Recently, two atheist parents wrote in to Slate with a question: How should they talk to their young daughters about religion without disparaging people who happen to believe in those myths?
… How do we talk to them about it without sounding like people who believe in it are blooming idiots? Not that we would ever disparage someone for their beliefs, but when you say it like, “Some people believe that there is a God you can’t see that can control things on Earth.” Whaaaat? It sounds ridiculous, and my girls will also think it’s ridiculous. But their friends, teachers, neighbors, everyone believes this! How do we talk to them about this while still maintaining that it is important to treat everyone with respect?
It’s a great question, and it came from a very sincere place. Those parents didn’t want to “indoctrinate” their kids into their atheism, but they didn’t want to hide it either. Are there ways to do that?
Of course there are. They could explain to their kids why belief in God is so powerful. They could say people want hope and God provides that. They could talk about how people are uncomfortable not having answers to everything, and religion fills in a lot of gaps. They could insist that, regardless of what someone believes about God, all people deserve to be treated kindly.
Too bad the advice they received from Slate‘s Carvell Wallace was downright awful. Instead of offering helpful suggestions, Wallace slammed the parents for just being atheists.
You say you want to teach your kids to treat everyone with respect, but how can you do that if you don’t actually respect people? You can’t. What you instead teach is smugness, judgment, and a false sense of superiority.
Wallace makes the same mistake as a lot of Christian apologists. He wrongly assumes that atheists inherently disrespect or look down upon religious people… even though I doubt he’d ever say the same thing about Christians who disagree with Islamic beliefs (or vice versa). Are religious people disrespectful of people who worship a different God? Every devoutly religious person, by definition, believes people who don’t worship the same way are wrong. But rarely are they referred to as “smug” or “judgmental” for saying so.
Wallace wasn’t done dispensing his ignorant advice.
Assume that there are better thinkers than you who believe in a God. Literally, say that sentence out loud to yourself. I’m not kidding. Right now. Say it. “There are better thinkers than me out there who believe in a God.” And if there are better thinkers than you who understand the concept of a God and you don’t, then surely you can learn something here.
Good. Now you’ve mixed a little humility into the situation…
I know plenty of atheists. Every single one of them would acknowledge there are are smart theists out there. Being an atheist doesn’t mean declaring yourself the smartest person alive. Like every person with any religious belief, we happen to think we’re right about our stance on God. That’s it. (Atheists, of course, have the benefit of evidence.)
Wallace kept going. He actually offered a decent suggestion… but then lost any goodwill by attacking the parents again.
Instead of making God out to be an imaginary ghost, for example, you might find yourself saying things to your daughters like: “You know that sense of wonder and amazement we feel when we look at flowers, or think about the moon or how big the universe is? Or how cute dogs and kittens are? Some people call that sense of wonder and amazement God. And it brings them good feelings and so it’s important to them.”
Notice that none of this requires you to believe in God yourself. It is simply not necessary. What I’m asking you to do is simply stop behaving like you’re God, the all-knowing, all-seeing, and always right.
What an arrogant little bastard.
Atheists are the ones who admit we don’t have all the answers, so we go where the evidence leads. We’re not the people who claim to have all the answers because our favorite book of mythology offered explanations for everything.
These parents did exactly what you’d hope atheists do. Instead of telling their children, “God doesn’t exist, and people who say otherwise are idiots,” they asked for advice on how to introduce religion to their children without coming off as superior or mean. They wanted to do the very thing Wallace wants them to do! And yet, because they weren’t apologetic about their atheism, Wallace saw fit to use them as a punching bag.
What awful, embarrassing advice.
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