'My Dearest Daughter': Letter from an Atheist Mom

Letter WritingAtheist scientist Richard Dawkins once wrote a letter to his 10-year-old daughter about the importance of scientific evidence in weighing the legitimacy of religious claims. "To my dearest daughter," his now-famous letter began. "Now that you are ten, I want to write to you about something that is important to me... Evidence." His mission: to explain the vast chasm between faith and science, and make clear that science will always hold the trump card. I've written before (rather poorly) about Dawkins' letter and my own issues with it, but — as a non-believer, a parent and a writer myself — I can't help but be drawn to the idea of putting my own feelings about religion in letter form. Instead of making a case for science — and, therefore, for atheism — I wanted to make a case for compassion, religious tolerance, and an appreciation of diversity.

The truth is, I'm not worried about science. Science is already a part of my daughter's life; it comes up almost daily in our house. I don't need to sell Maxine on biology or geology or meteorology or botany; she's already a paying customer. I don't need to sell her on the importance of evidence, either. She understands that evidence is something that is true, and faith is something that is believed. When you strip it down, the concept isn't all that complex.

A dad once told me that he and his children didn't often talk about religion directly in their house. "More often than not," he said, "our conversations revolve around the ideas of evidence and logical reasoning. Religion hangs around the periphery of these conversations in the form of myth and magic."

There's nothing at all wrong with having conversations about evidence and logical reasoning. But if all religion does is "hang around the periphery," there's not a lot of room to give kids honest explanations for the belief systems of others, and not a lot of opportunity to send kids into the world ready to peacefully, confidently and happily interact with people from different cultures.

This was my thought, anyway — which was why, as a fun exercise, I wrote my own, decidedly non-Dawkinsian (!!) letter. I doubt I'll ever give it to Maxine. My mission is to talk to her about religion, not write to her about it. Still, though, it could be a great reference point for me if I ever forget the point of all this. And maybe it will inspire others to put their own thoughts in writing.

To my dearest daughter,

I want to write to you about something that is important to a lot of people: Religion. As you know, religion is a a collection of beliefs, as well as views about how people ought to behave. Many beliefs involve a god or gods. Religion has been around for thousands and thousands of years. Many religions have faded with time, and many others have kept going. Some religions were formed quite recently.

Religion is very personal — meaning it varies widely from person to person — and people often feel strongly about it. So strong, in fact, that it often can lead to disagreements and hurt feelings — which is why you probably won't learn much about it in school and why children aren't often encouraged to talk about it on the playground.

Because your Daddy and I aren't religious ourselves, and because nothing seems to be missing from your life, you might wonder why religion exists. Well, religion — all religions — were spread by human beings in response to certain questions and problems. The questions were things like: Why are we here?  What happens after we die? The problems were things like: death, suffering, sadness and abuse.

On a basic level, most religions are meant to make people's lives better by giving them comfort and purpose and teaching them how to be good people. Most religions teach compassion, forgiveness, kindness and love. And those are all really great qualities, aren't they? It's no wonder so many people, including some of your own family members, are religious.

Of course, I know from personal experience that no one needs religion to be a good person, just as they don't need religion to feel comfort or to have a purpose or to live a full and satisfying life.

Still, though, it's important to me that you know about different religions and cultures for two reasons. First, I want you to make up your own mind about what you believe. And, second, I want you to be able to understand and appreciate all the different people you are going to meet during your life. Knowledge, awareness and curiosity are traits that tend to invite new and positive experiences — and I want nothing more than to see you fill your life with as many positive experiences as you can. In short, I think teaching you a bit about religion will help make you a happier person.

It's also important that you know that religion has some downsides. Some people allow their religious beliefs to blind them. They use religious differences to justify war, even murder. They judge people who are different from them. Some people believe, for instance, that men shouldn't fall in love with other men, or women shouldn't fall in love with other women. Some people believe that women should not be allowed to have jobs, even if they really want them. Some people believe everyone should be forced to believe one particular thing or be put in jail, or even killed.

