In August, Daniel Trilling introduced himself as the incoming editor for New Humanist, stating that he would take over in September in a blog post at the Rationalist Association. New Humanist is actually one of the oldest continually published magazines, having been spreading the gospel of critical inquiry, science, and human rights since 1885; the magazine is published by the Rationalist Association, a UK-based secular advocacy group. Trilling’s blog post prefigures a heightened humanistic commitment to fighting oppression, and it’s important that humanists take note.

Though it operates generally as a rejection of broad tendencies exhibited by Richard Dawkins and as a promise that New Humanist will not be doing any of that, the introductory piece also identifies a few radical ideas Trilling will be attempting to advance as editor. Perhaps the most controversial idea Trilling lists is the fact that criticisms of Islam can be racist. Inevitably when this subject is raised, irrational atheists clog their ears, shout “Islam isn’t a race,” and conveniently ignore systematic subjugation and violence perpetuated against Muslim-looking individuals. Trilling anticipates this knee-jerk response and urges his new readership to explore political context rather than ignore it, and be wary of rhetoric which “paints the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims as a monolithic bloc, or tries to make out they are uniquely savage, or violent, as a result of their religion.”

Trilling urges his readers to apply skepticism liberally at studies purporting to show the intellectual superiority of atheists, noting that the metrics such studies take are highly suspect and rooted in factors like income, employment, and education—clear traits of high socio-economic standing. He also advocates a unity between the religious and nonbelievers, going as far to say that the “key to political progress is an ability to find common ground between people of different religious beliefs and none.” These comments are extraordinarily welcome to us interfaithers (but perhaps not too surprising given that New Humanist previously found Chris’s vision of religious pluralism favorable enough to give Faitheist a 5-star review).

For me, the most promising part of Trilling’s introductory piece came at the end, when he noted that while he hopes the Rationalist Association can work with Dawkins in the future, it’s more important that he can work with individual lay-folk. This pledge to value average atheists rather than placate big names comes at a time when the atheist movement is doing just the opposite.

Naturally, Trilling received a lot of flak in the comments for calling attention to Big Atheism’s problems as personified by Dawkins—all the more reason why what he has to say is so important.

Previously, Trilling has written for The Guardian and served as the assistant editor at New Statesman; he has also written a book on the rise of fascism and racism in Britain. While his work largely focuses on far-right politics in Europe, there are astonishing parallels to be drawn which make his writing relevant across the pond. Of particular interest are his analysis of the developing popularity of xenophobic language in politics, the need to defend the rights of protesters from a police state, and how expecting immigrants to acclimate to the English language perpetuates classist inequalities. Though Trilling has written extensively on these issues in the past, it is significant that he will now be controlling and directing such content explicitly towards nonbelievers considering how hostile we largely are to social justice issues (especially violence against Muslims, a group oft targeted by fascist British rhetoric).

Trilling’s paper trail is one that shows a commitment not just to free thought, but to an intersectional and inclusive ethic concerned with fighting global oppression. As the editor for New Humanist, he promises to advance atheism beyond its holier-than-thou narrative which has reigned for far too long. At a time when leaders in the atheist movement are increasingly failing to represent the values of compassion and nuance, Trilling’s direction is much needed. You should follow him on twitter. You can subscribe to New Humanist here.

Stephen Goeman is an atheist and interfaith activist. He studied cognitive and brain sciences and philosophy at Tufts University, where he also served as President of the Tufts Freethought Society. After becoming radicalized late in his undergraduate career, he joined a variety of social justice causes operating both at the student level and within Tufts’ administration. He is also an Interfaith Youth Core alumnus and VIA volunteer coordinator at the Humanist Community at Harvard. He tweets here.

Where we can meet Pope Francis

May 23rd, 2013 | Posted by:

When details first emerged about Pope Francis’s liberal policies and attitude towards the nonreligious, I took a few posts to express some tentative optimism. I think recent events validate my first impression—by most accounts, Pope Francis is turning out to be pretty cool.

I don’t think anything quite so cleanly captures the new direction of the Church as the  photo above. The shift from ornate robes and traditional throne seat to Francis’s white papal robes and an unelevated, plain chair—the same chairs on the same level as given to his guests—is extraordinarily stark and compelling.

His shift to a more reserved and austere church—from denying Vatican employee their bonuses to insisting that Christians be for the poor, rather than politely discussing theology over tea 1—honestly surpasses anything I could have hoped or expected.

