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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book Review: Parenting Beyond Belief


From the author's site:

Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion, the first comprehensive title devoted to the unique joys and challenges of raising children outside of religion. Newsweek called Parenting Beyond Belief “a compelling read,” while the Library Journal called it “engaging and down-to-earth…highly recommended.” Contributors include Richard Dawkins, Julia Sweeney, Penn Jillette, Mark Twain, Dr. Jean Mercer, Dr. Donald B. Ardell, Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbons, and over twenty-five other doctors, educators, psychologists, and secular parents.

It's not only refreshing to see a book on the "joys and challenges" of raising kids without religion, but I found this book to be enormously helpful. As the father of a 4 1/2 year old, I'm becoming increasingly aware that it's only a matter of time before we have to start dealing with "those" questions, and Parenting Beyond Belief provides some very good insight for all manner of issues around raising children outside of religion. Particularly useful this time of year are the essays on dealing with the holidays, which I found particularly helpful. Especially the essay by Dr. McGowan regarding making use of the Santa myth to teach critical thinking and skepticism.

One of the few disagreements my wife and I have had about parenting was about the Santa myth. I had been struggling with lying to our daughter and teaching her about something that was utterly false, but that essay changed my mind. I do admit that doing the whole Santa thing is pretty fun, and after reading that essay, I'm much more comfortable with it. Our daughter is a born skeptic though, and we probably only have a couple years left of keeping up the illusion. After she figures it out, though, I'm actually hoping that she'll want to keep doing the Santa thing just for the fun of it.

If you're a secular parent, this book is a must have. I'm also looking forward to Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide to Parenting Beyoned Belief, Dr. McGowan's next book, due out in February.

Thursday, November 27, 2008



There's been quite a bit of talk around the atheist blogosphere about the atheist billboards going up here in Colorado. This column talks about them, with a fairly reasonable tone. The co-dependence of Christianity really stands out to me, with the Christian quoted in the column thinking that the message "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." somehow denigrates Christians. Project much?

Anhyhoo, I'm going to try to get photos of at least one of the billboards and post them here.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Carnival of the Godless #105


Hello and welcome to the November 23, 2008 edition of carnival of the godless. For this edition, I'd like to issue a challenge to all carnival goers. Errr, maybe not a challenge, but a request. One of the things I've noticed is that there really aren't many comments in some posts on atheist blogs, even carnival posts which (presumably) get far more traffic than an average post or blog. My request is that when you go to a post to read it, leave a comment. Even if it's only "nice post" or "this sucks". Or, take the time to poke around that blog and comment on a different post. As vjack has pointed out, it's important for us to build an atheist community. A step towards that is for us all to take the time to read each other's posts and comment on them to open up conversations and dialogue among us.

Mark throws it back at those theists who feel the need to convert us in How Dare You!!! posted at Proud Atheists.


Archvillain brings up some good points on Prop 8 in Tangled webs, etc. posted at A Dark and Sinister Force for Good, saying, "Religious whackjobs are trying to legislate morality. Again."


CyberLizard stands up against theists in Where I Stand posted at CyberLizard's Collection, saying, "Clarifying my position, giving fair warning to those who want to impose their religion through legislation."


Andrew Bernardin points out a recent scientific discovery about immaculate conception in Immaculate Conception for Hammerheads posted at The Evolving Mind.


Greta Christina reminds us how scary it can be to leave theism and gives us some ideas for making atheism/secular humanism a safer option for those wanting to convert to rationality in A Safe Place to Land: Making Atheism Friendly for The Deconverting posted at Greta Christina's Blog, saying, "We spend a lot of time in the atheist community putting cracks in the foundation of religious belief. What can we do for the newly deconverted, and those who are questioning their faith, to help them feel that atheism is a safe place to land?"


Ubiquitous Che reminds us that atheism is not the hopeless dead end that theists paint it out to be in The emotional impact of my atheism posted at rhetoric sans pareil. If you don't read any other carnival post, I recommend reading at least this one.


A.C. Chase points out the arrogance and general ass-hattery of Mormons in What the Mormons Do posted at Alexander the Atheist.


