Thursday, October 8, 2009

Humanism for Parents : Parenting without Religion

It’s not easy to raise children free of religion, especially in societies where they will be in a distinct minority and where well-meaning people will attempt to change this choice. So I was eager to read Sean P. Curley’s Humanism for Parents - Parenting without Religion. On the whole, though, this book didn’t work for me.

I’ll begin with what does work. The book discusses religious traditions and ways in which humanists can adapt these or design their own. Religion plays an important social role in many people’s lives, providing a sense of community and tradition. Humanists should be able to enjoy that as well, if they wish to do so.

There are also two chapters of questions children and teenagers might ask about God, about science and about what their family believes or does not believe. Sample answers are included, and these are well-thought-out, sensitive and tactful.

Those are the pros. The first con is the cover art.

Normally the writer has little say over the cover. However, this book was printed by the self-publishing service Lulu, and the cover features da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man. That would be great for a scientific text but it’s not, IMO, the best choice for something written for parents and children. A picture of a family walking past a religious ceremony (or watching from a safe distance) would have been more reader-friendly.

Also, the book is 87 pages long (including the bibliography), and only 42 pages actually deal with how parents can introduce and support humanism in their families. The rest is devoted to the history of humanism and the author’s thoughts on controversial issues.

There are many topics which would be more relevant to this book than global warming. For instance, what if only one parent is a non-believer? What’s it like to participate in some aspects of religious festivals without believing in the theology associated with them?

Another way to improve this book would have been to intersperse the advice with anecdotes or examples. We learn much more easily from stories, which have a way of personalizing issues. That’s one reason I have no quotes; nothing leaped out at me as a fascinating way to explain or illustrate a fact. I would have loved to see the intelligent suggestions in this book framed with that kind of accessible approach.

Not to say that I found everything here intelligent. The section on abortion (one of the controversial issues) makes repeated references to “partial birth abortion”, a loaded political term which is not recognized by the American Medical Association. And the relevance of this to “a practical guide that is meant to address the differences between religious and non-religious parenting” was not clear.

The book is a trade paperback priced at $12.95. I’d like to see more publications about atheism and humanism, but I couldn’t recommend this one.

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