The first and most important task of Parenting Beyond Belief is to let secular families know they are not alone—that millions of other families are wrestling with the same challenges and asking the same questions. This chapter includes personal reflections by freethinking parents and children, as well as adults recalling when they were children, all grappling with familiar issues and offering hard-won advice.
This chapter is framed by a perfect pair of bookends to illustrate the range of approaches to secular parenting. We start with Julia Sweeney, who describes raising her daughter, Mulan, to make her own choices while making peace with her Catholic background and devout parents. At the end is Penn Jillette, who applies his famously uncompromising life philosophy to secular parenting.
Because Richard Dawkins thinks religion greatly and negatively impacts the world, his disrespect for many religious claims leads him to passionate and strident denunciation of what he sees as a real and present danger. After the attacks of September 11, Dawkins wrote, “My last vestige of ‘hands off religion’ respect disappeared in the smoke and choking dust of September 11th 2001, followed by the ‘National Day of Prayer.’”1 He believes that religion is dangerous and must be actively opposed. While it is perfectly acceptable for readers to disagree with such an opinion or with the way in which it is expressed, this impassioned and well-informed voice should no more be excluded from the conversation than thoughtful religious nontheists at the other end of our big tent.
Secular kids themselves are well represented by Emily Rosa, who describes an upbringing that kept her “itching for the truth” and a fourth-grade science experiment that briefly catapulted her into the national spotlight. She also offers some serious advice to secular parents to relax, play, laugh, lighten up—so as not to raise a grim generation of obsessive debunkers. And this edition adds the thoughts of several other kids and adults who were raised, or are being raised, without religion.
Also new to the second edition is Be-Asia McKerracher, a talented author, podcaster, and rising voice in secular parenting and the black atheist movement.
Dan Barker rounds out the chapter with a fascinating dual perspective: First, as an evangelical minister, Dan raised four children in a Christian home; then he lost his faith, divorced, remarried, and is now raising a daughter in a home actively devoted to freethought.
Though each of these stories is unique, common threads run throughout these essays, including courage, honesty, and optimism. There are many good ways to raise children, with or without religion. These examples are not models to follow but invitations to find your own way—and assurances that you will.