Question of the Week: January 28, 2015

Jan 27, 2015

Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children? How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids? Our favorite answer will receive a copy of An Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins.

Congratulations to Anne, for her answer to last week’s question. A copy of An Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins will be on its way to her soon.

Winner: Anne.

Runners-up: Keith, Eoin,


144 comments on “Question of the Week: January 28, 2015

  • It is true that exposure to religion create an moral atmosphere, but the way how religion ask us to be moral is rather childish. I can remember my Grandparents saying, “Don’t tell lies, Jesus would burn your lips”. Those days When i was a small boy, I took it serous. But later i found it was a fairy tale. same as the above experience even at present religions tell us to do moral deeds, by frighting us. They tells that we would have to suffer in afterlife, angels of heaven would punish us, or Satan is within us. But as Atheists, Rationalists, free-thinkers we convinced that those are fairy tales. so religions really make people moral by frighting them of tales. rational thinking, intelligence and everything of humans are ignored here.
    But as atheists we must not let our children to swim in dreams and fairylands. we must teach what is the reality. we can take life examples from people, even religious prophets or philosophers. this don’t make us blind followers of them. we can learn what is right and wrong, moral and immoral by learning there life.

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  • there is no other moral than the “religion” moral. atheist moral is just a version of christian moral.christian moral has the strict rules and boundaries (not talking about missconception) where following that you can expect some kind of reward. atheist saying that this is false moral because its based on “fear” and “selfish reasons”(reward in after life),but atheist moral doing the same thing with being on a “good voice”,and thats even more dangerous,because you only care aboute the peoples think of you while there isn”t a God that you should be afraid of.(Komunism,Stalin,Pol Pot etc).So atheist moral in children is just hopeing for the best if they inteligent,reasonable and living in good enviroment,but that doesnt work on poor,uneducated parts of the world,religion is much better,and thats not a coincidence!:)

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  • Religion teaches that morality is a matter of tradition and rules. It is like an alternate set of civil laws without enforcement. There need be no logic or principles behind them. They are merely the whim of a giant invisible bully in the sky.

    The problem with this is the traditional rule structure cannot adapt to new conditions. So adherents cannot grow through the generations in compassion or moral understanding.

    In contrast, a secular view of morality is based on principles, such as the golden rule, universality (same rules for you as for others), consistency. Everything is up for debate and revision, so the structure can gradually change over the generations.

    If religion held sway, we would still have slaves, be dragging gays behind trucks and stoning pregnant teens. Those reforms came by secular reason overriding tradition, even when the reformers were religious.

    Worship of tradition is just as much of a problem as worship of a deity in making people do crazy things. Consider the condor-bull fights in Peru, motivated by tradition, not religion.

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  • Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children? – No. Why would they?
    I would say that it does not help, but perhaps destroy a natural conditions of morality.

    “Wherever religion or superstition has perverted the conscience, you get very extraordinary notions of sin: … You get mortally serious rules about washing, sneezing, coughing, excreting, wearing hats, and so on”. (Joseph McCabe)

    How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids? – Sense of morality is based on emotions, and children absorb emotions and behavior of adults. If their parents are moral, than they will be.

    I do not like this division of morality. Religious people have kidnapped human morality which evolved naturally, and turned it into an unnatural one, … to inhuman rules. Religion is in general a deviation from the natural direction. So called religious moral must be always exposed as usurping.

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  • Natural morality comes through parenting in partnership with our children, to help them become more fully who they are and to love their life, their world and the people they share it with.

    If we listen and respond to our babies’ needs, they learn to keep trusting their instincts. If we let our toddlers cry and express anger safely (by not stepping in with all their wants or making them feel guilty) they will learn resilience and to see their place in the world more accurately.

    As their experiences and circle of friends widen they will naturally seek out interest and joy. If we help them to work out what is fair, we can let them choose for themselves when to be kind over and above what is fair, without making them feel guilty if they don’t make that choice. Because they are comfortable with themselves, they become empathetic and because they seek joyful experience with others they may choose to be kind as a means to increase joy all round. They won’t be giving out of a need to be good enough, and they won’t need to carry around a sense of resentment that others haven’t been as kind/good/giving, or as ‘moral’ as them. It will be genuine.

    When we can trust that our world has enough resources for us, that our voice will be heard, that we can cope with loss by having the full range of emotions to help us, and that ‘moral goodness’ is as simple as harmoniously and genuinely enjoying the delights of life with others, there seems no need for religious guidebooks.. indeed they most probably get in the way.

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  • What a great question. A few years back my brother and his wife, who are atheists, decided to send their son to the local Catholic school. They had been promised by the school that religion did not play a big part in school life and that really what was taught was not of a serious nature. Their son was not baptised and not brought up in any religious faith. He had never been purposely exposed to religion in any way. What they wanted was that he would make up his own mind regarding the world, universe and religion.
    Two weeks into school and their son came home one afternoon and did something wrong. His mother spoke to him regarding his behaviour and his response was “I know mama, if I do something wrong or tell lies then god wont love me and I could go to hell”. He was four years old, and exposed to religion for less than two weeks. This by the way was only three years ago. Needless to say he was removed from the school and sent to an Educate Together school where tolerance and understanding is taught.
    What is the point of my story? Simply religion is not the way to instil morality in our young people, or anyone for that matter. Exposure to religion warps young peoples views of what it is to be moral. It is taught through fear of the unknown. To be moral is to truly appreciate the world we live in and respecting each other. Religion does not do this and only does so though fear of hell or not being with god at the end.
    Being an atheist does not mean that you are any less moral than a religious person. However what it does mean is that being an atheist, your vision of the world and morality is not skewed by a biased view of the world through the religious lens.
    Morality, like everything else taught to our kids, is taught through action. I do believe that being religious does expose you to a morality, but in doing so they ignore it when it suits them. This is double standard and therefore is wholly unreligious in its own right. Many aspects of religious parenting is ironically double standard, biased and goes against some of the core teachings of religion. You can’t teach one thing to kids and do the opposite when it suits. This undermines the very notion of religious morality in the first place.
    I am not saying that atheist parents are much better but they are not, in many cases, teaching double standards when it comes to morality. What they are doing is teaching their children to ask questions and further their knowledge and understanding through questioning everything. It is not just believing one thing or a set of outdated commandments. Atheist parents teach their children that through appreciating the world of science and nature that we must respect each other and the planet. This is the key element that religion is missing.
    Fearing what will happen when you die means you do not respect what you have when you are alive. If you are religious you are preoccupied by death and what will happen eternally for ever more. How does this teach morality adequately? It does not. Religion is stagnant and fears change. Look at the whole issue of marriage equality. Because ancient religious scripture does not support it, future generations do not. This is a crazy way to think. Life, the world and the universe are in constant change. Religion does not keep up with this and you have an enormous amount of bigotry and outdated ideology. Look at the way women are represented predominately in religious scripture and in ‘religious’ society today. This is not moral, yet the major world religions stand by this type of dominance over women and marriage. This is why morality needs to be taken out of religion. Religion does not want to change, it wants to remain stagnant. In doing so religion is becoming less moral and more hateful of an ever changing society that we are living in. Therefore I do believe that atheist bring up their children in a more moral way than their religious counterparts.

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  • 7
    voiceofarabi says:

    I will try to make this short and into the point….

    Exposure to religions or atheism changes nothing in kids morality.. You only need to go back through history to confirm that….

    It has nothing to do with either…. it has everything to do with being human being… we are just animals, and confused animals at that (as we believe we are above the rest). So we will do everything other animals do, but we have the ability (via the 6 pounder in our head) to justify our actions.

    The questions should be… what do we have to do to better understand and deal with our human instincts….

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  • Family and society instill the moral codes; religion is just unwanted clutter, and sometimes outright dangerous. As society changes over time/generations, so the moral codes shift as well.

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  • You are totally wrong. Read the Bible or the Koran fully, don’t just pick the parts that may coincide to moral values that have been established in spite of religion. No one needs to be threatened to be moral people unless they have been corrupted by a religious upbringing or delusion. What makes you think poor, uneducated people lack moral standards? Setting a good example as parents and grown-ups and engaging in childrens life is the most effective way of raising children with high morals.

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  • nothing is more annoying than people who equate religion with morality. Doing “the right thing” to avoid a consequence or punishment is not a moral code at all! Think of the “born again” idea that they are forgiven if they ask forgiveness. Gives you carte Blanche basically, does it not?! We chhose to own our decisions and our mistakes, not pawn them off as “forgiven”.
    I teach my moral code, my values, to my children by how I live. I don’t write them down, like the 10 commandments, we just live them.
    We believe in the importance of education, so we have always had homework time set aside, volunteered to help the school, etc. We subscribe to Scientific American and Natl Geographic, we discuss articles in the news. We don’t kill and eat animals, that is part of OUR moral code, but extended family and friends eat meat, we do not judge, that is their choice. I have even told my kids that if they want to eat/try meat, they can. It is their choice to remain vegetarian perhaps because of the love of animals they have always shared with me, perhaps because they have such a strong sense of empathy. I even discuss health care decisions with them. My daughter is old enough for the HP.V vaccine. I explained to her my reasons for wanting her to have it but also asked for her opinion on it, since it is her body. I don’t think religious parents would seek their child’s input on such things. They seem to want to quash their free thought. Ok, so I rambled, but one does not need religion to be decent and moral.

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  • I think one would have to actually define what is meant by moral. Let us take it to mean that one treats others in a courteous, respectful and decent manner that one would also enjoy, the Golden Rule. Insofar as this sort of behaviour is promulgated by religions then they instil morality. However, this morality is mainly instilled by example, by the parents whether religious or atheist, acting as though this mattered. If so, the children, all things being equal will grow up with this morality at the centre of their characters.

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  • When I was a child, my, (non-religious) father read to me the wonderful story The Water Babies, by the Rev. Charles Kingsley, (ironically). Whilst it espouses many cultural prejudices of the time that we would now find routinely distasteful, it does though have a strong moral focus on the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ as embodied by the characters Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid.

    It is also – I believe, an affirmation of Darwinian natural selection. So rather apt in this setting.

    I learned, as a child – all I really needed to know about morals from that reading and the subsequent chats it inspired between myself and my father.

    Still as clear as a bell, more than 40 years later.

    Simply: treat others in the way you, yourself; would wish to be treated.

    It’s hardly a hard lesson to learn – though religions, lamentably; appear to be having great difficulty with the concept the world over.

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  • Teach your children how to think critically and provide them with an healthy dose of skepticism. That should take care of the dangers of religious indoctrination and the lure of pseudo-sciences. Show your children that, in the words of Matt Dillahunty, “we get our sense of morality from an understanding of reality, not from an assertion of authority”.

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  • If you teach your children to have a strong sense of empathy and you also teach them how to reason, with those two innate skills, the golden rule will fall into place as naturally as learning to walk.

    On the other hand, diminishing empathy is an unavoidable result of most religions. This gives those that desire power, a huge pool of people to pull from, that with just a little bit of propaganda, can be convinced to harm other people. When you succeed in teaching a population that you can discuss burning people alive, in the same sentence when talking about love, you can convince them to dehumanize anyone.

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  • So I take it you have stones a child to death for misbehaving or had you daughter have incest sex with you? If you have a daughter and she married ,did you stick your fingers in her vagina hours before the wedding to prove she is a virgin? How many goats did you get for her before giving her up to slavery? Have you killed your wife for looking at the alter? For looking at other men? Talking back? There are 613 laws in the Bible and all but two (killing and stealing) violate the US Constitution. Morals come from empathy not a got. It comes from people having to have to co exist together. The least religious countries in the world ,also are the most moral. 75% of the US is Christian and 80% of the US prison population is Christian. 20% of the US population is non religious and yet only .02% make up the US prison population. Take a history class. Communism is a state religion where the leader wants his people to believe he is a god or from a god. Christianity is killing hundreds of thousands of African in the 21st century. Tetanus is the number one killer in Africa. Christians are telling them not to get the life saving tetanus shot because it will make the sterile. AIDS is epidemic in Africa because Christians are tell them condoms are sins against god. Christians are telling them there drought is because of the “witch” that lives down the street and they are killing her. Christians are telling them that Ebola is God punishing them because of homosexuals so they are killing them. One Christian woman is the cause of the spread of Ebola because she told them God will cure you. When she died of it ,thousands came to her funeral and took the disease back to their villages. So again ,tell us how moral Christians and your God is?

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  • Of course, it’s all opinion based on observation but to me, a religion upbringing does not instill morals. It can instill a sense of moral superiority, an ability to see the world through a particular lens where you are in the most prefered position. What I mean is, when you see the world around you, you see it through the eyes of a “chosen” one. This allows you to make any type of determination about your world and believe it is the chosen view. All of us are programmed by our upbringing but not all of us believe that upbringing to be the “true” or “most moral” way. This allows for all types of mental gymnastics that can justify all types of horrible behavior.

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  • Morals aren’t religious, they are pan-human. This atheist parent taught moral attitudes by modelling them, and talking about them, and by “telling stories”. I purposely chose stories that demonstrated high moral values for our daily reading out loud. I did not know I would do this, when I embarked on parenting. But discovering that we had baby humans who needed shaping caused us to look for the methods and tools that would work. I’m not a psychologist or human development expert, just a behavioural biologist, but I found myself responding to what seemed to be a developmental need in our boys. Between the ages of 5 and 12 years (roughly), our boys seemed to need and respond to books about characters who modelled kindness, selflessness, honesty, respect for others, keeping commitments, and consideration for the community. Many children’s books helped along the way. The Brian Jacques Redwall series was a favorite, as well as the Hardy Boys books from the 60’s (not the 30s versions – racist, not the recent versions – people die). For this purpose a series of books, which use similar plots to continually re-teach important values, is perfect, especially when the kids are happy to read for themselves or listen to the same as an audio book. Our boys are in their 20s now; we still talk about morals and values when one of us has an issue to wrestle with. (By the way, I tried to hide my atheism from our kids, and tried to be open about religion, so that they could choose religion if they thought it would bring happiness into their lives. I finally was busted when our youngest, at about 10 years old, pinned me down with “what do YOU believe?” They seem to be very happy as moral non-believers.) As a result of this experience, I hypothesize, that “story telling” is a social technology created by humans for just this purpose. Similarly, I think group singing also may be a social technology created by humans to train social cohesion. If we are using “memes” rather than “genes” to pass on information, we need social technologies for the purpose: story telling and group singing (and dancing?) could be the mechanisms. And they’ve naught to do with religion.

