Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Episode 59 Parenting

On this special episode, we take a look at the issue of freethought parenting. Joined by Dale McGowan, editor and co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief, The Freethought Mom Squad and some actual children, we discuss many of the issues facing non-religious parents including: the fear of indoctrination, how to have religiously literate children, being an outspoken atheist while still being a good parent, raising moral kids and how to deal with the ever important Santa question.

To download this or any previous Reasonable Doubts episodes click here. Find the episode you want and right click the "play now" link and select "save target as..."


Kathy Orlinsky said...

Great show!

The Santa thing has always bugged me. People explicitly tell their children that Santa is real, and then smile patronizingly at 'childish' imagination. There's a big difference between not correcting a child who claims there are fairies in the garden, and telling a child who hasn't brought it up that there really are fairies in the garden.

So, while I completely agree with Dale McGowan about letting children work things out for themselves, I think that only works if the parents haven't previously lied to them.

llewelly said...

A servant of an Elder God (who shall remain nameless) mocks you throughout this podcast by echoing your words in a disturbing fashion.

snafu said...

Yes there was some echo. But I don't care it was a great, great episode. Being a parent, and recently born again atheist, it was especially relevant.
Thanks for a great podcast.

Now back to the echo, I might go play it backwards to hear what the spririt realm wishes to divulge ;)

Happy new year all.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this episode. I'm on the verge of thinking about having children and I'm really looking forward to raising a child without the religious guilt I was raised with.

And congrats on the award!

Shane said...

Great episode, chaps. I've adopted the "that's what some people believe; what do YOU think" approach with my kids, and it does seem to work.

Anonymous said...

Good show.

My wife and I left the church and abandoned faith half way through raising our 3 kids. The many years of indoctrination at church, Christian school, camp etc. fell away with surprising ease.

I have found it a lot easier to raise them rationally. Teaching Christianity to kids is like rolling a snowball up a hill, where their developing intellect is analogous to the increasing weight of the growing ball. Appealing to reason, on the other hand, just gets easier as they mature.

The freedom to let them find their own way religiously and "let them fly" is one of the most important benefits of faithless child-raising, and it's only possible because, unlike Christians, we have nothing to fear about where their curiosity leads.

RonH said...

Thank you Dave. This kind of material is really needed. It just has to be that kids that are taught to think critically will make better decisions in life. What better way can there be to make the world a better place.

SplendidMonkey said...

Wonderful show. My kids are happy healthy skeptic teens and they make me so proud. Thanks for the reassuring words.

TRC said...

I just discovered your podcast through one of the podcast search apps on my Blackberry. What a great surprise! And I must admit, a tad bittersweet (I was hoping to do my own podcast this year covering very similar topics, but it looks like you guys are already doing it, and quite well, I must admit).

This episode could not have come at a better time in my life. My wife and I just had a brief 'fight' about this topic where I expressed apathy on teaching the Santa myth to our son, whereas she was very much in favor of perpetuating the jolly red giant.

Your brilliantly done show gave us much to mull over and discuss.

Thanks for a great new addition to quality produced podcasts.

I look forward to more in the new year.

Take care,

Iain Thomas said...

Great episode... really, really great. I know it's very difficult to produce a documentary style show but holy crap.... this show shows it's really worth it. Very well written, edited and produced all the while giving great information.

Super job.... thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!

Anonymous said...


Long time listener, first time commenter.

1. Thank you guys so much for the podcast. It has helped so much in cementing my conviction regarding leaving the church.

2. I do have one thing i disagree on. In the parenting podcast it was suggested that christian parents would be unlikely to raise their children without indoctrinating them. I grew up going to church by Christian parents (in Britain). Of four siblings, two of them decided not to attend church etc. My parents made it clear that they loved their children regardless of what they believe... so, I should think it's possible!

Unknown said...

To the first-time commenter:

Welcome! I would like to add that it's also possible to survive a gunshot would to the head, but the conditions leading up to such an event we might all consider best to avoid.

