Atheist Mom Sparks Broad Conversation Online

Deborah Mitchell, a Texas mom who is raising her two teenagers without religious faith, has sparked a national online conversation in which parents are vehemently defending their views that children should be raised with religion, without it, or with whatever works best for any individual family. Mitchell’s blog, and a recent online article, elevated the debate at a time when one in five Americans is unaffiliated with a religious tradition. More from CNN:

This week, she gained a whole new audience and the reassurance that she’s not alone. Her essay on CNN iReport, “Why I Raise My Children Without God,” drew 650,000 page views, the second highest for an iReport, and the most comments of any submission on the citizen journalism platform.

It starts:

“When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.

For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either.”

Mitchell posted the essay detailing her seven reasons for raising her children without God on CNN iReport because she felt there wasn’t anyone else speaking for women or moms like her. As she sees it, children should learn to do the right things because they will feel better about themselves, not because God is watching. She asks questions like: If there was a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God, why would he allow murders, child abuse and torture?

Lots of people disagreed with her. Tons. They flagged her iReport as inappropriate and criticized CNN for linking to her essay on the CNN.com homepage. But there were plenty of others who wrote thoughtful rebuttals, respectfully disagreeing with Mitchell while not foisting their own beliefs on her. Take, for instance, a Methodist dad, who said faith can be hard to nail down, but “not to avail ourselves of the power of something we don’t completely understand is silly.”

Others said Mitchell presented a simplistic view of religion.

“Presentations such as these seem to ignore a substantial percentage of believers – well-educated, compassionate, liberal folk, Christian and non-Christian alike – who, I feel, are able to worship without being blind to the realities of the world, or without lying to their children about their understanding of these complexities,” wrote commenter RMooradian. “I’ll be raising my children with God, but I understand those who cannot!”

But Mitchell’s essay also struck a chord with hundreds of like-minded parents raising children in a world where lack of belief puts them in the minority, often even in their own family.

“Thank you for writing this. I agree with everything you say, but I’m not brave enough to tell everyone I know this is how I feel,” a woman who called herself an “agnostic mommy of two in Alabama” posted in the comments. “Thank you for your bravery and letting me know I’m not alone.”

Image: Woman typing, via Shutterstock

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  1. by Pat Kelley

    On January 21, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    You’ve done a great service to agnostic and freethinking parents and their children everywhere. To teach children about their world and universe and how stuff works is far better than to indoctrinate them with superstition, to quake with fear over naturally occurring events and believe an invisible deity either started it because he was displeased or will come to the rescue like superman. And besides, children of atheists and freethinkers need love too!

  2. by Becca

    On January 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    If even three year olds have an inherent belief that heaven exists, maybe Ms. Mitchell should re-evaluate her position. Perhaps those “questions that kids ask” indicate some kind of natural inclination to believe.

  3. by Wendy

    On January 21, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    How sad it would be to grow up without hope like that. To have no belief in miracles would be so empty. I wouldn’t be able to tell my kids that all of their friends are lying when they talk about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy either. She is welcome to raise her children like that if she wants, I’m not going to slam her. I just think it’s sad.