Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Religious Exploration: Do We Owe It To Our Children?

I jokingly call myself, and by proxy my husband, a heathen. That has to be put out there right across the top lest anyone read this thinking I know a thing or two about religion and what it means to be 'of faith'. I do not. be fair to myself I may know A Thing (or 2?) but I am woefully uneducated in the world of organized religion.

Before you "tsk, tsk" my parents for failing to bring my up with God, you should know this: I was raised Catholic. I was Baptised and then went through First Communion and beyond. So my tongue is boreing a hole in my cheek when I say I know nothing about religion. In reality I know quite a few things about quite a few religions. I am a curious observer and I really don't believe in the old adage of 'religion, sex, and politics' being off limits, as I find them all fascinating topics to discuss even if you and I completely, utterly disagree. I prefer, in fact, to talk to someone with whom I wholeheartedly disagree than to talk to someone who has no opinon at all. If you don't believe me about that, you can ask pretty much any kind, poor soul who has subjected themself to my wildly inappropriate oversharing ways.

But I don't 'Know' the Biblical sense, if you will. I don't get it. The draw. The appeal. The ritual and the power. And I say this while admitting I actually enjoyed church as a kid. I liked the stories and the morals and I loved Religious Education classes, what with their coloring books of Biblical scenes. There is something fascinating and macabre about coloring in Jesus on the crucifix with the communal crayons.

Mostly, though, I loved taking Communion. Something about putting that wafer on my tongue and feeling it dissolve made the whole Mass worthwhile. Not because of the deeper meaning, but because I enjoyed going up in line and having the sense of community and of us all doing this thing together. And I just kind of thought being allowed to 'eat' in church was cool. I was 8, maybe.

And the donuts after Mass didn't hurt the Catholic Cause in my mind either.

But what happened was this: we went to church, and then we didn't. My dad's family was (is) Catholic and my mom's was non-descript Christian. She tells me that as a child they went to church, but which church was less important than a core belief in Jesus As Savior and a service at a time when both my grandparents and all 3 kids were available simultaneously. So my mom and my dad compromised, and decided we would attend Catholic church (she being of the 'Catholics are Christian' line of thought) but they would not enforce church as a requirement once we were of an age where we could decide for ourselves if we wanted to go.

Of the 4 kids in my family, not a one of us stayed active in the church. In any church, really.

This is how naive I am about religion: I didn't know about the whole 'some Christians do not consider Catholics to be Christian' until a few years ago.

This is another way in which I am naive about religion: When I met my husband, he told me his family grew up Lutheran. They are of German descent after all, and didn't I know that Germans are often Lutheran? And when I didn't know that it was ok because I was Catholic. And Catholics and Lutherans kind of tend to sometimes not like each other, but I knew that, right? Surely I knew that?

I did not, in fact, know that.

So, anyhow. We met, we dated. We discussed religion here and there and my husband sort of waffled. From somewhere in his inner being, he longed for some sort of religious epiphany. He sought it in small ways: asking me to attend a Christmas Eve Lutheran service with him (I did and it was so beautiful words could not capture the way it made me feel), discussing religion with our friends of different faiths, even letting the sweet old ladies from the Jehovah's Witness church talk us into visiting them one Sunday. But nothing ever spoke to him, I guess, because over time he not only turned away from the search, he turned away from religion pretty much without second thought. I remember being pregnant with Luca and on a road trip with my boss and co-worker. This was before we knew Luca was a girl and before we had a name, so we three discussed potential names with my boss and co-worker throwing out suggestions here and there. Names like Ruth and Jacob and Lucas and Mary came up, and I had to explain to them that nothing at all Biblical or religious would be considered because my husband was so adamantly against organized religion at that point that the mere suggestion of a 'Biblical' name made him cringe.

So sometimes, when people hear my kids' names and they think we were trying very hard to be insufferably clever, I think what they don't know is the sheer volume of names automatically X'd off the list for their religious undertones. You hear that people? It's not my insufferable tendency to be obnoxiously 'different' so much as the fact that a Grace (while also really a popular name) would make him think of the Hail Mary.

Well, and also, we didn't want our kids to be "Popular-Girl Name K." in class from here to eternity because we chose a trendy name. Take it from a Katie who was Kathryn, K.D., Katie, Kate, K.D.D., and Katie D. through my school years.

Once we found out Luca was a girl, my mother in law came over with some 'antique store finds' for her, one of which was a gauzey white gown. In her words, "Something for her to wear when she gets baptised. You know, if you choose to do that. You're doing that, right?" And so I referred her to my husband to field that question, and he promptly gave a "Hell no" in response. Which, you know, maybe not the best choice of words ever, given the context. But that's my husband, and I love him even without a filter on his thoughts.

So now here we are with two kids (with non-Biblical names, thank-you-very-much) and suddenly I found myself in the midst of a conversation I was not at all expecting to have. Ever. It centered around my husband, and his questioning me about whether or not we might want to consider going to church. Every. Sunday.

