Oct 19, 2010

"God in the Age of Doubt": A Question of Freedom of Religion

I want to preface this entry by stating that this is not a discussion about whether there is a God or not. I'm sharing my views and would like the conversation to specifically revolve around how to handle our beliefs about God/religion when faced with the curious minds of our children. 

This interesting piece by Bruce Feiler was featured in the NYTimes this past weekend. The author, confronted by his 5 year-old daughter, asks how we should talk to kids about God in the age of doubt. It's definitely a question I ask myself often, especially as I mentally prepare for sending K into the outside world (ok, it's only pre-K, but it's still a first step) where he will be exposed to thoughts, concepts and beliefs that I might not always agree with. From the moment we decided to have kids, DH and I agreed that we want to raise a free-thinker. A child (then adult) who is inquisitive and doesn't just accept beliefs as truths. Looking at K's personality, I'd say he's primed to be a free-thinker without us even trying. 

Growing up we didn't really talk about  religion or God in my family. It was there, but not an integral part of our lives. I became interested in religion once I hit my teenage years and went on to take many religious studies classes while in college. By that point, I was definitely not religious; I probably would have called myself agnostic. I wanted to know and understand more. It was during that time, that I came to the realization that all of it seemed fabricated. I lost my faith not because of proof of God's none existence but more from proof that the stories told were intricately weaved together to make the masses think less for themselves, thus blindly willing to be indoctrinated by power seeking individuals. So the idea of God fell victim to that equation. I didn't need God or religion to be kind, respectful, moral and productive. As Sam Harris summarized so perfectly, "Religion gives people bad reasons to be good, where good reasons are actually available."
I'm definitely not one of those atheists who goes around telling others how stupid they are for believing in God. In my eyes, if believing in God gives you comfort and helps you lead a better life, then I respect your views, as long as you respect mine.

While visiting the handful of preschools that we are considering sending K to next year, I have been asking about how secular the schools are and if religious holidays are celebrated. Almost all confirmed the non-denominational and secular environment of the schools, followed by an emphatic, "but all holidays are celebrated here." I'm assume that those holiday celebrations will not be focused on the religious meanings behind them but more on the imageries that they create. I expect that I will get drawings of Christmas trees and Hanukkah candles and Chinese New Year dragons (Sounds like when they say "all holidays," Muslim and Hindu holidays are not included. To be discussed another time.). And I have no issues with that. In fact, I want K to attend his cousins Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and find presents under his step-grandmother's Christmas tree.

What I am fearing is the misinformation that may be relayed to him as he grows up, talks to friends or reads certain books. Comments and references that are thrown out there like universal truths. When I read that atheists are better versed about religions than self-professed believers, it scares me to think of conversations I may find myself having with my son, his schools, and (when forced to) fellow parents.  But before even tackling the meatier aspects of religions, I expect to be faced with a question about God's existence.

My interpretation of freedom of religion entails allowing our kids to learn about all points of view (believers and non-believers), as well as all religions (in an accurate light and not what one religion has to say about another). I don't want to indoctrinate my child with my views and strongly believe that as parents it is our responsibility to allow our kids to think for themselves. And like Fieler concludes, we have to be honest about our uncertainties. And so, on that fateful day, as K will look to me for answers, I will simply say, "What do you think?"


14 comments:

Marci said...

I have a friend who lives in Indiana and I remember her saying that her son was being teased on the bus because he was an atheist. The other kids were telling him things like Jesus hates you, and you're going to hell.

Flucky Mom said...

My point exactly, Marci. Do those kids even know what they're saying and why they're saying it? Most likely not. They are being told by their elders and are not encouraged to think for themselves. Very sad.

Esperanza said...

What a GREAT post! Amazing. And thanks for the link. I just read it and I can't wait for my partner to read it so we can talk about it. I've never thought about a lot of this stuff, as my daughter is only 4.5 months, but I do deal with some of it as a middle school teacher. I think I'm good at asking students to think about why they think or say something, instead of just talking at them about it. I hope I can do the same with my daughter, only better.

Flucky Mom said...

Esperanza, glad you enjoyed the post and that it will help start a conversation with your partner. Check back in and let us know how it went.

daega99 said...

Very interesting. It makes me grateful that my parents encouraged me to ask questions and supported my asking questions of others.

ICLW
http://daega99-arewethereyet.blogspot.com/

Kathy said...

Great post!

It's something my husband and I have talked a lot about and are just starting to encounter now that Jackson is in grade one. He takes everything in stride; asks when he doesn't understand and is curious about what his dad and I think. It's interesting to have such big discussions with a six year old.

Mon said...

My comment just got lost! It was quite long too!!
Oh well, basically I love that you have bought this topic up here. If my original comment turns up - that is good, but I don't think I can write it all again!! All the best and happy ICLW week.
Mon

Lisa said...

I haven't heard this before "Religion gives people bad reasons to be good..." but it resonates with me. I live with doubt, which fluctuates, and sometimes think we could do without organized religion. While I don't doubt their sincerity, I have believed that religion is mostly for people who don't possess internal motivation to think and behave with kindness and generosity. They need someone external to themselves to tell them what is right and wrong and how to act upon that. Organized religions are happy to take over that job for them. That being said, my own parents learned their ethics from being brought up Jewish, and they passed them on to me in much the same way, so perhaps my motivation to be a good person is more about my Jewish background than I think.

Aisha said...

Fascinating post- will definitely be adding you to my google reader (Love ICLW for introducing me to new blogs!). I love when they say we will focus on all holidays when my holiday of Eid (I'm Muslim) is rarely covered. . . one school I went to just did "Christmas around the world" and called it a day. I think like ou pointed out, education about the holidays are important and its okay. . . but indoctrination is not. . . I hope that you won't have to see those sort of issues for your child. Its something as a minority faith I worry about as well in the school system.

Calmly Chaotic said...

Thank you for visiting my blog! This is an interesting topic and a good one. I too am sort of unsure where I stand on the whole God issue so I can't imagine what to tell a child one day. I look forward to following along!

@jencull (jen) said...

My eldest has started learning about different religions in school. I think it is great that he will learn in this way, I didn't. Hopefully it will encourage more tolerance of the choices people make. Jen.

ICLW

Krissi said...

Interesting...I was raised a lutheran and my mom was very religious and brought my sister and I to church every Sunday. Now that I'm older and wiser, my agnostic husband and the history channel have educated me to the point of feeling like I've been fed this big lie all my life! Oh well...it is hard to know exactly where to draw the line with religion. I'm with you though. I will tell my children my beliefs and let them think for themselves. Happy ICLW! (#72 & 106)

mamafog said...

This is a thought provoking post. My parents were basically agnostic when I was growing up. I remember feeling like everyone had God and we didn’t. They encouraged me to find out my own answers, and at the time it was frustrating. But as I got older I learned to appreciate that they were teaching me to think for myself.

kathleen said...

Good post..My kids all hold different views of religion-which I find fascinating. Well...the youngest hasn't said anything yet-(she is 4) but the others..wow..I like that they hold different viewpoints. We teach them that it isn't up to us to decide for anyone-and that it is important to respect other peoples views.

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