Parenting Beyond Belief: On secular parenting and other natural wonders

Anatomy of a reply / Can you hear me now? 6

sentence418Last time I described an exchange I had on Facebook. A friend asked what I considered to be the negatives of church community. I answered, and the friend who had asked the question expressed real appreciation for the reply — despite the fact that it includes actual direct critique.

A fellow secular humanist asked how I’d brought an exchange like that to such a satisfying conclusion. Here’s an anatomy of my reply, with key “defusers” in bold to keep the ears open.

Notice that the question asked what I see as the negatives. So I start by acknowledging that

For some people there are no negatives. For others, there are no positives. I can only speak for myself.

Religious folks often think I just haven’t experienced as much as they have, when in fact I’ve usually experienced a helluva lot more. So I need to establish my bona fides and my evenhandedness:

I went to church for 25 years in nine denominations and studied religions in tremendous depth. I have talked at length with ministers, theologians, and believers across the spectrum. I have cared profoundly about the answers. I am now a secular humanist, but I find some religious expressions very appealing: liberal Quakerism and Jainism, to name two.

Then I start with basics, always from my own perspective:

The negatives of theistic churches for me start quite simply with the idea of a god. If I don’t believe such a thing is real, it’s beneath my humanity to pretend otherwise.

I explain why that’s a problem and encourage them to feel empathy for my situation, even if they don’t share my opinion:

To then watch what I believe is a false idea lend unchallengeable authority to bad ideas along with the good is very, very painful.

“Painful” encourages empathy, whereas something like “Pisses me off” would bring up defenses. And I always circle back to include the presence of “good ideas” — there are some, you know, and that’s often all they see, so you’d better mention it. If I only harp on the bad, they’ll think me mad and tune out. I elaborate on what I think is bad, always including qualifiers like “often” and “sometimes” and “much of the time” to avoid doing a leg-sweep (and because it’s true):

Honest questioning is too often disallowed, the word “values” often turned on its head.

I could have said this:

God isn’t real, and it’s beneath my humanity to pretend otherwise. To watch something false lend unchallengeable authority to bad ideas just pisses me off. Honest questioning is not allowed, and the word “values” is turned on its head.

About a ten-word difference, but the other person can’t hear this one. Too busy planning a reply like, “You can ask honest questions in my church!” (as Andrea essentially said to Wendy). Their church is allllllways the exception. And we’d still be going back and forth in escalating, pointless spirals. They cannot as easily deny that it is too often disallowed. I get to make my point AND have my lunch.

Finally the common ground, and a reminder that I’m not trying to take away what they have. I couldn’t even if I wanted to — they can only do that themselves. But this way, they know it isn’t even my goal:

Ethical Societies provide community, mutual care, meaning, inspiration, life landmarks, and other positives of religious experience without the negatives that come reliably — though in different degrees — with supernaturalism. Those who find theistic churches attractive can and should find community there. The rest of us are looking for alternatives.

So what was accomplished here? Is this really nothing more than “making nice,” a case of accommodating any and every religious belief and action?

Hell no. “Making nice” is ever so much easier. I could handle that in a single 50-word post. You just switch off your cortex and say, “Hey, to each his own. Whatever floats your boat. Live and let live. We’re all pursuing our own truths.” That’s vacuous bullshit. I’m not just looking for “co-existence.” I want engaged co-existence.

My reply offered an actual critique. It went to the very heart of what made me finally give up on churchgoing: An idea I see as false lends unchallengeable authority to bad ideas. Honest questioning is often disallowed. Values are too often turned on their heads. But by acknowledging something that’s true — that there are exceptions — I gave the listener a little breathing room, which lets them hear rather than merely ducking.

By the end, I’ve made it possible at every step for the other person to agree with me. It’s a Socratic thing, and it’s really effective. All that remains is to get them off their butts to help me do something about the negative uses of religion. As a bonus, Andrea and Bob might just be hyper-aware the next time they are in church. Not to mention more than a hundred other churchgoers among my Facebook friends who might be listening in the wings.

Was that worth ten minutes of my time? You decide. As for me, ten years of watching (and participating in) shouted exchanges that achieve nothing, or emptyheaded refusals to engage at all, was enough for me. I’m still saying what I want to say, but now, at last, someone’s actually listening.

