I like to think I’m playing my part in phasing religion out of American life. One of the biggest changes I can see between my parenting style and that of my (divorced) parents is the emphasis on making good choices. I was never encouraged to make good choices. I was never asked to weigh the alternatives and examine the information to decide what course of action to take. I was simply told that the Bible is the end-all and be-all of authority and what is contained in that book is the absolute truth.
Therefore when it came to making choices about having sex, drinking, or pretty much anything, I fled to the Bible to find my answer. This made me a fearful and anxious person. I was constantly afraid of sinning, lest I bring god’s wrath down upon my head. Even though I knew I was saved, I didn’t really feel anything – except fear.
But, I digress. My parents never explained how important choices are in life. They never encouraged me to go to college (How dare I broaden my mind!) and they never encouraged me to make choices because I thought the choice was the right one to make.
Now that I have kids of my own, I find myself asking them questions constantly. When my oldest asks, “Why?” I always ask her, “Well, what do you think?” She spouts off her thoughts and then I explain the whys and why-nots to her. And most importantly, the I-don’t-knows. It seemed like my parents were afraid to say that. “What makes rain?” I would ask. “Rain is just god’s tears,” my mom would say, “and thunder is god bowling.” Yep. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. Just because the answer isn’t obvious doesn’t mean it needs to be explained by something someone made up.
Ask my 4-year-old what makes thunder and she’ll tell you how lightning cuts through the air, causing it to slap back together to make a loud boom. It’s beautiful, and it helps me feel good about my non-religious parenting. My girls will grow up being able to analyze information and make proper choices, and I will always encourage learning and curiosity in their precious minds. I can only hope that they realize the value of this and pass it on to their children. Maybe someday the real truth – the provable truth – will prevail in our society. Maybe someday the person who believes in the imaginary man in the sky will be the weird one instead of the other way around. We can only hope.
I had it easy as a kid. I was given my answers to all of life’s big questions and was told, “This is the truth. Accept it or be damned to hell.” So, being afraid of living my life burning (but never able to die) in hell, I accepted the “truths” given to me. So if anyone ever asked if I believed in god or if I was going to heaven, I knew exactly how to answer them. I never questioned that Jesus died “just for me” or that he rose from the dead. Therefore, in Oklahoma, I was considered quite normal.
My children will not have it so easy, and I’m ok with that. I must admit, my kids attend a Methodist day school. We enrolled them there because they went to a summer program once and had a great time. They are getting a wonderful education at this school, the hours are perfect for our work schedules, and, as Christian schools go, the kids are not having god shoved down their throats the way they would at other schools. They learn about science, how to explore their world, and how things work. It’s really a very good school. However, it does present a challenge.
We don’t talk about god or Jesus at home because my husband and I don’t believe in god. But my oldest, who is four, is starting to ask questions about what she learns at school. Her first question: “Where is Jesus, Mom?”
Now, since she attends a Christian school, I must choose my words carefully. Can’t have her running to tell her teacher that mommy says Jesus is worm food. I simply said, “Some people think Jesus is in heaven.” To which she replied, “Jesus is a sweet little baby.” And that was the end of that.
It struck me in that moment just how close we are to the age of curiosity about these kinds of things, and I decided I’d better be prepared. I’m figuring out answers to as many questions as I can so I can give her a good response that encourages thinking and curiosity. I don’t want her believing something just because mommy does. That’s the beauty of my life stance.
How would you answer this question if your child asked it? Or how have you answered it?