Being a father is absolutely life changing in so many ways – I’ve had to become incredibly responsible very quickly and this is something that I must remain for as long as I live (quite an undertaking as many who know me will vouch). I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching not just about how I should bring him up but also about myself and how I must appear to him – after all I am responsible for moulding this little chap into what I hope will be a respected and respectful human being. There are traits of myself I want him to have and others I do not – we after all are not perfect yet we strive to make our children as perfect as they can be.
I realize that as he grows he will have a plethora of questions and I imagine one day he will ask me about ‘god’ – I will of course be ensuring he gets a completely secular education but no doubt he will hear it from others – perhaps his mother who retains a sense of spirituality – but I will not as an atheist be inflicting any dogma on him of course and will fight to protect him from religious influence. As a child it would be callous to shield him from Christmas and Easter and the consumerist delights they bring (I’m already formulating these as celebrations for family, perhaps the coming of spring and so on) – but also simply as I do not want him ostracized from his peers in the playground – I’m fairly sure some atheists still do presents for each other at this time of year, especially for their kids for this very reason.
But there will come a time when I hope he comes to me and asks me about God, Allah, Yahweh or whoever and I have to treat this subject rather delicately – for one thing I will not do is deny him religion should he chose to find that, but at the same time I want him to be the most reasonable human I can make him. This throws up so many difficulties, especially when they are at a young age as you do your best to protect them. Take the example of death – heaven in this context is a nice comforter (without the religious malarkey) yet I do not want him to get his hopes up that there is an afterlife of any sort – I want him to live the life he has now and do something positive with it and not rely on a happier place afterwards. Yet at the same time we are brought up to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny which for a child of a young age are exciting and appealing icons and again I would not like to deny him these encouragements, even if they have religious undertones.
I remember myself as a child – and something recently I read on another atheists blog that reminded me – that when I was a boy I was fascinated by radios, televisions, motor cars and so on but I had to understand how they worked – this inevitably lead me to pulling things apart which I could then not get back together again, but this did later fuel a career in electronics and nearly an apprenticeship in the Navy as an aircraft engineer. It was this early fascination with the way things were constructed which later lead to my enlightenment as an atheist as although I cannot comprehend half of how the universe works, I know what facts are known are based on science and testing and no theory about some creator really stuck with me, even as a child. I didn’t understand all the fuss about god and remember very little about the one year we went to church on a Sunday. I also wasn’t really able to comprehend why we sang about this god feller and hymns to me were more about replacing lines for something that made them ridiculous or got a giggle (onward christian soldiers I always liked but only because it for me held relevance more to my action man* or Warlord comic that I read, and that we replaced the line ‘with the cross of Jesus’ to ‘with a sterling machine gun’ – I was quite army barmy as a child and still am to be honest…)
Perhaps if I can install this curiosity in Paul he may have the same thirst for understanding that lead me to my path to reason, but I imagine that still he will want an explanation and I have a lot of research to do about how best to handle this (atheist parenting seems a good place to start). For now I think I will explain to him simply that some people who don’t have all the answers to all the questions need an anchor they can use to answer them – they are brought up to believe that the world was made by a thing called god and that they believe they must do everything to make this god happy else he will have them burn forever in a place called hell. The only thing is that no one has ever seen god, or knows what he looks like, and lots of the people who follow him argue a lot about what is right and what is wrong, even going to war over it. The things they believe are written in books that were written 2000 years ago roughly and were mostly told from ear to ear, differing every time (a quick Chinese Whisper demo here should prove a point) and each person who tells stories in these books tells it very different from the others and that lots of it we know today are not true at all, yet these people refuse to listen.
And I shall tell him that some of the people who believe in god can be evil people who think they are doing nasty things because they think it will make their god happy even though this god has never actually spoken to them. And lots of people think that without believing in this god that they would be nastier people which is not true – and that his Daddy believes if they cared more about the people around them than this magic man that they had never seen, met or spoken to then the world would be a much nicer place. And that he should go through life not trying to please someone he has nor will ever meet, but to please his parents, family and friends and make them proud through his actions and choices.And I will also say to him that like the Monster under the stairs, god does not exist.
But probably the most important thing I can say to him – to teach him – is to question everything. Question what I have said and question what others may say on the subject. Check facts where facts exist to prove theories and to accept that it is perfectly fine that we do not have all the answers now or maybe never will. And maybe if he really wants to find answers to study hard and investigate them himself – of course in this technological age the answers to most things are a mouse click away but there are still so many unanswered questions that maybe he can help solve.
And finally I shall tell him not to worry too much about it all just now and to just enjoy being a young chap in this world and to enjoy growing up, but know that he can do this freely and without oppression from fairy stories
*Action Man is the English version of GI Joe, the popular dress up soldier doll