So what do you think? Is this productive, or just a game of manners? Are we fiddling with qualifiers while Rome burns? Or have you felt the same difference in your own ability to listen depending on how someone says what they have to say?

Next time: The Joy of Giving Up

[Complete series]

Being heard / Can you hear me now? 5

tincan59904My plan was two posts about Facebook, but events keep running ahead of my little typing fingers. This is the second of a probable five-in-a-row about Facebook. I’ll start by describing an exchange in which I took my own advice pretty well, then continue with a couple of less successful efforts.

A reminder: This series is NOT about how to engage in big formal discussions. It’s NOT about trying to directly challenge this or that element of religious belief or to change someone’s beliefs. It’s about finding ways to be out and normal in a room with people of mixed perspectives. Most of all, it’s about hearing and being heard. (Tired of that yet?)

I posted a status update on Facebook:

Just back from a great trip to the Ethical Society of St. Louis. WHY is there not an Ethical Society in every city? Not a rhetorical question.

Somewhere during the thread that followed, I said

If more people knew what these Societies were like (the benefits of church community w/o the negatives), they’d be everywhere.

A good high school friend (“Bob”) asked what I considered to be the negatives of church community. Another good HS friend (“Andrea”) seconded this very reasonable question.

My first reaction to this is always, “You’ve GOT to be kidding,” as the list of negatives ballooooons before my mind’s eye. I typed, “It’s really beyond me how anyone could fail to see the negatives”—then deleted it. Sure, it’s obvious to me. But it clearly wasn’t obvious to Bob or Andrea. Is my goal of being heard served by bringing up their defenses? Not a chance. I have to accept that it wasn’t obvious to either of them or they wouldn’t have asked.

This is why you don’t reply with your first reaction—because if you do, you’re only talking to yourself.

I started drafting — phrasing, rephrasing, venting, deleting, adding modifiers. As I did so, both my accuracy AND my “hearability” increased.

Before I could finish, a good friend of mine (“Wendy”) with a similar POV replied:

Negatives: Promising Heaven, threatening with Hell, brain washing from a very young age, ignorance, discrimination against homosexuals… just to name a few.

I winced. This is exactly how I used to answer. But these are guaranteed to draw the “not-my-church” denial, and often rightly so. Those on the other side of the conversation feel that their experience refutes these claims on a weekly basis. Having seen me unjustly paint them with my broad brush, they stop listening.

And I can’t blame them. Think of the last time someone brought up Stalin as a renunciation of atheism generally. That’s my clue that the person has nothing useful to say, and I can’t get myself to take them seriously from that point forward. If I don’t take a minute to think about how something will register from the other person’s perspective, I don’t deserve to be heard.

Sure enough, Andrea came back:

@ Wendy – Ok. I’ve been a Christian all my life. Never been promised anything I didn’t have to work for, never been threatened with Hell. I don’t feel brainwashed and am far from ignorant – also, 3 of my very best friends are gay…just to name a few.

I put on the brakes:

Hold on, we have to do this right. First, read what I’ve written about the positives. Then I’ll post my thoughts on the rest.

The link goes to a post about things I think Christians do better than secular types. Establishes my evenhandedness, keeps ears open.

I needed to speak to my concerns without doing a leg-sweep that left the other person nowhere to stand. Allow them to share your concerns, even if only in principle. Let them distance themselves from the target if that’ll help them hear you.

Here was my answer:

For some people there are no negatives. For others, there are no positives. I can only speak for myself.

I went to church for 25 years in nine denominations and studied religions in tremendous depth. I have talked at length with ministers, theologians, and believers across the spectrum. I have cared profoundly about the answers. I am now a secular humanist, but I find some religious expressions very appealing: liberal Quakerism and Jainism, to name two.

The negatives of theistic churches for me start quite simply with the idea of a god. If I don’t believe such a thing is real, it’s beneath my humanity to pretend otherwise. To then watch what I believe is a false idea lend unchallengeable authority to bad ideas along with good is very, very painful. Honest questioning is too often disallowed, the word “values” often turned on its head. There is ever so much more, but not in this space.

