In Defense of Secular Parenting

The Harmless Proposition

As a skeptic with young children, you’ve certainly heard the following from a religious friend or family member, “You’re gonna let them go to church, right? Would you be upset if we took them to church with us?” This seems a rather harmless proposition, does it not? The skeptic has a duty to open mindedness and reason; entertaining a thought without accepting it, etc; to betray that charge under the banner of principle undermines what the skeptic is ostensibly valuable for. Although, let’s explore this for just a moment. Let us imagine we’ve addressed a variation of the question to the religious without any prompting, “You’re not gonna let them go to church, right? Would you be upset if we explained why it’s highly improbable that a god exists?”

Admittedly, the latter is faintly sardonic while the former somehow assumes that form of religious “humility,” and “unassuming” posture. But why is this? Why is it that skeptics must entertain this inquiry seriously when the religious have no corresponding need to? In refusing their offer, one may indicate they find their religious lifestyle so repulsive, so morally destructive that their children must be spared of it. How are the religious to feel when confronted with this position? In this hypothetical, all one has managed to do is construct the question to accommodate skeptical convictions. It is no more or less personally undermining of the other’s position. However, when the priest invites himself into the hospital room of a skeptic on her death bed to offer salvation, this might be thought considerate. If one considers what would occur if an atheist attempted this feat with a religious patient...well, I should need not elaborate further.

The Double Standard

It seems immediately plain there exists a double standard; their cake all but licked from the fork. One hears it very often said that the skeptic’s position on religion is caustic, volatile and unapologetically rude. The skeptic flies the colors of repudiation to the claims of the religious. A great deal of the time, we are willing to relinquish our reservations in the company of family and friends with religious convictions if only not to satisfy these baseless assumptions. The skeptic finds herself searching for the bottom of the bottle, pinching herself to maintain that passive, silent disposition that the religious appreciate when they’re discussing matters of faith. Might she interject by summoning from her memory an article on atheism that she read? What would be the nature of dialogue following such an interjection?

Let’s entertain another hypothetical; four atheists are discussing the beauty of the cosmos and a member of the flock interjects with an article he read concerning creationism. We are in danger of caricaturizing either party in both of these hypotheticals, but this is precisely the issue. There is hardly enough collective experience within the religious community for a standard of response to opposition to their views. The reality of the solution is rather uncomfortable, but the skeptic must be willing to occupy those crude stereotypes aforementioned, for “suffragette” was once tarred and feathered with similar, cruel adjectives.

Our Moral and Ethical Obligation

One must be at the ready to provide evidence (or at the very least, impassioned speculation), for comparing the woes of suffragettes to those of skeptics or the skeptic may appear monumentally self­pitying. After all, nearly half the United States consists of women, whereas skeptics make up a discrepant percentage (some of the time approaching between 15­20%), but certainly not half. The reader is familiar, I’m sure, with the many great figures that lived in hiding, or perhaps in the closet altogether, never revealing their skeptical convictions. They reluctantly raised religious children, were born and married into religious families, and it is fair to assume stared in bewilderment at the elevated pulpit on the designated days of worship.

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I shan’t need to cite individuals. We were only made aware of their skepticism through studying their works produced under pseudonyms. What about the lesser skeptics? those women and men, (and it must be said, children) whose names will never be celebrated? Their children became members of the flock, or made the pilgrimage to Mecca, or just as disturbingly, rejoiced in the near sacrifice Abraham performed on his child. And those indoctrinated children begat more indoctrinated children until it became a death sentence to question the majority on matters of faith.

Is it necessary, even morally and ethically obligatory, to ensure your children witness you defend the exercise of reason over faith; most especially in the company of those whom are religious that you love? I implore you, comrades, do not let the other parents decide

Atheist Republic contributor, Dan Arel, recently published a book for atheist parents raising children in Christian America. You can find it here.

Photo Credit: bigbirdz

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