My Son Was Taught to Believe in Jesus by His Mother -- How Do I Help Him Become a Free Thinker?
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Cool though it may be, does it actually counterbalance the influence of the churchgoing and Bible-reading? Or does it operate on a parallel track from it altogether? Does Elijah juxtapose whatever he may be taking away from the philosophy and poetry with the stuff he hears at church? Does he consider one in relation to the other at all? Seeing his head buried in that Bible that morning really made me wonder if I was perhaps approaching the matter too sideways. Maybe I needed to tackle the situation head-on.
But how? Are there any children's books, I wondered, that directly address religious questions from a humanistic point of view? Not necessarily an anti-Bible, but a strong alternative or counterpart in a secular key.
I called a friend of mine, who works for a humanist charity and is a parent, too, feeling sure he would have some sage advice. His response surprised me. Not only did he not know of any good humanist children's books, he said, he didn't like the idea of such a thing.
Rather than attempt to counterindoctrinate kids with explicitly anti-religious messages, he argued, far better simply to expose them to the widest range of reading as possible -- weren't Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss essentially humanistic? -- and expose them to the manifold religions and philosophies in the world in order to nourish their imaginations and sense of wonder about the universe and help them view religion in a comparative context.
The antidote I was seeking, he suggested, was to be found in books of evolution and science fiction, not didactic manifestos.
Sounded wise, although I didn't expect to hear it from a full-time, professional humanist. And I was disappointed that he didn't have a ready-made list of books of the sort I had in mind.
The dilemma remained: what if all the science and fantasy and comparative metaphysics fail to do the trick, and Christian literalism, despite my efforts, works its magic on my children's minds?
Call me intolerant, but I'll admit it: I don't want to tell my children what to believe or not to believe, but I would be displeased and disappointed if they were to embrace conventional religious views. I just would be. Isn't there a more direct way, I thought, to militate against that outcome?
I turned to Amazon and found that there are several books in this register. Many of them are published by Prometheus Books, an American press with a long history. Within minutes I had found books such as Humanism, What's That? A Book for Curious Kids by Helen Bennett and Dan Barker's Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide for Young Skeptics . I particularly liked the title of this one. Could I have found what I was looking for?
I had liked the idea about exposing the kids to the array of religious traditions. Wouldn't this naturally tend to weaken the notion that any one religion holds the key to Truth?
Another friend of mine had challenged this idea -- wouldn't this, he asked, merely sanction or naturalize the religious frame of understanding the world? Isn't the message, in effect, "Look at these various religious beliefs and practices -- you are free to pick among them"?
"What about the millions of people who live without religion?" he asked. "Why not present secular modes of thought alongside the religious traditions?"
He had a point, but since I was already getting some explicitly secular books, I added The Kids Book of World Religions to my shopping cart.