simply advocate letting my kids sort it out for themselves rather than cramming my own conclusions down their throats.

That’s an extreme all or nothing view that’s also a fiction. Presenting reason, logic, and science i.e. freethinking to be just opinion is a conclusion in and off itself. Not only is your stance “cramming” conconclusions down throats as any other, but it’s a pretty shitty conclusion as well. Not just opinion, science works, unjustified beliefs are irrationally held. There’s no escaping values without nhilism, presenting your position as neutral is only neutral between religion and freethinking, but I’d suggest being neutral between those is the wrong position to take.

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Posted: 26 July 2009 09:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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That makes sense on the outset (even to me) but continuing progress in science has the potential to make today’s best and brightest seem like a bunch of relative morons in retrospect.  In such case the errors or unknowns yet to be found in science places it on a pretty equal footing with the errors or unknowns in religion, unless perhaps any and all collective “wisdom” of the ages found therein is to be simply considered so much bunk.  On third thought, it may become true that what we think we know about science today will someday also be regarded as so much ignorance and bunk.  This age might someday be considered the “dark ages” of knowledge.  But that’s progress, hold on!

Perhaps we should teach the children that there is no inherently bad knowledge whether it regards science or spiritural matters, there is only (in said opinion) ignorance and in many cases misled people.

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

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