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Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,714 ratings  ·  220 reviews
Foreword by Michael Shermer, Ph.D.

Contributors include Richard Dawkins, Penn Jillette, Julia Sweeney, and Dr. Donald B. Ardell

It's hard enough to live a secular life in a religious world. And bringing up children without religious influence can be even more daunting. Despite the difficulties, a large and growing number of parents are choosing to raise their kids without re
Paperback, 290 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by AMACOM/American Management Association
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Books Ring Mah Bell
Oct 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all parents
Recommended to Books Ring Mah Bell by: Allah
When I was in a college childhood psychology class, the subject of teaching children morals came up. My professor basically said that's what church is for, how else can you teach kids about right and wrong unless those rules come from a higher power. Frozen with disbelief, I was unable to call "bullshit" or express my toughts at all. Here I was, a young woman who was not raised in a church and somehow managed to not murder anyone, steal, or behave like a jerk in general. I also found time to vol ...more
Dec 26, 2009 rated it liked it
I was not exactly the right audience for this book, not being an atheist. But it filled a definite gap for me, being a parent who does not feel comfortable raising my child in an organized religion. As one who is neither "religious" or "atheist" I am part of a growing segment of society who checks off "Other" when queried about religious belief. This was always a non issue for me in the past. Most of my closest friends are secular. My family is hands off about matters religious. And, as an adult ...more
Obscuranta Hideypants
Oct 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Y'all Atheists
Shelves: readandloved
Parenting Beyond Belief is made up of a wide variety of views. The common thread is parenthood, with a mostly-common thread being atheism. So far my favourite essay is by Julia Sweeney (of SNL fame) about her daughter and their discussions on faith as it relates to Big Things like death. Her honesty with her daughter, and her frank writing style are warm and engaging. It is interesting to see not only what she says to her daughter ("what happens when we die?" "Frankly, darling, we decompose.") b ...more
Jan 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: A/A parents, friends and family of A/A parents; parents in a "mixed religion" marriage
Shelves: parenting, nonfiction, own
This is a phenomenal book. It is at once inspirational, educational, humorous, and enlightening. I read it straight through in the first two days I had it, and I've gone back to re-read many of the essays over and over again. I think this is going to be one of those books in my library that will be dog-eared and have notes in the margins.

I grew up and spent most of my adult life in regions where Christianity is not just "the norm," but if you are anything BUT a Christian (let alone identifying y
May 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
This book was not a page turner, but the information it contains is important enought to slog/skim(?) through the whole thing.

I'm often interested in religious debate and anecdotes from people who knew all they needed to know about God when they were six or ten or fifteen. Granted, I can't remember ever believing in God, but I do feel that I take time to consider the option and the facts and other people's feelings on the matter. I'm curious about how they got there, but the curiosity doesn't se
Kurt Pankau
Ugh. This suffered badly from anthology bloat. Too much fluff went in to fill out the page count, for my taste. Now, buried in there was some brilliant stuff: a list of notable atheists/agnostics/deists set to the tune of "I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General", or a poignant piece on the history of discrimination within the Boy Scouts of America, and one of the keenest observations I've ever come across about the difference between conservatives and liberals*. And, speaking as someone w ...more
Jul 24, 2008 rated it liked it
I didn't think that I needed a guidebook for raising kids with no religion - because that seems to suggest it is a difficult or unnatural thing to do. However, I read every other kind of parenting book, so I gave it a shot, and enjoyed it. I think anyone, even "spiritual" people, will get plenty out of this. Unless you're the sort of person who will answer "because God said so", (basically ducking the question with a non-answer), when your kids ask difficult questions, then you might find some o ...more
Nov 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I was skeptical of the value of this book -- my secular parents did fine without it, for example, as my brother and I are ethical, caring people. But I heard an interview with McGowan on the radio and was so impressed by what he had to say that I ran out and bought the book. What an incredible resource! From Richard Dawkin's loving letter to his little daughter, to handling questions about death, to the admonitions to raise secular kids to be religiously literate (do read the Bible to them) and ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Happy to have found this resource and the author's blog "The Meming of Life" - it encourages me to find such thoughtful authors as McGowan, as well as other thoughtful humanist/atheist/non-believers/skeptics such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Phil Plait. Although I am not comfortable pasting a particular label on myself, this book and several passages in the author's blog have made me comfortable "coming out" as a non-believer and minority and as a parent - putting a face on a minority that others ...more
Mar 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a good book, on a wide variety of topics relating to religion and children. In fact, it's quite worth reading even if you haven't got/don't want children. It's a mind-sharpening task, trying to distill the essence of your ideas to something a child could understand, and explaining things with the weight of responsibility upon you (small kids, unlike college students, believe everything you say).