:::looks around to see if anyone else is as confused as I am:::

So this is where we stand right now: facing a dilemma we never expected to face.

On one hand, the idea of belonging to a church is wholly counterintuitive. I mean neither of us is sure if we believe in God, Jesus as a Savior, the Bible, or any of the other 'standards' of most religions. We didn't baptise our kids not only because we don't go to church, but also because I don't believe in the concept that my children are born in sin and need to be protected or, alternately, the need to make our children be part of a faith before they are able to decide if it's right for them. I just didn't see the need to go to church, and I also didn't think it was the right thing to do if it wasn't what we believed.

But the question has come back to us several times. Do we owe it to our children to explore religions and see if maybe somewhere out there exists a faith that speaks to us and which we are comfortable exposing our children to? And if there is, what would it look like? Maybe this:

It would accept everyone.
It would not involve mandates for praying or declaring our faith in a being or person of savior or entity in order to be saved or protected or let into heaven.
It would not include any doctorines nor any beliefs based on hatred or bigotry.
It wouldn't necessitate believing in the Bible as truth, though it could necessitate reading the stories of the Bible and taking them as just that (stories) but focusing on their messages and morals*.
It would expose our children to people like them and to people totally unlike them.
It would not make our children feel guilty, scared, trapped, or judged.

*I feel it should be noted clearly here, and without any shadow of a doubt left: I believe very strongly in many of the lessons and teachings of the Bible and of various religions. I love the focus many have on serving others, on selflessness, on kindness and giving back and caring for everyone, and on living one's life in an honest and respectful way which strive to do no harm unto others. These are the principles, in fact, that I try to lead my own life by. What I do NOT love is how these things are often skewed and adapted to fit the notions of some people in order to make themselves 'right' and others 'wrong' or to have a mandate for judging or harming others.

So we've been giving this some thought and I would be a liar if I said we're even close to figuring out what the answer is for our family. There are two particular 'faiths' that we're looking into right now, and we are definitely starting on the fringe of what some would consider religion. But I would say we're working our way from the outside in toward the mainstream and seeing what feels right and is a good fit. And we plan to stop in for a service for at least two of them in the next few weeks.

I'm not completely sold yet, though. I've always strongly believed that religion isn't what everyone needs in order to live the right life. Some people, I believe, benefit from the direction and guidance they get from religion. But I also pretty much can't relate to that at all. I think the measure of a person is in their actions and the way they lead their life in the moments that really matter whether those are the moments when no one is looking of the moments when the most important people (their spouse, friends, family and children) are looking. I've never wanted to be part of something that tells me I have to do X, Y, and Z to prove I am A Believer and thus get into heaven. And I'll be honest and admit I have no desire to raise my kids with that set of beliefs either. In my mind, if there is a God or some ultimate judge in the universe, that entity should judge based on the kind of person I am and the life I lead and not on how many hours I log in a pew or in prayer.

And then the other side is this: In our quest to not lock our kids into a religion and not try to force our own ideologies on them, are we doing that very thing? Do we not guide and lead and direct and hope to impart in them some set of morals and standards by which we would like them to live their lives in childhood and beyond simply by our everyday interactions with them? Isn't telling them to say please and thank you and respect their elders and give their old toys to kids with no toys just another way of imparing upon them our own 'dogma', be that a religious dogma or otherwise? By NOT taking them to churches where confessions are required or prayers must be memorized are we doing the same thing we're accusing organized religion of attempting to do? How can we be sure we're raising children who know enough about the world and their choices to decide on their own what they believe and how they will share those beliefs with others? Is not being religious its own religion?


JustJazzy said...

Read the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Katie,I have been going through the same experience as you. I heard him speak at the church I have been going to with my best friend. I cried when I got home because what he stated was so much of my own thoughts on church. HaHa..I was just about to blog my experience and for some reason I chose to read your blog. How funny.

Muffin Cake said...

Thanks Jazz!

I think the continual search for your own meaning is so important!

jen gay said...

That's funny...I was just thinking of the book Blue Like Jazz when I read your post too! You might enjoy reading it. (Although I don't whole heartedly endorse the emergent church movement)Katie you bring up so many points that are relevant today and I think a lot of us struggle with. I wish I had the mental space to get all my thoughts down...hope you guys find a good compromise.

Also, I was shocked to read that you were raised Catholic. Shocked because I feel like I have known you forever and I didn't even know that!

Lally18 said...

Katie-we are struggling a bit with this but mainly because Mark is Catholic and I am Jewish. Owen goes to a Jewish pre-school, but mainly because it's the best program-the Judaism is a nice bonus. I don't know if I believe in G-d, and I don't really get organized religion. I grew up with a strong Jewish foundation, but for me, Judaism is more of a culture than a religion. I think I can teach Owen to be a good person by being a good role model and don't need religion to be the framework for that. It would be easier if Mark and I were the same religion, as neither of us is willing to convert, but it also allows us to raise Owen with the values we think are important without it being dictated solely by religion. I will be curious how this journey goes for you!


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