Much to the distress of intelligent and thoughtful atheists everywhere, being a Christian is awesome because life’s biggest wonders are already answered. Most existential questions we may ask ourselves can be addressed by referring to scripture and/or religious foundation, all of which greatly simplifies the question of what we tell our children.
Atheist actor Paul Giamatti recently referenced parenthood in this CNN article:
”My wife is Jewish and I’m fine with my son being raised as a Jew. … I will talk to my son about my atheism when the time is right.”
I applaud Giamatti for doing what all good atheists should do. He is allowing his son the benefit of unbiased perspective. I can only imagine that when the time comes he will share with his son his own views about life and encourage him to come to his own studious conclusions. But is this what most atheists do? Or do they choose to influence their children’s thinking in favour of their own?
It makes me wonder, what do atheists tell their children about…
The origins of life.
In the beginning there was nothing but a large rock floating through space, right? It exploded, and over billions of years the universe was formed.
“But daddy, if the world came from one big rock, how come we aren’t all like rocks? How come we’re alive?”
There are two ways of addressing this question. Either life formed miraculously and spontaneously, or it was seeded from elsewhere in the universe. If we say that life happened spontaneously it is a scientific cop-out. If it was seeded from somewhere else in the universe, then how was it formed in that part of the universe?
Does a simple “We don’t know yet” suffice?
The meaning of life.
I have no doubt that many secular parents tell their children there is no meaning to life. When we die we will disappear into nothingness, our consciousness will cease and all that we have ever been will be no more. But if we are here for no reason, and when we die we will exist only in the history books, then what is the point of even existing?
As a parent, how do you deal with telling a child that there is no meaning to life, followed by telling them that they should be nice to other people anyway? “Why do we have to be nice?“, many of them will ask. “If we came from nothing and disappear into nothing, why does it matter what we do? If life has no meaning, then who makes the rules? And who says, father, that your rules are the right ones?”
What can you, as an atheist, tell your children about morality? What reasons can you give your child for forgiving the bully in the schoolyard without risking a perfectly legitimate adolescent argument about subjective morality?
One of my readers once referrenced ’alternative morality’, which perfectly summarises the secular view on morality. It is always alternative, because it is always subjective. When our children are younger we can get away with influencing them to do things as we do, but what possible argument can we make once they are old enough to decide for themselves? What grounds do atheists have to tell their adolescent children that stealing is wrong, or that having sex at 13 is wrong, or that smoking weed and dropping E on a Thursday afternoon are wrong?
These are not points but questions. How do these conversations play out for non-believing parents?
Should your daughter be smart enough to debate your lack of objective moral standing and decides to become the school floosie at 17, what are you going to tell her when she gets pregnant annually? Should she go ahead and have abortions whenever she needs to, despite the increased risk of cancer and mental issues associated with it? It is after all her body, and her choice.
The question here is, without being able to cite objective morality, do you have a leg to stand on in judging your child’s actions?
Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.
This is one of particular interest to me as it is the argument so often used by atheists such as Sam Harris as a metaphorical reference to our ‘imaginary’ God.
Telling a child that Santa Clause exists opens their mind to a world beyond the material, and there is the potential risk of a child growing up to believe that God is possible, if not in fact real. Yet telling a child that Santa Clause is not real eliminates the incredible wonder that comes with such beliefs.
So which way do you go? Risk it so they may have a magical childhood? Or strip them of the pleasure to appease your own beliefs?
Atheists hate to believe that God is real. They hate to even entertain the possibility. I am beyond counting the number of debates I have witnessed between atheists and Christians in which both sides present perfectly good, valid and often convincing arguments, yet despite the real possibility that God exists it is rarely acknowledged by those who argue against it.
Atheists encourage and support free thought, education and scientific conclusion, but do they tell their children that God flat-out does not exist? Or do they share their thoughts on the matter and tell their children to look at all of the evidence and decide for themselves?
So who are these crazy people that believe in the imaginary man in the sky? Are they actually crazy? Or are they simply stupid?
If the children of atheists are raised to believe in the supposedly plentiful evidence we have that proves the absence of a universal architect, how then can these Christian people continue to believe in God? Can your children be raised to trust them? And what happens if Christians are right and there is a God?
The human spirit.
I have never met an atheist that believes in the human spirit. Despite experiencing love, and despite actually having a spirit, atheists insist on believe it is all nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain.
Accepting that the human spirit exists is the first step on the path to knowing God, and this is precisely what scares them. Even though they sense their own spirits they choose to deny them for fear of what it will lead to.
Not believing in the spirit is the peak of personal ignorance (more ignorant than our belief in Noah’s Ark, even), but I get it. What I don’t get is someone being able to look their child in the eye and say, “Son, you don’t have a spirit. You’re just flesh and bone. When you die, you die. Technically you’re no better than a sewer rat.”
World-class-fuckwit Richard Dawkins said that teaching your children about religion is akin to child abuse. How then does he view telling your children they have no spirit? Should that not be another matter for the child to decide based on their own pursuit of truth and knowledge, let alone their own sentiments to the contrary?
The point of this post is not to patronise, but to genuinely ask how these very important questions get addressed. Children are so vulnerable and so in need of love and guidance that everything we tell them matters, and the truth that atheists purport seems one too cold and too hopeless to share with societies smallest and most spiritual members.
I’ve made a lot of educated assumptions in this post, and it’s one of the few times that I truly hope I’m wrong.