Like any eclectic collection, there are less successful moments. In the middle of an otherwise
Feb 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
There are so many books out there on how to raise your child using Christian values. In a world that is growing more secular by the day, this book is helpful and refreshing. It reinforces the fact that you don't need religion to be a good person, or to raise moral and kind-hearted children. It is not a novel, or a list of how-to's. It is a collection of essays by humanist authors grouped together in difference topics- morals, education, and even death. I found it inspiring that so many educated ...more
Apr 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Any open minded individual, interested in this topic
Not just for parents...
I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of essays on nontheist education and lifestyle. While this book is geared toward parents, and certainly useful for them, I found it highly useful on an individual level as well to think about these issues. I really appreciated the additional resources provided at the end of each chapter, this allows you to take your own pursuit of these ideas much deeper than is allowed in individual essays. Most of the resources also include a note on
Legacy Dad
Nov 11, 2009 rated it liked it
I am a Christian "freethinking" father and read this book to simply better understand how atheist parents might raise their children. What I found is that although I do not agree with the various authors beliefs, I often parent my children in the same ways.

I teach my children to question religion and to read and learn about all religions .

I don’t force my beliefs on my children; I expose them to it and let them make their own decisions based on my example.

I also teach morals based on what is r
Jun 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Honestly, I can't say how glad I am that a book like this exists. It's the only book I've seen of its kind, and I don't know how they could have possibly written it better. The book accomplishes what it sets out to do very well in my opinion. Even from a non-parenting point, I can say I would be excited for my parents to read this book, at least so they can get a better idea of where I'm coming from in my beliefs. As explained in the introduction, this book contains a wide range of ideas and opi ...more
Dec 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
I dig this book. For those of us who were raised with a heavy religious influence (which influenced us to be moral, to religion's credit) but are choosing to raise children without religion, this is a Godsend. (Ha ha)

I was honestly clueless, I'm ashamed to say, about how to raise our kids to have the same morals we were raised with. This book really opened my mind up to all the possibilities, options, and hope for moral, freethinking kids. The essays are from a very wide variety of authors with
Apr 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Though I'm not an atheist, I find I have a lot in common with this thoughtful, deliberate, compassionate group of people doing their best to raise ethical, caring kids. Do I value critical thinking? Yes. Do I think people are capable of doing great good for one another? Yes. Do I stand in awe of the wonders of this world and the achievements of science? Yes! So skip the belligerent Penn Jillette and concentrate on Dale McGowan and Julia Sweeney. Together, we'll do our best to help our kids ask g ...more
Oct 30, 2016 rated it liked it
The lack of respect for parenting with religion in several of the essays was off-putting. Some of the authors seemed to think themselves superior for being so "enlightened" compared to their religious counterparts which was gross. But there were many really interesting essays that approached the topic respectfully and gave me a lot to think about. Whether we choose to parent with religion or not I think our children are better off being taught to do good because it's the right thing to do rather ...more
Sep 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this. It provided a wide variety of opinions and offered up a bunch of different ideas and experiences. As a freethinking mom, I've been kind of feeling my way along in a seriously christian culture and trying to feel okay about not indoctrinating my girls into that culture. This book helped me feel like other people are out there feeling their way around, thinking hard about this subject, and making bold decisions too..even if I didn't agree with all their decisions. ...more
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough good things about this book. The editor has done a beautiful job of pulling together many disparate ideas into a "story" of parenting ethical, loving, supported, well-rounded children from a secular point of view. There is refreshing humor, practical advice, many questions, and beautiful examples of what has and hasn't worked for other families. I loved the perspective on education and respect of children throughout the book. ...more
Dec 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
This is a book of essays by parents who share their experiences of child-rearing trying to bring their kids up with good values but without religion. I felt that many of the authors were trying too hard to work against what they perceived religion was all about, when in reality, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim parents have many of the same issues that these parents have.
Jackie Lee
May 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Umm, all my reviews have a theme today. I found a lot about this book very encouraging. Of course, with my luck, one of my kids will become a televangelist. But all I can do is explain my world view and let the chips fall where they may.
Nov 09, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up
I was hoping this book would give pointers about how to raise a kid to be ethical without religion. I gave up on it because it's more a series of personal essays about how people gave up on religion and passed that on to their kids. This book is a waste of time. I gave it to Goodwill. ...more
April (The Steadfast Reader)
Not a bad collection of essays. I'll admit that it's a rough start. Julia Sweeney's essay is placed first and came off a bit grating.

