As I wrote yesterday, I believe that raising children without religion is more difficult than raising children with religion. When you embark on the journey of raising children who are freethinkers, you head into the unknown. There are no set answers about beliefs. It is scary, very scary.Organized religions have set answers to questions that curious children ask: what happens after you die, why are people bad, why do bad things happen to good people, why do people get sick and die, etc. Raising children without religion means that there aren’t any easy (or comforting) answers. When a child being raised in a Christian family asks what happens after you die, they are told that if you are good you go to heaven. That is a comforting thought; there is a place after death for good people.
When a child being raised without religion asks, what do you answer? I often take the easy way out and turn the question around and ask, “What do you think happens?” First, this question gives me a little bit of time to consider my answer. It also gives me the opportunity to hear what my sons are saying and what it is they want to know. They may want to know about the practical, such as, what happens to your body after you die? Or they may want to know the philosophical. Their answer to my question usually tells me where they are headed and I am able to give them the information they are requesting.
For example, if the boys asked about the philosophical and when questioned further, told me that they think after you die, that’s it, I could point out the different ideas that people have about death. I might point out reincarnation, heaven, hell, and purgatory. Then, because it is a serious subject, I might tell the boys some silly SciFi answer relating to matter and energy (it would be silly because I have no understanding of the science and I would mess it up and they would have to correct me).
However, death, in my opinion, is one of the easier subjects. Explaining why people kill or get sick is trickier because there is no solid answer. G*d has a plan isn’t an answer that works with children who don’t believe in G*d. Explaining why Christians (or any other religion) do terrible things when their religion says they shouldn’t, is mind boggling. “Everything happens for a reason,” defies reason and you can’t dodge the questions, even if there really aren’t any answers that aren’t based upon religion.
What you can do, is use the questions as a starting point for discussion regarding morals and values. Being religious doesn’t mean that you are automatically moral (think Priests and child molestation); morality is something that is learned. Children who do not have religion learn that we do the right thing (even when no one is watching – because they don’t believe that G*d is watching) because it is the right thing. Doing the right thing feels good deep inside; doing the wrong thing leaves an empty, hollow place inside and doesn’t feel good. And forgiveness is only found here, on Earth (which is a very difficult lesson to learn).
When my children were born, I decided that I wanted them to think for themselves. I wanted them to question and seek out answers that made sense to them. I didn’t want them to believe something because I did or their father did (Chris supported me in this – although when the boys were little, I was a stay-at-home mom and was there for the majority of the questions). I wanted them to know that they were loved by us and that it didn’t matter what they believed; it only mattered that they were good, kind, caring people. While the boys are only 12 and 14, I have seen evidence of their goodness and caring. I have seen that they are becoming exceptional young men and I am proud of who they are.
David has experienced prejudice due to his lack of religion and due to his Jewish background (while he is an Atheist, he does identify with Jews culturally). It would be easier for him to “conform” and be like everyone else, yet he is quite grounded and his beliefs are strong. In spite of being a teenager and dealing with peer pressure, he does not believe in a higher power. I do not think that is going to change as he grows older because even though he has been ridiculed, he has not changed. For this, I am especially proud of him.
Although, honestly, it would be easier, if he believed in G*d.
Coming up – Atheist Teenager deals with Antisemitism