Friday, September 26, 2008

Reincarnation in the Classroom

[driving home from school]

Brian: "Papa, do some people think they were alive before they were born?"

Me: [curious as to where this is going, given that we have a bunch of little missionaries in his class] "Yes, they do. They think they lived in heaven."

Brian: "No, do they think they were, like, bugs and elephants?"

Me: [Okay, the little missionary's parents are New Age? And when did Brian start using "like"?] "Oh, yes. That's called reincarnation. Yes, some people believe that."

Brian: "[Namey Redactedson] said she was a cat" [a moment passes] "But that's not true."

Me: [Now my agnostic/skeptic chord is plucked; I don't want him to dismiss supernatural claims out of hand, and don't want him to do like a couple kids in his class and push his parent's religion on others, so I ask:] "How do you know that's not true, bub?"

Brian: "Because I don't remember I was a cat. Cats don't talk."

Me: "They don't, do they? But maybe [Namey] thinks she remembers being a cat. Maybe she just believes it. What if you remembered being a cat?"

Brian: "I think I would be dreaming. [with that adorable exaggerated incredulousness seen only in kids] How would my brain be in a cat?"

Me: [Thinking but never saying "That's my boy." I try my best to get them to think for answers in this area rather than give them a package of answers, which, in a way, is passing on my Agnosticism, I suppose :-).] "That is a puzzle. Did she give you any testable evidence? Maybe we could think about it."

Brian: "What is testable evidence?"

Me: [somehow not realizing I've overreached, and slipping way out of the boundary of appropriate 1st grade complexity] "Sometimes our brains can trick us into feeling some things are true when they are not, like when some kids think there are monsters. Did she tell you something everyone could do or observe to evaluate whether or not people can be cats before they are people? " [silent thought] "I mean, did she give you a fact that any person could objectively and reasonably defer to as a reason to think a person was reincarnated? If she did, then we could evaluate that evidence, and better decide how likely reincarnation is."

[Silence, as Brian tries to figure out the mess in what his Papa just said, and as we pull into the garage.]

Alan: [having been quiet all this time, and ready to put a period on this boring conversation] "I'm going to be a bird!.. Can I have a snack?"

Oh well :-). Not every day can have a profound message, and not every day can anyone get parenting right on key.

I am curious, though, New Age parents aside (as they're rare here), do LDS parents tell their children to talk to other children about their religion at school or does that just happen? It seems once a week we hear about their classmates talking about the "invisible face in the sky" and all the great things they're promised in heaven.

While, in general, I don't want my kids questioning another kid's faith at school, and I want them to be judicious about doing so if that kid pushed his/her faith first, I could see talk of reincarnation, heaven and invisible faces in the sky as great learning opportunities (as long as I don't blow it in getting too complex :-)). I don't mind that, even if the kids are told to proselytize in 1st grade. But when such talk of eventual rewards and invisible benefactors begins being tied to the faith that our family is supernaturally lacking, or non-ideal, or even evil or should never have been... I do worry about that. I'll have to bring my A-game that day.


[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

Do you think Brian is naturally so sceptical or do you think it has something to do with the environment in which he has been raised?

Basically my question is, is it nature, nurture, or both?

I think it's pretty funny that you tried to teach him about the scientific method at age 6. Of course, they're probably smart enough to understand it.

As for the missionarying, the kids are probably being taught in church about "every member a missionary" and about the importance of telling others about the "Wonderous Fruits of the Gospel" so their friends and neighbours can be with their families forever as well. They start the indoctrination (read brainwashing) very, very in Mormonism.

One of my main fears in having children one day is just what you mentioned, my child(ren) being told that their parents are going to hell, that we're evil sinners, that we're disgusting, etc. At any age, that's a terrible thing to say to a person about their parents.

MohoInTx said...

I only recall a handful of experiences discussing religion with peers in my elementary years. And even then, none of the conversations were too deep. Sometimes students would ask me where I went to church, and I would tell them "I go to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." (I would never use the word Mormon)

Occasionally I would get into deep discussions regarding religion as I got older. For the most part, I would only discuss my religion if people wanted to know (I still follow that rule of thumb to this day). Often, I try to be an example, and show my beliefs through my life choices, thus allowing people to ask questions regarding my faith and choices if they feel like they want to. My parents never really pushed me to proselyte in school.

BUT, I was active in the youth program growing up. Sometimes youth leaders would emphasize bringing friends to activities and such. I would never just blatantly ask my friends if they wanted to come to church with me... sometimes they would ask me if I wanted to do something on a wednesday night. I would say no, give them my reason, and then invite them (which I see no real problem with).

Sometimes seminary teachers would try to get us to bring friends to early morning seminary classes... I always thought that was weird, although one of my baptist friends who was interested in the church came once or twice (after my older brother asked her).

Utah may be different due to the dense amount of members there, but I wouldn't say I was practically forced into sharing the gospel every chance I had as an adolescent.

MohoInTx said...

just read craig's comment. He is right about the "every member a missionary" concept... but I think being an example was stressed more than anything, which I really do think is perfectly fine.

Scot said...

Craig: "Do you think Brian is naturally so sceptical or do you think it has something to do with the environment in which he has been raised?"

I wonder that myself about many of their traits, but heck if I know. I do make a conscious effort to focus on how to come to the best provisional conclusion here rather than to tell him "how it is", or what our family believes. It'd be a breach of personal ethics to, say, tell them "I know this church isn't true." Even though I messed up the delivery, we left that conversation how I hoped, with him thinking and without me ever conveying anything near "Your Papa thinks reincarnation is a bunch of BS, period". I've not even tipped my hand on Santa.

I'd say, of our boys, Brian is the most skeptical. Before him, I'd never heard of a kid not having any fear of the dark. Not once has he thought a monster into his closet, even though, in his play, he's very imaginative. Alan, as I've mentioned, is similarly imaginative and does deal with magical thinking, particularly at night, and he just seemed to take reincarnation as an okay idea because it'll let him be a bird :-).

As they were raised the same, I think it's a bit of both nurture and nature.

"One of my main fears in having children..."

That's one I live with. So far so good... But if/when that day comes, this passive agnostic will quickly turn militant, and I'm glad to know, from most the parents in the school, we'll have a lot of support.

MoHoInTx: Thank you both for the perspectives on LDS proselytizing in school; that's helpful.

I have no problem with Matthew 5:16 sort of proselytizing. I even hope our boys do a bit of that quiet, indirect testimony of their character.

I really don't care much about the other sort either. I want our boys to know why they're holding the positions they do on everything from reincarnation to transubstantiation to astrology, and they have to constantly doubt both truth and lies to get that ownership. It's just going to get messy when the faith directly involves their family. While anyone, including our boys (as sad as that would make me), are free to entertain such faiths, that's where I'd draw the line of proselytizing at school and get involved.

Java said...

I'm laughing at you a little bit. You sound a lot like my father with your answers. My niece once complained about him, said he uses all those big words all the time. (Have I told you this story before?) I explained to her that he couldn't help it, he'd swallowed a dictionary as a young man and that's the way he has to talk now.

In my opinion, one of the most challenging tests of intelligence is to take a concept like objectively evaluating testable evidence, for instance, and explaining it so that a child such as Brian understands it. You might be pretty smart, Dr. Scot, but can you explain this to Brian so he gets it? I have found that visual aids work wonders.

Scot said...

"I'm laughing at you a little bit. "

Hey, me too :-).

And you know I'll try again; I just have to be ready for those teachable moments next time.