Friday, October 16, 2009


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.


Luann said...

I recently read Life of Pi by Yan Martel. I don't know if you've read it, but it raises some interesting question about religion at the beginning of the book. He joins three different religions and states that he is just trying to love God and can't understand why people are upset.
I think it's important to be accepting of others belief systems. If we can teach our children to love God and love others, I think we have succeeded.

Renee said...

Expressed perfectly, Keiko. Which may be contrary to the point. :)

(this is completely off on a whole different thing, but my word verifications for this comment post is "asians." Heh.

jules said...

Isn't it cool to say "their" when talking about your children? I'm still getting used to it. :)

Your plan sounds like our plan, but with less science provided by Nick. We have the coolest Big Bang theory kids book, when/if you ever get to that point.

Katy said...

I have said this many times before, but I'll say it again. I have never felt more at peace with any "religious label" than I do with saying I'm agnostic. There's an odd easeful feeling in just embracing that you don't know. Like many other agnostics, it's not that we've searched but are just uninterested, quite the opposite actually. I think it's only when you study many religions that you can come to the point where you feel like it's not about figuring it out and labeling it it's about staying open to the experience of being human. (that's how I feel at least.) I've also had the experience of saying I was agnostic and people thinking that I didn't believe in anything/god/athiest. That's sort of frustrating, but whatever. I liked this post because I'm in the same boat.

witticism here said...

Exactly, Katy!

Valerie said...

So fluidly thought-out. The irony is, every one of us is agnostic if defined as "I don't KNOW." Knowing and believing are two very different things.

Yea, the term agnostic to some means "I don't know if there is a God," to others it means "I don't know what it's all about."

I so admire you for allowing your babies to form their own beliefs. Having said that, they will ask you what yours are. You will be as honest, eloquent, and gentle as you were in this post.

Renee said...

Came back to this blog after Amber reminded me of it, and I was thinking about something....

You read Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? right? Remember how Margaret was mad at her parents for letting her choose, and not just giving her a clear cut thing to believe in? Isn't it funny that your kids could resent you for letting them choose, but my kids could resent me for being clear about what church I want them to attend? God, I hate preteens.