Secular Parenting

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I have been asked to appear on #atheisthangouts hosted by @gammaAtheist. I found this to be quite the honor as I am relatively new to the atheist/secular community and I am not sure as to why anyone would look to me for advice. I did however decide to do the show and as I think about my children, my wife and our parenting style, I realize that even when I was in stages of doubt about my own religious beliefs or unbelief, I always encouraged my children to ask questions, find what works for them and demand proof of everything that seems too good or too bad to be true!

I remember my father in law, a devout christian begging for my wife and I to baptize our children, because he felt they needed to be saved. We conceded and went along with this ritual. It was at the point in our lives where we were not so sure, so baptizing our children was more like a “just in case” gesture. We have 4 children and 3 of the 4 are baptized. the 4th was not because by the time he arrived we were pretty sure that we needed no ritual in our life, we were “spiritual” people.

As our children grew, they were invited to churches by their friends, and we totally encouraged this. We wanted their decision to be their own, not one we tainted or bent to match our opinions or to make them think ill of any other persons belief.

And they went quite a few times to these churches, youth congresses, youth summits, Sunday schools and the likes. And each time we talked to them and the response was always the same. They found it “weird”.  Weird. Not a word we used but each one of my children felt these beliefs were to incredible to believe, enough to be deemed weird. Let me explain something, my wife and I encouraged reading, instilled it on our children, (although only 2 of them are voracious readers as of today), and this reading included a broad spectrum. From Fiction, non fiction, history, science fiction, fantasy as well as autobiographical accounts. So they are familiar with weird to a great extent.

One of my daughters favorite books is the Diary of Anne Frank. She wrote a response to it for a school project, and I wish I had it still because it shows the essence of her humanity despite someones religious affiliation. She felt a kindred with Anne as a teenager and wanted to protect her and one line I do remember she wrote was ” I want to protect you, I will always be your friend”, she wrote this when she was 10.

My wife and I discussed tonights interview and I realized, We have always been secular parents. We have even go as far as incorporate traditions from other cultures and religions into a yearly celebration. Well we did this when the children were young, one year we celebrated Kwanzaa, next year, Passover, and we would have done Ramadan but the kids could not get behind the “starve all day” issue, so we skipped that. All for the sake of exposing our children to the reality that their are different thinkers on our planet and in all humanity.

As I look back and see my kids today, I realize that without knowing, we were secular parenting. Allowing our children to experience, think and grow in an environment of free thought, encouraged by the spirit of discovery and proofs that correlate to your own existence and make you feel life is an amazing journey.

When my father in law and my children’s beloved grandfather passed away, they were brokenhearted. But we did not use heaven or some after world paradise to console. Instead we laughed and reflected on this marvelous man that was giving, caring and a little bit naive. We cherished the moments of his life that touched us and made us laugh, (sometimes to the point of tears) and these memories are enough. No need for an afterlife in heaven. They know they will never see him again alive, and they are totally OK with that.

 

As I look at my children today 18 going to college, 16 still no boyfriend ( she says she is not mature enough), 14 ( she is the avid voracious reader) and 10. Sometimes my youngest will heart me on the phone debating theism with my “Fundamentalist Baptist” sister and interject some amazing insights as the the nature of religion and god himself. He has never read the bible, yet, but he gets it. Bologna is bologna no matter how you slice it. This makes me feel proud of the job my wife and I do parenting.!

 

 

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Now that I have opened my mind

Coming from a christian background and honestly seeking but never finding the god of the bible left me angry at first. I felt duped, betrayed, cheated on. I still get angry from time to time. but it is for the people that I love that are still adhering to the duplicitous conflicting confounding bible, that tell me “No one can wrap their mind around God, He is too big to understand” to which I say RUBBISH. How should a God that loves us wants everything for us, looks after us and “carries us” when we can not walk his path, remain unseen, unavailable and uncaring that he is “TOO BIG TO UNDERSTAND”. 

The next step of these people is to tell me “read the bible and Pray, you will find him”. Do you understand I did that for over 40 years??? Not even a twinkle of understanding did I get, nothing at all except doubt, confusion with his “word” and empty promises. 

Also there are the folks on twitter that would tell me I was going to hell, they would pray for me or I need to read my bible. To which I reiterate, been there done that and doubt was all I ever took away from the experience. 

