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What modern guidebook trumps the Bible?
Posted: 01 July 2007 11:39 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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In our chats, one of my Believer friends constantly returns to the idea that the Bible is "as good a blueprint of the rules for living" as he has ever found.

I have questioned this claim, mostly on the basis of the fact that he must cherrypick those rules, lest he end up with a son who thinks that keeping slaves is okay with God, or that he should be able to bring virgins home from a stint in Iraq, or that the the death of an innocent person absolves the guilty, or that true love is only achieved through having 700 wives and 300 concubines (King Sol). . . The list goes on from there, of course, but I usually don't need to go far down that path before he drops the topic and diverts me elsewhere. He is not the type to claim absolutes (he's a closet agnostic, but resists saying the words), but he is set on this idea that the New Testament has done the best job of sketching out a life plan for raising one's children.


My question:

If you were to pick just one book, or perhaps up to three books, for the purposes of raising up a decent human being, which would you reach for?


Presumably, they would also have to address WHY one should be moral and ethical, if there's no Big Cheese keeping tabs on us. That's what my friend gets stuck on—why bother being a law-abiding citizen if there's no Ultimate Authority to be accountable to in the end?  When I suggest that immoral and unethical behavior would quickly get him alienated from his 'tribe', thus risking his access to the basics—food, shelter, sex, social acceptance—he says that it never stopped tribes in the past from going native on each other. Only Christianity, he claims, has made an enduring impact on keeping men in line.


You'll note that he doesn't seem to care whether the Bible stories are true, but only that they have been effective.

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Posted: 01 July 2007 01:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Machiavelli’s “The Prince” comes to mind. LOL

Machiavelli

[quote author=“Machiavelli”]Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good.” Since there are many possible qualities that a prince can be said to possess, he must not be overly concerned about having all the good ones. Although a bad reputation should be avoided, this is not crucial in maintaining power. The only ethic that matters is one that is beneficial to the prince…..

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful…..Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman (3 BC - 65 AD)

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Posted: 01 July 2007 01:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Mia, this is a question that will probably support an enormous thread. My feeling is that morality is more productively spoken about than written about. But having said that, I’ll also admit that I’ve read dozens of books that deeply explore moral and ethical issues as they change over the years. That’s what classic fiction is. Maybe modern fiction, too, though I admit to vast ignorance there.

I’m a fan of Machiavelli, as well, C.A. So many people tend to see him as evil personified only because he was able and willing to describe human societies as they are, rather than as so many pretend they are.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 01 July 2007 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I’m a big fan of Howard Bloom, his stuff is fairly ‘out there’ but it’s all good. His first two books, ‘The lucifer principle’ and ‘The global brain’ are probably the biggest influences on my own personal philosophy. He is about to or has recently released another book called ‘Reinventing capitalism’ which looks to be fantastic.

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Posted: 01 July 2007 09:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“Mia”]

Presumably, they would also have to address WHY one should be moral and ethical, if there’s no Big Cheese keeping tabs on us. That’s what my friend gets stuck on—why bother being a law-abiding citizen if there’s no Ultimate Authority to be accountable to in the end?

Mia, I run into this one all the time, and it drives me around the bend. The question I have to come back with is “So your telling me that if it was proven to you that there was no “Big Cheese” tomorrow - you’d just take off raping, killing and, uh… coveting?”

There are a number of explanations for altruistic behavior that do not involve a supernatural accountant. I suggest Dawkins “Selfish Gene” for an introduction to altruism as a product of evolution. If genetics and game theory are a little far out there for your friend you might try having him ponder the following:

- Why are atheists no more likely than theists to be lawbreakers? In fact, why aren’t all atheists sociopathic degenerates?
- Why did people behave ethically before the existence of the Bible?
- Why do studies of other species indicate that they have complex ethical systems (presumably without the help of the Bible)?
- If the Bible is an such effective moral guide, whence Torqemada? If Torquemada “got it wrong” who “has it right”? How does your friend know this? Sam Harris does an excellent job of elaborating on this in the “Who puts the Good in the ‘Good Book’” section of “Letter to a Christian Nation”.

