Thursday, 11 August 2011

A Teachable Moment -- By Shannon B

Something slightly different today: this is a post from Shannon, who has recently started homeschooling her children, and has been thinking about secular morality and considering values for a life lived without God. 

Since coming out as an atheist, I’ve only had a few people ask (and not always directly) how I determine what is moral without a higher power guiding me.

Easily… and without the guilt.

I grew up in a somewhat religious family. Though, out of the three siblings, only one of us (Eldest Male, duh) was baptized as a baby…you know, for good luck with carrying on the family name. If my parents truly did  believe, then that’s like a big middle finger to the other two of us – still carrying around our original sin. Pffffft!

Suddenly, in 6th grade I was sent to private school. This was never really explained to me – why, suddenly we had to go to private school, when I knew my parents couldn’t afford it. This was apparent by the almost daily fights about money, the “No you can’t have that we are broke” retorts, and the work study I had to do to offset the tuition that my parents couldn’t afford. I digress. The summer before 6th grade I had to take a catechism class to learn all about the church and God and Jesus. Then, after I passed all of that I could be baptized and receive first communion.

It was during this summer that I learned of the hellfire and damnation that would accompany me unless I was a good little girl who never made any mistakes and stopped asking questions that “weren’t appropriate”. I could never understand why loving God at HOME on Sunday was a sin, especially since he was always with me.

Growing up in private school with religion class, praying for everything, and the inability to ask critical thinking questions of said religion, I felt – and eventually believed – the guilt so pushed upon me. I believed that I was a direct reflection of my parents and what I wanted from life wasn’t as important as filling this mold already made for me. Oozing out of the mold meant I was a “sinner” and a “disappointment”.

Despite what I learned from so many years of “being God’s child,” I graduated from high school, left for the Air Force and chose to have my dog tags read “NO REL PREF” meaning No Religious Preference. I knew from that point on, I was a former Catholic. It’s been a long journey from NO REL PREF to Atheist and Secular Humanist in 14 years.

The hardest part is un-wiring the GUILT.

It still tries to poke its horrible little head out – trying to guilt me back into those thoughts of inferiority.

That, my friends, is how indoctrination works. Scaring little kids (who don’t have the mental capacity or maturity to decipher what THEY believe) with a supernatural being and his comic-book worthy arch nemesis, “Be good or go to Hell!”

Why can’t we just teach kids (everyone) to make the right choices, be kind, and honest because it’s good for ALL OF HUMANITY – present and future?

If an adult needs a supernatural being to keep them in line – actually needs it – then they are being good for the wrong reason thereby taking the moral quality away.

If an adult truly believes that without this supernatural being they would go around murdering, raping, and enslaving – then they should seek professional help.

Let the record show that, although I don’t believe in the existence in any supernatural beings, I absolutely EDUCATE my children on the religions of the world – and of course, philosophies.

Also, my children will decide for themselves if they believe in a supernatural being. I cannot and will not make that decision for them. My job is to give them the tools, resources and knowledge for them to make their own decision. As a child of religion – I was not given that opportunity. At the beginning of my 6th grade year I told my parents that I did not want to go to private school. My mother told me that after 1 year, if I didn’t like it, I could go to the local public school. A year passed and I told them I still wanted to go to public school – motion denied! End. Of. Story. I had no choices, no say in the matter – but was falsely told I would… same goes for church. Sure ask questions… make sure you have strong faith— those were the words coming from the mouths of church members, teachers – but those most certainly were NOT their actions or the “read between the lines” mentality/message.

It took some time… and lots of research… to realize that values do not come from religion. If you think about it, religion kind of just repackages morality. It  markets its specific morality as  ”One,” “True,” and “From God” so that we don’t question it and realize that these values are subjective.  People are the ones who determine what is right and wrong. The leaders in the churches tweak and adjust the “One,” “True,” “From God” morality to fit societal needs. The Bible endorses murder, slavery, rape and the  selling of children however, modern society does not endorse these things, because these things are immoral. So… being good without god is not only possible, it happens even within religion.

For years I’ve held onto a few key words in my values list. And since I anticipate more questions as to how I can possibly hold myself back from murdering, raping and enslaving those around me, I’ve compiled a list (not limited to) of what morals/values we hold in our family and hope to instill in our children:

honesty – with yourself and others
respect  - for yourself and others
courage – to stand up for your beliefs after careful consideration and critical- thinking
kindness – to yourself and others
good citizenship – to improve the world in the present and the future
personal responsibility – if you falter, accept it, make amends and learn from it
critical thinking – form your own opinions based on research, analysis and evaluation
compassion – sympathizing with others and wanting to alleviate their pain
integrity – doing what is right, even if no one would ever find out

Giving my children the tools to live a rich and purpose-filled life, drawing on values that stem from a desire to make the world in which we live a better place is the same as all parents (who actually parent).  We believe in teaching morals, ethics, and values which help our children grow into integrity-filled, responsible, intelligent, kind members of society – which is better for society in the present and the future. But when I educate them, their consequences deal with this world, the reality in which we live and not on supernatural or after-life consequences.

… Maybe there is an after-life – passing on our values to future generations in the hopes that one day many people will live and promote universal morality based on the commonality of human nature.

If you are a young non-theist who wants their voice to be heard, consider submitting an article of your own to Generation Atheist. Visit our submissions page for details.

Tomorrow: A Religious Mother's Wishes, By Kevin A 


  1. God, (...or not God) I wish I'd had a mother like you! You sound like you're teaching your kids brilliantly and I'm sure they'll turn out to be wonderful human beings.

  2. Thanks!! Hope my kiddos feel that way one day :)