You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Parenting Beyond Belief

Parenting Beyond Belief is a book of essays on how to raise a child in a god-free environment and instill in them a sense of morality, awe, and understanding of scientific and logical viewpoints. The essays, edited by Dale McGowan, are written by people from different backgrounds, including Penn Jillette, Richard Dawkins, and two UU ministers.

The first section illustrates different worldviews that rely on skepticism and free inquiry rather than authority and superstition. People describe how they threw away beliefs that they realized were untenable. The next section talks about dealing with mixed families, where one spouse is religious and the other is not. It's a tough situation and many families do not survive. The turmoil can be very rough. It works the best if the parents of young children can agree on boundaries and fairness.

There is a great section on secular holidays--nonreligious families need to celebrate as much as religious families. Secular holidays can celebrate the natural cycles and milestones in our lives. Likewise, gratitude and patriotism are secular values to celebrate.

The most important essays are on morality and doing good for the right reasons. The point is made that not only can we teach children how to be good without religion, morality is ingrained early on without religious concepts. Empathy is largely the core of morality, and religion is a veneer over it, which sometimes becomes counterproductive.

More essays are about meaning and wondering, and dealing with death. One section is about the wonders of science and rejecting the false wonders of religion. The real wonders of the universe are so much more amazing that the imaginary ideas of myth. The last chapter is on finding secular communities. There is good in finding fellowship with other people who share your values, though it is different to keep in a community with relatively weak ties (i.e. no shared beliefs).

I found the essays very valuable. It's good to know that others are struggling with the same issues and have come to very similar solutions. The most important essay was Richard Dawkins' letter to his daughter, "Good and Bad Reasons for Believing." He describes the dangers of believing in ideas uncritically. This essay should be distributed to all churches.

I found other valuable concepts. Teaching children wonder and awe at the natural universe is important. Helping them deal with religious bigotry and religious friends is necessary in our hyper-religious world. Deal with death honestly but carefully. Help them come up with their own philosophy of life and create their own meaning. Above all, be a good example. Exemplify your own morality and philosophy of life. Show them the awe and wonders of the universe.

This is an important book. I would recommend it for anyone, but especially for humanists. It's a solid A.


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