These things I mention are wrong because they hurt people who are just trying to live good lives and be true to themselves. And no one deserves to be hurt for that. In some ways, these kinds of actions seem very strange, because they go directly against the things I mentioned earlier: compassion, forgiveness, kindness and love.

In the next few years you will learn a lot about different religions and religious people. You may find you like the ideas in religion, connect to the beliefs, and want to try one out. You may also find you aren't interested in religion, or that you don't care for it at all. Whatever the case, I want you to know that what you believe and how you feel about religion doesn't matter to me. Just like it doesn't matter to me what other people in the world believe or think about religion. What does matter to me — and what I hope matters to you, too — is what's in a person's heart. What people do in life is what counts, not what they believe.

A lot of incredibly good people are religious, and a lot of incredibly good people are not religious. You can be either one, and, as long as you try to practice compassion, forgiveness, kindness and love, I'll support you 100 percent. 

Thanks for listening, Mom

Should Kids Be Told All Religious Stories are ‘Myths'?

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I'm facing some deadlines over the next few weeks that are going to make it very tough to generate new blogs of any merit. But I'm hoping — PRAYING! (but not really) — that you guys will stick around anyway. Subscribers, I'm talking to you here. BEAR WITH ME. PLEASE DO NOT UNSUBSCRIBE. IT'S ONLY THREE WEEKS. Starting today, I'm going to run six of my most well-read and/or controversial blogs of the last two years. I've chosen them based on number of page views, number of comments, or the level of contentiousness within the response. I hope you enjoy them. And, even if you don't, I hope you will stay.

We'll start with one of the most controversial to date... Should Kids Be Told All Religious Stories are 'Myths'? (Reprinted from Oct. 31, 2011):

Two weeks ago, I gave away three copies of Richard Dawkins’ new book, the Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True, a highly acclaimed book seeking to introduce youngsters to the science behind some of life's biggest mysteries: Who was the first person? Why do we have night and day? When and how did everything begin? The book is fascinating, easy to read and full of beautiful illustrations. Truly, there is so much about our world that is awe-inspiring, and Dawkins shows us how fun it can be to explore.

But because Dawkins is Dawkins, he doesn't stop there.

Before each chapter, he outlines various myths adopted through the ages as a way to explain scientific phenomena. He reasons that, before scientific exploration, people needed ways to make sense of these seemingly supernatural occurrences— so they invented stories and passed them off as fact. It's a clever technique, and it’s interesting the way  Dawkins lays Greek myths, Native American traditions, and Biblical stories side-by-side, and then allows science to tell its version of the story.

Clever and interesting and accurate? Yes. Condescending and arrogant? Which is a problem. For us open-minded, nonreligious parents struggling to find the "right" language with which to approach religion with our kids, his dismissive attitude disappoints.

If we tell our children that present-day religious beliefs — particularly those described in the Bible, the Torah or even the Book of Mormon — are all just mythical stories, we're teaching them that religion is a bunch of fairytales. And we're teaching them that the 70-odd percent of their neighbors and friends who buy into these fairytales are, therefore, emotionally immature and intellectually inferior. I don’t care how subtle Dawkins tries to be, that’s his book's subtext, and we all know it.

Now, how in the world does that kind of instruction set our kids up to be open-minded, freethinking individuals? How does it encourage them to embrace people with different beliefs and opinions? How does it show our kids that they are free to choose their own religious or nonreligious paths in life?

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that science often butts heads with religion. But there are a huge number of people in our society that believe in science and religion. And it doesn't matter whether it makes sense to Richard Dawkins. It doesn't matter whether it make sense to me! What my neighbor believes and how he rationalizes that belief is 100 percent not my concern. Whether he brings his own beer to my barbecue, on the other hand…

Here’s the thing: I do not believe — and I sincerely hope you don’t either — that pious people are stupid; in fact, many of the smartest people I know are pious. And that their faith may involve nonscientific stories does not make me superior. It doesn't make you superior. And it doesn’t make our kids superior.

