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pbb cover

One year ago today, Parenting Beyond Belief was born. The doctors were a bit worried at first — she was mostly blue, for one thing — but her spine was straight and she had two hands. Different sizes, sure, but two.

PBB opened on Amazon at 3300, the top one-tenth of one percent. A book that opens around 3000 typically settles contentedly into the 30-40,000 range after 6-8 weeks. Though the rank has gone up and down, it has been remarkably steady in the long haul, averaging around 3600 out of 4.5 million. Last night I checked the rank: 3302. So the audience continues to find the book, which is lovely.

This site now averages 1400 visitors a day, including a secular parents discussion forum, this blog, a page of resources for nonreligious parents, and the seminars. And the manuscript for a follow-up titled Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief is due to the publisher in five weeks and should be released around December.

the seminars

I am not a people-person. Folks always tell me they’re shocked to learn this. I suppose I do navigate PeopleWorld fairly well when necessary, but it doesn’t come naturally. I’d always rather be with a few familiar old shoes than a crowd of any kind. Parties suck the energy out of me, even as they make a bass-drumming bunny out of my wife. I disappear once or twice during any given party — simply decamp to the bathroom to splash water on my face and not chat for a few minutes. I’m not proud of this social ineptitude, but there it is.

Hiking alone for five days straight, on the other hand, or working alone in my home office every day, seeing only humans with whom I share DNA (in one way or another) for days on end, even weeks? Bliss.

So saying a seminar tour is more than a tad out of my comfort zone is…well…accurate. But we all have to move out of our comfort zones, or so I’ve heard.

Which is why I am surprised and even a bit pleased to discover, with six cities down and hopefully 30 to go, what it is that I look forward to as I leave for each trip.

It’s the people and their stories.

I am endlessly fascinated and moved by the human stories I’ve been hearing on the road. I simply can’t get enough of them. The mother of a newborn who is wrestling with her mother-in-law over baptism. The couple who recently found their way out of fundamentalism together and were immediately cut off (along with their daughters) from the rest of their family. The mother who pulled her daughter out of a religiously-saturated public school in the South to homeschool her — only to find the local homeschooling group required a pledge to follow “Christ-centered curricula” and to never teach evolution. The father whose ex-wife has converted to conservative Islam and now seeks full custody of their daughter — and appears close to getting it.

Then there are the adult nonreligious children of nonreligious parents, who wonder what the big deal is, as well as couples from families that are both religious and entirely open.

I’ve met people with deep scars and deeper resentments from having the fear of Hell drummed into them as kids, as well as the parents of a seven-year-old currently being terrorized to tears with that grotesque idea by his playmates.

Those most wounded by religion in the past often have the hardest time hearing that their kids need to be religiously literate. They want to keep the damn stuff as far from their kids as possible. I try to make the case that this is a recipe for producing a teen fundie — an attention-getting claim if ever there was. (I’ll make that case in an upcoming blog.)

One gentleman argued that we must say the word “evidence” as often as possible to our kids, suggests calling the winter holiday “Chrismyth,” etc, to drill home the difference in the religious and nonreligious approaches to knowledge. I’m not a big driller-homer, myself. I like to achieve the same things more subtly. But we all have to find our level.

I met a young woman for whom the section on helping kids deal with death had a special intensity: her husband, the father of their kids, has been diagnosed with brain cancer. I’ve been haunted by the thought of her and her kids nearly every day since we met. It completely breaks my heart, in no small part because my own dad died when I was young. I saw my own mom, widowed at 39, in that woman, and myself in her son.

A lesbian couple is currently working on pregnancy, even as they worry about coming out as nonbelievers to the evangelical parents of one of the women — something they want to get out of the way before a child arrives. “I love them dearly,” she said, “and they’ve just come around to accepting that I’m gay, and we’re talking again. Now I’m going hit them with this?”

I spoke at length with the parents of an impressionable seven-year-old (what other kind is there?) who has been invited, repeatedly, to join his friends at a Wednesday night bible study. The hitch? No parents allowed. One wonders why.

The seminar ends with suggestions for helping kids think about death. A child who becomes obsessively fearful of the idea of her own death is often stuck in a false concept of oblivion — what I call “me-floating-in-darkness-forever.” I offer a few specific ways to reframe this. After one seminar, a man approached and shook my hand.

“That thing about ‘me-floating-in-darkness’? I’ve always been terrified of death because that’s the way I’ve always seen it! I never even realized I was seeing it that way until you said that. I’m walking out of here today less afraid of death. That alone was worth the price of admission!”

All that after six cities.

The trick, as you might imagine, is coming up with a seminar that serves all those different needs, and what a trick it is. Any given issue has a wide range of significance to the audience. Take extended religious family. For some, this is a non-issue: the family is secular, the family is religious but open, or the family is 2000 miles away. For others, it is THE ISSUE.

Up next: Dallas/Fort Worth. I can’t wait to hear what y’all have to say.

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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.