Your friend advocates a morality based on fear. He’s unable to conceive of someone’s behaving ethically without someone watching and judging, when morality is actually how we behave when we have only the dictates of our own conscience to follow. Being nice to your little brother doesn’t mean a thing when Daddy is 3 feet away with a belt.

I am by no means a moral giant - I’m not even always terribly nice - but my conscience (hardwired by evolution and shaped by experience and exposure to/observation of others) is a far better guide to me than the Bible ever has been.

Oh yes, the question was actually about books. I’ll paraphrase Johnny Mercer: I could eat Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and sh*t better morality than that found in the Bible.

Maybe toss in a little Vonnegut or Heinlein for flavor…

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Posted: 01 July 2007 11:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Thanks for the input, thus far. . .

I guess I’m wishing for something that might not exist (gee, how familiar!)—a book that lays out an accurate-but-not-too-mind-numbing history of human civilization, it’s well-meaning but often disastrous attempts at controlling men’s actions, and the ways we have come to appreciate the wonders of our improbable existence. . . Has anyone done all this (and more) within one tome, without smothering it in myth?


Or maybe the myth is essential. . . I ran across this essay in my searcings, one of the most amazing commentaries on raising a freethinking child that I’ve ever seen. I wish this guy was my dad! He makes me actually wish I had a kid to teach in this way.


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Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion
By Dale McGowan


My daughter Delaney came to me at the age of four and announced that she had finally figured out, as she put it, “the thing about God and Jesus.” She’d heard vague mention of these guys in her Lutheran preschool class (shut up, I’ll explain in a minute) and immediately began crafting her own detailed theology to fill in the many gaps.

She had decided that Jesus made all the good things in the world and that God made all the bad and scary things. So puppies and PBS are from Jesus, then, while tornadoes and Fox News are God’s doing.

The next five words out of the mouths of many religious parents would be No no no no no, in that order, followed by a dose of theological castor oil to set the child straight. Very few would let their child sleep on the hypothesis that God is the source of all evil.

Some secular parents do little better for the child’s independence of thought when they say No no no no no… God isn’t real. In the process, both sets of parents will have substituted their authority for the child’s autonomous thought.

I’ve always preferred to praise the independent thought and let the child run like mad with it. It’s good practice. “Cool,” I said to Delaney. “I never thought of it like that.”

The next week, she promulgated a revised encyclical: God, she said, makes all the things for grownups, and Jesus makes the things for kids. My favorite example: God made the deep end of the pool, and Jesus made the shallow end, for her.

I hugged her. “So God for me and Jesus for you, eh?”

“I guess so,” she said. “I’m not sure. I’m still thinking about it.”

She’s parroting one of my constant parental invocations there: the need to keep thinking, to never close one’s self off to further information.

That doesn’t mean rolling up in a quivering ball of agnosticism, by the way. I also make it clear to them that it’s okay to say what you think  is true.

Earlier this year on the way home from school, she told me about a chat she’d had that day with Mrs. W, her teacher at the abovementioned Lutheran preschool. “I told Mrs. W I think God is just pretend. But I said I’m still thinking about it. And I asked if she thinks God is pretend.”

I looked at her in the rearview mirror, munching on the apple I’d for once remembered to bring for her snack, so beautifully innocent of the fact that she had stood with her little toes at the edge of an age-old chasm, shouting a courageous and ancient question to her teacher on the far rim. My daughter, you see, hasn’t heard that there are unaskable questions.

“So what’d Mrs. W say?”

“She said no,” Laney said, matter-of-factly. “She said, ‘I think God is very real.’”

“Uh huh. Then what did you say, Laney?”

“I said, ‘That’s okay—as long as you’re still thinking about it, too.’”

Two years later, I’m still awestruck by that answer. That’s okay, she said—because it would never occur to her that people must all believe the same—and then the call to continuous freethought, the caveat against the closed process.

How many people of religious faith ever hear that their faith is okay only if it remains open to disconfirmation? Whatever that number is, if I can keep my kids blissfully ignorant of the “rules,” it will increase.

