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On Respect

Ugh, I got distracted while writing this post, failed to save, and you can guess what happened.

I’ve wanted to write about some of the points Susan brings up in the comments, so she’s provided me a good excuse.

It is of course a very high priority for me to teach my daughter what other people’s traditions and beliefs are and to teach her to have the respect that comes of understanding. As Susan says, it is not respect to agree with everyone’s opinions or to keep silent. Often the most repectful thing one can do is challenge someone’s ideas, demand to hear their reasoning, and question it. You may find that they have nothing to back up their ideas, or they have brilliant arguments which might even win you over. And best of all, you might have a great conversation. Even if an individual does not have sound reasons for their beliefs, it doesn’t mean those beliefs don’t have a valid history which is worth understanding. I can despise the blind following of a fundamentalist Christian and fear his desire to control my life, while still recognizing that his beliefs have a history which is vastly important to the history of humankind.

I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ (which I should state outright now, so you’ll understand that if I go on about it a lot it’s not necessarily because I’m a huge fan, but because it’s in my thoughts right now.) While Dawkins says a lot with which I agree enthusiastically, he falls seriously short on the respect mark. Granting that I’m only a few chapters in and he may yet have redeeming things to day, so far he takes an attitude that suggests that all believers in supernatural beings who have ever lived were idiots. Any smart person who was a believer is excused as having had to go along with the tides of his time out of self preservation.

This is such obvious balderdash that it’s insulting to any intelligent reader, no matter how much of an atheist. There have been many, many brilliant people throughout history who have held a carefully considered belief in one god or another, and that needs to be taken seriously. You can’t simply brush them off and say that atheism is the only conclusion a thinking person could possibly reach. It is the only conclusion to which my thoughts and reasonings have ever brought me and I stand by it firmly, but I recognize that people far more brilliant than I have reached the opposite conclusion. And perhaps more importantly, for many believers, it is presicely the irrationality of faith that comprises its value, the very fact that it makes no sense at all and completely denies all scientific evidence. In one sense I find that craziness, and in other I think it gets at a crucial element of human psychology. I don’t claim to understand it, but it’s a question about which I’ve read a bit and find fascinating. It is foolish to cast it off as stupidity.

Perhaps there is even something particularly admirable about those who can face their own irrationality without flinching. It’s not as though any of us have more than a passing acquaintance with our motivations for what we do.


What am I Worried About?

This. It’s a great and inspiring story – brave 16 year old girl takes her school to court to have an inappropriate religious banner removed and wins. Fantastic. And now she’s inundated with threats of violence. There goes her normalcy, her childhood. Not for preaching atheism or pushing her beliefs on anyone, but simply for forcing the school to abide by law and keep religion off its walls. When will it be my child at risk of bodily harm for standing up for her rights? And will I have the courage to back her or will I remember my friend whose son was brain damaged for life after a playground bullying incident and tell her to shut up and hide? Dare I hope that in ten years there will be less hatred?

Maybe there is hope. Prejudice agaist homosexuality has receded so far. I know a teenage boy who got up in front of his school and announced that he was gay, to be received with applause. It’s hard to imagine an announcement of atheism being received the same way, but imagine the same announcement of homosexuality 30 years ago.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

In Which I Attempt an Introduction

I have been thinking of writing this blog for several years now. But my schedule is busy, my days are full, and the things capturing my attention many, so it has always fallen by the wayside. Yet every now and then something comes up which makes me think of it again, and at last impetus has combined with a little spare time to get me started.

To introduce myself, I am a single mother of a very normal, and to my eye bright and delightful five year old girl. I own a relatively successful small business and am fairly well educated, though by no means scholarly. Moreover, I am an atheist. This latter point does not figure very strongly in my daily life as I was not raised with religion, and therefore have not had to give much thought or effort to the rejection of it. That is not to say that my position is not a carefully considered or strongly held one, only that I endured no struggles to reach it, feel no daily need to affirm or reexamine it, nor to crow about it or win converts to my position. It’s simply my view on the God question.

