St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, once said, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” Some web pages say that might really be a Francis Xavier quotation, others say it was “some Jesuit” who said it, and all the careful web pages credit it to “some guy.”
Little kids have to trust adults or they die. Trust has to be built in. So while you’re teaching them to eat, stay out of traffic, and not drink too much of what’s underneath the sink, you can abuse that trust and burn in the evil idea that faith is good. It’ll often stick with them longer than not drinking bleach. It seems if someone snuck the idea of faith into you at an early age, you’re more likely to do it to your own kids.
If your childhood trust was not abused with faith, or if somehow you kicked it in your travels down the road, your work is done. You don’t have to worry too much about your kids. You don’t ever have to teach Atheism. You don’t have to teach an absence of guilt for things they didn’t do. As Atheist parents, you just have one more reason to keep your kids away from priests. Tell your kids the truth as you see it, and let the marketplace of ideas work as they grow up. I don’t know who said, “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby,” maybe it was Francis Xavier, or more likely The Amazing James Randi, but, some guy or gal said it, and it’s a more important idea than any Jesuit ever came up with. You have to work hard to get kids to believe nonsense. If you’re not desperately selling lies, the work is a lot easier.
Tell your kids the truth as you see it, and let the marketplace of ideas work as they grow up. I don’t know who said, ‘Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby,’ . . . but . . . it’s a more important idea than any Jesuit ever came up with.
My kids are really young, they’re still babies, they can’t even talk yet, but what the hell, we’re still a little bit careful what we say. When someone sneezes we say, “That’s funny,” because it is. We don’t have any friends who are into any kind of faith-based hooey, so our kids will just think that “damn it” follows “god” like “Hubbard” (or something) follows “mother.” That’s cool. That’s easy.
I know this is unfashionable in the Atheist community, but truth just needs to be stated; it doesn’t have to be hyped. (This is the point where you check again who wrote this. Remember what Bob Dobbs said: “I don’t practice what I preach because I’m not the kind of person I’m preaching to.”)
There is no god, and that’s the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing was passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it out again. Without hype, Lot’s salt-heap ho would never be thought of again. Without science, the Earth still goes around the sun and someday someone will find a way to prove that again. Science is so important because it’s a way to truth, but the truth doesn’t depend on it. Reality exists outside of humans; religion does not. The bad guys have to try to get the kids early to keep their jive alive. We good guys should try to get the truth out there, but the stakes just aren’t as high for us. Most anyone who is serious about science will lose some faith. Maybe not all their faith, but they’ll lose a hunk of it before getting that Nobel Prize. No matter how bad the polls on Americans look, the people who do science for a living aren’t being fooled. The polls on belief in evolution make the USA look bad, but maybe Turkey is the only Western country with worse pollsters than the USA—ever think of that?
Evolution is the truth. And with truth comes a lack of panic. I don’t lose sleep over creation myths being taught in public schools. Who trusts anything from government schools? “Better to be uneducated than educated by your government” (that quotation is mine). The bad guys always have to fight for their ideas to be taught. They must cheat. Government force, propaganda, and hype are the tools you desperately need when you’re wrong. Truth abides.
Dr. Richard Dawkins had a christian education, but he kicked that away before taking his seat in the Darwin BarcaLounger at Oxford. The bad guys got the Dawk until he was 7. So what? That race has been run; they fought the truth and the truth won. I went to Sunday school and the reality of the creationist myth stayed as true for me as the certainty that the Greenfield High School football team was going to win the Turkey Day game because we had P . . . E . . . P . . . PEP! PEP! PEP! Jesus christ, doesn’t anyone but Paul Simon and me remember it was all crap we learned in high school anyway and all the kids always knew it?
Evolution was true before Darwin. Evolution was true in the 16th century when Loyola did or didn’t start that quotation. Evolution has been true as long as there has been life on Earth, and it always will be true. If you pick your side carefully, you don’t have to fight as hard.
All this assumes you’re an out-of-the-closet Atheist parent. Truth doesn’t live in the closet. You have to make it clear to everyone including your kids that there is no god. If you’re not doing that every chance you get, then the other side will win. They’ll win only in the short term; we only get to live in the short term. You don’t have to fight, but you have to do your part—you have to tell the truth. You have to be honest. You don’t have to force schools to say there’s no god, but you have to say it. You have to say it all the time. No one can relax in a closet.
Those of us who are out-of-the-closet Atheist parents have all that extra time on Sunday mornings to love our kids. We can use that time to hold them, laugh, and dance around together. Tell your kids there’s no god and be done with it. Jesus christ, your kids aren’t stupid.
PENN JILLETTE is the Emmy Award–winning illusionist/entertainer/debunker of the duo Penn & Teller; author of several books, including God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales (2011); and star and producer of such films as The Aristocrats and An Honest Liar and the Showtime series Bullshit! (which debunks such frauds as alien abduction, magnetic cures, and talking to the dead). Penn is married to producer Emily Zolten Jillette, with whom he has two children, Moxie CrimeFighter (born 2005) and Zolten (born 2006).
Many books have included heartfelt personal reflections by those who have found their way out of religious faith and into naturalism. Many of these include stories of childhood and parenthood; all are fascinating reading. Most are intended for adult readers, but you know your kids best.
Barker, Dan. Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. Ulysses, 2008. The personal journey of a searching mind from the pulpit to atheism, a journey made painful not by his conscience but by those around him. Teens and adults.
Sweeney, Julia. Letting Go of God. DVD. Julia Sweeney Blum, 2006. In this hilarious, honest, insightful monologue, comedian Julia Sweeney describes her journey from a Catholic upbringing to religious doubt and finally to atheism. This is the one to hand to a friend who is questioning his or her religious convictions or just wants to know more about atheists and atheism.
The God Who Wasn’t There. DVD. Beyond Belief Media, 2005. Former fundamentalist Brian Flemming takes viewers through his years in a strict Christian school where hell was promised to those who doubted. But he doubted anyway, first terrified and then intrigued by his growing realization that though the wheel of religion keeps spinning, there’s no hamster.
Willson, Jane Wynne. Parenting Without God: Experiences of a Humanist Mother. Educational Heretics Press, 1999. Don’t judge this book by its rather basic cover, or by the years that have passed since it was written. This slim volume of reflections by one of the leading lights in British humanism is a gem, one of the finest contributions to the literature on nonreligious parenting. Buy it used for a song on Amazon or Amazon.co.uk.