Dancing with Deities

All three of my kids have gone to the same preschool. It’s a great program, the best pre-K in our area, but I wondered at the beginning if I was going to regret enrolling them in a church-affiliated school.

By the end of my son Connor’s first year, I was convinced it was one of the best decisions we could have made. My kids have received a basic, low-key, brimstone-free exposure to Judeo-Christian mythology—an essential element of cultural literacy—and early practice at engaging that world with the brutal honesty of fearless innocence. All I ask of my kids’ early exposures to religion is that they are never abused with the concept of hell, and that they never hear that doubt is bad. And so far, so good.

They also get a rich stew of religious exposure at home—and variety is the key. I adored Greek and Roman myths as a child, and they helped me toward my earliest wonderings about what was so very different about the more current versions.

There’s a way to make this comparison pop out vividly. Get a good volume of classical myths for kids and a volume of bible stories for kids. Read the story of Danae and Perseus, in which a god impregnates a woman, who gives birth to a great hero—then read the divine insemination of Mary and birth-of-Christ story. No denigration of the Christian myth is necessary; kids will simply see that myth is myth.

Next read the opening portion of the Golden Fleece epic, in which a father—who believes, incorrectly, that the gods have ordered him to do so—prepares to slay his son Phryxis (sometimes with his sister Helle), only to be stopped by the appearance of a ram. Then read Abraham and Isaac, in which a father—who believes, correctly, that a god has ordered him to do so—prepares to slay his son Isaac, only to be stopped by the god, who then causes a ram to appear as an alternative. Kids do not fail to catch these parallels, believe you me.

Then on to Baucis and Philemon, eating with a disguised Jupiter and Mercury who cause the inadequate food and drink to multiply miraculously—followed by Jesus and the loaves and fishes. Next up is Odysseus and the Cyclops, which compares nicely to David and Goliath.

The coup de grace  is the story of the infant boy who is abandoned in the wilderness to spare him from death, only to be found by a servant of the king who brings him to the palace to be raised as the child of the king and queen. It’s the story of Moses—and the story of Oedipus.

Top resource for comparative religion: Virginia Hamilton’s In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, which celebrates creation stories of all kinds as tales that are fascinating, imaginative, and mythic.

Gloves Up

Kids typically receive indoctrination as a one-two punch. They hear ideas in Sunday School (“Baby Jesus cries when Billy lies”), from friends on the playground (“I prayed for a bike and God sent me one!”), or from Veggie Tales (“God doesn’t want us to be mean to other people. Unless they’re gay.” Oh wait, that’s Leviticus, not Larry-Boy). The idea itself is the first punch. And you know what? I’m fine with the first punch. I like the first punch. I want my children to receive the first punch. The first punch is informational. It says, “Here is a thing that some people consider true.” Aside from the two abusive nonnegotiables—hell and the demonization of doubt—kids have to hear information before they can think about it.

It’s the second  punch that is the cheap shot. And that punch, as often as not, is delivered by Mom and Dad over supper, when Billy presents the first-punch information and is informed of what he should think about it.

The moment of the question is, for want of a better word, a sacred moment, and one that parents fumble too often. Children have the daunting task of changing from helpless newborns into fully functioning adults in just over six thousand days. Think of that. A certain degree of gullibility necessarily follows. Kids are believing machines, and for good reason: When we are children, the tendency to believe it when we are told that fire is dangerous, that two and two are four, that cliffs are not to be dangled from, and so on, helps us, in the words of Richard Dawkins, “to pack, with extraordinary rapidity, our skulls full of the wisdom of our parents and our ancestors” in order to accomplish the unthinkably complex feat of becoming adults. The immensity of the task requires children to be “suckers” for whatever it is adults tell them. It is our job as parents to be certain not to abuse this period of relative intellectual dependency and trust.

The unconditional love of reality

How we respond to the estimated four hundred thousand questions a child will ask between her second and fifth birthday will surely have a greater impact on her orientation to the world outside her head than the thirteen years of school that follow. Do we always respond with an answer—or sometimes with another question? Do we say, “What a great question!”—or do we just fill in the blank? How often do we utter that fabulous phrase, “You know what… I don’t know!” followed by “Let’s look it up together” or “I’ll bet Aunt Bessie would know that, let’s call her”? When it comes to wondering and questioning, these are the things that make all the difference. We have 400,000 chances to get it right, or 400,000 chances to say, “Because I said so”; “Because God says so”; “Don’t concern yourself with that stuff”; or something similarly fatal to the child’s will to find out.

