My son just turned 25. Ten years ago, when he was entering high school, I posted a question on the Parenting Beyond Belief Facebook page: “How do you help your kids achieve a sense of belonging?” I’d been thinking about this because my son was kind of solitary. Didn’t seem to have a strong connection to other people at that point, a sense of belonging. That’s not automatically a problem, I’m a solitary guy myself. But I wondered if it was something we should have thought about more as he was coming along. So I asked the parents on the Facebook page: “How do you help your kids achieve a sense of belonging?”

Some people expressed outrage at the very question. It brings to mind tribalism, division, us versus them, they said. One said, “This doesn’t sound like something an atheist parent should even ask! It sounds like a question from a religious parent!” Another said it was “very disappointing. I’m a member of the human race, that’s all I need.”

I always loved that idea. I’m a member of the human race, a citizen of the world. That’s the dream, right?

But the other half of the thread said, “Yes, please. This is a big issue for us. We really struggle with this. I’d love to see this discussed.” And for all the good things we did for our kids, I think we didn’t consider early enough how we could help them establish the ability to connect with other people, and to establish a sense of belonging to a group or community.

Like I said, I’m not a social person myself, not a belonger. I’m an introvert and really happy that way. The coronavirus lockdown was mostly fine with me personally. I’d rather spend three hours in a book than 30 minutes at a party. So when I rejected religion intellectually, I was also able to walk away from the social and emotional benefits, the multilayered sense of belonging that religious people have, just because of who I am.

Religious and nonreligious people both tend to think of religion in terms of beliefs. In fact, there’s reason to believe we overestimate the importance of the beliefs to religious people and greatly underestimate the importance of identity and belonging.

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Dale McGowan is chief content officer of OnlySky, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies, and founder of Foundation Beyond Belief (now GO Humanity). He holds a...