My husband and I are the ONLY parents I know raising our children without any religion or even religious identity (as in claiming to be part of a culture without studying its practices). We are both devout atheists. We don’t believe in any gods, or even the possibility of one. We are not agnostic. We believe awareness begins at conception and ends at death. There is no such thing as a soul. No heaven or hell, no rebirth, second chances or higher plains await us. Life is all there is.
Frightening and harsh though this may seem to believers, the implausible bible stories and the ‘jealous’ (Exodus 20:4-5), malicious god described in them never resonated with either of us. Much to our parent’s chagrin, we grew further from all religious ideology with our spiritual indoctrination. Religious leaders were preaching fairy tales conjured by men to control the masses by creating an outside deity that could not, and by its own laws must not, be questioned. They were telling us not to think, and neither my husband nor I were willing to do that.
We agreed before having kids that we’d raise them without religion. We would not teach them what we do not believe and what we both feel is fundamentally destructive at this point in human development. The value system we hope to impart is based on a keen awareness of our world and our immense responsibility to preserve it. Picture a bull’s-eye, we tell our kids, like the Target logo. You’re the center dot, obviously, as you can only perceive and participate in life while living. The first ring out from you is your immediate family; the next is your extended family and friends. The next ring is your community, then your country and then the world. And all must be considered when making choices and taking actions.
The Target philosophy is a model for a thriving society. Considering our ripple affect forces us to think before we act. Our ability for multifaceted thinking is what separates the human race from all other life here. There is no need of religious dogma such as promises of heaven, or threats of hell or the wrath of a god. The motivator my husband and I hope to instill in our children is a love of living. We teach our kids not only to be responsible to family and friends but to humanity and all things on mother earth. We expect them to honor their debt to everything before them that made it possible for them to exist by striving in whatever they do to deliver a better world to that yet to be.
As atheists we are considered by many to be heathens–uncultured, uncivilized people. Our parents are constantly trying to convert us to Judaism, under the delusion that we are whether we admit it or not. They vehemently express their disgust in our ‘denial’ and barrage us with threats that our children will be lost without a religious upbringing. My brother, a born again Christian, assures us that Christ died for our sins. He promises my children will be ‘saved’ after death from all wrongdoing if they just accept Him as their savior, without considering the catastrophic lack of responsibility this ideology instills in individual behavior.
By everyone’s reckoning who knows them, from family to teachers to friends, my kids are well liked and well respected. They are courteous and conscientious, and more considerate than most adults and 90% of their so called ‘god-fearing’ peers. They are team players in sports, strive for excellence in their studies [to enable them to become contributing members of society], share what they have and compromise to ensure fair play. And they do all this because they understand their role in, and responsibility to humanity and this planet we inhabit, not by threats of eternal damnation. My children are not lost and experience no spiritual void. They find beauty and wonder in many things, like nature and sometimes even the nature of man.
Some time ago during a typical dinner at home my husband asked the kids a simple question: “What are you?” Both kids answered: “Human.” Touché! Whether religion, skin color, and/or economic status, my children see no division between themselves and other people and this position is mandatory for the survival of our race into the future.
With the advent of technology and advanced weaponry our world has become asymptotically small and fragile. We need to stop pretending we are powerless, under the will of various deities outside ourselves, or follow the rhetoric of religious leaders who promote division. Humans have matured to a sufficiently advanced level to provide rules and regulations to govern ourselves. Though their foundation may stem from the wisdom of ancient pious men, global laws now support answering for crimes against each other, and for the most part advances our continued existence. We must teach our children to recognize their radiating effects on all they touch, and not only acknowledge their mighty power but embrace the responsibility that comes with it to further humanity’s development, not for rewards in an afterlife, but to help make it possible for generations to come to experience living.