My Kid is Ignorant — Isn't That Hilarious?

After I wrote my blog last week about cute conversations nonreligous parents have with their kids, a reader sent me a link to a post on the Friendly Atheist website about actress Julia Sweeney. Run by a guy named Hermant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist is a great site — mostly because of its Ask Richard segment — but isn't always very "friendly," if you ask me.

The post told of a recent experience Sweeney (Letting Go of God) had while introducing her 9-year-old daughter, Mulan, to the movie Jesus Christ Superstar.

Sweeney wrote:

I thought maybe it was a good way for her to learn about Jesus. HA. She was so bewildered. I realized that since she hasn’t been inculcated with religious behaviors, everything just seems weird to her. Things I would have never had the naive open-mindedness to even ask. For example, at one point she asked me, “Why do those sick people want to touch Jesus?” I said, “Because they think he’s magic and can heal them.” Mulan said, “Why would anyone think that?” Me: “Because they didn’t have very much scientific information.” Mulan: “That’s crazy.” Then I had to stop the film and tell her that lots of people in the world still believe things like that.

Later she asked, “Why are all those women putting oil on Jesus’ head, and sort of leaning on him like that?” I said, “Well, one — Mary Magdalene, is like Jesus’ girlfriend. The other women — well, when you’re a cult leader, or actually this can be true of any very high status man — women fawn all over you.” “Creepy.” Mulan said. Then she fell asleep and I didn’t wake her up.

Is it just me, or does Sweeney seem to be bragging about her kid's religious ignorance?

I know I'm biased, but I just don't get it. What about this story is interesting or funny? Would it interest you to know that my daughter doesn't know how to do the laundry because I haven't taught her? Would you write about how funny it is that your 4-year-old son has no idea how babies are born? There are elements of surprise and humor in a great many of the stories parents tell. But ignorance alone just doesn't cut it. And it's not just Sweeney; more and more parents these days voice a certain pride when their children reach a certain age and still haven't heard religious concepts.

So, yeah, in the end, I wasn't impressed with Sweeney's story. But it was Mehta's comment that threw me over the edge.

When summarizing his post on Sweeney, Mehta asked his (many) readers:

"Have any of you had similar teaching experiences with your children?"

No, wait, I'm sorry, did he just say teaching experiences?

As in, learning?

Dude, since when does showing a 9-year-old child Jesus Christ Superstar — a terribly funny but outlandish, outdated comic musical — pass off as teaching? Especially when, like Sweeney, all you do is pause the show to say: "And you know what, kid? People ACTUALLY BELIEVE this stuff! Hahahahaha! Isn't that hilarious?"

Like I said, it's not that I don't think these sorts of conversations can be funny — obviously I do! — or that I don't recognize that the fantastical elements of religion are going to seem downright wackadoo to any non-indoctrinated child. I just don't think it should be a point of pride when your kid dismisses religion as crazy because you've presented it as crazy. Maybe it's the arrogance of it all? The indoctrination factor? I don't know. But it's very off-putting to me — especially when it comes from atheists I admire, and who are in a position to influence others. And, dammit, if Sweeney didn't miss a golden opportunity.

I guess it comes down to this: Conferring with your very young children about how dumb religious beliefs can seem isn't nearly as funny as some people think. And I certainly don’t think it’s anything to brag about.

Then again, I wouldn't be writing this book if I did.

'Relax, It's Just God' Featured in Psychology Today

PT Cover

Well, they got it mostly right. And, dammit, maybe that's enough.

The current issue of Psychology Today contains a really great piece about atheism and agnosticism and what it terms "a new breed of nonbelievers." Apparently I belong to this new breed because I'm featured in the article, along with a handful of others — including my all-time favorite advice-giving atheist, Richard Wade.

I spoke with Psychology Today writer Bruce Grierson months ago about Relax, It's Just God and what drew me to the project. And I have to say, overall, Grierson did a bang-up job. In a lengthy, well-written piece, he points out that nonbelievers are everywhere — yes, even in church pews.

"That a in atheism simply means without, not against, belief in God," Grierson writes. "Not an adversarial position, just a position. There, in that vast middle of the religious spectrum, a space not occupied by fundamentalists of any sort, live tens of millions of atheists and agnostics, more or less quietly, mostly with their families. And their numbers are growing."

Grierson explains that many atheists embrace their religious roots and customs, especially when they have religious family members, and he devotes quite a lot of space to how secular parents deal with this tricky business of religious faith when it comes to their children. (That's where I came in.)