Other than that, there is a wealth of extra resources for secular parents.

Worth picking up and rifling through.
Mar 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book of essays is a great resource for parents wanting to raise children who do the right thing when no one is looking----without the threat of eternal damnation!
Aug 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Offers a lot of great examples on how to handle life in a theistic society, even when you aren't. ...more
Tamara York
Nov 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The format of this book is more a collection of essays than a typical nonfiction book. I found some sections and essays more helpful than others. I did mark quite a few quotes and resources to reference later. I am looking forward to reading the second book which seems more concrete suggestions.
Douglas Lord
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Secularist Dale McGowanMcGowan (Calling Bernadette's Bluff) collected essays from some of contemporary secularism’s big names (e.g., Richard Dawkins, Margaret Downey) in support of those nonreligious American parents who seek to “articulate values, celebrate rites of passage, find consolation, and make meaning” sans religion. “‘Secular,’ writes contributor Ed BucknerEd Buckner “means ‘not based on religion,’ it doesn’t mean ‘hostile to religion.’” Though a few entries do evidence such anger or r ...more
Jan 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: parenting
More an idea sourcebook than a "this is how you should do things" manual -- which makes sense, as I suspect many of us non-religious folk wouldn't, by credo or by temperament, be particularly into that sort of thing. Several dozen essays are grouped into chapters by theme - "Holidays and Celebrations," "On Being and Doing Good," "Wondering and Questioning" - each with a list of additional sources at the end. Viewpoints all along the non-religious spectrum are represented, from the somewhat aggre ...more
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent guide for parents who are raising children in a secular home. I really enjoyed the Personal Reflections chapter where I read several essays from real parents who are raising their children without religion and what that looks like for different families.

Some of my favorite topics that were discussed in the book were the following:
Raising religiously literate children
Morality and evil
Seven Secular Virtues-humility, empathy, courage, honesty, openness, generosity, and gratit
Jun 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book highlights something I have always thought--teaching your children WHAT to think is child abuse. Teaching them HOW to think is what all good parents should do. Do not indoctrinate your children. Do not force your religion down their throat. Teach them about the various religions and ways of life, teach them how to think critically (and if you can't think critically, perhaps it would be best if you do not procreate), teach them about evidence and science and literature, and let them mak ...more
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DALE McGOWAN, Ph.D., is a committed atheist, a devoted husband and father, and a recognized expert on raising caring, ethical children without religion. He is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, a collection of essays by and for loving, thoughtful nonreligious parents hailed by Newsweek as “a compelling read,” and Raising Freethinkers, the first comprehensive resource addressing the unique chal ...more

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The term “microhistory” is a relatively new designation that refers to nonfiction history books that focus in on a single event, person, or...
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“ hope is that whatever it is you decide to believe about whatever subject, you have thought through carefully each of those beliefs and at least tried to make sure that they are your beliefs and not those of your parents. It matters less to me what your specific beliefs are than that you have carefully arrived at your beliefs through reason and evidence and thoughtful reflection.” 7 likes
“That churchgoers do the lion's share of the charitable work in our communities is simply untrue. They get credit for it because they do a better job of tying the good works they do to their creed. But according to a 1998 study, 82% of volunteerism by churchgoers falls under the rubric of "church maintenance" activities -- volunteerism entirely within, and for the benefit of, the church building and immediate church community. As a result of this siphoning of volunteer energy into the care and feeding of churches themselves, most of the volunteering that happens out in the larger community -- from AIDS hospices to food shelves to international aid workers to those feeding the hungry and housing the homeless and caring for the elderly -- comes from the category of "unchurched" volunteers.” 5 likes
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