Raising Critical Thinkers Means Letting Our Kids Criticize Us

Supernanny

We’ve all heard the cliche about letting kids rule the roost. Countless books, TV shows, teachers (neighbors, in-laws, airplane passengers...) repeatedly instruct us to set strict rules, limitations and boundaries for our kids. They tell us this is the key to good parenting. They insist we demand courtesy and respect, and not allow them to display anger, disappointment or frustration "inappropriately.” Largely because of these influencers, we start putting our kids in time-outs for talking back, or being unkind. We become infuriated when they speak to us in voices dripping with sarcasm and defiance. We remind ourselves that if our kids don’t respect us now, then they won’t respect us ever. And if we fail at asserting our authority, even for a moment, we are screwed.

Yet, amidst all this traditional authoritarianism, we have the gall to tell our kids it's important to think for themselves, to question what they hear, to value their own opinions, to assert their independence. What's more, as nonreligious parents, we rely on their critical thinking skills to spare them from brainwashing, propaganda and indoctrination.

Our real message becomes: “Question authority... Just not mine.”

Linda Hatfield, parenting coach and founder of Parenting from the Heart, says the the only way to truly empower children is to let them challenge our decisions and opinions — and win. When we use punishment, shame, guilt, bribery and rewards, she says, not only do children lose valuable self-esteem and miss out on excellent opportunities to think things through — but the parent-child relationship is damaged (which breeds a whole manner of other problems, she says.)

In her Los Angeles-area parenting courses, Hatfield insists that kids be able to challenge their parents without being punished for it. “Even if you don’t agree” with them, she says, "give them credit when they do their own thinking.”

In this way, she says, children will learn that it's not only okay, but good, to question what others tell them. And they’ll respect our decisions and advice far more for the rest of their lives because we have respected them first.

 “What I think is most important,” Hatfield says, “is what we model.”

Now, I’m the first to admit, this is easier said than done. Kids are just so immature sometimes. They never just say: “Gee, Mommy, I strongly disagree with you. Please reconsider your decision and let me have that ice cream now, rather than making me wait until later.” Instead, they scream and cry and spit and embarrass us in public places. It’s tough. Even when we do think they have the right to challenge us, we often don't feel we can, in good conscience, give in to their demands because they've been such shits about it.

But Hatfield, who runs her parenting courses and workshops alongside her husband, Ty, asks parents to understand that most of what they consider “misbehavior” is actually age-appropriate; kids, she says, are behaving not to be bad (a word she loathes) but because they’re going through normal developmental stages. So instead of blasting them for doing what you want them to do — challenge what they hear! — Hatfield asks parents to focus on the message, not the method — and to stop taking things so damn personally.

By all means, tell them that spitting is not okay, and that there’s no need to yell.* But then allow yourself to reconsider your own conduct and decisions, Hatfield says. Does it really matter whether the kid has ice cream now or later? Maybe it's a good time to say "Yes." If nothing else, take the opportunity to teach them to value their own opinions and feelings, and encourage them to help find compromises and solutions that work for both of you.

Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, says he talks about this in his workshops. In an e-mail, he told me:

“My kids heard from a very early age that they always have the right to know the reason for a decision AND to question it if they feel it's wrong or unfair. I told them I couldn't just say ‘Because I said so’ and the few times I've said that, they've gleefully called me on it. I've made a point of changing my mind, out loud, when they have a good point. That does more for their growing autonomy than almost anything else I can do. I can attest that the result of all this is not chaos but a pretty smoothly functioning home with scads of mutual respect.”

Here's a cool video of McGowan speaking at a freethought festival in April:

*If you’re yelling this bit yourself, it’s probably not going to work. Just FYI.

"You Worship the Devil!" "You're Homophobic!" ... Um, Guys?

A Tempe family appeared on a billboard this month promoting the Freedom From Religion Foundation in the hope of dispelling some of the myths about nonreligious free-thinkers. The Schinellers — Freddie and Holly and their four children — are pictured alongside the slogan: "Love + critical thinking = open minds."

Sometimes I realize what a bubble I live in. I'm lucky enough to have a supportive family and to live in an area of the country where people don't talk much about religion, much less judge each other for it. But in a place like Tempe, coming out as a nonreligious family is a brave thing.

A quick scan of the Internet reveals some of the more common assumptions about nonbelievers. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • We hate religion and religious people.
  • We raise our kids without a moral code.
  • We want to wipe out Christmas.
  • We're liberal, Fox News-bashing, tax-loving socialists.
  • We're arrogant, angry, militant, selfish and generally unpleasant to be around.
  • We secretly believe in God.
  • We turned away from religion because of a bad experience or trauma.
  • We don't believe in charity.
  • We can't be trusted.
  • We enjoy trampling on people's rights to express their religious beliefs in public.
  • And, my personal favorite, we worship the devil.

