Field of Science

Parenting Beyond Belief

Since I have not posted for awhile, I'll follow through on a promise made in March. Here is my review of Parenting Beyond Belief that was published in the Iowa Secularists newsletter in April. I'll point out that the author/editor, Dale McGowan (pictured at left), has an interesting blog called The Meming of Life.

This I don’t believe: a parenting guide for us

A review of Parenting Beyond Belief. On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion, by Dale McGowan (Editor) AMACOM/American Management Association (April 30, 2007)

A search of for books containing the word “parenting” in their title yields ~4000 hits. This sounds like a huge number, but for those of you with kids, it’s probably not terribly surprising. Parenting books are a major market. A quick browse through the titles reveals both general parenting guides and some very specific categories (Nighttime Parenting, Financial Parenting, Militant (?!) Parenting, You-Name-It Parenting…). Indeed, a considerable fraction of these books are focused on religious parenting of various flavors (for example, 87 titles contained “christian parenting”)—and this presumably excludes other parenting guides available only in religious bookstores.

If you have kids, you probably have at least a few—and possibly many—parenting books. In my home, we have no less than 24 such books; for us, that’s 12 per child! But none of these books are aimed at a significant part of our demographic: we are non-believers. With the impending publication in late April 2007 of
Parenting Beyond Belief (herein, PBB) we—and many of you—will no longer be left behind. Depending on how you feel about parenting books, you may or may not consider this good news. But now you won’t have the excuse that none of them are aimed at secularist (atheist, freethinking, etc.) parents.

The PBB website ( touts that this book is “for loving and thoughtful parents who wish to raise their children without religion. There are scores of books available for religious parents. Now there's one for the rest of us.” Ok, so what if someone found an untapped niche in the parenting genre…is the book any good? The quick answer: it’s a really good, and in some places great, little book.

PBB is a collection of essays from a variety of authors on a wide range of parenting topics. Most pieces tackle issues specific to non-belief parenting but many also deal with more general topics. The editor, Dale McGowan, a writer, educator, husband and parent of three, has pulled off the difficult task of weaving together diverse parts into a very cohesive whole. It sure helps that most of these parts (the individual essays) are simply terrific! PBB is broken into nine topical chapters. For each chapter, McGowan provides a brief, but clear, introduction and synthesis; then he lets the contributors’ pieces stand on their own. Most of them do so with flair.

You can either read PBB from cover-to-cover, or pick-and-choose based on your topic of interest. If you do the latter, don’t skip the first chapter “Personal Reflections”. In my view, McGowan started with the strongest material—it simply blows away the standard parenting book drivel and sets a great tone for the rest of book. The essays by Julia Sweeney and Penn Jillette are truly wonderful. I really enjoy Penn’s no-holds-barred-style:
“Those of us who are out of the closet atheist parents have all the extra time on Sunday mornings to love our kids…Tell your kids that there’s no god and be done with it...your kids aren’t stupid.”
But this approach may not be for everyone and, to balance things out, some of the essays are more circumspect. I am also really pleased to see that a favorite essay from Richard Dawkins is included here. “Good And Bad Reasons For Believing” is an open letter that Dawkins wrote to his 10-year-old daughter on the nature of evidence and belief (reprinted from A Devil's Chaplain). I am moved every time I read it.

PBB is not only an interesting and enjoyable read, it is also stuffed full with good information and pointers to other sources. Each chapter ends with “Additional Resources” that includes websites, books and other helpful information. But it doesn’t even end there. On the website
you’ll find a useful study guide available for free download. The reader is advised that “the study guide – like the book itself – is intended only as a starting point”. So don’t wait to get started.

© John M. Logsdon, Jr., Ph.D.

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