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Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion (2007)

by Dale McGowan (Editor)

Other authors: Norm R. Allen (Contributor), Donald B. Ardell (Contributor), Dan Barker (Contributor), August E. Brunsman (Contributor), Ed Buckner (Contributor)30 more, Matthew Cherry (Contributor), Shannon Cherry (Contributor), Amanda Chesworth (Contributor), Richard Dawkins (Contributor), Margaret Downey (Contributor), Anne Nicol Gaylor (Contributor), Annie Laurie Gaylor (Contributor), Kendyl Gibbons (Contributor), Edgar Harburg (Contributor), James Herrick (Contributor), Amy Hilden (Contributor), Noell Hyman (Contributor), Penn Jillette (Contributor), Robert E. Kay (Contributor), Bobbie Kirkhart (Contributor), David Koepsell (Contributor), Stephen Law (Contributor), Kristan Lawson (Contributor), Gareth B. Matthews (Contributor), Jean Mercer (Contributor), Amanda K. Metskas (Contributor), Roberta Nelson (Contributor), Emily Rosa (Contributor), Michael Shermer (Foreword), Julia Sweeney (Contributor), Sam Tallo (Cover designer), Stu Tanquist (Contributor), Mark Twain (Contributor), Pete Wernick (Contributor), Jane Wynne Willson (Contributor)

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3131076,593 (4.19)7
"Parents on both sides of the culture war will find this book a compelling read." --Newsweek Why am I here? What happens after we die? These are some of the hardest questions a child can ask--and even harder for parents to answer, especially if you've chosen to raise your child without religion. Gathering the perspectives of educators and psychologists, as well as wisdom from everyday parents,Parenting Beyond Belief offers insights and advice on a wide range of topics including: Instilling values * Finding meaning and purpose * Navigating holidays * Coping with loss * Finding community without religion...and more The second edition of this secular parenting bestseller brings back reflections from such celebrated freethinkers as Richard Dawkins and Julia Sweeney, and adds new voices including journalist Wendy Thomas Russell, essayist Katherine Ozment, sociologist Phil Zuckerman, and many others. Wise, entertaining, and deeply supportive, the book will empower parents in their quest to raise ethical, compassionate, and open-minded children--without religion.… (more)

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This is a book about the intersection of parenting and non-belief. The target audience is non-believers who are parents; it does not attempt to argue for non-belief. It is a collection of essays from many different authors. As such, it has the usual weakness of such collections: some of the content is excellent, some is mediocre, most is somewhere in between. The contributors perspectives cover the spectrum from those who believe in the value of religious traditions even while rejecting the beliefs behind them to those who strongly reject religion in all its aspects.

Parents in this collection think of themselves as raising children as freethinkers, not atheists. Their goal is to teach children to ask questions and follow where the answers lead. They want children to make up their own mind — even if that might lead to religion.

Since many of us live in a religious society, we have to learn how to live with religion. Essays explore parenting in a mixed religious/non-religious marriage, making sure children are religiously literate, standing up for your principles when your children are discriminated against because of their lack of religion, and keeping religion out of schools.

All people need celebration and ceremony to mark the passing of time and important milestones. Secular families do not need to give ceremony and celebration just because they do not believe in the religious underpinnings that often come along. Ceremonies and celebrations can be adapted to fit the values and beliefs of secular families.

Being religious or secular doesn't actually make a big difference in terms of moral development. Although religious belief can provide some reasoning about morality, morality in practice is about learning how to see and treat each other as fellows deserving of dignity. Beyond that, religion doesn't solve many of the most challenging philosophical problem: e.g., the problem of evil is confounding regardless of belief.

How do we think about values and virtues, meaning and purpose as secular parents? We see an essay which discusses the complimentary values of self-respect and respect for others. One that discusses virtues that are meaningful for secular families (humility, empathy, courage, honesty, openness, generosity, and gratitude). Another acknowledges that there's no inherent purpose to life; we must support our children in their quest for their own purpose and meaning in life. We see how the arts help us find meaning and understand the human condition.

Every family will need to eventually grapple with death. It is important to help children through this time period, creating ceremony and rituals to help them through their grief. Without the comforting thought of an afterlife, parents need to help children focus on the importance of remembering the deceased. Parents can help do this by acknowledging the reality of death, validating a child's sadness, acknowledging what we don't know about death, celebrating the individuality of the deceased, and affirming the continuity of life.

How can we help children question and think for themselves? We can help them to observe the world, including their own mind and the minds of others, and ask questions about it. The key thing is to always encourage questioning, not to discourage it. It's often believed that being non-religious means that there is no space for wonder. However, this world is such a wonderful place that there are ample opportunities for wonder, especially in science. The natural world is more amazing and wonderful than any fictional story. When children learn the scientific explanations behind phenomena, they often find those more fascinating than the often-simplistic pre-scientific explanations.

The book finishes with a discussion of the importance of building a community of freethinkers. Although the specifics are a bit dated, the core message is sound: we are social animals and we — especially children — need to find community. Without structured religious communities, freethinking families have to be more intentional about building community.