Now, I'm not particularly fond of any of these stereotypes. I'm even less fond knowing that children might, at any point, suffer as a result of them.  And, like the Schinellers, I lament the fact that my daughter might be judged by the faith of her family and not by the content of her character. (Something tells me that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — a man of deep and abiding faith himself — would understand that lament.)

But let's be honest: Stereotyping is a two-way street. Another quick scan of the Internet reveals some of the more common stereotypes about believers:

  • They want to convert everyone else to their point of view.
  • They think everyone outside their faith will go to hell.
  • They're uneducated, conservative and close-minded.
  • They reject evolution and distrust science.
  • They think everything in the Bible is factual and/or the word of God.
  • They support school prayer.
  • They would never elect an atheist president.
  • They're homophobic and sexist.
  • They love Fox News.
  • They use religion as a "Get out of Jail Free Card."
  • They stereotype nonbelievers.

 

Stereotypes may be built on shaky ground, but they still manage to stay standing year after year. I don't know if it's realistic to hope that our generation can shift the tide of public opinion on either side of the religion debate. Or that we can — in small, everyday ways — make the world a kinder, gentler place for our kids. But I think it's possible. And don't we owe it to the Schinellers to try?

In closing, I'll mangle another brilliant line from a 60s icon: Ask not what others can do to break stereotypes about you. Ask what you can do to break stereotypes about them.

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.

Bonus Blog: Responding to a Reader About the 'M' Word

A friend told me recently that the people who read my blog are really smart. Don't worry, I thanked her on your behalf.

She noted that the comments I receive are always so articulate and thoughtful, the commenters composed and respectful. And it's true! Last night, was a great example.

A reader named Derek offered his thoughts on our ongoing debate over whether we should call religious stories "myths." I’ve written about this twice so far (Should Kids Be Told Religious Stories are 'Myths' and Respecting Things We Don't Believe). And, although controversial, I stand by my premise that we ought to use the word “stories” instead of “myths” when talking to children.

But Derek's comment yesterday so concisely summed up the argument in favor of the "M" word, that I thought I'd include it as a bonus blog — along with my own comment to his comment. Enjoy! And, you know, feel free to comment.

Derek said:

"I’ve been thinking a lot about this question of whether we should tell our children that religious stories are myths. Many people seem to be saying that we shouldn’t because it would be prejudicial or judgmental. But isn’t everything we say prejudicial or judgmental in some way? We aren’t concerned about saying “Some people think it’s wrong to eat other people, but others think it’s ok.” or “I don’t think the easter bunny is real, but we can’t know for sure.” So why do we have to feel that way about other myths? Thor, Ra, Zeus, earth on the back of a turtle, we feel no compunction about labeling these all as myths because that is what they are. It seems to me then that there are only two reasons one would be concerned about labeling religious beliefs myths. The first is if you aren’t actually sure they’re myths yourself. The second is if you’re worried about other people’s feelings. For the former honesty seems to be the way to go, starting with being honest with oneself. For the latter I don’t spend a lot of time pussyfooting around any incorrect beliefs. I don’t encourage my children to be mean about it but at the same time I don’t encourage them to “make up their own mind” about facts. Facts are facts whether they like them or not."

For me, the issue is not one of uncertainty. There is no doubt in my mind that supernatural religious stories are myths. I intend no offense to my  beloved believer-readers, but I don't buy for a minute that God created a flood that wiped out most of the world, or that Abraham had one-on-one conversations with the creator of the universe, or that Jesus was born of a virgin and later rose from the dead.

My husband and I were talking a couple of nights ago, and we ended up likening the belief in God to the belief in Santa Claus. No, I don't believe in Santa Claus. I know Santa Claus is not real. But lots of children do believe in Santa. Why don't we make it a point to call the Santa Claus stories "myths" when we talk to children? I think it's because their belief in Santa brings them pleasure; because we don't want to hurt them; because we know that they'll outgrow their childish belief on their own; and because, frankly, it doesn't matter.

So what if some of the adults you know believed in Santa? Let's say these are good people, with hundreds of positive attributes, but they just happened to believe in the magical powers of St. Nick. How would you handle that? Would you make it a point to tell them that Santa isn’t real, that the “Night Before Christmas” is a mythical poem? Would that be important to you?

And why?

Why is it important to make other people believe what is really true?

I don't mean to be too flippant here. I can already hear the masses saying, "Santa is different than God!" Some will say I'm not giving God enough credit when I compare him to something childish like Santa. Others will say I'm giving God too much credit — that Santa doesn't make people do terrible things, the way God does.