My reactions to these folks was sarcasm, snark, and outright bashing them for being so stupid. But I have since realized. These are people, I was one of them, I held onto my faith for so long that It was me and I was it, even through the doubts. I was scorned ridiculed and made to feel stupid by those that thought I was loony for believing in god yet I still persisted in my belief…until I stopped using circular reasoning, and allowing cognitive dissonance to block the messages that I should have heard. And I realized I do not want to attack theist any longer. I would much rather honest open debate. Yet…there are those that are so dishonest and fake in their approach to hones debate my anger will still cause me to arm myself with expletives and aim them at the head of the person. I hope to one day just be able to walk from these debates and leave with no malice towards some of these IDIOTS, because I know, even still they are humans and the connection we share as humans is more important than any religion could ever afford. Thank you twitter for teaching me this, or reteaching this.

My Journey led me to twitter where I met some amazing individuals that helped remove my anger and fears of “what If I am wrong” . There are so many that helped but I want to acknowledge just a few, @gammaAtheist @kaimatai , @captnathteist and his lovely wife @wondiebee. There was @aquamanAJl and @dzeieio, as well as @atheistmel, @kelsthesecular and @johnthesecualr and still one of my favorites @theatheistspark. There are far to many to mention and know that if you are not on this list but I follow you, your tweets make a difference to me, and your presence on twitter and in the world is felt. I want to take the time to thank each of you for your tweets and support, even if we never conversed. know that you helped me feel comfortable fitting back into my skin of atheism.

I  do not need god anymore, there was a time I did, because I sincerely thought I did. But that fear and trepidation has passed. I realize that I have one life to live. I have one chance to make this word a better place. Be it by raising children that think on their own, be it teaching children and allowing young minds to explore the wonders of our known world, or by perhaps a person that remembers that “Kirk was a good person and I am glad I met him”

 

Let me begin…

This is a first attempt to blog, and I just want to say who I am. I am a father, a human, a black american from New York, living in South Jersey and I have recently embraced agnostic atheism. For the Christians who may read this, No, I am not angry at god, I did not have a bad experience in church, I have come to this conclusion after reading the bible, having questions, and not getting any answers. 

I was baptized roman Catholic as a baby, took my first holy communion at 10, and was confirmed at 13. all this while I never read the bible. I had no need it was all done for me by the priest. He would stand at the altar and tell me all I needed to know about the bible. Every Sunday, without fail. I would sit, wishing I could leave and go back home and watch Wonderama, but I had to endure this hour. Catholicism was not so bad as boring. The rituals and processions and solemnities where just not a tune I could feel. Then we met some Seventh Day Adventist.

The Seventh Day Adventist is a Christian sect that adheres closely to Orthodox Jewish traditions especially in keeping of a Seventh day (or Saturday) Sabbath. When we were introduced, I felt this churches “vibe”. Lively hymns, lots of amens and hallelujahs from the congregation as well as a Preacher that Shouted out to you and inspired you to believe with his passion! 

My mother was convinced and we were made to get up every Saturday, take the train to Harlem to go to Zion Temple Church on 116th street. I didn’t mind going to church here, lots of kids my age and color, not like the catholic church. and after service we ran around and played not, like the oh so pious and quiet Catholics. 

My mother was baptized first. As I watched her walk up the aisle as the preacher asked  ” Will you accept Jesus?, will you be saved by his grace?” her along with a few others made their way up to the alter and asserted they would be baptized in the “blood of Christ” as a symbol of redemption and rebirth into a New Christian, washing away your sins. I watched as she was held by her arms and submerged backwards into the water. For a few seconds I did not think they would bring her back up but they did and the whole congregation erupted into a frenzy as if Jesus himself walked in and had a seat! 

Seeing My mother take this leap of “faith”, I myself declared my love of Jesus and my need to be saved as well. And was baptized for the second time in my life as a Born again Christian! Hallelujah! but as the water rolled down my body and I shivered, I did not feel different, no spirit entered me, I still had my thoughts that I had. I still went home that night and touched myself in my shower. Nothing changed. I began to take bible study and for the first time in my life was encouraged to read the bible. They gave verse and chapter and we talked and discussed its merits and how it showed god’s divine mercy love and compassion for humans, and that he had great expectations as well as mansions and streets paved with gold waiting for us should we remain “faithful” and worship his eternal glory and divine wisdom. This is when I found out the dictionary meaning of faith.

