Death and Religious Diversity

June 9, 2011

Where does our persona (some would say “soul”) go when we die? Science can’t definitively answer that question, but we can make reasonable guesses about our final destination.

Energy can Neither be Created nor Destroyed – What happens to all that energy in our bodies when we die. If it can’t be destroyed, it has to go somewhere, right? To answer this question, we need to ask what we mean by energy. Then we must ask whether there’s a reasonable real world answer for where this energy is transferred (which there is). And finally, we must ask whether it’s plausible that our biological energy could experience  an afterlife dimension for all eternity. When those questions are answered logically, we see that the natural scientific explanation for death, that there is no afterlife, makes much more sense than anything proposed by religion.

What About Reincarnation – It’s appealing to believe in reincarnation because we have no memories of when we were infants. What if our hard drives are pre-erased so that our new life won’t be contaminated with memories from a previous life? Unfortunately, there’s no good scientific explanation for how this reincarnation would happen. Our ever-increasing population size becomes a huge problem for reincarnation, and it becomes even worse when you factor in the belief of some cultures that we go through several iterations of reincarnation from animal to human. Should we count bacteria? It’s all very implausible, and we should question our wishful desires for such a theory to be true.

Heaven and Hell – There are a few factors that go into this widespread belief. The most obvious reason that heaven is so compelling is that we need to feel that death is not the end… that we will see our deceased loved ones again. The second reason that this idea is popular is that we would like to think that there is a universal form of judgement for those who escape punishment for their crimes on Earth. But, I think we can all agree that most people live their lives in a morally gray way. Isn’t it sad that some people believe that truly righteous, morally centered individuals will burn in a lake of fire because they didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior? The crime does not fit the punishment, but more importantly, the reward does not fit the deed. How many jerks and morally depraved individuals are considered to be residents of heaven simply because they asked for forgiveness and accepted Jesus on their death bed? Does this seem reasonable?


The question came up at UU church this past Sunday about how to handle it when your children are confronted by the beliefs of their friends in things like hell. “How can you be an atheist? Don’t you realize that you will go to hell?” Yes, this is a disturbing image for our children to confront, but true religious diversity and tolerance implores us to look at the situation from the perspective of these children who are indoctrinated into their religion. Should it truly be a surprise that these children are concerned that their atheist friend will actually be burned in a lake of fire for all eternity? It’s a terrible image for children to imagine, and we should remember how it must feel to truly internalize the “reality” of hell.

This is why it’s important to make the punishment of hell a non-negotiable for relatives. Grandma wants to share her love of Christ? Fine. Grandma wants to strike fear in the heart of your child by threatening them with eternal damnation? Not fine. And how should kids handle their friends? They should just say that they don’t believe in all that stuff (assuming they don’t), but kids should also be taught to empathize with the reason their friends would be concerned. Accommodation and acceptance are important lessons to be taught to little humanists, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t speak up for their own beliefs when challenged.

So what do atheists think about death? I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe we just die. It’s not the most attractive answer, nor is it the most interesting, but sometimes reality doesn’t match the story in our hearts. What happens when we die? The same thing that happens before we are born… nothing. But, people do live on after death. As cheesy as it sounds, they live on in our memories and they live on in what they’ve created during their short time on Earth. Isn’t that enough?

Atheists in Catholic School

May 26, 2010

Cincinnati is a melting pot of faiths, but the predominant religion here is catholicism. There are 66 catholic schools in my county. Judging from my interactions with other parents in the community, many of those schools are enrolled with the children of atheists and agnostics.

The overwhelming opinion, and debatable fact, of the public schools here is that they are dangerous hives of villainy where bright (non-black) children will be dragged down by the riff raff. This popular opinion even extends to the white-flight suburbs, which might remove a small portion of the racism out of the equation. As bad as parents deem the low quality public schools, they inversely praise the catholic schools for their high standards of education.

Who can entirely blame them? Many of these freethinking parents attended the very same catholic schools when they were students, well before their conversion toward agnosticism. And many of them remember higher standards of education and higher expectations of the graduates.

