A renaissance gal passionista and her amazing family.

Since coming out as an atheist, I’ve only had a few people ask (and not always directly) how I determine what is moral without a higher power guiding me.

by Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard

Easily… and without the guilt.

I grew up in a somewhat religious family. Though, out of the three siblings, only one of us (Eldest Male, duh) was baptized as a baby…you know, for good luck with carrying on the family name. If my parents truly did  believe, then that’s like a big middle finger to the other two of us – still carrying around our original sin. Pffffft!

Suddenly, in 6th grade I was sent to private school. This was never really explained to me – why, suddenly we had to go to private school, when I knew my parents couldn’t afford it. This was apparent by the almost daily fights about money, the “No you can’t have that we are broke” retorts, and the work study I had to do to offset the tuition that my parents couldn’t afford. I digress. The summer before 6th grade I had to take a catechism class to learn all about the church and God and Jesus. Then, after I passed all of that I could be baptized and receive first communion.

It was during this summer that I learned of the hellfire and damnation that would accompany me unless I was a good little girl who never made any mistakes and stopped asking questions that “weren’t appropriate”. I could never understand why loving God at HOME on Sunday was a sin, especially since he was always with me.

Growing up in private school with religion class, praying for everything, and the inability to ask critical thinking questions of said religion, I felt – and eventually believed – the guilt so pushed upon me. I believed that I was a direct reflection of my parents and what I wanted from life wasn’t as important as filling this mold already made for me. Oozing out of the mold meant I was a “sinner” and a “disappointment”.

Despite what I learned from so many years of “being God’s child,” I graduated from high school, left for the Air Force and chose to have my dog tags read “NO REL PREF” meaning No Religious Preference. I knew from that point on, I was a former Catholic. It’s been a long journey from NO REL PREF to Atheist and Secular Humanist in 14 years.

The hardest part is un-wiring the GUILT.

It still tries to poke its horrible little head out – trying to guilt me back into those thoughts of inferiority.

That, my friends, is how indoctrination works. Scaring little kids (who don’t have the mental capacity or maturity to decipher what THEY believe) with a supernatural being and his comic-book worthy arch nemesis, “Be good or go to Hell!”

Why can’t we just teach kids (everyone) to make the right choices, be kind, and honest because it’s good for ALL OF HUMANITY – present and future?

If an adult needs a supernatural being to keep them in line – actually needs it – then they are being good for the wrong reason thereby taking the moral quality away.

If an adult truly believes that without this supernatural being they would go around murdering, raping, and enslaving – then they should seek professional help.

By Jeffrey Weston - Ape, Not Monkey comic strip

Let the record show that, although I don’t believe in the existence in any supernatural beings, I absolutely EDUCATE my children on the religions of the world – and of course, philosophies.

Also, my children will decide for themselves if they believe in a supernatural being. I cannot and will not make that decision for them. My job is to give them the tools, resources and knowledge for them to make their own decision. As a child of religion – I was not given that opportunity. At the beginning of my 6th grade year I told my parents that I did not want to go to private school. My mother told me that after 1 year, if I didn’t like it, I could go to the local public school. A year passed and I told them I still wanted to go to public school – motion denied! End. Of. Story. I had no choices, no say in the matter – but was falsely told I would… same goes for church. Sure ask questions… make sure you have strong faith— those were the words coming from the mouths of church members, teachers – but those most certainly were NOT their actions or the “read between the lines” mentality/message.

It took some time… and lots of research… to realize that values do not come from religion. If you think about it, religion kind of just repackages morality. It  markets its specific morality as  “One,” “True,” and “From God” so that we don’t question it and realize that these values are subjective.  People are the ones who determine what is right and wrong. The leaders in the churches tweak and adjust the “One,” “True,” “From God” morality to fit societal needs. The Bible endorses murder, slavery, rape and the  selling of children however, modern society does not endorse these things, because these things are immoral. So… being good without god is not only possible, it happens even within religion.

For years I’ve held onto a few key words in my values list. And since I anticipate more questions as to how I can possibly hold myself back from murdering, raping and enslaving those around me, I’ve compiled a list (not limited to) of what morals/values we hold in our family and hope to instill in our children:

honesty – with yourself and others

respect  – for yourself and others

courage – to stand up for your beliefs after careful consideration and critical- thinking

kindness – to yourself and others

good citizenship – to improve the world in the present and the future

personal responsibility – if you falter, accept it, make amends and learn from it

critical thinking – form your own opinions based on research, analysis and evaluation

compassion – sympathizing with others and wanting to alleviate their pain

integrity – doing what is right, even if no one would ever find out

Giving my children the tools to live a rich and purpose-filled life, drawing on values that stem from a desire to make the world in which we live a better place is the same as all parents (who actually parent).  We believe in teaching morals, ethics, and values which help our children grow into integrity-filled, responsible, intelligent, kind members of society – which is better for society in the present and the future. But when I educate them, their consequences deal with this world, the reality in which we live and not on supernatural or after-life consequences.

