Thursday, February 01, 2007

Letting the Kids Wonder West of Enoch

Paul asked after this post, here:

So how are you exposing the boys to religion?

I’m taking it as an opportunity to suss things out :-). I did skip the difficult question.

At this age, it’s very basic. What they see everyday is still a bit miraculous and mysterious for them (for me too :-)) and they haven’t shown interest when the topic of the supernatural comes up. We, for example, have talked about the flood story because of a toy ark they have. We’ve talked about grandma’s idea of heaven and God in simple terms. We’ve explained why we are quiet when family prays, and we’ve talked about a couple now-mythical characters, creatures, and Gods. But that’s the extent for now.

When they gain more interest and sophistication, though, I do plan on exposing them in depth to the various religious notions to which I’ve been exposed (well, edited for age, as some of those religious texts can be a bit PG-13 in parts). One of the largest sections of our family library is actually religious texts and modern books on such faiths. I still enjoy reading them and will actively encourage our boys to as well.

But I want to approach this area the way my parents did. My dad is now an atheist, and my mom a deist, but I’ve never felt they’d be disappointed in me for my inquiry or any of my beliefs. Looking back, they must have been bighting their tongues in some places, but from my LDS days to the new agey stuff I felt nothing but support.

I want to let our boys feel they have that; that they can wonder and don’t need to have our views on the supernatural, absolutely not for our love. I also want them to work for it. This is one area where they should not have us hand it to them; they should struggle, succeed, and fail. I’ll certainly answer any question the way I see it, but with the disclaimer and encouragement for them to question.

Advocating freedom and inquiry as much as is safe here seems to me the best way for them to create a strong sense of self and of an earned place in their metaphysics. I think it also fosters greater responsibility for their views and a better ability to free themselves from the psychological snares the camps of human belief tend to build, even those we may unknowingly set. Most importantly, I think such can give them the best odds of approaching the right answer I’m presuming is out there ;-).

It may sound too hands off, but, when I think of my parents, it’s something for which I’m thankful. If I didn’t feel it was okay to try my hand, I fear I may be in a bad place today, not knowing "what if I tried…" I also look at the families I know who’ve been forceful here, and can see some negative results, seemingly as a consiquence.

Often here, though, the question of ethics comes up (Not that you’re bringing it up, Paul, but I’m in motion here :-)). I’ve known many to imagine, if they didn’t have a faith, they’d do all sorts of horrible things. I certainly find that troubling (for those they interact with…) as I don’t think such is or should be necessary for ethics and ethics should survive a person’s loss of faith. Religion does help some, but I think the most valuable morals are those you keep for their sake. I trust a man who is good because he enjoys being good, not so much a man who’s good for fear of punishment or hope of reward aside from the act itself, and the former are the sort of ethical motivations I hope to teach our children, regardless of their religion.

But here is the complicated part, or more complicated. I’ve a serious responsibility here, to make sure my children are ethical, compassionate, fair and so on with the rest of you all, with your children, for everyone’s sake. But religions are in that business too, and some of them take a while to incorporate humanity’s modern moral discoveries and are consequently not always so fair or compassionate. Simply, we may clash, depending on the faiths our boys pick up.

I can certainly see this could be far more complicated for our family, in particular. Lines may have to be drawn (I suppose they were for me as well; I’m near sure I couldn’t have, say, sacrificed a chicken in my bedroom if I had taken up Santeria :-)). After all, the most predominant religion around us would, in a way, ask them to disrespect their home, think of their family as at least second class and doomed in some eternal way. They could harm some of their peers, and themselves, and everyone in our home by taking up such faith. I mean, teaching a child their parents, by being a couple, being affectionate with each other, and even creating their family and perhaps life (?), are conducting "perversion" and "grievous sins" "equal to or greater than that of fornication or adultery" (in the words of the leadership), is something I’d have to defend against.

In fact, it does keep me up sometimes, worrying such ideas could get between us, could dissolve their connection to their family, or undermine their morals, by putting their parent’s union and their family on the same level (or lower than) actions such as cheating. There will be abnormally strong pressure on them to enter the such faith from friends to neighbors to some extended family, and I fear where that could lead us.

Still, while it would worry me, I certainly couldn’t forbid them from making such a move. I'd go to their baptism (it would kill me that we’d not be allowed in to their wedding)... But don't ask me to pay for BYU tuition :-). In any faith they could still have more inclusive views than their leaders, as R’s parents do. But, if they did begin to attack their own family for it, or anyone else for that matter, there’d be a limit; I'd see that destructive action as where my responsibility to somehow get in the way comes in.

Ug, now I’m stressed… Thank goodness we’ve some year to prepare, and for hearts to soften a bit more. Still, I must say, in truth, I’m pretty confident if any faith does get between us it’ll be temporary; I feel I know them and us at least that well :-).

Lastly, Paul asked if we attend services today. Not regularly, to be sure. We were married by the Unitarians, and have gone there for a regular periods, irregularly. We’ve gone to some Episcopal events and sermons as well within the last coupe years. I like both of the churches and congregations. If it were necessary, we’d probably stick with the Unitarians.

But we’ve not really found much reason for it, for us. I’ve heard the reasons many others give, even atheists, as to why they attend a church, but they don’t much apply to us. I’ve explained my view on imparting ethics, but, in addition to that, we already have a large community of friends for social support. As far as family goes, to attend most services means taking that time away from family for us, as Sunday is spent near all day with extended family (the heathen side, mostly, but the others drop by too :-)). In addition, we have numerous volunteer activities to take care of that need. But, importantly, in the case of, say, the Episcopals, we don’t believe much of what’s being presented as fact, and, though we do appreciate the intent and the message often, being there feels like an endorsement of what we see as very likely false, even if they’d not care and are gracious enough to have us there anyway.

Besides, none of us could sing a hymn on key to save our lives.

1 comment:

Paul said...


First, thanks for responding to my question. I really found your answer very thoughtful, and I guess not at all surprising.

Reading your post, it's clear that much of your perspective is based on your own struggles for religious and theological understanding. Something that I highly respect, but also find very unusual. I guess that most people I know never put that much thought and energy into discovery for themselves. Rather they were guided, stimulated or just forced into some belief system by parents and family.

I guess my question comes from my curiosity about how parents are going to be able to best instruct their children (and future generations) to be moralistic, ethical and accepting.

There's so much more I'd like to explore with you. Maybe another day.

Thanks again for sharing.