I have been recently reminded of a powerful truth.
The title of this post is a refrain from a poem written by William Ross Wallace in 1865. It was a paean to the power of motherhood. The issue today is that Wallace was perhaps, and at least in feminist terms, a "misogynist". That is to say, in glorifying motherhood, he might today have been interpreted as supporting "patriarchy", or some other silly nonsense. However, we should take the lesson he gave us to heart. After all, it is not just women today that are largely responsible for a child's upbringing (if that was ever the case to begin with), but also fathers. Especially fathers fortunate enough to be available and present in their children's day to day lives.
Freiherr Karza Von Karstein reminded me of the power of the truth I mentioned above in a recent post, due to my ruminations on fatherhood. What I have to say to you guys is this: If you are a single father, a stay at home father, or a father who works from home, you can, and probably should, endeavor to set the world right, and no, not by beating your children into submission of course (though I'm sure feminists will read that atrociousness into this post), but by being a Father. We are, in large part, responsible for how our kids grow up. The nurture half of the nature/nurture debate is firmly within our power to change. In subsequent posts on this issue, I will elaborate on what my wife and I teach our own children, about how the world works, and what they can do about it. The WoolyBumbleBee and I have not been shy about what it is we teach our daughters (like this) and what we will teach our son, and how we go about doing it, and so you might also hear some podcasts on her channel related to this issue in the near future. For now, rest assured that I will not be forgetting the spark of activism (for good parenting, I would argue, is a form of activism) that the good Freiherr reminded me of.
Let's begin with the simplest lesson I've learned about parenting. Paradoxically, it is often, though obviously not always, the case that the fewer choices, the better. When dinnertime rolls around, too much choice isn't always a better thing than a few carefully selected ones. See these articles on the issue of choice here, here, and here.
Misguided Atheists and the Illusion of Choice
Now, one of the more difficult subjects, and one I've argued tirelessly with well meaning, but ultimately wrong atheists, both online and off is the issue of informed choice. Of course, the de facto position in this case is largely a byproduct of the politically correct culture now in vogue in the United States and other Western countries: One should expose one's children to as many types of religious views as possible, trusting (as atheists), that they will eventually come to the "right" decision regarding religious practice, or at the very least, that as parents, we've done the right thing by not "choosing" a religion for our children, thus allowing these milquetoast, ersatz parents to feel happiness and fulfillment at having allowed their children to make the choice of what religion to follow for themselves, and coincidentally absolving the offending "parent" for any responsibility they might otherwise have toward their child's emotional and psychological well being--and ultimately, toward the wellbeing of the community of which they will eventually become a part.
Of course, no one chooses a religion for themselves, since all religions (and indeed, all social indoctrination schema) exhibit some form or other of coercive tactic(s) to be used against potential converts--bear in mind religious readers, that atheism does the very same thing, and I refuse to pretend otherwise. I merely argue from the perspective of being an atheist because I am one. The thornier issue of one's ontological and epistemological stances is for another post, not this one. But I digress.
As to the issue of teaching one's child to be an atheist: the worst thing a person can do is subject a child to the illusion of choice regarding religious issues. Either you are teaching your child to demand evidence, or you are not. It does your children no great service to pretend that the religious life offers evidence to support its teachings, "just like atheism", because it does not. Indeed, it cannot. For the same reason that your belief in gravity doesn't matter after you've jumped from a fifteenth floor window, and that is that a religion cannot abide proof. Once in freefall your belief is irrelevant, and once Jesus provably walks down 5th Avenue, providing proof to the doubting Thomases, the words the fictional character utters on the matter of belief (in John 20:29) become poignantly apropos:
New International Version
Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
New Living Translation
Then Jesus told him, "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me."
English Standard Version
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Long Story, Short
As a parent, it is my responsibility, especially given the limited window of time within which to accomplish this (being a child's formative years), to inculcate in them the mental resilience to resist snake oil salesmen of every stripe. It is my responsibility as a parent, not to think of my children as possessions or reflections of myself--no matter if they are or not genetically -- I cannot live through them, though neither can I pretend that religions are not the opiate of the masses as the saying goes. I must, if I am to be a good parent, and if I am to influence the way in which the world turns, teach them not only all I know, but also a viable heuristic they can use themselves for when I am no longer available to them.
To that last question I would say that given the present state of technology, it would be remiss of me not to take the opportunities afforded me by social media and leave a record for them of my thoughts, my conclusions, and the belief system to which I suggest they adhere, as well as a compendium of factual information from which they can draw, not only to support those beliefs, but to serve them as a handbook, an Enchiridion as it were.
This leads me to ponder the following regarding the notion of pandering: am I to teach my children to 'go along to get along', or am I to teach them to stand fast in the convictions I've so carefully laid out for them? Should I view my role as a parent as something of a facilitator of life, or am I to abdicate responsibility for that to the state, or to the future zeitgeist I imagine they will live with? Should I shield them from all the evils of the world (or even some), at the expense of disabling their ability to fend for themselves, or should I 'steal' from them their "childhood"? Should I make of them nails that stand out, waiting to be hammered down, or do I teach them that the fewer waves they make, the less likely they will be to suffer?
Let's be clear: these aren't simple questions for thoughtful parents. It is the demagogue who does not stop to think about these things, assured as they are, both in the righteousness of their particular cause, and in the benefits that accrue from adherence to their personal dogma. As a parent, it is to my children's well being that I must look, and not to the immediate personal satisfaction of raising children that parrot what I say, and who behave like little more than mini-me's. After all, what recommends the life of the iconoclast versus that of the conformist? Certainly nothing from a moral standpoint, since one would have to point to a verifiable set of moral values, and that possibility is not currently (nor has it ever) been in the offing.
As usual, I have more questions than answers, but then, that should be par for the course, should it not? I mean, if we had it all figured out, there'd be no need for blogs, would there?