Parenting Beyond Belief: On secular parenting and other natural wonders

Counting heads and changing attitudes

graphThanks for participating in the first mini-poll of several. These polls won’t form the basis for any actual conclusions in the book, but they’ll help me think some things through, including the wording for questions in the full survey coming in a few weeks.

Though people in secular/religious mixed marriages have always been a part of my audience, readership for Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers (and this blog) skews significantly toward couples in which both partners are secular. Makes sense, since the books and blog are mostly about raising kids without religion. But even with that skew, 22 percent of the 509 respondents to this poll so far are in a secular/religious mixed marriage.

You can roughly double that number that once you get outside of the PBB skew. Religious intermarriage has been rising steadily for a century, from 26 percent of all US marriages begun in the 1910s to 45 percent of marriages begun in the past decade.1 And nearly half of all married nonreligious Americans currently have a religious partner.2 (This comes as a big surprise to many nontheists I talk to who are convinced that secular/religious marriages are simply impossible.)

The increase in religious intermarriages parallels an overall increase in acceptance of the idea. About 60 percent of those who reached adulthood in the 1930s felt that shared religious beliefs were “very important” for a successful marriage. For those who became adults in the 1950s, that dropped to 50 percent. And for those who came of age in the 1990s, that feeling plummeted to 23 percent.

If you believe some of the terrible books I’m currently reading on interfaith marriage, this change in attitudes is a disaster. Many of them, including recent titles by decent publishers, bang the drum of religious uniformity as a vital component of a successful marriage. Scratch the surface and you find that many or most of these are actually more concerned about their religions than about the marriages. And it’s true — religious intermarriage has had a deleterious effect on the cohesiveness and retention of many religious traditions. But the effects on marriages, though real, are seriously overstated in the literature. (More on all that later.)

The rest of the mini-polls, like the full survey itself, will be directed at those who are currently or formerly in secular/religious mixed marriages. I will also be creating a form to submit your own stories of dating, marrying, raising kids, and dealing with extended family across that religious/secular gap.

Thanks for your help with this.


1Cited in American Grace (Putnam and Campbell, 2010), from Gen. Social Survey
2Faith Matters survey (2006)
3World Values Survey, 1982 and 1990

Poll: Finding mixed marriages

Part of the research for my book on the religious/nonreligious mixed marriage will involve a large-scale formal survey in May. Before that’s released, I plan to run a few informal single-question polls to scratch the surface and guide my work. I also hope you’ll share these polls widely.

Here’s the first one. Phrasing is always a challenge, so thanks in advance for answering to the best of your ability. “Religious” in this case refers to theistic religion.

If you are married or in a committed long-term relationship, please choose the most accurate statement:

  • I identify as nonreligious and my partner does as well (72%, 402 Votes)
  • I identify as nonreligious and my partner is religious (21%, 119 Votes)
  • I identify as religious and my partner does as well (even if the religions differ) (3%, 15 Votes)
  • Don't know / can't answer as phrased (2%, 14 Votes)
  • I identify as religious and my partner is nonreligious (2%, 12 Votes)

Total Voters: 562

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Help me find the right word


The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
MARK TWAIN, Letter to George Bainton, 15 October 1888

Well into the writing and research for my book on religious/nonreligious marriages and ready to start blogging it a bit. As I did with Atheism For Dummies, I’ll be looking for your help to chew on some ideas. If you give me even half of the terrific input you gave last time, I’ll be grateful. It really helps.

Right now I’m looking for the perfect, concise term to denote the marriage of religious and nonreligious partners.

I can pretty much guarantee we’re not looking for an existing word, at least not one used in this context. We’re going to need a new coinage here, or at least a repurposing. The term should denote this kind of marriage without including other mixes, such as marriages between adherents of two different religions. For that reason, “mixed marriage” and “interfaith marriage” don’t do the trick, though they are useful for the larger categories.

The ideal word would be concise — four syllables is an absolute max for a single word, maybe five for a two-word term. And even though its meaning doesn’t have to be obvious at first glance, it would be nice if it didn’t rely too much on knowledge of ancient Mediterranean languages to make sense.

If I introduce the term up front in the book, I can then use it in place of long, tedious phrases (“When couples in which one partner is religious and the other is nonreligious…”). The new term might even make it into the title, who knows. In any case, if you coined it, you’d certainly get a loud shout in the Acknowledgements.

So help me find le mot juste here. Help me find the lightning.

How you can help after the Boston bombing

The humanist members and staff of Foundation Beyond Belief extend our hearts to everyone affected by the tragic bombing in Boston on April 15.

