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Difficulty of raising "humanist" children


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#1 BethR

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 06:51 PM

An agnostic married to a Christian wonders "What can humanist parents use in the battle against religious indoctrination? "
It turns out children are not naturally skeptical. A friend suggests science-fiction & science will work better than "anti-religion"
QUOTE
Rather than attempt to counter-indoctrinate kids with explicitly anti-religious messages, he argued, far better simply to expose them to the widest range of reading as possible - weren't Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss essentially humanistic? - and expose them to the manifold religions and philosophies in the world in order to nourish their imaginations and sense of wonder about the Universe, and help them view religion in a comparative context. The antidote I was seeking, he suggested, was to be found in books of evolution and science fiction, not didactic manifestos.


When his children don't react much to any of these books, he ponders:
QUOTE
All parents must confront the prospect that if we raise our children to be free, self-confident individuals, they may make choices that we don't like. Tough. The companion volume to Parenting Beyond Belief bears the title Raising Freethinkers. Sounds appealing - I'd like to raise freethinkers. But what if raising my kids to be truly free in their thinking results in their becoming religious? What if my efforts to instill scepticism in them lead them to become sceptical of my humanism? So be it.


#2 mrmando

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 08:19 PM

Skimmed the article ... apparently the jerk never considers that he ought to endeavor to answer his son's question about the lifespan of butterflies before he attacks the theological presumptions behind it. How he came to be married to a Christian must be an interesting tale.

#3 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 22 July 2009 - 04:59 AM

I've noticed that one encounters hyper-sensitivity to philosophical correctness and the jumping to assumptions about reasons behind questions at all faith levels. It's nice to see how the other half lives.

#4 Andy Whitman

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Posted 22 July 2009 - 10:06 AM

QUOTE
All parents must confront the prospect that if we raise our children to be free, self-confident individuals, they may make choices that we don't like. Tough. The companion volume to Parenting Beyond Belief bears the title Raising Freethinkers. Sounds appealing - I'd like to raise freethinkers. But what if raising my kids to be truly free in their thinking results in their becoming religious? What if my efforts to instill scepticism in them lead them to become sceptical of my humanism? So be it.


I don't think he has much to worry about, particularly if his kids grow up in "normal" America, where they will be exposed to MTV, the public school system, and an aggressively skeptical worldview.

The "if you can dream it, you can do it" message is inculcated from toddlerhood on in our culture (anybody visited Disneyworld lately?), and self-sufficiency and autonomy are the mantras that everybody chants, from college professors to the hacks who write the car and beer commercials. Typically, once indoctrinated, it takes some catastrophic event or great failure to shake one from those beliefs. But then life happens. And that's when God can work.

What every parent discovers, sooner or later, and hopefully sooner, is that little Biff and Muffy are their own persons who can and will choose their own beliefs. And as a Christian parent, good luck trying to compete with MTV's "The Real World" (sure, every 22-year-old drives a Lexus and parties themselves into a stupor every night) and an educational system that says that everyone is exceptional and destined for greatness. Reality tends to intrude on this process at some point, and it's good that it does. But I'm baffled as to how any kid, growing up in this culture, could believe anything other than the fact that they don't need God because they can already do pretty much anything and everything God could do. I think the author of that piece can rest easy, at least for a decade or two, until the inexplicable tragedies kick in.

#5 BethR

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Posted 22 July 2009 - 03:47 PM

Andy:
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But I'm baffled as to how any kid, growing up in this culture, could believe anything other than the fact that they don't need God because they can already do pretty much anything and everything God could do.

I'd agree with you, but the "humanist" dad's perception is just the opposite--that he is raising his children "in a society saturated with religion..." and that a non-religious parent "doesn't want to be passive, especially in the American context, in which religion in one form or another constitutes a kind of default position."

#6 Andy Whitman

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Posted 22 July 2009 - 04:01 PM

QUOTE (BethR @ Jul 22 2009, 04:47 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Andy:
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But I'm baffled as to how any kid, growing up in this culture, could believe anything other than the fact that they don't need God because they can already do pretty much anything and everything God could do.

I'd agree with you, but the "humanist" dad's perception is just the opposite--that he is raising his children "in a society saturated with religion..." and that a non-religious parent "doesn't want to be passive, especially in the American context, in which religion in one form or another constitutes a kind of default position."