… Maybe there is an after-life – passing on our values to future generations in the hopes that one day many people will live and promote universal morality based on the commonality of human nature.


Comments on: "A Teachable Moment in Secular Values" (17)

  1. Kudos from a fellow former-Catholic on a great article (saw your post on the secular homeschooling elist)! 🙂

    • Thanks! I will have to get some tips from your blog on growing a garden. This is our second year…. although we have things growing, we could certainly do better.

  2. Thanks for speaking up! I am also a former catholic (but with one foot still stuck inside the catholic door) I am always amazed and excited to find brave and outspoken secular homeschoolers out there! I can’t say I am a faithful blog reader, but LOVE your posts, especially the letter to the principal! I wish I had that 2 years ago when I took my son out of ps to homeschool! I found you through secular homeschoolers. Thanks again and take care! You are not alone!!

    • Thank you so much for your wonderful comment 🙂 I agree that finding secular homeschoolers is exciting! People look at me strangely when I tell them we’ve decided to homeschool bc we aren’t (obviously) doing it for religious reasons. I think I am more off put by the people who think that I can’t teach my kids – “Once they reach certain high school classes, how are you ever going to teach them those subjects, like math and science?” Or my fave.” How will they learn to socialize?” Not that it matters much because I’m lucky to have a husband, ex-husband and his family, and an inquisitive mind to help find all the resources we need 🙂 If you have any tips – by all means feel free to share! I can never have too much info. Thanks so much for your kind words – it’s much appreciated 🙂

  3. Shannon, your blog is very inspiring 🙂 and I went to the same catholic school as you and everything you have written is indeed correct. I went through catholic school from preschool thru eight grade. I have since fallen out of church and none of my children are in catholic school or apart of any one religion. I have instilled a similiar list of values as yours for my children. I too look back and felt we had to do everthing the way it was told of us and yes, we could ask questions but, our thoughts and ideas were not allowed. It was all one sided. I still believe in God but, in my own way. One of the things that has bothered me since leaving the church is that we had to confess our sins to a priest to ask forgiveness from God. I never agreed with that and every time we had to do confessions I would cringe. To me it felt like a punishment. I believe that yes I and people DO make mistakes we are human and we live and learn from those depending on the people we truly are. That is what God sees. We will not go to HELL if we dont go to confession lol! And, I just want to say you are proof of a great person of who YOU have become. NOT because of your upbringing in the catholic religion. Religion does not define the person we truly are inside. Thank you Shannon for such a great blog once again. I enjoy reading them! And glad you are happy and wish more people were like you! YOu have a great family and beautiful children ! Good luck with Homeschooling ! Kristy

    • Thanks, Kristy. I appreciate you reading 🙂 Confession was wretched! It never made any sense logically – then again, nothing every made sense, logically. We are very excited about homeschooling – it will be an adventure of epic proportions 🙂

  4. Love it! Saw it on the secularhomeschool list and thought I’d take a look. You are absolutely spot on. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Very inspirational post! I, too, come from a very close-minded community of people that I escaped from. You are totally spot on with all that you wrote!

  6. […] recently shared two of my blog posts/articles with the St. Charles Patch.  A Teachable Moment In Secular Values and Welcome National Atheist […]

  7. while i am religious (unitarian) i do see your list of values as wonderful, and i also believe they should be instilled as character traits/qualities/values apart and separate from religion. for me, religion is a conduit to a rich spiritual life- not morals or values. this concept is hard to explain to most religious people.
    great post! i enjoyed reading it…

  8. Great post! I followed you over from SecularHomeschool as well. I can relate having been raised Catholic and having gone to Catholic school and now finding secular humanism. I have been asked about teaching values without religion, and honestly the first time I was utterly confused by the question. I just didn’t get what they didn’t get – to me, being a person with ethics is wholly separate from religion. After all, in my experience there are plenty of “religious” folks who are not necessarily ethical! Anyway, great post and thanks for sharing – your blog looks great and I am looking forward to looking over previous posts.

  9. I’m enjoying your blog very much! I recently posted about ethics and atheism on my blog. Check it out if you get a moment: http://taytayhser.blogspot.com/
    I recently started following your blog!

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