Let me back up a little bit. I need you to understand that as a young man I was pretty smart. I Walked into Kindergarten at 5 years old knowing how to read, write and spell fluently thanks to my mother. and in 1967 that was pretty impressive. I was always told by my mother. When you see or hear a word you do not understand Look it up in the dictionary. And if for nothing else I thank my mother for that amazing bit of information.

Now, back to faith. I did not understand the word prior to church. I had heard it but it was now a requirement as an Adventist. so much more so than a Catholic because We were actually following Gods word to the T! So this word rolling in my head became a headache so I looked it up. Faith – Complete trust in a person or thing. believing something without proof. This shook me. I had gone through two religions and I had faith, but in What? I never heard god talk to me. I never saw him in any actionable activity I performed, and His presence did not comfort me near as much as hugs form my nana! But I toiled on. praying everyday, not for things but thanking him for his wonderful gifts of sustenance and compassion for not letting us die in our sleep. Our prayers to stay on the righteous path to him rather than the slippery slope that leads to worldly behavior, wickedness and eternal damnation. 

During this time I had sex in the church with more than a few of the “church sisters” smoked cigarettes and did “ungodly” acts. I always prayed and asked forgiveness because that is how it worked, as long as I asked, Jesus would forgive! what a remarkable system! I found I could do almost anything I wanted and Jesus would give me a nod and a “Saved again pass”.

 I was 16 at this time and the questions started to creep in. I had against my pastors warning against. started to read the bible all by myself. What I came across was astounding! Not only was Gods eternal Love, glory and wisdom laced with some of the most horrific, twisted murderous and incestuous acts I had ever heard of, but I found contradiction after contradiction in “The Word of God”. I could not contain my self and asked my mother, she said she did not know what to make of it, as she only read what she was told to read. I asked my friends, they just didn’t read at all. And so I went to our pastor. He smiled, gave me a gentle touch on the shoulder and answered my question with a flash of brilliance that only smacked me in the face. He said,” these stories are taken out of context, You have to have faith” . Faith, I have to not believe what I read as the Word of God but believe blindly that this is his intention, to confuse and bedazzle me because he is “just to large for you to comprehend”.

I had enough. I searched over the next few years. From rabbi to Buddhist temples, Even to the Cult of Tony and Susan Alamo! Man, did I dodge that bullet! But no one, no one could help me “get God”. I had never felt him, or Jesus, in my life or do anything for me that I didn’t have direct responsibility for or that I could attribute to someone else doing it for me. But still I held on because He had to be true. I had spent My whole life so far worshiping and honoring and kneeling and praying and keeping his commandments, well the ones that I felt were good to follow, just like most Christians.

It was not until I was in my 40’s. I would say 48, that I turned from God into Spiritualism. Here I had it easy. I believed in a Deity. but not the god of the bible. Something Had to create us right ? but this still gave no solace. no peace no comfort as I still had this nagging fear of hell!. It was not until May of 2013 that I stumbled upon an atheist meme that asked, Are you on the Fence? as I read it, my head exploded! Yes! I am on the fence I have been forever! I then had the good fortune of having  a coworker give me a copy of Christopher Hitchens “God is not Good”. and then I knew! I watched his videos, saw some Richard Dawkins, some Sam Harris and these people, these thinkers, these people tapped in me something that religion never did. Freedom. Absolute freedom to be and do whatever I wanted without fear of Hell, demonization, excommunication or non tolerance.

I knew that murder was wrong, the bible did not have to tell me that I deduced that long before I read it in there. I knew I loved My parents, long before I was ordered by the commandments. I was a moral, human in a world filled with all sorts of individuals and I was finally Ok. 

Now I must tell you at first I was quite bitter and angry for wasting my Time, life and money on religion and it stung just as any con job you find out you got had by stings. But then I found twitter community and like minded people who not only were atheist, but embraced it. Some of these folks are brash and brazen, some are thoughtful and kind, and some are just batshit crazy! but one thing for certain, they have shown me a sense of respect and community that I never experienced in church, in the sense of judgement free sensibilities. and openness to new information. Free, funny, analytic, logical, reasonable. This is how I was born. and thanks to Atheism This is how I will die. and I am good with that.!