And yet, I’m having a very hard time accepting this way of life in Cincinnati. For one thing, my wife often points out that this is a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy. If every parent of a bright child yanks each of their kids out of public school and puts them in a catholic school, then there won’t be any scholars left to attend public school. But, the question is whether I want my kids to be the exception. Do I want my daughters to stagnate in an institution that has been abandoned by other well-intentioned parents in the community? Do I want my daughters to suffer because I insisted on having them attend a poor quality public school, instead of the distinguished catholic school.

The other problem here is the money. First, I can’t afford the expense of catholic school. In fact, I’d wager my small income that many of the debt-ridden families that attend catholic school can’t afford it either. Even if I could afford catholic school, I would have serious ethical issues paying massive amounts of money to a religious institution in which I neither believe nor wish to support in any way. I don’t want to be too melodramatic about it, but the stories of systemic sexual abuse in the catholic church are revolting enough that supporting them in any way would sincerely bother me.

There’s also another problem with having my children attend catholic school. They expect you to go to church. They even keep tabs on whether you have tithed enough. So, not only are your children at the mercy of nuns who are shoving the threat of hell at them on a consistent basis, but these students are expected to extend their exposure to religion on Sundays too. The ironic thing that I like to point out is that these parents would feel very uncomfortable teaching their kids about atheism because they are worried that they might indoctrinate them.

And then what will these freethinking parents tell their children when the inevitable questions of church and faith come up? There will surely be an awkward conversation about why they must attend a religious school while living in a non-religious house. Will this seem like hypocrisy? I’m not entirely sure how it will play out, but I wonder about how these children will handle interacting with their faithful peers. Will they be bullied, ignored, teased, or will they learn to keep their beliefs quiet so that they won’t be kicked out of the school or socially ostracized?

I don’t judge the freethinking parents who are deciding to put their children in these religious schools. Every parent wants the best for their kids, including myself. I could never condemn an atheist for making this difficult choice, but I think the idea deserves a conversation. What do you think?

Introducing: Podcast Beyond Belief

February 26, 2010

Sorry, we haven’t had the time to post lately. All of us have been busy with a new project that we’re finally ready to reveal.

We’re proud to announce that Science-Based Parenting, in affiliation with Foundation Beyond Belief, will be producing a weekly parenting podcast for skeptics and secular humanists. Podcast Beyond Belief features the contributing writers of this blog, Laurie Tarr from Rational Moms, Heidi Anderson from She-Thought, and Elyse Anders from Skepchick.

Each episode will feature a round-table discussion of the latest parenting science news, in addition to interviews with well-known science advocates and secular humanists. We’ll also have a regular feature called “THE FAQ”, where we’ll forward on your toughest parenting questions to qualified experts and report back their up-to-date science-based answers.

Our first episode includes a discussion with Dale McGowan, the founder of our “parent” organization, Foundation Beyond Belief. You might also remember him as the editor and co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers. Dale spoke about secular humanism, and how those principles fit with the foundation’s ideals. We expect to have some listeners who may not understand what it means to be a secular humanist. It’ll be nice to have Dale’s explanation (and example) of humanist philosophy on our first episode to provide context for people new to the concept of freethought.

Be sure to also check out our second episode next week when we sit down with John Flansburgh from They Might Be Giants, the duo who created the new children’s album “Here Comes Science“. The interview went in unexpected directions, and before I knew it, Flans was talking about vaccines, Andrew Wakefield and 9/11 conspiracies.

If you have questions for the FAQ – please send them to We’ll pick our favorites to send to the experts for their answers.

We hope you enjoy the first episode. Not to be too apologetic, but please keep in mind that most of us have never produced anything like this before. Please give us some time to get our feet on the ground.  We’ll continue to evolve as we become more confident with the process.

Foundation Beyond Belief Launches Today

January 1, 2010

Dear Readers,

I’m trying to spread the word about this new Secular Humanist charity organization, Foundation Beyond Belief, which launches today. quarter, Foundation Beyond Belief will select nine deserving charities in nine different categories: Environment, Health, Peace, Child Welfare, Animal Protection, Education, Human Rights,  The “Big Bang”, and Poverty. You can partition your monthly donation in any way you wish so that your money helps the categories you care about the most; there’s also a tenth charity – the foundation itself.