I try my best to encourage reckless inquiry in my kids. To facilitate that, I want to keep them oblivious, for as long as possible, of the fear that keeps so many people from asking certain questions. I want the idea that questions can be feared because of the answers they might produce to flummox my kids, to baffle them. I want them to find hilariously  silly the idea that certain lines of thought cannot even be pursued, lest they be caught.

That requires a certain amount of parental self-discipline. It requires the ability, for example, to not paint the far wall with soup when the five-year-old asks if monkeys have vaginas, or why black people have big lips, or who will put her blankie on her grave when she dies. It requires a firm conviction that there is no rock that can’t be upended if you think there might be something under it.

This conviction rests on one idea: that the universe is an astonishing, thrilling place to be, and that there’s no adequate way to express the good fortune of being conscious, for a moment, in the midst of it. Unlike my Christian friends who say that life without Christ would be empty, unbearable, and devoid of hope, my  amazement at the universe and gratitude for being awake in it is unconditional. I’m thrilled if there is a god, and I’m thrilled if there isn’t. I’m grateful to be here, whether it’s for a little while or for good. Such an unconditional love of reality breeds a voracious hunger to see that reality clearly, whatever form it may take. Children with that exciting combination of love and hunger will not stand for anything that gets in the way of that clarity. If religious ideas seem to illuminate reality, kids with that unbeatable combo will embrace them. If instead such ideas seem to obscure reality, kids with the love and hunger will bat the damn things aside.

How Amazingly Unlikely was Your Birth

My son needed boxer shorts the other day, stat. I’ll spare you the reason, a familiar hash of peer pressure and arbitrary norms and middle school locker rooms. I ran him to the mall and we bought a few pairs. On the way home, I suddenly flashed on something from long ago. I turned and mentioned to Connor that he owed his existence to (among many other things) boxer shorts.

What follows is, I submit, a definitively secular exchange of wonder.

Boxer shorts? This was news to the boy. Not the general idea of owing his existence to countless small happenstances, mind you. He has long enjoyed the knowledge that several hundred things could have prevented his parents from meeting, from finding each other attractive, from dating, from marrying, and from staying married long enough to spring off. He understands that one particular  sperm and one particular  egg had to meet for him to ever exist. And he vibrates with dawning excitement as he extends these “had-tos” back through the generations, back to his Confederate great-great-great grandfather who was felled by a Yankee bullet through the neck at nineteen and bled profusely—almost, but not quite, enough to erase the great-great-great grandson he would one day have. Connor has worked his way back through a couple million generations of humans and prehumans to imagine two ratlike creatures rocking the casbah at the precise moment the asteroid slammed into Chicxulub 65 million years ago, further clinching the existence of their great-great-great etc. grandson. (“Oooh, baby,” one rat says to the other. “Did you feel that too?”)

But boxer shorts—that was a new one. He demanded to know what I was talking about. I told him that sperm can get sluggish if they are too warm, that briefs hold the testicles against a man’s warm body, and that four months after his mom and I started trying to create him, without luck, I saw this article that suggested switching to boxer shorts, and boom...

His eyes were wide. “You got pregnant.”

“Well Mom  did, technically, but I… “

He clutched his head. “What the freakin’ heck!” (His current favorite pseudo-swear.) He seemed to get it. He turned toward me with an electric look, the look of a person who just missed getting hit by a train. “What if you saw that article a month EARLIER?”

Oh yeah, he gets it. “Or later.” We’d added another casual causal coincidence to the march of time—his father stumbling over some random magazine article… at Great Clips, I think it was, while I waited for a haircut…

“While you waited… what if… WHAT IF SHE FINISHED THE OTHER HAIRCUT BEFORE YOU SAW THE… ?”

Boy  does he get it.

