How nonbelievers raise their kids
In a predominantly theistic society, it may be easy to take for granted others’ religious views—or lack of it.
A University of Chicago study showed that children raised in secular households had more empathy and kindness than those brought up in religious ones.
The report—which included over 1,000 children 5-12 years old from six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa, Turkey, United States)—concluded: “Family religious identification decreases children’s altruistic behaviors.”
One of the findings said that kids from religious families have less interaction than those from nonreligious families. A religious background is also linked to more vindictive inclinations when faced with anti-social behavior.
Sociologist Phil Zuckerman explained that instead of raising children in a moral vacuum, atheism is clearer about right and wrong, since beliefs are generally ingrained more in empathy than fear of punishment in the afterlife.
Myrisa Spencer, 40, is an atheist and separated from her husband. Mom to Jessica, 9, Valerie, 7, Juliet, 6, Ethan, 3, and Harrison, 1, Myrisa said: “Their father is deist (believes in a God that has no supernatural revelation); their stepdad is not affiliated with anything.”
Raised as a fundamentalist Christian, Myrisa pointed out: “I am raising my kids as freethinkers. I will expose them to as many religions as needed in an informative manner.”
She added: “I tell my kids that other people choose to have certain belief systems to find comfort in.”
How does she explain to her children why other people believe in God while she doesn’t? “We always use logic and reason, because that is what we use in the here and now,” she said.
Jowell Chan, 41, is also an atheist. “It was not an overnight thing for me,” he explained. “It was gradual; the answers that some people claim they find when they found God just remained questions for me.”
His wife is Catholic, and he recalled being raised a Catholic but in a Buddhist/Taoist household.
His children, Sophie, 9, and Dylan, 6, go to a private Catholic school, and he has no plans to raise them to become atheists.
He said, “Though my kids know that I do not believe in God, I will let them choose what they want to believe in. I found freedom in my decision to become an atheist, but I will not force my beliefs on them.”
The kids don’t question him about it. “As for other people, I just tell them I am an atheist. I do not feel the need to explain myself because it doesn’t change who I am as a person,” Jowell said.
Archie L., 41, is agnostic, separated, and raises his two sons.
“I have my doubts about the existence of a ‘God,’” he said. “I’ve read and studied the Holy Bible through and through, was even a member of a denomination Christian Church once, and was exposed to several other religions. None of the practices of any religion I came across made sense. I already stopped searching.”
Though he was raised a Catholic, his parents were not strict observers.
“Out of respect for my mother, we used to go to Catholic Mass every Sunday,” he recalled. “But since we moved out of our house, we never heard Mass again. My kids are unschooled. They figure things out on their own. I am just a guide.”
He explained: “I decided to unschool my kids since regular school has failed them. Regular school was robbing them of their individuality and uniqueness. As for religion, they received Holy Communion at the request of my parents. It was no big deal for us. They’re learning about religion and actually hate the practice.”
One of his sons is an atheist, and the other believes we are “beings of light,” Archie said. “I don’t know if he read that somewhere but that’s what he says he believes in. Oddly enough, we still say grace before meals. I guess it’s just an automatic behavior they acquired from regular school.”
How does he explain to his children why other people believe in God and he doesn’t?
“I don’t have to explain it,” he said. “We all have different views and we all respect each other’s beliefs.”
What does this mean for believers?
I’m a born-and-bred Catholic, had Muslim friends in my childhood, but encountered atheists, agnostics and other Christian denominations only at university,” Archie said. “Despite my thoroughly Catholic schooling, I was fortunate to have had religion teachers who were open and knowledgeable enough to listen, explain and guide us through our exploratory thinking. They were not threatened by questions and did not answer condescendingly with a know-it-all stance.”
He recounted that “one wise teacher, in particular, advised us not to engage in religious debates. ‘Let’s talk about things that unite us, not divide us,’ she coached us to say, to avoid pointless discussions with zealots.”
To create awareness, tolerance and understanding of such alternative perspectives, these nonbelievers are candid on their own beliefs. Despite conflicting views, the main idea is freedom.
What they’re saying is, basic respect, empathy and doing good do not need a God.
Thus, more is expected of a believer like me. Our children are absorbing everything we say and do, and whatever we believe in, let us make them proud of us.—CONTRIBUTED
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