My Son’s Tears: why I am outspoken

Religion FreeNeither of my wife nor I are “natural atheists” because we had both embraced religion as adults: my wife was raised Catholic but deconverted in her early twenties and I was a fervent Protestant believer for several years – and only slowly deconverting. But by the time my wife and I met, we were both religion-free and that is how we have raised our kids.

PolyAtheistWe did not raise our children telling them that, “There is no Zeus, no Allah, no Amidah, no Krishna, no Yahweh, no Jesus, no …..” but instead we just did not talk about spooks and spirits. My kids sort of naturally embraced their own natural view of reality without the supernatural. But as they got older, their school classmates who came from god-talk families began to confront my children by telling them that they were “atheists”. My children then came home asking us to tell them what an “atheist” is.

Early in those days, I first told my children to respect the beliefs of other folks. Well, that all fell apart on a day which I clearly remember.

My son was sitting on the couch after school and was tearful. It took me more than half an hour to get him to open up — that was very unusual for my son. He finally told me that his friends at school were teasing him about going to Hell.

I told my son that he no longer has to respect other people’s religious beliefs when they say stupid things like that. I equipped him with anti-scary-god arguments and my son began to debate those school buddies. His friends backed off and 7 years later, he has many good friends, Christian and atheist alike, who now only joke lightly about religion — they’ve grown to respect each other’s turfs it seems. They all sort of realize they inherited their folks’ religious thinking and are now just starting to think for themselves.

Anyway, it was Christianity in America telling my son that he was going to hell that motivated me to start blogging about the same religion I had years ago rejected. I am outspoken about atheism mainly in my blogging, I rarely bring it up in public.  It is only when people start to assume everyone in the room is Christian or say something outrageous that I speak out in public. Otherwise, with my friends, I leave the subject alone. But then, my Christian friends are the casual kinds — not the fervent sorts.

Question for readers: In what situations are you an outspoken atheist or an outspoken believer?

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32 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

32 responses to “My Son’s Tears: why I am outspoken

  1. I’m pretty much the same as you. I rarely bring it up unless asked directly or someone says something in my presence that I feel can’t go unchallenged.

    For example, my uncle once pronounced at a family gathering that he could prove everything in the bible was true and that atheists had no morals.

    He didn’t know I was an atheist but I couldn’t let that slide. I challenged him and he walked away. Later he told my mother I had ‘some strange religious ideas’ but he never brought it up again.

    I think letting it slide would allow him to think saying such things is acceptable and true. By challenging him, I hope he thinks twice before doing it again.

  2. @ Godless Cranium: Cool story. Couldn’t agree more.

  3. Religion, especially the Christian religion is critically important to the moral, intellectual, and ethical development of the human being.

    Many of Great Books of our Western Heritage concern themselves with the tendency of human beings to fall into decadent and malicious behavior.

    Religion offers clear blue prints and plants that the average person can use to attenuate the baser, malevolent part of his human nature.

    Atheism offers nothing.

    So unless atheist parents raise their children with the Christian values they, themselves, learned as children, the atheist child will mature to become an unhappy adult.

  4. @silenceofmind

    A person can be moral, intellectual, and ethical without religion! Indeed, I believe many studies have found the more educated you are the less likely you’re to be religious.

    That is a pretty big generalization about Great Books, by the way. One could equally claim many of the Great Books also deride religion!

  5. I usually try not to talk about religion in public (i. e. real life) or online too much. I usually only engage in religious topics when:

    a) someone has misrepresented a position (about Judaism, theism, atheism, etc.) in general.

    a1) Especially if they did this in an extra imperious manner. (i. e. I totally decimated this dumb-ass theist or atheist, usually while that person misrepresents crucial parts of their arguments or positions, and getting pats on the back by their self-made echo chamber).

    b) someone has misrepresented my position once I have decided to engage in a discussion.

    c) Bible as literature, which has more to do with my literature background rather than my religious one. Although, this, too, in a way comes back to this idea of misrepresentation.

  6. Console,

    A few men may have the gift of being moral.

    But history has shown that man is depraved and tyranny, poverty, starvation and short brutal life rule the day.

    It is religion that somehow instills in man the moral order he needs to form a civilization.