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  • Morality does not stem from religion. Neither does it stem from “teachings” or “lessons” intentionally given by parents. Morality is constructed upon examples. And of course, the most relevant examples are those enacted by parents and significant rolemodels. Despite the religious, political or phylosophical inclination of parents, its what they do when confronted to everyday situations what instills a sense of morality in children. Nothing is more powerful to a child mind´s eye that what they see on a daily basis in their immediately close environment, despite what they are told, what they read, or what they are intentionally taught by any authority (parents included).

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  • We discuss ethics and morality in everyday situations that come up.

    For example, we don’t pick up money or lost property that we find. We put these items in a place where the owner, should she return looking for them, will be able to find them. I teach my sons that we know 2 things: 1) what is lost does not belong to us, 2) if the owner comes back they should be able to find their lost property. I don’t want my sons to believe that they can or should benefit from some one else’s misfortune.

    I also teach my sons to be kind and compassionate towards others and to stick up for children who are being picked on or bullied.

    The opportunities to teach children a good value system, a system of ethics does not depend on religion — just good people.

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  • 20
    sangfroid says:

    The best and shortest answer to the second part of this question is ‘by example’. In their everyday life parents should lead by example by questioning bad behaviour and praising good behaviour. Questioning bad behaviour isn’t criticizing it but asking the child to think about its implications on both the child and whoever was affected by it. Help the child to rationalize how a better approach would bring about a more positive result. Praising good behaviour obviously reinforces the behaviour and could include a discussion of why that behaviour was good.

    Exposure to religion is not necesarily bad as it is always best to ‘know thine enemy’ so to speak. However, it should be followed up by either asking or letting the child ask questions about what was ‘learned’ and then discussing it in a rational manner.

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  • First, it is important to remember that morals predate religion. Parents do not instill prefect morals into their children with religion and atheist parents do not keep morals from children with a lack of religon. Morals are naturally inherent in our species. There is obviously an argument here that not everyone is “good” and they must derive their “good” behavior from something and that bad people derive their evil from something. That “good” surely isn’t from an archaic book that has plenty of immoral actions within it. That “good” is naturally occurring within us based on need to survive and thrive as a species. That leaves pure evil only to those that suffer from mental illness, your psychopaths and sociopaths. The fine details of how we treat each other and what we consider as “moral” has obviously changed over time as we become more enlightened intellectually as a species. To that, I think it is important to separate peoples false, religious based morals with the true morals of our species. The lack of understanding on our part, coupled with harsh archaic beliefs about morals and religious right, has allowed our species to conduct itself in evil ways toward things we don’t understand, while classifying it as immoral. This is obvious from witch burnings of old, and sadly some today, to LGBT rights in today’s world. The fact is, the true morals of humans of: treating others good no matter sexual status or personal beliefs, not stealing, helping others, saving the planet, not killing others, all of this; these are all things normally sane people, those without religion for grounds to stand on to discriminate with, are things that we naturally want to express and accomplish as a species because it helps hold order within our societies. There is truly a evolutionary advantage and call for human decency. The fine details, like things that could be attributed early on due to our lack of a broader intelligence, are all things that should be brushed away now and understood as just that.

    As an atheist parent myself, teaching my child to be a “good” citizen and human is pretty basic really. I can teach great lessons with many books, opposed to using one book. I can show him the reality of our decisions and the impacts they have on others and society. I can teach him HOW to think, not WHAT to think, in order to provide him with the tools to make logical and rational choices. I teach him to question everything and love everyone. Besides the horrible outcome for logical, atheist parents that are great and do their best by chance having children with a mental illness, there is no reason they won’t raise children that are, arguably, MORE moral and good than those of religious parents. Remember, hatred, bigotry, racism, and illogical thought is taught, not inherent.

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  • I think many religious people tend to overthink this question. To me, and I’m guessing to most atheists, the answer is quite simple. Atheist parents can instill a sense of morality in their children simply by teaching them empathy, teaching them the golden rule (we know this doesn’t originate from the bible), and by doing good works for others. Of course the best way to teach this is by modeling these notions and behaviors…so parents should be consistently practicing what they are preaching. But now I’m seeing the flaw in the question because every parent (atheist or not) should be doing this…and many of them are! So I think the real question should be, why do (otherwise) good parents continue to waste their time on Sundays? They should give themselves credit for being good, moral parents in the first place and then get bonus points for not subjecting their children to hold beliefs in superstition, fictional stories, sin, guilt, and the like.

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  • Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children? Yes, problem is: Usually it’s created by dogmas without an explanation of why something is right or wrong. The result is a blind morality, if they don’t know why, they can say why not?

    How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids? I tend to think that morality should not be something that has to be instilled but guided and explained, leaving room for the children to develop their own sense of morality while understanding the reasons behind it.

    I apologize for my English.

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  • Morals are not “pan human,” universal nor even stable in time. What we consider “good” today might be considered “evil” tomorrow even when this determination is based on pure reason. Two atheists can very easily have different morals, and often do. We should be thankful that this is true because it keeps discussions alive and encourages us to keep asking questions.

    As an atheist parent, despite my best intentions, what I consider good or evil may be completely different from my child when he/she has come to his/her own conclusions. Giving your child the tools to make these decisions rationally is clearly a dear gift, and an excellent parental project. But, it is the tools, and not the moral rules that are most important to transmit. A focus on the importance of reason and empathy seems like a great place to start.

    An individual’s decision of what is moral is what he/she determines to be “good” or “evil.” Individuals living in different contexts have different needs and different social conditions require different social behaviors and state policies to live well. What a religious education risks stealing from a child is his/her ability or desire to ask him/herself the important philosophical questions which will allow him/her to determine what is right and what is wrong based on his/her own reasoning in his/her social context.

    A religious education mixed with a secular education is extremely valuable! The best atheist debates are won (in my opinion) by those who are best familiar with the religious literature. Having access to religion allows us to decode meaning in art, literature, architecture and philosophy, etc. Don’t be afraid of taking your child to church or putting them in Sunday school classes! Just make absolutely sure that you have an enriching discussion afterwards, and choose a church which is not radical in its pedagogical approach and open to questioning. They do exist (but not everywhere). Let’s give our children all sides of the story, and trust that they will come to the best conclusions for themselves. Let them determine their own morality. It might be different from ours. To do otherwise, as Dr. Dawkins said beautifully in the God Delusion, is child abuse.

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  • I think religious people think their religion helps them instill morality, but it is all externally motivated. They have certain rules “because God said so”, they should always do the right thing no matter who is around because “God is watching”, they should do all of this to “earn the reward of heaven.” We teach our children to do good things because it makes them a better person, someone they can be proud of being. We help other people because we care about them or, in the case of people we don’t know, we would want someone else to step up and do the same if it were for our loved ones. We are kind because we want others to be kind to us, so in turn they must prefer people be nice to them as well. We don’t lie, cheat, steal, or otherwise cause emotional or physical pain to others because we recognize that we wouldn’t want those things done to us or to those we love. We respect others as individuals just as deserving of proper treatment.

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  • 26
    Lorenzo says:

    Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children?

    No. It creates a world where one of the fables has the power to scare you at night and make you do weird things at day.

    How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids?

    By example, by teaching.
    By being respectful of the law and the rules of collective welfare, by being open minded, by buying good books, cartoons, toys to their children.
    By valuing culture and curiosity, by being enthusiastic of this life -the only one we have.
    By creating a nice family environment, where tasks are shared and teamwork is the way to do things…

    I could go on for thousands of characters, but I think you get the gist.

    Being religious doesn’t teach anything about parenting -it can do great damage, though.
    Being in touch with one’s own humanity does makes a good parent; you don’t need religion for that, you often need religion out of the way to achieve it.

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  • 27
    Christina says:

    Morality is a product of living in a social
    society-not a product of religion. While it’s true that religious people tend to strive for a moral life they are not the only ones capable of doing so. I don’t believe that exposure to religion creates a moral atmosphere for children. Rather, it comes from exposure to good people and good examples, whether those things are religious in their nature is moot.

    Religion has such a wide scope of influence. To say that all aspects of religion are “moral” is to gloss over many instances that most would think we’re wrong when viewed independently. If anyone other than God were to have ordered a man to kill his own son, seemingly for his own amusement, there is no way this would be interpreted as a moral act! But it’s our folly that some have mistaken this for morality just becaus it is under the guise of God’s grandeur. This is not the true meaning of morality.

    True morality comes at an individual level first, then a community level, and hopefully on a fully social, and global, level.

    Regardless of religion, we all have morality within us. We are all capable of knowing right from wrong. We are all examples for the offspring we encounter on a daily basis, whether it’s yours or a complete stranger’s, you are an example of how a human behaves, and it’s up to you to be negative or positive in life, let’s hope, being religious or secular, we all choose to be as positive as possible.
    (And of course there will always be sociopaths that throw a wrench into my lovely utopian dream, so let’s just leave them out of the equation for the sake of this discussion. )

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  • 28
    zzcanasta says:

    Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children?

    No, of course it doesn’t. I was brought up in a fairly strict RC family, went to RC schools, etc. My brothers and I were no more nor less moral than our neighbours, including the non-believers. As time went on I discovered that non-believers had a general tendency to be more compassionate, humane, forgiving and less hypocritical in their words and deeds than most of the believers I met.
    As a parent of two boys aged 15 and 11, I encouraged them to question what they were taught in school and decide if the answers they received seemed convincing. I also offered alternative explanations to counter the myths that were being peddled. I am happy that both of them are curious about religion but do not themselves subscribe to any religious beliefs and are happy to call themselves atheists. They are warm, friendly, intelligent children who have sound humanistic values, and do not carry the crippling sense of guilt that I was burdened with at their age. They seem to be better people for it.

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  • When parents “decide” their child is christian or muslim …. they will automatically indoctrinate their child, if only by planting questions in their child’s head like “why are we here”… , in order to force their own religiously motivated answer to the child. Atheist (and I write it with capital A only because it’s the first word of a new sentence ) parents will usually wait for the child to come up with these questions its self, to only then give a much less absolute answer usually. It is of course much easier to explain the story of creation (it will sound very plausible to a child), then it is to explain the theory of evolution and the big bang. Morals are answers to questions that appear on the way of life, they cannot be imposed like mathematics, they do not need to, no human is born evil.

    Here (in Belgium) parents decide what religion will be part of their children’s “religious education” in school. So schools are complicit of religious indoctrination on children. It is hard for me to understand that today this is still possible in a country like Belgium. Now catholic schools want more muslim teachers, of course this is again about attracting more children in order to get more funds from the government. (you have to go with the times and it’s god’s) But children should not be religiously indoctrinated, certainly not in schools (separation between church and state). Children are not allowed to vote neither, so why should they choose a religion? I hope things change soon, and children will be just children, respecting each other for what they really are, children. Schools should be stopped in participating in this manner. It’ is criminal, and in contradiction with nr. 18 of human rights.

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  • No, exposure to religion by parents does not help create a moral atmosphere for children because it creates a divine subjective and authoritative replacement for reason, logic and understanding. Additionally, it furthers an unreasonable stance on the subjective by making it unbreakable as to reward virtuous faith despite the seemingly mounting evidence to the contrary.

    Atheist parents instill a moral background through a basic understanding of reason, logic and understanding to align moral reality with evidence, open to change their minds and rewarding of the process of understanding rather than putting too much emphasis on the conclusion. How you know what you know is infinitely more useful, reliable and repeatable than what you know, and that understanding is never concluded by authority. Atheist parents challenge their children to question even their own parent’s beliefs, not to mention the beliefs of all others. When you know your knowledge claims will be challenged, you are forced to think more deeply, care more about the accuracy of you reasons, and the search to understand the validity and evidence to your counter argument, key to any moral code of society.

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  • I was left to my own devices, primarily because I gave my religious, military father absolute hell at a young age for his stance. I was fascinated with optics and Huygens by the age of 8. I’d been fascinated with the angular aspects of light. About the same time I found myself immersed in the writings of Newton. I loved the philosophical approach to reason in their writings and as a result, I was introduced to Socratic thought and skeptical thinking techniques.

    My morals were very, very strong at a young age. In addition, due largely in part to neglect on my parents behalf, I developed a strong sense of empathy.

    I developed into a diverse, non-linear thinker. My INTP traits came to the forefront but they came with the intense cross-wiring of an ADD personality.

    I went out of my way to teach myself anything and everything scientific at a very young age. And because I defended myself so vocally against the dogmatism in the household, I was able to grow as a free-thinking individual.

    I recall that many scientific minds throughout the ages, taught themselves how to think before they got to an age when people taught them what to think, and in some instances, like Newton, were able to continue to teach themselves about their surroundings. Most of Newton’s education was of his own making and he was quite possibly, the most diverse thinking scientist/mathematician the world has ever seen.

    On the other hand, Darwin was forced to squash his Socratic thinking for many years before moving away from religion; and his Socratic skills didn’t come to the forefront until mid-age. Darwin was an ill man, prior to the tragedy in his life; suffering from what many today might refer to as somatic illness, quite likely brought on by the dissonance of his Socratic thinking with his teachings in the priesthood.

    So, to get to the question, ” does the practice of religion bring about morality in the family unit?” I’d have to say no. This because, it is learning for ones-self the art of Socratic thinking, which in turn brings about reason and empathy and supplanting that with dogma, cripples the ability to reason; therefore, no empathy.

    And without Socratic reasoning abilities and empathy; there can be no morality.,,

    …only dogma, disguised as morality to protect the egos who choose to impose its stranglehold upon others.

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  • Religion does not have exclusive rights to Morality, although sometimes religions would have us believe otherwise. Morality should not be enforced by threat; this would be meaningless, and can lead to devout followers being devout by necessity (eg in public). Morality should be taught by example. Parents (I’m the proud father of 2 bouncing 6’2″ boys), should live by the motto of ‘Do what I Do’, not Do what I Say. I have a simple theory on morality: ‘Do unto others are you would have others do unto you’. This terminology may be plucked straight from The Good Book, but it doesn’t make me religious, it simply means that I agree with the sentiment expressed therein, along with others, such as Thou Shalt Not Kill. etc, etc.

