Posted by: littlez2008 | November 23, 2010

What Happens When You Bring Up Kids Without Religion? Data Sample of Two

Colin’s post got me thinking about my own upbringing.  Every time I speak to my brother, I’m struck by our differences and similarities, and every time I hear parents talk about bringing up kids without religion, I think, “It’s no big deal!  I grew up without religion!”  If you’re wondering if a secular family produces secular kids, the answer, based on a data sample of two kids in my family, is that you have a 50/50 shot.  I adopted my father’s atheism, but my brother married a cute Catholic girl, and he converted.  But there’s really more to this story than just those simple facts, and my brother and I have both become skeptics, really.  In fact, I’d give him some credit for being more skeptical than I am.

The last time I spoke to Pete, we got into the religion thing, and he told me that when he was converting, there was some scene (forgive me if I’m not entirely familiar with how this whole conversion process works) where he had some kind of interview or conversation or something with a priest.  And the priest asked my brother, “Do you believe that angels and demons are competing for your soul here on earth?”  Pete replied:  “No way.  I don’t believe any of that stuff.  That would be polytheism.”

The priest said, “Well, God’s the main force.”  (Or um, something like that.  These are approximate quotes.)

Pete said, “Yeah, well, Odin was the father god and all the other gods were less than him, but that’s still polytheism.”

So okay, in my brother’s version of this story, the priest was dumbfounded by Pete’s clever retort.  You sort of picture the poor guy’s eyes popping out like in a cartoon, and then maybe he went home and stayed awake all night, thinking about how my brother just rocked his whole world view.

I doubt it really happened that way.  But the point is that Pete’s POV in this whole situation was the following:  God I can deal with.  I don’t know why, but I believe there’s a God, so I’m going with that.  It’s a complete leap of faith, and I know I can’t defend my position logically.  But all this other stuff?  Devils?  Angels? Talking snake?  Baloney.  But my wife wants to go to church, and since to me, it doesn’t really matter which church, fine, Catholic it is.

I could not disagree more with his position on this whole thing.  His “message not the messenger” stance just doesn’t wash with me, especially since he’s got three little boys.   I mean, the messenger hasn’t been too great for lots and lots of little boys (and girls) if you’re talking about Catholicism.  (Not to mention, the message itself is totally whack, IMO.)  And, yeah, I have issues with the idea that my nephews are being brought up in the Catholic Church.  Pete had the luxury of thinking the way he does and choosing his beliefs, but will my nephews?  Are they being brainwashed with ideas about hell and all kinds of other nonsense?  I hope at least they’re getting Pete’s outlook at home.

But still, I see my dad in Pete’s thought process.  He’s looking at the whole thing logically–sort of.  On some level.

And personality wise, Pete’s never cared about authority and/or rules.  I think since he was dyslexic and grew up having trouble with school and being told he was almost retarded, he developed a pretty keen suspicion of most hierarchies and authority figures.  On the other hand Julie, the straight A kid, grew up thinking that hard work and honesty and playing by the rules would win the day–a belief I’ve sadly learned not to trust as an adult.  Pete learned to read people but not take systems, organizations, or corporations too seriously.  So he can approach a big institution like the church and take it for what he thinks it’s worth.  Since he’s inherently cynical about all institutions at a base level, he can join one without fear that it will disappoint.  He knows it will disappoint, and that won’t turn out to be a shock for him.  But my tendency to hold all people accountable to do exactly what they say makes it nearly impossible for me to join groups of any kind.  The slightest whiff of hypocrisy, and I’m pissed.  Because my expectations of people are high, groups of people will always be tough for me.  For a while I practiced Buddhism, and honestly I kinda miss meditating.  But my biggest problem with it?  Other Buddhists.  (More on this another time, maybe.  And yes, I know I could meditate without Buddhism, but did I mention I have a two-year-old?)

After that priest story, the conversation turned to homeopathy.  I was talking to Pete about my latest obsession, placentophagia.  (That link leads to Amy Tuteur’s take down on this subject, which is characteristically blunt.)  The latest trend on my mommy support board is to pay a woman to come to your house, after you give birth.  This woman dries out, grinds up, and encapsulates your placenta, so you can eat it.

Yes, so you can eat it.  That is what I said.  Without hard evidence (beyond testimonials), the claim here is that eating your placenta helps with post partum depression…and a bunch of other stuff.  AND, you can get a homeopathic tincture made from your placenta as well.  Because what’s even better than a useless cure?  Oh, a useless cure made out of water.

Pete’s take on this:  “Parents believe weird sh!!.  But man, that homeopathy stuff?  As soon as I first heard about that, I was like NO WAY.  Whenever people start talking about the medical establishment and how there’s some conspiracy to keep some natural cure quiet, I know they’re full of crap.”

I remember taking oscillococcinum in college.  I didn’t ask what homeopathy was.  I just thought, like so many people do, “Natural equals good.”  And even though I was a vegetarian at the time, I swallowed duck liver pills to help my flu symptoms.  (But I guess I can rest easy, since there is not even one molecule of duck liver or heart left in the finished product.)

Later in life, I found out what homeopathy was all about, and after my initial, “WTF? Really?” reaction, I came over to this side of things, where I can’t even believe that it is legal.

“Score one for you,” I told my brother.  “I didn’t really catch on to the homeopathy thing for a while.  I guess you are more of a skeptic than me.”

And he said something that, of course, we all know:  “Weird beliefs are not limited to the religious.”

Whenever we asked our parents about God and religion, the answer was always that we would be able to choose when we got older.  I went with friends to church and Sunday school.  I dated people of different faiths.  (These are the only memories that make me wish I owned a time machine, actually.  I would like to go back to 2004 and tell myself:  “Do not go home with your boyfriend to his Evangelical family Christmas in Tennessee.  The anthropological experience will not be worth it, and also, you will not get laid on this trip.”)  And we both chose our own beliefs, and we both came to them with a pretty skeptical outlook.

Make of that what you will.  We’ll see what happens with our own kids.



  1. Your brother is an example why I’m raising my kids atheists. If they grow up and decide to join a superstitious, anti-gay organization that supports pedophiles I will at least know that I made a good faith (sorry for the pun)effort to prevent it.

    • Andrew, I hear you. I will be very sad if my kid joins a church to make his wife happy. But at least my brother hasn’t all the way swallowed the Kool Aid. He calls himself a “cafeteria Catholic.” He takes what he’s interested in and leaves the rest.

  2. About the placenta thing: Most animals I know of eat the placenta after birth (anyone know about other apes?). I suppose the main reason is to deter predators; but perhaps a bit of protein can’t hurt the mother. But for it to do more than that… just nutty.

    I know this will sound really weird, but after my daughter’s birth, I recall having the strangest desire to lick her off. A little mammalian reflex? I’d had a c-section and couldn’t hold her until they closed me up, so they cleaned her up and I could nuzzle her all I wanted.

    Our modern human sensibilities do make this all seem strange, but if a woman wants to eat her baby’s placenta, go for it. But to claim it does anything special is crazy until some studies are done. And paying someone to prepare it is crazy.

    • Lynn, I am working on a post about this, and it seems like from what I’ve learned so far, among primates, it’s not consistent behavior to eat the placenta.

      I agree that if a person wants to eat it, it probably won’t hurt them. As usual, the problem is that there are people making a living by claiming unproven benefits, which is just not ethical. (And it bothers me that friends of mine fall for this stuff.)

      • Me too.

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