So I just started reading Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion, and so far it’s really good. One thing that it’s helped me to realize the importance of is that Husband and I don’t tell our kids statements as facts, such as “god doesn’t exist,” but stick with “Your father and I believe god doesn’t exist,” because this will help us in teaching them to think critically for themselves. We intend to encourage them to come to their own beliefs and will support them in their beliefs as long as they have gotten there via rational, critical thinking. Also, because I myself grew up without religion and found it particularly perplexing when I arrived at college and had to understand classic art and literature, we will do our best to encourage their religious literacy. One of my most amusing college experiences was being in an art history course and being told that this painting depicts the Eucharist. The what? I had to ask what that was, and I had a hard time not laughing when I was told so. Husband, on the other hand, grew up in Catholic schools with a strong helping of religion classes, and knows the ins and outs of most of the bible stores. To help our children be religiously literate, I think the book has a great suggestion:
One of the most enlightening and gentle ways to help children accept myth for its insights into humanity while keeping it distinct from fact is to steadily trace the patterns of the complete human mythic tapestry. Buy a good volume of classical myths for kids and buy a good volume of bible stories for kids. 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 Jewish or Christian stories is necessary; kids will simply see that myth is myth.
Many atheist parents aren’t comfortable with lying to their kids about Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, but at least one essay in the book from a person raised by freethinking parents admits that the game is fun even knowing that it’s all pretend from the start. So likely we’ll tell our kids that Santa Claus is just for pretend from the get-go, but we will delve into the pretend and imagination as deeply as anyone else.
I can hardly wait to read more!