Recently, while conversing with a rabbi who is fast becoming a good friend of mine, I was "accused" of being a "man of great faith." The rabbi was of course making an ironic statement that followed our two hour discussion on religion. I advocated for raising children through reason-based ethics, and he, a man who has raised a few very fine children (within religion) told me that I must have a lot of faith if I believe I am going to be able to raise children in this crumbling world, without God.
I appreciated the irony of the statement, but also began to wonder about it's validity. Am I going to be successful in raising godless children to be as ethical and universally-focused as I am? Can reason withstand the roaring waves of emotional complexities that accompany raising children? Obviously, I am not leaning all aspects of child-rearing on cold calculative reasoning. There are no mathematical laws that can help parents raise a youngster. Every child is a vastly different universe sui generis.
However, rationalism in a broader sense, can be a guide. Is not the understanding that every child requires their own unique love and care, a rational discovery? In fact, it is irrational to think otherwise.
Yet without the great Judge in the sky who can see and hear everything, without heaven or hell, how am I to convince my young children to behave before they reach the age of reason? Certainly, even a young child can be frightened into good behavior by a god who is ever-inscribing their good and bad deeds in an eternal rap sheet. Is it possible to raise ethical boys and girls without God, or at the very least, Santa Claus?
The rabbi went further to say that even if a deserter of religion can raise ethical children, it is only because he or she was raised in a religious and therefore, moral environment. It is only a matter of time, the rabbi claimed, before the second or third generations slip into narcissistic indulgence and, in the worst cases, vicious barbarism.
If these observations are in any way accurate (I'm not convinced they are), we must reiterate the question posed above: Can one, without the "policeman in the sky," raise children in such a way that will ensure the continuance of ethical behavior throughout many generations?
Here lies my so-called faith. I do not know whether I can accomplish this feat, yet I am confident enough to try. I may have been raised religious, but I do not believe that religion can take credit for all, of even most, of my ethical behavior. I was raised by religious humanists, who found every Biblical verse they could to bolster the teachings of universal brotherhood, and mankind's responsibility to protect and care for the earths inhabitants. I have met other religiously-raised people who have very shallow characters, and yet others who have used religion to unleash evil unto the world. It then stands that religion is no more than a medium for good people to be inspired towards good, and bad people to strengthen their evil. [As a side note, I once heard a quote from Steven Weinberg which is most befitting to insert here: "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil, that takes religion."]
I would rather therefore, place my faith in myself as a future parent, and mankind as a race. Indeed, both I and humanity at large have committed varying evils that have led the cynical to give up on our species. I am yet young, and therefore still retain the hope that man, given the proper tools, can rise above his base animal nature and create a more refined world. I do not believe that man need religion to escape the bounds of self-indulgence, but simply to be educated in the importance of reason-based ethics and morality. Man can transcend himself if taught the proper perception of reality. We may be products of evolutionary natural selection but we are not slaves to it. Indeed, reason is the very tool needed to free ourselves of the shackles of survival of the fittest, where the strong prey on the weak.We can be compassionate to the sick and distraught; we can care for the widow and orphan; we can build societies based on principles of justice and integrity; and we needn't abandon our reason in the process.
It is with such a spirit that I will attempt to raise my children. A daunting task indeed, but alas, a glorious one.