There is an intolerance in Dawkins' insistence on calling these stories myths. Dismissing religious stories as archaic or absurd adds nothing to his book. In fact, for people like me, it takes away. And for church-going folks in Middle America? Well, forget it; they'll never buy it. And didn’t Dawkins see the potential to educate all children — not just those whose parents subscribe to his exact point of view?

I know he wanted to break things down in the simplest way possible. I understand he wanted to present facts alongside of beliefs, and point out their roots and differences. There is merit to that.

But not everything is about science. Some things are about respect.

I will absolutely read The Magic of Reality to my daughter  — or, rather, show her the super-cool iPad app! But I'll first let her know the book was written by an author who believes religious stories are myths. I'll remind her that the author is just one person; and that lots of other people in the world believe those stories are real. I'll tell her, as I do often, that it's up to her to decide for herself what makes sense, what feels right.

From what I gather, Richard Dawkins wants parents to help their children put religious belief in a context of science. Fair enough. But I do hope that, before cracking open The Magic of Reality, parents will help their children put Richard Dawkins in a context of religion.

[You may read the follow-up this post here.]

True Religion (And Reality) is in the Eye of the Beholder

“Mrs. Flynn says great minds think alike. But all minds are great, and all minds don’t think alike.” — Maxine, age 6. 

A person's reality, like a person's mind, is such a singular thing.

I might try really hard to convince others that my way is the best way, but my way is often based in my reality — and my reality belongs to me alone.

It would be so much easier if everyone had the same vantage point on the universe. If the universe were like a giant eye chart, with a big E at the top of the chart and one of those teeny, tiny, you've-got-to-be-kidding--no-one-can-really-read-that lines at the bottom. Only no one's vision would need correcting because we'd all see the letters just as crisply and clearly as the next guy.

Religious belief is like eyesight. Not only because belief varies so much from person to person, but because we don't feel we have much choice in the matter. As Richard Dawkins says, if you’re choosing to believe, it’s not really a belief. True belief is something rooted in our deepest psyche. It takes ahold of us and won’t let go. It becomes inherent in how we see the world.

Like vision.

So, tell me, whose vision of reality is 20/20? Who looks at the world and sees exactly what is there — nothing more, nothing less?

Some of us? All of us? None of us?

I could make a pretty strong argument for all three.

So why are we so determined to fight each others’ realities? What good does it do?

Just because a person believes something to be true doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with him or her. And not believing doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me.

One of my main focuses with this blog (which is three months old on Wednesday, by the way! Champagne for everyone!) is to remove the rancor from our conversations with children. Whether you’re a nonbeliever or a open-minded believer, I hope you’ll encourage your kids to be true to themselves, to never be ashamed of what they believe, to value the unique viewpoints they bring to the world. I hope you’ll tell them what my daughter told me a few weeks ago: “All minds are great, and all minds don’t think alike.”

Our versions of reality are different, yes, but this is not something to be feared or fought.

And to embrace it is, I believe, the truest test of our own religious tolerance. After all, if we don’t punish our kids for seeing the world through their own eyes, then we’re much less likely to punish strangers who do the same.

 

10 Commandments for Talking to Kids About Religion

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I've said it before and I'll say it again: When you're not religious, talking about religion with kids can be a serious challenge. The words don't come naturally. Little things can freak you out. And, about the time your kids learn to ask questions, you begin to notice how much of our society is informed by religious faith, and how many people around us believe things we don't. Panic has a way of setting in.

Hopefully, you aren't like me. Hopefully you're less anxiety-prone, more level-headed. Good for you. But, for the rest of you: It’s going to be fine. Stay focused. As the Brits say, "Keep Calm and Carry On." Kids will remember your attitude more than your words. Act like talking about religion is no big deal, and very soon talking about religion will be no big deal.

