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Friday, May 25, 2007

Teaching Faith

MotherTalk is offering another Blog Bonanza, which means they invite all their blogger friends to write about a particular topic on a particular day. Today’s topic was inspired by the new book Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Caring, Ethical Kids Without Religion. Of course, I couldn’t pass this one up.

My husband says religion is for adults, although I have to point out that he was a Roman Catholic priest for sixteen years and had to give sermons with squirmy children in the pews. Still, he may have a point. I haven’t figured out how to explain complex ideas to my kids without having them come out as some sort of caricature.

For example, I recall giving one of my periodic speeches designed to counter the Lincoln-Memorial-Image of God my children have picked up, despite having parents who don’t call God “he.” I was holding forth at the dinner table and said, “God is not really a man, and God is not really a woman. God is not white, and God is not black.” My son, who was six at the time, smirked and said, “You mean God is like Michael Jackson?”

After I stopped laughing, I realized how much easier the old God in the sky image is to convey than my vague kind-of-like-the-groundwater-of-all-being explanation. It makes me sympathize a bit with the authors of Parenting Beyond Belief, who worry that religious instruction for children can be damaging. It’s true that some children are given simplistic, even frightening images of God that they never grow out of. (Michael Jackson?) In the interviews I’m doing for my book, it is striking how many people had to heal from wounds inflicted on them by such training. One man shared his boyhood terror of “the rapture”—the time when his evangelical family believed Jesus would come and whisk all true believers to heaven—because he was worried that he might get left behind.

Still, I don’t think we need to throw God out with the theological bathwater. Although we’ve gotten many laughs out of Luke’s Michael Jackson comment, I trust that he is growing up with a sense that there is something bigger than us at work in the universe and that that something is not easy to define. He certainly knows from growing up in two faith traditions (Catholic and Quaker), and from going to school with Muslims and Jews, that truth, love, and community can be found in more than one place, so I don’t think the intolerance the authors are worried about are a problem here. My children also know how to sit in silence in front of a candle, as we do every evening during Lent and Easter, and they know that being grateful at the end of every day is important.

I once heard someone say that all prayers basically boil down to these: thanks, help, sorry, and wow. I believe those are sentiments that children can understand and grow with.


Blogger naturalmom said...

I agree with you. It's the big angry god out to get people that scares kids. I grew up in a fundamentalist faith, but the emphasis was on God's love, and my parents provided living examples of loving, forgiving, and sacrificing authority figures. So while my childhood religious training left me with a few things to "recover" from, it was not all negative. I appreciate mostly the biblical knowledge I attained, and the sense of love and community our small church family provided. One of the reasons I'm so thrilled with our Quaker meeting is that they provide that exact same sense of welcoming and loving family for my kids. (We won't talk about the biblical literacy part, lol!)

Love is the key somehow. I can't articulate it fully right now, but the reason I was not as damaged by my fundementalist upbringing as some others have been has something to do with the feelings of love I associated with God and our church. Even when I rejected most of the teachings of the church I grew up in, I never felt the desire to reject God. Rather, I gradually redefined my understanding of God and my relationship to God.

Hmm, this topic warrants more thought, and perhaps a blog post of my own. Thanks for getting me thinking today!


10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought you might enjoy this, given your reference to God and bathwater:

12:09 AM  
Blogger Philip Jones said...

I think I was definitely exposed to the "Lincoln Memorial" model as a child, but I don't remember connecting with it particularly. That might be because when I was 8, my parents left the Methodist church and became Unitarians, retreating pretty drastically from using any God language at all.

Even though this year makes 20 years of attending or belonging at our Meeting, the one thing I'm surest of is that I'm still uncomfortable with a lot of God language, and mostly try to avoid it because it's not clear to me what I mean by it.

Part of what kids have to do in growing up, I think, is to figure out what all of this means to them. Some adopt what they're taught, and for them the segue may be smooth and painless; others have to go through a lot of housecleaning to arrive at a place where they're comfortable -- if they ever do. But I think your approach with your kids is spot on: you don't shy away from these topics, but neither are you imposing confusingly concrete images on them. I doubt that either of them will grow up an adherent to Michael Jacksonism.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Secret Rapture said...

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions! The Secret Rapture soon, by my hand!
Read My Inaugural Address
At =

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Thanks, help, sorry, and wow" -- the newer version of the acronym ACTS:


(e.g., A Pattern for Prayer)

1:20 AM  

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