On raising heathens

Lately, I’ve been fielding lots of questions about religion from my kids; I’ve bumbled them all. My 4 year old, from the back seat of the car on the school run ‘But why did those people want to kill Jesus?’

And my 7 year old, who’s been combing through a Children’s Bible he got for his first birthday. ‘Jesus couldn’t really walk on water, could he?’ Like his Dad (and unlike me), he is ruled by logic. If it doesn’t make sense, it just doesn’t hold up. Then, after a recent school outing to a Mosque, ‘Am I a Christian or a Muslim?’

We could’ve sent our boys to the secular school across the road (boy, would that have been easier) but instead we schlepp across town so they can go to a traditional school with sound Christian values. I’m not a Christian, and my husband, like most of the people I know, is what I’d call a cultural Christian — born into a Christian family but not necessarily a Christian at heart, or a practicing Christian.

I did go to a Convent primary school and a Christian high school. To this day hymns (particularly those solemn Catholic ones) move me to tears, and I love going to Church. I think Jesus’s message was beautiful, but I’m also drawn to Buddhism. Without knowing why, I’ve always had a statue of the Buddha in my bedroom; it’s only recently, since I’ve delved deeper into Buddhist doctrine, that I understand why. For me, it speaks directly to the pitfalls of our frenzied, modern world, and gives practical tools for finding calm in the storm. The Baha’i Faith, my mom’s religion, has some wonderful beliefs too, like equality of the sexes,  harmony of science and religion, the unity of humankind.

It’s easy to be cynical about organised religion — after all, wars have been fought in its name, and some religious institutions are corrupt and rife with hypocrisy. But religion (or is it faith, I tend to confound the two) is a beautiful way to make sense of an uncertain world. Often it provides solace where nothing else can.  If, in your heart you believe in a particular faith and all its teachings, how comforting that must be.

Beyond being spiritual creatures, humans crave a sense of belonging. Religion, with it’s associated rituals and cultural practices, provides just that. Christmas is a time of family and togetherness, whether you’re thinking about those pressies under the tree or reflecting on the birth of Jesus. Likewise with Easter — for many, it’s as much about holidays and gorging on chocolate and Easter egg hunts than it is about remembering the death of Christ. It can be a sacred time, or one devoid of any religious beliefs; either way, it’s a time for the tribe to gather, and it gives you a sense of your place in the world.

But, back to those questions. What on earth do you teach a curious young soul about religion, if you don’t have one yourself? If, like many people who don’t belong to an organised religion like to say —  you’re ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Kids need guidance, some kind of compass with which to navigate the world, and they like certainty. But maybe it’s okay for them to know that there aren’t any solid answers; religion is a deeply personal journey, one they’ll have to take themselves. Their faith, if they have one, may be continually tested, but that’s part of the unpredictability and beauty of the human experience.

I told my 7 year old he doesn’t have to decide now; there are many religions in the world, and they all teach us important things. I wish I’d have remembered my favourite quote about religion, which beautifully encapsulates what I’d like to teach my kids, whether or not they’re baptised (they’re not), or we go to Church (we don’t):

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
-Dalai Lama

6 thoughts on “On raising heathens

  1. A great and honest blog.
    As a Christian I too hate religion and believe in a relationship with a living Jesus. It is not by my own strength or works that this relationship grows, but by His strength within me.
    As a mother of 4, and a grandmother of 2, I have learnt that faith in Christ does not mean that I do not doubt. As I question my God and seek his guidance, He faithfully answers me, not always in the way I would want but in what is best.
    It took me becoming a parent to absolutely realise how much God loves me. I know that I love my children more than anything, would do anything for them, no matter what, and yet my God loves me even more than that. Unfathomalbe, unbelievably more.
    The difference in Christianity and other religions is that it is not in the doing, because it is a finished work done for us by Christ alone, all His Grace.
    May God continue to lead and guide you. One of the most obvious signs for me of a God who created all this for us to enjoy and steward well is His creation and nature. So purposefully, intimately and intricately designed.
    All the best in your searching and blogging.
    Ginny

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    1. Thanks for this Ginny. It’s wonderful that you have such a strong Faith, I always envy people who have that conviction! I grew up in a multi-faith family, and every time I learn about a new religion, I find something that I love about it, particularly the religions and philosophies of the East. People are seekers! But I think we get disillusioned by religion when it becomes corrupted by politics (which is usually the case). Thanks again for sharing:-))).

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  2. Lovely piece Zanine…yes I think we all have our struggles in this topic, especially when it comes to the conversation wth kids – how can we give answers when we don’t know ourselves? Reality is, they are asking the questions that we should be asking ourselves…
    Whether or not I am culturally or “unculturally” religious is irrelevant, but I do believe that one of the major problems in religion can be the people who represent it, and not necessarily the religion itself. And that applies all the way back to the Biblical stories as well.

    Like you I suppose, my wish for my kids (and I’ll join them on this journey) is rather to learn as much about the many different types of religion before they make a call on what they want to believe – and religion does not have to be mutually exclusive – they can take many parts of many different religions that resonate with their values and create their own religious principles.

    I have just made your favorite quote about religion mine too!

    Cath x

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    1. Cath, I love how you say you’ll take the journey with them. That’s an amazing way to look at it — as something you can explore together, rather than you having to provide all the answers. There’s probably lots our kids can teach us about this! And totally agree that religion doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive — we can cobble together bits and pieces from all faiths without having to ‘choose’. I guess it’s the choosing that makes religion so divisive; when it starts becoming about who’s right and who’s wrong.

      It’s the best quote isn’t it! Just really gets to the crux of it!! Just be kind:-)).
      xxx

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  3. I love this post, and actually am still questioning my own beliefs so many years down the line. I will tell my children that there are many things in the world that we do not understand or know for sure, and that they will need to work this out themselves. Some questions just very simply don’t have answers. I considered buying them a children’s bible but S wasn’t so keen. For me God is real and alive and prayer and meditation are important to me. But I find organised religion jarring. It’s contaminated by politics, opinions and power struggle. At one point I searched for a community to join but couldn’t find anything free of dogma. So I’m wondering how to pass on a love of God to my kids with very little in the way of guidance or support!

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    1. I’ve loved chatting to people about this and it’s made me realise that it’s okay not to have all the answers! In fact maybe it’s better that way so you stay open and receptive rather than trying to lock yourself in to one particular belief. Most religions have limitations of some kind — archaic ideas that may have served people when the religion was in its infancy, but which have become outdated. So a mishmash of ideas and beliefs seems like a sensible way to approach it:-)

      Let’s start our own dogma-free community!!!
      Lots of love
      xxx

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