It seems clear that Francis is shifting his focus to the secular world, specifically to alleviating poverty and doing good works here on Earth. This is almost the picturesque example of “common ground” 2 that believers can find with atheists. I often hear atheists questioning whether they’re even welcome to work with believers, and I think it’s an issue seriously worth addressing.

Pope Francis, though, has fortunately made his acceptance and, if I might be slightly bold, esteem towards nonbelievers clear. At a recent Mass, Pope Francis said the following:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

I’ll happily agree. We may not actually be redeemed by the blood of Christ, but we’re all united around our shared commitment to making the world a better place.

I often find it distressingly narrow when atheists deny any wisdom just because it comes from a religious source. I’m happy to accept that I should focus more on moral action instead of abstract discussion, even if Francis framed this in discussing churches and theology. And I’m happy to recognize that everyone—believer or atheist—is united in doing good on this Earth, even if Francis believes this comes from our shared redemption in Jesus.

We will miss the forest for the trees if we let ourselves be distracted by such petty theological differences. If there’s one thing believers and nonbelievers can share, it’s an understanding that there’s action we need to take to help other people. Props to Pope Francis for pointing that out.

EDIT: Right after I published this, I saw that Kimberly Winston wrote for Religion News Service about atheists liking Pope Francis. Check it out. 

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

Notes:

  1. I am so guilty of the secular equivalent of this like whoa.
  2. As overplayed the term may be

Vagueness and interfaith

December 1st, 2012 | Posted by:

One of our readers, the humanist and interfaith activist Vanessa Brake, sent us an email yesterday to point us toward an article that has been circulating online. She directed us to the following quote: “Participants at a recent interfaith conference in the nation’s capital discussed how interreligious dialogue can play an important role in establishing peace and fighting secularization in America.”

The National Catholic Register goes on:

The secular response to religious diversity is to push all religious beliefs out of public life, Bishop Knestout warned. But while this approach has become prominent in the modern era, it is dangerous to all religious beliefs and fails to respect “the reality of the spiritual dimension of life.”

Interreligious dialogue that builds and maintains relationships among different faith traditions is therefore even more important in protecting the role of religion from the secularism that threatens it, he explained.

On behalf of my fellow writers at NonProphet Status I’d just like to say that we’ve had a good run. We thought we could hide it, but it looks like the secret’s out, the jig is up, and the cat’s out of the bag. Interfaith work is and always has been a front to secretly destroy secularism, and our involvement as atheists was simply an attempt to validate faith, make nice with the religious, and throw all the smart, strong, and righteous atheists under the bus. We hope our allegiance will grant us a shred of mercy in the brutal atheist culling that will follow the coming institution of a fundamentalist theocracy. I, for one, will welcome our new interfaith overlords.

But in all seriousness: interfaith is a tricky and very broad word, and a few things should maybe be cleared up before this example starts being held up as an indicator of the evils of interfaith.

Any gathering of believers from different religions is going to technically fall under the label of “interfaith.” It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call the push to get Proposition 8 passed an interfaith effort, because from a literal standpoint it’s just as much “interfaith” as Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core—even though they argue for religious pluralism, the separation of Church and State, and the inclusion of atheists in interfaith efforts.

It would be absurd, though, to confuse support for this latter kind of interfaith as an endorsement of the former kind. So we can talk about the benefits of interfaith without saying that any interfaith effort is necessarily good, just like we can support interracial relationships without approving of the degrading and exploitative practices of interracial pornography.

It gets important, then, to clarify what we mean by interfaith and what interfaith practices we specifically support. Partly to sidestep this—and partly because it’s a broader philosophy with less knee-jerk baggage than “interfaith”—I prefer to talk about pluralism. Though pluralism itself isn’t necessarily the clearest topic (look at all the different meanings of religious pluralism!), it’s almost always necessarily secular—at least in modern political contexts. I think it’s this kind of ecumenical pluralism that is at the heart of the interfaith that atheists should be involved in. After all, the strongest historic proponents of secularism and pluralism have been religious believers. When John Locke wasn’t busy being the father of classic liberalism and the separation of church and state, he was writing essays with titles like “The Reasonableness of Christianity.” It’s important to realize that these weren’t contradictory projects.

It might not seem it based on how a lot of atheists talk about the topic, but most religious thinkers and political philosophers don’t actually want to establish a theocracy or force their beliefs on others. Joe Biden demonstrated this brilliantly in the Vice Presidential Debate (see Michael De Dora at The Moral Perspective for a nuanced discussion about the debate, secularism, and pluralism more broadly). I’m sure God wouldn’t be too impressed with mandatory worship, anyway.

