The Meming of Life: on secular parenting and other natural wonders

Help bring the Timeline back from extinction

Screen shot 2013-07-24 at 4.19.48 PMCharlie’s Playhouse was a company that made cool, fun, unique, and scientifically accurate toys and other products related to evolution. It was founded and run by one of my favorite people ever, Kate Miller, along with her two young boys and “Charlie” Darwin.

But despite winning awards and high praise, the company’s sales didn’t keep pace with expenses, and Kate made the sad decision to close the doors a while back. “The four of us turned out to be great at product design but lousy at marketing,” Kate said. She decided instead to license out their products to other manufacturers.

51SPDXpmeNLMy favorite product from the Playhouse was the Giant Evolution Timeline, a long, laminated wonder that ran down the hallway of our house for several years. My kids would stop on the way to their rooms and run their fingers along this or that illustrated branch of evolutionary history. It was awesome.

Now Kate has announced that a company is interested in licensing the Giant Timeline, and is doing an online test of market interest. If they get enough pre-orders, the timeline will go into production!

There is no obligation, the first product is free, and no credit card number required. Now that’s hard to beat.

“This was always the dream,” says Kate. “Maybe if one kid’s evolution toy is generally available, then other companies will see there is a market and make some other stuff.”

Click through and take a look

Positive

A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.

greenplusI’m going to spend over a hundred pages of the book looking at the specific problems and tensions that can arise when one partner is religious and the other is not and suggesting ways to address and overcome them.

Sometimes it just can’t be done — the negatives of the mix overwhelm the relationship and bring it to an end.

But in many cases, couples not only find their way through the challenges but can name specific advantages to marrying across that gap. The last chapter looks at those benefits, drawn mostly from a single open question near the end of the survey. I’ve been swimming in those answers all day today, and oh, the water’s fine.

The answers fall into about a dozen categories. I’m not going to get into the deets until the survey closes, but it’s really encouraging stuff — and a nice antidote to the long shelf of books claiming there’s nothing but grief in the mix.

Let no man put asunder

A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.

The secular/religious marriage survey wraps up in nine days. Just as I’m transitioning from general ‘interfaith’ marriage research to a tighter focus on the secular/religious marriage, my friend Laurie Miller Tarr shared this stunning photo with me — the tombstones of a Protestant husband and his Catholic wife, buried in the respective grounds of their faiths on opposite sides of a cemetery wall in the Netherlands in the 1880s.

Sad and lovely.

grave

STATURDAY: Increase in ‘interfaith’ marriages

clintonPercentage of “interfaith” marriages in the U.S.

• Married in or before the 1950s:  20%
• Married since 2000:   45%

Intra-Protestant marriages (e.g. Methodist-Lutheran) not considered interfaith for this purpose. Riley, ‘Til Faith Do Us Part (Oxford 2013)

A bump in the fence line

A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.

I love finding out that a concept I’ve had in my head for years has a name.

Example: Someone dislikes all gays, then learns that his brother is gay. Instead of dropping the prejudice altogether, he will often grant an exception: “I don’t like gays, but Kevin’s okay.”

In American Grace, Putnam and Campbell call this the Aunt Susan principle. Even people in relatively homogeneous families and social groups often (and increasingly) have an Aunt Susan or a “pal Al” who is different from the rest — a Jew among Christians, or gay among straights — and still a good egg. Granting the exception can be a first step toward dismantling assumptions and stereotypes, but it can also be a way of resisting that bigger step.

fencebumpToday I learned (from a great post by FBB’s Dr. Brittany Shoots-Reinhard) that social psychologists have an even better name for this. It’s called re-fencing. Instead of tearing down the fence that separates us from a disliked or distrusted group, we build a little bump in the fence line to accommodate the one we know and love.

Re-fencing is a start, but it can easily become a form of “stereotype maintenance” rather than stereotype change. The key to helping someone move past this middle step, to encourage a more complete dismantling of the prejudice, Shoots-Reinhard says, is to “confront people with multiple instances of disconfirmation (like multiple friends coming out as atheist).” In time, hopefully, the fence becomes too curvy to stand.

In faith and in doubt

Wedding4A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.

Saturday is our 22nd anniversary. For 13 of those years, Becca was a religious believer; for the past nine, she has not been.

Whenever someone learns that, the next questions are how and why she made that decision, and how much I had to do with it. The answer is simple: She became more curious about it, thought and read more about it, and changed her mind. Having a secular humanist around the house probably stirred her curiosity in a way it wouldn’t have been if we shared a faith, but I played no active, intentional part in the change.

I was reading a lot of Karen Armstrong and A. N. Wilson in the early 2000s, before the Four Horsemen had saddled up, and Becca began picking up the books herself as I finished. She also started tuning in to the conversations I would have with our kids as they worked through their own ideas. I noticed, but I don’t even recall that Becca and I talked much about it.

