My oldest child is six years old, turning seven in a few months. She believes in Santa Claus and in the religious view of the world. She believes that God exists, that Jesus actually returned to life from the dead, and that the stories taught in her Bible are unproblematic. My daughter has a strong mind and a very big heart, and she’s full of passion. One day, she will realize that Santa doesn't fly through the night on Christmas Eve. She’ll figure out all by herself that a lot of what the Bible relates is evil, irrational, and generally irrelevant.
And the Bible is most certainly a text to be questioned seriously. For example, if one accepts the Noah’s Ark story as true, then God killed an awful lot of people and animals. Across the planet, they all died in a most horrific way. If one believes the Jesus story, then God sacrificed himself to himself – rather egocentric and not much of a sacrifice, really. Since just declaring faith that Jesus is God gets people out of "hell" and into "heaven," one wonders why the omniscient deity did not offer the belief option to Noah’s generation.
I have full confidence that one day, all my children will arrive at the conclusion that religion is man-made and that gods are fictional. When we get to this point, I will talk to them about morality and about basic principles for living an upstanding life. Since they will have already heard of the Ten Commandments, I may offer them a list of precepts like the following:
(1) You are a human being, one of many humans past and present. You are connected and yet different from other people. You are connected yet different from other animals on Earth. You are connected yet different from the Earth that is your home. Respect yourself and all that share connection with you.This is how I write ten basic principles. I place a premium on respect for people, living things, and relationships. My children may write their principles differently. They may focus on respect differently than I do. They may add more items to the list or subtract some. When the time comes, we'll talk about it. That's the point, ultimately.
(2) You are neither inferior nor superior to anyone or anything. Develop your own opinions, values, and ideas. Be willing to share, discuss and even change your mind. But don’t compromise your integrity. Ultimately, the only help is self-help.
(3) Watch your language. In all matters, speak carefully, considerately, and charitably - but especially when speaking about people. Listen vigorously and ask thoughtful questions. Challenge and criticize bad ideas, even when good people hold them.
(4) Care for both your body and your mind. Nourish them, exercise them, and rest them. Avoid agitating them, but don’t avoid a challenge. Follow your passions, but don’t allow them to govern you.
(5) Respect your mother, your father, your elders, and your ancestors because your life includes some of their lives. Respect is not reverence, and it’s not blind devotion. Those who have come before you have lived, struggled, succeeded, failed, loved, lost and journeyed in much the same way as you do now.
(6) Respect all life, your life and other lives. No one has more right to live than anyone or anything else.
(7) Appreciate relationships, especially romantic relationships. Cherish your own relationships and do not disturb others’.
(8) Respect ownership. Take only what has been freely given to you and what you have legitimately purchased. Express gratitude to people; giving and sharing freely is the highest form of expressing gratitude.
(9) Speak up to help people when they are in trouble. Don’t lie about others. Don't permit injustice.
(10) Enjoy your life now and all that you have. Every day is unique and unrepeatable.
And note that I have deliberately avoided the word "commandment." I cannot command my children to believe what I believe how I believe. I should not do so. My children are not Christian, Jewish or Atheist. They will one day and by themselves tell me what they are at that time. I will accept and respect their decisions.
I look forward to talking with my children some day about reality and about happiness. I hope for many conversations about personal character, values, and accomplishment. My children deserve these conversations. They deserve to know that I think they should live fully and wonderfully. They deserve to know that I think they can indeed live so, that all people can.
What I want for my children goes well beyond a holiday or a season. I want them to have a life, a life of many lives. I want them not to have the world but to be an active and positive part of it. And I want them to think of their contribution in terms of the universe, not just the world. Ultimately, I want them to connect themselves to the real universe, not a filtered and fictional one.