Two Torontonians, both raised Catholic, decided to let their son grow up without religious dogma. In a short radio essay she wrote and read, Julie Green, the boy’s mother, now wonders if she did the right thing.
“We try to impart some loosey-goosey version of our Christian values and hope that something will stick. As time wears on, though, I find myself second-guessing that early decision. While we might be sparing our son the worst of religious dogma, isn’t he also missing out on a sense of community? For those who believe, faith creates order out of chaos, meaning out of meaninglessness. When you don’t belong to a religion, you’re basically adrift. Am I doing my son a disservice by leaving him floundering out at sea with no oar?” …
“Mostly, I fear that skipping out on my son’s religious education makes me a selfish mother. In time, will he grow to resent the omission? Or, in leaving the slate blank, maybe we’ve actually given him the greatest spiritual gift of all: choice.”
I’m not usually presumptuous enough to offer unsolicited parenting advice, but as long as Green is going public with her doubts, I’ll say that it looks like she’s doing just fine — and that none of her handwringing is necessary.
Of course, I would say that, because I raise my kids the same way. My wife is nominally a Christian, though hardly a churchy one; I’ve never even seen her with a Bible. Me, I’m an atheist (I know: shocking). While our kids know in broad terms what each parent thinks, there are no belief-related obligations or dogmas on either side.
The important things to us are that they (a) are polite and kind to everyone and (b) will work to fulfill their individual potential. I occasionally slip references to rationality and skepticism into the dinner-table conversation, but that’s as far as it goes. None of us consider religion a topic of great import; what we value much more are curiosity and the ability to ask on-point questions.
(It seems to be working so far. If I may boast, our oldest daughter, almost 14, has her heart set on going to a four-year boarding school for science and mathematics. Last month, she literally shrieked with excitement when she received her admissions letter; she’ll be flying the coop in August.)
Will our children “resent the omission” of us injecting faith into their lives, as Green puts it when discussing her son? They might. But I think it’s much more likely that they’d eventually resent it if we had filled their heads, from an early age, with fables of omniscient beings who watch them 24/7; and fish tales of men surviving in the bellies of whales; and myths of prophets splitting seas or rising from the dead.
With her concern about community, Green brings up a good point. Religious people generally are good at building those. But the non-religious can find camaraderie and join communities in hundreds of other places: in family groups, schools, sports leagues, hobby groups, non-profits, and so on.
We should give the last word to the redoubtable Oatmeal:
(Image via Shutterstock)