Parenting Beyond Belief: On secular parenting and other natural wonders

Music, Secular Parenting, Mortality – Which of These Podcasts Would You Listen To?

In September, I launched a podcast about music to support a book proposal on the topic. But something unexpected happened: within a few weeks, the podcast overtook the book for me. It’s the perfect way to talk about music. But I also fell hard for the medium in general, especially in a storytelling mode, and creating and publishing continuously is SO much more satisfying than the two-year timeline of the average book from proposal to print.

So I want podcasting at the center of my creative work for the coming year. HOW MUSIC DOES THAT is now 10 episodes in, and I’ve recorded pilots for two new shows: RAISING FREETHINKERS, about raising kids without religion, and THE LUCKY ONES, about an aging atheist’s complicated relationship with death (humor and philosophy). Now I need to know which of the three shows are worth continuing.

If you can take a bite of the three episodes below, then complete the survey, that’ll help me decide whether to re-launch in January with 1, 2, or 3 shows. Thanks for your help! – Dale


[download ep. 1]

Listen to “1 Origin Story” on Spreaker.


[download ep. 1]

Listen to “Ep 1: The Evolution of Cool” on Spreaker.


[download ep. 1]

Listen to “Ch 1: In Which the Author Dies, and Someone Else has to finish writing the Book” on Spreaker.

My Big Fat Christian Wedding

Wedding4An ever-less-frequent series of posts while I’m working on a book about the secular/religious mixed marriage.

Deep into the wedding chapter now, including examples of the three general wedding flavors for secular/religious mixed couples: Sacred, Secular, and Swirl.

Mine was Type I, a traditional religious wedding. No one there would have guessed there was an atheist in the room, much less that he was the one in tux and tails. The setting was a beautiful, historic Lutheran church in San Francisco that we’d chosen not because it was Lutheran but because it was beautiful and historic and in San Francisco, Becca’s hometown.

We upped the religious ante with not one but two ministers–a Methodist friend of the family, and a Southern Baptist uncle of Becca’s whose contribution included a rafter-rattling reference to Matthew 21:21, the assurance that faith can move mountains. The readings were all Christian, ranging from the indispensable “love is patient, love is kind” from First Corinthians to a popular excerpt from The Prophet by the Christian mystic poet Khalil Gibran.

Ten years later, I’d have probably wanted to include some secular poetry or meditations and maybe nudged the scriptures a little — a nice humanistic bit from Ecclesiastes, say, instead of a verse on the telekinetic properties of faith.

But here’s the thing: At that point in my life, even though I was no less secular in my point of view, that played a much smaller part of my identity than it would later on. At 28, I was defined by music. My degrees were in music, and I was about to begin a 15-year career as a conductor and professor of music. I’d have been more offended by lame music than by all the Psalms in the KJV. It could rain little pillows embroidered with Proverbs for all I cared. The music was mine.

Included was Ravel’s Jeux d’eau and the “Menuet” from Sonatine, both played by my insanely talented brother Ron, plus Bach’s secular cantata “Sheep May Safely Graze,” a warhorse gone awesome in an arrangement for strings and two recorders. Becca entered to Bach’s “Air on the G String,” one of the most perfect things ever written, played by the San Francisco Conservatory String Quartet. We lit the unity candle to a prelude I wrote myself, also played by Ron, and we left to the ridiculously exuberant Widor Toccata for organ played by the organist of San Francisco’s Grace (Episcopal) Cathedral.

For those of you keeping score, we had now achieved the Protestant quadfecta: a Lutheran church, an Episcopal organist, and Methodist and Baptist ministers. I was awash in Christian ritual, text, and symbols — and I didn’t care a bit. I’d made my own heaven musically.

Are you in a secular/religious mixed marriage? This is the last week to submit your wedding story for possible inclusion in my book. Do it here!

Back from the Hack

hackedWell that was nasty. As some of you were kind enough to point out, my blog was infected with the dreaded Pharma Hack, which loads the site with invisible links to trick search engines into thinking the companies on the other end of those links are All That. The hacked site gets flagged by Google as “compromised.” Hilarity ensues.

The fix is complicated, requiring the help of someone who knows things. I called my fella, and now it’s fixed.

Content resumes tomorrow.


