Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to remember my first conversation with David and/or Michael about religion. And I can’t. I do remember that Michael went to a friend’s house (he was quite little – maybe 4) just before Christmas and he saw a nativity scene. I remember him asking about it in the car on the way home. Of course, both boys were in the car with me, and while I don’t remember the details of the conversation, I would imagine it went something like this…
Michael – Mom, they had guys with a baby and animals and we weren’t allowed to play with them.
Me – Really?
Michael – Yes. They told me that they baby was Jesus. Who’s Jesus?
Me – Well, Jesus was a man who lived a long time ago. Grandma Kay and Papa Phil believe that Jesus was the son of G*d and was the Savior. Grandma Kay is Catholic and Papa Phil is Christian. Nana and Papop believe that Jesus was a teacher, but not the son of G*d. They are Jewish and believe that the Savior – who they call the Messiah – hasn’t come yet.
David – That’s silly. G*d doesn’t have children. How could he?
Michael – Mom, is that true?
Me – Well, it depends on what you believe.
David – What do you believe?
Me – You don’t have to believe what I believe or what your dad believes. We want you to decide for yourself what you believe.
Michael – But what do you believe?
Me – I believe that Jesus was a real man who lived a long time ago. I believe that he was a rabbi. But I don’t believe that he was the son of G*d.
David – I don’t think that G*d could have had a son.
Michael – I don’t think so either.
Me – You can change your mind, if you want to later. You aren’t stuck with what you believe right now.
The boys were puzzled because I wouldn’t tell them what to think or what to believe. In later conversations, we discussed the existence of G*d. We discussed Immaculate Conception and the Resurrection. We also discussed Chanukah and Passover. The boys asked about Islam, but I couldn’t tell them more than the basics and eventually they explored it on their own. They read Greek and Roman Mythology. They learned about the Ancient Egyptians. And then they tried to reconcile what they knew from science with their ideas about religion.
Both boys were leaning towards not believing in a higher power. David was fascinated with the Bible as a historical document, not as the word of G*d. He became even more interested in the stories of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) and their relation to the teachings of the time.
And then Chris was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. I honestly believe that was the deciding factor for the boys; they believed that there couldn’t be a G*d.
While the boys were trying to figure out what they believed, I was also researching. I read about the idea that G*d is in each of us and that the search for understanding starts with looking inside ourselves. Somehow, this resonates within me. I, personally, cannot reconcile a higher power that allows so much suffering and pain; that allows war and murder; that creates terrorists. I can’t understand the concept (and have never really understood) how you can be forgiven for your sins. That forgiveness is automatic and you only have to ask to receive. It doesn’t make sense that G*d would forgive you, even if you know what you are doing is wrong and do it anyway since forgiveness is unconditional. Jews don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus and therefore forgiveness of sins. Jews believe in Atonement – seeking forgiveness of those that you have wronged.
At this point, both of my boys are Atheists. Chris is an Agnostic (last time we spoke about it). And me? I really don’t know. I identify with being Jewish but that is culturally, not religiously. I am lacking the faith necessary to believe in a higher power, but I am not sure. What I am certain of is that raising children without religion is difficult. Perhaps more difficult than raising children within a religious community. What do you think?
More on this to come.