Wenchypoo reminds us that the holidays aren't all they're cracked up to be in Annual Rerun for 2008: Why We Skip the Holidays All Together posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket.


Jack Carlson points out the hate in Prop 8 Let’s turn “No on 8″ into “No on Hate” and talks about the gay marriage vs. religion issue in Marriage means One Man & One Woman, race no longer an obsticle posted at Heathen Queer, saying, "A denouncement of hatred and a plea for gays to peacefully oppose the loss of our civil rights in post-prop. 8 California."


Paul Sunstone presents Authoritarian Evangelicals, Mormons Heroically Defend America Against Gay Aggression posted at Café Philos: an internet café.


Martin posts about the link between politics, corruption and witchcraft in Nigeria in "My Witchdoctor Stole My Election Donations": Witchcraft, Religion and Nigerian Oil posted at The Lay Scientist. Very interesting piece.


Ben shows us what all the bigoted houselholds need this year in I'm Dreaming of A White Christmas posted at Grown Ass People, saying, "What's the best Christmas decoration for the devout Christian? Why the 5.5 foot tall "burning cross" courtesy of the American Family Association."


Postman has postcards from Gawd in Dear Discovery Institute... posted at "Gone Fishin': Postcards From God" and Dear Little Children of the World… « “Gone Fishin’: Postcards From God”.


Ron Britton entertains himself (and us) with Amazon tags in Jackasses with Word Processors posted at Bay of Fundie.


Steve Snyder/SocraticGadfly points out that even atheists can be ridiculous in Stuart Kauffman erects anti-reductionistic straw man posted at SocraticGadfly, saying, "Kauffman, the former long-term scholar at the Santa Fe Institute, says we need spirituality to exorcise the demons of reductionism from science."

Akusai presents The Divine Assumption posted at Action Skeptics, saying, "This is a post I wrote explaining my view that theologians and apologists have to assume God exists in order to talk about him at all, and thus all of their "proofs" of his existence are entirely useless. I hope you enjoy it!"


vjack reminds us that it's important to stand up for atheist equality, and the lessons that can be learned from prop 8 in Proposition 8 Protests Offer Lesson For Atheists posted at Atheist Revolution.


Adam H shows us just how crazy those Westboro baptists are in fred phelps does it again posted at ...And That's How You Live With A Curse.


And my own contribution about my daughter's imaginary friend Jerry posted at Antimattr, and how he is very much like a god. Imaginary.

That concludes this edition. There's some really good stuff here. As I mentioned above, please take the time to comment somewhere on each blog. Submit your blog article to the next edition ofcarnival of the godless using our carnival submission form.
Past posts and future hosts can be found on our
blog carnival index page

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Thursday, November 20, 2008



I've often heard atheists and secular humanists refer to gods as imaginary friends for grown ups, but lately I've really come to understand just how true that is. My daughter (4 1/2 years old) has had imaginary friends pretty much since she started talking. At first, we had Cheeky Munks, a monkey small enough to sit in your hand and ride in your pocket. Then we added Boom Finch, a zebra, also small enough to sit in your hand and ride in your pocket. These were fairly unsophisticated imaginary friends, as you might expect from a child around 2. Eventually, they sort of disappeared and were replaced by "Jerry". Since we don't actually know anyone named Jerry, it's a bit of a mystery as to where the name comes from.

The interesting thing about Jerry, at least to me, is that his attributes change according to the needs of our daughter. Sometimes he's a green frog, sometimes he's a cat, sometimes he's child of 2 (when DD needs someone to boss around), sometimes he's 16 and can drive. Jerry provides comfort and company for her, she can talk to him when she's lonely or doesn't want adult company at home, he either does what she wants or does what she can't do (like drive) according to her emotional needs at the moment. It really strikes me that religion seems to be an extension of the human desire to control the universe through our imaginations, but sometimes that gets carried a bit too far and becomes more real to some people than the actual life they lead. It's understandable-who doesn't want to control their environment? Who doesn't want a friend who's guaranteed to always be there and always be safe?

