… or, to be more precise, raising my son to choose his own path.
As an atheist who used to believe in god, I’ve experienced both sides of a coin; what it’s like to know that god exists, and what it’s like to feel comfortable, based on the evidence before me, to state that god probably doesn’t exist. That’s not agnosticism, by the way; that’s just plain good sense based on the scientific method.
I’m concerned about organised religions; they can cause enmity, out-group hostility, and divisions in an otherwise tolerant society. There are, of course, smaller religious groups who aren’t like that; Jains and Quakers, for example, are sects that are peaceful enough, despite having an adherence to religious faith and worship without any basis of evidence.
I wasn’t raised in an overtly religious home; my mother was (and still is) Christian, and my father an agnostic (and now an atheist). Neither of them forced me into an opinion; in fact, faith was a subject that was hardly ever discussed. I was certainly never under any pressure to conform.
As a result, I was a Christian for a number of years. I chose that lifestyle and was proud of it at the time. No-one can say I was indoctrinated by my family, but I didn’t know enough to make an informed decision – certainly in my formative years at a secondary school which was avowedly Catholic. That’s where I got my information from, and where my opinions were formed; I have no alternative points of view.
Once I did get exposed to a greater range of opinions, as well as clear-sighted arguments that were logical, well-cited, and obvious, then my own opinions changed.
I intend to give my son the chance to learn opposing points of view, not because I expect him to share my own point of view (although I would certainly be glad if he did) but because I want him to make up his own mind. I want my son to have as much knowledge at his fingertips as possible, so that he feels comfortable making a decision from a position of strength.
That means showing him all angles of the argument. We attended a friend’s wedding a few weeks ago at a local church, and we were both interested in the building and its history. The vicar was still there after the service, doing whatever a vicar does in these situations, and the three of us spent ten minutes chatting about the church’s history, its stained glass windows, and why children are baptised. Later on, I added my own thoughts on baptisms, but made sure my son understood the differences between our views and that he didn’t have to agree with my point of view.
What I want my son to do is use the brain that he was born with. He is an intelligent, fair, and compassionate young man, and I want him to think. We all have the capacity to think critically, but we don’t all use that capacity; Love Island and Big Brother being two such examples of where that it is in absolute evidence.
For the most part, we unflinchingly accept the things we’re told by our parents; “Don’t touch that hot radiator”; “Watch out for that spider with the red bottom, it’ll bite you”; “Don’t eat that mouldy cheese, it’ll make you sick!” Those things are meant to help us, and they’re instructions passed down through the generations; so if we believe those things from our parents, then why wouldn’t we believe our parents if we’re also told, “There is a god” or “There’s probably no god”?
But why would I tell my son one of those things as received wisdom? It’s not something that will ensure his continued survival, but he inevitably would believe me if I asserted one statement over the other with as much authority as I told him, “Those mushrooms over there will kill you if you even touch them!”
Why don’t I convince him that my worldview is correct? Because it’s my worldview, and I would be furious if someone tried to tell me what my opinions should be. My son deserves the courtesy of being allowed to develop his own opinions on religion; right now, he identifies as an atheist. I suspect he partly does this because I am as well, but he’s told me it’s because of the Big Bang and the possibilities about its creation. Fine by me, but I’ve reminded him that he has the right to change his mind if he wishes.
I’m trying to raise my son to be moral, kind, generous, and ever-critical. He doesn’t need religion to be any of those things; he can be good without religion, and so doesn’t need a holy book as a guideline on how to live. Those qualities seem to come naturally to him, thankfully, so it’s down to me to fan the flames and help him see the rewards of generosity and kindness.
Whether he decides to then move into the realms of religion and faith, or continue with science and logic, is entirely his right to choose.