I’m very fortunate to live in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, which is home to an active and vibrant secular community, within which I’ve had the incredible luck to make many close friends and confidants. In fact, my secular social network is substantially larger than any other circle of friends at any other time in my life, even when growing up in Ohio. Ironically enough, when my wife and I first moved to Texas, my mother suggested getting involved in a church again, if only to make some friends. Neither she nor I anticipated that I’d find exactly what I was looking for in what we atheists have created to replace church.
It’s also extraordinarily comforting to have so many secular friends with kids close by. It’s hard for me to even contemplate the challenges that would be involved if, for example, my wife and I were the only atheists we knew. How lonely and isolating that would be! Fortunately, there are a half-dozen newborns (including my own) in the Fellowship of Freethought and allied organizations, which makes the burden of secular parenthood in an overwhelmingly religious state substantially lighter.
But this embarrassment of riches when it comes to secular friends also has me a bit worried. If the only friends in my son’s early life are nonbelievers, how prepared will he be to deal with religious kids once they inevitably (we live in Texas, after all) enter the picture? I don’t have any problems playing nicely with religious people, but then again I grew up religious, with an exclusively religious family and friends. My son will necessarily face a very different situation.
I brought up this concern with Dale McGowan during a recent secular parenting webinar, after another participant had expressed concern about her daughter’s increasing anti-theist attitude. Dale, as you probably know, compiled the excellent manual Parenting Beyond Belief, as well as its follow-up, Raising Freethinkers. His recently-launched series of webinars brought Dale right to my computer screen, live, where he discussed topics of concern for secular parents and helpfully answered our questions.
Dale advised me to relax; especially given my desire for my son to attend public school, encounters with religious children would be coming sooner rather than later. And one set of grandparents are still religious, which will help increase exposure to different ideas. I think that, perhaps, my own tendency to develop friendships with religious people will also provide some much-needed social context. After all, even though I want my son to be as independent and critical as I am, I’d hope to avoid him dismissing and demonizing any group of people just because their beliefs are different from my own, or his.
So, as much as I am proud of my own freethinking and humanistic worldview, I’m going to encourage my son to become exposed to other points of view. After all, the worst that could happen is he could convert… and then think of all the fun we’ll have arguing!