Overall, this was an interesting read but probably one you can skip if the you already feel comfortable blending non-belief and parenting.
( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
many of these essays are excellent, although only a few are particularly well written. there are a large handful that i wish were longer, because most of these are interesting and thought provoking. i didn't love every essay, but found most really useful and providing good perspective. not to mention all of the resources (other books, websites, organizations, and names of people i hadn't known much/anything about) that are listed at the end of every chapter. along with a healthy explanation of why religious literacy is important, so good resources for that, too. (i needed to hear it framed this way, i think.) along the same lines, i had never heard the term freethinker before, but like the idea of this, although i don't find it mutually exclusive to use with the identification of atheist. this doesn't need to even be read as a parenting book, i don't think. i come away from this book with hope and renewed fascination with so many of the things (mostly related to science) that i used to find so intriguing when i was younger. this one is a keeper and one that i plan to refer back to again and again. in fact, this was a library book and i'm going to go buy the second edition right now, and see what new essays and resources have been added as soon as the bookstore gets it to me. (now that i've gone through the second edition - really, i've almost read the entire book again because so many of the essays (more than half) are new, plus other changes: this is much more a parenting book. most of the new essays are specifically parenting essays and replace essays that weren't. it's not that this isn't valuable, i just like some of the more universal ones. but really, a lot of the parenting stuff can be extrapolated, and the newer essays are often stronger. there are also a few more essays by the editor, dale mcgowan, and i really like what he had to say as well as how he said it, so i was glad to find more of his work in here. the resources section has more and more recent publications, so i appreciate that being updated. in general, i think most of the best information from the first edition was preserved, and better stuff added, and it's been made more into a parenting book rather than peripherally being a parenting book. still not perfect, but really strong. and it's going to prove to be really important to me personally, i know.)

the words of julia sweeney on going to catholic church so reflected my own experience of going to synagogue: "...my mind had this pesky habit of actually listening to the words being said at Mass. I would inevitably leave angry, or bemused and distant like an anthropologist, but certainly not connected."

and then so did the end of this excerpt of bertrand russell's: "Throughout the long period of religious doubt I had been rendered very unhappy by the gradual loss of belief, but when the process was completed I found to my surprise that I was quite glad to be done with the whole subject."

loved this concept from penn jillette's essay: "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 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."

"Cultural legends and myths are among our greatest inheritances from the past. They are real treasures, insights into the human condition, diminished not one whit by the fact that most were once thought true by the great majority of those who heard them. Persian, Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Norse, Celtic, and Egyptian mythologies passed into the category of recognized fiction, while the Abrahamic mythologies are still considered 'religions' by many. They too will most likely pass into recognized fiction, whether ten or ten thousand years from now, almost certainly to be replaced by new religions, most of which will borrow mythic archetypes from their predecessors...and on turns the great karmic wheel." - from one of dale mcgowan's chapter introductions

from the same intro: "To whet kids' appetites and introduce the pantheon of gods, read a few of the basic myths: Cronos swallowing his children, Zeus defeating the Titans and dividing the tripartite world, Icarus, Phaeton, and so on. Then begin interweaving Christian and Jewish mythologies, matched if you can with their classical parallels. Read the story of Danae and Perseus, in which a god impregnates a woman, who gives birth to a great hero; then read the divine insemination of Mary and birth of Christ story. Read the story of the infant boy who is abandoned in the wilderness to spare him from death, only to be found by a servant of the king who brings him to the palace to be raised as the king's child. It's the story of Moses - and the story of Oedipus. No denigration of the Judeo-Christian stories is necessary; kids simply see that myth is myth."

"Any comment on a religious subject should include 'I believe...' not just stating something as though it were true. Note the difference between 'God loves you' and 'I believe God loves you,' for example, or between 'There is no god' and 'I see no reason to believe in a god.'" - from pete wernick's essay

from another of mcgowan's chapter introductions, i love this point on how morality is actually something we mostly know on our own (as opposed to people who say we get it only from religious doctrine, and so can't know morality without the ten commandments): "Not actually knowing right from wrong is so rare that it is considered a mentally altered state and a legal defense in criminal cases."

i just loved being reminded of how incredible our world is, although i'm a little ashamed that i had allowed myself to become so complacent about it. again, from dale mcgowan, but this time from one of his essays: "Put a soccer ball i the middle of an open field to represent the sun. Walk twenty-six paces from the ball and drop a pea. That's Earth. An inch away from Earth, drop a good-sized breadcrumb for the moon, remembering that this inch is the furthest humans have been so far. Jupiter is a golf ball 110 paces further out, and Pluto's a tiny BB about half a mile from the soccer ball.
So how far would you have to walk before you can put down another soccer ball for Proxima Centauri, the very nearest star to our sun? Bring your good shoes - it's over 4,000 miles away at this scale, New York to Berlin. That's the nearest star. And there are about a trillion such stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and roughly a hundred billion such galaxies..."