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  • Do as I do is a useful starting building block. The inevitable “why” allows the parent to demonstrate the benefits of a moral ACTION to both the subject and the object of the morally based action. eg Feed the dog enables me to give sustenance and to feel good because the pleasure the dog has in eating. etc etc.

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  • I agree that exposure to religion creates an atmosphere of moral for children, either by fear or extreme devotion, but it is difficult to know when these grouped rules can be defined as true morality. Each religion has a specific set of right and wrong and in the intimacy of a family, for example, we can find even more specificity. Perhaps it is correct to say that someone created by a religious family is exposed to morality with more fervor than one created by an atheistic family, but we should also have in mind that they might also be exposed to prejudice and oppression disguised as false morality.

    Atheistic parents can instill a moral sense in their children in several ways, as basing on religious fundamentals that are acceptable or even on predetermined rules in order to agree with society and public morals, the last one independent of religion. The fact is that regardless of belief, human beings have a sense of moral and raising children can be detached from any fear, respect or love for gods. The result of this creation is always added to the children’s own behavior.

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  • (not talking about missconception).religion is just exuse used by western world for slavering poor countries.commumism is pure atheism i lived there i know,there is no God no religion moral,there is alternative moral who is very twisted,everything seems fine till you breake the rules,then human life has no value,killing another human or milions of them(Stalin) is OK they just enemys of the sistem!there are no remorse,there is no God,no heaven whats the big deal!religion teach as to forgive there is no such a thing!

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  • I think children should learn to think critically about every aspect of their lives, and morality should not be an exception. What is good? What is wrong? Certainly, the answers to those questions will not be found in old books, but in everyday life experiences and our peers’ guidance, which both religious and non-religious people will provide their children. Have you ever seen anyone read from their bible when they teach toddlers to be gentle, or to share? It just makes evolutionary sense that we inherently know the basics of what is right and wrong.

    But why be good? Ah, now it gets more complicated. If you like it simple, then religion gives you an easy way out: be good if you want to go to heaven, and avoid being bad unless you want to end up in hell. As an atheist parent, this seems to me like threats more than education. I would rather teach my children that heaven is here and now, and that ‘being good’ is what will make it happen.

    I do not want my children to be blindly obedient to rules, as most religious parents will. I want them to understand the reasons behind rules, and I want them to fight for change if those rules do not make sense. Religions prefer that you do not question anything, and that seems to me like one sure way to condemn us to hell on earth instead of paradise.

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  • Exposure to religion does not help create a moral atmosphere for children. Parents and society help create a moral atmosphere for children. Religion teaches children the differences in people, and that those differences will be judged and punished in the end.
    Atheist parents can instil a sense of morality in their children by teaching children our similarities rather than the differences embraced by self serving religious doctrines.
    By teaching our children compassion, empathy, curiosity, and critical thinking to name a few , they will learn to make decisions and act in a moral way that benefits humanity, rather than a deity.

    (Rushed due to battery at 5%, sorry)

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  • “moral values that have been established in spite of religion.”why is wrong to have sex with the animals,doughters,sons etc.if there is a mutual agreement?or why not canibalism?who ever design us insert in us a instinct for breast feeding,inserts too a feeling thats not of these things are as feeling of something more too this world! anywhere in the world people performing some kind of religion!and thats not the “Delusion”! first comes the consciousness then the “delusion”. humans are not just the animals there is something more there! animals dont have that kind of consciousness! but we have,
    we are haveing moral dilemas animals dont!

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  • Stalin and communism aren’t atheists they are anti-theists because the theists stood in the way of them taking power. Stalin eventually endorsed the church as he realized he needed it to maintain control.

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  • I get the impression that in our society today there are many parents who are unable – and on the whole have no desire – to discern between right and wrong themselves, so I find it impossible to imagine how or why they’re likely to make any attempt to instil morality in their children. I fear that because there is now no generally-accepted ‘guide for living’ (other than, perhaps, the TV soap operas) those children will grow up in the same way as their parents, and the downward spiral continues. ‘Looking after number one’, ‘getting even’ and ‘bagging a bargain’ are the only rules some people live by, so what can we do about these people and their unfortunate children? Are those children likely to be able to lift themselves up by their own bootlaces?

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  • “Religion is opium for the masses”.they destroying churchs, killing priests.”There is no God!”Stalin endorsed church on his death bed!

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  • 43
    logicszz says:

    A direct answer to this question would be that evolution has built the sense of what we refer to as “morality” into us. It has always been in the species best interest to care for and help others. It is still true now. I can name at least a half dozen personal acquaintances that are religious but seem to have missed the morality boat when it left the dock. Hopefully evolution will eventually get near 100% and I would have no doubt that religion will have nothing to do with it.

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  • I find myself redirecting my child often about being kind and respectful. It is impossible for me to shield him from all of the toys and images that have a violent connotation. When it comes to play time he inevitably wants to role play with heavily armed space ships with the “good guy, bad guy” scenario. I like to test his logic and come up with creative ways for the characters to communicate and even hit on personal challenges he faces with other kids. It really turns into a great dialogue that seems to continue and evolve as he grows and reinforces his good nature while creating an openness about times he becomes frustrated and wants to lash out. I also let him do his thing even if it’s an epic battle between good and evil to save the planet…even though he know that my rapid fire guns are loaded with puppies that shoot out and lick your face off.

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  • The best way to teach children morality, is to create the example of their own involvement in an ongoing series of relationships. As the children grow and mature, they will see this supported everywhere they look, and inherent in their own natures. When a child discovers small insects going about their lives, the parent should talk to the insect in a way that shows respect and appreciation for the role the insect plays in it’s world..and how important each member of existence is. This may seem to be a form of religious expression at first glance, shamanism or animism, but if the parent is truly aware by intent, their own language will evolve as the child matures, to help the child’s understanding progress as it’s own awareness develops. As the child is encouraged to embrace the shared and overlapping roles that organisms share and create together, it becomes a very logical and indeed fluid conclusion to respect the path other life forms and beings take.

    This will of course extend to interpersonal relationships and considerations, as human development does follow a somewhat layered route of progress. It will just be natural for such a child, now grown, to seek choices that reflect this fact; that all beings depend on a tremendous amount of relationships and ties to many other beings and factors. Cruelty and deprivation could then only take the form of repressing such relationships and hampering the path towards full development, leaving all things disadvantaged.

    The grown adult will now view themselves as a subjective but integral part of the life they occupy, themselves now made up of thousands of relationships with many other beings, made possible by the benevolent forbearance of other aware and compassionate beings.

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  • Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere
    for children? How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in
    their kids?

    Sadly both of these questions only feed into the notion that religion itself is moral and a source of ethical value unlike the ethics of a given society.

    Decent parenting is the atmosphere in which children are most likely to thrive morally, ethically and otherwise. Morals are a results of coexistence in society, not some external (i.e. divine) force driving the idea of right vs wrong. It is why what is considered morals tends to shift as much as it does from culture to culture (even cultures with the same religions).

    Much like the use of words like faith and belief, religion tries to take ownership of morality despite it not originating with religion. Plenty of cultures before the Abrahamic faiths had ethical and moral concepts similar or superior to those espoused in the specific Abrahamic texts. And all of the Abrahamic faiths have equally reprehensible moral lessons to impart that either get glossed over or excused in most discussions.

    Additionally, morality was a necessity when forming cultures to start with. Agreeing to rules of coexistence was vital to tribes trying to survive. The process has been a long and imperfect one, and is still being developed. Our understanding of what is moral is indeed still growing as we learn to accept people and their differences, as well as what we cannot accept as a result of what is considered immoral.

    Atheist parents instill morals the same way all parents instill morals: through experience and the wisdom gathered from that experience.

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  • You don’t describe atheism when you describe Stalin, regardless of how you portray him. You describe a despot, a dictator prone to all the horrible things a dictator will do that is identified by many as being atheist (despite the fact that he set himself up as the sole authority thereby making himself a proverbial god to his subjects). So unless you can describe the corollary (an atheistic country that does not have a dictator or despot as a controlling force that falls to the same fate you describe) you are only coloring the idea of a secular government from a single, myopic perspective with no consideration for either what atheism is or what morals are.

    And morals are not divine, they are man made. We as a society make the important decisions concerning what is good and bad for that society. The variations of morals throughout the world bears this out. So not only is it not divine, it is far from perfect because we are constantly learning more and more as people what is moral for everyone.

    There are no perfect documents for moral guidance. The Abrahamic faiths are the direct results of the time in which they were written and the cultures from which they sprang. Attempting to insert verbatim what those books claim is moral has resulted in immoral acts still being endorsed and perpetrated to this day. And the people that have cast off many of the nastier aspects of the books are actually doing exactly what I’m explaining: they are learning and adapting to suit the society in which they live.

    So, you may not agree with morals being entirely separate from religion, but to assume that atheism is inherently immoral by using a single example of a despot as indicative of all atheists would be akin to me comparing all Christians to the Westboro Baptist Church, the Inquisition or all Muslims to Al Qaeda. It would be purposefully unrepresentative and only designed to divide the issue rather than rationally discuss it.

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  • Religious people worry that without their religion, there would be no foundation for morality. What is the morality their religions teach?

    Other people’s birth control is more your business than theirs.
    What other people do in bed is more your business than theirs.
    You, as a believer, count as a full human. Others do not.
    God wants you to kill gays and many others.
    It is your job to kill or make unmarried mothers as miserable as possible.
    Eating shrimp is very very wicked.
    You must keep people alive as long as possible, even against their will, because God enjoys their suffering. Pain is Jesus’s kisses.
    You have the right to take other people’s real estate if your God promised it to early adopters of your religion.
    Women and children are chattels who need to be beaten.
    It was a mistake to repeal slavery.

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  • Yes. You can’t say that it doesn’t help in someway, but that is beside the point. Those same parents minus the influence of religion would manage in creating moral atmospheres indistinguishable from ones derived from faith.
    The same way we’ve been doing it. We all know right from wrong. The intention should be directed toward showing through example how our children are thriving in this morally rich atmosphere which has been created by atheists.

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  • As someone raised without any religious influence but still with a strong sense of morality, I’m confident that morality is, if anything, inhibited by religion. Atheism is not nihilism and growing up I never felt for a moment as though my parents lacked joie de vivre.

    I implore parents to encourage their children to ask questions, especially the difficult questions, and to try to answer them honestly and rationally. Let them challenge you, don’t give them off-the-shelf answers or brush them off with your beliefs. Present everything to them, and let them consider what is meaningful to them. Encourage them to try new things, to be motivated by the parts of life that make them and others happy, to think critically and deeply about things and be okay with not always having an answer, and to aid in the betterment of society in whatever way they see fit simply because they are members of it. Appreciate their perspective on things even if you don’t always understand it.

    Religion, in my view, is averse to that experience of organic intellectual freedom and growth. It consists of precisely those one-stop answers to constant questions and those cognitive impositions and restrictions. For that reason I think even devoutly religious parents should necessarily refrain from teaching that religion to their children in exclusivity, and should instead offer them variety, give them a choice, and teach them to reason for themselves.

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  • You don’t need religion to teach morals to a child. In fact, most of the tenets of religion are amoral: child sacrifice, murder, and subjugation of women.

    My husband and I are atheists and here is what we believe you need to do to raise a child with morals.

    You start out with a strong desire to have a child. Whether you are going it alone, involved in a heterosexual or homosexual relationship, you make the decision with forethought, knowing that it won’t be easy, there will be trying times, but you know that it will be worth it.

    Next you add love. You long for that child before he/she is born. You prepare. If you are the woman having the child, you take care of yourself, eat properly, get medical care, and exercise. If you are the partner, you help out. You know that this is a stressful time with additional demands being made so you go the extra mile.

    The baby is born. And from that moment on you focus your efforts on providing the best you can for this infant. You give that infant as much attention as you can.

    When the child begins to play and smile and speak, you return with the attention that is appropriate: you laugh, you play with him/her, you chatter, you teach. And the first thing you teach is to love. You say it often. You mean it. You touch and hold that infant as much as you can. You would know his/her special smell and laughter anywhere.

    You keep the child safe. No, don’t touch the stove, no you can’t go outside alone, no you must stay with me in your stroller.

    And you teach. Here is our puppy. Stroke him gently. Here is grandmother. She loves you. Let’s read this book. What do you think of this story? What did you learn?

    And when the child is old enough to ask you the tough questions, you answer them. Why did Bobby hit me? Why do kids make fun of Jane? You take the time to explain. This is how some people act. But see how it hurts? Do you want to act like that? Let the child take time to come to answer no.

    Show by example. You can’t talk about love and being kind to others if you, yourself, are not the model to follow. Every relationship you have, every conversation the child hears you speak is recorded, recorded deep down in his/her brain. It takes a lot of effort to model morals, but you think back to your choice, why you had this child. And it’s not such a burden to bear.

    When the child is confronted by those who are religious, you explain that some people believe in God, but that no, you won’t go to hell if you don’t. You talk about the awe and mystery of this world we live in. You take a walk in nature. You talk about the plants, the animals, and the sky above. This world is special, you say, and we must treat it well.

    When the child grows up, you never lose touch. You are always there, to help, to answer questions, to listen. This is a lifetime choice you have made and it’s one of the most sublime in the universe.

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  • Implying that we need a religion for creating a moral atmosphere is like saying that without government there would not be any roads. So, basically when asking that without religion, who would build our morals, you misunderstand the causality. It is the mind and moral of a man that created the religion, and also the laws and the government.

    Morality is based on evolution, and it brings stability and security to our societies. We are build to disapprove behavior that is harmful, because accepting a behavior like that would be a threat to ourselves and to our closest ones. To our genes. We have the morality of a social gregarious animal that we are.

    Of course, morality can be taught and be guided to different directions. That is why we need peaceful, rational, and non-violent parenting. If you grow your dog with violent manners, it will be dangerous to let it roam freely as it might bite and be aggressive. Same goes with people. Non-peacefully parented children are those potentially aggressive dogs wondering in our society, when the ones raised peacefully, are the ones you can pet with no fear.