I read the article, and I realize this is his perception. I just don't happen to agree with his basic premise. I think he can rest easy. In fact, I'd argue that children are raised in a society saturated with humanism, and that the default position his son will encounter is one that is quite at home with the tenets he holds dear.

#7 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 22 July 2009 - 07:06 PM

For a while now, Rod Dreher (and others?) has been saying that the typical North American today -- especially at the younger end of the spectrum -- believes in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This, rather than any particular ancient faith, will be the default religious sensibility of the future.

I don't think it's too hard to imagine that such a default position might be cause for concern for BOTH Christians AND humanists. Especially when it is combined with the "civil religion" practised in the U.S. all the time (pledging allegiance "under God", etc.).

#8 Joel C

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 04:40 PM

QUOTE (BethR @ Jul 22 2009, 02:47 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Andy:
QUOTE
But I'm baffled as to how any kid, growing up in this culture, could believe anything other than the fact that they don't need God because they can already do pretty much anything and everything God could do.

I'd agree with you, but the "humanist" dad's perception is just the opposite--that he is raising his children "in a society saturated with religion..." and that a non-religious parent "doesn't want to be passive, especially in the American context, in which religion in one form or another constitutes a kind of default position."

Ditto what Peter said, but also, the whole United-States-is-a-religion-saturated-society mantra is really just repeating something that stopped being true somewhere in the last five to ten years or so, with the decline of the Evangelical movement, both politically and ecumenically. It was the call to arms for the other side of the spectrum for so long that I think it still gets invoked from time to time, but Andy is spot-on with his societal analysis, methinks.

Edited by Joel C, 24 July 2009 - 04:40 PM.


#9 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 06:34 PM

QUOTE (Joel C @ Jul 24 2009, 05:40 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Ditto what Peter said, but also, the whole United-States-is-a-religion-saturated-society mantra is really just repeating something that stopped being true somewhere in the last five to ten years or so, with the decline of the Evangelical movement, both politically and ecumenically. It was the call to arms for the other side of the spectrum for so long that I think it still gets invoked from time to time, but Andy is spot-on with his societal analysis, methinks.

Well jeez, cultural imperialism will affect both humanists and christians negatively and sneaky-sneaky? I have to say then, that there might be not as much to worry about as we thought. The American Experience has been a great leveler and ideological homogenizer over time. Thus has the American Civil Religion come about. It would seem to me that what this really is all about then, is eternal vigilence on the part of parents as to the influences and passions of their children. I am tempted to think that the experiences of George Will and pretty much any Orthodox or Conservative Jewish parent might be of wise counsel here for guidance on countering negative influences in bringing up one's children. I say that as a childless man.

OTOH, most of us here are a little different than the pigeon holes some would prepare for us. It wouldn't be too hard to take some input from others with experience like Will and the local integrated Orthodox Rabbi and put together some alternative curricula for A&Fers to use in raising children in an oppresiveamericanculture and have them engaged in such a culture as well as disinterested in it to some extent.

#10 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 08:33 AM

QUOTE (e2c @ Jul 24 2009, 08:37 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Driving in the country, you're pretty likely to pass small, plain signs with Bible verses (mostly put up by Mennonites) and, sometimes, barns and billboards with questions about where your soul is going to go when you die/when Jesus comes back. (I guess the latter are mostly sponsored by the various small, nondenominational Protestant churches.)

The farther into Kentucky one gets on I-75, the more one sees this. And not too far outside Detroit in all directions too. The biggest example is just past the apex of a huge sweeping lefthand curve on southbound I-75 south of Lima, OH. The owner of a factory(?) or warehouse has decorated the structure with an elaborate shining cross and expensive lettering to declare JESUS IS THE ANSWER. You cannot miss it for almost a minute unless you have awakened every Ohio cop's radar trap for miles. Well placed. Very carefully elaborate. Has endured for 30 years at least.
QUOTE
I know it seems like the US has become extremely secular, but I'm not at all convinced that that's true on a more than superficial level.

