I am a non-believer. I have always been that way, and although there have been times when I was uncomfortable with my status as one who does not worship a god, I am very comfortable with the way I am now: a 42-year-old with a husband, two kids, a dog, and no religion.
I identify myself as nothing. I could say I’m an atheist, bright, or secular humanist, but the word “nothing” seems the best way to describe me, and I like the irony associated with it. More importantly it reflects my sense of wonder and openness to opportunities rather than an adherence to the principles of some “ism.” For example, when people ask me what I’m doing next weekend, I say “nothing” with a pleasant expression because it means I can do whatever comes my way. I look forward to nothing; nothing is openness to the future’s wondrous possibilities.
Religion may be a convenient tool for marketing morality, but it is certainly not the only way kids learn right from wrong.
Even though there is no void in my life, I am frequently asked how I can teach my children right from wrong without religion. I answer that children learn from their parents, other adults, and the larger community by watching, listening, and imitating what they see. I fail to see how religion teaches good values, especially when so many of the myths seem violent, cruel, and immoral. Religion may be a convenient tool for marketing morality, but it is certainly not the only way kids learn right from wrong.
Religion reinforces moral standards by telling believers that “God is watching . . . ” and will punish them. But my children do not need to think that there is a god watching them, because they are fully aware that their parents and community are keeping eyes on them. And we’re not just watching them, we’re watching out for them in a way no god ever could.
As for what my kinds think — recently, my 12-year-old daughter told me that “being nothing doesn’t mean I have to not believe, it means I get to choose what I want to believe.”
We were on the beach in Costa Rica a few years ago (my son was seven) when he turned to me and asked, “Where did all this stuff come from?”
He still wonders where the beach and the sand and the sky came from. So do I, and hopefully we will never know all the answers.
“Some people think it came from god,” was how I started my answer. He interrupted me to say, “Well, even if god did make all this, he is dead now.” I marveled at his confidence, at his unwavering curiosity in why and how and his refusal to accept mythology for answers. But his question was left unanswered, and he still wonders where the beach and the sand and the sky came from. So do I, and hopefully we will never know all the answers.
What I do know is that I won’t take shortcuts to life’s difficult questions, and explain away life’s mysteries by saying they came from god. God can only close the discussion and end the questioning, while nothing invites the next question. Let the dialogue continue.
Image courtesy of Angelina Odemchuk.