An Atheist Mother’s Promise: A letter to my sons

I wrote this blog post quite a long time ago for Parenting Beyond Belief, a great blog that you can find here. I thought I’d share it on my own blog as well.

Every day, your dad and I are humbled by the responsibility of parenthood. Not only by the needs of feeding you and making sure you don’t bump your head on the corner of the coffee table. (I’ll admit, we’ve failed at that a few times.) But we’re also humbled by the role of raising you to be free-thinking, conscious and deliberate individuals in a society that’s on religious autopilot.

Faithful people often ask your dad and I how we’ll raise you without religion as our guides. They seem to think that we’re rudderless, listing with life’s current and without purpose. They ask how we’ll teach you to be moral without lessons from God. But we have a plan. We’re atheists by a lot of thinking, reasoning and choosing and we will be your parents with as much deliberateness and thought.

Hereafter is my commitment to you.

I promise that by example I will teach you kindness, justice, cooperation, respect and tolerance. Because morality is part of what it means to be a responsible member of society and the world.

I promise to help you see other people’s perspectives, consider their experiences and be tolerant of their differences. I’ll encourage you to see beyond the labels of good and evil to understand the complexity of human existence.

I promise that as you grow and as I get to know you, I’ll accept you for who you are rather than any preconceived notion of who you “should” be.

I promise to teach you that you’re an agent of change in your own life and in this world. You aren’t a victim of circumstance and you don’t need to wait for unseen forces to bring you miracles. You’re your own creator — of fulfillment, joy, love and peace.

Alongside science, history, philosophy and the arts, I promise to teach you about all religions and give you the intellectual freedom to wonder, question and come to your own conclusions. And if your conclusions are different from my own, as many inevitably will be, I promise to respect them.

I promise to tell you the truth as much as I know it. And encourage a lifetime of curiosity, questioning and exploration in pursuit of more knowledge and your own truth.

I promise to show you that this moment right here is all the heaven we need. This life is our gift and our purpose. It’s our opportunity to live richly and to make lasting and meaningful change for society and humanity.

And in guiding you through life, I promise to talk to you about death — as much as I understand it — without euphemisms or fables, but as a natural part of this complex and enduring world. And I’ll talk to you about how brief a time we have in a world that existed before us and that will exist far after we depart.

I promise to love you fiercely, honestly and courageously.

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A one way ticket to hell

We nonbelievers probably hear a lot of similar arguments and claims from believers. I usually just smile and change the subject, which means I have decades of responses bottled up. So here they are, uncorked.

“You’re sending your children to hell because you’re not teaching them faith in [the Christian] God.”
I’m amazed that Christians are willing to love a God that would banish children to an eternal existence of pain and suffering for their parents’ “sins.”

“How can you not believe in the Bible?”
I believe in the Bible. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and am certain of its existence. What I think you mean to say is that I don’t believe the Bible is the word of God. First, I don’t believe in God, which would mean I can’t believe the Bible is the word of God, so I’m not sure why we even talk about this. And secondly, if I were to believe in any God, I wouldn’t want to believe in the one portrayed in the Bible. He is a merciless, angry, vengeful, illogical, inconsistent psychopath who sanctions the rape of women, the theft of property, the killing of children, women, men, and so on. But if you want to believe the stories in the Bible represent your God, all the power to you.

“May I give your boys children’s Bibles?”
First, thank you for asking and for wanting to teach my boys about the Bible. I want them to be religiously fluent, which I think it’s important that they understand the teachings of many religions. We are working on this with them in a natural way. However, I don’t want them learning watered-down Biblical stories that have been cleansed of all violence and atrocities. Those stories are untrue depictions of the Bible and of the Christian God. So when they are old enough to be exposed to the entirety of the Bible — horrors and all — I will gladly buy them a Bible and welcome you to sit with us as we talk about it in detail.

“You’re not raising your children with any morals because morality comes from God.”
The argument that religion is not the only source of rules to live by is so overdone. (Not to mention the fact that there’s a whole lot that’s taught in Christianity that I find completely immoral. See above.) So rather than go down this well trodden path again, I’ll say only this: my children make decisions about what is right and wrong based on their capacity to think, consider others, empathize, and understand the consequences of their actions. And they are learning to respectfully question the status quo and authority when they see something wrong in the world, or that something can be better. Maybe you want your children to make decisions based on what an invisible being tells them is right and wrong, but I place more value on teaching them that they should do good because it’s their responsibility to be positive contributors to the world.

“I can’t imagine how you feel to not believe in God and eternal salvation. That’s so sad. I hope one day, you’ll open your heart to Jesus so you can find the happiness that only he can bring.”
To those who’ve said my lack of belief in God is sad: I am very happy. I have a great life, a beautiful family, and a rich world I love discovering. Religion makes me sad. It’s confining and limiting, to me. I’m happy you’ve found comfort in religion. We are different people and need different things to be happy. There are a lot of happy people in this world who don’t believe in your god or any gods. Some are happier than you. Some are not. To think you have found the only true happiness is egocentric. But then again, Christianity is amazingly egocentric. So I suppose this is a losing battle.

“The Bible says…”
I’m fine with talking about the Bible. But using the Bible to prove God’s existence makes absolutely no sense to me. That’s like using a Stephen King novel to prove the existence of aliens. Entertaining, for sure. But not proof of anything.

“There’s no evidence that God doesn’t exist.”
There is also no evidence that unicorns, dragons and elves don’t exist but we (generally) accept their non-existence. It’s impossible to prove a negative. Therefore, the burden of proof is on believers. Before you say that it requires faith, save your breath, because now we’re not talking about evidence or logic and you’ve just taken the easy way out.