Ethical Societies provide community, mutual care, meaning, inspiration, life landmarks, and other positives of religious experience without the negatives that come reliably — though in different degrees — with supernaturalism. Those who find theistic churches attractive can and should find community there. The rest of us are looking for alternatives.

Andrea responded:

@ Dale – Thanks for your answer. I agree with you wholeheartedly about learning your personal path and I greatly respect the search for your truth. You are by far one of the most well-spoken, amiable and approachable atheists I have ever encountered. Not only do I appreciate that as a person, but as a Christian, you make me feel like there is always room for discussion – which is not all that common from either side…Seriously, thanks for answering.

I’d accomplished just what I wanted to. I’d been heard.

Wendy sent me an email with the subject line “How do you do it?”:

I don’t know how you do it. So you have these questions on your FB status. You give some cool answer, after which the asking person tells you what an awesome person you are… blah blah… and you move on. I admire you for that.

That was when I realized I might have something useful to share and this little series was born.

Next time I’ll take apart my answer to Bob and Andrea to see why it worked.

[Complete series]

Unsiloed / Can you hear me now? 4

deathofasiloTwo of the corners of my life in which I am the least siloed — in which perspectives and opinions bump against each other more than anywhere else — are family and Facebook.

In most other ways, my family and Facebook are different, even antithetical. My extended family’s mix of perspectives is a received fact, and one for which I’m grateful, especially as a parent. (More on that eventually.) By contrast, the diversity of my Facebook friends results from my own choices.

Another difference: Families don’t often talk openly about beliefs and opinions. As Stephen Prothero put it, they do religion like mad but rarely talk about religion. Facebook, on the other hand, is all about sharing opinions (and every other thing that crosses the cortex. Seriously, pass me one more goddam virtual mojito and I’ll pour it on your motherboard).

I’ll get to family later in the series. First Facebook, in two parts.

I’m a Facebook Slut. I climb into friendhood with anyone who asks. My 600+ Friends fall mostly into five groups: Family, K-12 friends, College friends, Post-college friends, and Readers of my books.

It’s interesting that those five groups are roughly arranged in both the order I entered them in life AND in increasing order of siloing. The older I get, the more they’ve reflected my own choices. My extended family is mostly religious, though they vary in intensity. My K-12 friends mostly differ from me in religious and political views, but not as much as family. Friends met at Berkeley are about half secular and half religious, though almost all politically progressive, as are post-college friends. And readers of my books are naturally pretty secular and (as far as I can tell) mostly progressive politically. See how the silo narrows from left to right?

It’d be easy to cull this list down to a comfortable silo of 400 who would tend to nod at my every Facebook status and post and link. But I’ve been in enough of those situations to know it’s not good for me. Makes me lazy. Gives me the queasy feeling I used to get as I stood in chuckling clutches at this or that atheist meeting, basking in the glow (at last, at last!) of people who saw the world as I did.

It’s helpful at first. Then it gets really old.

About two years ago, my writing and my speeches to like-minded groups began centering on the need to spend a bit of our seemingly boundless other-critical energy on a peek in the mirror. An example was a post titled “Six things Christians do (much) better than secularists.” Some loved it — others were pissed. I considered that a good sign.

I continued in my talks to humanist groups around the US, noting that churches ironically do humanistic community better than we do, and that we can and should fix that. Then in my first announcement about Foundation Beyond Belief, I pointed to the statistical fact that the average individual religious believer gives more to charitable causes than the average nonreligious individual — and was met again with both support and outrage. Never mind that I was making the larger point that it’s pretty clearly a structural problem, not a moral one — that churches have created a “culture of giving” by providing regular and easy opportunities to give. Still a bitter pill for some. And again, I thought that a fine thing.

So I guess I’m involved in a two-part communications project here. I want to hear and be heard more effectively outside of my silos, but I also want to stir up the complacency within my silos. I’ve been doing the latter out loud for a couple of years now. As for the former, I’ve been doing it but not sharing the experiment, until now.

So again — Because of my slutty tendencies, Facebook is one of my main opportunities for adventures in unsiloed communication.