I have several religious friends who think that God fixes these things for us. He put the mag there, you see, and kept the other guy’s haircut going until I could read it. We each have one ideal mate, and God works things out so we meet, fall in love, have the children we’re supposed to have when we’re supposed to have them. Setting aside the revolting idea that God wanted an abused woman to marry her abuser, and so on, we still end up with a world that makes me yawn, a world with a good measure of the wonder stripped out. In that world, we are Jehovah’s chesspieces, moving in preordained patterns, how exceptionally tedious. I mean, you know—tedious in a holy  way.

Meditating instead on how amazingly unlikely was your birth—well, if you haven’t done it, please be my guest. It’s hard to take existence quite so much for granted once you realize how very, very, very close you came to missing the dance entirely. And it’s a perspective that can lend secular parenting a deliciously different flavor from religious parenting.

Parenting the Immortally Challenged

My feeling about death is pretty straightforward: I am opposed to it. Yet there it is. And once my kids have fallen in love with reality, part of my job as a parent is to help them grasp and accept the less lovable parts along with the easier bits.

Fortunately, death is no big deal.

Let me be clear. From this side of the turnstile, death appears to be an enormous deal. But I’ve nursed at the teats of Epicurus and Montaigne long enough to know that the dead themselves surely aren’t all that impressed with it. While I exist, Death does not. When Death exists, I will not. Why should I fear something I will never experience?  That doesn’t entirely feed the bulldog, but it’s a Milk Bone. My life is bounded by two eternities of nonexistence. Why should I fear the nonexistence after my life if I didn’t fear the one before it?  Another Milk Bone. And since our reckless family conversations often intersect with death, I’ve had several occasions to serve up some version of each of those to all three of my kids. There’s real consolation there.

Which speaks to another advantage our kids will have in dealing with death: they’ll never have to lose their immortality. Adults who fear that children cannot endure the concept of death as the no-kidding end (1) were most likely born into the myth themselves and therefore can’t imagine their way out, and (2) don’t know kids. “We accept the reality with which we are presented,” said the deity-like director Christof in The Truman Show. He’s right. Tell kids the truth from the beginning and they’ll accept it as part of the deal and ask what’s for lunch.

Douglas Adams spoke to this when he said, “The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal  is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”

If children start, from the get-go, with the knowledge that we genuinely die, they will think this to be normal. Not exciting, not even easy, perhaps, but they are much more likely to accept the reality and actually get on with the lifelong work of understanding what it really means. They might even see how it makes every moment of life itself so much more fantastically precious. So don’t treat death as an untouchable subject with your kids. Touch it all over. The more familiar, the less frightening. It’s a lifelong challenge, but our kids will be all the further along since they don’t have to waste time erasing heaven (and hell) from their conceptual maps.

A grudging nod to morality… only because I have to

I bring morality in the back door here to deny it the fanfare it seems to want. Every time I do an interview about the secular parenting book that gave this essay its name, the interviewer asks how one can raise ethical kids without religion. I’m always tempted to say, “The same way you raise ethical kids without wearing a purple shirt.” But I never have, not yet, anyway. The look in their eyes is always so searching, so expectant of some backbending secular raindance that I feel a little like a killjoy when I tell them the simple truth: You do almost exactly what every other parent does.

I have never met a religious parent who was unable to give his or her child reasons to be good—generally some variation on reciprocity (how would you feel if someone did that to you?) or universalizability (what if everybody did that?). The invocation of authority comes as a coda (...and God wants us to be nice), rarely as the central message. And it’s difficult to imagine even the most religion-drunk parents saying, “Don’t steal, Timmy. I have no idea why it’s bad, but God says not to, so there you have it.” And, at the risk of waxing platitudinous, they learn more from what we do than from what we say anyway.

If anything, secular parents have a huge advantage in the ethics game. By recognizing that morality is in fact reasonable, they can encourage their kids to think about morality, which in turn improves their moral judgment—a thing quite distinct from rule-following.

Dance, monkeys, dance!

