As an atheist, socially progressive homeschooling mom, I often feel like a bit of a black sheep among other homeschooling parents I know (almost all of whom are religious). Those who have the courage to ask usually want to know if and how we approach religion.
We introduce the concept of god(s) and religions from a scientific, historical, and literary perspective. To date, they’ve learned about Greek and Egyptian gods and have read from the Vedic Samhitas, the Dhammapada, the Upanishads, the Torah, and both the Old and New Testaments. They’ve also read numerous epics (including Ramayana and The Epic of Gilgamesh). Each of the religions are introduced and expounded upon as part of their World History curriculum. The Greeks and Egyptians both received special attention in both Ancient History and Astronomy, Native American legends are given special focus in American History, and Christian mythology is repeatedly addressed when relevant (in Art History, World History, and Literature).
Ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds hate. Hate breeds violence.
As a responsible homeschooling parent, I consider it of paramount importance that my children understand the people they share the world with and how to properly treat them. We aim to raise tolerant, inclusive, compassionate, and functional members of society—kids who know better than to walk in front of praying Muslims and can tell the difference between a burka and a hijab. My children will never make the mistakes of wishing a Jewish friend “Happy Yom Kippur” or serving a steak to a Hindu friend.
When it comes to discussing religion and atheism outside of our homeschool, this is what we tell our kids:
For as long as our species has had conscious thought, we’ve been creating deities and origin myths to explain the unexplainable.
People are designed to look for patterns. We need answers. If we can’t find them, we create them. Archaeologists have found evidence of possible ritualistic burial and sacred relics dating back to the Paleolithic period. Before the Christian God, the Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Aztek, and Norse peoples worshiped a pantheon of gods.
Once we had developed a written language, the first and oldest religious texts (The Pyramid Texts) were inscribed on the walls of pyramids at Saqqara. Two hundred years later, The Epic of Gilgamesh (the second-oldest religious text) was committed to paper. Three hundred years after that, Hinduism was born when the oldest of the Hindu Vedas (the Rig Veda) was written. The Torah wasn’t written until the 6th century BCE.
Christianity, Judiasm, and Islam were not the first religions and (if we’ve learned anything from L. Ron Hubbard) they won’t be the last.
We should understand and appreciate all of the religious mythologies, so we can better understand and respect the beliefs of others.
We consider the history of religion to be a crucial part of our children’s curriculum to ensure an understanding of culture, world history, and literature. You can’t fully appreciate great works of art or literature if you can’t recognize what inspired them.
If you hope to ever come close to understanding humanity, you must learn about the beliefs that shaped us.
We must never insult others for their religious beliefs or treat them poorly, and we should not tolerate people who do.
Everyone believes their origin myth and their deity is the correct one. We can’t disprove their beliefs any more than they can prove theirs. Because their beliefs don’t harm us, we should trust that they’re making the right decision for themselves and show respect by not teasing, taunting, or otherwise discriminating against them for their beliefs. There are appropriate times for respectful debate and consideration. Outside of those times, we should keep our opinions to ourselves.
We do not know what is best for other people. It is not our job to challenge their faith.
Just because we’re atheists doesn’t mean we can’t also be allies to our religious friends. When we see someone teasing or abusing someone we should always do what’s right, even if we don’t share their beliefs.
Some people do not believe in any deity or any religion. It is your choice to decide whether you believe or not.
Your choice is your business. Certain religious groups believe it is their sacred duty to convert non-believers to their religion. If you aren’t interested, politely (but firmly) tell them so.
Just as we respect the beliefs of others, we should demand that others treat us respectfully too.
People who proselytize are doing so because they care for you. (Generally, they believe that your refusal to convert to their religion will result in you being tortured for all eternity, so from their perspective, the stakes are pretty high.) Try not to get annoyed by or angry with them. They may not realize they’re being disrespectful, so if you feel offended, it’s up to you to communicate that.
We are not “immoral” because we are not religious. You can be good without a god.
This conversation became necessary after two Christian siblings claimed their mother wouldn’t allow them to play with my children because we “worship the Devil.” Why did this adult woman believe my family worships Satan? …because my oldest daughter read all the Harry Potter books. (Yes, really.)
Religious people do not have a monopoly on morality. As human beings, we are capable of empathy, sympathy, and compassion. We do not require the threat of eternal damnation or the promise of an eternity in paradise to be good people.
A non-belief in god(s) does not equate to a belief in or devotion to a “devil” or anti-god figure.
Additionally, objects do not have magical powers or “dark auras.”
- Reading Harry Potter doesn’t constitute “witchcraft.”
- Playing with a Ouija board won’t invite demonic possession.
- Saying “Bloody Mary” in the mirror three times will not call forth a malevolent phantom.
- Tarot cards can’t divine the future.
- Dungeons & Dragons is an awesome sword and sorcery role-playing game, not a gateway to Satanism.
Books are books. Games are games. Toys are toys. Attaching sinister consequences to their use is superstitious nonsense with no basis in any actual religion. There exists no scientific evidence that any of those claims are true.
Some religious people prefer not to associate with atheists, and that’s okay.
Again, we don’t know what’s best for other people. They have the right to choose who they associate with. If someone does not want to be your friend because you don’t share their beliefs, respect their choice. Learn from your experience.
Never forget what it feels like to be excluded and marginalized.
It might be hard to understand now, but these hurtful experiences help you grow into a more tolerant and inclusive person.
What about you? How do you discuss religion and god with your children in your secular family? Let me know in the comments!