Friday, August 28, 2009

Parenting Beyond Belief: Contents, Forward, Preface and Acknowledgements

Parenting Beyond Belief is separated into nine chapters divided by subject, each containing an introduction, a number of pieces by various contributors, endnotes, and additional resources for parents wanting to look further into the subject. There is also a glossary of frequent terms, an Additional Resources - General, About the Authors, and Index.


Titled A License to Secular Parenthood, this is a short piece by Michael Shermer. The only difference between the book and the link is the end of the first paragraph, which actually gives a little insight into Dale McGowan. He clearly intends this book to be as inoffensive as possible.


McGowan begins this with a story about his first experience befriending a vegetarian, explaining how he expects that she raised her children. The crux of his story is the two lines:

They would know their mother's strong feelings and the reasons behind them, then decide for themselves once they were old enough if it was right for them.

I have a lot of respect for that kind of parenting.

McGowan argues that secular life is much like vegetarianism. There may be wonderful things about church (or that steak), but for some of us, the good is outweighed by the bad.

McGowan then goes on to explain what the book is...

Parenting Beyond Belief is a book for loving and thoughtful parents who wish to raise their children without religion.

...and is not.

This is not a comprehensive parenting book

Makes sense. It focuses on how to be a good parent in the context of nonreligion. There are plenty of other books dealing with everything else.

This is also not a book of arguments against religious belief, nor one intended to convince readers to raise their children secularly.

This also makes sense. McGowan rightly assumes that those reading this book generally agree with him on the whole gods question. If you want to get an argument about the existence of a deity or the benefits of religion, go read Why I Am Not a Christian or The God Delusion.

McGowan then makes the claim that we, as parents, are not alone in this. That, in fact, many more people feel the same way we do about religion. It just isn't talked about much in our culture. I actually found this hard to swallow. I know very few other secular humanists in my area, and I'm open about my views. I've met one other (closeted) nonbelieving parent in my immediate community. I suspect others, but it is almost unheard of here. In fact, some of the people I'd most expect to be receptive to secularism, those who are almost entirely unchurched, are the most disturbed by my views. Surprisingly, my experiences with devout and practicing believers tends to be much more cordial and open.

McGowan argues that parents should teach their children to think skeptically first and foremost. Isolation from religious teachings is only another form of ignorance. I got from the intro that it is important not to teach a child what to think, but how to think well.

So, the book seems promising. I knew it was something I'd want to read since I heard McGowan interviewed on Atheist Talk, and so far it is living up to my expectations.

I'm looking forward to the first chapter, which includes some of my favorite people: Julia Sweeney, Penn Jillette and Richard Dawkins, among others.

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