Here are my 10 Commandments:

1. Expose your kids to many religions

Have you ever noticed how religion can get in the way of a religious education? Either children are schooled in one particular belief system, or they’re not being taught a damn thing. But a good religious education is one that covers the basics of many religions from a cultural and historical perspective, without a whole lot of emotional investment. What is religion? Why did it come about? And why is it so important to people? Pick up some books and educate yourself about various religions; tell your kids what you're learning. Put major religious holidays (such as Rosh Hashanah, Diwali and Eid al-Ahda) on your calendar, and use them as opportunities to talk about history and tradition. Point out signs and symbols, religious clothing. Seize opportunities to visit places of worship. Religious literacy is a gift; give it.

2. Embrace the 'graven image' of science

A "graven image" is described as anything worshipped in place of God — whether it be other gods or demons, power, pleasure or money. Because science is something that can be valued in place of God, it’s possible to consider science a graven image. So be it.  For every religious book you read, tell you kids one cool thing about the real world. Evolution, the stars and planets, you name it. Atheist scientist Richard Dawkins' book, "The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True," is a great new resource. But, remember, you need not set up religion and science as opposing forces — the way religious people often do. Present the facts. Your kids likely will figure the rest out on their own, and it will mean more when they do.

3. Don't saddle your kids with your anxiety over the word 'God'

The Pledge of Allegiance. The Girl Scout Promise. The motto written on American money. There is religion all around us, even in school. But it need not be a crisis. Let your kid know that God is a part of our culture's language, its songs, its poetry, its monuments and its works of art. God is a part of human history, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not everything needs to be loaded with meaning. Kids may pledge their allegiance “under God” not because of religion but because of tradition, the same way they may sing Christmas songs or say “Bless you” when someone sneezes. If your kids prefer to a draw battle lines for themselves on these matters, great! Just be sure you’re not nudging them toward the battle.

4. Keep in mind: There's nothing wrong with believing in a higher power

Faith in a higher power is only as good or bad as the people who possess it. Most of the people your kids will meet during their lifetimes will have something wonderful to offer the world; that “something” may be accomplished despite belief in a higher power, or it may be accomplished because of it. "Religion" has become a loaded word — referring more to dogma than the simple underlying belief in God — and that's unfortunate, in a way. Because religion is like a fingerprint; everyone's is slightly different. Consider the chances, for instance, that any two people envision heaven in exactly the same way?  Or interpret all the major Biblical passages in the same way? Or inject religion into their politics and social mores in the same way?  Not bloody likely. In the end, then, to say someone is "Christian" or "Jewish" or "Muslim" means very little. Knowing someone's religion is a far cry from knowing her beliefs; knowing her label is a far cry from knowing her heart. So when you speak of "religion" around children, try to be as neutral as possible. And if you do choose to speak of religion in negative terms, be sure to explain exactly what you oppose, and why. Rarely do people oppose faith itself, but rather the actions that can arise out of faith. It's important that kids understand the difference.

5. Honor your mother's faith

Just because you're a nonreligious parent doesn't mean you have to shield your child from religious family members. If you give your child a context in which to hear about Grandma’s religion — or Cousin Suzie's, or Neighbor Bob's — you won't mind so much when those conversations arise. It may benefit Grandma to be able to talk with your child about her faith, and it may benefit your child to hear about faith from someone he knows and loves. And, as long as you've set the scene up front in a gentle, nonjudgemental way, there should be very little worry. For example, you might say: "Some people believe that a magic power, often called God, created the universe and is watching over us. And many people say that if you believe in God, you will go to live with God in a place called heaven after you die. That's why it's so important to Grandma that you believe what she does." (This is a great tip for parents in mixed-religion marriages, as well.) One caveat: If there’s a risk a family member will say something harmful or hateful to your child, the faith-sharing privilege is off the table. Luckily, I think most religious folks are capable of having conversations with children without invoking images of hell or condemning anal sex.

