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Using a chrysalis instead of a crucifix

This article first appeared April 30 on the “Just a Couple of Atheists” blog at and is reprinted with permission.

By Allison Hess

Allison Hess

The other day I snapped a picture of my 3-year-old daughter Arabella sitting in our office. It has been a joke between me and my husband that his little collection of Freethought Today newspapers makes it look like our office is actually an FFRF waiting room.

Well, I tweeted out the picture and the description, and one comment I received really stood out to me. “Hmmm. Something the religious might do; expose their children to only one way of thin

Arabella Hess sits next to a stack of Freethought Todays at the Hess household in Pittsburgh.

king & the literature supporting that. Sounds like indoctrination to me.”

I was surprised to see this response because I felt that it was clear my post was meant as a joke. Then I started thinking about the idea that simply exposing Arabella to nonreligious texts would be the same as indoctrination through daily teachings from a holy book. Even if Arabella was able to fully understand the content, I hardly think “FFRF defeats Gov. Abbott over Capitol nativity display” compares to “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods before me.”

If anything, the FFRF text would be beneficial, as it provided insight into the legal system and the Constitution of the United States. Even taking Arabella to an FFRF convention or making her a member of FFRF wouldn’t compare to the relationship between a church and its followers.

Clearly the comment was nonsense and yet the concept is something nonbelievers are often confronted with when the topic of secular parenting comes up.

Our society assumes that since many people were/are raised with religion, that a lack of religion leaves a void to be filled. I simply don’t see it this way. People have asked me many times how I will raise Arabella in an atheist family and I find the question to be ridiculous. I just don’t believe that someone is taught to be an atheist, but more that they are taught to follow God. People are not born with knowledge of a higher power so there isn’t anything to undo. Just like a Christian family would grow up skipping over all of history and traditions of Muslims, our secular family functions each day just like everyone else, except no restrictions from God.

Instead of nightly prayers, we have nightly books. Right now, we read and discuss bugs, planets, maps and dinosaurs. Instead of a crucifix, she is learning about a chrysalis . . . and guess what, she sleeps soundly through the night.

As the earlier Twitter comment shows, it was suggested that as atheists we could be exposing our daughter to just one way of thinking, but that isn’t the case in our household. Rich and I have a huge library of books covering nearly every perspective you could want.

Though she may be years away from comparing the The Purpose Driven Life and Life Driven Purpose (by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker), we also have a range of children’s books. Right there on her bedroom bookshelf sit I Found a Dead Bird, The Book of Myths and The Golden Book of God and I am happy to read all of them to her.

See, unlike children raised in religious families, Arabella will have the chance to openly explore what various belief systems exist and why people find them to be true. We can hope that, by teaching her critical thinking skills, she will be able to understand the flaws that come with organized religions.

At the same time, I will not ever fault her for exploring and will gladly help her research any topic she finds interesting. I have no doubt that if she has a bunch of Christian friends, she will eventually ask if she can go to a youth group meeting. The answer will be yes, as I do not believe in sheltering children from religion. I would simply use it as a chance to discuss the logic behind why we do not believe in God so that she can approach it knowing it is based on theory and not fact.

One of my favorite things about living a secular life is there are no limitations on what interests I can hold and what activities I can enjoy. I am thankful to be able to speak for myself, to treat people as I wish to be treated and to learn the natural consequence of life choices. As Arabella gets older, I look forward to watching her enjoy this freedom as well.

I believe that secular parenting has an extra level of responsibility because, unlike believers who can write everything off as “God’s word” or “God’s will,” you are the one who is providing the knowledge and the skills to use it. Having the opportunity to teach my child kindness, love, dignity and respect without adding in God’s piece of the pie is a true honor for this mom.

FFRF Members Allison and Richard Hess live in Pittsburgh with their daughter.

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