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    Posted October 31, 2014 by
    Dallas, Texas

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    Misconceptions About Godless Parenting


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Deborah Mitchell wanted to speak out about secular parenting after constantly hearing the same comments. She doesn't tell her two teenage boys what to believe or what not to believe but she just tells them how she sees it.

    Mitchell says this is it and there are no second chances. "Forgiveness doesn’t come from an outside, invisible source—we have to live so that we don’t need forgiveness. I also think that children who grow up without the unrealistic and illogical expectation that humans can live forever, don’t feel disappointed or let down. This is just how life is. It's also more in-line with what we see in the world: plants die, animals die and new organisms are born from the old," she said.
    - slmas12, CNN iReport producer

    Over the years, I’ve always been a little surprised by the responses from people when I tell them I’m not raising my kids to believe in God. Interestingly, many of the comments and protests are remarkably similar. Yet all of the comments are just as remarkably uninformed.

    Here are six common misconceptions about secular parents:

    1. “If something happened to one of your kids, you would want to believe they are in heaven.”

    No, actually I would not want to believe this. Let’s say heaven does exist some place “out there.” I know what the Bible asserts: there are gates and lights and chanting angels. But realistically, not only is it dark and cold beyond words as far as we’ve seen into space, there is nothing. No mountains to climb. No books to read. No rock bands. Forever and ever. Would I want my kids to live an eternity without a physical being, sharing the same living space with ex-boyfriends, ex-wives, bosses they didn’t like, bratty kids and crotchety neighbors? No, I’d want to know that they thrived on this planet, with as much awareness and love as they could stand, and that they enjoyed every second of their short visit here. From where I’m standing, heaven is merely ego’s wishful thinking.

    2. “But you believe in evolution and science. Those are beliefs, too.”

    I believe in science, but that is different from saying, “I believe in God.” I believe in science means that I put faith in the people and institutions that are doing the work, that I have confidence in their methods. I could do the math or science myself, if I had the time and the education. But you and I cannot specialize in everything. We cannot do all things. So we must trust that others are doing their jobs, the same jobs that we could do, using the same methods that we were all taught and have agreed are worthy of our trust and confidence. These things are provable and repeatable and verifiable across the scientific community.

    “I believe in God,” as many philosophers have noted, is an existential claim that is made when the thing believed is unrealistic, unproven or highly unlikely: I believe that eating more burgers before conceiving will create a boy baby. I believe that kissing a frog will produce a prince. I believe in ghosts. Vampires. Leprechauns. Water nymphs.

    3. “Belief in nothing is still belief in something. Atheism is a religion, too.”

    This is one of those platitudes that just is not true. I don’t believe in unicorns. Do you? No? Is that a belief in something? If so, what?

    Believing in unicorns doesn’t create two systems of belief. Similarly, belief in God cannot create two religions: theism and atheism.

    4. “How will you meet the spiritual needs of your kids?”

    The old, “I’m not meeting the needs of my children” comment. What is a spirit anyway? According to religion, it is an immortal and independent entity residing in the human body—-you know, kind of like a person inside a car. Unlike a driver, however, our “spirit” has no will of its own; it cannot exit and enter our body whenever it wants. Also unlike a driver, our spirit has no discernable boundaries, no physical matter nor any sort of awareness of itself outside the body.

    If my spirit joined my human form at conception and is to supersede me in death, why don’t I have memory of existence preceding this life or even in utero? Is this yet another conundrum in God’s divine game?

    Instead of “spiritual needs,” I focus on my children’s emotional needs.

    5. “How do you teach your kids right from wrong if you don’t believe in God?”

    Morality doesn’t come from religion, as history has proven. It comes from self-awareness, self-reflection and empathy. It’s a social construct that we learn first and best from mom and dad. Realizing that we can hurt others physically and emotionally, and knowing how it feels to be hurt, is the basis of our morals.

    Children naturally want to be accepted as part of the pack. They want to please their parents and have harmony in the clan. It’s simple to teach kids that actions that harm others—or themselves--are bad and let us down. Actions and words that are helpful or cooperative are good and please us. Isn’t that so much better than fearing or seeking approval from a deity we cannot see, hear or touch?

    6. “I think it's damaging to your children to be left with absolutely no hope that there is a God watching over us, even if we don't understand why he lets things happen. Your children have nothing to rely on.”

    It is hard to talk about death with children no matter what you believe or don’t believe. Children have to mature into an understanding of death and everything it encompasses, but if they don’t grow up with the unrealistic expectation that they are going to live forever, they don’t really miss what they never had. They understand that death is natural, not supernatural. They focus on what is here and what they can do now. They’re not waiting for the “good life” to start in heaven. Nor do they live in fear of going to hell.

    When my kids are afraid, they can reach out to family or friends or me for support, for hugs and kind words, for the love and affection God doesn’t give. My kids can count on me. I’m present. I won’t leave them guessing.

    I tell them: your life is a story with a beginning and an end. You’re responsible for the pages in between.

    Deborah Mitchell is author of Growing Up Godless: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids without Religion. Follow her on twitter @dm2008.
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