Raising Children As Atheists
Kelly Duenckel

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org> To: "Kelly Duenckel"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Saturday, January 27, 2001 11:31 AM

The big thing to remember about atheism is that atheism is the state of being free from theism. Thus, theism is an added attraction or an enhancement (as some see it -- I don't) to regular life. So, to me, we should more likely hear the question, "We are theists and expecting a child, and would like to know what, in addition to the regular things, should we teach out child?"

Prometheus just sent me George H. Smith's new book (Why Atheism?) which explains much of this (the first chapter of his other book, Atheism: the Case Against God, is a wonderful treatment of putting atheism in the proper perspective). With the proper understanding of the word atheism, we can see that atheism is normalcy, atheism is the default condition of humanity, atheism is nothing special. It is theism that is all these things and more, because theism is learned and is not natural. So, the questions you have probably want to ask deal mostly with child-rearing itself, child-rearing as is common to all families, theist and atheist alike.

Of course, atheists living in a culture dominated by certain theistic viewpoints do have special problems that we'd hope nobody has to endure, and you might consider making sure that the kids are at least aware of these problems if not prepared for them (and who can prepare for such problems?). There are pros and cons to such preparedness. My folks taught me nothing about bigotry, but I can now see that some of their habits and some of the language they used was wrought from the fact they were in the minority.

The main problem I'd concern myself with revolves around open-mindedness and tolerance -- rather, acceptance. Tolerance says, "We'll allow you to hold your opinions" whereas acceptance says, "We're all humans and I understand and accept that you have (or think you have) valid reasons for thinking the way you do, so I'll try as best I can to get along despite our differences -- but, if you ask me, I'll tell you the honest thoughts in my mind."

Further problems involve the fact that the dominant religious viewpoint in America, Christianity, has a built-in bigotry factor, that is, bigotry against non-Christians in general and bigotry against atheists in particular. This religion commands its adherents to approach the rest of us and set us straight on many matters, particularly the god question. The kids will need to decide how to respond when approached by people bent on proselytizing them: to be up front or to be subtle. My parents were subtle, and when asked would say, "Oh, we're not religious."

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Saturday, January 27, 2001 7:48 PM

As for books for kids, I would go straight for the science shelf of the kids' library. Also, American Atheists and Freedom From Religion have both published books for kids that deal with the religion question. You could do worse than to get help from the inter-faith dialogue people and the Ecumenical movement, particularly the inter-faith dialogue people, as they will be able to provide insight as to how to get along in a pluralistic society.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.