Although I’m not a “pagan” parent, this post from Witches of the Craft struck home. The credited author, “Josie” makes some valid points that apply to most parents with views outside of “mainstream” Christianity (or one of the other Abrahamic religions).
Both my husband and I were raised by devout Christian Scientists and regularly attended church until we moved out of our parents homes. When it was “just” the two of us, or lax (often nonexistent) church attendance was a point of contention with some of our family, but mostly let slide. Now that we have two children the topic of church attendance (along with the accompanying questions about visiting doctors and getting vaccinated) comes up more, with some family members feeling more strongly than others about “the issue.”
I wasn’t really exposed to “other” ideas about religion* until I was fairly “grounded” in Christian Science. I was in middle and high school when some of my friends realized that I wasn’t baptized and were worried I was going to hell. After some reassurance that I “really did believe in Jesus” (just not in the “personal savior” sense) they somewhat backed off.
The closest I got to “other” religions while living at home was when my parents insisted we attend a late-night Greek Orthodox Christmas service, and when a friend of mine and I “dabbled” in “Celtic Magic” – she had a book, we burned some candles and chanted some spells, nothing came of it except when the candles melted all over her mother’s grill, that went less well. My parents cared less about the Celtic Magic than they did about my reading Interview with a Vampire (we had a talk about that).
In college I visited a variety of protestant-based religious services, but found their ideas so foreign to what I had been raised with, I dismissed them as generally unenlightened (although many of them had more engaging services, that wasn’t really enough to make up for the perceived messages of sin/death/hell).
While at Principia, I also took a 20th century religious philosophy course. My classmates and I (all devout CS at the time) really struggled with the language that was used. It was so foreign to us, so unlike Christian Science. Every now and then someone would dismissively announce “— was so close with his ideas of — — —, but he fell short of discovering Christian Science.” I wanted to scream at them, just because the person didn’t “discover” Christian Science ALL OVER AGAIN does not mean they don’t have anything to offer.
Now that I no longer believe in the Abrahamic God (or possibly in any God at all), I’m wondering what I do believe (beyond being kind), and how much Christianity I should expose my children to before they’re able to think critically and make their own decisions about their system of beliefs. At what age does that happen? Is teaching them the Golden Rule and to be kind enough?
On one hand, I don’t want to introduce my children to ideas and concepts I flat-out disagree with before they are able to ask questions and think critically for themselves. Can a three year old grasp the concepts of heaven and hell with out nightmares? What about the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and the “logic” behind it? The Bible is full of stories about an angry vengeful God (who I happen to not believe in). I don’t think a young child should be concerned about eternal damnation because they were “bad” – little children are not “bad” they’re learning, testing limits, and exploring (or so I remind myself on a daily basis).
I could read them the warm-fuzzy G-rated Bible stories, like the story about Noah and the arc and how Noah saves all the animals, while GOD KILLS EVERYBODY ELSE (that’s left out of the children’s stories, the focus is on how God loves Noah… but I thought God loved everybody?). One thought I’ve had is to introduce parallel stories from other cultures/belief systems with a similar mythology. The Great Flood is not strictly Christian, if introduced as a story, or mythology it might be more tolerable, after all, the use of enchantment and fairy tales are important to young children.
On the other hand our world is saturated with religious imagery, everyone from pop stars and athletes to politicians invoke some form of Abrahamic religion or iconography (most frequently Christian, unless they’re trying to show “strong ties with Israel”). Christian themes are found in films, music, literature and music stretching back centuries.
I would like to have well-rounded children so when their English teacher makes them read Paradise Lost or goes off on The Fall of the House of Usher as being a “decadent garden of Eden” (yes, my high school english teacher went there) they have some greater context with which to understand the text. Similarly, when they raid my DVD collection and find Dogma I’d like them to understand at least some of them of the humor (apparently it’s even more amusing if you’re Catholic).
Religion did not form in a vacuum, and while a basic understanding of religious doctrines is important, so is the context in which they occurred. Shocking as it may seem there was other stuff going on in the world other than the narrow slice of “history” as portrayed by the Bible. It is easy to say “Jesus saves” but what exactly is Jesus saving us from? Jesus has come to do away with the law – what law is that exactly? The Laws of Moses, or the ones set down by the Caesars of the Roman Empire who were occupying the area? Similar questions should be asked of any religious doctrines.
All of this is a bit much for a grown-up to understand so how do I begin to introduce these ideas to a child? I think I shall start with:
- be kind to everyone
- see 1
Eventually it can get more complicated (as I figure out what I believe), and I hope to introduce them to a variety of stories and mythologies from different cultures, and perhaps introduce more complex ideas.