© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

Just regular

Remember this story from a few weeks back, when Erin (13) overheard another girl being gently grilled by a couple of peers about her atheism? It’s apparently ongoing. Fortunately the tone is much more inquisitive than Inquisitive. Here’s a bit from the middle school cafeteria earlier this week:

BOY: So what’s it like to be an atheist?

GIRL: What do you mean? It’s just regular.

BOY: But — what do atheists do?

GIRL: What do we do? We do regular stuff.

BOY: I mean like what do you do on Sunday?

GIRL: Probably about what you do on Saturday. But I get two.

(Who IS this kid? Somewhere in 1976, my 13-year-old self just wet himself in shame.)

BOY, after a thoughtful pause: So you can do anything you want then because you don’t have to obey God’s law.

ERIN, interjects: Well…you still have to obey THE law, you know.

Oh how I love these things. I think this kind of low-impact conversation between peers has incredible power to rock preconceptions and give kids permission to think independently. It’s also about 30 times more bloody friggin’ interesting than most of what gets itself talked about, no matter what your age.

Kids vary in their desire to do this, which is fine. As I’ve said before, Connor (16) has no interest at all, while Delaney (9) has done it continuously since she was four. Erin is just beginning to toe-dip and finding out how cool it can be.

I know this can be dicier in some areas and situations. But I also know that we often falsely assume that’s the case. We’re in a pretty conservative area here, both religiously and politically, and still (the occasional brief freakout aside) the conversations my kids have had across belief lines have gone really well. I’ve heard the same from score of parents in places you’d think would go the other way. It almost always goes better than you think it will.

I suggest raising kids who love to engage ideas and know how to do so in a way that respects the people who hold those ideas — then let them decide whether and how to have these conversations.



This was written on Friday, 30. September 2011 at 08:57 and was filed under Atlanta, belief and believers, diversity, My kids, nonbelief and nonbelievers, Parenting, schools. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Reminds me of a conversation my 11 yo had with a classmate. I was a little nervous when he first told me a classmate asked him if he believed in Jesus. “It’s okay mom, I told him we didn’t worship Jesus. We talked about his church and then we both decided … religion is just weird.”

    Comment: LesleAlvarado – 30. September 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  2. Such a shame you don’t live in the UK where Atheism is the majority point of view, and church attendance is falling.

    Comment: Aginoth – 30. September 2011 @ 9:49 pm

  3. @Aginoth: We did live there for six months in 2004. Loved it, for that and many other reasons. But there’s also something to be said for being where my voice is more useful.

    BTW, Church attendance is also falling in the US. One estimate puts the drop at 3 million per year on average (Hardaway and Marler, 2005 I think). But because evangelicalism is a growing piece of that shrinking pie, the perception is different. A million little moments like the one above can ease us forward.

    Comment: Dale – 02. October 2011 @ 10:51 am

  4. I agree that many little conversations like this probably happen all over the country. The trick is to draw them out of your kids so you can discuss further at home.

    We also moved from a large liberal city to a small “middle America” town. After our initial encounters with the neighbors, I think we do tend to assume that most of the adults here have strong religious convictions. But that’s almost certainly not true about their kids, and something I often forget.

    Comment: mother of one – 05. October 2011 @ 3:06 pm

  5. Wow. I would explode with admiration/gratitude/elation/relief if my child relayed a conversation like this. After reading this story, I instantly ordered both your books in hopes of empowering my 6 year old.

    Comment: ckhirrill – 10. October 2011 @ 4:59 am

  6. This post inspired me to order two of your books, Dale. I really appreciate your perspective, and I love hearing about your children’s experiences. As the father of an almost-three-year-old boy and soon-to-be-born twin girls, I glean a lot of great secular information from your site.

    Comment: Jad – 07. November 2011 @ 6:12 pm

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