Editor’s Note: Last week’s guest column about teaching faith to children sparked a great response, in agreement and opposition. NYC Dads Group member Josh Kross offers his take on his parenting without God.
I teach my children to be grateful for the world without needing to find responsibility for it. We have a tremendous gift in the universe, and it doesn’t matter why. The universe is not for us or by us. The universe just is, and that is all the explanation we need.
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When he was 7, my oldest child walked out of his room and said, “You know those books I read? The ones with the Egyptian and Greek and other myths? How come so many of the stories are the same?”
“Why do you think?” I asked.
“Either all the different stories are by the same people, or they are just the kind of stories people like to hear,” he said.
The discussion went on. My son asked questions about why and how things are and I answered about the Big Bang, evolution and so on, trying to keep it simple and yet still challenge his mind to ask more questions — to challenge assumptions. Soon it became apparent this would be one of the prouder moments of my fatherhood experience.
He concluded right then, on his own, something that took me about 15 years longer to decide. My son became an atheist.
We are not a family without tradition. We are Jewish by ethnicity, and our family practices ritual and does certain things we believe bind us to our heritage. We talk about what stories mean and how it is important to remember where and who you come from. My children will have bar and bat mitzvahs as a sign of respect to this, but with an understanding that being grateful is enough in and of itself — knowing the world and the universe are a gift to us all without needing a reason for its existence.
A few years later, my son came home from public school with a story, one I frankly wouldn’t have believed had it not been corroborated. A child asked him if he believed in Jesus. My son said nope. When told that he would go to hell and meet the devil if he didn’t, my son replied “that’s OK, I don’t believe in him either.” I told my son he did well defending himself without denigrating the other child’s stance. He handled it with the skill of someone who respects others because they deserve respect even if they disagree.
My atheism does not mean I raise my kids without wonder, without respect for things greater than we are, or without morals. Heck, it doesn’t even mean I raise them with atheism. It means I raise my children to question how things work. To know that even if they don’t understand things, that things work how they work for a reason, even if it is a reason not evident to them. Not a reason that necessarily has thoughtful design in it, but that things happen and we can be happy or sad or angry or scared or anything else and that all of those are OK, regardless of why things happen.
A previous post on the City Dads Group blog posed the following question to the “unfaithed” like me and my son: “To whom do you give thanks?” I would like to answer that as follows.
I teach my children to be grateful for the world without needing to find responsibility. We have a tremendous gift in the universe, and it doesn’t matter why. The universe is not for us or by us. The universe just is, and that is all the explanation we need.
I teach my children to appreciate the beauty and magic that 14 billion years or so of post-Big Bang history has brought us to this point.
I teach my children they should be good, kind, sharing and loving (and almost all of the rest of the Boy Scout law) because those things are objectively positive.
I teach my children that all people need to be respected and have their place in the world. That the Golden Rule, Karma, Hammurabi’s code, or You Get What You Give, and everything else essentially get at one simple truth that no one needs god(s) to see:
If you want to be loved and cared for, if you know how you’d like the world to be and you act toward that outcome, and everyone wants and acts the same, we’ll all be better off regardless of what you do or don’t believe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josh Kross, an NYC Dads Group member, is an at-home dad to his three kids. He engineers and produces The Modern Dads Podcast and the critically acclaimed hip-hop podcast, The Cipher.