I say this as a product (or survivor) of a fairly Catholic home. I escaped first the church, then religion itself. There is no doubt I was thoroughly and unavoidably entrenched in the faith. The very nature of the Christian religion dictates spreading it, teaching it to the young and impressionable.

It's possible to "get out", of course...And I just totally lost my train of thought. Damn you, John Adams HBO series!

snafu said...

About indoctrination.
"unlikely to raise without indoctrination" doesn't mean impossible, just unlikely. I wonder what the percentages would be. Maybe 80%+ would be indoctrinated, I don't know. Perhaps the anonomous poster is in the lucky 20%

Anonymous said...

First time listener and very impressed with the podcast. Your discussion on parenting as a skeptic was balanced and thorough. You have very cute kids and much to be proud of. I will be subscribing to your show and thanks for the genuine humility and insight.

Anonymous said...
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Jeremy said...

I for one think Zarathustra should apologize for his outrageous comment.

Can anyone seriously listen to these conversations and conclude that the indoctrination of children is going on?

referring to the end of your comment (the condescending though softspoken moralizing part)...what again is the unethical thing with letting a child know they can explore all different religions and choose what they believe for themselves?

Why is this unethical? Because she is five and wont get it? In that case the worse thats going to happen is she wont remember anything from the show except how awsome it was to take a trip to a real radio station and have fun with her sisters. Or maybe someday when shes older shell listen to it and be reminded of how lucky she is to have parents who allow her to think for herself.

Zarathustra, you've made some great comments here in the past...but today you were an ass.

Anonymous said...
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Dave's Wife said...

You, nor any listener, is owed an apology. Sure, she may not understand what athiesm is, but kids are born rational. They don't believe in a deity until they're taught that there is one. And if you want to address your disgust toward anyone, direct it at me. I gave my full consent for my children to be on the podcast, and I'm more than pleased with the way it turned out. Maybe that taste in your mouth is your own personal hang-ups. *shrug*

Anonymous said...
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Jeremy said...


Before this becomes a terrific waste of time let me give my final thoughts here.

Whatever your motivation, in the first comment you insulted Dave's character, baselessly, and then demand a public apology. That makes people angry.

A civil tone and use of weasel words (like "could be construed") don't erase the offensiveness of a comment like yours. In all the comments, emails and blog posts about this episode you are the ONLY person to "construe" the episode in that way.

I believe it when you say you have resepect for us. And Idont want hard feelings. But if you wanted to know why we reacted to your comment so strongly...that's why.

Dave's Wife said...

>>Mrs. Dave-

If you listen to the show, you know that Dave's last name is Fletcher. Mrs. Fletcher will do nicely.

>>Disgust is a pretty strong word for the cautious advice I was giving, and I certainly did not mean to suggest that anyone owed me an apology personally. I was not calling into question yours or anyone's parenting skills.

You didn't suggest anyone needed an apology. You almost demanded that Dave owed one to the general listening public. Aside from that, you most certainly did call our parenting skills/choices into question.

>>I don't know what you mean by "personal hang-ups." All I wanted to do was provide a different opinion than the one expressed by most of the other comments.

First off, you didn't offer an opinion. You offered criticism. There's a difference. Secondly, your hang-ups on how you believe a child should be spoken to and/or asked questions. You don't know our children, therefore you don't know their level of intelligence and understanding. To say that a child who is five hasn't reached the age of rational thought is a blanket statement. What IS the magic age for this day of enlightenment?

>>It's a sorry state of affairs when a person is accused of being condescending just for making at attempt to be polite and civil. I'm still a loyal listener, I think the doubtcasters do a great job combating the excesses of religion, and I'm consistently impressed by this podcast's often introspective take, which is why I felt comfortable voicing my disagreement here.

Voice away. Just don't expect everyone to sit back and take it on the chin. You were incredibly condescending. The fact that more than one person sees this in your posts should be enough for you to review your former comments.

>>Jeez, I try to offer some food for thought and I just get bitten in the butt. I criticize one thing in an otherwise excellent podcast, and I get painted as some kind of grievous malcontent. It's a bit much, don't you think?