Foundation Beyond Belief is a non-profit that was established by Dale McGowan (author of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers – see previous posts) to represent non-believers: agnostics, atheists, and secular humanists. As you know, churches are good at raising money for charity, but they often proselytize under the banner of heaven. Foundation Beyond Belief will never purposefully choose an organization that proselytizes.

Atheists humbly make donations and quietly volunteer, but our low profile gives our spiritual counterparts an excuse to criticize our assumed lack of philanthropy. Nonbelievers don’t need to prove anything to anyone, so this isn’t about thumping our chest. We can still maintain our humbleness and dignity by quietly donating, but I purposefully want to advocate for this charity because it’s success will remind the world that Secular Humanists, as a collective, are caring, kind, and giving. It’s also a statement of our values – the nine categories align with just about everything most of us stand for. Secular Humanists are good people. We may not believe in god, but most of us believe in humanity, ethics, world peace, equality, global health, and kindness.

I don’t work for this charity. I just want to get the word out. Please forward this to any of your friends and family, who might appreciate the message. I believe it’s crucial to spread the word about Foundation Beyond Belief because many nonbelievers keep their lack of faith on the down-low; there’s not a church of atheism where this message can be disseminated.

Foundation Beyond Belief is also attempting to bring together Secular Humanist parents by creating community groups. We may not have a church, but that shouldn’t stop us from assembling and being social. You can sign up to be a community leader – positions remain open.

I guess that’s enough promotion for one post. Have a happy New Year!!!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Blogger,

Raising Freethinkers Resources Guide Part 3

December 30, 2009

This is the final installment of links featured in the book Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide to Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan, Amanda Metskas, Jan Devor, and Molleen Matsumura. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. My thanks to Dale McGowan for allowing me to add these links to the site. The reason I did this is that I really enjoyed the book, and I kept wishing there was one archive where I could find all the recommended info. Make sure you read the book, but also take the time to examine some of these links. They are a true treasure trove.

Chapter Seven: Death and Life

Planning Nonreligious Funerals/Memorials

For the Grieving Child

When a Pet Dies

For the Grieving Teen

For the Bereaved Parent

Helping Kids Think About Death

Kids Literature on Death

Reflections for Adults and Young Adults

Chapter Eight: Finding and Creating a Community

Finding Existing Nontheistic Communities in Your Area

Meetup Groups

Alternatives to Traditional Scouting


Resources for Secular Homeschoolers


Chapter Nine: The Grab Bag

Rule, Brittania!

Alternatives to Corporal Punishment



Raising Freethinkers Resources Guide Part 2

December 30, 2009

This is the second of three pages of links for the resources available in Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide to Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan, Amanda Metskas, Molleen Matsumura, and Jan Devor. You can see the first page here and the last page here.

Chapter 4: The Physical Self

Sexuality Information

General Health and Body Issues

Celebrating Difference


Chapter Five: Ingredients of a Life Worth Living

Happiness and Flow


Character, Reflection, & More

Chapter Six: Celebrating Life

Planning Celebrations – General

Rites of Passage

Special Occasions


Expressing Thanks


Earth Day

Birth/ Adoption

Table Reflections and Readings


Peace and Nonviolence

Miscellaneous Resources

Raising Freethinkers Resources Guide Part 1

December 29, 2009

This is a page of links for the resources provided in the book Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan, Amanda Metskas, Molleen Matsumura, and Jan Devor. Raising Freethinkers is a companion book to Parenting Beyond Belief, a collection of freethought parenting essays compiled by Dale McGowan. Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here.