    Stop brainwashing people into thinking that some contradicted words of a religious book or an invisible daddy in the sky can justify harming or bossing others. Choose atheism.

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  • Sorry, just to add that my comment isn’t academic.. I took 4 years off work (I know I was lucky) to make sure our babies had their needs fully met, and that as toddlers they could express negative emotions without being made to stop (as they have to be in nursery with other kids all the time).

    We had fun and mess and noise, we had lots of nature and physical activity. 2 years ago we found out what everyone thought of our eldest son.. dozens of friends wrote the same thing.. that he was ‘the happiest, most genuine person they had ever met’ and that he was also the one they would go to for a cuddle and share their problems. We already knew that was true all his life.
    Teaching morality feels deeply unnecessary to me, when instead we can help them to become the genuine article.. their own big hearted selves.

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  • I think you might be in danger of being recruted to the ‘Grumpy old mens club’ Smithy. I would like to know a century a decade or even a week when the world was so perfect from which point the spiral downwards began?

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  • 56
    Lorenzo says:

    I don’t really have any data about how widespread the “super-ego atrophy” is, so I’m not going to comment on the extent of the phenomenon. I know it’s there, though, so let’s talk about it.
    I don’t really think that it has anything to do with the deflation of religiousness: things go wrong because people did not internalize the value of following rules -even self defined ones. But you see this even in places where morality isn’t the first thing that springs to mind, for example at pedestrian crossing, where the red light is systematically ignored. What’s missing in such a situation -and just about everywhere there’s a rule to follow- is an internal sense of limits strong enough to keep you from the mental equivalent of incontinence.

    So how do you get this sense of limits into children? One good way is to say “no” sometimes to their wishes of all the toys they can possibly see. You really don’t need menaces or violence to do that: just a bit of spine and endure the five minutes of whining and shouting and crying that will follow the refusal.

    But this has really nothing to do with the good book or whatever moral manual you can have. A moral manual -with the occasional hell sentence/lashes from your father with his belt- doesn’t make children moral: it makes them scared and it scars their psyche -scars that are bound to take a toll in their adulthood.

    How moral you are depends, in my opinion, form how good you are at following your own defined rules -rules which are derived, invariably, from your social context and the amount and quality of cultural stimuli you get. So… there you have it: you need to teach the sense of limits to your children by having it yourself and say “no” when it’s required and you grow their morality by selecting their toys, cartoons and books (etc) and, ultimately, by example.
    No hell, no lashes, no god needed here.

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  • 57
    Lorenzo says:

    The myth of the past golden age is largely due to the fact that good things are usually those that are remembered, while the sea gibberish and chaos into which those good things were swimming is willingly forgot…
    There’s a lot of good stuff going on right now, and there’s a lot of gibberish and chaos. The big difference is that we get it all unfiltered.

    You can think of it as the good book paradox: if you go into a library now, almost all of the books there are terrible rubbish and the very good one is an exception. But if you restrict your search to the books that were written even just a couple of decades ago, the probability to get a good one skyrockets. And if you look at books written centuries ago, you get almost exclusively good stuff. That doesn’t mean that once authors were considerably better, it just means that the bad ones have been long forgotten.

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  • Morality is nothing more than common sense. It is based on compassion, reciprocity and fairness. We should be moral because it is in the greater interest of everyone. Once people see their interest, the concept is easy to instil. We will get farther, faster if we are moral, not just a few ahead of the others, but far behind what might of been. Instil critical thinking and common sense, and morality is easy to teach. There’s an eastern saying that says “all that is not given is lost”. There’s is always a overall cost to taking, even if an individual might come out ahead. While giving and living morally makes everything and everyone prosper.

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  • I personally grew up in a very religious home, and as such my parents often tried to enforce that I shouldn’t “sin” so as to avoid eternal damnation. There was no other reasoning, just simply the fear of divine punishment. Morality shouldn’t be based on fear, or intimidation, it should be based on common sense and logic. Why wouldn’t I intentionally kill someone? Because I know that my life is the only thing that I can guarantee, the only thing I have, so why would I take someone else’s if that’s their only life also? For every negative action the easiest way to make the decision to choose the positive action is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, how would you react? A very simple ideology that’s been around a lot longer than any current religion.

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  • Reason with them.
    Teach them basic reciprocation – tell them how helping others can lead to the ability to ‘call in reinforcements’ when needed.
    Teach them why altruism is good – Be a nice guy and people like you.
    Teach them how pleasures sought from immoral means aren’t worth it and show then examples of people who’ve failed in life after resorting to such ways.
    Teach them to be moral in atheist-terms , they’re born atheist anyway ? 🙂
    I mean we base our cases against immorality on things like reciprocity(tit for tat) , and general proselytization of happiness , right ?
    Teach them about The Moral Landscape.

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  • Children should be exposed to religion because it is part of the cultural landscape in which they live and grow. Religious influences are around every corner, in language, history, traditions, and relationships. Equipping children with the knowledge and reason necessary to make a valuable contribution to society must include knowledge of religious history and practice, as well as the tools of reason needed to distinguish reality from fantasy. Through guided study of the history and development of the variety of religions practiced throughout human history, children can see that religion arises from the human desire to explain the unknown. Companion study of the history and development of modern science clearly shows that as we develop new ways of discovering what is actually true, the need for supernatural explanations diminishes.

    Atheist parents can instill a sense of morality in their children by teaching the common elements of historical religious beliefs and practices that support the survival of our species – those shown empirically to be pro-social. As science is subject to challenge and revision, morality is also a continuous process of self-reflection and reasoned revision. Armed with a deep understanding of history and the tools of reason, children will be good without God.

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  • We have a practical (mostly) law system to scare our children with and to give them all the moral guidance they need. I am afraid people are going off into the ether about how to instil morality into children that is almost on a par with religion. You do not pay for parking because it is moral. It has other ramifications of freeing up space for other shoppers and local residents etc….

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  • There’s an assumption implicit in the question that I think is worth noting: whether derived from religion or not, children benefit from–or perhaps require–the creation of a moral atmosphere. (Having two children myself, I would wholeheartedly agree with that assumption.)

    Every parent, then, is faced with the problem of what morals to teach. Clearly, religion can be helpful there; all the major religions I know come packaged with fairly clear instructions on that point, usually with helpful suggestions for pedagogy included.

    Atheist parents have a more difficult task; having rejected religious systems of morality, they must create that “atmosphere” without the benefit (or crutch) of a belief in some kind of transcendent moral law. Science, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be much help here, for although it may provide answers for some of the “big” questions–e.g. an understanding of the common ancestry of all life might lead to a rejection of most forms of racism or nationalism–it doesn’t seem to speak to the particulars of daily life. I happen to believe, for instance, that I have an obligation to treat my wife as an equal partner rather than an indentured servant, but I’d have a hard time proving the correctness of that belief scientifically; the same goes for my beliefs about the importance of honesty or the value of self-discipline.

    I can’t speak for others, but in my attempt to raise morally conscious children I find myself drawing on many different sources–science, philosophy, my own “gut,” and yes, even the Christian traditions of my own parents.

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  • We raised my daughter with the awareness that there were religions around us, and to respect other people’s religion as one would respect their style of clothing, that is, something that was personal to them and ridicule was not acceptable.

    What she showed us in her moral development was natural and profound. She said many times, “I’m sad about [what happened / might happen / probably will happen] to [ a stranger]. Think of what it would be like to be that person and experience that. Think of what it would be like to be that person’s mother and see that happen to her child. ” So my daughter learned to think in terms of what is good or bad for another person, even one we didn’t know, and the sense of morality that comes from that. How is that so different from traditional writers on morals, for instance Hillel the Elder?

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  • 66
    Lorenzo says:

    You do not pay for parking because it is moral.

    And you don’t get a ticket because you parked “immorally”. Morals don’t come into the business of parking your car, usually… unless you try to park on somebody, then it’s another kind of issue.
    By the same token, not every single law regulates an aspect of morality. Some do, some -many- others, don’t.

    On the other hand, paying your taxes has a moral connotation, since most of the times you don’t see any direct improvement of yours (or anybody’s) life by doing so, but you know that it’s right for every member of the Community to participate in its maintenance.

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  • The one thing it very hard to forgive my mother for was the fact that I was forced by her to attend Sunday School every week before I entered grade school. The stories I heard scared the crap out of me and to keep from being eaten by Satan I forced myself to believe a set of fairy tales. Aspects of this haunted me until I was in high school. I finally shed the last little bits of belief in magic/ afterlife while I was in college. Teaching religious subjects should not be left to ignorant, uneducated, middle aged housewives with nothing to do but teach a bunch of impressionable kids. In fact, kids should not be exposed to religious fantasies until they are old enough to filter the misinformation.

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  • Well, as you mention taxes Lorenzo, then I would argue that parking has the same moral ties as in the examples I gave in shoppers and residents. It is because of people not thinking of others and parking all day in a spot. It is a weak link I agree but just to make a point 😉

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  • Our minds are eager to explain rationally everything that happens to us. This seem to work for physical phenomena, but it does not (and cannot) work for morality. From the indivdual’s viewpoint, morality is not only non-rational, but plainly irrational (do we praise as moral a behavior that could be explained by cold rational calculus? if a rational robot would do it, do we call it moral? think about risking your own life to save a stranger from a burning house). It follows that any attempt at explaining rationally* the moral behavior** is doomed to fail.

    * By “explaining rationally” I mean “explaining how an individual would benefit from doing that”.

    ** By “moral behavior” I mean a behavior that cannot be explained by fear of punishment, or by the lure of some incentive (these being tantamount to how we train our dogs); I am referring here to “pure moral behavior”, which is spontaneous and not learned/trained.

    If any “moral system” attempting to base/build moral on rationality is wrong, then trying to teach our children morality using such a system is extremely dangerous: the young may be fooled once, when they don’t have enough experience, but sooner or later they will come to realize that the “moral system” taught to them is actually a fraud. For example, my 8 years old daughter had to write an essay about “Why should we tell the truth?”. What she was taught in school went on the lines of “If you tell a lie, then you will have to tell another lie to cover the first one, then another lie, and so on — soon you will have to juggle a huge networks of lies, which is so stressful… so you’d better just tell the truth”. This is obviously… a lie. It is a rational explanation (“Telling the truth is advantageous to you, so you should tell the truth”), but it is false. It might work for a few years, but an average Homo sapiens child will soon find that there are situations (actually plenty of them) when telling lies is not that stressful and comes with lots of advantages. When this rational explanation collapses, what is left in place? Nothing.

    The same goes for religious based morality: it is an attempt to explain morality rationally (“Doing this pleases your master, who will reward you; and doing that pisses off your master, so you’ll be punished; so, if you value your wellbeing, you’d better do this and not do that”). This explanation is harder to test (because the punishment/reward is said to come after one dies), but is nevertheless a rational explanation. Which cannot work, since morality is not rational. So we’d better not feed our children’s brains with wrong theories.

    The right way to teach morality is, in my opinion, to treat it similarly to aesthetics: we don’t try to explain to our kids logically why is that painting beautiful — but we admire it, applaud it with our children, we talk about how great a painting that is, about how much we value that kind of paintings and so on. We make them fell proud when they recognize or produce the desired type of paintings. We teach them to encourage their peers in doing so.

    The same should be done with morality. As the ancient Greeks did — they did not have rational theories of morality, but they simply valued and admired the moral virtues.

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  • 70
    Lorenzo says:

    The right way to teach morality is, in my opinion, to treat it similarly to aesthetics

    I agree with your conclusion, but I’m not sure I agree on how you reached it.
    I think you mean that morality cannot be explained by mere personal utility. And, if that is what you’re saying, I think you’re right. I’d say it’s even dangerous to explain it as mere personal utility. But that doesn’t mean that morality and its origin cannot be explained rationally or at all…

    But, again, putting morality in the same domain as aesthetics is, I think, very, very right indeed.
    The appreciation of beauty in what we can perceive is absolutely central to our existence as human beings.

    I think, in the same way we relate to morality: “good” moral values and virtues evoke in us very similar responses as beauty. I think this depends on how we are wired up as beings.

    However, intellect’s light should always shine: for centuries death at war was considered valiant and generally something to be praised. That is not acceptable any longer: death at war is just a repugnant waste of life.

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  • 71
    IamSparta says:

    tiger76 Jan 28, 2015 at 1:16 pm So I take it you have stones a child
    to death for misbehaving or had you daughter have incest sex with you?
    If you have a daughter and she married ,did you stick your fingers in
    her vagina hours before the wedding to prove she is a virgin? How many
    goats did you get for her before giving her up to slavery? Have you
    killed your wife for looking at the alter? For looking at other men?
    Talking back? There are 613 laws in the Bible and all but two (killing
    and stealing) violate the US Constitution.

    Yeah…I know a lot of Christians and I have never met anyone that passed down these teachings as morals. Even most irrational Christians would not follow these laws. This is a much broader argument in those that believe in an inerrant word of God but ignore these crazy words.

    This is an exaggerated response to the question above and your statement is filled with malice.

    tiger76 Jan 28, 2015 at 1:16 pm Morals come from empathy not a got

    I do however like this statement. Empathy indeed has a huge impact on morals.


    tiger76 Jan 28, 2015 at 1:16 pm 75% of the US is Christian and 80% of
    the US prison population is Christian. 20% of the US population is non
    religious and yet only .02% make up the US prison population.

    are you implying Christians cannot be empathetic. That is a bold statement indeed! I would agree the more empathy one has the better the chance one will be a moral human being. We can all agree that Christians enforcement of morals is legalistic and bullish, but at the core of the matter, Christians and Atheists can be equally moral. Heck you could win the whole argument by just saying empathy is a powerful emotion that breeds productive morals for our society.

    “Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children?” It absolutely can. As long as the human relationship and empathy is the priority and not a legalistic regime

    “How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids?” The same way. By helping our kids be empathetic to one another.

    The broader dilemma is the method being used not the morals.

    tiger76 Jan 28, 2015 at 1:16 pm Tetanus is the number one killer in
    Africa. Christians are telling them not to get the life saving tetanus
    shot because it will make the sterile. AIDS is epidemic in Africa
    because Christians are tell them condoms are sins against god.

