Guest Post: How Two Different Parenting Approaches Still Led To Atheism
GM Note: This is a guest post from @WJHamel – if you would like to guest post on godlessmom.com, please contact me. My bend toward atheism kicked in around the age of 17, if not earlier. It was solidified for me by the age of 18, for certain. I did not become a parent for the first time until the age of 27. It was a conflict for me, for certain, for a number of reasons, not the least of which were theological in nature. Parenthood revealed for me aspects of myself that I thought I’d already dealt with sufficiently, around the topics of theism and deism and the utter fallacy of it all. With the birth of my first (and second) son, it was revealed for me that my core was still clinging to some inexplicable need to impart to my kids, for their sake, a sense of allegiance to some deity and the commensurate dogma. I still remember when my eldest son proclaimed to me, around the age of 14 or 15 that he “did not believe in god.”. It struck a chord in me, because, in truth, I could see and hear my own initial motivation for proclaiming such at very close to that age. And, in hindsight, it was clear to me that my motivation and vision for what I was proclaiming was not based on sound principles. In truth, at that age, I was more “angry” with my idea of the deity and the shitty lot in life that I felt I was being handed. So my own initial foray into atheism was not one of true deduction of the principles which negated the idea of existence of god, but more the sense that god was a miserable prick who deserved MY wrath. I saw the same thing with my son at that age.
In that time, my younger son (ten years the junior of his brother) was adopting his mother’s (we’re divorced, he lives with me) view on god and such, which is rather “confused”, at best for her. He only got the true “Santa Claus” talk within the past three years and has always questioned me earnestly about the things he was being taught by his mother about the Old and New Testament stories. I’ve done my best to objectively explain to him the intent of those stories as well as the context within which they were conveyed to the people of that time.
He blew my socks off about a month ago, when, out of the blue and without any precursor, in response to some television show where belief in god was being explained, he proclaimed “you know, those people cannot really BELIEVE those things, can they?” I was utterly unprepared for this dialogue and did not expect it to start in THAT particular direction. I followed up with a question to him. “What do you mean?”. He went on to explain:
“Well, I get that these people BELIEVE in god, but, just believing in something does not make it real. I KNOW that. But it seems that these people are really taking a lot of what they’re hearing about “god” way too seriously.”.
I said to him, “well, you know that the Hindus believe in MILLIONS of “gods”, right? And none of them are named “Jesus”. Right?” He acknowledged. “And you know that there are some people, a lot actually, who believe that the Hindus, because they do not believe that this Jesus character IS god, will burn in some sort of hell after death, right?”. He replied with “Yeah. That’s messed up.”. “In what way?”, I asked. He was astonishingly clear in his response. “Well, first of all, the idea that there are millions, or millions-plus-one of gods somewhere just makes no sense. And No one has PROOF of any of this. “. I asked “So who’s right?”. He thought for a moment “maybe no one?” he said. I asked him “Do you KNOW for sure if there is no god?”. His response was immediately “no”. “Do you know for sure there IS a god who does all the things you’ve been told he does?”. “Of course not”, he replied. I said “So what are you supposed to do then? I mean, does it matter what you believe? Does it matter who’s right?”. His reply: “Dad, it’s simple. Just be a good person, and be good to others. That seems to be a good bet. And being good to other people WITHOUT expecting any kind of reward for it is probably the best way to be. It seems to me that none of these people who are telling others that they are “going to hell” because they don’t believe in THEIR god, are being very “good” to the people they’re thinking of that way.”
I said “what about your friends? You have some friends who believe in one god, others that believe in another”. “I know, but none of it matters to our friendship.”. I told him “I hope it stays that way for you.”. “Me too”, he replied.
After this conversation, I had a sense of relief. A DEEP sense of relief that he was grasping things in the most healthy way possible. I felt sad for how I had not engaged my eldest in this level of conversation at that age, but, rather, tried to steer him back toward theism. I knew, however, that, at this point, both of my boys, WITHOUT my influence in either direction, had found their way to a balanced sense of themselves and the world around them, one of them ten years before the other did. My hope is that they will connect with each other on this level, around these ideas, sooner, rather than later. They both know they can connect with ME on this level, as well as with my wife (stepmom to my boys) equally on this topic, as she and I share the same balanced sense of atheism.
As a parent, I can say that, with this mindset being solidly in place with my boys, I feel I have far less to be anxious about or fearful of with regard to how they will confront the lives ahead of them. They will be taking on life from a perspective which deals with reality head-on and will find solutions to the challenges they come from, resulting from their own sincere efforts and the aid of those who care for them, rather than wishing for things to change in their favor based on some mystical, imaginary force.
In my book, there’s not much more a parent can ask for.