Parenting Beyond Belief

One of my goals for this year is to read my way through a stack of books that have been sitting on my desk for months now. They are about atheism, religion, philosophy, science, social issues, parenting, and a few works of fiction. We’ll see how far I get. 

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My husband and I are making the conscious decision not to raise our children in Christian Science, and while we have talked about the idea of attending a church, after a childhood of non-negotiable church attendance with our parents, there are other things we’d rather be doing with our Sunday mornings. We are striving to raise children who think for themselves on religious and ethical matters, and who are generally kind, empathetic people, and while my mother insists that Christian Science provides a “wonderful framework” to stretch children out of shape provide support and guidance, it is not a path I feel comfortable taking — I can not sustain the mental gymnastics, nor do I want to pass the guilt and irrational fear of malicious animal magnetism on to them.

In the process of seeking a different path I came across Parenting Beyond Belief, A collection of essays intended as a resource of opinions, insights, and experiances related to a single issue – raising children without religion – and the many issues that relate directly to it (Parenting, xi). I read it straight through in three days — quite a feat with little ones helping.

Parenting is divided into nine chapters, each contains several essays on various topics, with notable contributors including Penn Jillette and Richard Dawkins.  There is also a forward, preface, glossary, a list of general additional resources, and biographies of the contributors. There are also more topical resource lists at the end of every chapter. These are incredibly helpful if you’re trying to find books on a more specific topic — holidays, death, science, etc.

After my first read-through the books is liberally sprinkled with colorful little flags and margin notes. I fell in love with the book in the Preface where McGowan tells the reader

… there’s little attempt to dictate authoritative answers. Our writers suggest, inform, challenge, and encourage without ever claiming there’s only one right way…. And a good thing too — secularists are a famously freethinking bunch. It’s the attribute that ended us up as secularists, after all — that desire to consider all points of view and make up our own minds. (Parenting, xi. emphasis mine)

Nothing in this book is divinely authorized. Everything can be questioned, discussed and explored. To some extent my parents encouraged me to read widely and draw my own conclusions, and as long as my conclusions came back to Christian Science being the One True Religion, that was fine. So, being able to question everything — and come to my own un-pre-ordained conclusions — is a very liberating idea.

McGowan hits on another wonderful idea on p. xii, the notion that secular parents are not alone, even though the societal default assumes some form of church-going culture. While being in Christian Science was incredibly isolating — it is a very small movement, I could at least walk into any Christian Science church on Sunday and be able to follow along and have some sense (misplaced though it may be) of community — and it is part of the default church-going culture.  Being out of Christian Science is an even more niche group, and thankfully, I have found community through my blog and activity in the Facebook groups.

As I explore my path away from Christian Science, I know that Parenting Beyond Belief will likely play a role as I work on clarifying my thoughts as I try to explain my beliefs to my children and encourage them to think for themselves. There will be no divine inspiration, instead there will be lot of reading and questioning in the years ahead.

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7 thoughts on “Parenting Beyond Belief

  1. earlyburly says:

    Sounds like a great book. My husband and I also raise our children in no particular religion and encourage our daughters to question the world around them and underatand that there is no one right way. I’ll look forward to reading your future posts on this topic x

  2. tildeb says:

    We are striving to raise children who think for themselves on religious and ethical matters, and who are generally kind, empathetic people,

    I wonder how many parents actually take the time to think about what goal of their parenting is to be considered successful? You are already light years ahead of the normative curve.

    …I work on clarifying my thoughts as I try to explain my beliefs to my children and encourage them to think for themselves. There will be no divine inspiration, instead there will be lot of reading and questioning in the years ahead.

    Wonderful. Imagine raising kids who can not only think for themselves but OWN whatever opinions they decide to support? Why, it’s almost like raising kids to become responsible and caring adults!

    • kat @ kindism says:

      Thanks for the re-blog. I wouldn’t say we’re “straying” from religion, we’re making a very conscious decision to not indoctrinate our children. We hope to guide and encourage them to question, and come to their own conclusions.

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