No, I’m NOT talking about deconverting anyone. Haven’t spent a lick of energy on that in years. I realized that people will think about worldview questions on their own schedule and under their own control or not at all, and that active attempts to force the issue usually drive them the other way. No need to “give” anyone reasons to believe or not believe. The reasons are scattered all around our feet, just a click or a thought away. At best, we can spur each other’s curiosity —How interesting, an ethical atheist. How fascinating, an intellectual evangelical– by dismantling preconceptions. And the best way to do that is by being out and normal.

(Funny thing — since I stopped trying to change people’s minds, I’ve started receiving emails from people whose minds I’ve changed. Lots and lots.)

fblogoFacebook is one of the places I can be out and normal. It’s also possible to use Facebook to create a silo, of course, and I know many people do just that, consciously or not. Befriend a like mind here, defriend an unlike one there, and pretty soon we’ve built ourselves another echo chamber.

As a result, unlike my more siloed corners, I know when I post something on Facebook that it will be seen by several of the most prominent atheists and humanists in the world AND my wife’s extended Baptist family, by Republican neighbors AND Democratic friends — by hundreds of people I love and respect, including many who see the world in a profoundly different way from me. It causes me to take just that little extra bit of care to be accurate, to be fair, but also honest — to be myself, but also to improve myself. I’m not interested in pandering — instead, I try to say things of substance in such a way that I can be heard by multiple human audiences at once.

Next week I’ll give a recent example — a Facebook exchange that illustrates what I think I’ve learned about hearing and being heard.

[Complete series]

Silos / Can you hear me now? 3

silos320991There’s a natural and adaptive human tendency to cling to the familiar, to distrust difference. That worked well for millennia to keep us safe, but now it’s an unhelpful relic that fuels groundless fears and keeps [insert favorite fearmongering media villain here] afloat.  Most of us are surrounded by friends who think like us, who reinforce our choices and our sense of self, who nod and smile and laugh with us, who put us at ease.  Most of us read magazines and watch news channels and listen to talk radio that reinforces our worldview rather than challenging it.

(Those of you busily protesting Not me, not me, I surround myself with ever-so-divergent people and opinions— congratulations on that.  It’s very good news, and you can tell us about it at the end.)

Contemporary culture is increasingly willing and able to bend over backwards to assist us in walling ourselves off from difference. 

It used to take a bit more effort.  Simple example:  As a teenager, I listened to radio stations with broad pop formats and would stumble across unfamiliar things all the time—ska, reggae, punk, funk, new wave, R&B, alternative rock, even novelty songs.  Once in a while I’d find something new that I liked.  Now radio seems to carve out narrow, carefully defined demographic slices.  You like alternative rock? Great, I have the station for you. I promise you’ll never have to hear anything else.  As a bonus gift,  you’ll dodge the risk of encountering anything truly new.

Same with politics, religion, social opinion.  You can now find entire TV networks, magazines, talk radio programs, websites, and blogs devoted to reinforcing your opinions and protecting you from any serious risk of developing new ones.  And all the while, the science of “behavioral marketing” sniffs behind you, studying what you do so they can profitably feed you more of the same.

As a result, we’re dividing ourselves up into smug, self-satisfied silos, each with everything it needs, including pundits devoted to telling us how very smart we are to be in the silo we’ve chosen.

It’s not good.

This cultural siloing not only shuts us off from our own growth but erodes our ability to communicate with or understand those outside of our own silos.  Most of us felt it in the 2008 election—two utterly separate subcultures, one Red, one Blue, each with its own set of “facts,” each with a well-oiled machine of expert opinion and slick presentation designed to reinforce and cherry-pick and coddle and stroke and castigate and denounce as the need arose.  Then we all marched into the polls, pretending we were not de facto citizens of two different nations.

This is not a new observation.  I know that. But I want to bring it into this series on communication across worldview lines because this cultural siloing is right there at the heart of the problem.

Churches are among the most efficient cultural silos.  They tend to bring together likeminded people and reinforce their likemindedness.  Sometimes the result is an empowered community that devotes itself to good things like service and social justice.  Sometimes it can focus and facilitate hatred and division that would not be possible without the reinforcement of that likeminded community.

