Since I have no kids, I don’t have much to contribute to our discussion of The Ghost on Saturday Night or finding good nonreligious and skeptical books for kids. Instead of flouting my ignorance, I decided to inviteÂ Dale McGowan, editor and co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief to weigh in with his thoughts. So without further ado…
by Dale McGowan
Consider Pandora.Â To understand why religion and science are incompatible, look no further than that myth of curiosity punished.Â Eve will also do, as would Lot’s poor nameless wife.Â Each of these religious stories has the same moralâ€”curiosity kills.Â Science, then, is fueled by the very thing religion has traditionally fearedâ€”the opening of forbidden boxes, the picking of forbidden fruit.Â And what scientist would not have looked over her shoulder as brimstone rained down on two cities?
I consider lack of curiosity the ultimate secular sin.Â So when I choose books for my kids, I try to include those that raise at least as many questions as they answerâ€” books that surprise and challenge and broaden and intrigue and entertain.
I’m especially fond of books with curious, intelligent characters.Â Harry Potter, Lyra Belacqua, and Alexander Fox spring to mind, along with the Magic Treehouse kids.Â And we read the myths of Pandora and Eve precisely because they offer a chance to comment on the characters’ curious courage and to wonder at the dullards who wrote the tales to damn them.Â
If you want to get your kids thinking about religion in the broadest possible way, there’s no better vehicle than mythology.Â I adored myths when I was a kid, and they helped me toward my earliest wonderings about what was so very different about the more current versions.
Thereâ€™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 â€” then read the divine insemination of Mary and birth of Christ. Then thereâ€™s 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. Itâ€™s the story of Moses â€” and the story of Oedipus.Â No denigration of the Judeo-Christian stories is necessary; kids simply figure out that both traditions are wonderfully rich and equally mythic.
If I had to choose just one story as a model of curious courage, itâ€™s hard to beat the power and message of The Emperorâ€™s New Clothes.Â In a few short pages, the story satirizes vanity, power, conformity, self-doubt, and human gullibility while praising evidence, courage, and honest dissent.Â If you can find a tale that more neatly captures the values of freethought, Iâ€™ll eat my miter.
Final thought:Â make sure you read aloud to your kids, even well after they can read on their own.Â Not only does it offer opportunities for discussion; oral language also serves as the foundation of all literacy.Â As Lucy Calkins notes in Raising Lifelong Learners, reading aloud and engaging in other conversation in the home is the best possible catalyst for the development of a literate, engaged, and articulate mind.
Dale McGowan, Ph.D. is editor and co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief and the forthcoming Raising Freethinkers.Â He was recently named Harvard Humanist of the Year for 2008.Â He lives in Atlanta with his wife and three kids.