Category Archives: Moral development

More on god, religion, children, morality and no research

The conversation in the comments section of my last post has been so interesting, I couldn't help but continue the dialogue. Yes, I know I might be alienating some readers, although I really hope I'm not. I was going to write this post in the comments section also, but then realized that (a) it was getting way too long for a comment, (b) I wanted to include some links and (c) some of you might not read comments or follow them after you post, so this might get a few more people involved in sharing their views.

First and foremost I want to once again encourage those of you who do NOT share my views to pipe in with your perspectives and help this space fill up with a multitude of voices. My choices are not meant in ANY way to disparage yours, nor are they meant to be prescriptive about what will help children grow up happier or healthier. I made it clear in my last post that research is not even close to coming up with an answer to these questions.

I completely agree with those who have said that you don't need religion to teach morality or practice a moral life. I obviously think my atheist parents brought me up with some pretty reasonable morals, given I write a whole lot of posts on this blog about how we might think about raising our children as best we can. A reader mentioned this book in the comments and I have to agree that I have found reading Parenting Beyond Belief a nice way to start thinking about the issues I'm struggling with, particularly trying to incorporate rituals and moral teachings within a larger framework that has to contend with culture, family and established religious doctrines. There are some very moving essays and some great practical tips for dealing with all sorts of issues from a skeptical/atheist/agnostic standpoint.
On the other side of the fence, from a more supportive-towards-spirituality and a less science-centred perspective, I referenced Karen Armstrong's book in the last post, but I thought I'd point you to
this article which is a much more condensed version of her approach to god, religion and spirituality.
I wanted also to elaborate a little more on where I stand on religion and god, building on some of the issues that other commenters brought up. What I'd like to teach my children — like many of you have mentioned — is a deep awe, respect and reverence for the natural world and for other humans, and the relationships we form with one another. Much of the natural world is (potentially) knowable through principles of science. Science does not leave me nor my husband feeling bereft of "higher meaning." It's quite the contrary… when I think about the wonders of how everything around us self-organizes into these exquisite patterns of order (and disorder), when I learn more and more about physics, biology, ecology, evolution and so on, I am more and more humbled.
@Andrea said it better than I could: I'm humbled by the way these natural forces work and, for me, imagining a deity did it all cheapens that sense of awe for me. Just because there are questions about this natural world that have not been answered by science (and may never be), does not mean for me that I want to invoke a "higher being" to explain away the mystery. In a way, I believe that "godliness" is IN all of this but the term is so loaded and singular and patriarchal FOR ME that it no longer can mean any of these things TO ME. Also, the term god often implies a "being," one which people feel they can talk to, communicate with, ask favours from, and so on. For me, that goes beyond the "godliness" in the natural world (and in our relationships with one another) and it's not something I feel I need to teach my children to believe or practice in order for them to feel peace and comfort or to learn moral principles. 

Many people tell me that a critical reason they feel their religion is so important, or wish they had religious beliefs when they don't, is because of the comfort that these sets of beliefs provide in terms of dealing with death… and helping our children deal with death. I want my kids to experience the wonder and awe that science can provide them… even in reference to the biggest questions about death and what happens later. Science can tell them that after death, their bodies don't just go "POOF" and disappear forever; they become part of the rest of the world. Basic physics will reassure them that matter does not disappear forever. It changes form, but it doesn't just go away. That to me is a deeply reassuring message to provide children when they worry about death — ours and theirs. Their bodies become part of the whole system we call earth and universe and nature and so on. (Don't get me wrong, this is a TERRIBLE subject to talk about with your kids and I am dreading it more than any other, to tell you the truth. Any of you who have had to have the difficult talk about your death, their death, the death of a loved relative, friend, pet, etc. know better than I do that often no words can comfort completely. I'm just not sure that science can't provide the same level of comfort that religion can, even in this tough domain). I have nothing to say about a soul and I don't feel any need to invoke one for the sake of my children. I don't really think my consciousness is all that darn important in the grand scheme of things and I think teaching my children that sort of humility might actually empower them to do some pretty cool things in THIS lifetime, with THIS consciousness. BUT I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO RESEARCH TO BACK UP MY CLAIMS.

What do YOU believe but cannot prove?