Chapter 1: The Inquiring Mind


Lateral Thinking and Brain Teasers

The Final Frontier

Evolution and Genetics

Miscellaneous Science

Philosophy/ General

Chapter 2: Living and Teaching Ethics in Your Family

Understanding Ethical Development

Introduction to Parenting Styles

Exploring Humanist Ethics

Books for the Kids

Helping Parents Find Books on Ethics for Kids

Ethical Education Curricula


Nondiscriminatory Extracurricular Programs for Kids

Programs for Ethical Education and Action

Chapter 3: Secular Family, Religious World

Religious Literacy

Separation of Church and State


My Trip to the Creation Museum

August 9, 2009

I finally made it to the Creation Museum.  No, I didn’t make the trip with PZ Myers, and the other 300 or so day-tripping atheists, along with the Secular Student Alliance .  Parental responsibilities got in the way.  However, a few days ago, after a trip to the dentist with my daughter, we found time to stop by.  Oh, don’t worry though.  She’s 8 years old and has a finely tuned skeptical filter that nothing gets by without question.

So, I posted a few of the photos I took, and soon after, I was asked a question from a good friend of mine, whom I believe is a Christian by birth, what did I think of it?  This is my response:

What I thought of the Creation Museum?  Well, there were dinosaurs.  Lots of dinosaurs.  Dinosaur paraphernalia was sprinkled all throughout the place.  I like dinosaurs, as do my children, and probably your children too.  Dinosaurs are cool.  So, they definitely have the cool factor going for them.  Though, overall, I thought it was disturbing, especially when I saw children there, young impressionable children.  Children, whose minds are being manipulated to think, that to be in good favor with their religious social group, or even with their parents, they have to put aside everything they’re taught in school and buy into this garbage.

The “alternative” and opposing information that is provided there is just simply bogus and destructive.  They are anti-science, anti-progress, anti-education and anti-reason, and admittedly so.  The children who are indoctrinated into this sect are being robbed of vital critical thinking skills.  Skills that are vital to the progression of society as a whole.  As cliché as it sounds, an investment in the minds of children is an investment in our future.  Yes, there is a future to care about.  The End Times are not coming.

It’s one frame of mind to believe in some sort of omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent ultimate consciousness that set forth into motion time and matter, but does not otherwise interfere.  It’s another frame of mind to believe in a “one true god” and to say you’re a Christian and yet another to be a Christian fundamentalist and believe the Bible might contain accounts of actual historical events, and act as an infallible source of morals.  That’s a person’s right and prerogative.  It’s something different altogether to just make things up to manipulate the public and more specifically, the group that calls themselves Christian, into thinking they have to throw out what bit of reason or logic they allow themselves to believe the nonsense they have to offer, to maintain their good status in their religious group.  As an example, this sect puts the phrase “God’s word” as an opposition to reason, as it shows in one particular exhibit of posters displaying actual scientific discoveries and offers, what is known as Ockham’s razor, a simplified answer to every question that may arise, it is “God’s word.”  This implies a person has to choose one over the other.  A book of bronze-age mythology over current scientific advancement and inquiry.  Religious authority over freethought.  Religious dogma over observable, empirical and measurable evidence that is subject to correcting and integrating previous knowledge, also known as science.

Rest assured, you can call yourself a Christian and accept the scientific method, too.

The word, museum, used in the name of the place, is very deceiving.  In my opinion, the place, which is reminiscent of an overly produced, but well done, carnival side show might be more aptly named, “The House of Creationism.”  Even then you might wonder what the deal is with all the randomly placed dinosaurs.

You might also raise an eyebrow to the heavily armed guards posing as the Creation Museum Police, whom upon inquiry, will let you know in a well scripted brief, although they have so far been without incident, they are ready to detain, arrest and subdue with force, anyone causing trouble.

Fortunately, with my military ID I got got in free and a half price admission for my daughter.


About Me: A New Contributor to Science-Based Parenting

August 9, 2009

As an introduction, here are a few words about myself, of which will be familiar to those close to me, and to those who’ve taken time to read the “About Me:” section on that popular online social network.