6. Don't kill your kid's good time

One of the many problems with ardently opposing religion is that it's so damn boring. If you’re preoccupied, for example, with explaining to your kids that Adam and Eve weren’t the first humans and that those who believe such things are irrational, you’re probably not telling the Adam-and-Eve story very well. And that’s a shame. Because it's a really great story! A child’s age, certainly, will dictate the tenor of your conversations about God, and which stories are appropriate to share. But don’t forget to have some fun. Go to the library and dig up as many interesting-looking books as you can. The more pictures, the better. And don't just offer flat readings of the stories; inject the stories about Jesus with all the drama and excitement with which they were probably intended. The same goes for tales of Abraham and Shiva and Mohammed and Zeus and all the other religious figures, both past and present. The more fun the stories are, the more your kids will want to hear them, and the more likely they'll be to remember them. And that's good. What kids don't know can hurt them — and that's especially true when it comes to religion.

7. Don't be a dick

Putting the word "dick" into the adultery commandment is probably not the most PC thing ever — which is ironic because this commandment sort of embraces political correctness. Here's the thing: When it comes to religion, most humans believe their way is the best way, the right way. And for non-theists, who have science on their side, their conviction may be all the stronger. But conviction need not translate into being snarky, arrogant or mean. There is nothing at all wrong with criticizing people for saying hateful things or doing harmful things. But let's cut the vitriol. You may discuss, oppose, even argue. But try to do it without name-calling, generalizing, or degradation — even when you see theists name-calling, generalizing and degrading nonbelievers. Yes, it’s possible to fight fire with fire. But, in the end, it’s all just fire.

8. Don't steal your child's ability to choose

If you're going to teach children that it's okay for people to hold religious beliefs, you must be willing to let your children hold religious beliefs as well. Otherwise, the words sound hollow — and they are. There's no shame in wanting your kids to believe the way you do. So guide them. Teach them the value of science. Explain the difference between fact and faith, between dogma and freethinking. Teach them morals and ethics. Tell them everything you know about religion. And then let them take it from there. Let them know they are free to choose what they want to believe, and encourage them to change their minds as often as they like. If they want to experiment with religion, support them. They'll probably come around to your way of thinking eventually anyway. And if they don't, it doesn't matter. What does matter to you is that they grow up to be good and happy adults. Or is it?

9. Don't lie about your own beliefs

Everyone has the right to to their own thoughts and beliefs, and that includes you. Don’t hide them! Not only would you be sending a message that religion is an uncomfortable/scary/intimidating subject, but you’d be making it clear that it’s okay to be ashamed of your beliefs. You can put off the conversation for a while, but eventually your kid will ask. Admit when you are confused or don't have all the answers. Tell them that the existence of God, in any shape or form, is something no one can prove or disprove, which is what makes it so easy to debate. Let kids know that yours is a household that talks openly and respectfully about tough subjects — including religion.

10. Respect the religious without tolerating intolerance 

Teaching your kids to respect religious people is important. But that doesn't mean they must respect religious intolerance. It doesn't mean they must respect immoral, unethical or hateful words and actions simply because they come under the heading of religious righteousness. Will kids say mean things on the playground? Yes. Do all those mean things need to be treated seriously? No. Fights will break out; feelings will be hurt. It's a part of growing up. But hurting or terrorizing another child — or anyone — in the name of religion is no different than terrorizing a child for any other reason. Bullying is bullying, and should be treated as such. The bottom line: Don't hold religious beliefs against people who are being nice. And don't hold it in favor of people who are being mean.

Respecting Things We Don't Believe

First of all, thank you all for your great comments on Monday’s blog! You made my day. It's clear, of course, that I’ve got some 'splaining to do — if only to clarify my position. But I truly think that, although we may be taking slightly different routes, we’re all headed to the same place — a place of open communication with our kids. And that's all I'm really on about. So the way I read the comments, many of you disagreed with my contention that we, as parents, ought not be adopting the language of atheist scientist Richard Dawkins when he refers to religious stories as "myths." You pointed out that science and faith are different, that faith is often irrational, and that there’s nothing wrong with teaching our kids to disrespect irrational beliefs. You also said there’s no reason to separate religious myths from other types of myths. And, if we aren't meant to call them myths, you asked, what do we call them?