To keep from spooking the quail, I often find myself humbly suggesting that it is possible to raise children every bit as ethical, caring, loving, humane, inspired and well-adjusted without religion as with it. In reality (my favorite place to be, after all) I don’t believe parenting without religion is merely “as good” as parenting with it. I think it is immeasurably better. I think it blows the doors off religious parenting in every  respect—powerful inquiry, reasoned ethics, ecstatic inspiration, cosmic humility and profound humanity—and I am floored by my good fortune to live in one of the few human generations to date when raising children without religious indoctrination is a practical possibility. No need to waste time raining reason on the deaf ears of the faithful. Let the baby have his bottle. Our time is better spent clearing a space for the rest of us to dance with our children.

source: http://www.secweb.org/index.aspx?action=viewAsset&id=758


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Posted: 02 July 2007 12:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Thanks, Mia ... you’ve just sold another copy of McGowen’s book.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, in the end), my three kids now aged 8, 10 and 12, have received a mishmash of moral and religious instruction from me since they were right with me through my own personal break from the church and escape from religion. 

I began parenting as a believer and used God as my last resort on several occasions.  I remember an exchange with my eldest when he was 3-ish where he went through a list of things asking me who made what beginning with the simple question,

“Who made the banana bread?” 
“Gramma.” 
“Who made the banana?”
“The banana tree.”
“Who made the tree?”
“God.”
“Who made God”
“Ask Grampa.”

Although I cringe now to think I was on the brink of creating three more closed thinkers, it was actually due to my kids’ questions and parenting in general that ultimately lead me away from religion.  I look at their scrambled beginnings and think we are all just learning together.

When I was first out of the Church six or so years ago, I went through a period of trying to tap into my kids (then 3, 5 and 7) less contaminated minds to see what they thought about things.  I’m still curious to know their points of view on things. 

My standard answer these days to any of their “Who made ...” and other big questions is to say that nobody knows for sure and it depends on who you ask.  What do you think?

From Parenting Beyond Belief:

I have never met a religious parent who was unable to give his or her child reasons to be good—generally some variation on reciprocity (how would you feel if someone did that to you?) or universalizability (what if everybody did that?).

This part reminds me of another exchange with my youngest who, at the age of five, tried hockey, much to her mother’s delight and enthusiasm.  I was so psyched when she blurted out one day that she wanted to play hockey since I’d just discovered it for myself and was hooked.  So I bought her the equipment and wrapped her up in it, dropped her on the ice and sat in the stands watching what I was sure to be her best day of her life so far.

Reality check.  When the practice ended, I ran down to meet her in the dressing room to see how she liked it, but as soon as she caught sight of me, she started in on me .... “I HATE hockey!  It’s all boys.  I’m all sweaty.  YOU said I would like it, and I HATE IT!!”  This tirade all through undoing her skates and peeling off the equipment to end with, “I’m NOT coming back tomorrow.  I never want to play hockey again.”

I’m thinking a couple of things at this point.  First, the kid’s obviously crazy.  How can she not LOVE hockey?  Second, she has to come to tomorrow’s practice because one time out on the ice when you barely know how to skate isn’t even giving hockey a real try and one time on the ice doesn’t nearly cover the $400 price tag on her equipment.  So I try to reason with my crazed child on the way to the car:

“If you don’t come to hockey tomorrow, how would Brianna and Bethany (the other two girls on the team) feel?  How would you feel if Brianna and Bethany don’t show up tomorrow?” 

“I won’t FEEL anything because I WON"T BE THERE!”

She ended up finishing that one season and didn’t have a totally horrible time since she had a really fun guy as her coach, but what I learned that day was that reason and reciprocity, as with most parenting tools, isn’t always a smooth and easy interaction, but in the end, it gets you a lot further ahead than religion.  Can’t imagine now getting through moments like those with only religious morality as my guide.  What could I say ... you’ll be coming back tomorrow because I, with God as my witness, say you’re coming back tomorrow?

If I were to choose one book as my moral guide out of the books I’ve read, I’d choose, “Emotional Intelligence,” by Daniel Goleman.  This far (near?) into parenting, I’d say that good psychology and sociology do far more for morality than any religious text.