Now, thanks in large part to the Internet, the nonreligious are finally finding each other and forming communities—with the same good and bad results.  Sometimes we devote ourselves to good things like service and social justice, and sometimes we focus and facilitate a level of hatred and division that would not be possible without the reinforcement of that likeminded community.

So it’s not just a religious thing.  It’s a human thing.  And the difference between the good and bad result goes right back to comfort and contact with difference.

The more a group shuts off contact with unlike minds, the sloppier it gets.  A little less care and thought goes into each statement.  You know the room is with you, so you just say it.  They’ll laugh at the cheap joke about the other group, they’ll nod at less and less grounded generalizations.  Eventually we’re all a self-satisfied mutual admiration society with no remaining ability to communicate outside of our silo.

About ten years ago I became so desperately tired of that self-righteous dynamic among the religious that I stopped attending church.  Last year, I became so desperately tired of that same self-righteousness among the nonreligious that I stopped attending humanist/atheist/agnostic meetings and conventions.  I simply can’t stand the smugness of the silos—especially when I feel it starting to percolate in myself.

Our siloing has a double effect:  One silo loses the ability to speak AND the other loses the ability to hear.

I’ve realized recently that I have a bit of an advantage in all this, which is why I’m writing this series.  I’ve spent an unusual amount of time surrounded by and talking to people whose worldview is very different from mine.  In addition to 25 years of churchgoing, I worked for a while as assistant music minister at a Methodist church and spent 15 years teaching at a Catholic college.  Sometimes I communicated stupidly and ineffectively.  Sometimes I did much better.  I began to take notes, to work on my approach, to improve my effectiveness at hearing and being heard.
I get comments about this all the time.  The most recent was an exchange on Facebook, which is where I’ll go next time.

But first, tell me this, regardless of your perspective: How “siloed” do you feel you are, and how do you think that affects your ability to communicate across lines of difference?

[Complete series]

A tale of two fingers / Can you hear me now? 2

(Please forgive the parental preening below. Ghastly stuff, but with a purpose.)

fingers095My daughter Delaney (7) is a wonder. I’ve never seen a kid so completely engaged in the world, so committed to life and happy for the chance at it.

At age five, she’d sometimes giggle quietly to herself in her car seat. I asked once what that was about. “Sometimes it’s just so amazing to be alive in my body,” she said.

She is the orchestrator of creative play in our neighborhood. It isn’t unusual to find seven kids in our front yard between the ages of five and ten: two building a tent, two hanging hula hoops on tree branches, one busily mashing seed pods in a bucket, one spreading open umbrellas and safety cones meaningfully across the lawn — and Delaney directing the works.

She wants to be a scientist. Her favorite word is “Awesome!”, used in its original meaning and intoned over an enormous orange spider or under a freaky yellow moon. She reads at an insanely high level, and when she reaches a word she doesn’t know — obfuscate, maybe, or ennui — she asks what it means. When I pause to figure out how to explain it to a second grader, she says, without a trace of arrogance, “Dad…just tell me the regular way.”

And then there’s this: Since the first week of her life, this awesome, smart, creative kid has sucked on the tips of the two middle fingers of her right hand. Never wanted a pacifier, wouldn’t take a bottle. Only the breast and her fingers, then finally just her fingers, would do.

At first it was nearly constant. By the time she was three, it was only when she was tired, worried, or asleep. But at those times, it was a guarantee.

We began to wonder if it could cause problems. Dental experts warned of possible splaying or malocclusion of permanent teeth, possible speech impairments. But they often cited frequent and intense sucking as the most likely to produce these. At age five, she had deep calloused dents just above the nail beds where her teeth rested. By six, she seemed to be resting the tips more lightly between her teeth, but still persisted.

Becca and I were not entirely unconcerned. We discussed it casually with Laney, told her about the dental worries, offered some ideas for stopping. She’d shake her head. Sometimes her eyes would well up, and we’d drop it. Then the same night, I’d tiptoe into her room and find that she had taped her own fingers together to dissuade her sleeping self…and was sucking on the sad little cellophaned flipper anyway.

It seemed for a while like she was finding her own way out of the habit. Other days, not so much.

One night I was about to enter the girls’ room to sing them to sleep. By this time, Laney’s fingers were only in the hatch at night, something we had all noticed. But as they crept into place that night, big sister Erin (11) couldn’t leave it.

