It seems that many religious people assume incorrectly that religion has the monopoly on family values? We live in a pluralistic society and as such people’s values will clash. Fundamentalist believers in particular have to learn that they cannot censor someone else’s values or culture because those values offend their rigid fundamentalist value system and sensibilities. This is especially true with regards to parenting.
I have observed two distinct views of parenting. The first view is the predominantly fundamentalist religious view, which over the last thirty or forty years has trickled into the mainstream of most American homes. That view is that a parent’s job is to protect a child from the evil and sinful world. In this view, all undesirable thoughts, images, sounds, and ideas must be censored or hidden because they may corrupt children and “warp their fragile little minds.”
This is now the dominant view of parenting in America and it preaches censorship above all else. This view creates a worldview dominated by fear which leads to paranoia. The common refrain of those who subscribe to this view is, “What if a child saw or hear that?” My response is usually something like this: “He or she would probably be bored.”
The problem with any kind of censorship is always the same, who then becomes the arbiter of what is safe for someone else’s children? Who watches questionable material only to determine if something is not family-value friendly? Right now fundamentalist religious people are attempting to set those standards for everyone.
On the other hand, there is another view on parenting. While this view is certainly not exclusive to atheists it is a view held primarily by atheists and people of reason. This view is one in which the job of parents is to guide their children through the world and teach them the critical thinking skills needed to decide for themselves what is appropriate and why. In this view, even undesirable cultural trends are viewed as learning experiences used to help shape a child’s view of right and wrong. Those things are conversation starters, and even children as young as three or four years of age are encouraged to think about the world they live in and to engage their minds.
These parents aren’t failing to make moral judgments on cultural values as many fundamentalist religious people often assert, rather they are teaching their children how to make moral judgments and cultural values privately. They aren’t presuming to have the monopoly on good taste or high-minded culture either.
Instead of telling children that they are not allowed to see a particular movie, these freethinking parents are instructing their children to make that determination for themselves. Many religious parents can’t imagine a child telling their friends that they don’t wanted to see a particular movie because they think it might not be appropriate for them. This would be a different kind of pride then a parent might have if the child told their friends that they weren’t allowed to see a particular movie. In this case, the child would probably end up seeing the forbidden movie anyway because it was forbidden.
It really does say something about a child’s character when they are allowed to see an inappropriate movie but choose not to see that movie because of their own value judgments and not those dogmatically imposed on them. This is the type of parenting that people of reason employ. It involves independent thinking and reasoning on the part of the child, not dogmatic commandments about what is permitted and what is sinful and forbidden.
Authoritative commands by a more powerful parent (or deity) are simply not as effective in building strong character in children and teaching critical thinking skills and inspiring individual decision making. “Thou shall not” type rules encourage defiance and a curiosity for the forbidden.
Keeping children in protective bubbles away from the world is just not an appealing parenting method for most atheists. We tend to prefer to act as teachers and guides for our children rather than an authoritative disciplinarian.
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