Wendy Thomas Russell is an award winning journalist, author of Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious, and blogger at Natural Wonderers on Patheos’ atheist channel. She is also a member of the Board of Advisers for the Yale Humanist Community. Wendy currently lives in Southern California with her husband and daughter.
To start, tell us a little bit about when and why you became interested in non-religious or secular parenting?
Like most parenting writers, my journey started with my kid. My daughter, Maxine, was 5 at the time. I was 37. At that point in my life, religion — or atheism, for that matter — just wasn’t a topic that came up very often. My secularism was kind of a non-thing. But then Maxine started asking questions, and I realized I was seriously unprepared. I mean, I knew that I wanted to raise a really kind person who was generally literate in religion. But that didn’t add up to a plan, and I needed one. When I looked around and found nothing that resembled the book I wanted to read, I decided to write my own.
From what we've read, it seems a lot of your writing revolves around, one the one hand, respectfully exploring important concepts – like meaning, death, god, and morality – as world religions teach them, and then on the other, exploring these concepts in a new light without religion.
Could you first say a bit about religious literacy, a topic we wrote on recently. Why do you think it matters so much?
I don’t think we can raise our kids to be truly open-minded and appreciative of diversity without introducing them to religion — or encouraging them to explore religion for themselves. I get very little out of religion (other than an academic fascination with it) and my daughter may grow up to feel the same, but I need her to know what other people believe and why they believe it. And I need her to know that it’s okay to believe things that I don’t. She was born into a freethinking family, and that means she gets to have her own opinion on this.
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