I am not superstitious or religious. If you are, please, do not expect me to regard highly your superstitions or religious beliefs because they are in fact not sacred to me. I can’t apologize for that. Luckily, I grew up in conditions which left me to search out answers to my questions myself, rather that relying on the opinion of what ever authority there were. That being said, I was not indoctrinated by any loved ones’ version or interpretation of religious dogma, or maybe it was just that nothing ever really stuck. Hence, I don’t have any sort of mystical, magical ideas about the inner workings of human life, or all that is natural. I don’t look for meaning in life. I think nature is absolutely beautiful by itself without trying to pretend there is something mystical about it. I don’t need meaning as justification to enjoy a natural life. I do not have self righteous, self important, prejudice, ego maniacal, dogmatic, biased, or narrow minded views, beliefs, convictions, or opinions about any other persons’ personal prerogative. You may disagree if you like. My life and thinking is generally aided by humanism, rationalism, secularism, reason, critical logic, skepticism, freethought, and common sense. I will continue to think freely and live a meaningful, fulfilling life based on reason, compassion and logic. I think you have the right to believe in whatever deity or supernatural explanation you choose, just as I have the right to accept reality based on the natural laws that govern the universe, and truth sought out by the method of science, rather than ancient or current myth.

…and yes, I am a parent.  I’m a father of four girls.


I Will Not Give the Creation Museum My Money!

July 28, 2009

PZ Myers and a small army of his followers will be descending upon my hometown of Cincinnati for an excursion to the notoriously ignorant Creation Museum. The point of the SSA sponsored visit is that it will be a “fact finding mission” for the purpose of spreading criticism (and likely first hand ridicule) across the blogosphere. Fair enough, but…

The Creation Museum willfully retards the intelligence of it’s visitors by spreading misinformation as fact. I would be happy to see them go bankrupt, pack up their anachronistic dinosaurs, and leave town forever. So, I have mixed feelings about this visit, where each member of the atheist mob will be paying $10 to the people that they oppose the most. That’s more than $2000 going to a museum that denigrates science, misinforms hundreds of students, and stains the reputation of the entire area. On the other hand, it would be fairly cool to be there to see the mockery that unfolds.

I completely understand that they’re getting a discounted rate, and that they will be ridiculing what they see (in a censored fashion), but that’s ten dollars per person that could have been donated to the Secular Student Alliance, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, or the Center For Inquiry. The creationists shouldn’t be given a dime by atheists, and yet, hundreds of them will be paying a tithe to make a pilgrimage to this bastion of offensive fundamentalist propaganda. To put it in perspective, PZ shut down the deal between the Cincinnati Zoo and the Creation Museum, yet he is now participating in, even encouraging, a deal with the Creation Museum. And yet, nobody has bothered to question this?

Not to be an omen of misfortune, I’m also extremely concerned that the atheists attending will be subjecting themselves to possible violence. I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but this museum is on the Kentucky side of the river where there all kinds of Fox News zombies who cock their pistols every time they hear the words “abortion“, “atheist“, and “Obama“. I’ve been concerned about PZ ever since he desecrated a communion cracker, but this entourage to the Creation Museum puts hundreds of atheists at risk of violence from any number of crazy right wing extremist living in the area. I’m not saying that violence is likely or inevitable, and I’m definitely not saying that anyone should adjust their behavior out of fear, but it’s a risk that we take being the most despised group in America. It’s not a joke around here.

It’s ironic because the folks at the Creation Museum are probably worried about the same thing. They think that a bunch of godless heathens will come in and destroy the museum, rape the innocent, and steal their souls. I’m exaggerating of course, but it’s evident from their recent demands that the employees of the Creation Museum are on the verge of pissing their pants with fear that the godless horde will rise up and drag them to hell. We can only hope that the atheists behave so pleasantly that some of the creationists reconsider their prior assumptions. The frequenters of Pharyngula are mean SOBs when they’re semi-anonymous, as many of us are, but I’m quite sure that the atheists of the SSA are just normal ethical citizens who care about the world, their family, and their friends.

Clearly, I’m in the minority on refusing to attend the Creation Museum, as it seems there are very few dissenting votes against the idea of forking over cash money to them. I’m interested what you think. Am I missing the point? Am I being too paranoid? Or do you possibly agree? Let me know.


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