In other words: For God’s sake, Wendy, what is your fucking problem?

Unfortunately, there is no way to condense the array of my fucking problems into one problem. I would if I could, of course. Hell, I'd do just about anything for you guys.

I will say, though, that there are some good reasons I’m proposing that we be respectful of things we don’t believe. And it has nothing to do with ignorance or weakness or a lack of progressive thinking on my part. What I’m proposing is a common language that all of us — no matter what our religious leanings — can adopt. Couples in interfaith marriages. Those who want to avoid indoctrinating their kids. Skeptical parents who aren’t yet sure where they stand. Agnostics who want to raise their children around religious family members without suffering tension or awkwardness. And, yes, staunch nonbelievers, too.

So why do I find "myth" objectionable? Three reasons.

1.  Getting Along is a Good Thing

First off, I don’t think anyone believes that all religious stories are myths. It’s very possible — and historically probable — that some religious stories are true, and that many others have truth in them. The supernatural stuff? Well, that’s a different matter. But I think we should acknowledge that lumping all religious stories into one general category of “myth” is almost certain to confuse and mislead our kids.

But let’s assume we’ve been very clear with our little whippersnappers that “myths” are stories that run counter to what we know scientifically. If it's supernatural, we tell them, it's myth, which is not to be respected. Take it one step further and the message is this: Because most major religions are based on supernatural (mythical) higher powers, most religions as a whole are not worthy of our respect.

I know what some of you are thinking. You're thinking: "Right! I don't respect religion. What's the problem?"

The problem — if you see it as a problem — is that we live in a diverse society.

I suppose if I lived on an island full of clones of myself, all of whom shared my upbringing, my race, my nationality, my financial status, my friends, my opinions and beliefs, every one of my experiences, every piece of my knowledge, all my joyful memories, and all my pain, too — I wouldn't worry at all about calling things just as I see them.

“No need for God, kid,” I'd say. “The here and now is gorgeous, and it’s all you’ll ever need.”

And kid would probably be fine with that. After all, on my island, there wouldn’t be much exposure to organized religion. Or algebra, for that matter. Or derivative romantic comedies, or appletinis, or clothing that makes little girls look like hookers. Or dickies.

For sure, no dickies.

But I don’t live on a deserted island, and there is a lot of stuff (most notably dickies) that I don’t particular need in my life but that the people around me do need or want to be a part of their lives. And those things may help them to be happier people, kinder people, healthier people, better people. And rather than disrespect something that those people hold dear, I’d rather be, you know, nice about it. Gracious about it. Respectful.

2. Discrediting religion shuts a door that your kids might want to keep open — or shut for themselves.

I heard many commenters tell me that they are careful to teach their kids to respect the person, just not the belief. I rather like this idea in concept, but I can't quite wrap my head around the difference. If my dad was a business owner who wouldn't hire homosexuals, and my mom was driving down to Skid Row every night so she could kick homeless people in the balls, my respect for my parents would diminish considerably. Why? Because their beliefs would be driving them to harm people, and I'm not big on lending respect to people who harm other people.

On the other hand, let's say they're great people who believe they're going to see their dead loved ones in heaven someday. Um, yeah. Not harming anyone. Don't care so much.

But assuming you have had experiences in your life that have made it impossible for you to respect religious beliefs, how important is it to you to make sure your child feels the exact same way you do? Because when you openly denigrate faith, you're instructing your kids not to believe anything irrational or mythical. You might suggest that it's okay for OTHERS to do it, but you're making clear it's not okay for HER.

Hmm. Now this is where things get tricky.

I could write an entire blog — and probably will — about how we all, on some level, really want our kids to turn out like us, or mostly like us. There’s no shame in admitting it. And the chances are good, no matter what we do, that will happen to a certain extent. But how certain are you that your child will never, ever feel the need for a high power in his life? How confident are you that he’ll reject all the mystical aspects of the universe? And how much influence are you willing to wield now to ensure that he never does?

