Reading Time: 5 minutes

1439898Wrote to Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times to thank her for the terrific piece she wrote about atheism in America for Monday’s edition. She replied, letting me know that she knows me and my work. That never fails to surprise me, even when my mother says it, not that she has. Laurie apparently considered interviewing me for the piece and hopes to do so for another down the road. We’ll just see if I’m available.


2439898Three years after Penn Jillette and I locked horns over one noun and its conjunction in his PBB essay, it apparently still cheeses him off. He has now posted a YouTube video — part of a new video series called “Penn Says” — in which he flogs this even further (at 1:07-2:45). Again, for the record: aside from spelling out an abbreviation, here’s the only edit I made to Penn’s piece. It’s on p. 32 of Parenting Beyond Belief (*flip flip flip*):

We don’t have any friends who are christards or into any kind of faith-based hooey…

That’s all, folks. I deleted a gratuitous slur. Everything else is precisely as he wrote it. And we discussed it before I submitted the manuscript, and (though seriously miffed) he agreed to allow it.

I never bring this up unprovoked (apparently I never even blogged it until now), but Michael Dukakis taught me two things about life: (1) If someone takes a picture of you in a tank, FIRE!” and (2) Don’t allow slander to go unanswered.

I’m fine with Penn keeping this one alive. That way I can keep refuting this idea that juvenile namecalling is a necessary or useful way for atheists to engage the world.

Now there’s one spot in the video where Penn and I agree completely:

“I should be agreeing with Christians and Muslims because they’re right about something as opposed to agreeing with atheists because they’re wrong.”

Exactly right, Penn. That’s why you don’t broadbrush them all as “christards.” Because sometimes they’re not. The defense rests.


1439898Raising Freethinkers is apparently now available in the Kindle format on Amazon! Not sure why PBB isn’t, but it may be coming soon. If it does, I’ll be the last to know. (In other news: Darth Vader is Luke’s father!)


4439898Subscription is now open for the PBB Channel on YouTube. Just a placeholder video for now. On June 15 I’ll begin posting short videos based largely on the PBB Seminar.


5439898Got a phone call from New York Times columnist Charles Blow, a fascinating guy who among other things is largely responsible for the increasingly creative use of graphics to tell stories in the Times (flash charts, word concordances, interactive maps, etc). He’s at work on a story about a Pew study released Monday about changes in religious affiliation. He called to get my reaction to one finding, captured in this paragraph:

At the same time that the ranks of the unaffiliated have grown, the Landscape Survey also revealed that the unaffiliated have one of the lowest retention rates of any of the major religious groups, with most people who were raised unaffiliated now belonging to one religion or another. Those who leave the ranks of the unaffiliated cite several reasons for joining a faith, such as the attraction of religious services and styles of worship (74%), having been spiritually unfulfilled while unaffiliated (51%) or feeling called by God (55%).

I told him I wasn’t surprised by the finding. The group that does the least indoctrinating will naturally end up with the lowest “retention,” and that’s fine. A wide range of outcomes is an indication that kids raised nonreligiously are more likely to think for themselves. They find their way to a wide variety of identities, including a number of liberal religious expressions that are compatible with 95 percent of the secular worldview. Nothing wrong with that. And some will find their way back to the worldview of their youth, just as lapsed Catholics often do.

I also offered my opinion that kids raised in complete isolation from/ignorance of religious ideas or experience are the most likely to end up emotionally hijacked by fundamentalism — just as fundamentalist kids who are taught to despise and fear all things secular often end up the most virulent atheists I know. Interesting, these symmetries.

Kids raised in nonreligious homes often head for church as they grow up because churches offer community and connectedness and transcendence of the everyday — things that organized humanism has ignored for too long and is now finally, finally attempting to address. They’re doing it through family programming, community-building, good works, and engagement with emotion as much as intellect. The more we offer what humans need, the more humans we’ll attract and retain. Until then, we don’t deserve ’em.


6439898There’s something else coming — something terribly big and exciting, in my humble, and I can’t tell you yet. Nope, not a third book, nor Raising Freethinkers: The Movie. And I’m not pregnant. It is both legal and ethical. I daresay you’re gonna like it (except for you in the green shirt, who will shake your fist at the darkening sky, then meet a tall stranger). I can’t tell you what it is until I leap a few tall buildings to get it on track. Leapt the first one Tuesday. Should have the rest of them leapt in time for a June 1 announcement.

At that point I will need your help. Every one of you, even greensleeves over there. Until then, feel free to wonder what the heck.

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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.