As for the latter, that gets back to the difference between belief and action. If people beat their children in the name of Santa Claus, that would be just as bad as beating them in the name of God, which is just as bad as beating them for no reason at all. Beating kids is wrong. I don't care if my daughter thinks Santa Claus comes down the chimney, and I don't care if she believes Noah really had an ark. But she will be raised to know right from wrong. I'll teach her that you don't beat children. Ever.

Make no mistake, I don’t have a problem with adults calling religious stories myths to one another, as long as they agree on it and no one is offended. But I think it’s important to use less judgmental language with our kids, and here’s why:

  1. It doesn’t feel good to offend people or have people mad at you. And when you saddle your kid with language that is likely to offend some of their peers, you’re putting your child in a position to suffer the consequences. If they decide someday that it's worth the suffering, so be it. But let's be sure it's their choice, not yours.
  2. Being nice to nice people is important. It’s part of living a decent life. You can think whatever you want, you can believe whatever you want (This is what I’m on about!), but how you speak and act affects those around you. There is no shame in being sensitive to others’ feelings. It’s how I’m able to hang out with my religious friends. Because they are sensitive to my feelings.
  3. The more respect we give to all religions, the better the example we set for others to follow suit. It’s not possible to get rid of religion; but it is possible to reduce rhetoric, animosity and intolerance, and, in doing so, make the world a better place.
  4. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you are raising a freethinker. In my opinion, that’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to a child. Because, under your gentle guidance, they will be making up their own minds about the world, and becoming their own person thanks to their own thinking. You don’t need to persuade them that the sun is in the sky, or that God isn’t real. Trust me. And if you do find yourself having to persuade them, it might be a clue that you need to stop talking — and start listening.

P.S. Thanks again to Derek for such a thoughtful comment.

P.S.S. I really do appreciate my readers.

P.S.S.S. It’s not okay to eat people.

'I Love God, Even Though God Is Not Real'

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The best part about writing a parenting blog? Sometimes your kid composes the blog for you. Remember the time she drew a picture of God, and it turned out looking like a yellow cyclops with male pattern baldness and a handlebar mustache? Good times.

Well, it happened again this week when Maxine walked into my room while I was getting dressed and showed me this little goody. If you're not familiar with kindergarten composition, it's meant to say: "I love God, even though God is not real."

See what I mean? Silver platter.

So here's the story.

It's Monday morning, and I'm telling Maxine about Eid al-Adha, which I wrote about for Monday's blog. I'm explaining how Muslims all over the world are celebrating a holiday that consists of sharing meat with people who don't have food, etc. I ask her if she wants to hear the "God Story" about how the holiday came to be, and she answers with an enthusiastic "Yes!" So I tell her about Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son to God. The name Abraham rings a bell for her, and she asks if she can get down her "God Book" (which is what she calls her beginner's Bible) and flips through the pages looking for Abraham.

He's, of course, hard to find because every other man pictured in this book is a middle-aged white guy with a long beard, but we eventually find him and she's thrilled. Then she goes on to show me a picture of Noah and his ark and insist that it's a picture of "God making the world." At that point, I duck out of the room to get dressed, and leave her chatting happily to herself about God and Abraham.

After about five minutes, she comes waltzing into my room.

"Mommy, look what I made!"

She hands me the above message, and does me the enormous favor of reading that last part aloud.

My first reaction is to recoil a bit. Oh shit, I think. Are my own beliefs indoctrinating her to be a nonbeliever? Is she bothered, on some level, by my lack of religion? Is she trying, in her 6-year-old way, to open up a more serious conversation?

But my second reaction — which is almost always a better one — is to, you know, chill out. My daughter has just made me some artwork, I remind myself, and she's come to show it to me.

"That's awesome, babe! I love it," I say.

She beams proudly, and announces she's going to tape it to my bedroom door.

"So you don't think God is real?" I ask.

"Nope," she says. "Do you?"

What can I say?

"Nope."

She affixes her message to my door with tape and walks away. I swear to you, she has a spring in her step.

I know Maxine will change her mind about her belief in God — probably dozens of times! — before she's an adult. And that's great with me. But I can't tell you how happy I am that she made this.

And, no, to answer your question, it is NOT just because I was able to get a blog out of it. I mean really, people. There are lots of reasons ...

... that ...

... there would be ...

... I just need to ...

Okay, fine. It's all about the blog.

Church Is Fun! (Or Is It?)