I've almost jumped at the chance to suggest the power of the Holy Spirit, however, what you report is rightly not limited to Christianity in all of its variety. We always have and should always be a nation of immigrants. Those immigrants DO yearn to breathe free and it seems that the first thing they do when somewhat settled is find a place to worship. Detroit is now a hardscrabble town of small shopkeepers and hole-in-the-wall diners of any stripe. Often proprietors do not speak English well (even as the kids seem to sound American). Many have some sort of declaration of allegiance on the wall somewhere, unique cross, rendering of Mary, texts from the Koran. Anything. No wonder the poor humanist at the beginning of the thread is so defensive.

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 25 July 2009 - 08:35 AM.


#11 Andy Whitman

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 10:36 AM

QUOTE (e2c @ Jul 24 2009, 08:37 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
A few thoughts:

I personally think that geographic location might have something to do with all this.

While living in the D.C. area, there seemed to be almost relentless pressure (on one level) for everything to be free of all religious associations. (Even Easter weekend, which my county's government renamed "the Spring Holiday" - for one year, at least.)

But where I'm now living (not coincidentally, it's also where I grew up) is very, very different. Religion - Christianity, at least - is very much front and center, in the local newspaper, on radio, in the civic arena, etc. Although things have changed since I was a kid, it's striking (to me, at least) how much hasn't. And I would add that some of this is definitely cultural - this area is home to many people from Anabaptist denominations (Mennonites, Amish, Church of the Brethren, etc.) as well as being populated (mostly) by people of Scots-Irish (Irish Protestant, low-church) and German descent. Not surprisingly, there are a fair number of Catholics, but most Protestants seem to fall into the following categories:

- German Lutheran

- Scots-Irish and English Methodists and Presbyterians

- German Anabaptists

- some sort of "independent Bible church" or "independent 'Baptist'" affiliation

Driving in the country, you're pretty likely to pass small, plain signs with Bible verses (mostly put up by Mennonites) and, sometimes, barns and billboards with questions about where your soul is going to go when you die/when Jesus comes back. (I guess the latter are mostly sponsored by the various small, nondenominational Protestant churches.)

Church and Vacation Bible School and Sunday school are still important for a lot of people if for no other reason than that they're an outlet for socializing and, well, entertainment.

As for places like D.C., I think the secularism is largely superficial. There are thousands of churches in the D.C. metro area, along with many synagogues, mosques, Buddhist temples and shrines, Mormon stakes (and a very large Mormon temple), etc.

Clearly, the civil arena is pretty secular, but there's this whole other level on which many, many people are somehow hooked up to religious organizations and congregations, even if they only consider themselves to be part of X religion because they were raised that way (but don't follow the religion themselves), or because they married someone who is of Y religion and decided to convert, or... And that's not even counting all the groups that have no "official" organization (various kinds of pagan and neo-pagan groups, Wiccans, people who practice various animist and/or spiritist religions, etc.)

I know it seems like the US has become extremely secular, but I'm not at all convinced that that's true on a more than superficial level.

Anyway....

Certainly religion still plays an important role in America, and there are obvious outward signs (sometimes the literal signs that you mention) of its relevance. But in the context of the article that was originally quoted -- a humanist father who is concerned for his son, and about the religious messages he may receive -- I still think he has nothing to worry about.

Here's a surefire method that will guarantee success:

1) Send the kid to public schools for the first twelve years of his education. State/non-religious colleges are probably a good idea, too.
2) Buy a cable TV package, and ensure that the kid has a steady diet of MTV, E, and Bravo.
3) Make sure the kid is aware of/exposed to the latest pop hits and movies, particularly those geared toward teen/young adult audiences.
3) Let the kid hang out with the neighborhood kids, who will be exposed to the same influences noted above.

He's as good as gold.

Kids don't take their cues from billboards. They take them from their friends, their teachers, and the popular culture that surrounds them. And short of supernatural intervention, which can and does happen, I'm fairly certain that a thorough immersion in modern American culture will produce a fine consumer/hedonist who rejects religious beliefs, focuses exclusively on humans and their values, capacities, and worth, and believes that Christians are a silly, superstitious, and bigoted lot. The billboards and other ephemera will be quickly forgotten, or held up as examples for mockery and derision.