It’s also worth noting that “secularism” is getting to be a vague word, too, and the kind of secularism these faith leaders got together to fight—the kind that tries to “push all religious beliefs out of public life”—isn’t a kind of secularism we should be supporting, anyway. Secularism is a government’s neutrality on religion, not abstention from it. That is to say, the government can’t discriminate against religion in the public sphere. Thus, public schools have to fund both religious and secular student groups, the government can fund both religious and secular (and blasphemous) art, public parks can house both religious and secular displays, and so on. All secularism means is that the government can’t show a preference on religion or lack thereof.

So this all just goes to say that words are very vague, and its not only on us to clarify our values but on critics to be smart enough to realize that an endorsement of some aspect of a topic as broad as interfaith, pluralism, or secularism, isn’t necessarily an endorsement of anything that might go under the name.

P.S: I’m apparently somewhat late at addressing this article. Keith Favre at The Foreshadow wrote about it yesterday.

If anything, secularism should be the goal of interfaith, because in a secular world, everyone has freedom of and from religion; the freedom to practice or not practice any religion they want, so long as doing so does not harm anyone else. Both the atheists and the religious win in a secular world.

Check it out.

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

A Lengthy Response to Zach Alexander

November 14th, 2012 | Posted by:

Just a quick note: this post shouldn’t be taken as representative of Chris or his views. He’s been keeping abreast of his critics and has been thinking carefully about the points they raise. But he is also quite busy with obligations surrounding the release of his book and his work organizing this weekend’s upcoming Humanist Community at Harvard Values In Action event, which is working to pack 40,000 meals for food-insecure children. In the meantime, why not check out the project and consider donating here.

Zachary Alexander wrote a review of Chris’s book, Faitheist, and it has gotten a fair amount of attention in the online atheist community. There are a lot of nice things to say about the post, and in fact I find much of it to be a compelling personal narrative that, for the most part, is completely in line with and in support of Chris’s message and project. I’d recommend reading Dan Fincke at Camels and Hammers for a brief treatment of some relevant portions, as well as an interesting comment discussion.

As a review and as a fair, thoughtful treatment of Chris’s book, however, I think the review fails thoroughly (though, bizarrely, his Amazon review I think fares much better). And I honestly find this to be a shame, because the rest of the review—a good 80% of it—is so touching and engaging. However, I think almost all of the criticisms, both big and small, fail. They suffer from uncharitable reading, and they serve only to reinforce current misconceptions about Chris and his work. So I’d like to take this chance to recommend a read of Zach’s piece with some caveats—read it for the story but realize much of his arguments against Chris are misguided or false. Because Zach’s review is rather large, and there’s a lot I want to address, I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this post. But I think these points are important and worth addressing.

Hypocrisy and the limits of pluralism

The first criticism of Chris’s work is a shallow one, and I’ve read it often enough that it warrants a response. Zach, and a few others, have suggested that Chris throws atheists under the bus, builds bridges with everyone but atheists, wants pluralism except with atheists, and so on. The basic idea is that Chris is a hypocrite. Zach writes, “The most obvious problem is that even as Chris extolls the virtues of religious pluralism, he delivers an anti-pluralist message to his fellow atheists.”

But I’ve never been quite sure where Chris goes out and does this. Near the start of the book, he praises and agrees with the religious critiques of the new atheists (pg. 13). Chris never suggests that atheists ought to be silent or refrain from religious criticism. He never tells atheists that they can’t be a part of his pluralist project. In fact, the atheists he criticizes, myself once included, are reached out to with the same hand Chris gives to the religious. I’ve only ever seen him respond with patience and kindness.

Though Chris does offer critiques of the atheist community a few times throughout Faitheist, they are of specific practices and strategies that he sees as counterproductive, and not indicative of atheists as a whole. The only thing I can think of, then, is a passage from Chris’s controversial Salon excerpt, where he says “I believe that this so-called New Atheism—the kind that singles out the religious lives of others as its No. 1 target — is toxic, misdirected, and wasteful”

The message seems rather clear to me, and frankly not that controversial. Chris is promoting pluralism. Atheists who have as their main focus the destruction of religion are anti-pluralist. It would be bizarre to insist that pluralists work with anti-pluralists in the name of pluralism, just as it would be absurd to ask us to tolerate intolerance in the name of tolerance. These projects necessarily can’t be self-defeating, and it’s a strange critique to complain that they aren’t.

