Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kids vs. religion

By Chip -- Do kids need religion?


It really isn't necessary or possible to force children to believe in "god," in either a general or particular way. Moreover, morality, ethics, and being a good person don't depend on religion or belief in god.

I myself was raised in a religious family. I went to church every Sunday from birth until I left home to go to college. I went to a religious elementary school, and went to religious education classes when I was in public middle and high school. I took courses in theology as an undergraduate at a religiously-based university.

But I never felt like I actually believed that any of the stories I was told were literally true. I could see that they were parables and lessons, that they were stories that made philosophical, ethical, and moral points -- not all of which were very moral or ethical (for example the numerous genocides commanded by the Yahweh).

As for the theology, I never actually believed that there is a "god" somewhere out there micromanaging or even watching over humanity, much less having "personal relationships" with individual humans.

But then came kids. My wife was raised in a different Christian faith tradition, but she feels much the same way as I do about religion. We talked a lot about what to do. We ended up having both kids baptized at the church I was raised in -- largely for the sake of my parents and grandparents. And it gave us an excuse to have the extended family get together.

When my daughter reached kindergarten age, we began going to church, and she went to Sunday school, as did my son when he reached that age. My daughter made her first penance and first communion. I think that we both felt it would be good to do this, despite our own non-belief.

But I found this position increasingly untenable. I didn't believe, I had never believed, yet I was asking my kids to go through the motions.

We tried other churches, but we didn't feel comfortable in them either, mainly because they were so religious and were talking about god all the time (of course, what did we expect?).

So we decided that it was best to be honest with ourselves and with our kids. We stopped going to church, and stopped trying to get our kids to go through the motions.

They had early on proclaimed their atheism -- I'd had to ask them not to argue with the Sunday school teachers about this -- which was one of the issues that led us to this decision.

Unfortunately, in this society, I need to add this: My kids are moral and ethical, they have very strong senses of right and wrong, and though they are not perfect, they are great kids and will be wonderful adults.

(Of course, the very fact that I feel like I have to say this indicates how our society views nonbelievers. If I was religious and a believer, I wouldn't even have to tell you about my kids' morality and ethics...)

Morality and ethics do not come out of religion. We all know people who are immoral and unethical who were also believers. And there are plenty of nonbelievers who are moral and ethical.

The sense of ethics, the belief that there are right and wrong ways to treat other people, comes, I believe, from how we see our parents and significant others act as we are growing up. Adults model behavior to kids, regardless of religious belief. As they grow up, children absorb the values of the people raising them. Kids learn by being told, and talked to, and having things explained to them: Why some things are right, and why some things are wrong; why some people do bad things; why others are selfless.

Kids also learn by watching what their parents and care givers do, how they act, how they live their lives, apart from the words.

But I also believe that there is an innate sense of morality and ethics. I know plenty of people whose parents were awful, yet who themselves turned out to be great people.

To me that indicates that there is some level of morality that is part of the package of being human. Perhaps these people also were lucky enough to have other adults in their lives who reinforced their inner moral senses.

Given this, I believe that morality and ethics don't come from believing in god, or from being attached to a particular religious community. Those values come from within, and they are reinforced by the way adults explain what's right and wrong, and how those adults themselves behave.

When I was talking to my 15-year old daughter CB about this, she said she thinks that nonbelievers are actually more moral: they do the right thing not because of a fear of punishment in the afterlife, but just because it's the right thing to do. I wouldn't say that all believers do the right thing only out of fear; but for those who do, I think CB's reasoning is right on target.

That said, I do believe it is important for my kids to be familiar with the various religious mythologies that are part of our cultural heritage. My kids know the Bible stories, are familiar with the Jesus stories, the saints and other aspects of Christian religious belief. They are also familiar with other religious traditions, as well as the basics of the mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome.

I see this knowledge as important for purely cultural reasons. You cannot understand a large part of European literature and art if you don't know the background stories coming out of Christianity and Judaism. You cannot understand the politics of large parts of the US if you don't have some basic knowledge of Christianity.