    This is wrong and a very shallow discourse on these real problems in Africa. And tetanus is not the number one killer. I will sum up your statement in a question and you tell me if your answer sounds wholly true and not just a jaded generality. Are Christians responsible for the deaths in Africa? This is a very tired and poor argument that makes no other solution then to condemn Christianity.

    tiger76 Jan 28, 2015 at 1:16 pm Christians are telling them that
    Ebola is God punishing them because of homosexuals so they are killing

    Yes we get it. Fundamentalists can be out there. We don’t agree with their methods nor do we want them in our science room. I still think that many miss the forest from the trees in these arguments, making religion to blame and not the person. And while agree that many out there tend to get brainwashed this is true of all group mentalities. But all of your statements are getting off track.

    tiger76 Jan 28, 2015 at 1:16 pm One Christian woman is the cause of
    the spread of Ebola because she told them God will cure you. When she
    died of it ,thousands came to her funeral and took the disease back to
    their villages. So again ,tell us how moral Christians and your God

    You know there are so MANY ways that humanity has to pay for other’s self-ignorance. Your statement still does not address the issue. “Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children?” Yes it absolutely can by instilling empathy and not judgment.

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  • Exposure to the harm religion causes is the only exposure to religion a child needs in order to grow up with good morals and values. Discussions about religion expose bigotry, misogyny, racism and hate. Discussions about science and humanity nurture a love of beauty, curiosity, wonder and invention. It’s easy to help a child set their own moral compass an atheist parent!

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  • 74
    Steffen says:

    My morals, and subsequently my children’s morals, are based on “Do onto others as you would wish them to do onto you”. I want to dissect this a bit.
    -Firstly, it is based on trust. Trust that others have the same empathy for you as you have for them.
    -Secondly, it is not that simple. There is an element of threat implied, just as in religion, in that if you do ill, someone else will do ill upon you -there is consequence here that undermines the true morality.
    -Thirdly, what does it really matter in the great scheme of things if one minute sack of meat is treated ill? The only real answer is that I don’t know. Maybe there is a chance that this ill treated person, this unsignificant speck in the universe would make a real difference, and it’s not in my place to predict otherwise.

    In a video I saw on Youtube, Richard Dawkins was asked if he thought we would revert to “Survival of the fittest” if we put religious moral aside, and he replied that such a society would be undesirable.
    -I think this touches on a possible explanation for the origin of religion. In a time that was very much the survival of the fittest, where noone could be trusted not to kill you for the clothes on your back, the society needed to instill a fictious consequense in the minds of those around them.
    This does however not mean that no religious people have empathy. I suspect that the figures might be very much the same in believers and nonbelievers, just as I suspect that just as many nonbelievers are threatened into morality by consequence as the believers are.

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  • Previous comments largely say it all.
    “Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children?”
    Yes, any exposure to morals will help create a moral atmosphere, just as exposure to science will create a scientific atmosphere. The more morals one is exposed to, the better one can see which ones appeal to us. A common mistake is interpreting morality literally as the behaviour that is considered proper in ones community in order to favour harmony. This means that it’s ones community or society which dictates morality based on what if finds acceptable or unacceptable behaviour. We are all influenced by this. However, morality is not only a set of behaviours we adopt to function within the community, but also to feel at ease with whom we are. The best way to do that is to be exposed to as wide a variety of morals as possible.

    “How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids?” Well given the above posit, atheist parents, like religious ones, will automatically instill a sense of morality in their children just by interacting with others, by the positions they take and by the emotional investment they put in their convictions. Some say I have lead a moral life, as my whole career has been in humanitarian aid and development. Other may consider me immoral or even amoral because of my atheism. As a parent I have always thought it my prime duty to equip my children with the capacity to approach everything in life with an open mind and think things through as thoroughly as they can. In other words I tried to give them the tools to discover who they are and make their own decisions.

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  • 76
    Steffen says:

    I need to add something, because I see people claiming that religion actually inhibits morality, and it seems to me that this is on the increase, not least among my own peers. I have had this thought myself, but I have come to the position that it is imprecise.
    Religion construct provides consequence, just like laws or customs do, albeit of the fictional sort.
    Empathy, the purest form of morality that I know of, does not enter into this.
    However, any sort of construct, be it a religious community or an atheist one, a motorcycle gang or a footballsupporters club, ultimately runs the risk of devaluing and even dehumanizing outsiders. Keep this in mind, because I’m seeing hints that as less reflected individuals follow their peers and join the atheist “team”, the way the “other side” is referred to is harshening.

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  • Where religion can help introduce children to questions on morality, it has one fatal limitation.

    Telling children parables is a good way to introduce the concept of morality, but there are many parables and selecting from one source of literature is limiting in itself.

    As a neutered cat of xtian parants my experience is not much help but an atheist can use religious stories (among others I’d suggest) to give children a thought experiment where they can relate to someone else while thinking what is the right thing to do, so for example, the good samaritan is a great way of describibg a situation where the dilema is to cross cultural boundaries in order to do the right thing.

    The fatal limitation in religious morality however, is that it is attached to dogma, therefore there are no real dilema’s to consider, there is always a prescribed right and wrong. When a child reaches an age where they question what they’ve learned (which is usually very young), the assertion that the biblical account of what is “right” moves the focus away from putting oneself in another’s situation and onto a simple command.

    Atheist parents should help themselves to any religious stories they like, and many other folk tales or literature that they feel helps focus on the types of moral dilema they want to prepare their children for, but there must always be a caveat; these are just stories and no two situations are identical.

    Parables should be used to help learn how to think, not what to think. The good samaritan is a nice easy example, but could be made more tricky. what if that samaritan was hurrying to help two people in danger and stopping to tend to one might ensure the peril of the two? the bible can’t help, it has answers not questions. it’s position is if in doubt, just follow orders.

    Also we have to remember that most montheism is based on taboo culture. certain things are sinful with no explainaition of how that relates to morality. To instil such values in a child is dangerous. you might end up with a very polite, obedient, church-going, gun-toting psychopath who gets a shorter sentence because he professes to be frightened of an invisible man in court

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  • The belief that a child without a religious upbringing will have no moral sense is a misconception borne of generations of indoctrination and very difficult to shake despite the multitude of myths that have been dissolved by science over the centuries. This myth feeds very well into the insecurities of parents who are burdened with the task of raising the best possible offspring in a world full of unsavory influences, giving them what they perceive to be the best protection for their child even after they are ‘taken by God’. But what parents need to realize is that whatever is lost in never passing along the bits and pieces of morality written during the infancy of civilization, is more than found in the liberating experience of freedom of thought and discovery of the real world around them and within themselves. A child armed with critical thinking skills is a child that is going on to make a positive difference in the world because having those skills also arms them with self-confidence, self-awareness, self-discipline, and empathy, all of which emanate from a source within themselves and not an externally influenced delusion. Religion stifles that desire to learn and think critically by injecting it with fear, guilt, and nonsensical rules and boundaries mainly because the survival of religious institutions depends on maintaining an uneducated population and the best way to achieve this is through parents initiating the thought control process beginning at a very early age.
    By handing the raising of their child over to a belief system of ancient peoples who believed children were possessed by demons that needed to be whipped out of them (a belief still prevalent today), parents who depend on the guidance of an invisible entity to raise their child are reneging on their responsibility to be the thinking, guiding force for their child. The parent believes and instills the belief in the child that if he/she behaves a certain way, (most often denying sexuality), and prays/worships faithfully that he/she could avoid bad things from happening. This entire scenario does not quite pan out in a child’s simplistic view of the world because when bad things do happen he/she will deduce that the bad things happening are the result of their own bad thoughts (because God can read them) and bad actions (because God can see them) and embarks them upon an life long fear/guilt trip, repulsed by their own thoughts and sexuality.
    Subsequent to this, the child is not only missing a parent, but the force that is guiding the delusional parent becomes a constant psychological presence, controlling thought and movement, destroying the child’s self- esteem with a cycle of fear/guilt and self-loathing for daring to breach the boundaries of what is perfectly normal human behavior. The child feels confused and disconnected having never known his/her parent other than as a mediator for an invisible heavenly dictator who is going to decide whether or not they go to heaven or hell. This parental detachment and lack of response from the all-knowing and ever-present god who is supposed to be guiding the parents, creates separation anxiety, trust issues and a cycle of fear/guilt that snowballs into the teen years and well beyond.
    Atheist parents can actually BE the parents of their children, no need for a middle man/bully, providing the kind of guidance, teaching and unconditional love that produces educated, emotionally stable, confident and moral human beings.

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  • ” Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children? How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids? ”

    Exposure to religion or being atheist has nothing to do with deciding what is right or wrong, moral or unmoral, or fair and unfair. Children do not gain their morality from religion or not being exposed to such. They get it from their parents and the family, community, town, state, country, and world that they live in / on.

    Religion is something that we humans made so that we would feel ” not alone” in this universe, and that we have a purpose, to give hope that when we die we just don’t rot in the ground, but rather go to a place of happiness ( or hell for the wicked ).

    Religion and some of the teachings and stories are good, and can teach life’s lessons on right and wrong, but should not be taken literally !

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  • The answer to the first question is no. However, there is not a simple or straight-forward answer to the questions that are raised by the second part. The influence of religion or atheism on moral values can be both positive or negative, depending on which values are taught. Hate and violence are always very poor ways of comunication or reasoning. Judging on the hate mail Mr Dawkins receives, one could argue that religion does not have a positive influence on morals. But, this would be simplistic. It would be very interesting to research why this mail is being sent in the first place, but that’s another issue. There are a lot more variables besides religion or no relegion, which will influence the way childeren are being raised such as what kind of people the parents are, the environment in which they are being raised, education and so on… Teaching the right morals does not depend on whether or not one believes in a creator and the existence of a super-being is irrelevant. The rule ‘you shall not kill’ for example is a very simple one that most civilised people (religious or otherwise) would endorse. Thus, to conclude, any parent can teach good morals and standards by way of example, education (parents using good listening and teaching skills) and encourage their children to have a sense of curiosity and independence of thought thereby preserving their children’s natural ability to question everything for themselves, letting them make up their own minds on matters of philosophy and explore the wonders of science. This allows children to grow intellectually and reason independently, surely promising a bright future for both them and mankind!

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  • The need for parents to instill and shape a solid sense of morality in their children is paramount. There is little debate of the weighty influence that a parent has over his/her child. I would argue that the definition of what is “moral” is interpretive, but let us agree, for the purposes of this discussion, to categorize “morality” as altruistic behavior that is motivated and guided by empathy and compassion.

    True morality is independent of any religious tenant by nature – although most would agree that there are some truly “moral” tenants in the teachings of contemporary religions. I would further argue that the detrimental and caustic messages in many mainstream religions far outweigh anything good.

    Therefore, I would say that exposure to religion by parents cannot necessarily be said to provide a sense of morality – explicitly or implicitly. Teaching a child the virtues of Islam with the full intention of later teaching that child that homosexuality should be punished or leaving the faith is worthy of a death sentence is completely AMORAL. The same can be said (in essence) of Christianity or any other example one could use.

    This allows me to conclude that the only valid answer to the first question is a nebulous one: “Maybe, but I doubt it”.

    The second question is easy: By teaching honesty, compassion, tolerance and respect for others and one’s surroundings. Cue “The Golden Rule”.

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  • The Silver Rule has it; “Don’t do unto others what you would have them not do to you.”

    The Golden Rule has it; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    The Platinum Rule nails it properly; “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”

    (I suppose we need an Osmium rule; “Don’t do that. I’m not weird like you.”)

    When the kids got a little older it was time for them to understand that not only were we not made in anyone’s image, we were made with pretty sloppy manufacturing tolerances. This made life a bit of a slog, but actually brought huge rewards by having different people with different skills, ways of seeing things and ways of enjoying life. This made us hugely resilient and inventive as a society, but it meant that we had a duty to notice differentness. Not the solipsism of the Golden Rule but the greater effort of the Platinum was called for.

    Differentness, its virtues, and solipsism and its poisons are key to any real morality in a society. It has taken a few straggly bits of religion over 2000 years to recover from the solipsism of a monotheistic god making us in his image. The rest are still missing a moral trick.

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  • I think children do need exposure to some sort of clear moral structure both to help them make their own moral decisions and to understand the moral decisions made on their behalf by others. Both religion and atheism can provide that, but it depends very much on the parents/carers.

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  • Morality is not just a human trait, it’s one that spans across different species, for the purposes of social cohesion in an acceptable world that relies more on the merits of gaining acceptance and functioning in a group. If you define it with loose parameters, such as merely common-sense compassion and/or protecting one’s family and/or community, it can be expanded to encompass large or small groups of people with undefined social norms.

    Religion restricts that, by reducing the number of parameters that are acceptable, and have for centuries. Think of the morality of the Ten Commandments, for example. Four of them are solely about believing in God and making indirect threats as to what is not acceptable by God’s wishes . . . so nothing to do with morality, really . . . just the invisible being people later read in the same books as to what will be done if one does break the tenets of these commandments . . . and as anyone who’s read the Bible knows, they are often brutal and not intended as any metaphorical interpretation . . . one cannot pick and choose which law they follow, and which the don’t . . . Jesus himself had some strict words about that to the Pharisees. The New Testament nor the Qur’an truly contradict any of these, and Jesus focuses on expanding the laws for more people, but the Old Laws are clearly not done until its’ work is done . . . which, according to scripture, is not. Worth mentioning that although attempts have been made to create ‘New Covenant Theology’, it has no scripture backing it up, which is a criticism made by other theology experts, not Atheists.

    There are obvious rules and laws, such as ‘Thou shalt not kill’, ‘Not steal’, ‘Don’t lie to get your neighbour in trouble’ . . . pretty much covered by anyone in a handy way that doesn’t require the baggage of religion.

    However, we get into the ‘coveting’ part, and that gets into the ‘thought police’ area, which is hardly acceptable. Some theologians have argued that ‘covet’ was to be thought of as, and translated as ‘taking’, but that’s already covered by ‘Thou shalt not steal’. But here’s where the grey area takes over and messes the rules of engagement up. We all know that some religions, even if not especially Catholic, forbid divorce. So, what we have is a situation that (apart from trapping some poor woman in a relationship with an abusive man), will create a potential ‘Road To Hell’ for anyone who has divorced and remarried. Essentially, what you have done is broken two Commandments, in that ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife’, and ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ . . . since technically, you can’t be UN-married to your original spouse.