I’d urge everyone to think a bit about leaving some room for your kid to develop her own religious/nonreligious identity. How might he or she develop if you don't shut the valves on religion quite so tightly. I’m not suggesting that nonbelievers encourage their kids to join a religion, but each human being has a different way of exploring and understanding the world. What if your son's psyche, for whatever reason, begins to crave some sort of spirituality? What then?

My daughter thinks her old, tattered Payless shoes are her best look. She adores them. Wears them everywhere. Gets distressed when they go missing. I’m telling you right now: Those shoes are downright crappy. They literally stink up my car. They need to be thrown away. This is fact.

So what do I do? As a parent, what do I do? Throw them away? Make her wear other shoes? Tell her she has bad taste? No. I buy some shoe deodorizer, and let her wear the damn shoes. Because if we want our kids to have a modicum of self-esteem, sometimes we need to just shut the hell up.

Bottom line: If I bring my kid up to disrespect religion, it sets her up for some pretty serious self-doubting if she ever decides to explore religion for herself one day. And I never want my kid to worry that, by being a good person and true to herself, she risks losing my respect and admiration.

3. Your "myth" message, while well-reasoned, may hurt your kid

If we want to promote tolerance, we must adopt tolerant language. Not to put too fine a point on this argument, but I really do believe that using judgmental terms in relation to religion, no matter how accurate we think they may be, has the potential to bring emotional pain to your child.

  • My son wants to go to Vacation Bible School but assumes I'll be disappointed in him; so he doesn't ask, and loses out on a chance to make new friends.
  • My daughter falls in love with a devout believer but loses sleep over the thought of bringing him home to meet me.
  • My children offend people they admire because they find themselves falling back on words I taught them.

Those are some of the ways the "myth" message could hurt my child. But I can't think of one way it would really help.

I want to be clear: I’m not suggesting that parents be dishonest about their religious beliefs. By all means, if you think these stories are myths, tell your kids that you think they're myths. Explain that you just can’t believe in things that aren’t supported by evidence. But why not park your judgements at the door? Why not leave it up to your kids to figure out the rest for themselves? Why not tell them that, as long as they're not hurting anyone, you'll support them 100 percent.

As for what to call religious stories — how about stories? At our house, we call them all God Stories. Doesn’t matter the religion — could be the story of Ganesh or the story of Noah’s Ark, or any other story where God is a featured character. (Except for Greek myths, which we call Greek myths because, well, there's no reason not to.)

I really am confident that, under our guidance (and with a little help from Richard Dawkins!), Maxine will figure out the difference between faith and science. She'll come to understand that they are opposing forces — but that they are also important forces in a great many lives.

And I'm excited — really excited — to find out what my little independent thinker makes of these forces. Or whether she'll end up caring at all.

Thou Shalt Give Away Free Stuff

10-commandments

I apologize in advance. This is not so much a blog as a call to action. Over the next few months, I’ll be compiling a list of my cleverly titled 10 Commandments For Talking to Kids About God. And I’m eager to get your input.

I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve got 10 commandments lined up and ready to go. But they’re not — ahem — set in stone. (Sorry. Lame.) So, before it’s too late, please write and share with me your own, personal commandment(s): your best advice for introducing children to the concept of religious belief. It may be an overriding philosophy or a set of specific suggestions. Are there definite Dos and Don’ts in your mind? What are they? Have they changed over the years? Why? (Bonus points if you’ve put your commandment or commandments into practice and been successful. Double bonus points if you tell me how in the hell you were able to define “success” in this context.)

Because I’m a slave to pop culture, I’m planning to give away three copies of Richard Dawkins' The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True to those with the best answers. Did you hear that, Twitterers? I said #giveaway!

Write a sentence, a paragraph or an essay. The length doesn’t matter; only the idea.

See you at Mt. Sinai!