A few years ago I had an interview with a radio station in California. The topic was raising ethical kids. The guests were a minister at a private junior high school, and me, the author of books on nonreligious parenting. I can usually do these interviews in my sleep. But in this case, I was not prepared for the very first question to come out of the host’s mouth:

“Without a higher power,” he asked, “how are you going to keep your kids off crystal meth?”

Now I can see this kind of thing coming up at some point…but right out of the starting gate? This, of all questions, was knocking on the back of his teeth? When he heard he would be interviewing a nonreligious parent, the first thing that bubbled up was, “But h-how’s he gonna keep them off meth?”

I said that instead of a higher power, I encourage my kids to engage these questions with the power of their own reason, the power of their own minds. There are good reasons to stay away from self-destructive things, after all — including the fact that they are, you know…self-destructive.

He threw the same question to the minister, who said yeah no, higher power is the only option. Without Jesus, he’d have no way to keep his kids from whirling out of control and into the black abyss. Only by staying tightly focused on biblical principles, he said, can kids avoid annihilation.

I wasn’t surprised to learn later in the show that both the host and the minister had gone through “lost years” of sex and drugs, only to be saved by coming to Christ. I’m sure it works for some people. I’d just love to hear someone on that side acknowledge that maybe there are other ways as well — ways that involve no magic, no gods — just the ability and the willingness to think about the reasons to behave morally.

Okay. Ready for the follow-up question? Trust me, you’re not:

“Now Dr. McGowan,” said the host, “I gotta tell you, when you talk about the ‘Power of the Mind,’ it sounds an awful lot like Scientology to me. Can you tell me what if anything distinguishes your worldview from Scientology?”

What, if anything.

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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.