    But, apparently, religion in some nations decided to change that rule . . . somewhat like uploading a ‘patch’ for your computer’s operating system. Of course, modern law forced them to . . . but why sweat such details?

    Besides, Matthew did have in scripture that you can’t ‘covet’ a neighbour’s wife simply due to the fact that it’s like ‘taking her in your mind’, which in that instance, is ‘thought adultery’. This is where it gets pretty surreal and scary, because if your neighbour has a hot husband or wife, and you enjoy a few moments of checking her or him out, you’ve just committed a breach of the big Ten. Now, that’s getting into thought police territory, because not only should you not mess with someone else’s spouse (whether divorced or not, depending on the rules of one’s faith), you can’t even think about it. This is, apart from some OT forbidding of ‘spilling the seed’, and rules on how to clean yourself in order to be holy again after having something like a wet dream, for example . . . something perfectly normal . . . you have to feel bad about what your brain does with you at night, as an adolescent, without your conscious permission.

    Speaking of ‘coveting’, it brings us to the ‘. . . anything of your neighbour’s’ part of the forbidding. If your neighbour buys a truck or car you like, it’s actually perfectly legal and keeps people in jobs if you also go out and buy one yourself. Sure, don’t steal it . . . but that one’s already covered in the ‘Don’t steal’ part. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about wanting it. Or anything else that’s perfectly legal to own. What about sharing? Suppose your neighbour wants to let you use it, and you still ‘covet’ it? It might actually get some salesperson a commission. Or, it might make you decide that it’s not really all that great to use/drive/have, and find out that it’s too much work to have. How can you decide if you want something if you don’t at first covet it? If you live next door to a car dealership or a boat dealer, you might find yourself spending half your day in front of your personal shrine, and less time with your kids.

    Which brings me to the ‘Honour thy mother and thy father’ . . . that’s up to personal experience. Some don’t deserve to be honoured. Respect and honour is earned . . . it’s not automatic. Automatic ‘honouring’ is what allowed physical, sexual and verbal abuse to be so pervasive in society in the first place. But, I suspect that law’s in place to protect the ones that are about God, in that you automatically respect their word/teachings regardless of what they use to teach or control you at their whim with.

    These are just the ones they want displayed in front of schools, in front of courthouses, public buildings, etc. These aren’t the very detailed versions, and the problem with all these rules in the books, they have incredibly bad and even frightening language used in order to create ‘morality’. Let’s face it . . . even the more ‘Peace, Love and Flowers’ version still relies heavily on one doing ‘good’ in order to receive the love of a being you can’t even have a conversation with unless you’re heavily medicated. And, what happens when your child is in school with other children, or at the playground with others, and they find out that they won’t go to Heaven because they’re ‘not in the right religion’, or ‘don’t go to the right church’? It’s often a sentiment that travels well into adult life, as we’ve seen in the news, and in local fights over ‘morality’.

    Common-sense morality is easily taught over time, with patience and no false promises of any paradise or threats of hell that children may come to reject in the future anyway . . . which, in itself has led to families breaking apart due to trust being broken. Parents can easily create trust in repetitive, consistent teaching, learning to ‘let go and trust’ when it’s time, and being open and honest . . . even allowing them to experiment and attempt to ‘see what all the fuss is about’ with religion themselves. But giving them honest knowledge is key. One can still have fun with fantasy and wonder, and never damage them or create disillusionment that’s lasting.

    My wife and I managed to raise two self-professed Atheists, and they were allowed to go to church. They didn’t like it. They live full lives, are productive and creative, and in their twenties with no criminal records, no run-ins with police, no drugs, little to no alcohol. Both love animals . . . my daughter volunteered at animal rescue at the Vancouver Aquarium, and my son loves and wants to follow up with science (primarily physics), and both enjoy writing or reading fiction and fantasy based in science. There’s room for play, humour, and imagination in their lives . . . far more than they would have had if we were strict, ‘religiously moral’ parents that I’ve been witness to in the Bible Belt of Canada on the prairies.

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  • 85
    Matthew says:

    Morality comes from social structure. As social beings we learn empathy and sympathy quite quickly through being hurt or being treated unfairly. It comes to a point where we can simply use critical thinking and imagination to understand what actions likely would or wouldn’t hurt another person.

    Humans are not the only living creatures that maintain morals within a social structure. Dogs not only have their own moral social structure but they are also able (in a limited manner) to adopt human morality without being able to read holy texts or understand a sermon.

    While religious texts may have recorded suitable moral rules or lessons at the time of writing, those rules or lessons have since remained static through the centuries leading to the modern world. Today, religious morality is always a few steps behind secular ethics. It is plain to see the average attitude and teachings of Christianity and Islam in the year 1800 are so entirely far-removed from the teachings today, such that holy leaders must ignore or excuse entire sections of holy text that centuries ago would have been enforced to the letter.

    When it comes down to it, religion only leads to modern moral ideals if it is shaped and formed around modern society. Immoral teachings are “metaphors and myths” while moral teachings are “the words of god”. In this sense religion can be an effective tool to teach basic morality, but those who learn morality via religion are likely to be held back by the sense of finite and static moral standards imposed by such teachings.

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  • One aspect of religion which can help create a moral atmosphere for children is that, through it, they become part of an extended community. An experience of community is important in the development of a moral sense.

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  • 87
    IamSparta says:

    Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere
    for children? How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids?

    I read many responses and many talked about the unfortunate consequences of religious people ascribing consequences of immoral actions to an imaginary God and an imaginary punishment. The question is an if/then question and not an absolute. This is an obvious statement but important if the question can be honestly answered.

    The simple answer is yes and no. The SOLE responsibility for instilling morals to our kids is the parents. Not religion, not our schools, not scientists, not atheists. Not any other establishment, belief system, lack of belief system or outside influence. Exposure of any belief system, institution should not be the basis for our morals. If we do this the moral foundation then becomes intrinsically entwined with that belief system or lack of belief system. This can distort our moral perspective lens.

    Morals lie just outside of this and is rooted in the emotional state of mankind. The moral guidance must be from parents. All religions, beliefs, philosophies have very similar universal truths. The golden rule is the perfect example. Taught by many philosophies and religions. Morals are self evident. The mishap is the methods use to teach the consequences. The need to control those that “misbehave” outside of these morals by using an imaginary punishment being religions mishap. Religions methods to keep others inline is primitive, archaic and wildly counter productive. This being said religion as a philosophy can help teach a set of morals but the parents must teach natural consequences.

    The consequences for not being moral is self evident. This is where morals live. The community and our relationships with others. This is originally was the basis of righteousness. Simply that we would be kind and compassionate etc. towards one another. Along with well being towards others. This is empathy. We as parents must instill this into our kids and teach them the natural consequences of our immoral actions and not ascribing them to imaginary consequences. I fully believe that morals live inside this idea of community and human relationships. Not causing harm to others. The emotional state of parents I believe can have a huge impact on the moral state of someone.

    These morals are taught to us by the first moral authorities in our lives…our parents and their emotional state and how empathetic they are is important. Morals have the potential to keep our species alive and productive. Morals should not be seen as laws but rather an emotional state and desirable character traits that will benefit those around us. Laws imposed by our governments and states enforce consequences of gross misconduct of immorality and set boundaries for us. The consequences of being immoral may be minimal or may huge but they are always natural.

    But the basic set morals are tied to our individual character. Our individual compassion and attitude towards one another. Morals are not right/wrong or good/bad and only productive/counter productive.

    So yes exposure to religion as any other philosophy can help teach morals but the parents must teach the natural consequences. As well as a lack of belief or philosophy is not necessary to learn morals as I believe morals are self evident and I will throw this in…not subjective as we as humans dictate naturally how we should co habitat. Morals are subjective to the humans species and is a collaborative emotional response to each other. Christians, atheists, Hindu, Buddhists etc. are all capable of creating a moral atmosphere. As long as the methods for enforcing morals are not used to control and breed fear.

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  • 88
    IamSparta says:

    not subjective as we as humans dictate naturally how we should co

    I meant to say Morals are subjective as we humans dictate naturally how we should co-habitat.

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  • Morals is developed through millions of years. Its in darwins idea about survival of the fittest. Most animals also have some sort of moral code, some more than others, but its essential for the survival of some species with some sort of moral code. We wanna make sure our offspring have a nice and safe environment so that our genes can live on. What was considered good and bad 2000 years ago is not the same as today. So we’re constantly shaping our moral code as we become smarter as a species and the more dense our population grows.

    Religion is to me a bad thing to teach kids. Its wrong to control your kids and other people with lies and threats. Thats what my moral code tells me 🙂

    Without religion and money earth could become a good place to live for all life on our planet.

    “”Remember! Our purpose on earth is to inhale Oxygen(O), exhale carbondioxide(CO2), fertilize the ground with our waste and then finally feed the worms”” It is so complex and then again so simple 😉

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  • Not sure how anyone can know if animals have a moral code. They certainly appear to follow some kind of moral code, but the only way to know for sure would be to ask them or be one of them (of which we can do neither). All we can logically say is it appears they have a some sort of moral code.

    Also, I don’t believe religion and money are the root problems. Greed seems to be, and religion is just a mechanism one can use in order to get what one wants. Money, on the other hand, will never go away because it is a physical representation of purchasing power (which I guess is another mechanism to achieve greedy goals). If we didn’t have paper money, we would probably begin using resources as currency again (land, food, fuel, and even people). That is why I think most wars are fought, its the struggle to control the resources and whoever controls the resources is the most powerful.

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  • I told my children to imagine a world where everyone was nice to each other, treated each other equally with fairness and respect, helped each other, and cared for each other. Then image a world where it was every person for himself, might makes right, winner take all. Which world would you choose to live in? That is all the morality you need. Go live in that world.

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  • As morality has been shown by numerous studies to have evolved in many species including humans, we can only awaken this inherited trait. I think in our age, Atheist parents have an easier task reinforcing a sense of morality through a humanist, empathetic approach of outlining real-time consequences, than religious parents trying to explain the archaic notion of a omnipotent but petty and vengeful diety that most western children can question via google at their fingertips or contradict from school science class

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  • The roots of morality evolved from the evolutionary advantage of cooperation and self sacrifice which benefited the gene pool where the selfish gene swims. The roots of immorality evolved from the genetic advantage of gaining the upper hand through force, deception, and unfair practices, again ensuring the selfish gene reproduces. The water gets muddy when we look at in-group/out-group cooperation- is it simple strategy or actual moral behavior? Both morality and immorality only make sense as concepts in species that have some form of theory of mind: does the positive or negative effect of my actions on others make me feel good or bad. However, a moral code, as in a philosophical policy one tries to live by, takes a high level of intelligence, one where thoughtful logic holds sway over biological inclinations. I don’t believe we should ever try to justify a moral value based on evolution- evolution is purely a survival strategy. Morality really enters the realm of philosophy beyond evolution. It is simple logic that we want to live in a safe, pleasant world, and the best way to achieve that is by promoting a society where we practice empathy, sympathy, compassion, equality, fairness, justice, and respect.

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  • Ewan Jan 30, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    One aspect of religion which can help create a moral atmosphere for children is that, through it, they become part of an extended community. An experience of community is important in the development of a moral sense.

    Whether that was independently judged to be “moral” by criteria of social harmony or reciprocal altruism, would depend entirely on the “morals” of that particular religion or culture.

    For example:- many would see the Aztec religion and culture as barbaric!

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  • I’m sorry, but there is no record in the Bible of a child being stoned for misbehaving and no injunctions to check your daughter’s vaginas. No wives were killed for looking at the alter [sic]. Daughters were not to be sold into slavery for goats or anything else, for that matter. I don’t know where you get your information about Ebola, witches, tetanus, etc., but none of what you claim is Biblical. There may be those who claim to be Christians doing these things, but I would challenge you to provide a reliable source. Even if true, they don’t represent Biblical teachings or principles. Jesus counseled us to be wary of those who would come in His name. Because one claims to be Christian does not necessarily mean they are any more than my claiming to be a UFO alien from the planet Krypton make it so. steve

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  • Richard;
    I’m not sure how survival of the fittest leads to morality. Morality to my mind is an individual sacrificing themself for the good of others, not to use them for your own advancement. I just don’t see how that happens w/o God. While it’s true that many people claiming to be religious have done immoral acts, Jesus warned against such folks and gave a test as to how one can distinguish the true follower of God from the false. He said “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. Natural selection would seem to be the antithesis of moral/loving/unselfish behavior. I’d be happy to see how you can explain the development of morality on the basis of natural selection and look forward to your reply. Thanks. steve.

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  • Hi Steve,

    Hope you don’t mind me jumping in but what you said there effects all of us. I won’t attempt to answer the question you put to Richard but will ask you a question of my own. I don’t remember a time I ever believed in God but have always had the need to help others. I remember donating my pocket money to a charity while still very young. I donate still and have done many things to help others, especially the old. How do you explain that without God?

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  • steve Jan 31, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    I’m not sure how survival of the fittest leads to morality. Morality to my mind is an individual sacrificing themself for the good of others, not to use them for your own advancement.
    In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a behaviour whereby an organism acts in a manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organism’s fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time. The concept was initially developed by Robert Trivers to explain the evolution of cooperation as instances of mutually altruistic acts.

    Richard deals with this topic in chapter 10 of “The Selfish Gene” on pages 183 to 188, and Chapter 12 pages 202 to 233 dealing with conduct in socially organised populations.

    Natural selection would seem to be the antithesis of moral/loving/unselfish behavior. I’d be happy to see how you can explain the development of morality on the basis of natural selection and look forward to your reply.

    Natural selection works on whole populations. Not just individuals.
    Significant numbers of selfish destructive individuals undermine and reduce the productivity of the populations they inhabit.

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  • Marko, In your phrase, “atheist moral is just a version of christian moral”, you will be able to clearly see your bias if you substitute different adjectives.
    “Bhuddist moral is just a version of atheist moral”
    “Christian moral is just a version of Sikh moral”
    “Christian moral is just a version of Muslim moral”
    “Jewish moral is just a version of atheist moral”

    Do you see? They’re all as nonsensical as the other.
    Do you see the prejudiced judgement which you made? I hope so.

