Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The "A"-word...

This post will be a testament to the power of words.

So my wife and I have a bit of a dilemma. Our eldest daughter, 13 going 14, a budding skeptic and free-thinker, much to the pride of her parents, has been reveling in the attention she receives after referring to herself as an 'atheist'. Given that we live in a country that absolutely prides itself in its religiosity and the general negative connotation of the A-word we are naturally concerned that Libby may not be adequately prepared for the misunderstanding or mistrust or even hatred that that word may bring to her. To this day I hear the word 'atheist' and it STILL engenders an emotionally negative response in me, even though I know what it means to be an atheist and I know there is nothing inherently EVIL about the atheistic position. From where does this negativity come? The only answer that makes sense is that it's a holdover from my Catholic indoctrination. I can't pinpoint exactly when I was conditioned to view the word 'atheist' as referring to someone who was 'evil' or even 'satanic'. Such is the power that can be wrongly given to a word that really says nothing about morals. Luckily for my children they will NOT be getting the one-sided explanation of atheism that I and my wife received courtesy of the religious indoctrination of Catholic and Baptist teachings.

This morning I had a brief conversation with Libby regarding the use of the A-word and the negative connotations that come along with its use, much like unwanted baggage. I suggested to her that it might be a good idea to refrain from volunteering too much of her views in the climate of her school especially since she will be attending a Catholic High School this September. To her credit she has been sensitive to the passions that the 'A' word elicits from certain members of her peer group.

For my part I feel she is too young and not educated enough to fully understand the implications and the arguments for and more importantly against an atheistic position. She has had no education in the understanding of the arguments for and against the existence of God. A mediocre Christian apologist could systematically decimate any defense of her position simply due to her intellectual innocence. In that vein, I tried to convey to her that she has many years of study ahead of her and that it would be better to take the 'agnostic' position until she could make an informed decision about her world view. Another 'A' word to be sure but one that has a less passionate response associated with it. Shooting her mouth off will only anger her some in peers or elders in her future and that does no one any good. She seemed to accept that.

I feel it important to convey the idea that I'm not trying to raise 'atheist' children. That has never been my goal. I want to raise children that are capable of and willing to engage in independent and critical thought. If in the end my children choose a theistic position I will accept it. I will disagree with them, but I will respect their positions as their own.

In my own dealings with people of theistic persuasion, I've tried to represent my position openly and honestly and in such a way as to show that I am not an agent of darkness or a pawn of Satan. Some may disagree with me but that's their right. Another person's rights of conscience END where mine begin and vice versa!



Ed said...

Robert, I have been struggling to think of a label that best reflects my view of the world. Which is a postive one. It is accurate to say I am an atheist and a non-believer, but I want to define my self by what I do believe in, not what I don't believe in.

The best I have come up with is "evolutionists".

If I am engaged in a debate than saying I am an atheist is fine. However if I am with a group of people who are talking about religion than I think it is better to use a positive term like evolutionists, rather than a negative word like atheist. It is more likely people will ask me what that means instead of turning their back on me.

Anonymous said...

I too don't want to raise my children to be atheists. However, given that I'm not going to indoctrinate them into a specific faith it seems very likely that they will go with the default option of lack of belief.

If they reason out a different path then I'll be happy for them as long as their reasoning stands up to debate.

nate said...

There is a difference between indoctrination and apologetics, the latter allows for strong opinion and free thought.

I hope my kids follow my footsteps...I actually hope everyone does, there would be no need for freedom of expression if we didn't passionately desire to convince others of our viewpoints. If they choose otherwise, like yourself, I respect their opinion.

I enjoy your blog and your music choice.