My Dad always told me that when it comes to dinner party conversations “don’t talk about religion or politics.” Unfortunately in parenting there comes a time when you will need to discuss both, although hopefully not at the same time. Late last year the time came when Spud started asking questions about “God.”
The catalyst for his questions was the kid who was sitting beside him in class who is from a devoutly Christian family. This posed a moral dilemma for my wife and I because while we know the answers to his questions, for the most part we think they’re hokum. At best, comforting stories from a by-gone time that were handy for understanding the world in an era before enlightened science and at worst simply a mechanism to subjugate and control people.
This position is largely the result of my own background in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects and wasn’t always the case. In fact my own path to religious indifference began in primary school (somewhere around year 3) when I asked what I believed to be simple and valid question during religious instruction at school. The question was, “If God created Adam and Eve in the first week, how did humans survive the dinosaurs?” I don’t recall the exact answer I was given but it was clearly unsatisfying as I never believed to the same extent again.
Despite my own deeply held reservations about religion as practised, the underlying idea of a benevolent creator and afterlife is deeply moving, captivating and retains some appeal to me. It is when human intermediaries get involved that it goes awry for me. So to that end I guess I am more of an agnostic than an atheist but for the purposes of this piece we’ll say I’m an atheist. However I am not without spirituality. I believe in a soul at least in the sense that a person’s character is more than the sum of the atoms in their body, I just don’t know (and I believe I can’t ever know) whether that sentience extends beyond death or prior to birth.
So when my eldest comes home and starts asking about God what do I tell him? Do I tell him that he is an invisible wizard in the sky who doesn’t really exist but was invented to keep people in line? Or do I tell him the version I was taught in my religious instruction classes? The tension in my own beliefs leads me to question whether it is right to present what I believe as the truth or whether I should present the Christian faith as taught to me. Should I even keep it focused on the Christian faith which was the basis of his question or do I need to first explain the very concept of what a god is and then present all the alternative major faiths such as Judaism, Islam, Greek, Roman, Hindu, etc?
The tension is exacerbated by the fact that while neither my wife nor I currently believe, we both did at various points in our past. We also both still have good friends who practise various faiths and can see the positive difference that faith makes in their lives. We just don’t know if it is the result of some form of psychological placebo effect or something more. We also believe that if we are to succeed in our mission to raise effective future adults, an understanding of religion/s is critical to understanding the context around important historical events that shaped the world and left legacies that are still with us (the crusades and the reformation are two good examples). Religion also heavily influences culture (Christmas, Easter, Ramadan), art (The Sistine Chapel, The Last Supper) and language (“turn the other cheek”, “eye for an eye”, “as old as Methuselah”) and without at least a rudimentary understanding of the source material (namely the Christian Bible) it becomes difficult to understand these other materials.
In the end we came to the position that what we want more than anything is for our kids to be free and independent thinkers. This means that we want them to examine the available evidence and decide what they think and or believe about a given issue. This holds true just as much for religion as it does any other topic. The result is that we are now resolved to try to teach them religion in order to become well informed members of society but to do so without indoctrinating them or imparting our own bias and prejudice into the telling. We will teach them this information the same way that we will teach them about Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Thor, Zeus and Jupiter and let them decide what they believe.
The only belief I want them to inherit from me is my belief in free thought.
Have you had any deep existential questions from your little ones that have left you questioning your beliefs? If so, leave a comment with your story below, I’d love to hear it. Also if you enjoyed this piece you can find me over on twitter here or on Instagram here. Lastly if you found this post enjoyable or informative and would like to subscribe to get updates when new content is posted, you can do so using the follow button.