I’ve seen a lot of atheists critique this project as hostile to many atheists, and they say it is tantamount to stabbing atheists in the back. PZ Myers recently made a point like this in response to Zach’s piece (in what is actually one of the better treatments of Chris’s positions I’ve seen from PZ). But I’m still not quite sure what the problem is supposed to be. Chris has something he wants to promote, sees certain practices to be harmful, and he says as much rather respectfully.

Isn’t that exactly what antitheists do, and would have Chris do, to the religious? Isn’t it, at this point, something of atheist canon to say that honest criticism is how we show respect to those we disagree with? And isn’t a hallmark of a strong community that it can withstand internal criticism?

It’s absurd to suggest that Chris has somehow crossed a line by criticizing atheists he thinks are wrong, while showing not even a fraction of the vitriol I’ve seen poured on to the religious (or on to Chris) by some bloggers. And this strikes me as a clear double standard: should we expect Chris to play nice with antitheists, instead of criticizing them, so as not to hurt their feelings? Isn’t that exactly the attitude towards the religious (falsely) attributed to Chris and criticized so eagerly by those same bloggers?

If Chris’s arguments are wrong and pluralism is a bad thing, or his arguments against antitheism fail, then that should be the critique of his work. But the critique that Chris is at fault for criticizing atheists or not including anti-pluralists in a pluralist project is one that I have a difficult time taking seriously. And I think, ultimately, if atheists insist on dealing in criticism, they should accept it in return without crying foul.

Post-nothing, or down with secular Shibboleths.

The second criticism I find nearly as frustrating. Zach suggests that Chris doesn’t share the same epistemic values as most atheists. Chris is somehow “post-truth,” only concerned with the feelings of religious believers and not with how right they are. It is strange that Zach acts as if this idea—that Chris and other mainstream atheists diverge on certain core values—is some kind of revelation. I’m pretty sure Ophelia Benson has been saying as much for years, and the difference in values came to the forefront last December when Chris responded to Greta’s blog post detailing the values of the atheist movement—an exchange Zach references, bizarrely enough.

What’s novel, though, is that Zach isn’t claiming Chris doesn’t properly prioritize epistemic values; rather, he suggests that Chris only superficially shares them, if at all. Zach writes:

“[Chris] values compassion and social justice to a remarkable, exemplary degree, yet places almost no value on the epistemological virtues near and dear to most in the atheist movement, such as rationality, skepticism, and the scientific method.”

Zach goes so far as to compare Chris to a restaurant critic who writes exclusively about ambiance and service, leaving out any mention of how the food tasted—suggesting that the only thing atheists do and ought to care about is whether or not religious claims are true. Zach writes:

It explains why he is so hypocritical about pluralism and respect – he simply does not see much value in the epistemic goals of the “New Atheists,” seeing only the hurt feelings they cause, and the interfaith work they could be doing instead. Granted, if Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris were going around offending people for no higher purpose, Chris would be right to call their work “toxic, misdirected, and wasteful.” But they aren’t. And he isn’t.

But this strikes me as an extremely bizarre critique, considering right at the start of the book (pg. 13), Chris writes:

Although I believe that many New Atheist critiques of religion are correct and have helped many people find liberation from oppressive beliefs, some of these critiques have also often neglected to account for the full range of religious expression and have resulted in segregation that has parsed the religious and the secular into opposing camps.”

Chris not only expresses agreement and support with these atheists epistemically, but makes clear that he has problems with their reductive view of religion and tendency toward encouraging tribalism. Chris throughout the book makes no effort to hide that he agrees with atheist criticisms of religion or thinks that many religious claims are wrong. Whether he makes that the forefront of his engagement with the religious is another issue—Zach complains that Chris focuses too much on eliminating suffering but not ignorance, and to that I ask, if eliminating ignorance doesn’t make the world a better place then what’s the point?—but to claim that Chris is somehow post-truth because of this is absurd. Zach writes:

Perhaps I missed a blog post where Chris explains how he does, in fact, care about all these things. But until I see him wax poetic about the scientific method, or exhibit some passion for the theory of evolution, or at least confess his abiding love for Star Trek: The Next Generation– color me skeptical.