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.

In which I learn that ‘Southern Baptist’ doesn’t translate well into Hindi


(From the Hindi translation page of the Basic Beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

The invisible secular humanists: A response to Joe Klein

The Washington Post “On Faith” blog has published my more formal response to Joe Klein’s suggestion that “you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists” engaged in relief efforts after a disaster. An excerpt:

Screen shot 2013-06-28 at 4.51.45 PMIn the wake of the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, Dinesh D’Souza wrote an opinion piece asking why atheists are “nowhere to be found” in the response to a tragedy. “Where is Atheism When Bad Things Happen?” was the usual D’Souza fare.

But something beautiful came out of it. A Virginia Tech professor and atheist writing as “Mapantsula” offered an elegant and moving reply at Daily Kos, describing in detail his own involvement in the collective healing that followed that day. He also noted that there were certainly atheists and secular humanists among the first responders, the counselors, the surgeons, and the generous givers who rose to the challenge of that tragedy, helping to put that violated community back together as best they could.

But these atheists and secular humanists didn’t wear their worldview visibly, so both casual observers and willful opportunists like D’Souza often failed to see them.

It is possible to see how someone, especially a person with D’Souza’s agenda, could take the absence of an atheist flag as the absence of atheists. Though never absent, atheists and secular humanists are often invisible. Their bodies and skills are easy to see, but their convictions—that this is our one and only life, that its loss is something to fight hard against, that we have no one but each other to rely on when bad things happen—often go unnoticed. Prayers and songs and religious group names announce themselves. Quiet conviction often goes unseen—especially to someone who’s not trying very hard to see it.

Fast-forward to 2013 and Joe Klein, writing a TIME magazine cover story titled “Can Service Save Us?” In the course of an otherwise interesting piece, Klein made this claim: “There was an occupying army of relief workers led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals…”

I’d say it’s funny how you don’t see what you don’t look for.

Joe Klein is not Dinesh D’Souza. He’s a professional journalist, so it seems reasonable to expect him — or barring that, his editors — to check his facts before he tosses off a claim like this. It’s not that he didn’t specifically name these efforts. It’s worse — he went out of his way to say that our organizations were not there.

Read the full article at the Washington Post “On Faith” blog

Win a free signed copy of Atheism For Dummies!

dumban360There’s a new Facebook page for Atheism For Dummies, and for the next four weeks I’ll be posting a quote a day from the book, including some in the form of shareable memes.

Share any quote or meme from that page between March 16 and April 13 and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a free signed copy of the book! Talk about easy. Four winners in all, one per week.

Drop on by and Like the page, then start sharing that sweeeet dummy love.

Come and giddit!

afdfinalI’m pleased to announce that Atheism for Dummies is now available! Amazon has both the paperback and Kindle editions.

It’s especially fun to share this with those of you who followed the process from the first announcement nine months ago (isn’t THAT adorable) through the short daily posts of the Dummies Diary, during which you all helped tremendously with some knotty questions.

I’m deeply grateful to a lot of good people for help with this complex project. I’ll post my Acknowledgments page below, and those of you with an eye for bold font may catch a hat tip in your direction:


Thanks first of all to the great and friendly atheist Hemant Mehta, the first person to think I’d be a good person to write this book. I’m deeply indebted to Ed Buckner and Amanda Metskas, two giants of the freethought world who took the time to read this book while it was in progress and whose rod and staff guided me when I went astray.

Greta Christina and Jennifer Michael Hecht are the two great writers and thinkers on whose work I’ve drawn more than any others for this project.

Immense thanks to the staff and interns at Foundation Beyond Belief who kept things humming while I wrote: Airan Wright, Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, Claire Vinyard, Kelly Wright, Walker Bristol, Cathleen O’Grady, Andrew Geary, Sam Shore, Sarah Hamilton, Kate Donovan, Chana Messinger, Corey Glasscock, Lauren Lane…and special praise for the dynamic duo of Noelle George and AJ Chalom.

A hat tip to my blog readers at The Meming of Life who helped plumb the depths of several big questions.

Many thanks to the professional and supportive team at Wiley, especially Anam Ahmed and Chad Sievers, and my splendid agent Dr. Uwe Stender.

