Raising Kids without Religion
It scares me to even type those words. I think it used to be easier. When I was growing up, the subject of church or temple didn't come up much outside of auditioning for Fiddler on the Roof. I used to say that a theatre was my church, and no one took offense. I simply wasn't brought up to wonder who prayed to what God, if at all.
Granted, I grew up in Santa Cruz, possibly the last of the hippie towns. Ironically, it was when we moved to Los Angeles (the East side of Los Angeles) where I was bombarded with billboards and bumper stickers announcing that Jesus was coming soon. In junior high, I debated the rest of the class on the issue of abortion. No minds were changed that day, I don't think, but oddly enough, the event somehow brought me closer to them. The teacher thought that maybe I'd earned their respect by holding my ground.
I didn't want to write about the murder of Dr. George Tiller. I didn't want to open myself up to the kind of backlash I saw others getting. I didn't want to slip and say something maybe too personal. I don't think it was just my cowardice that stopped me, though. I think the stage of debate has changed since I was in junior high.
Oh, sure, I have friends with whom we can share our differences, and still respect each other in the afternoon! I have friends that are proudly Christian, and support gay marriage, and even another woman's right to choose. I have friends that I'm not even sure how they feel on the subject of God and we get along just fine.
But there are others, so many others, particularly in this age of technology, that would have no problem calling me out for even daring to express a differing view.
Not too long ago, my 11-year-old daughter had a bible thrust upon her as she approached the entrance of her public middle school. She'd already said, "no, thank you" to two others, until one simply intimidated her into taking it. Before I could make a phone call, she reassured me that another teacher had taken care of it.
Still, I wonder, what do those bible-thumpers really think? Do they think that we, the parents, haven't already made a decision on what impact religion will have on our children's lives? These kids are in the 6th grade, minimum! Did they think my daughter would not share this with me, and spend her nights under the covers, hiding her bible from her mother?
And did they think that separation of church and state shouldn't be important to them? Do we really want to start persecuting people for their different beliefs? Even in the Christian community, there are countless churches from which to choose. Has it not crossed their minds that their church might not be the chosen one? Do we not cherish one of America's most precious freedoms enough to endure the sound of others?
I believe in the Constitution. I believe in giving everyone the right to believe what they want. My only religious rule with my own children is they not choose one until they are 18. I want to give them the opportunity to make an informed decision - not one out of my doctrine.
What I stress to my kids when it comes to religion - or God, for that matter - is that no one knows for sure. That it is, indeed, a leap of faith that some choose - and that there are many varieties to that leap.
Oh, and to answer some of the most common questions: yes, I can raise my kids to know the difference from right and wrong because there are rules and laws in place to tell us so. When I'm looking for answers, I have people in my life, and finally, myself to turn to - and live with -and get me through the bad times. I hope instead of pray. I live with it when things go wrong (and cry and rant and rave). I don't believe that everything happens for a reason, but I know that unless it kills me, I'll laugh and smile again, too. And frankly, I have enough to keep me busy so I don't worry about what happens when I die. I'll be donating my body to science, and hope that by doing so, I'll give someone else a chance to walk again, or not suffer from Alzheimer's - or simply be a cadaver for a young aspiring doctor to practice their skills. That's enough for me.
My biggest worry, frankly, from raising kids without religion, is how others judge my children for it. They've been told that I'm going to hell, that they're going to hell - and not from adults, but from their classmates. And if they were boys, I'd worry that their classmates would beat them up for being "different."
I raise my children - proudly - in Los Angeles because of the diversity that our (albeit strange) community provides them. They've had classmates from countries I couldn't even place on the map! My youngest daughter has performed an Irish dance and a Philippine folk dance. They can count to 100 in Spanish, and they'll tell you that their friend "so and so" is African-American. They know when Hannukah starts, ask about Chinese New Year, and have even been introduced to Kwanzaa.
We'd simply prefer to spend our Sundays home, together.