Karen Loethen, Secular Parenting, Australia, Brazil, and Being an Atheist Parent

Karen Loethen comes from the Midwest of America. Now, she lives in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia – say it with the accent in your head. She is an open and happy – nay joyous – atheist. She writes, and has for some time. Her core belief, as an optimist, is in the inherent goodness of all people. She has two children and an amazing husband. I asked about interviewing her on atheist parenting, but chose “Secular Parenting” for a more “inclusive” (as they say nowadays) title. So here we are, part 1, just for you.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was the move to Australia a decision with the children in mind? Why there over the Midwest, or elsewhere, in any case?

Karen Loethen: Actually, Scott, we no longer live in Australia. We lived in Brisbane Queensland Australia for a year and a half for my husband’s work. We were SO fortunate to have the opportunity to take the kids there and set up a household. It was wonderful and we miss it every day.  Our decision to move the kids (ages 14 and 11 at the time) was actually a very, very easy one to make at the time.

As homeschoolers, we are exceedingly free with our schedule and living arrangements. Being in Australia was a phenomenal life lesson for all of us. We also had the chance to move to Brazil at about the same time. We decided to go to Brisbane for several reasons, not the least of which was an opportunity to see an eclipse. There was an eclipse in 2014 and we were able to be in Cairns QLD for the occasion. In fact, astronomy was a huge draw for us to go to the Southern Hemisphere.  Lol

But we would definitely have chosen the move to Brisbane for many other reasons had we known better at the time. The secular vibe of Brisbane was wonderfully freeing. We are a homeschooling family and are quite used to being in groups of religious families. While in Brisbane I can honestly say that I don’t even know the religious bent of many of the families we befriended. Religion is simply not a public issue there.

We are now back in the Midwest and happy to be here. We have a new grandchild in the family and she will keep us firmly rooted here in the Midwest!

Jacobsen: What are some bigger differences between atheist, or secular, and religious parenting?

Loethen: Actually the intro is very wrong about this one too…sorry. I definitely prefer the label Atheist Parent over any other descriptor. Many people bristle over the use of the term atheist; I do not. I embrace it loudly and proudly. In fact, secular means activity without religion so many parents consider themselves secular while actually believing in a higher power. So, verbiage notwithstanding, the differences are massive!

I couldn’t and wouldn’t attempt to characterize the labels you have asked about because, were I to do that, about a million people would find fault with the definitions and say That isn’t me! So I will try to answer you with the understanding that the word some remind us that there is no way to characterize people; there is no black and white, but many shades of grey. My responses below come from my own experiences and from real people and situations that I have encountered, in general, with an effort to portray each group honestly and with an effort to avoid extremism in my answers.

In general, though, some religious parents look to their religious texts for guidance in childrearing and sometimes this includes being pro corporal punishment for children, maintaining anti-LGBTQ philosophies, incredibly messed up ideas of healthy sexuality and relationships, teaching of mythology as fact, fear of free thought and intellectualism, and many other points that I find reprehensible.

My personal experience of being in this position is that religions offer a very black-and-white way of looking at the issues of humanity, of not allowing for the many different shades of grey. Of course, there are those religious parents who do not fit into this slice of a definition. Some religious parents are sadly motivated by fear. Fear of offending their deity, fear of losing the blessings of their church or religious community, fear of disapproving family members, and fear of operating outside of an approved, narrow margin of lifestyle, thought, and deed.

Some people who attempt to practice a secular parenting style seek to raise children within the religion and belief system of their choice while being less connected to the doctrine of that religion that troubles them. I would assume that these parents feel a greater sense of freedom to reject troublesome parts of their inherited religion while still embracing the warm feelings that can come from religious belief.

As for atheist parents, I would assume that some of these folks are able to consider each issue independently and come up with a preferred sense of personal integrity and choice. With no institutional connection or alliance, freethinking parents have the freedom, the responsibility to fully explore life issues and making decisions and choices that make the most sense for their families, embracing and celebrating the wonderful shades of gray, and other colors, in the world. Of course, these parents often have to eschew popular approval and/or familial connection for choosing to live outside of the popular mythology.

Jacobsen: What are some smaller differences between secular and religious parenting?

Loethen: Again, acknowledging the many, many parenting styles in the world, my guess would be that the day-to-day prayer, seeking of blessings, belief that a deity is real and involved in life, etc…these things are usually a normal part of a religious family’s life. Books read, conversations had, people chose to be in their circle, the level of freedom to explore ideas outside of their comfort zone…these kinds of things seem to be a few of the places I can come up with this moment where secular families differ from atheist families.


Photo Credit: Getty Images


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