I realize that sounds dire, and it probably sounds peculiar coming from someone who makes part of his living by extolling the value of some elements of popular culture. Nevertheless, it's true. It's easier than it's ever been to raise a good humanist. It's the default cultural setting in America. Try comparing and contrasting Jesus, who calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him, with Britney Spears and Johnny Depp. Jesus doesn't stand a chance.

#12 Gina

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 07:19 AM

Fascinating piece. I wonder how Postel's wife feels about all this? After the first part, where he writes as if they're in a competition, he acts as if her views and desires don't count for much at all. At least, that's how it seemed to me.

#13 MattPage

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 11:52 AM

FWIW Atheist Camp kicks off over here in the UK. 24 kids heading for a fun-filled week getting indoctrinated with critical thinking skills inbetween camp fire sing songs. As (atheist) comedian David Mitchell says
QUOTE
For them, the usual trekking and canoeing will be supplemented by sessions on rational scepticism and evolutionary biology, and group singing of "Imagine". Jesus Christ. Try telling them that there's no such thing as purgatory after that.

It must be weird for those kids, growing up with parents so insistent that they keep an open mind. Those brought up to be devoutly religious often kick against it. Maybe we can look forward to a new generation of archbishops, radical imams and cult leaders emerging from the camp's alumni?
IN reality I suppose there's plenty of laughable Christian indoctrination at Christian camps, but even so, something somehow strikes me as odd about this.

Matt

Edited by MattPage, 28 July 2009 - 11:53 AM.


#14 N.K. Carter

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 03:26 PM

Actually, Andy, I think you make a good case that it is difficult to raise humanist children -- at least, if humanist means more than just "secularist." I don't think popular culture does too much to interfere with belief in a god, per se, as long as that god isn't too much of a buzzkill, but teaching your children that every human being has inherent dignity and instilling in them the value of sustained thought and analysis? That might be an uphill climb, and I imagine secular humanists and Christian humanists have an equally tough time of it. Mr. Postel doesn't write much about that aspect of teaching humanism, which is a shame.

Edited by N.K. Carter, 28 July 2009 - 03:27 PM.


#15 SDG

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 03:58 PM

QUOTE (N.K. Carter @ Jul 28 2009, 04:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Actually, Andy, I think you make a good case that it is difficult to raise humanist children -- at least, if humanist means more than just "secularist." I don't think popular culture does too much to interfere with belief in a god, per se, as long as that god isn't too much of a buzzkill, but teaching your children that every human being has inherent dignity and instilling in them the value of sustained thought and analysis? That might be an uphill climb, and I imagine secular humanists and Christian humanists have an equally tough time of it. Mr. Postel doesn't write much about that aspect of teaching humanism, which is a shame.

Yes, the first thing I noticed about the article was that Mr. Postel seems to use "humanist" synonymously with "secularist" or "areligionist." Wait, I'm a humanist, to my bones and sinews, inseparably intertwined with my Christian faith.

In fact, what I believe -- how I believe -- and what I hope to communicate to my children -- is both that Christianity as I understand it entails a profoundly humanistic vision, and also that humanism as I understand it points to a religious and finally Christian vision.

I would even argue both that Christianity is "The True Humanism," in the phrase of Thomas Howard and J.I. Packer, and that "secular humanism" is ultimately an untenable proposition, a contradiction in terms that sooner or later collapses into secular post-humanism. Christ alone reveals man to man.

Edited by SDG, 28 July 2009 - 03:59 PM.


#16 Andy Whitman

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 04:30 PM

QUOTE (SDG @ Jul 28 2009, 04:58 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (N.K. Carter @ Jul 28 2009, 04:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Actually, Andy, I think you make a good case that it is difficult to raise humanist children -- at least, if humanist means more than just "secularist." I don't think popular culture does too much to interfere with belief in a god, per se, as long as that god isn't too much of a buzzkill, but teaching your children that every human being has inherent dignity and instilling in them the value of sustained thought and analysis? That might be an uphill climb, and I imagine secular humanists and Christian humanists have an equally tough time of it. Mr. Postel doesn't write much about that aspect of teaching humanism, which is a shame.

Yes, the first thing I noticed about the article was that Mr. Postel seems to use "humanist" synonymously with "secularist" or "areligionist." Wait, I'm a humanist, to my bones and sinews, inseparably intertwined with my Christian faith.