Baptism

Several months ago, I interviewed Dale McGowan, an atheist dad and the author of two books, Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion, and its followup, Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide to Parenting Beyond Belief. Among other things, McGowan is an advocate for exposing children to a variety of religions first-hand so that they might feel free to draw their own conclusions. He told me that, over the years, he has schlepped his own three kids to a host of temples, mosques, churches and synagogues — all to help them understand what religion is and how it works. McGowan goes to these services as an observer, not a believer, but he finds the visits fascinating and worthwhile — and, he says, so do his kids.

Naturally, I thought it serendipitous when, around the time of the McGowan interview, I received an invitation to attend the Catholic baptism of a good friend's son. Such a great excuse, I thought, to show my own daughter the inside of a church.

When I explained to Maxine what we’d be doing, she was thrilled — especially when I told her baby Alec would be sprinkled with water during this particular ceremony. In the weeks leading up to the big day, we chatted a bit about what it meant to be baptized. Maxine wanted to know, for instance, why she had not been baptized. I told her that baptisms were a way to symbolize a child’s membership into her parents’ church, and that her parents didn’t belong to any church. That seemed to satisfy.

On the day of the baptism, my sister and I, along with her son and my daughter, loaded into one car and headed to the church about an hour away. Halfway there, Maxine started to get antsy. “Are we there yet?” she asked a bunch of times, despite the fact that I kept telling her she was being so cliche.

Finally, the car came to a stop for the first time since we’d left home. Maxine was ecstatic. She rose up in her car seat, her face bright and smiling. She took in everything around her.

“Is this where Alec is going to be baptized?” she asked, hopefully.

“No, honey,” my sister replied, matter-of-factly. “This is a toll both.”

Maxine's face fell.

“Don’t worry,” I offered. “We’ll be there soon.”

By the time we got to the church, she was back to being fully charged. While other children squirmed in the pews, looking everywhere but forward, Maxine literally (and by literally, I mean literally) sat on the edge of her seat, riveted by the priest’s every word. She seemed to watch with the same level of obsessive interest she only ever afforded "Phineas and Ferb."

When it was our time to rise and see Alec receive the sacrament, Maxine squeezed in for a front-row view. As you can see, she was easily close enough to the water to be baptized by proximity. It was hard not to wonder if I had given birth to a natural-born Christian.

After all the children had been blessed, the priest lit some candles and read from the Bible. Then me made his closing remarks, and people began to collect their things. That’s when Maxine turned to me.

“But when are they going to start throwing water at each other?” she asked, clearly confused.

“They don’t throw water at each other,” I said.

Then, as the dark shadow of disappointment moved in, I watched my little girl's face fall for the second time that day.

No wonder she'd been so riveted by church, I thought. She'd expected a water fight.

 

Religion Doesn't Kill People; People Kill People

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It's hard to be a nonreligious mother writing a blog about kids and religion without acknowledging Christopher Hitchens' widely publicized view — or implication, rather — that religion may be akin to child abuse. So I'm acknowledging it. But that's about all I'm going to do.

It's not that I dispute any of the major points Hitchens puts across in of his 2007 bestseller, "God is Not Great." And that includes Chapter 16 ("Is Religion Child Abuse?"), in which Hitchens recounts the horrors of genital mutilation, priest abuse and sexual repression of young boys, among other things. But to imply that raising children to be religious may be abusive — that there's a deep harm in, for instance, baptizing kids or taking them to temple or teaching them to pray — well, as Bruno would say: "Ich don't think so."

Unfortunately, there probably will always be freakish cases, like this one, that add fuel to Hitchens' fire. But, generally, in this country, we’re not talking about real injury or trauma to children. We’re talking about loving parents trying to do what they think is best for their kids.

I'm not the most reverent person. The title of my blog alone suggests that. I was raised on a healthy dose of sarcasm, so irreverence just comes sort of naturally to me. That said, and this is the part where Hitchens officially declines to write the foreword to my book, my irreverence about religion doesn't mean I think there's anything inherently wrong with religion.

The way I see it, religion is a tool like any other. This may be the '80s kid in me talking, but I liken religion to the candlestick in the game of Clue. The candlestick brings light to the old mansion right up to the moment when it's used to kill Col. Mustard in the library. So is religion good or bad? Both or neither? Do we try to ban the candlestick? Of course not. Because religions don't kill people; people kill people. People protest the funerals of gay soldiers. People fly planes into buildings. People create wars. People abuse children.

I’m not saying that there aren’t some truly F’d up things written in nearly every “holy” book out there, or that people do bad things because they genuinely think it will get them into whatever version of heaven they've imagined for themselves; but the vast majority of the Bible, the Torah, and the Qur’an speak of  peace and love and friendship and kindness. Religion, at its core, is meant to bring comfort and hope to people, and to give them a moral compass. This is what most parents want for their kids; and it's why so many of them turn to religion to accomplish it.

What exactly is abusive about that?