  7. @SOM :
    Interestingly, while traveling in England today, a bunch of new friends debated this issue. Some agreed with you. I agree that morality is a tenious thing, and people fall easily into decay. I think culture is the hope to preserve morality. Now, I just think that culture does not necessarily need religion for that. Just as culture does not need religion to spread tribal hate. Religion does both, but so can a religion-free culture.

    @Consoledreader :
    Thanx for sharing.

  8. Sabio,

    Reality puts the lie to your claim that religion is unnecessary.

    Name one civilization that did not rise up around religion.

    You can’t because there aren’t any.

    Atheism is dead because all its claims about religion have been proven false.

  9. silenceofmind:

    You may have a point that religion has an element of necessity, it’s something groups of people can rally around and can bring a social stability with it. It’s happening nowadays with vegans, for example.

    Clearly there are many truths in religious narratives, but religious narratives themselves are very unlikely to actually be full truths.

  10. @ jasonjshaw,
    Your point illustrates that it depends on how we define “religion”. I actually agree that “Atheism” has nothing to offer — but that is because “Atheism” in my use of the word is simply “not believing in gods”. Similarly, a person who does not collect stamps (a non-stamp-collector) by nature has little to offer other hobbiest or culture in general until they show us what they have. Thus atheists have nothing to offer, but god-free cultures can and do offer a great deal — I’ve seen it in my life and my travels. If religion is defined as involving the gods, or the supernatural, we’d have to exclude Vagans, but if the notion of religion is broadened, we’d might have to include them. So before arguing the “necessity” of religion, we have to make sure the definition is not so broad as to include any cultural phenomena or I’d have to agree that religion/culture is necessary for morality.

    @ SOM,
    I have seen your rhetoric style on other blogs. I will not tolerate it here. I will not engage the style you just demonstrated. Read my “Policies” tab and understand that I try to culture civility here — and I do it without gods. Yet, like the gods of old, I will cast out those who do not uphold my rules. There are many atheist sites that love bantering with you — you may find your rhetoric much more welcome there.
    PS- Also, I will not argue about style and rhetoric.

  11. Peacer

    Cliff note version of the non-scary god tools you gave your son, please and thank you.

  12. Sabio,

    Your polies are as follows:

    AGREE WITH ME OR ELSE!

    Generally, atheists simply cannot tolerate opposing points of view.

    Fair well.

  13. @ silenceofmind
    You stated that, “It is religion that somehow instills in man the moral order he needs to form a civilization.”
    Perhaps it is man that desired civilized order and thus instilled the concept of religion. As easy as it is for one to claim religion as the forefront to morality in mankind, it is just as easy to claim that religion be the byproduct of mankind’s desire for some form of order or regulation.

    @ Sabio

    I am always one to engage in conversation about the existence, or non-existence, of a divine being. I struggle particularly with absolutes, so in that regards I gladly challenge any absolute including that of my own…I hope. I so happen to reside in a community that is predominantly Christian and so I have been known to challenge the core beliefs of the majority, resulting in much anger directed towards myself and my family. (Oh the things Christians will say). I am known as a Christian Hater although I have never insulted anyone personally or attacked them on any level, but rather have challenged their faith in a respectful and considerate manner. I assure these people that I were in a community that was strictly atheist or believer in any other deity, they would also be open to my challenges and questioning. That is just me.

  14. Called,

    Religion has been used routinely by tyrants to establish ruling authority.

    The divine right of kings was finally overthrown by the American Founding Fathers.

  15. @SOM:

    My policies are very open and I love disagreement. It is exactly this pugilistic rhetoric of yours that is distasteful. However I know many atheists sites that love having you present so they can get a big brawl going. That is not what I enjoy in my home (blog).

    @ C2Q,
    Thanx for sharing your settings and temperament.

  16. @ Sabio, I love this post. Giving children the tools to dialogue with others who have differing viewpoints is a wonderful thing.

  17. @ Peacer,

    First, if you don’t mind, tell us a bit about yourself. Then I will know better how to answer your question.

    In fact, please consider reading this post:

    http://triangulations.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/build-an-about-page/

    @ Mike:
    Thank you — glad you enjoyed.

