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Seems a bit of a donnybrook has ausgebroken in the comments on one of my YouTube videos. Don’t get excited, now – it’s mild enough. But it started with a pretty common misunderstanding of my position. And my real position on this is among my most deeply-held convictions as a parent, so I can’t stay quiet.

Here’s the argument: Because I advocate letting kids sort things out for themselves in the long run, I am saying that all points of view are equally valid. Ipso facto, I’m a relativist.

As regular Memlings will know, I do have opinions. I think some points of view are excellent, some are neutral, some are utter nonsense, and some are outrageously stupid and dangerous. I’ve come to these conclusions not because my parents fed them to me, but by using the tools and values they gave me and then sorting it out on my own. I try hard to stay open to a change of mind on each and every opinion. Sometimes I even succeed.

By thinking hard, paying attention, and caring about getting the right answer, I’ve come to the conclusion that evolution by natural selection is true and “intelligent design” is both false and much less interesting. I’ve come to think that Catholic doctrine is one of the most grotesque collections of dehumanizing stuff we’ve ever come up with as a species, and that many of the Catholics I know are nonetheless among the best people I know. In the midst of a high church Episcopal service, I whiplash between being seduced by the pageantry and sickened by it.

I think Mormon doctrine is incredibly strange, liberal Quakerism is a beautiful expression of the religious impulse, and Pat Robertson is a pig. Ecclesiastes is lovely and sad. Leviticus is vile. Unitarians are fascinating in their self-contradictions, and their social justice work is second to none.

I think the differences between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam are microscopic (a POV shared, it seems, by most Islamic intellectuals), and yet appears to be enough to justify an ongoing mutual slaughter a la 17th century Christian Europe. Jain principles are cool, and I wonder if most Jains follow them, or if they’re pretty much like the rest of us (i.e. great on paper).
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If you’d like to know how I’ve come to any one of these opinions, I can walk you through the entire process because I was there. My parents declined to force-feed me their opinions, though I knew what they were and was surely influenced by them. Instead, my parents taught me to think hard, pay attention, and care about getting the right answer.

My kids get a hearty helping of my opinions, along with an express invitation to ignore them and find their own way. And because Becca and I spend so much time and effort teaching them to think hard, pay attention, and care about getting the right answer, I’m convinced their destination will be one of the good ones (plural), even if it isn’t the same as mine.

And you know what? It seems to be working really well.

In an earlier post on relativism, I put it this way: “A moment’s reflection makes it clear that there’s something between stone tablets and coin-flipping — between Thou shalt not and Whatever makes your weenie wiggle. It’s called moral judgment.”

Teach and model good judgment, then let them judge. It’s a simple plan, and for the sake of my kids, and everyone they will cross paths with, I’m sticking to it.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.