Reading this and the section preceding it, it’s difficult for me not to get the impression that the real issue here is that Chris just didn’t use the word “reason” enough in his book. The problem is that Chris is seen as not acting or talking like other atheists—he hasn’t publicly expressed his appreciation for Star Trek (neither have I), he doesn’t talk at length about reason and rationality (neither do I), and he doesn’t unnecessarily praise Darwin or measure anything in KiloSagans (and neither do I). But that has absolutely nothing to do with one’s feelings about epistemology (and I have some pretty strong feelings about epistemology).

So this critique strikes me as so strange. Chris isn’t in lock-step with freethinkers’ jargon and that’s a problem? Can’t there be value in communicating our ideas in various ways, or appealing to different values for different audiences? I won’t speak for Chris, but the reason I don’t talk about Logic and Reason and skepticism or freethought is because they strike me as such obvious and vacuous Shibboleths, signaling little more than group inclusion.

It’s not often that you see an atheist who has taken a formal logic class, studied Bayesian statistics, learned basic philosophy of science and research methods, or made an effort to minimize cognitive biases. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but it’s rare enough that appeals to logic, reason, and the scientific method more often than not strike me as hollow. More so, a Catholic like Leah Libresco has put in far more effort than any given atheist, I’d wager, at living out and applying those epistemic values Zach is so fond of—certainly more than I have. Which brings me to my next point: that having these as the values of atheism sends either an implicit (or in many cases a very vocal) message that believers don’t share them. Something which I hope readers will realize is obviously false.

I can’t speak to why Chris doesn’t use that language, but I hope through sharing my own case that it’s clear that, even if you think I’m wrong about my reasons, a failure to pay lip-service to the atheist establishment doesn’t suggest a neglect for epistemic values. Nor does valuing compassion primarily, either in everyday life or philosophically, suggest that someone doesn’t care about what’s true. I’ve seen nothing written by Chris anywhere to suggest that he is, as Zach suggests, a “post-truth atheist.”

Miscellany

I’ve covered the two main points I wanted to address, but the rest of the review struck me as having a lot of smaller errors, as well as some unnecessary cruelty. As such, this might delve into the petty and the minute, but I think it’s important to not let these little jabs go uncorrected. A lot of people are reading Zach’s blog post, seemingly in place of Chris’s book—and many, like Chris Halquist and his commenters, are walking away with the wrong impression.

On the cruelty front: in a review that James Croft praised for being “sensitive and thorough,” Zach writes that “I recommend [Chris] first master the skill of stringing words together into meaningful sentences,” based on the following quote from the book:

Until those of us who do not believe in God are seen as having an equal capacity to be moral, anti-atheist remarks will continue to perpetuate discrimination and atheists will be seen as less moral than the religious.” (pg. 152)

Zach said that “at times I felt like I was a TA again, grading a third-rate undergraduate philosophy essay,” but I hope he had enough comprehension at the time to realize that the passage taken in context, rather than being tautologous, suggests that, until we build relationships with religious believers who will then be our allies, anti-atheist prejudices will go uncorrected. And unless Zach is advocating we convince people of our morality by yelling at believers, Chris’s point strikes me as a completely normal and comprehensible one to make.

On the topic of reading comprehension, Zach criticizes Chris for being “so deeply offensive as to compare antireligious atheists to fundamentalists (pgs. 149-150)” but Chris didn’t do that. On those pages he quoted two authors expressing broader points, including the comparison, but Chris rebukes that aspect right after, saying “Neither of these writers gets it exactly right. After spending several years deeply embedded in the atheist movement, I know there is no consensus on atheism, nor do I think that the intolerance that proliferates in the atheist movement is equivalent to religious extremism.”

Zach also misreads or misrepresents Chris to paint him as expressing “incipient narcissism.” Zach criticizes Chris for calling himself humble, but Chris didn’t—the passage in question (pg. 162) says Chris’s confidence was humbled. Zach also chastises Chris for having the hubris to compare himself to Moses, a claim that’s false or at best misleading—Chris said (pg. 131) that he identified with Moses’s feeling of apprehension and insignificance at taking on a task, acknowledging that his own task was “not so immense, of course.”

Lastly, in what Zach describes as the “single most baffling, dumbfounding fact of the book,” he expresses incredulity that:

a professional atheist could, with a straight face, ask nonreligious, faithless people to engage themselves in “religious pluralism” and “interfaith work” – a hard enough sell as it is –without making the slightest attempt to find more atheist-inclusive terms for these activities. There are no words.

Actually there are a lot of words. Words that perhaps Zach skipped over when reading, because Chris addressed this point at length. So let me just quote part of the relevant passage (pgs. 174-175).