Not at all. :)

>>I've given a lot to the fight against religion's excesses and intrusions into public life. I founded a freethinkers' group at my college, served as a student coordinator for CFI, sit on the board of the Freethought Society, and coordinate the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason. On top of that, I really look up to Jeremy, Dave and Luke. I respect them and their opinions, even when I disagree. The least I expect is for that respect to be returned.

I didn't ask for your list of 'credentials' and they really make no difference to me. Even the most rational skeptic can still be a complete asshole. ;)

Fletcher said...

Because Zarathustra deleted his original comment, I thought I'd repost it and then offer my reply.


I usually love your podcast, but this episode was a bit uncomfortable for me. It seems disingenuous to bring a child who has not yet reached the age of reason onto a podcast like this. It's one thing to invite your older kids (teens and tweens) to participate, but a 5 year old child? Most of the material was excellent, but bringing kids that young on a show like this left a bad taste in my mouth. It's hard to swallow that a kid that young really knows what "atheism" is, or has really given it that much thought. I think you should consider apologizing on a future episode, as this sort of thing could easily be construed as indoctrinating young children as atheists rather than encouraging them to think critically. I know you're a thoughtful person and you have more than enough humility to reevaulate the ethics behind this particular episode. I hope that you will do so. I look forward to your future episodes. Keep up the good work, but please consider what I have said here.

If you'd like to talk to me about this, feel free to email me. Thanks."


First: Thanks to Jeremy and my wife for covering the issue pretty perfectly so far. I'm only responding personally because you requested it Z.

Secondly: No, I won't email you or respond to your Facebook message about this. You chose to bring your complaint to the blog, which is perfectly fine, and I'm going to respond to it in kind.

I understand your objections, but I think the issue may be more with your own hang ups than it is with anything on my end.

To be clear: I didn't bring our five year old, or any of the children on to the show because I wanted them to say anything in particular. I was looking for their honest responses and with the five year old in particular I had no idea what she was going to say. That's partly why I brought her and our seven year old into the studio first, gave them no prompting about what we were going to talk about and asked her the question about whether or not she believed in god first. I didn't want what her sisters said or what I said to color her response. Frankly, I was shocked that she answered the way she did.

Does she have an understanding of what atheism is? Of course not. Can she still answer honestly what she's thinking at the time? Yes she can. Had she said she believed in god, that would have gone in the episode too. There was no agenda other than to find out where the kids currently are in reference to belief. If she had said that she did believe in god would you accuse me of indoctrinating into a theistic worldview?

Z, I don't care if you disagree. I don't care if you disapprove of this or any other part of the show. That's actually great. I like hearing from people who argue with us (which doesn't mean, by the way that they get to argue and we just sit back and take it -- we have every right to either defend or alter our positions).

My problem, and I think the thing that also got to Jeremy and Kris is that you called for an apology. No, not to you personally, but to the listeners in general.

Yes, we have apologized in the past when we've been wrong and been corrected. This is not something I will apologize for nor do I think most of our listeners would ask for an apology on the subject. Which is good because they aren't owed one. If what I did was wrong (and it wasn't) the only person to whom I'd owe an apology is my daughter. But I don't make a habit of apologizing to my children for letting them speak their mind -- young and developing as those minds may be.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for your appropriate and calm response. I deleted my original comments out of anger (as I didn't like being accused of condescension just because I tried to be polite and careful with my words, something which happens all too much on the internet), and because I was shocked by the tone of the replies I got from Jeremy and from Mrs. Fletcher.

I only sent you a facebook message because I think people react differently when real names, not pseudonyms are used.

I also want to apologize publicly, here, to Mrs. Fletcher. I did not know whether she had taken your name when you married, and I only said "Mrs. Dave" as an attempt at humor. I did not know it would be taken as offensive, and I'm sorry that it was.

I appreciate that you have taken the time to clarify that there was no prompting and that you were shocked at the response the younger girls gave. I trust that this is the truth. Once again, I also appreciate the calm, reasonable tone you took responding to me. It is a breath of fresh air. I look forward to hearing more RD episodes in the future.