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flaming death

I’m a tad excited. I got myself a piece of hate mail.

Okay, it’s not really that hateful — just a little irritated, perhaps. So I got myself a piece of irritated mail, then.

But can I just call it hate mail? Because it’s the first one I’ve gotten since the book release that’s even close, the very first, and I was ever-so-ready in the beginning to get a lot of them. I was so ready to be pounced on when Parenting Beyond Belief was released that I pre-wrote answers to six different types of complaints I had anticipated — four for complaining Christians and two for complaining atheists. Spent some serious time on them, I did, and they’re cracking good answers, kill-’em-with-kindness type answers that leave the victim with a goofy, pleasant grin, unsure quite why he can’t feel his extremities anymore and entirely oblivious to the rivulets of steaming scat running down his forehead into his tiny little eyes. That kind of answer.

But the complaints never came. Oh, a little here and there, some of them points well-taken, but not much static to speak of. Almost everyone’s been quite decent about the book, even when they disagree with this or that bit.

Now what kind of crap luck is that?

Then I got this:

To whom it may concern-

The book “Parenting Beyond Belief” is ridiculous. I feel sorry for any child raised by atheist parents. I only hope that you can see that raising a child is the absolute best thing for them.

God Bless —

John R______

See? That’s the worst I’ve received since PBB came out, and it’s not even that bad. Just irritated, and a bit confused in the last sentence.

The angriest letter I ever got followed the lockout debacle/media frenzy to which I alluded in an earlier post, the one at the College of St. Catherine in 2003 when, as a faculty member, I invited a nonreligious scholar to speak on the Catholic campus. That letter (one of dozens at the time) told me I was a “son-of-a-bitch,” instructed me to kiss the college president’s (wait for it!) shoes for feeding my family despite my apparent “intentions to sew [sic] confusion in the minds of students at a Catholic college,” promised me Hell — and ended with “Gods Blessings on you.”

I thought sure PBB would draw more such fire. I was even assured by Lisa Miller at Newsweek that I would be “in the crosshairs of the Religious Right” after the article came out. There’s been a bit of grumbling on websites here and there , but that’s it.

Don’t think I’m really complaining. My word, I’m quite relieved that I haven’t had to waste energy in that direction. But I’m puzzled. Relieved and puzzled. Most of my mail looks more like this, which came in less than an hour after the “God Bless” message:


This past year:

I read your book.

Joined a Humanist Group

Told my 12 year old it is OK not to believe

And now the cycle of religion is broken and she is free to focus on life rather than afterlife

Life is good and it’s about time. I’m 50. My parents, brothers, sister and wife are believers but I’ve always had strong but quiet doubt.

Now I’m OK with not pretending anymore and I don’t sit back when I need to stand up for myself. I accept my way as what normal should be and urge family to accept my thinking as I accept theirs.


I hope I never stop being moved by messages like that.

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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.