Finally, all thanks and love to my wife Becca, who also read and improved every page, and our three spectacular kids, Connor, Erin, and Delaney. You make it all worthwhile.

If you feel moved after reading the book to leave a review at Amazon, that would be swell. Reviews are especially important in the early going. And if you have questions about the book once you see it, click the Ask a Question button. I’ll get to as many as I can.

Now shoo!

The born-again blog

I’m back, and there’s a new plan! — Jesus Christ

I launched this blog in March 2007 with an announcement about the upcoming release of Parenting Beyond Belief. I was 44, and my kids were 5, 9, and 11. We were living in Minnesota, getting ready to move to Atlanta. I’d quit my job as a professor at a Catholic college the previous year and was scraping by with a few freelance writing clients. For better and worse, I had time and some ideas that I hadn’t already said.

Half a million words later, a lot has changed. I’m turning 50 next month. My kids are 11, 15, and 17. I’m writing books pretty much continuously and running a charitable foundation, and I do a decent amount of traveling and speaking. I’m getting an unfair amount of fun and satisfaction out of all this stuff, but it means (obviously) I sometimes drop the blog and can’t find it in the leaves.

Busyness is only part of the problem. Now that I’m writing most of the day, I honestly get tired of my own voice, and I just can’t sit down and force out a blog post — at least not one worth reading. I find I can write about 2,000 good words a day. The next 500 are words, sure enough, but they mostly lay there, grinning up at me as they wallow in their own filth.

Then starting with #2501, every damn word makes me want to strangle myself with my own typewriter ribbon. Which is much harder than it used to be.

The pile of new topics and ideas was also enormous in the beginning. But after 600+ posts, I was starting to do donuts in the parking lot, which feels self-indulgent. The navel-gazing aspect of blogging has always made me a little nauseous (he blogged), but as long as I felt I had fresh things to say, I could handle it.

Even if I can’t manage new posts too often anymore, I’m sometimes glad to find that I still have this window to stand naked in when I need to. Like last year, when I wrote Atheism for Dummies. You all were incredibly helpful in grappling with some of those questions, which is why you get a collective shout in the Acknowledgements.

So here’s the new plan. In addition to the very occasional freestanding new post, the blog will now have three faces:

1. Book blog
When I’m working on a book, I’ll blog that process in short bursts, asking for your help when I need it. (There appears to be a new project coming, btw — stand by for news.)

2. Greatest hits
A lot of my old posts expand on ideas in my books, and I think about a third of them are worth rerunning, especially for those who haven’t read all 500,000 words quite yet. I’ll bring some of my favorites back.

3. Q&A
I get a steady stream of email questions, usually but not always about secular parenting. Instead of always answering offline, I’d like to invite y’all to ask questions or suggest topics using the new Ask a Question form in the sidebar. I won’t be able to answer them all, but I’ll pick a few and answer on the blog. Sky’s the limit on this one. Ask me anything.

Hopefully this will keep it fresh. Thanks for reading!

Q: Where is the story of disbelief most interesting?

In the middle of Chapter 14 now and having a ball. It’s a kind of snapshot chapter — lots of stats and facts about religious disbelief today, including the way it presents differently around the world. Like:

China and India, where the environment for atheism has been relatively relaxed for thousands of years
Norway (et al.), where most people are non-believing Lutherans and the state church just (mostly) disestablished itself voluntarily
Québec, which in 40 years went from the most religious province in Canada (and 83 percent Catholic) to the least religious province in Canada…and still 83 percent Catholic
California, which in 30 years went from part of the “Unchurched Belt” to the middle of the pack in religious identity, largely because of the influx of Catholic Hispanics
The UK, of course, which underwent such a rapid secularization after WWII that they had to create a National Health Service to deal with all the whiplash
• The fact that urban-rural is overtaking all other variables in the secular-religious split

You get the picture. I’m trying to draw out these interesting narratives in short spurts. So

Q: Do you know of any interesting stories of the rise, fall, or other change in nonreligious identity at the national or local level, anywhere in the world?

Vermont, you went from 13% nonreligious to 34% in 20 years. Got to be a story there. Also wondering about Uganda for a half dozen reasons. I’m especially interested in the global South, but anything interesting will do. Just a few sentences and a link if appropriate. Thanks!