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Five Things

I am grateful for …

  1. … shelter from the elements. My relationship with the weather is much better knowing that I can get some me-time away from it.
  2. … beautiful vernal weather. (+25 points for using a vocabulary word)
  3. … a healthy mind. I realize something of how fragile that is.
  4. … a long weekend with my family.
  5. … that I am capable of thinking for myself and that I do so on occasion.

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Obama’s Non-believing Childhood

In his speech at the national prayer breakfast, President Obama said:

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

I didn’t become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck—no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God’s spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose—His purpose.

Raised by non-religious parents, Mr. Obama came later in life to follow a God of compassionate service. I want to take this chance to point out that freethinking parents can do well by their children. I appreciate that Obama was able to separate religiosity and spirituality.

While I doubt that I will ever again follow any god, even as benevolent as Mr. Obama’s seems to be, I too want to work together to better the situation of all those who share this world with me.

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The Evil of Answer

“Answer is the betrayal of the open spirit of Question.”—Thomas McEvilley on James Lee Byars

Life has taught me to distrust anyone who offers all the answers or offers final answers (except mathematicians that is). Some of the wisest people I know are full of questions but not so quick with answers, nevermind St. Paul’s slander of the eternal student. An answer is a kind of death.

(via Edge)

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Reviews in 50 Words or Less: Parenting Beyond Belief

As a newly minted atheist father, I worried about how to teach my children. Parenting Beyond Belief convinced me that teaching my children to be freethinkers was not only acceptable but preferable, even beautiful.

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Freethinking Parenting

Seth recently expressed some opinions about freethought parenting. It’s a topic worthy of it’s own post, so I’ll respond here.

Any parent who thinks they are going to raise their own kids without forcing their own biases on the little tykes is just fooling themselves. In fact, letting your kids choose for themselves is even more damaging than imposing your belief system on them. My kids may grow up to resent my religion. They may rebel against me. But even then, at least they’ll have a direction in life – a point of reference. I’m doing them a favor.

Better than some so-called open-minded parents who essentially feed the kids to the wolves and tell them to sort out their own beliefs – in spite of the fact that the kid is freaking FIVE YEARS OLD and hasn’t got the first idea of how to form a belief system. Kids come into the world naturally looking to mom and dad to give them some direction. Refusing to provide that direction isn’t just bad parenting, it’s irresponsible and mean.

Parents need to grow a spine and realize that parenting isn’t some cosmopolitan personal vanity project. It isn’t about whether you appear to be fair, or whether you look “open-minded,” or whether you’re “the cool dad,” or whether you’re meeting some self-help book’s guidelines. It’s about raising kids. And it really isn’t about you.

Who cares if you end up looking like some close-minded zealot? The point is whether the kids turned out all right. Loss of “hipness” is a small price to pay for well-raised kids.

Yikes, Seth. Where to begin?

I think you’ve created quite a strawman for yourself of a aimless, convictionless, spineless parent who avoids taking a firm stand for fear that the child will disagree or dislike the parent. That may be true of some parents, but luckily that’s not what freethinking parenting is all about. Freethinking parents won’t necessarily end up on Supernanny because they fail to set boundaries for their children.

Reading Parenting Beyond Belief would help give you a better idea of what being a freethinking parent can and should be. Barring that, reading through the archives of the book’s blog can give you a flavor as well.

I don’t see that children need to stake out a metaphysical position about the reality of the resurrection, for example. I have seen no evidence that allowing them to keep religion an open question for later when they’re older is going to harm them.

Of course children are going to be heavily influenced by their parents. That’s the nature of childhood. Parents who are aware of their influence can try to avoid imposing their own beliefs as much as possible on issues that don’t concern the immediate health and safety of the child. Throwing up our hands in surrender just because some amount of biasing is inevitable is something like deciding that we’re going to be angry at our child sometimes so why fight it? Fostering free thought and questioning is important enough that an effort should be made to reduce how much we impose our beliefs on our children.

Freethinking parents still have rules designed to keep a child safe, healthy, and happy. I have a very strong bias against letting my small children play in the street and I’m not afraid to impose that bias on them. I also expect them to play nicely together. When the time comes, I will have some strong opinions about dating and sex. In other words, being a freethinking parent doesn’t look all that different than any other parent most of the time.

The differences in parenting styles start to creep in when we teach our children about how to address questions that they have. Freethinking parents are more concerned with teaching children how to think rather than what to think. I want to give my girls the tools they need to learn and decide for themselves rather than spoon-feed them my regurgitated opinions.

I might offer them my thoughts, but I usually follow that up by asking “What do you think?” I then follow up their answers with questions of my own, directing them and helping them to see where their thinking may be faulty. In other words, I offer my thoughts up as points of discussion and questioning, not the final word which ends discussion.

Far from being wishy-washy parenting, this is a firm stand that says “Question authority—even my own.” This is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy to allow your authority and rules to be questioned, and it’s a fine line to tread before this descends into chaos. Freethinking parents still need to have the final say, but they entertain discussion and might even change their mind if the child has a valid point.

Freethinking parents try to help their children explore their world in ways that are appropriate for their age and capabilities. They teach them how to interrogate their world. They prepare them to be independent adults who aren’t dependent on the dictates of authority figures to help them decide what is reasonable and true. They train their children to develop and trust their inner sense of reason. This is not spineless parenting in absentia.

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