FBB has become a touchpoint for compassionate humanist action in the freethought community. That’s a responsibility we take very seriously. When a tragic event like this one happens, many atheists and humanists contact us to see if FBB will mount a crisis response drive. We examined the Boston situation carefully and decided we could be most helpful by pointing toward existing efforts.

If you would like to assist the victims of the bombing and their families, here are a few ways to help:

candsThe Harvard Humanists shared the news that one of their volunteers and her daughter were badly injured in the bombing. Celeste and Sydney Corcoran are both enduring extensive surgeries, and Celeste lost both legs below the knee. Consider making a donation to help the family cope with the financial burden. You can learn more about Celeste and Sydney here.

The One Fund Boston is a fund started by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to assist the families most affected by the bombing. Individuals and businesses are contributing to this fund, including a $1 million commitment from John Hancock and donations from many other corporations. “The One Fund Boston will act as a central fund to receive much needed financial support,” according to Governor Patrick.

Those looking for a specifically nontheistic response might consider the drive currently underway through We Are Atheism, Atheists Giving Aid. We Are Atheism intends to distribute the funds to local Boston agencies and/or directly to the families affected.

The Red Cross reported that, thanks to generous donors, the blood supply was adequate to meet demand after the bombing, but people across the country can always schedule an appointment to donate blood.

Feeling the planet


douglas_adamsThe fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.


You’ve probably seen the petitions going around to end the Daylight Savings Time Hokey Pokey we do every year. I’ve always liked it myself. It shakes me up twice a year, makes me say things to the kids like, “Ooh, remember how dark it was at this time yesterday?” It’s nicely weird.

But it hit me this morning that I’ve got it all wrong. I really ought to hate it.

So now I do.

I’ve always loved things that make me feel like I’m on a planet and hated things that paper over that astonishing fact. Most of the time it’s easy to forget our actual situation, to lapse into the illusion of normalcy Douglas Adams talked about. But sometimes I manage to feel the real deal for a minute.

Years ago, in our house in Minnesota, I could lie in bed at a particular time of night, look out the window at a gable that jutted into the night sky, hold very still, and watch the moon ever so slowly break into view from behind it. I could see the Earth turn.

Thierry Cohen’s spectacular photographic series “Darkened Cities” is a sad reminder of the planetary perspective we’ve lost because of city lights.

(I won’t copy the copyrighted images, but if you haven’t seen them, oh my gourd, GO.)

When I lived in LA, I was properly terrified of earthquakes. But after each decently big one, I always got a little twinge of schadenfreude watching that cocky city grind to a halt for a few hours: Oh riiight, we live in smooshable bodies in breakable buildings built on a jittery crack in the surface of a whirling ball! Scary, but nice in its way.

So here’s the deal with the time change. If we left the clocks alone, we’d feel the shrinking of the day in the fall and the expanding in the spring more than we do. Without those two artificial twitches interrupting the big planetary respiration — without the Wait, wut? of the downshift and upshift — we’d feel the annual breathing of night and day gradually, naturally. Mornings would be too dark for too long in winter, and too light too early in summer, and we’d have to deal with it. In the process, we’d get a better feeling for the shape of the year, and we’d be in a little bit less denial about what we’re sitting on. Maybe.

Anyway, I’m for it. — Part 2

Two years ago, after Raising Freethinkers had been out for a while, I posted about emails I’d been getting:

One of the funniest recurring topics in my inbox concerns the reader reviews for Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers. The reviews are 95 percent good, a gratifying thing. Surprising, too — given the sensitive topic, I was ready for a barrage of negatives from certain quarters when each book came out. It just hasn’t happened, which is awfully nice. Who needs the distraction?

But negative reviews do appear, including some I think are entirely fair. And when they do appear, fair or not, somebody somewhere ALWAYS drops me an outraged note. Some even suggest that I ought to (somehow) get the offending thought deleted. Really.

Now I’m getting a steady flow of the same thing regarding Voices of Unbelief and Atheism For Dummies. It really is sweet of y’all, but (a) I have no special powers, and (b) I wouldn’t use them if I did. I’m a free expression fundie.

Once again, most of the reviews are gratifyingly good, and readers can generally figure out whether the negatives are worth taking into consideration. (My current favorite starts by saying “I have to admit that I haven’t read this book.”)

As I said before, I really do appreciate it when people take the time to review my books, no matter what they think. If there’s an existing review you want to vote up or down or comment on, or if you want to write your own review, Amazon makes it easy. Go on, have fun, and thanks:

Write a review for Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics
Write a review for Atheism For Dummies