In fact, what I believe -- how I believe -- and what I hope to communicate to my children -- is both that Christianity as I understand it entails a profoundly humanistic vision, and also that humanism as I understand it points to a religious and finally Christian vision.

I would even argue both that Christianity is "The True Humanism," in the phrase of Thomas Howard and J.I. Packer, and that "secular humanism" is ultimately an untenable proposition, a contradiction in terms that sooner or later collapses into secular post-humanism. Christ alone reveals man to man.

I don't disagree with any of this. I do think it's worth noting, though, that that's not how the word is commonly used.

According to Wikipedia:

Humanism refers to a philosophy centered around humankind. The word dates from the nineteenth century and refers to a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity of humankind, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appealing to rationality, while tending to reject the supernatural or the divine authority of religious texts.

and

Philosophical humanism can be considered as a process by which truth and morality is sought through human investigation; as such, views on morals can change when new knowledge and information is discovered. In focusing on the capacity for self-determination, humanism rejects transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on faith, the supernatural, or that religious texts have divine origin.

That certainly seems to be the sense in which Mr. Postel is using the term. Since his wife is a Christian, he wants to present his son with an alternative to a religious upbringing. Thus, humanism supplants, or at the very least plays the same ethical role as, religion.

True humanism, even in its areligious form, can be a noble pursuit. Or it can simply be the default American shrug of indifference, the overarching belief that all truth is relative, and the only absolute is that there are no absolute truths. If it's the latter that Mr. Postel is after, he can save himself a lot of time and energy and just sit the kid down in front of MTV all day. His kid will pick up the basics just fine.



#17 SDG

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 05:54 PM

QUOTE (Andy Whitman @ Jul 28 2009, 05:30 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I don't disagree with any of this. I do think it's worth noting, though, that that's not how the word is commonly used.

According to Wikipedia:

Humanism refers to a philosophy centered around humankind. The word dates from the nineteenth century and refers to a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity of humankind, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appealing to rationality, while tending to reject the supernatural or the divine authority of religious texts.

While in general it may be reasonable to regard Wikipedia as a measure of how a term is "commonly" used, it's also worth noting that the neutrality of this particular Wikipedia article is challenged on precisely this point: The interrelationship of humanism and Christian culture is pointed out in the Talk page.

Another self-effacing source, an article in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy that the EOP itself notes is anonymous and for which it is "actively seeking" an author to write a replacement article, provides a more historical and comprehensive assessment:

QUOTE
The time when the term "Humanism" was first adopted is unknown. It is, however, certain that both Italy and the re-adopting of Latin letters as the staple of human culture were responsible for the name "Humanists." Literoe humaniores was an expression coined in reference to the classic literature of Rome and the imitation and reproduction of its literary forms in the "new learning"; this was in contrast to and against the Literoe sacroe of scholasticism. In the time of Ariosto, Erasmus, and Luther, the term umanisa was in effect an equivalent to the terms "classicist " or " classical scholar."

The article cites individuals from Dante to Thomas More and especially Erasmus in its development of the humanist ideal.

Edited by SDG, 28 July 2009 - 05:55 PM.


#18 SDG

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 03:03 PM

Pope Benedict discusses "Christian humanism" in contradistinction to "atheistic humanism" in a (very short!) meditation from Castel Gandolfo (his summer vacation residence). Citing the concentration camp martyrs Edith Stein and Maximillian Kolbe, among others, the pope writes:

QUOTE
The Saints whom I have briefly recalled lead us to reflect on the profound divergences that exist between atheistic humanism and Christian humanism. This antithesis permeates the whole of history but with the contemporary nihilism, at the end of the second millennium, it has reached a crucial point, as great literary figures and thinkers have perceived and as events have amply demonstrated. On the one hand, there are philosophies and ideologies, but there are also always more ways of thinking and acting that exalt freedom as the unique principle of the human being, as an alternative to God, and which in this way transform the human being into a god, but an erroneous god who makes arbitrariness his own system of behaviour. On the other hand, we have the Saints who, in practising the Gospel of charity, account for their hope. They show the true Face of God who is Love and, at the same time, the authentic face of man, created in the divine image and likeness.

That snippet I quoted is probably a quarter the length of the whole meditation, so it's very easy to read.