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I am a new parent. My interests are secularism, learning, parenting, religion, career planning, and adult education.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Teaching Honesty from a Secular Point of View

For over half of my adult life I was pretty religious - a believing, practicing, faithful member of the LDS or Mormon Church. In 2004, I decided to leave the church behind me for a variety of reasons. Over the next year, I left the rest of my faith in Christianity and a personal God behind me as well. I now consider myself an atheist-leaning agnostic.

I do not believe in a god or gods mostly because I do not believe there is an objective way prove the existance of such a being. I can not prove that God does not exist, which is why I use an agnostic label, but I claim the athiest qualifier because I can no more prove that God doesn't exist than I can prove that invisible unicorns roam the earth - and I don't think it matters. Richard Feynman, a famous physicist, sums of my feelings on the subject best:

"I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know the answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me."
It's a funny experience going from a religious worldview to a nonreligious worldview. It really seems to freak people out. Some people feel sorry for me, some people decided pull away from me - even though I support a person`s right to believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs do not turn into actions that harm others. Even my mother, who is not religious, but does believe in a higher power, has asked me how I plan to teach my children right from wrong without instilling a belief in God. Well, I simply believe "being good" has it's own rewards and "being bad" has it's own consequences - ones that play out in a very real way right here in this world.

For example, when I was a kid, my mom sent me to Sunday School and at Easter we would always watch the movie The Ten Commandments. As a christian child, I knew that one of the commandments was "Thou shall not tell lies." I was also vaguely aware that god was happy if I followed the commandments but would be angry if I didn't. While I cared about "being good" as a small believing child, in the moment that a lie would seemingly save my butt from getting grounded or a light spanking, I didn't remember those commandments too well - I just wanted to avoid earthly consequences - and sometimes lying worked!

However, whenever my mom did catch me in a lie, she turned it into a teachable moment - and this experience taught me more about why it is important to be honest than anything I ever learned in Sunday School. One of my earliest memories is from a time when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. I had chipped away some paint on my bedroom wall and discovered that underneath the boring eggshell color was bright pink....oooo pretty!

So I started picking away at the eggshell to reveal the bright pink underneath, by the time my mom came to my room, there was a bright pink smilely face on my wall by my bed. She was mad and I could tell! The first words out of her mouth were "Did you do that?"

I could tell she was mad and that I would get in trouble so I said, "No, mommy." My mom rolled her eyes and said, "Deanna, I know you're lying, you were the only one in here." Oops! Ever notice what terrible liars kids are? So she told me to stay in my room until I told her the truth.

I cried for a bit, alone in my room, and then my mom, all calmed down, came in to talk to me.

She said, "Do you know why you shouldn't tell lies to people?"

Sniffling, I said, "why?"

"Because, Deanna, when you don't tell people the truth, they will not trust you. When trust is broken, it is very hard for someone to believe anything you say even if what you say is true, and trust is very hard to rebuild."

That always stuck with me. And even when I forgot this lesson and tried lying as child to get what I wanted or to get out of trouble, my mom would always send me to the person I lied to and make me tell the truth - and you know what - I could always tell that that person did lose their trust in me, it's something you can see in their eyes.

As an adult honesty is very important to me - not because it is a rule in an old book - but because I find my relationships are richer with people who trust me and whom I trust in return. This is one of the reasons I do not believe I will need to instill a belief in God to teach my kids right from wrong.

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