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  • “Be good so Santa Claus will give you presents”
    Question, Do you think religious dogma creates a moral atmosphere?
    Well no, of course not! It creates confusion in innocent children is what it does. When they find out Santa Claus isn’t real, they question the lies and the reasoning which supports moral rules. Being honest with your children allows them to seek the actual reasons for morality, honesty, empathy and respect; why it is ingrained in our instincts, how it makes you a better person, and most importantly, you lead by example. That’s what children learn.
    If one’s “example” to their children is to make up ghost stories, I’m so sad for those confused children.

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  • Many species evolved positive social traits as a requirement of survival. We evolved with such a strong sense of empathy, caring, honesty and other moral traits because we had to live in groups to survive, where protecting another was critical to your own survival. That’s how.
    Philosophy and reasoning will lead to answers for all questions. just saying, “a God did it” is really throwing in the towel of reasoning, don’t you think?

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  • I think it would be a mistake to assume that Santa Claus and the various traditions surrounding him are part of any religious dogma. They were mostly created for entertainment purposes by writers such as Washington Irving and Charles Dickens (with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town playing in the background) and taken up with enthusiasm by the populace – both believing and non-believing – who recognised a cracking opportunity for celebration when they saw it.

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  • 104
    Honey says:

    It all comes down to a feeling….love or hate. It doesn’t matter what “tools” you use, whether it be religion or simply leading by example. What matters is whether those tools are used with love or with hate. Those are the only two forces capable of instilling “moral behavior” into someone. Moral behavior is either done because of how a child/person thinks someone will FEEL about them, whether they will be liked or not, or they follow a set of morals because of how it makes themselves FEEL. It all comes down to a heart issue……a FEELING, not a science.

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    The real question here should be “what are morals?” What things are universally moral, good for us, bad for us, good for our species or bad for it and who decides these questions? Is something that is “moral” for one person also “moral” for everyone else? Is something generally considered “moral” by a majority necessarily good for us?

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  • 106
    Devin says:

    Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere for children? Of course it does, but this was a flawed question. The question, I believe, should have read, “Does exposure to religion cultivate a sense of morality more effectively than an atheist environment in which the same ‘morals’ are taught?” I believe the given question to be too ambiguous to really be educational in nature.

    To answer the question I put forth, no, it is actually less effective than modern psychological techniques whereby the parental unit uses positive re-enforcement (the commonly taught method where I live) to cultivate a sense of morality. Religion, in fact, teaches children that it is acceptable to do something just because a book says to do it, and play on peoples fears in order to get them to think, feel, or behave in a particular manner. We must remember the 3 primary functions of religion: to qualm peoples insecurities, “explain” things that were not understood, and to control people, kings and subjects alike. Due to this and morals being defined by the prevailing views of the day, I would postulate that the use of religion in child-rearing is actually immoral by our current standards, due to the extreme use of misleading information, hypocrisy, fear, and hate. If you want an intelligent child to lose all respect for you, and I say this from personal, childhood experience, tell that child to love all people, and then follow-up with “Except for these people.” In short, due to the modus operandi of religious teachings, I feel that they are counter-productive.

    How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids? Ha. There are more ways of raising a child than can be counted, but none of them are strictly atheistic in nature. On top of that, I do not presume to know the methods employed by every atheist living, that would be absurd. However, I can guess, based on my own opinions and methods, and I raise my children through example. The example I set, the examples others set, and examples in nature. The first is self-explanatory, but I would like to clarify the latter 2. The examples others set would be the obvious example seen by the child, but also the examples of the child’s own behavior. I teach my children to always take the feelings of others into account, and I do this by illustrating to them cause and effect. Someone does something to make them angry, what that other person did is the cause, them being angry is the effect. Then I teach them to reverse the roles. If someone did this to you, how would you feel? It is important to understand the example you yourself set, and how it is perceived by others. Lastly, examples in nature are not examples of animalistic instinct, which is usually cruel and near-thoughtless, but instead are examples of how inorganic nature works as, given as analogies. For example, water surfaces are always level, no mater the shape of the bottom, translating to actions do not always have to be proportional to the feelings behind them, and vice-versa.

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  • 107
    Roger says:

    Are religious morals the model to aspire to?

    The Pope recently stated, while responding on TV to questions re. the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, something along the lines of: ‘if a man insulted your wife, you would want to punch him’ while swinging a pretend right hook.

    Glad my parents didn’t bring me up to believe this behaviour is OK.

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  • The classical definition of morality is a set of principles for distinguishing between right and wrong, good and bad. I don’t like this definition because it does not really mean anything until you have defined right and wrong, good and bad. I redefine morality as this:
    Morality is the depth and breadth to which we extend empathy, sympathy, compassion, fairness, equality, justice and respect to others (human and beyond).
    When morality is viewed as a measure, a three dimensional spectrum (how far/encompassing, and to what degree we extend it), it becomes something that is not relative or varying over time or from culture to culture. It becomes an absolute yardstick. I eat meat, but I will admit being a vegetarian out of sympathy for food animals is the higher moral ground.
    Obedience is not morality. Obedience out of fear of punishment or in expectation of reward does not result in moral choices. Conformity and cooperation are not elements of morality. Cooperation is a calculated strategy of mutual benefit, and can likewise be used for very immoral purposes. Decency is not morality. Decency is simple social convention. Decency is relative to the place and culture. It is indecent to wear my speedo in the mall, but there is no problem with running around naked on the beach on Ibiza.
    Ultimately for it to be called morality, it has to entail a measure of how bad you feel about the pain of others. That warm feeling you get from helping out a stranger is a measure of your morality. Shadenfreude is a good example of immorality.
    I don’t like to attribute morality to evolution, which is purely an algorithm of survival strategies. Morality is a side-effect of one or more of these strategies just as brute force, deception and cheating are evolutionary strategies. Morality is best defined and conceived as a logical conclusion that it is better to live in a moral society than an immoral society. You only need the presence of enlightened intelligence to explain the existence and the need for morality. Morality is an emergent quality of intelligence.

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  • 110
    James says:

    The religious and the atheist families can both provide a moral atmosphere for their children. Both accomplish this in fundamentally the same way: by giving poorly substantiated and debatable reasons for why one ought to behave one way or another. Children in some ways are more freethinking than any other demographic of the human population. They ask question after question. Eventually the parent either becomes annoyed or can no longer answer every why. In the end it comes down to because I said so for both the religious and atheist families. Since they are more powerful than the child they win. End of conversation. Morality is about ideas competing and eventually whoever is more powerful asserts their dominance to end the debate. This is the reason for most if not all wars. It is a fight over who is right after both sides tire of trying to prove their point verbally. Survival of the fittest in all of its horrifying glory.

    Read some Nietzsche.

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  • Fear is the background noise of religious morality, a dangerous emotion whether you are man or animal, it removes common sense and replaces it with unpredictable and irrational behavior.
    Imagine a line graph with the factors of fear, education, religion and morality on it. You will see education and morality rising quickly together throughout history, while fear and religious fundamentalism dip to new lows. The graph shows that the more we are educated to shed the myths about how we live and die, the less fearful we are and this process allows our genuine morality to shine through much brighter than a morality based on fear and delusion.
    Of course people argue that it is a similar end game with the religious indoctrination process, however they fail to see that the path is paved with fear rather than knowledge. For example religion on the surface appears be a good alternative for preserving humanity when you are a charity looking after the needs of the homeless, but not so good when you are spreading fear of education and suppressing basic human rights.
    To achieve the greater good, mankind`s best bet is to keep education going up the graph, out-pacing fear and religion through knowledge, hand in hand with a morality based on truth rather than delusion.

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  • 112
    William says:

    Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself… and love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength…” . Do atheist parents have any Great Truth concerning morality such as this ?

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  • 113
    Olgun says:

    As an atheist parent I gave the ‘ Love your neighbour…’ bit but decided not to try and use a third and forth ‘person’ to direct the responsibility away from myself.

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  • William Feb 2, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself…

    There is not really a problem with anyone saying that.

    and love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength…” .

    There can be all sorts of dogmatic bigotry, irrationalism, tribalism, idealism, and nuttery, associated with this! It depends on the god, the doctrine, and the individual believer’s interpretations.

    Do atheist parents have any Great Truth concerning morality such as this ?

    Atheism does not have any “great truths”, but the science and reasoning promoted on this site, provide a realistic basis for making informed judgements, and informed predictions of the effects of outcomes from actions. –
    A methodology which serves humanity better than, “blindly follow the dogma and claim all will be well”! – Unless it isn’t – but is “god’s mysterious will” anyway!

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  • It seems to me that instilling moral principles in children by secular parents is a result of action rather than dogma. We are not reliant on a presupposed doctrine and therefore we do not have it as an excuse for misbehavior. It falls on our actions in daily life, self-guided empathy and compassion, to be the model for our young skeptics to emulate. Unhampered by unalterable holy texts, we are capable of, and encourage, progress in the quest toward the equal treatment of humanity at large and the desire for the dignity of all peoples.

    Religions, and those who adhere to their doctrines, do not seem to have this liberty. Instead, religious families with world views prescribed by antiquated, typically misogynistic, homophobic, homicidal, and tyrannical texts are locked in place. Moral progress is halted by the divinely inspired and inerrant words of prophets chosen during a time of scientific and geographic ignorance. I do believe, however, that exposure to the morality found in the Jewish and Christian Bibles and/or the Holy Koran may help to educate our young people, but largely in the form of social codes not to be emulated.

    The question should not be “How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids?” but “How do religious parents explain away the bigoted, sadomasochistic, and anti-scientific teachings so readily found in their holy texts?”

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  • I would agree with Alan4discussion that science and reason should form the basis of any ‘moral’ code. However I would prefer to use the term ‘ethical’ code for a species wide code of conduct.

    I also note that ‘morality’ is too often defined in terms of specific cultures or sub cultures, where inherited belief systems take precedence over science and reason. While one may see an evolutionary advantage for a particular ‘tribe’ in adhering to archaic and illogical belief systems, it is deeply concerning that in this day and age, one sees religion being used by extreme political factions to create unquestioning ‘them and us’ mind sets. Religious morality it seems to me is easily communicated, and doesn’t require a continual re-evaluation of priorities in difficult ethical dilemmas.

    It is a surely function of science and reason to continually raise ethical dilemmas for out-dated belief systems. Long may it continue, there is no progress without it. So in answer to the Question of the Week, I would argue that a child’s exposure to religion by its parents is by definition immoral. Aetheist parents, I would further argue, can only instil a sense of ‘ethical’ behaviour in their children through a sound, on-going education based on science and reason.

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  • Is there any scientific reason why people should feel morally bound to strive for the equal treatment of humanity at large and desire the dignity of all peoples?

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  • I can’t immediately think of any scientific reasons, for feeling ‘morally bound’, however I look forward to being corrected.. I’m deeply suspicious of moral reasons for actions, but I would hope that individuals make important decisions on the basis of ethical reasoning based on empirical knowledge rather than anything else.

    Striving for “the equal treatment of humanity at large and desire the dignity of all peoples” sounds as if it should be self evident, but is surely irrational in a world where there is unequal access to increasingly scarce resources, and where the “survival of the fittest” is the way Nature works.

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  • The answer to the first part of the question is no.

    Religions purport to instil morals, but in fact they simply duplicate what is innate.

    Further, they too often teach hatred of believers in other religions.

    The answer to the second part is, that parents need to observe closely, recognize and work with what is inborn, educating out, or against the undesirable and encouraging the good.

    The raw materials are already there to be utilized and are part of our evolutionary inheritance.

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  • 120
    lauren says:

    When I was about 7 or 8 in Hebrew school, I raised my hand and asked my teacher if one could be Jewish if he or she didn’t believe in God. I don’t ever remember believing in God. My earliest memory of thinking about God hasn’t wavered since I had it, and I’m now 36: God to me is an idea created by humans who are afraid to look within themselves and face their own realities. The most important lesson parents can teach their children is to love themselves, to treat themselves with respect. With self love (acceptance) comes the ability to have truly fulfilling relationships, and I don’t see what the idea of God has to do with that.
    To finish the story, my teacher barely equivocated when he replied, “I don’t think so,” to which I said, “I guess I’m not Jewish then.” I went home and told the story to my parents, and while they expressed annoyance at what this teacher had said to their child, I got the overwhelming sense that they were more upset I’d even asked the question. As the years went on, they repeated the faithful “you’ll see” approach in assuring me that I’d come to believe…I need only give myself time to wise up. But I still haven’t. It’s funny, I was about to append “and I never will” to the end of that last sentence, but I’ve learned to never say never, which I believe aligns with your “6 leaning strongly towards 7” classification.
    I’ve often felt, and will say it for the first time “out loud” in this comment box, that my parents’ disappointment in my steadfast disbelief in God made me doubt my own judgment and was therefore quite harmful to my development into a mature and self-reliant adult. It’s been almost impossible for me to reconcile this choice of theirs with how loving they’ve otherwise generally been. I’m still working to forgive them for placing the seed of doubt in my mind, somehow not about whether God exists, but rather about my overall judgment.
    With that therapy session out of my system, I’ll say that my parents were and are completely non-observant Jews who in no way used religion to teach me or my sisters morality. They taught us through discipline and example to be polite, obey the law, and treat others with respect. Religion was never part of the conversation. For me, when it did become part of the conversation, it did more harm than good. Thank you for being bold and articulate and real.

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  • 121
    Gustaf says:

    Lauren – I read your comment with interest. Like yourself I don’t think that I have ever – as far back as I can remember anyway – believed in God. I am not of jewish descent (I am Swedish) so I could not forward the same question as you did to your teacher. But contrary to you my parents used religion to teach me morality and ethics and that from a very young age. Luckily I got interested in science very early in life and I think that saved me from becoming a religious person. I think I picked up the useful parts of morals and ethics from my parents and have now lived a 70 year long life following what we call christian rules without giving it a serious thought why I do so.
    As a parent (I have 5 children – now adults) I have not exposed my children to religion at home but they have all been to the – in Sweden – almost mandatory summer “confirmation camp” at around the age of 15. They all claim to be atheists and that they have been so all the time. My eldest son gave the priest at the confirmation camp a copy of “The origin of species” to read. My son was sent home the following day. The forgiving God ?
    I consider my children armed with morals and ethics of very high standard and I am very proud of them. They are all polite, obey the law, and treat others with respect.
    I am happy that my decision to leave religion out of their upbringing has created such a good result.