That said, I realize it is not a popular view, and while I am not exactly in the closet, neither do I advertise my atheism too openly, especially in the context of my business. I have seen too much of American response to atheists not too fear that my customers would desert me in droves were I to be too ouspokenly atheist. No, my name isn’t really Emilia Plater; that is a pseudonym chosen for this blog precisely because I’m not prepared to be quite that out of the closet.

For myself this is all very well; outside the context of my business I do not much care who chooses to ostracize me for my beliefs (though perhaps I would if I lived in a different community, or if the tenor of religious feeling in this country should shift just a little more toward the fundamentalist). But now that I am a parent, there are more issues to consider.

I live in a fairly small town which, while not in the Bible Belt, tends to the conservative end of the spectrum. Not everyone is Christian, but not many people aren’t. I homeschool my daughter, not for religious reasons, but because I have strong opinions on the subject of education and not much faith in the ability of a school setting to provide a good one. I am not, however, so arrogant as to think my daughter would not benefit from having instruction from people beside her father and me, yet have not had any luck in finding any secular co-op to join. All the options around here are religiously based. If you Google homeschool co-ops for my entire state you will get a long list of them, nearly every one of which has ‘Christian’ in either the name or the description. And each time I’ve gotten a lead on a secular homeschooling parent with whom I might team up, by the time I speak with them I find they’ve given up and sent their kids to school. So I’m on my own. Not ideal, but I figure fewer options are simply a trade off for the quiet of a rural community.

What I’m more concerned about is how my child will fare with an atheist upbringing in a community like this. Over and over I have heard, even from atheists, that it is unacceptable to raise a child as an atheist. Long before my daughter was even born, an atheist colleague asked me what I planned to do about religion in my child’s life when I had one. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, children have to have religion. Since I’m an atheist I took my daughters to the Unitarian Fellowship.” I was mystified. Why do children have to have religion? But the more I’ve spoken to people over the years, the more I’ve learned that this is an almost universal opinion. People are horrified when they learn I tell my daughter there is no God. They react almost as though it were child abuse. And yet if I were raising her in a religion, probably *any* religion at all, it would be fine. I could teach her to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster and they might raise an eyebrow, but ultimately say that my beliefs have to be respected. Atheism, on the other hand, apparently does not need to be respected. Why is irrationality more worthy of respect than rationality?

So I worry. What prejudices will my daughter have to face out there, a lone little nonbeliever among the God-fearing? Already she has been reprimanded by a daycare provider for telling the other children there is no such thing as Santa Claus, and I was told that I was making a mistake by depriving her of the magic of belief. Am I depriving my child by not lying to her? Or are other parents depriving their children by creating a magic bubble which will eventually pop and leave them feeling that a world without the supernatural is flat and empty? I prefer to show my girl that the real world is infinitely grander and more wonderful than any invented one and that fantasies, whether they be Santa Claus, fairies, or gods, will always be but hollow shadows of the real thing.

Richard Dawkins in the preface to ‘The God Delusion’ tells us that there is no such thing as a Catholic child or a Muslim child (or, presumably, an Atheist child), only a child of parents of these creeds, because “children are too young to know where they stand on such issues”. I’m not sure whether I agree. Children hold all sorts of beliefs without having clear ideas of what they mean or why they believe them. My child believes in fairies, although I have explained to her as well as I can why there is not and cannot be such a thing. Eventually she’ll figure it out and cease to be a Fairyist. But for now she definitely is one. Similarly, she does not believe in any gods. She’s heard about a good many of them for we read a lot of mythology. She even has favourites – Aphrodite and Athena are high on her list, Zeus and Yahweh pretty low – but they are only characters in stories and she has no sense that any of them might exist. As she grows older and gathers more information she may of course conclude otherwise, but for right now I think I can say that she is an Atheist, without any understanding of what that means. After all, if considered understanding of all the implications of one’s beliefs is required to be an adherent of a belief system, how many fundamentalists of any kind could we still name?

My main purpose in this blog is to explore these ideas, discuss what it means to be an atheist in the modern day US, and document the adventure and trials of raising and atheist child. I look forward to seeing comments, hope to foster interesting conversation and, who knows, maybe even get entertaining hate mail like Richard Dawkins does.