Friday, March 18, 2005

Raising children with secular values

How do you raise your children when you don't believe in God? A thought-provoking speech presented at The New York Society for Ethical Culture (via Mimi Smartypants):

"I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one," Einstein wrote. But rather than be billed as a "professional atheist," Einstein added, "I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being."

So, yes, of course, humility in the face of cosmic grandeur is always warranted; but let us not forget that Einstein sought to the very end of his long life to honor that grandeur by seeking to understand it, bit by bit, with his weak little intellect. How much better, in my view, is that approach, of humility crossed with an unslakable curiosity to delve the majesties of nature. . .

Does Science reconcile itself to God? Does it matter? "Instilling in my daughter an appreciation for the difference between evidence and opinion is a critical part of childrearing."

On my mind as I'm preparing to spend the Easter holiday with family — a tradition, but how much of it is religious? and does it matter?

Ah, but what of values, of learning the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? What about tradition, what about ritual, what about the holidays that children love so much? How will a child learn to be good without religious training? Well, damn. Do you really need formal religion to teach a child to be good, to be honest, to try not to hurt other people’s feelings, to care about something other than yourself? These are all variants on the golden rule, and there is nothing more powerful, in my experience, than sitting down with your kid and saying, how would you feel if somebody did that to you? There is a growing body of scientific research that demonstrates we are by nature inclined to cooperate, to trust others, even strangers, to an extraordinary degree. Even strangers we can’t see, over the internet, and even strangers that we’ll never meet again. None of this owes anything to the ten commandments. Which of those commandments tell you to help a stranger who looks lost, or jump into a river to help saving a drowning kid, or donate blood, maybe even a kidney or a slice of liver?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I want to do a response to this on my own blog, but I don't have the brain cells today... I will just say here, however, that while I agree with much of what she says, there's something really big she's leaving out. One important secular value is, IMO, the ability to think for oneself. And if we're truly going to allow our children to think for themselves, they need to be exposed to both sides of the story. And we need to be big enough to love them anyway, even if they come to different conclusions than we did.