“Laney, take your fingers out,” I heard her say.

I watched unseen from the doorway. Laney glared across at Erin and left them in.

“Laney! You need to stop sucking your fingers or your teeth will be weird!”


“Fine, suck your fingers if you want to be a baby. None of your friends suck their fingers.”

Laney made searing, defiant eye contact with Erin — and slowly slid her fingers further in, all the way to the second knuckle…then closed her eyes and sucked hard.

I entered the silent room and went to straight to Erin.

“I’m just trying to help her,” she said, half believing it.

I leaned down and whispered back, “I know, but that’s not the way. The more we force it, the harder she’ll resist.”

I switched to Laney’s bedside. Her cheeks were streaked with tears, fingers firmly enhatched. I asked what was up.

“I want to stop sucking my fingers, but I can’t,” she sobbed.

“Well, it’s hard,” I said. “You’ve always done it, right? But I don’t think you should rush it. You’ll know when it’s time.”

“I’m gonna try tonight.”

“Sweetie, I think you can just leave it for tonight. Maybe tomorrow.”

“I think I can do it.”

I smiled at her. “It’s up to you, punkin. Either way is fine.”

Whether she did or didn’t that night is unimportant. What matters is that by morning, she was convinced she had. Which made the next night a piece of cake. And the next. And she never went back.

You see where I’m going with this.

No, I’m not making a simple and cheap analogy between religious belief and thumbsucking. As much of a thigh-slapper as that is, it oversimplifies. I will point out, however, that this habit was a great comfort to Delaney, something she had never been without, something she was convinced she needed. When she felt it was threatened, she clung to it. She sucked harder. Only when I told her that she was in control, that there was no rush — only when we stopped trying to snatch it from her was she able to let it go.

When and if someone lets go of religious belief, I think the same simple principle is at work. Badgering them and ridiculing their beliefs might work for a few, but for most it has the opposite effect. The more you attack, the more they retreat into the very thing. Only when you look someone in the eye and say, in essence, “It’s your call,” can most people see their way clear.

I wouldn’t want to do without Myers and Hitchens and Condell. They speak to me. I think they tell the damn truth. They voice my frustration and outrage. I would never want them shut down. But there’s another thing that needs doing as well — an opening of space around people so they can think clearly, sometimes for the first time in their lives, about their beliefs and the consequences of those beliefs. And it takes place, more often then not, one on one.

My hope in this series is to offer some tips that I’ve found effective. I hope it’s useful.

SO THEN, tell me, secular readers (which again is who this series is primarily for): If you were once religious, what was the nature of your de-conversion?  Were you at the wheel, or was someone else pushing, or some combination? Do tell.

[Complete series]

Can you hear me now? (Intro)

goood31200 A Charlotte Allen published an op-ed in the LA Times about just how dreadfully sick she is of atheists.

A Facebook friend asked me what I consider to be the “negatives of church.” A good question that I answered.

Another Facebooker asked why I am “so against God.” An unanswerably silly question. He rephrased, I answered.

Yet another FB friend went positively ballistic when I strayed from the apparent party line in response to the President’s Nobel Prize.

After seven years, my youngest daughter stopped sucking her fingers. Just boom, stopped cold.

A participant in one of my recent seminars wrote to thank me. She had followed my advice for talking to her religious father. A four-year rift was healed, she said, in about five minutes.

I received my 27th email from a Christian gentleman in Missouri letting me know he’s praying for me.

I de-friended an old HS friend on Facebook whose page was filled with Bible verses (perfectly fine) and unfiltered hatred of those unlike him (not fine). Then I wished like hell I hadn’t.

I saw that seven new reasons for not believing in God have been added to a website that for some reason lists such things.

Robert Krulwich of my beloved Radiolab interviewed Richard Dawkins and made me nearly drive into the Hudson River. And I live in Georgia.

I came across a fascinating quote from Charles Darwin with great whacks of modern relevance.

I read the now infamous article in Newsweek in which (atheist journalist Chris) Mooney and (agnostic biologist Sheril) Kirshenbaum suggested that science is done no favors by insisting that it is necessarily incompatible with religion — followed by an epic blog-tizzy of sarcastic proportions.

