Parenting for wonder – balancing aetheism and magic while parenting

November 10, 2012

This is something that’s been on my mind for a while. Trigger warning for non-belief and some possible lack of curtsey to religion.

When my buddy Shawn suggested we both write about atheism and parenting I agreed. His post is over at

I’m an atheist, meaning I don’t believe in God-with-a-capital-G. I probably don’t believe in any god actually. Nor do I believe in goddesses for that matter.

A consequence of being an atheist means I feel uncomfortable when people behave as if their belief in their God is a guaranteed fact and that I am just kinda ignorant/stupid/unlucky/dammed for not believing what they do. (For really good reasons not to believe, check out this video.)

Fortunately I live in a country and place which is not fundamentalist and I am usually able to live my merry heretic life without fear of condemnation. Occasionally I am in situations where I am invited and due to social norms, required to participate in a prayer. Although this is more often a karakia (Maori invocation, not always religious).

And in truth, I don’t mind participating in the activity of contemplating the same words of wisdom as the people around me. In fact, I quite enjoy group activity like that. I used to sing in a church choir, because I like to sing.

But I can’t stand the type of prayers which sound like creepy love letters to God and his supposed kid. You know the ones. (Oh God, your spirit is upon me. Let your love oh Jesus oh lord, fill me up, yaddi yaddi yadda.)

Most religious people I know are not pushy, in fact none of them are. I respect differences of opinion. And even though I disagree with some of the beliefs of my religious friends, I also disagree with some of the beliefs of my atheist friends. Both groups can be lovely and charitable and intolerant from time to time.

So yeah, I don’t believe in god.

But there are times when I wish I did. There are definitely times when, as a parent, I wish I could reach into a basket of belief and use faith to explain things to my kids. For example, when someone dies, it would be so nice if I could tell the kids that the deceased is now in heaven, with other loved ones, in the arms of an all-loving father-figure.

There are other times when my kids ask hard questions about the world and I wish that I could use a faith-based answer. Having the catch-all ‘it’s God’s will’ as a reason for anything is probably pretty convenient.

But, to me, that’s almost lazy. Its harder to explain a complex scientific event in language a 6 year old will understand. Infinitely more honest often is just a simple: ‘Don’t know’ often followed by ‘ask your dad’ or ‘let’s look it up’.

But there is another context where I almost miss having a belief in a God/Goddess/whatever-deity. I think that religion, or perhaps more accurately, faith, can communicate a sense of mystery and wonder which is delightful. The idea that there is an all-powerful being that can make things happen is a form of magical thinking from where I sit.

And I want to believe in magic. I wish that I could believe in magic and fairies and elves and little goblins down the bottom of the garden.

But I don’t believe in that either.

In the end, I believe in science and that everything can be explained (even if I don’t know how) without needing to point to a white dude on a cloud or a pixie with a wand.

But magic… well, magic is just so magical. Now that I have kids, I very much enjoy spinning tales of dragons and giants and talking animals. Does this mean I am filling my kids with stories the same way that people of religious faith fill their children’s head with stories of God and angels?

I think it’s different and here is why.

Some time ago, AB asked us about god. And we explained what we believe and explained that other people believe other things. AB scolded us saying that God will be upset that we don’t believe. Now I’ve got no idea where she got this from. Perhaps a friend at school. Certainly not from us.

I can’t tell you how angry it made me though. My daughter doesn’t know the first thing about god or religion, but I’ll be damned, she’s already picked up on guilt. Guilt is a tool too often used to manipulate people.  Worldvision is a good example how how guilt can be used to get people to donate money to a variety of causes.

And pixies don’t do that.

Unless you count the Peter Pan clapping trick to bring back Fairies after you’ve said you don’t believe in them.

So I think its safe to encourage magical thinking in my children because it’s not guilt-laden. I suppose there are quite a few religions that don’t focus on the guilt, but that whole dying-on-the-cross-for-our-sins bit, is pretty harsh.



2 Responses to “Parenting for wonder – balancing aetheism and magic while parenting”

  1. A agree about magical thinking, but there is enough wonder and amazement in science for any kid … I need to get better at showing my kids that type of magic. Nice post!

    • Yes, completely agree with you both, and very nicely put. We all want to sheild our children from a painful reality but this was why humanity turned to religion in the first place. I also would like to tell my kids that our bunny is hopping around in heaven but I don’t want to explain what happened to all the people in Jerico or what Abraham’s faith meant he was prepared to do. We don’t need wish thinking, there is plenty of wonder in the natural world and we are better off taking our kids to the museum than to church. I just posted similarly about my doubts on this subject

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