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  • 122
    robbower says:

    I am a committed atheist.

    I was raised in an American Evangelical Protestant home. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I struggled, I believe valiantly, to reconcile the tenants of Christian faith with reality, and to apply the teachings of my religion’s holy man (Jesus) to my behaviour.

    Of course, I failed miserably, and followed the typical path of being a questioner, then a doubter, then an agnostic, and finally a born-again atheist.

    BUT… many of the of my moral and ethical principles still stem from my early Christian upbringing. For example…

    I do indeed give one of my two coats every winter to a person who has none.

    I do indeed give money or other resources to every single person who asks me for help.

    Just because irrational religions grew up around the teachings of certain people who were morally advanced, does not mean that I should reject the advice of morally advanced people. I reject the supernatural aspects of those religions, but try to implement the more noble aspects of their beliefs.

    The problem is, most religious people accept the supernatural hooey, and reject the core ethics of their religions.

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  • 123
    lauren says:

    hi gustaf,

    your son sounds very cool and you certainly sound like a wonderful, accepting parent. and your comment made me reconsider my own, which I honestly wasn’t quite satisfied with when I posted it last night. it was my parents’ lack of acceptance in my honest, firm and logical belief that was harmful because it caused me to fear that society would fail to accept me as well. of course they weren’t being consciously malicious…on the contrary I think they were trying to steer me toward a conventional frame of mind so that I’d more easily fit in, but most reasonably honest and intelligent people know this approach ends up causing general unhappiness for the individual, especially at such an impressionable age. I had said that they made me question my judgment, which wasn’t true. they made me doubt that society would accept me.

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  • 124
    Nathaniel says:

    What you are referring to are moral taboos. Every culture has them, and they are all different. Several tribal groups across the globe still do not condemn cannibalism or bestiality. Even more cultures still do not condemn relationships of incest, simply because that society has not seen those acts as disgusting, as others have. Hundreds of years ago, when European royalty was more than just a figurehead position, incest was common practice, and those cultures all had religious beliefs. Since those beliefs still linger today, why have we changed our views on that practice? If the religion remains the same, then our views would remain the same. Now, our society has changed, and our views have changed in light of that. Society and biology create our morals, not religions.

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  • 125
    Yuval says:

    While I do believe, that some of the morals, that are meant to be taught by religion, are reasonable and should be taught to children by their parents, I find, that this has very little, maybe even nothing to do with religion itself but rather with the fact that values like respect and humility make perfect sense for all people to uphold simply because they contribute to more harmonious living within a community. In fact I find that, inexplicably, it seems to be easier for many people to believe in the many supernatural aspects of religion than it is to simply pay attention to and to follow the aforementioned morals. It is by this logic, that I am sure of the fact that the same values minus a lot of the craziness that comes with believing in God are just as, maybe even more likely to be taught by atheists than by God-fearing parents. In the case of these values being taught by atheist parents, what the child is being told is also more likely to be the result of rational thought in combination with years of life experience in terms of what morals would be beneficial for the child to maintain, whereas, as I mentioned earlier, the morals taught by religious people may not always be wrong, but are yet taken out of an ancient scripture, often without consideration for what would actually be good and/or practical for the child to know.

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  • Does exposure to religion by parents help create a moral atmosphere
    for children?

    It can, certainly, but only insofar as the religion in question is used to teach children that we are all “God’s children” and should therefore treat everybody with the same respect and love we ourselves want to receive. Beyond that, as religions try to teach why one group of people is better than another (i.e., because they belong to the “right” religion), that certain rituals must be followed in order to be saved from eternal damnation, that it’s OK to discriminate against anybody who disagrees with you, etc., exposure to religion has the exact opposite effect and actually leads people to feel justified about performing all sorts of immoral acts.

    How do atheist parents instill a sense of morality in their kids?

    Simple. The basic message is the same, that we are all deserving of the same love and respect, except that this derives from being humans rather than being “children of God”. It derives from the knowledge that other people have the same hopes, fears, dreams, joys and sorrows as us, simply because we are all members of the human race. This is why the so-called “Golden Rule” existed long before it showed up in religious texts.

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  • why do people we don’t know deserve our love?

    Empathy, that complex set of capacities (Professor Simon Baron Cohen has it as ten if I recall) that really started its evolutionary life with mammals, live births nurturing and oxytocin fueled bonding, underlies all this. With the higher primates but particularly humans, bonding acquired a beyond kin capacity. Our kin detectors extended their compass to allow non-kin (who thus became, as-if-kin) to help raise our own children. This was essential because our children, born prematurely, with fully two thirds of their brain growth still to go, were particularly helpless and in need of lots of attention. For hunter gatherers in harder times this was a huge drain on resources. Shared child raising (at least culturally) was selected for and the kin detecting wiring worked well with it. The cuddle chemical oxytocin the stress reliever, still worked outside of the ambit of parent and child. Child care came to sit within an ever extending family. We see big eyes in a small head connoting vulnerability and we go, “Ah!” So powerful is this response to the seemingly (and most often actually) vulnerable it works with most mammals and across species. (We have taken to meerkats in a big way in the UK…)

    Children and the plight of children are a major route to a universal compassion for us. Our enemies love their children too and their children are as innocent as ours. Empathy is particulary evoked when identifying with the deep hurt a parent may feel for poorly child and the appeals for our help and compassion oversees know to press that big hardwired button in the middle of our chest and show us the children, the big eyes in the small faces. Its not a trick. Noticing harms, most particularly to the innocent, for others and pointing it out is not a trick. Its the real McCoy.

    (This is a huge, complex and fascinating subject and I’m sorry to treat it in such a small and particular way for illustration’s sake. I do recommend reading Professor Frans de Waal’s The Age of Empathy for starters.)

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  • So general empathy for others can be helpful in child-rearing. But surely that is as nothing compared with the love we feel for our own children? In times of plenty, we are free to give full rein to our feelings of the former. But in times of hardship, the latter takes overwhelming precedence.

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  • Ewan Feb 7, 2015 at 5:13 am

    So general empathy for others can be helpful in child-rearing. But surely that is as nothing compared with the love we feel for our own children? In times of plenty, we are free to give full rein to our feelings of the former. But in times of hardship, the latter takes overwhelming precedence.

    Priority support for kin is inherent in evolutionary survival.
    Many vertebrates work co-operatively caring for their individual young, and young of relatives, and sometimes those of the wider group. (puppies, lion cubs, chicks in nests, other members of the flock) to feed them and defend them from attacks. Birds – even of different species, will work together to chase off a predator.

    A lot depends of if the individuals see them as “kin”. That is why religious and ideological organisations create an impression of “brotherhood”, between unrelated people to generate “group-think”.

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  • Those at a distance may be cared for by us in a lesser way than our own, but they are cared for by a usefully huge number in this way. Whizzed to the very spot, however, it is this child before us starving for the pitiful want of the scraps our own child didn’t eat that morning that grabs us. We love our own but confronted by real need, that sterling apparatus of empathy will lead us to fix what we can.

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  • Ewan Feb 7, 2015 at 6:23 am

    That is why religious and ideological organisations create an impression of “brotherhood”, between unrelated people to generate “group-think”.

    That’s a good thing, isn’t it? (Or should that be A Good Thing?)

    That depends on what the individuals or groups co-operate in doing.

    We have medical ethics among doctors, and the honesty of scientific methodology among scientists: – and the terrorisation of populations and beheading of hostages and dissenters in ISIS group-think, + burnings at the stake by Spanish Inquisitors.

    Group-think makes for co-operation within communities and organised groups, and warfare between tribes!

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  • 134
    Lorenzo says:

    why do people we don’t know deserve our love?

    They don’t. I don’t love you any more than I love anybody on this blog.
    But here’s the thing: I don’t need to love someone to be kind and nice to her. I don’t need to love someone to respect her as an individual. I don’t need to love someone to protect her from injustice and abuse -even to the point where my life might be in danger. Nor I need rewards to do all of that.
    I do that because I’m an ape, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, that evolved an inordinate excess of brain over the millions of years; and I don’t let any irrational construct boss me out of that and into believing that some member of my species might be unworthy of any of what’s above for any reason -be that skin colour, gender or even affiliation to a particular one of those irrational constructs.
    Or “unless I love them”: what kind of selfish monstrosity is that? The need to love someone to be decent toward her? Christianity has a very peculiar way to smuggle tribal violence into the mix by covering it in treacle.

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  • It also isolates members of groups who don’t agree with current Group-thoughts, I guess. That can be a tricky one; the balance between individualism and cooperation.

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  • Well there are rewards and rewards. I’m sure I’m not the only one who supports charities, not only to help those in need, but also because it makes me feel good about myself.

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  • And this is why I’m a huge fan of the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to ‘Who is my neighbour?’… Who walked on by? The religious people. And who acted well? An outsider from an area that was looked down on by the people Jesus was addressing.

    If I could have a pick-n-mix from the New Testament for something to put my trust in, I’d leave in Paul’s ‘We are all brothers and sisters…’ and take out ‘…in Christ’. Because that last part consigned the rest of humanity to being outsiders. A lot of Christians I know would put the ‘in Christ’ in parenthesis, in that belief in Christ is not a requirement for being brothers and sisters, but rather that in a life lived out ‘with’ Jesus (being like the good samaritan) it is clear that we are brothers and sisters.

    But there are many denominations who see Christian faith as the only ticket, and unfortunately many other verses from the gospels and a great deal from Paul’s letters feed this religious club mentality. If Jesus was real and alive today I would like to think that he’d hail Steven Fry as an example of a good bloke. Instead the Christianity machine has made Jesus into a set of revoltingly pearly iron bars.

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  • I would like to think that Jesus would hail everyone as a good bloke / female equivalent. His presence on Earth would certainly be a challenge to the Church and to Christians generally. And something of a surprise to non-believers, of course…

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  • It depends on what you want. Let’s take a simple example. Is drinking alcohol good or bad ?

    If you want schizophrenic children, try something along those contradicting lines :

    — They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: “In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.” (Quran- Al-Baqara; 2:219)
    — And from the fruit of the date palm and the vine, ye get out wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise. (Quran – An-Nahl; 16:67)
    — O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say…. (Quran – An-Nisa; 4:43)
    — O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, Of Satan’s handiwork: Eschew such (abomination) that ye may prosper. (Quran – Al Maeda; 5:90)
    — Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of God, and from prayer: Will ye not then refrain? (Quran – Al-Maeda; 5:91)

    If, on the other hand, you prefer having children able to decide for themselves what is good or bad, try those two questions :

    — How do you want other people to behave ?
    — What do you think of people who ask others to do things they don’t do themselves ?

    Morality is always simpler to justify when applied to others. Then, applying it to oneself is simple common sense, if one wants to be taken seriously. That makes it easy to explain to children, because it replaces the tricky concepts of [good/bad] by easy, almost childish, concepts of what I [want/don’t want] others to do. And children quite easily get that requesting some behaviour but doing something else oneself doesn’t work.

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  • That’s the Jesus I grew up with Ewan.. the one that was your honest best friend no matter what’s gone wrong or right. The Charlie Hebdo cartoon was pure that guy.. we are all right charlies (including Mohammed) but all is forgiven.. in the end.. (cue Bugsy Malone final scene). I’m an incurable optimist.

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  • at the first i apologize for my weak english typing….

    im living in iran and i grow up in muslim family (my mom : shie- my dad : soni ) in both of this religions of islam ، parent think that this way is usfull for their kids in this word and that word(maad : life after death ) they belive that.

    but the real question is : does they (ways or exposure to religion’s belives ) works ?
    for answer this question i after seeking in my religion and other at least i found other important question
    why they belive that religion is the best way to reach god ?and then another question what god ?
    muslim ‘s god ? jesus god ? Jewish god ? bodism god ? what god ?
    in The difference religions i found The difference gods …!!!! why ?
    if they tolk a bout one god so why they have different Descriptions of one god ?
    In my opinion,god’s of this religions created by the wise man of own Society, mohamad ,muse,jesus,ebrahim …if their stories were real they were Genius in their Communities and At that time there was no any Constitution for The people . these Geniuses created god Based on own Perception and lows, then god created in people ‘s minds.
    and after Thousands of years that same gods Inheritance to us ، like our Genes…

    in fact this religions are to faces

    one : they say humans cames to do best and my rules tell u how …if u Following my order u be a Prospers…!!!

    two : if u don’t so u be Faild and Fall in hell !!!!!

    problems started from here !!!!
    kids and children never understand that untill they qrew up ….this is a real Trap ……
    becuse they can’t leave their religion such as a trap with Delicious Cheese( paradise Promise !!!!!)
    and this Cycle will be countinue …

    but most of the religions parents do this for their kids No selfishly…and they born too in a same trap …

    the atheist parents have a Easier way to instill a sense of morality in their kids because their kids can Touch and feel what they sayes by own not by fake gods! : Beautiful planets … Beautiful moon … Beautiful sun….Extraordinary galaxyes….usfull Plants.. animals… and Sparkle of the humanity ….and finally Beautiful life.

    this Doctrines are real and our kids Certainly Appreciate us for saying The truth …

    thanks a lot Professor Dawkins

    Saeed Rahmani from iran ….

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  • Exposure to parents, as well as teachers, relatives and others creates the moral atmosphere. For religious people, it depends very much on how they pick and choose from their books and authorities, since these offer a wide range of interpretations.
    I live in a very religious area (South of Spain) and I have two children which are on average clearly better on solving moral issues than their friends at school, and yes, I think this is because we have an atheist atmosphere at home. Our children very easily detect when the others fail due to their religious constrains on typical issues (homosexuality, sexism), including freedom of opinion. We even exercise on posting moral dilemas in our conversations at the table, and try to solve them the ‘Sam Harris’s way’ looking for minimising misery and optimising general well-being for ourselves and others. Religion would certainly undermine does exercises on many occasions.

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