To Hitch

As you likely have already heard Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great, died last week.  If you had any doubt of Hitchens’ influence during his lifetime, you can see it very clearly in the tributes to him that are all over the internet.  The blog Why Evolution is True has a whole series of posts full of reader tributes to Hitch: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.  Clearly this is a man who touched a lot of lives for the better.

I have to admit, though, that my favorite tribute to Hitchens can be found in the Urban Dictionary thanks to the woman behind the Socratic Mama blog.  The word is “hitchling,” and it is defined as “a child void of religious indoctrination who is encouraged to read broadly and to seek the truth unapologetically.”

You can even purchase hitchling t-shirts!  The best part is that the profits go to the Foundation Beyond Belief!

I plan to resume my Books for Secular Families posts next week.  Happy Holidays, everyone!

Exploring Religion from a Secular Perspective

Jan Devor writes in Raising Freethinkers,

“By being a nonreligious parent in the United States, you have chosen the road less traveled. With this position comes the responsibility to educate your children about both religion and your nonreligious stance. It is never enough to tell our children ‘We don’t believe,’ and leave it at that.”

No matter what we believe, we want to empower our children to make a truly informed decision about their own beliefs, which means they must have access to information about religion along with whatever secular viewpoints we, as parents, may have. For me, this means finding children’s books that are informational and accurate without promoting one religious view over another and adding them to our home libraries.

My favorite overview of religion for young kids is The Story of Religion by Betsy and Giulio Maestro. This, rather lengthy, picture book begins with why religion began (“People began to create stories about the events that mystified them.”) and follows as various religions (Confucianism, Hinduism, Judaism, Chistianity, Islam) developed. It provides plenty of information about the beliefs of each of these religions, but the primary focus seems to be putting religion into historical context. I especially like that it is carefully phrased so as to not present any one religion as true. Every disputable reference to beliefs is softened–e.g. “His followers believe that on the third day after his execution, Jesus was resurrected, or rose from the dead.”

For similar coverage, in a different format, try One World, Many Religions by Mary Pope Osborne. This book is for the same age group (grades K-4) but is broken up into chapters and illustrated with photographs in a way more typical to nonfiction. Both books are good overviews that present a positive, if distant, view of religion for nonreligious families.

Perhaps my favorite book for exploring religion is a new title from DK. What Do You Believe?, which came out earlier this year, is a great book for comparing and contrasting worldviews with the goal of opening a discussion as to what young people themselves believe.  I found it to be balanced in its coverage of world religions, and I was pleased that it included atheism as an option.  It brings up some controversial topics (religion & science, ethical dilemmas, etc) without providing one definite answer. Instead it outlines the opinions of various people–Richard Dawkins, for example, is quoted regarding evolution–are included to illustrate the possibilities.  Kids are invited to make their own decisions about what they believe.  This book is a great opportunity to explore big questions with upper elementary and middle school students that is designed to get kids thinking critically about their own beliefs.

This chart in What Do You Believe? will be particularly useful to kids who want to compare various religions.

This is just the beginning. If you are familiar with the books Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, you know that there is a lot to consider when raising children without religion in a religious world. Giving your kids a context of the beliefs and history with these books is just one of many steps involved (probably not even the first step) in empowering them to become freethinkers in their own right.

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More book recommendations on the For Secular Families page.

Evolution, the controversy for kids

A recent Gallup poll highlighted the fact that belief in evolution among Americans is rising.  From the link:

Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God’s involvement.

Interestingly I recently read two children’s books on this subject.  First I read Octavia Boone’s Big Questions About Life, the Universe, and Everything.  The title caught my eye, and the dedication “For Freethinkers Everywhere” piqued my interest even more.   It isn’t directly about evolution as much as it is about the family dynamics involved when Octavia’s mom converts to a very particular brand of Christianity.  Octavia is a science-minded kid, and she doesn’t believe any of what her mother tries to teach her.   As you might imagine from the dedication, the author is coming from a position of bias against religion, and I think it shows.  I mean, how many other children’s books reference Russell’s Celestial Teapot?  As a result, I think the book will primarily be read among those who are already similarly biased against religion and their children.  Not that I think that’s a bad thing.  I actually wonder why there aren’t more children’s books aimed at the growing group of secularist families.

The other book I read on this subject was Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth.  This book had a slightly different approach, and it was more directly focused on evolution.  Mary Mae and her family are strict Christians, who balk at being taught evolution in school.  Well, Mary Mae is secretly enjoying her science class more and more as they delve into fossils, dinosaurs, etc.  She also appreciates that her science teacher always has answers for her while her Sunday school teachers keep brushing off her questions about creation and Noah’s Ark.   In the end, Mary Mae and her family learn that various members of their church believe different things regarding evolution, and they decide to keep their minds open.  A happy ending certainly.  But it wasn’t the ending I was expecting.  Also, I was distracted by the word “titties,” which seemed out of place in a children’s book about a religious family.  *shrug*

The best book on this subject, by far, is for slightly older audiences than either Octavia or Mary Mae.  If you are a teen, a parent of a teen, or someone who works with teens and you haven’t read Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande, you are missing out.  It is an excellent look at “the controversy” no matter what you believe.