from the same essay: "It's easy to get a child addicted to real wonders if you start early enough. Simply point them out - they are all around us - and include a few references to what was once thought to be true. Take thunder. Explain that a bolt of lightning rips through the air, zapping trillions of air molecules with energy hotter than the Sun. Those superheated molecules explode out of the way with a crack! Then the bolt is gone, and all those molecules smash into each other again as they fill in the emptiness it leaves behind. That's the long rumble - waves of air swirling and colliding like surf at the beach. ...
Then explain that people once thought it was a sound made by an angry god in the sky, and enjoy your child's face as she registers how much less interesting that is."

i know that it might just partially be the timing, with the inauguration of the 45th president just happening, so i'm feeling really emotional and maybe it's easier to manipulate me. but the end of this book, about community and identity, and even the last parenting essay...i don't know. it hit me viscerally. i'm feeling thankful for this book and for what it's reminded me exists in this world and in myself.

- people to read or read more of: bertrand russell, dawkins, tanguist, barker, jillette, gibbons, matthews, nelson, society for humanistic judaism,

- books to get/read for myself or as micah grows: alexander fox and the amazing mind reader by john c clayton; in the beginning: creation stories from around the world by virginia hamilton; darwin and evolution for kids - his life and ideas with 21 activities by kristan lawson; big bang-the story of the universe by heather couper; the humanistic anthology edited by margaret knight and james herrick; dan barker's kids books; i wonder by annaka harris; love, joy, feminism blog by libby anne; the book of the year: a brief history of our seasonal holidays by anthony aveni; secularseasons.org; evolution.berkeley.edu for kids through adults; sundayassembly.pdx.org; ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Jan 19, 2017 |
A little uneven, but garners four stars for excellent resources. ( )
  bookofmoons | Sep 1, 2016 |
Not a bad collection of essays. I'll admit that it's a rough start. Julia Sweeney's essay is placed first and came off a bit grating.

Other than that, there is a wealth of extra resources for secular parents.

Worth picking up and rifling through. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
After greatly enjoying books like Richard Dawkin's God Delusion, Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World, Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True, it comes as no surprise that I would absolutely love this one as well.

The author convinces beyond doubt that critical thinking kids are better than blind followers. I was fortunate enough to be raise by pretty free-thinking parents, but I do know of people of my age and others who did not have that advantage. This tells me that I've got to create an environment to allow our kids to feel free to ask any question (no matter how silly or how 'above and beyond their age') and that I've got to prepare myself to answer them to the best of my abilities.

Chapter on Death and Consolation is just amazing although feels like walking on the edge sometimes.

The section on "What your kids won't learn in School" - mentions a big list of all the great people who were freethinkers. That is pretty helpful while having general conversation with friends and kids.

Highly recommended to any parent (not just the non-religious ones). ( )
  nmarun | Mar 11, 2014 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
McGowan, DaleEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Allen, Norm R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ardell, Donald B.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barker, DanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brunsman, August E.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Buckner, EdContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cherry, MatthewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cherry, ShannonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chesworth, AmandaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dawkins, RichardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Downey, MargaretContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gaylor, Anne NicolContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gaylor, Annie LaurieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gibbons, KendylContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harburg, EdgarContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Herrick, JamesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hilden, AmyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hyman, NoellContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jillette, PennContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kay, Robert E.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kirkhart, BobbieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Koepsell, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Law, StephenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lawson, KristanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Matthews, Gareth B.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mercer, JeanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Metskas, Amanda K.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Nelson, RobertaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rosa, EmilyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shermer, MichaelForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sweeney, JuliaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tallo, SamCover designersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tanquist, StuContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Twain, MarkContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wernick, PeteContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Willson, Jane WynneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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In the 1989 Ron Howard film Parenthood, the Keanu Reeves' character, Tod Higgins, a wild-eyed young man trying to find his way in life after being raised by a single mom, bemoans to his future mother-in-law that you need a license to drive, have a dog, or even to fish—but they'll let anyone be a father.
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"Parents on both sides of the culture war will find this book a compelling read." --Newsweek Why am I here? What happens after we die? These are some of the hardest questions a child can ask--and even harder for parents to answer, especially if you've chosen to raise your child without religion. Gathering the perspectives of educators and psychologists, as well as wisdom from everyday parents,Parenting Beyond Belief offers insights and advice on a wide range of topics including: Instilling values * Finding meaning and purpose * Navigating holidays * Coping with loss * Finding community without religion...and more The second edition of this secular parenting bestseller brings back reflections from such celebrated freethinkers as Richard Dawkins and Julia Sweeney, and adds new voices including journalist Wendy Thomas Russell, essayist Katherine Ozment, sociologist Phil Zuckerman, and many others. Wise, entertaining, and deeply supportive, the book will empower parents in their quest to raise ethical, compassionate, and open-minded children--without religion.

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2 editions of this book were published by AMACOM.

Editions: 0814474268, 0814437419


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