My husband and I raised our children without religion. We gave them no religious identity (as in claiming to be Christian or Jewish because of our parentage). We are both devout atheists, and I use the term devout with purpose. We don’t believe in a higher power, or any gods, or even the possibility of one. We are not agnostic. We believe awareness begins by the sixth month of gestation, and ends at death. Upon birth, our combination of chemistry defines individual uniqueness, so often mislabeled as a ‘soul.’ No heaven, or hell. No rebirth awaits us after death. Reincarnation is a myth. There are no second chances to get living ‘right,’ and we never ‘ascend to a higher plain of existence.’
You, me, Hitler, all end up the same. We cease to exist upon death. Only our contributions throughout our lifetime remain when we die.
Frightening and harsh though this may seem to believers, the fantastical bible stories and the ‘jealous’ malicious god, (Exodus 20:4-5), described in them never resonated with us. Much to our parent’s chagrin, we grew further from all religious ideology with their spiritual indoctrination. Ancient dogma conjured by men to control the masses by creating an outside deity that could not, and by its own commandments, must not be questioned, religious leaders were telling us not to think. They required blind faith, and neither my husband nor I were willing to buy into thoughtless beliefs.
We agreed before having kids that we’d raise them without religion. We could not teach them what we do not believe, and what we both feel is fundamentally destructive at this point in human development. The value system we hoped to impart is based on a keen awareness of self, and others, our planet, and the immense responsibility each of us have to preserve all life here.
Picture a bull’s-eye, we told our kids, like the Target logo. You are the center dot, obviously, as you can only perceive and participate in life while living. The first ring out from you is your immediate family; the second is your extended family and friends. The next ring is your community, then your country and then the world. And all rings must be considered when making choices and/or taking an action.
The Target philosophy is a model for a thriving society. Consciously considering the radiating effects of our actions forces us to think before we act. Our ability to think conceptually, project into the future, then alter our behavior to achieve that projected outcome is what separates the human race from all other life forms here.
There was no need to sell our kids on religious dogma such as promises of heaven, or threats of hell. We taught our kids not only to be considerate and responsible to family and friends, but to humanity as a whole, and all things on this Earth. We expect them to honor their debt to those before them by striving to deliver a better world to those here, and those yet to be.
As atheists, we are considered by many to be heathens– uncultured, uncivilized people. Our parents are constantly trying to convert us, under the delusion that we are what they were raised to believe, whether we admit it or not. They vehemently express their disgust in our ‘denial,’ and barrage us with threats that our children will be lost without a religious upbringing. My brother, a born again Christian, assures us that Christ died for our sins. He promises my children will be ‘saved’ after death from all wrongdoing if they just accept Him as their savior. He never stops to consider the catastrophic lack of responsibility this ideology instills in his, and every other blind believer’s behavior. My brother, and his brethren real estate brokers lie, cheat, and rob unsuspecting clients of their life savings without ever considering the destructive effects of his actions, believing in his own righteousness, having ‘faith’ in the forgiveness promised him.
By everyone’s reckoning who’ve met, or know our children, from family and friends, to teachers, to restaurant servers, my kids are liked and well respected. They are courteous and conscientious, more considerate than most adults, and 90% of their so called ‘god-fearing’ peers. They are team players in sports, strive for excellence in their studies, both straight-A students from grade school forward. They share what they have, and compromise to ensure fair play. And they do all this, not by threats of eternal damnation, but because they understand their role in, and responsibility to humanity, and this planet we inhabit. My children are not lost. They experience no spiritual void. They find beauty and wonder in many things, like nature, and sometimes even in the nature of man.
With the advent of technology and advanced weaponry, our world has become so very small and fragile. We must stop pretending we are powerless, under the will of various deities, or follow the divisive rhetoric of religious leaders who preach if Christ exists than Judaism is wrong. If Allah rules than Christianity is a lie. Religion has become the problem, giving excuses, or worse, forgiveness for whatever crimes we commit. Christ will not save us from global annihilation. We are all responsible to save us from ourselves.
At the dinner table recently, my husband asked our now teen kids a simple question: “What are you?” Both answered: “Human.” Touché! Religion, skin color, and/or economic status, my children see no division between themselves and other people. This position is mandatory for the survival of humanity. We teach our children to recognize their radiating effects on all they touch, and not only acknowledge their mighty power, but embrace the responsibility that comes with it. Humanity’s future depends on each of us taking individual responsibility for the actions we take in life, not for rewards in an afterlife, but to enrich the lives we touch here and now, and to make it possible for those yet to be—the generations to come—to experience the unfathomable wonder in being alive.