It was some time the following year that our daughter Erin, then 7, asked her point-blank if she believed in God. After a long pause, Becca said, “I don’t think there is a God…but I wish there was one.”

I had no feeling of having “won” anything. It was interesting to watch her make that transition, and there had been a few minor frustrations over our religious differences before, but I never needed her to change. I never for a moment needed her to be anything other than who and what she was. I loved and accepted her completely before, and I do now.

Becca’s 2008 post about her transition

Authorgasm (n.)

For much of the time I’m working on a book, I struggle with the sneaking suspicion that it’s going to, uh…suck. But then in every project (so far), I experience something I’ve come to call an authorgasm.

Authorgasm (n.) Literary. The intense elation an author experiences after something happens to convince him/her that his/her book will not after all, as it turns out, suck.

Once the authorgasm happens, writing is fun.

I’ve had at least one authorgasmic moment in the writing process for every book. When I found the unpublished translations of the Inquisition interrogations of Jacques Fournier for Voices of Unbelief — that was authorgasmic. When Julia Sweeney said she’d contribute to Parenting Beyond Belief, when the co-authors of Raising Freethinkers had our first phone meeting, and when I created Scott Siberell, the atheist priest in Calling Bernadette’s Bluff — multiple authorgasms.

For my current book, learning about the UTC Nonbelievers Study definitely qualified. And yesterday I had another when I discovered, through a post at Friendly Atheist, the blog of Alise Wright.

Screen shot 2013-07-16 at 2.17.00 PMSince this project began, I’ve been searching for someone who has written thoughtfully and well from the perspective opposite my own — a religious believer married to an atheist. To understand why I think Alise is that person, read her post Things That Have Gone Missing Because My Husband is an Atheist.

I contacted her yesterday to she if she’d be willing to complete and promote my mixed marriage survey (which closes in two weeks, people) and to answer several hundred highly personal questions. She graciously agreed. I’ll also be mining her entire blog for insights.

Does somebody need a hug?

like-button1A series of short posts while I’m writing a book on the secular/religious mixed marriage.

Continuing to mine Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace for useful insights, and it’s never-ending. What a great piece of work.

One fascinating bit is a “feeling thermometer” that charts how all the various religious and nonreligious identities in the U.S. feel about each other. Their findings, and I quote:

  • Almost everyone likes mainline Protestants and Jews.
  • Almost everyone likes Catholics, more than Catholics like everyone else.
  • Evangelicals like almost everyone else more than they are liked in return.
  • Catholics and evangelicals rate each other warmly.
  • Mormons like everyone else, while almost everyone else dislikes Mormons. Jews are the exception, as they give Mormons a net positive rating.
  • Almost everyone dislikes Muslims and Buddhists — more than any other group. Jews, however, are quite warm toward Buddhists, while cool toward Muslims.

Almost everyone dislikes Buddhists. Buddhists.

Mormons have the highest self-image of any group (a warmth rating of 87 out of 100), while those who identify as “not religious” have the lowest self-image (59). In fact, we rate ourselves lower than either Jews or Mormons rate us — 64 and 61, respectively.

We like ourselves less than Mormons like us.

I think somebody needs a hug.

STATURDAY: Evolution

Each Saturday I’ll post interesting stats I’ve come across in the research for my current book on the secular/religious mixed marriage, mostly without comment.

evolu

Sure, why not

babyfacepalmWriting a bit about infant baptism today, and the discussions parents in a secular/religious mixed marriage have about it, and the discussion Becca and I had when our oldest was new.

I said I’d prefer not to have him baptized. She said that was fine. But would it be okay if we just had him dedicated instead? she asked. You know…for Grandma?

Sure, why not.

Among the many things I didn’t know then was what a dedication actually entailed. I was just thinking “Baptism Lite,” a nice compromise. I was being flexible, not a bad thing.

And the little ceremony was actually fine…until, as we stood in the front of the semi-megachurch we attended at the time, the minister turned to us and said

In presenting this child for dedication, you are hereby witnessing to your own personal Christian faith. Dale and Rebekah, do you announce your faith in Jesus Christ, and show that you want to study Him, know Him, love Him, and serve Him as His disciple, and that you want your child to do the same? Do you pledge to teach your child, as soon as he is able to learn, the nature of this holy sacrament; watch over his education, that he may not be led astray; direct his feet to the sanctuary; restrain him from evil associates and habits; and bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

Or words to that effect.

Becca squeezed my hand, hard. It was not a squeeze of joy at the Precious Moment® we were witnessing in our child’s life. I knew that. It was a squeeze that said, Oh shit, my love, I didn’t know, I promise I didn’t, and if you can find it in your heart to lie like a damn rug in this moment, I swear that I will never, ever ask you to do this again for any other children we may have.

I squeezed back, and together we turned to the minister and said

Sure, why not.

Or words to that effect.

(Share your own baptism/dedication stories here.)