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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Intelligent Design

“Was God ever a baby?” asked Luke at dinner last night.

Before either Tom or I could answer, Megan said, “I think that when God was a baby, the world was a baby.”

“And when He was a teenager,” added Luke, “there were dinasoars.”

“Don’t say, ‘He,’” corrected Megan. “Who says God is a ‘He?’”

“OK,” said Luke, “He and She.”

“No, it’s ‘He orShe,” said Megan. “Not He and She.”

I don’t know. I kind of like “He and She.” It sounds more inclusive, less limited by human conceptions. I affirmed Luke’s wording, but he said, “Actually I think God is more like a boy.”

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

“Because we say, ‘Our Father,’” explained Luke, like he was the first person to ever notice this. “And fathers are boys.”

So the bad news is that I haven’t been able to protect my children from sexist theology, but the good news is that at six and eight-years-old they’re thinking about God and the words they use to describe Him-and-Her. They’re thinking about creation and dinosaurs and evolution and, unlike some adults, they don’t see these ideas as in conflict with the existence of a loving creator. This makes me hopeful about their spiritual futures.

I don’t quite get the whole controversy about Intelligent Design theory. It seems obvious to me that you can believe in evolution and believe in a higher spiritual force in the universe. (Have you ever seen the Redwoods?) It also seems obvious to me that schools can teach science and families can teach faith and that the two don’t need to compete. I know this isn’t obvious to everyone, however. This morning I listened to a conservative talk radio show about evolution, which the guest expert called “dumb.” The questions and comments from callers revealed a very different conception of God from mine, one that is definitely a He. It was clear that listeners felt threatened by any information that contradicted a literal interpretation of the Bible.

I strained to try to appreciate where these folks were coming from, since my own understanding of the Bible is far from literal. The one thing I could comprehend was that what their children were learning at home and what they were learning from the wider world were in conflict. I feel that way every time we see a television commercial.

Though we’ve chosen a Quaker school for our children and bring them to one of our congregations every Sunday, it’s clear to me that most of what they learn about faith they learn from the way Tom and I live our daily lives. Sometimes I worry I’ll screw them up. For example, on Wednesday afternoon Megan, Luke and I went to the Salvation Army looking for long skirts for Megan to wear in an upcoming production of Anne of Green Gables. After trying on way too many clothes and waiting in a long line to purchase a few, we drove home in the rain and late afternoon traffic. As I opened the front door, Megan came racing up behind me, her face contorted with fear. “Mom, we left my vest at the Salvation Army!” This was the new blue vest she had just gotten a few weeks ago and which she had been wearing every day since. “OK,” I said. “We’ll just go back and get it,” even though getting back in rainy traffic was the last thing I felt like doing.

On the way, I watched Megan in the rear view mirror. Her face was literally twisted with anxiety and she kept saying, “What if someone took it?” She snapped at Luke when he suggested that we could always get another one at the store if hers was gone. I urged her to relax. “There’s nothing you can do in the car,” I explained. “We’re on our way. You just have to wait.”

“I can’t,” she wailed.

“OK,” I said, “so say a prayer that the vest will still be there.” She got quiet.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I wondered, “Uh oh. What if it’s not there? Will she lose faith in a benevolent Higher Power along with her vest?” After all, I don’t believe our prayers are always answered in the ways we expect or want. What if God wants Megan to learn non-attachment or some other spiritual virtue which will require her to lose things she loves? And here I told her to pray, and now she’ll think prayer doesn’t work?

Fortunately, the vest was still there and we were soon back in traffic, again. Still I’m left wondering how much I can give my children my faith and how much I can protect them from experiences that might challenge it. Sooner or later they’ll have to walk their own journey with the Spirit, whatever they experience Him or Her to be.


Blogger Jennifer said...

We have simliar struggles in our parenting, though we might approach it from the opposite side. Neither my husband nor I are of strong religious faith. We are, however of weak religious faith (*grin*) and therein lies our struggle.

We are strong evolutionists yet cannot, of course, rule out the possibility of a creator at some point. (My husband grew up within a stone's throw of the Redwoods!) I don't see a conflict there and our children, so far, have learned this perspective. But in terms of every day? We say a blessing of gratitude before our meals, but it is a "Let us be thankful" blessing, not so much a "Thank YOU" blessing directed towards some higher power. We practice deep breathing with our children to settle them when they are upset, but suggesting prayer is not something we would do. To be honest, it is not something that would occur to us. We attend church for spritual growth, but the emphasis for us is on spirit and not on higher power.

Our struggle, like yours, about teaching our beliefs and viewpoints. But our struggle becomes this: are we limiting our children? Could they be getting something out of prayer or strong religious beliefs that we are not giving them?

Sooner or later our children will walk their own path as well. And maybe they will choose a more structured, solid path than our own. I hope that, in being honest about my less than solid belief with them, I am not holding them back from whatever they might find.

Different approach. Same struggle. Very interesting.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I am a new mother and not in the least religious; I wouldn't even consider myself spiritual. However, I find myself contemplating many of the same issues of parenting and purpose as well... I am really enjoying your writing and thoughts.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for your comments, Jennifer and Eloise. As I hope you can tell from my posts, my goal is never to prosteletize (I'm not even sure I spelled that right, and there's no spell-checker in the comment box.), but to reflect on my own life and choices. I love it when my writing gets others thinking about their own perspectives. Please keep visiting.

7:26 PM  

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