I read the Richard Dawkins interview in Newsweek, and the blog-tizzy that followed, including many atheists who wondered if Dawkins had become an “accommodationist.”

They probably seem disconnected, this baker’s dozen. But as each happened, the same string was plucked in my head. I decided to blog. The topic strikes me as pretty much all we should be talking about, and I’ve thought about it so intensely for the past ten years or more that I think I might have something useful to say. Who knows. It’s too big for one post, so it’ll be an occasional series for the remainder of 2009.

I’m motivated half by anger, half by frustration, and half by hope. The first two make me want to chuck the whole topic. It’s the third half that makes me care enough to blog — the hope that some of us are finally on the verge of learning how to communicate effectively, both within and between our “camps,” and that naming the problem and suggesting ways around it might do some good.

That’s the topic, by the way — communication. How to stop talking past and through and around each other. Hearing and being heard.

In order to practice what I recommend, I’m going to try very hard to frame this thing in terms of what I have learned, what I have found effective, and how I have changed in my approach in recent years. I don’t plan to scold anyone for how they approach these things, since that puts an end to listening, and hearing and being heard are my primary goals here. But I might ask that others consider how lovely and useful those two goals are, and whether it isn’t a shame that we all give them so damn little attention.

(I tried four more ambitious expletives before settling on ‘damn.’ Like I said, I’m half motivated by anger here. But then I remembered my objectives.)

My intended audience for this series is my fellow atheists etc. Any religious believers who drift in are more than welcome to read along and even comment, but know that even as I talk about how to talk across lines of difference, I’m not doing that now. This is an in-house meeting.

I’ll start next time with Delaney’s fingers.

[Complete series]

Raising a Ruckus in Atlanta

ruckus3209I’ve done a metric flurry of interviews recently, including one for the holiday issue of Parenting Magazine about what nonreligious families do at Christmas. My usual reply is some variation on, “Oh…there’s a religious version too?” (But nicer.)

Talked to Dr. Zach Moore for the Apologia podcast a while back. Last week it was a radio program in Denver called Mom’s the Word, and yesterday, after speaking at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, I sat for a filmed interview for a planned documentary on Camp Quest.

Another interview I did last week particularly caught my attention. It was for an article in a brand spanking new parenting magazine distributed locally here in Atlanta. It’s called Ruckus — “the parenting magazine for Atlanta families who don’t fit the traditional mold – blended, gay, bi-racial, adoptive, tattooed, pierced, just different” — and Volume 1, No. 1 is currently on the racks.

From the editor, Lea Holland:

The magazine’s name reflects our feelings about raising kids. We’re teaching them to stand up for what they believe in and to share their opinions, even if it creates a ruckus. Actually, it’s better if it ruffles some feathers! We want our kids to have fun, be active and learn there’s more to life than following the leader.


That such a thing comes out of Atlanta shows how much the urban South has changed in the last 20 years. Thanks to a huge influx of transplants (like me and mine), even up here in the relatively red suburbs it’s much more diverse than ten years back (or 20 miles further out of town). Within 100 yards of our front door are families from ten states and at least six countries. That ain’t Brooklyn, but it ain’t yo daddy’s Atlanta, neither. And I couldn’t be pleased-er.

Read Ruckus online at their wickedly cool website, and fan them on Facebook if you like what you see. They’re currently mining for story ideas. You know you’ve got ’em — so give ’em!

Foundation Beyond Belief website goes LIVE!

treeY’all have been SO patient. At last it’s October 1, and thanks to your generous support in the recent Fund Drive, the pre-launch website for Foundation Beyond Belief has gone LIVE!

This site will carry us through to the full launch on January 1. During this period, you can sign up for membership, watch a video about the Foundation, learn about our first featured causes as they are announced, nominate charities for future consideration, donate to the Foundation itself, apply for volunteer positions, and follow the development of our multi-author blog.

In January we get the whole magillah: a vibrant social network, a discussion forum on these great issues, a full slate of beneficiaries to support, and a member profile panel so you can distribute your monthly donation as you wish.

But for now, let’s get our oars in the water. See you there!