Thanks for the post!  I’m going over to Amazon to order the book smile

Susan

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Posted: 02 July 2007 05:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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[quote author=“Mia”]I have never met a religious parent who was unable to give his or her child reasons to be good—generally some variation on reciprocity (how would you feel if someone did that to you?) or universalizability (what if everybody did that?).

It has never been clear to me why some people feel the need for “a book” as a guide to teaching ethical behavior…...when simple, logical and consistent application of “the golden rule” in its various manifestations will do the job?

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful…..Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman (3 BC - 65 AD)

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Posted: 02 July 2007 06:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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CA wrote:

It has never been clear to me why some people feel the need for “a book” as a guide to teaching ethical behavior…...when simple, logical and consistent application of “the golden rule” in its various manifestations will do the job?

I think parents look to books for guidance because when you wake up one day and find that you’re suddenly the parent of a toddler or preschooler often intent on ruling his or her little world, you quickly find out that they aren’t interested in playing nice or treating others as they would like to be treated.  Most of us are would be tyrants in our early years and can’t see past the toy we want or the swing we want a turn in.  Expecting young kids to understand the logic behind the Golden Rule is an exercise in futility.  They don’t get it.  No matter how nice you are to them, they aren’t going to play nice or behave unless they want to or you make it even less appealing for them not to.  Which doesn’t mean they can’t be introduced to the idea, but the Golden rule needs to be accompanied with set boundaries or the lesson is lost. 

I’ve never found that being a ‘nice’ parent works very well.  I know many families where the parents are the kindest people you could want to meet and their kids are absolute terrors and run the whole house because the parents find it too difficult (or unnecessary) to say no or set boundaries.  Nice parenting without boundaries is useless.  The Golden Rule in our house is if you’re being respectful and considerate, your life goes pretty smoothly.  But if you decide to be difficult or nasty, your life gets progressively worse until you decide to ‘see the light.’ 

Figuring out how to set boundaries and enforce them without going overboard in the other direction – spanking or yelling, isn’t so easy to learn if you didn’t grow up with parents with decent parenting skills.  That would be my guess as to why many parents (myself included) look to find answers in books to learn what we don’t yet know about how to guide would-be tyrants towards being considerate neighbours.

Susan

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Posted: 02 July 2007 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“Rasmussen”]I think parents look to books for guidance because when you wake up one day and find that you’re suddenly the parent of a toddler or preschooler often intent on ruling his or her little world, you quickly find out that they aren’t interested in playing nice or treating others as they would like to be treated.  Most of us are would be tyrants in our early years and can’t see past the toy we want or the swing we want a turn in.  Expecting young kids to understand the logic behind the Golden Rule is an exercise in futility.  They don’t get it.  No matter how nice you are to them, they aren’t going to play nice or behave unless they want to or you make it even less appealing for them not to.  Which doesn’t mean they can’t be introduced to the idea, but the Golden rule needs to be accompanied with set boundaries or the lesson is lost. 
Susan

Look Susan, I’ve raised 3 kids to become responsible and ethical adults and am currently participating in the raising of 4 grandchildren under the age of 4. 

I think that I understand the concept of parent-imposed boundaries…......very well.

When I advocate being guided by the “golden rule”, I am talking about applying and demonstrating it at a level that is very pragmatic, understandable and age-appropriate……….not as some “nice” philosophical abstraction that needs to be explained.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

My mother used to tell the story of when she was about 5 or 6 and was fighting with her younger brother over who would get the preferred flavor ice cream cone of two that were offered.  After several attempts to get them to resolve the dispute and share equitably with no success, my grandfather and grandmother simply took both ice cream cones and ate them…….my mother never forgot how she felt when that happened and remembered that “golden rule” lesson for the rest of her life.

Now, whenever my two three-year-old grandchildren start to fight over a toy, a turn on the swing, or anything else, they already understand that they need to reciprocally share or there will be no turn for either of them.

Even little kids understand what hurts them or feels bad…….So, the question “How would you feel if your brother did that to you?” has real “golden rule” meaning to them.

I think that it is important to use such “golden rule” teaching moments to show kids how to feel “empathy” for others by putting themselves in the other person’s place and imagining how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of whatever inappropriate action is happening.