In addition to relating the story about how my book was born, Grierson does a skillful job summarizing what it is I'm all about. "The question," he quotes me as saying, "is how do we approach religion with our kids so that we're being honest but not indoctrinating them or scaring them, or putting them in a position to be made fun of or teased or hurt? These are fine lines. And because so many of us are first-generation secular, we can't fall back on what we ourselves learned before."

Wait. Did I just quote myself being quoted? That was weird.

Anyway, Grierson also references my Ten Commandments for Talking to Kids About Religion, focusing specifically on Commandments #3: Don't saddle kids with anxiety over the word 'God' and #8: Don't steal your child's ability to choose (although I happen to know that Grierson's personal favorite is #7: Don't be a dick. Mine, too, incidentally.)

Unfortunately, though, in the world of journalism, there are just so many opportunities to get things a little screwy. And Grierson (God love him) turned out to be fallible. In a paragraph about my own upbringing, for example, Grierson states that I was "raised Presbyterian and Methodist." Although I did attend Presbyterian and Methodist churches at certain points during my childhood, I was baptized Unitarian and wasn't raised in any particular faith. In the same paragraph, he describes my parents' approach to religion as don't-ask-don't-tell, which isn't true, either. What I said — and have written about previously — is that I personally instituted a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on religion while I was in college, and later abandoned it. But that was never my parent's approach to religion; it was my own.

That being said, the story — which is on newsstands through June — is just great, and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

Oh, and there's a picture, too, which is super-stagey. But at least it features our super-cool Bigfoot painting in the background. (Relax, out there, it's just Bigfoot.)

 

'Dear Abby' for the Heathen Set

If you happen to fall somewhere toward the non-believing end of the religious spectrum, you've probably had a chance to see first-hand how complicated life can be there. Sure, you're comfortable, happy and confident with your world view. But you're also in a position to deal with perception issues, familial struggles, disagreements with society at-large, and uncertainty about bringing up kids in what amounts to a 21st Century counterculture.

Questions are bound to arise.

And when they do, Richard Wade answers them.

Wade is the author of "Ask Richard," the country's most well-known advice column for nonbelievers. His column runs regularly on the website Friendly Atheist, where he is considered a godsend — or the secular equivalent of a godsend — to thousands of people struggling with the sometimes painful intersection of belief and non-belief. (An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Wade was awarded the 2011 Bloggie award for best weblog about religion. That honor went to Hemant Mehta, creator of the Friendly Atheist site.)

As a person, Wade is as cool as they come. (But you already knew that because, you know, the hat.) He's straight-shooting, calm-demeanored, uber-compassionate and whip-smart. Week after week, he manages to offer sympathetic, thoughtful and insightful answers to tough, sometimes impossibly tough, questions from lovable heathens around the country. And, at a time when the ranks of the nonreligious are among the fastest growing "religious" group in the country, Wade's advice is increasingly sought out and valuable.

All of his columns are worth reading, but, for the purpose of this blog, I've tried to post links to only those dealing specifically with parenting.

Don't forget to let me know what you think in the comment section! I'm always looking for other members to add to my newly formed Richard Wade Fan Club. Yes, there's a secret handshake. I serve donuts and coffee at the monthly meetings. And posters are available at a nominal fee. (But hurry while supplies last. The posters go quickly. Chicks, as it turns out, dig hats more than they do scars.)

Single Mother's Parents are Proselytizing Her Kid

Atheist Husband and Father Continues to go to Church

My Mom is Dying: Should I Lie to My Kids About Death?

Teaching My Kids Religious Tolerance and Science at the Same Time

Mother Lets Son Attend Church, Gets Flak From Fellow Atheists

What Do I Offer My Kids for Comfort and Assurance?

I Want to Stop My Nephew's Interest in Religion

How Do I Handle My Six-Year-Old's Beliefs?

My Zealous Catholic Parents are Indoctrinating My Kids

New Dad Misses Belief That God Will Protect His Daughter

Respecting Beliefs vs. Respecting Treatment

Atheist's Freethinking Children Are Considering Religion

Am I a Hypocrite in a Group of Christian Mothers?

Atheist Parents Disagree About Circumcision

Relating to Religious People at Times of Grief

Disagreeing About Future Children and Prayer

You may also, of course, write to Wade with your own questions. His e-mail is askrichard@ca.rr.com.