  18. @ Peacer,
    Just as a teaser — until I hear from you — here is a post illustrating the types of stories I tell my kids to help inoculate them against some of the horrible ideas generated by religions. This one, and the one before it, is against the idea that if you don’t live forever, life is meaningless — a common thought of eternalists who then stupidly accuse atheists of embracing a meaningless life:

    http://triangulations.wordpress.com/2013/10/

  19. Hi Sabio, long time no contact. Been too busy…
    I’m sorry about your son. I really understand. What he is experiencing is, in reality, bullying. If I had children I wouldn’t indoctrinate them in any way. However, living in an environment which is predominantly “christian” makes it difficult. Nevertheless, I would speak about the existence of many religions and try to bring the child to realizing that adherence to a particular religion is absurd because it clashes others and, this way, one isolates themselves from the other side. I envision a socratic-type of conversation where you bring the child to the point of asking “so, dad, which is better, christianity or islam?”, at which point the child hopefully realizes that the act of choosing is silly and is a mere social construct. A convention. When you point out many many many conventions (e.g., that the week has 7 days–perhaps the child thinks that this is irrefutable!) and start questioning them, one by one, then the questioning of religion and its absurdity comes natural.

    As for your question, “In what situations are you an outspoken atheist or an outspoken believer?” I’ll reply thus:
    I’m not an atheist. I’m not a theist either. I’m not a believer. I’m, simply, not accepting things just because the world has, by convention as I said above, decided to do so. Nevertheless, I’m an outspoken anti-religionist when I encounter religionists who not only believe without ever questioning, but also try to prove their beliefs by usurping `scientific methods’. I am friendly to them as long as they don’t try to justify their belief in any way. And, ok, I’m never an outspoken believer. However, I’m an outspoken anti-atheist when I encounter atheists who use atheism as means of appearing to be `smart’. As you said many times, religion is a complex phenomenon and it is so because it’s been around for quite a long time. Had it been created yesterday, it would have been easier to dismiss. But any social system, if it survives long enough, will probably create both good and bad things; this is a mere consequence that it has survived long enough.

  20. @ Takis,
    Thanks much for sharing — I had my daughter read your email to me while we drove back home after landing in the US from our long trip — I had to a explain it to her. I was fun. I largely agree with what you have written.

  21. I’ve still not been outspoken in the “real world” about being an unbeliever. I try to stay silent whenever the subject is brought up and I wonder what exactly it would take me to speak up.

  22. @Sabio
    As for your question about “outspokenness”, I’m, generally speaking, outspoken. However, this seems to be a faux pas in Sweden (even though nobody has told me so explicitly; but I can infer it from observations: almost 4 years in Sweden and I have heard very-very few opinions). Some Swedish friends tell me that people here are not supposed to express their opinions and, as soon as they feel they should do that, they learn to suppress their feelings. But I’m Greek (and US-influenced too…) and so I must speak (or else I’ll die). I out-speak. Sometimes I’m being carried away, but I’m learning how to control that!

    Footnote: a non-Swedish psychologist working in Sweden told me that us non-Swedes do not feel a sense of torment each time the thought of expressing an opinion occurs in our brain. He has observed that many Swedes feel a sense of pain the first moment such a thought occurs and immediately suppress them.

  23. @Alice
    “I wonder what exactly it would take me to speak up.”
    Well, if you were living in a place where going to church is considered as normal as drinking water daily, you might have spoken out. The environment (social conventions) restricts us, doesn’t it?

  24. @ Alice,
    Thanx for sharing.
    Being silent is a good position much of the time — by my experience. Outspoken for outspoken sake is the trait of a boring person. Instead, speaking to a real person who is open and then choosing exactly what to address and how softly is an art, eh? It is an art worth waiting silently for and insight to timing is critical, eh?

    @ Takis,
    Thanks for sharing. That is sad about Sweden. But also see my note to Alice. Being outspoken for someone with that temperament is often not a virtue but a vice to be disciplined. Eh? [I am such a creature too]

  25. @Sabio:
    “Outspoken for outspoken sake is the trait of a boring person.” That’s what I meant too by saying that I’m trying to control myself (and I am, indeed!). However, it’s good if people generally know I have my positions and can defend them, hopefully, if necessary. There are all kinds of conventions out there (not just religion). Historical ones, for instance. Or political. (Those guys are bad but the others are good.) Well, I’d like to be able to question such conventions and point out that, perhaps, they are so because, at some point, someone forced their point of view. Just to give an example, of which I have spoken before (and I’ll choose a Greek one so I’m not accused of being anti-American, anti-Swede, etc… :-) ) We learn, in Greek schools, that our rebellion against the Ottoman empire was instigated by the Church and was “blessed” by a single bishop (from my hometown). Well, I beg to differ on that. Chances are (given what some historians say) that this wasn’t true. The Church did not want people to rebel. They had it good with the Turks. The Turks were smart to let occupied countries have their own local governments and, in the case of Greece (there was no Greece, of course, just Greek-speaking, Orthodox people), it was the Church that played the role of the local government, collected taxes, giving them to Turks and the members of the clergy enjoyed the benefits of this collaboration. They didn’t want uprisings.