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Posted: 02 July 2007 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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You show how demonstration is the #1 tool, CA.

But there is also the power of storytelling, of following the actions of a protagonist, and all that the person comes up against, screws up, learns to resolve, takes joy in. . . so I would think that books can be powerful teaching tools. I don’t remember ever feeling empathy for a pig (much less a spider) until I had Charlotte’s Web read to me.

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Posted: 02 July 2007 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Mia, there is no question that morality tales have value in getting kids to think about moral and ethical issues and even experience them emotionally in a vicarious but generally entertaining way. 

The same can probably be said for Hollywood movies where the bad guys get what’s coming to them in the end.

However, my observation is that the most important and long-lasting lessons come as the result of up-close-and-personal experiences on a daily basis.  It is the accumulation of millions of such situations, events, consequences and lessons both large and small that make each of us who we are.

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful…..Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman (3 BC - 65 AD)

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Posted: 02 July 2007 04:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“Mia”]My question:

If you were to pick just one book, or perhaps up to three books, for the purposes of raising up a decent human being, which would you reach for?

My vote is for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ Driver Manual.

Anything you could possibly want to know about life is in there. If it’s not in there, you don’t need to know it. Ever.

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“We have it recorded in a book called the Bible.”

To be blunt, the Bible records all manner of silly shit.

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Posted: 03 July 2007 01:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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I don’t see where you (CA) and I disagree when it comes to disciplining and teaching kids to be considerate.

The point I was trying to make is that using the Golden Rule as a guide on its own is not enough.  Teaching kids about the Golden Rule requires extra measures and those extra measures need to be learned.  Some of us learn them through osmosis by being lucky enough to have parents and care givers who are good at setting limits and others of us need to teach ourselves how to parent.  And one good source of information can be a good book. 

Like the example you provide from your mother’s childhood:

CA wrote:

My mother used to tell the story of when she was about 5 or 6 and was fighting with her younger brother over who would get the preferred flavor ice cream cone of two that were offered. After several attempts to get them to resolve the dispute and share equitably with no success, my grandfather and grandmother simply took both ice cream cones and ate them…….my mother never forgot how she felt when that happened and remembered that “golden rule” lesson for the rest of her life.

In this example, your grandmother and grandfather actually reversed the Golden Rule and treated your mother and uncle in a way they would NOT want to be treated to make their point.  That’s not an obvious tactic for a parent who is trying to be nice and treat others as they would want to be treated.  Part of setting limits means that you’ll be often treating your kids in ways that don’t feel so nice. 

For ‘nice’ parents to learn that it’s not only okay but necessary to set limits and seemingly be ‘mean’ to your kids, they need information on what’s normal child behaviour to know that they aren’t damaging their kids psyches when they tell them no or make them unhappy.  They also need teaching tools to then learn appropriate ways to set those limits.

What do you have against books?  I would presume that you read books on other subjects to learn something new.  What have you got against books on parenting or moral tales that help a kid along in their social development?

Susan

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Posted: 03 July 2007 01:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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I think Zagats should be required reading and guidebook for all non religious moralists for as the saying goes de gustibus non disputandem est

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Posted: 03 July 2007 03:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“Rasmussen”]
What do you have against books?  I would presume that you read books on other subjects to learn something new.  What have you got against books on parenting or moral tales that help a kid along in their social development?

I have nothing against such books and my wife and I have used them extensively to help us through the trials and tribulations of child rearing. 

Probably the most valuable and practical was Dr. Spock’s seminal work which is now in its 8th edition.

Dr. Spock, Baby & Child Care

Everybody who becomes a parent for the first time is, by definition, an amateur and needs all of the help that they can get….......and parenting books are an excellent source.

However, I thought that Mia’s original question was focused on finding a source of moral and ethical guidance as a non-believer’s substitute for the moral teachings of the Bible.

My point is that one does not need a secular “Bible” in order to be able to tell right from wrong or to teach your children to be moral and ethical…....I contend that “the Golden Rule”, consistently applied, is really all you need.

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful…..Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman (3 BC - 65 AD)

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