Since B was born, Jeff and I have been struggling with how to deal with religion in our household. Considering our backgrounds, you can understand our dilemma. Jeff was raised a Catholic, but is very much a “recovering Catholic” now. He has outright rejected any forms of organized religion, going as far to say we could not consider daycares in churches. My dad was raised Buddhist and my mom Methodist, so very little middle ground there. Growing up we went to different churches, and finally settled on a non-denominational approach that presented views from all faiths. It was a great environment because we were told that church should be a presentation of values, beliefs, etc. and we should only take away the useful lessons to guide us in our everyday lives. I learned a lot of things about my belief system, the prime being that the whole concept of religion/belief/faith is incredibly overwhelming and it would be ridiculous of me to think I—this inexperienced human—could possibly comprehend it.
How does one possibly translate her confusion, coupled with her partner’s disdain, and turn that in to a lesson of personal faith for her child? We have discussed the possibilities. First of all, it would be hypocritical for us to go with the flow and label ourselves “Christian”. I decided long ago that while I certainly believe in Jesus and that he died for our sins, I don’t believe he was resurrected. That’s pretty much the linchpin of Christianity, right? Also, atheism was thrown around, but I can’t quite commit myself to that. Plus, Jeff didn’t get why we couldn’t tell our son there is no God, but Santa does exist. Stopping the perpetuation of lies is a biggie there for atheists.
As an educator it is important for me to be able to understand things fully—this often means putting labels on things, people, and ideas. That doesn’t necessarily mean I stick with the label, it’s just a nice jumping off place while I mull over all the nuts and bolts. As the mother of a toddler I feel I have to explain things in concrete terms—there is very little appreciation of the abstract. So how do I apply the concrete to the abstract when I am not really actually sure myself?
When I finally came across my answer I was even more perplexed. If you’ve read closely, you have already guessed the answer. I told you the whole concept of religion is overwhelming and incomprehensible for my simple brain. I am an agnostic. This label was surprisingly disappointing. I mean, it makes sense, but what it means is that I am accepting not knowing—in fact I am embracing it. So what does this mean for what I can tell my kids? “Well, mommy knows there’s something, but I don’t get it.”
The other thing that disappointed me was how closely atheism and agnosticism are associated. I know there are varying degrees of both, as there are with any belief system, but my concept of agnosticism is so far on the opposite end of the spectrum. I believe there is something out there, so big, so powerful, so beyond words, that it is almost insulting to think I could begin to wrap my brain around it. I do have faith that something like that exists, so I am not living without faith.
I don’t think it is my job as a parent to direct my child in his faith-based belief system. I have encountered so many people burned by their parent’s enforced beliefs. Rather I think my work should be to present all of the information and allow him to make his own decisions. Of course I will have my preferences, but his life is not mine to live.
It took a lot for me to get to the point of embracing the unknown: I went to church for years, took courses in college, I read about all sorts of religions, and I have studied and taught the Bible. I hope to pass this love of learning about religion on to my children. Perhaps—maybe, hopefully—they will come away with a different perspective than me. Whatever their path, I hope it is informed, well-rounded, and with an open heart and mind.