After saying that he “fully acknowledge that the language of ‘interfaith’ is imperfect, clunky, and can feel exclusive to many nonreligious people” Chris writes:

I believe that change will come from within—that by participating in interfaith work, the nonreligious will broaden the meaning of such efforts and that the language used to describe them will change accordingly. This has certainly been true of my experiences in the interfaith movement. . .  When I first began to work with [an interfaith group], they went by the name Social Action Ministries. Soon, however, we began a discussion about their name. Before long, they decided to change it to Social Action Massachusetts”

So rather than being indifferent, as Zach implies, Chris is saying something along the lines of “I realize the language is problematic, but right now the action is more important. Worry about the name later, because the language has historically become more inclusive, it will become more inclusive in the future, and it will be easier to accomplish this change if we get involved.”

In sum, I think there is a lot to value in Zach’s review, but not a lot pertaining to Chris. I think a lot of Chris’s positions have been misrepresented and treated unfairly—not just by Zach but a lot of other bloggers, too. Zach’s review reinforces lazy and shallow stereotypes of Chris and his work, and I hope I have gone some way towards correcting them.

 

Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.

Of Babies and Bathwater

February 4th, 2011 | Posted by:

Today’s guest blog keeps it once again all in the family. After my first cousin once removed Bruce Johansen’s guest post, as well as one by my mom, I am excited to present one by my big sister Casi Stedman Nelson. A year — no, a year and seven months, as she loves to point out — older than me, Casi was one of my best friends in childhood. I looked up to her in many ways (so much so that I let her cut my hair with a toenail clipper when we were very young), and it’s a thrill to feature a post by her on NonProphet Status. Below, Casi reflects on the birth of her son — my first nephew! — last year, and what it will mean to raise a child in a religiously diverse world.

at the hospital

After many hours of labor, Casi and Halden were both a bit worn out.

After ten challenging months trying to work long hours as an executive while pregnant, it was finally over. My first baby was here in my arms.

He was beautiful. That being said, after many hours of labor, I was completely exhausted. I quickly turned to my mom and said: “He and I don’t have a very good relationship right now. We are going to work on it later.” And so it began: our journey as mother and son.

It is amazing how becoming a parent changes your entire perspective on the world around you. I am responsible for this new little life and that is a daunting task in today’s world.

This is especially true when it comes to addressing the “big questions.”

Some might think it would be simple: his father and I are both Scandinavian Lutherans, so of course we should raise him that way, right?

However, I want to raise my son to be able to take in all of the information available to him and make a choice based on what he believes and what he wants to do.

The world he will be growing up in is very different from the one in which I grew up. This one is faster, more complicated. I was privileged to have a mother that encouraged me to form my own opinions (and they were usually strong ones that were contrary to hers) and not accept things at face value. Because of this I am open minded and always willing to learn. I hope for the same for my son.

He will be a part of a world in which some tie certain religions to terrorism, others are persecuted for their beliefs, and many are not well understood. A world where a great majority slips into whatever religion makes them feel comfortable; where many practice a religion without taking the time or having the opportunity to journey and explore their beliefs, or lack thereof, for themselves.

As a result of a good deal of soul-searching, I have aligned myself with the Lutheran faith. However, this does not mean I commit myself to one ridged set of beliefs. I have my own individual set of beliefs that work for me and they are ever-evolving.

As for my son: I feel that I can only do the best I can with what I have. I can raise him to think for himself, give him choices and give him tools to learn and decide what he wants. And I believe one of them most essential tools will be the ability to work with others.

I don’t like to use the word tolerance because I think we can give people more than that. We don’t always need to accept everything about everyone, as that would be impossible, but we should maintain a basic respect for others and always make an effort to understand them. I hope to teach my son to listen — and, more importantly, to listen with empathy, something I am not always good at.

Above all, I just want him to be happy. I hope in my lifetime to see a world that is not so divided, but in the meantime I will be doing my part to raise a free-thinking, empathetic young person that views the world as being more similar than different — a world full of people, not the stereotypes we so often see them as.

Casi Nelson received her B.A. in Communications and Spanish from Concordia College. She is a newlywed and first time mother. She recently resigned from her position as a Target Executive to be a full time mother and pursue other interests including, but not limited to, reading her brother’s fabulous blog. In her “free” time, Casi likes to get together with friends and family or curl up with a good book. She is looking forward to the day when her son is old enough to spend a couple nights at Grandma’s, so that she and her husband can take a trip to Mexico.