Monday, August 31, 2009

A visit to a Southern Baptist service and Sunday School...AND baby pics!

The family packed up and visited my parents this weekend in (even more) rural Oklahoma.

A good time was had by all. My father and I had some misadventures in the woods (I even caught the toolbox on the back of his Ford on fire), we all went dancing, and we topped it off with a visit to the local First Baptist Church, where my parents are members in good standing.

While in what qualifies for woods in Oklahoma, I was able to get in a little quality discussion time with my father, something I don't get enough of anymore. My father and I are a bit notorious about our talks. We can go on for hours over topics ranging from metaphysics and morality to the fate and quality of the modern public education system. We can both be outspoken and outraged while being totally wrong at the same time. Discussions with my father have taught me more about critical thinking and defending your opinion (right or wrong) than anything else in my life. I can't number how many times I've defended to the hilt a position I've later completely changed on later.

Sunday morning we all got dressed up and headed for the biggest church in town. It was a pretty mild start for my church attendance. I grew up there. This was the church that gave me a monogrammed Bible when I graduated from high school. I knew more of the people than I didn't. It was a homecoming, and I can see why so many people get a lot out of the whole community side of the churchgoing experience.

Services were your typical fare. Hymns, anecdotes from life combined with verses. Nothing really to get my ire up. I have a lot of respect for the pastor. He grew up on South Africa, the son of missionaries, and he has a perspective that is refreshing for a Baptist minister. Of course, I strongly disagree with much of his worldview, but he's downright progressive considering the community he's in. He constantly keeps the older members of the church on the edges of their seats with what outrageous thing he'll do next. This time, it was actually allowing young women to be the ushers during the passing of the plate. Can you imagine? What will he do next, allow a woman to fill in for him?

I'm torn between thinking he's part of the problem (a la Sam Harris' diatribes) and being grateful that a closet liberal is there pushing for mild reforms when there could be a bigoted polemicist preaching the subjugation of women and homosexuals.

And now...Baby pics!

Sporting her camo outfit with daddy.

Quality time with grandpa.

Never to young to learn to two-step.

She loves her mom.

Tuckered out with grandma.

PZ Myers never rode one of these.

ps. My wife is currently matching the baby's outfit colors so we can take her walking...just in case someone sees her in the dark.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Church of the Firstborn takes another life.

A tragic story gives me an idea

A 17-year-old boy in the state of Washington died recently because of the religious beliefs of his parents, members of the Church of the Firstborn.

For those of you that don't know, the Church of the Firstborn is a rather obscure religious sect splintered from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). It happens to have a church here in my home town. Apparently, Oklahoma has a high number of these churches (respectively, it is not very popular...even in the bible belt).

I looked up his obituary and, not surprisingly, his extended family is from Oklahoma.

I actually considered attending a service or two, but was never asked (I don't think they proselytize much) and was previously unavailable. I may have to make a point of attending at least once in the near future, though. I'll be sure to share my experiences here.

In fact, I may have to follow the lead from everyone's favorite Friendly Atheist and start visiting a number of churches in my area.

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.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Skepchicks get a convert.

My wife thinks Rebecca Watson is funny

For the longest time, my wife didn't get this whole podcast thing. For me, it is a godsend. My work requires me to spend long hours on the road, and the radio isn't exactly my friend. In Oklahoma and Texas, where I mostly work, you pretty much get a choice between country, xian, and Rush, with a little "Dr." Laura in on any of the above stations. You can catch Coast to Coast at night, but that only makes me want skeptical media all the more. Shows like Atheist Experience and This Week in Science are lifesavers. They keep me awake and informed.

But not the wife. No, podcasts are talk radio. "How can you stand that stuff?" So, when I asked for an FM tuner for my birthday, I think she was worried. Nevertheless, she got me a nice one, and I made an effort to play shows I thought she might be interested in while we traveled together. We started with Stuff You Should Know, but that didn't seem to stick. I also tried Atheist Experience, but the people calling in just frustrated her. She didn't like being "embarrassed for them." My last resort was to try The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. It clicked for her. She finally saw what all the fuss was about. The show's combination of news, humor, interviews with people on the forefront of science, and, of course, the Science or Fiction segment, all combined to make a show she could get behind. Rebecca's snarky comments put it over the top.

Last night, on the way home from her parents' house, we listened to an interview with Michio Kaku on string theory that blew her mind. I've actually found myself putting off listening to episodes so we can enjoy them for the first time together.

Growing up godless...


The purpose of this blog is to document my times as a secular parent helping raise a child in a small bible belt town.

I recently quit my oilfield job, in part to get to spend more time with my 11-week-old daughter.

Cute, isn't she? She makes a great iPod holder.

My wife and I are both nonreligious. She's in college training to be an educator, and I just went from one blue collar job to another. I've gone from having about four days off a month, and being gone more nights than not, to being home every night and off every weekend. One of the perks, along with getting to actually spend time with my family, is that I can start blogging again.

What to expect.

I've got all kinds of plans for this blog. Initially, I want to start with a chapter-by-chapter review of Parenting Beyond Belief. Dale McGowan's book is a compilation of essays from various people about a whole variety of topics dealing with raising children as an atheist.

Here is an interview with Dale McGowan from earlier this year (I'd just embed it, but the account doesn't allow). It gives a good idea of the perspective he is coming from and why he put the book together.