That's living in denial, though, and seems to me to devalue the human relationships in our lives. I've heard a great many theists, especially Christians, place their "relationship" with God above their family and friends. That seems horrible to me. How can you live in such denial about reality that you would make a deity more important than your spouse or child? Regardless of whether you believe in a deity or not, we humans are all confined to the same ball of dirt, and even if we atheists are wrong and there is an afterlife, all religions seem to have the common belief that what you do on earth determines what sort of afterlife you lead. Doesn't it make more sense to treat all people kindly, to place other humans above petty differences in religion? I understand that to some, those difference are not petty, but it saddens me to see dogma take precedence over caring and compassion. Especially dogmatic belief in imaginary friends.

It's not that I object to imaginary friends. After all, they spring from the imagination, possibly the most powerful, most important human attribute, and something that we try to foster in our daughter as much as we can. However, when we play along and get too serious, our daughter reminds us "Jerry is imaginary, he's not real!".

I love Jerry. I'll miss him when he's gone. God, on the other hand, I don't think I'd miss at all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Encyclopedia of Life


Secular humanist scientist E.O. Wilson, author of Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, and On Human Nature, has a new project.

The Encyclopedia of Life is an attempt to create an encyvlopedia with a "site" for each of the 1.8 million known species. The site is not only a wealth of information (and growing all the time), but it's well-designed and has some pretty cool features.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The emotional impact of my atheism


on rhetoric sans pareil.

This is one of the absolute best posts on atheism I've ever read. This exactly what I mean when I talk about "spirituality" in the context of atheism.

An excerpt:

And that’s the emotional impact of my atheism. I can feel in my bones how silly and human the myth of God really is. It’s so… limiting. It makes our brief, special, vibrant lives into nothing more than an entrance examination for an eternity that will never come, and wouldn’t matter even if it did. What matters is here and now. Tomorrow will only matter when it becomes the new here and now - it is the hereness and the nowness that gives a moment its meaning, not its place within eternity. It is kairos that grants meaning, not chronos. And even once we are gone, there will still be meaning and light and life in those we leave behind. Funerals are rites for the living, not the dead.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Carnival of the Godless #104 is up


at Homosecular Gaytheist (and friends).

Posted by Chimbley, there are some terrific entries.

I'll be hosting Carnival of the Godless #105 on November, so be sure to get your entries submitted by midnight, November 21, 2008. I'll be giving preference to secular parenting posts, but any godless posting will be eligible.

God returns from 2,000 year vacation


So says The Onion Radio News.

I can relate


American Humanists bus ad campaign


The American Humanist Association has announced that they'll be paying for a campaign similar to the British bus ad campaign:

The British Humanist Association campaign features the slogan, "There's Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life." But the American Humanist Association's bold new ad will more directly challenge the viewer and clearly connect the message to the holidays.

Letting them learn for themselves


One thing that I struggle with as a parent is overcoming the parenting models of my childhood. The urge to lecture, to tell my daughter "because I said so" is often very strong, or to act like a drill sergeant are things I find myself battling on a regular basis. One of the core principles of Love and Logic is to set the boundaries and consequences for your child's actions and then let them learn the lesson for themselves. For example, if your child acts up, you sing the "uh oh song", give them "bedroom time", then when it's over, you go in, give them a hug, tell them you love them and leave it at that. The purpose of leaving the lecture out about what they did wrong or what they should have done is to allow them to learn for themselves. The benefit of that is that as they grow older, they learn to figure out consequences themselves, and rather than just following a hard set of rules, they'll understand that their actions have consequences and behave accordingly. I have a strong urge to lecture to make sure my daughter "gets it", but I can tell by the look on her face on those occasions that I've lecture her that what she's hearing is like the adults talking in the Peanuts tv specials. Waa waaaa wa waaaaa wa wah.

Beyond that, I think that approach can be used in other aspects of parenting, not just discipline. Allowing your child to make mistakes and even giving them the opportunity can be difficult. We often do things for our children rather than let them do it for themselves because they might make a mess or it's faster if we do it, but doesn't that teach the child that someone else will always do the difficult things? That making a mess is ok if you also clean it up? It's easy to become busy with your non-parenting life, but I think it's really important to encourage exploration and foster curiosity in children by letting them learn things for themselves. That doesn't mean that we avoid parental responsibility, but rather that we take on the role of a coach and consultant instead of a dictator and drill sergeant.