    Apologies for the digression. I just wanted to give an example of what “outspokenness” means for me. Certainly, it’s stupid to go around saying these things out loud to people who haven’t a clue about them. But if and when the situation arises, I will.

    Alas, I’m not a historian or a writer, so I have no time to investigate my claims and hunches scientifically and methodically, so blogging about them is just a way to express them semi-haphazardly.

  26. @Sabio (and Alice):
    “It is an art worth waiting silently for and insight to timing is critical, eh?”
    It is definitely an art, but people classify us, tacitly. If they know that a certain person never expresses opinions and then, one day, suddenly, this person says something critical then chances are that he/she will be taken as a looney of sorts. So it’s good to pass out the information that we have the ability to think and express ourselves but we choose not to do so all the time.

  27. @ Takis,
    It depends: Each situation, each person. No rules.

  28. Something I’m worried about for my son (he’s 2) is when he goes to school and encounters religion classes. About 94% of schools in Ireland are Catholic and most of the others are Protestant. There’s no such thing as a non-denomination school here. When it comes to First Holy Communion and Confirmation time, it is done through the schools, meaning that the teachers “teach” the kids about it in the build up and guide them through the process. It’s a huge thing here and parents will spend hundreds on dresses and suits and hire limousines and horse-drawn carriages for the day. My son isn’t being raised in any faith and we’re worried how this will pan out when he’s in school. Some schools have opt out policies for non-Christian kids but that usually means sitting in a corner by themselves while the others carry on with religion. It’s worrying.

  29. @The Shape (@AllRandomMostly):
    I’m sorry for your situation, which I understand perfectly. I grew up in Greece where it’s exactly the same thing as in Ireland (except there is no confirmation–one is confirmed at baptism, no questions asked, so nobody will spend any money for limousines [there are no money now anyway]). I had to *suffer* through endless religious classes at all levels of elementary and high school. It was painful when, say, at the age of 12, I knew they were telling me nonsense. And I had to pretend I was ok with it, just to make it through the exams. (Yes, we had exams for everything, religion included.) Many of us knew that this was crap and were trying to merely get through school. We also knew that religion was supporting military junta and we laughed at the priests. I also understand the situation in Ireland because I go there several times a year. But I’m sure that when your son grows up he’ll get off the religious indoctrination, like so many other Irish. The problem is why our countries are still so backwards and force religious education whether you want it or not, making one an outcast if they choose not to go through it. It’s a form of abuse. It’s child abuse. But it hasn’t been recognized as such yet. I want to hope that, in the future, this will classified as one of the usual abuses. In the case of Greece, the reason is partly financial: Church has a lot of property, money, etc. (They even own the Parliament building so the government have to be nice to them.) So, by law, every Greek pays for The chuch via taxes, by law (`The’ with capital T because only one church gets the money). It’s even more ridiculous actually. There is one branch of government that is responsible for both religion/priests and education (the Ministry of Education and National Religions–yes in plural, but that’s a euphemism).

  30. @ The Shape,
    Wow, that is horrible. Makes me feel like my city almost has no religion when I hear your story. Best wishes in your situation!

  31. R Vogel

    This is something I worry about given that so much of my family are ardent Evangelicals. He is only 2 so I have time, but I fear that I will be forced to address this long before I would normally. I would not categorize myself as either theist or atheist, and I generally don’t talk about either unless directly asked. I find certain Christian symbols compelling, but understand that is a product of culture not of any specific revelation. If I was raised in a country with a different dominant religion, then those symbols would likely be more compelling. I simply want to raise my son with an unfettered mind to make whatever choices are appropriate for him. I hope I will care more about what kind of a man he becomes than what he believes.

  32. @ R Vogel,
    Thank you for sharing. I could not agree more !

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