Monday, May 31, 2010

Raising children in a atheist/Christian marriage?

As most of you know, I am an atheist who is married to a Christian; Cori and I have been together for almost five and a half years, and it's been great.

When people learn about our cross-faith marriage, they often ask us how we plan to present our beliefs to our children. Well, to begin with, Cori and I have not yet had children, and we are not planning to have any. This isn't because of our differing beliefs, but rather because we are not, at this time, interested in parenting.

But what if we decide one day to have children? Cori and I were talking about this the other day, and the conclusion we came up with was this: if both partners in a cross-faith relationship have some founding values that they both share, raising children shouldn't be that much of a problem.

What values do Cori and I share?

  • It is important to respect others.
  • We believe that it is healthy to have relationships with those of differing cultures and worldviews.
  • We believe that it is healthy to explore and grapple with different points of view and different beliefs, even with those that might make us feel uncomfortable or threatened.
The important point above, for me at least, is exposing our children to different ways of thinking. I'm an atheist, but I will be very happy to send my children to church or Sunday School, simply because Christianity is an extremely important part of Western culture. How can my children understand much or art, literature or history if they are not exposed to Christianity?

But as parents, we will also be responsible for taking our kids on visits to Hindu temples, Mosques and Synagogues, and to introduce them to common problems with theistic thinking. We will encourage our children to make friends from different cultures and religions, so they can find beauty in variety, and learn that – despite the fact that there are many differing beliefs out there – we are all basically human. I hope that, as parents, our children will learn to respect others, critically assess ideas and beliefs, and not feel threatened by doubt.

After all of this, it will not bother me in the slightest if my children finally decide to become Christians, atheists, or anything else. What they become will eventually be their choice, and I think the goal as parents is to give them enough information so that they can make a choice that is well informed.

What do you think?

(See other posts on our cross-faith marriage)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Imposing our morality on God

A recent study at the University of Chicago suggests that people tend to use their own personal beliefs as a guide when thinking about what God might believe. Researchers asked a range of volunteers about their opinions on highly controversial issues, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, and affirmative action.

The subjects were asked three basic questions:

1. What are your beliefs regarding this specific issue?

2. What do you think other people believe regarding this issue?

3. What do you think God believes regarding this issue?

The results of several tests showed that the subjects' own beliefs matched what they thought God would believe, but were less constrained when thinking about other people's beliefs. In two tests, researches subtlety caused a change in the subjects' beliefs on a specific issue, and this in turn changed the subjects' own estimate of what they thought God believed.

The most interesting part of the study involved functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the neural activity of subjects as they reasoned through their answers to the three questions above. The scans showed that separate regions of the brain were activated when subjects answered question 1 (what I believe) in comparison to question 2 (what other people believe). However – and this is the interesting part – question 3 (what God believes) activated the same part of the brain that was activated when answering question 1, suggesting that we draw on our own personal beliefs when thinking about what God might believe.

This comes as no surprise to me. I've often wondered, if there is indeed an objective morality set out by the creator of the universe, why there is so much disagreement between theists on what this morality actually is. Does God think homosexuality is wrong? Does he condone the use of condoms? You will find different answers depending on the theist you talk to. Irrespective of whether God exists or not, the above study seems to suggest that people tend to colour what they think God's morality is according to their own beliefs.

In other words, the type of God you believe in might tell us more about you than God.

(Download the full article here)