This also gives you the opportunity to see that "lightbulb moment" when your child learns something for themselves, and I, for one, cherish those. Nothing makes me prouder as a parent than seeing that happen.

In the secular context, letting your children learn for themselves helps foster critical thinking and problem solving and gives them the opportunity to make up their own minds. I see religious parents trying to force their point of view on their children and I never want to do that to my child.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Joy and Sorrow


I'm very happy that Obama won, as did Mark Udall here in Colorado. Even though I don't live in that district, I'm thrilled that Markey kicked the crap out of Marylin Musgrave. She was one of the most toxic people I've ever heard of. I'm also VERY pleased that the heinous Amendment 48 failed miserably here. However, I'm very disappointed that 58 didn't pass. The oil & gas companies apparently spent their millions on lying about it quite effectively.

I'm also quite disappointed in the state of California for passing Prop 8. I suppose that it's good that opposition to same sex marriage in CA is dwindling to some degree, but my condolences go out to those couples who now will be treated as second class citizens again. I hope you don't give up the fight and that you are successful next time.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Praying for victory


I just don't understand how people can muster the cognitive dissonance to believe in a god, much less that such a being would get involved with sporting events, the price of gas, or elections. Apparently, the religious (on both sides of the aisle) are getting together to pray for their candidate of choice.

"We have just days to pray that someone who upholds the sanctity of life and marriage between one man and one woman will win," said Pam Olsen, co-pastor with her husband of the International House of Prayer in Tallahassee, Fla.

Olsen, who personally supports Republican John McCain, is organizing a marathon of prayer, fasting and Bible reading at the Capitol starting Saturday until the state's polls close.

"The outcome is up to God," she said.

First, of all, the name International House of Prayer is just hilarious. I wonder how good the pancakes are?

Secondly, I just can't understand how people can actually believe that a deity would get involved. If they are convinced that McCain is the right candidate and he loses, will their faith be changed? Did their god let them down? Or were they wrong in the first place that McCain was the right candidate? Does that mean that since God chose Obama, they'll change their minds and support his presidency? Somehow I doubt it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Teaching Morality-absolutism or relativism?


One of the main criticism of atheists and secular humanists is that we have no moral compass. Their claim often revolves around the fact that we are often moral relativists and that morality, at least for them, has to be absolute. While I do feel that there are some moral principles that would be considered "absolute", in many respects, all morality HAS to be relative. Wikipedia defines moral relativism as: the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances.

Can morality be both absolute AND relative? I think it can. Certain things like murder seem to considered universally wrong, but there are other things that have changed in "wrongness" according to social, cultural, historical and personal circumstances. In fact, I'd say that murder is even subject to that. For example, under Sharia law a woman can be murdered for many transgressions. However, I think that for the most part, there are things that violate human values and for all practical purposes are universal. On the other hand, there are things such as homosexuality that are considered by many, especially the religious, to be morally wrong, but by others, such as most secular humanists, to be perfectly acceptable.

How, then, do we teach morality to our children? I think the answer is teaching moral reasoning. Dale McGowan, in his blog The Meming of Life, has an excellent post on teaching moral reasoning to children.

I think that teaching rules to children certainly has a benefit, but if a child only learns the rules, how do they make moral/ethical decisions in situations where they haven't been taught a rule that covers it? Teaching moral reasoning, on the other hand, gives them the tools they need to figure things out for themselves, and that is far more valuable than teaching them a limited set of rules.

We've been working with the Love and Logic system, which I think has enormous potential for teaching moral reasoning. At the core of the system is setting boundaries and consequences in such a way that you give your children the opportunity to learn behavioral lessons not based on rules, but based on consequences. Doing it this way teaches them, in a loving and empathetic way, how to figure out correct behavior for themselves. We've only taken a few classes, but the tools we've learned have been very helpful, and I can see a ton of potential for not only handling parenting issues. but for teaching moral reasoning.