But kids don't have to believe that the stories of Christianity are actually true, any more than they need to believe the ancient Roman or Greek myths.

Of course we're lucky to live in a community that is pretty progressive, which is not dominated by Christian fundamentalism, and in which my kids know other kids who are also not believers. But given the outright hostility to atheists in US society, I have also had to warn my kids to be careful, to not discuss their beliefs with people unless they know them.

While I have no problem with other people believing whatever they want to believe -- as long as they don't try to force it on me -- I also think it's important to recognize that kids don't need to have a belief in god, anymore than they need to believe in santa claus or the easter bunny. They need to have parents who instill in them their values, a sense of responsibility and empathy towards other human beings, and who walk the walk as well as they talk the talk.

So if you're feeling uncomfortable raising your kids in an atmosphere of religious belief, act on your own beliefs and instincts. Kids are just fine without god or religion.

Crossposted at daddychip2


Anonymous said...

Why take your kids to church if you don't believe?

Chip said...

Good question jared. I'm not sure why we did it. Partly it was just this feeling that we "should" do it, partly for cultural reasons, partly for the social aspect. I do think it was good for my kids to have experienced church services, again for cultural reasons.

But in retrospect it is hard to recreate the mindset we had at that time. I guess then I thought it was somehow important. I also think the overall societal expectations and pressures played a role, as well as our families' expectations.

But what I realized was that it made no sense to keep going, either for us or for our kids.

Unknown said...

This is an interesting post, since I've been thinking about what to do, religiously, for our 15 month old. I'm coming from the other side, though: I was raised atheist (almost anti-theist) and gained my ethics through the socialist humanism of both of my parents. So I don't see religion as the only path to ethical behavior.

However, I do see that religion is, among other things, a structured, tested and more-or-less agreed upon process of developing and strengthening one's soul, or spirituality, which has, I argue, many additional character benefits outside of pure ethics. Most importantly, to me, are cultivating a sense of awe, gratitude and compassion. Although ethics can get you there mentally (which I believe is enough, really, as far as ensuring your conduct with others is fine), I believe some spiritual practice is necessary to develop one's heart. Like one's brain, this is an aspect of a person that needs to be developed, trained and improved upon. Religion is the institution in our culture that has been tasked with doing that. The institution gives you the spiritual outlook and skills that can be used throughout one's life in or outside of a religious context.

I guess it also boils down to this: It seems to me that it's a lot easier for religious people to toss off religion when they're older than it is for materialist atheists like me to acquire a spiritual side later in life!

Chip said...

Justin, thanks for your thoughtful and interesting response. Just a few points in response:

1. on this: cultivating a sense of awe, gratitude and compassion, I'm not sure exactly what you mean.

I have a sense of awe at the amazing things around us, nature, the universe, etc. and I really don't think I got that from religion, nor do I see a necessary connection between that and religion. I do believe there are things that we as humans will never be able to understand. But that's not a religious belief, it's a recognition that the human mind is, either biologically or culturally, constrained and finite.

As for gratitude: gratitude to whom for what? I feel gratitude to those who have made the world and my life better. As for compassion, that is part of empathy, and you don't need religion to have empathy or compassion.

2. As for "getting there mentally," by which you seem to mean through rational and logical thought processes, lack of a belief in god or religion doesn't mean you have to think through these things only mechanically, rationally, Spock-like.

I do believe emotions, feelings and nonrational aspects of our humanity are just as important as rationality and logic. When you cultivate in your children a sense of ethnics, morality, empathy, compassion, it's not just about explaining in rational terms, it's also about living, about showing an emotional commitment that makes it clear this is not about self-interest, that these are things that are more important than self interest. And part of that nonrational process is just being there, loving your kid. It's process, not outcome.

3. I believe some spiritual practice is necessary to develop one's heart. This statement leads me to believe you have divided things into two boxes: nonbelief = logic and rationality; therefore belief = emotions, feeling, intuition. I reject that.

I do not believe that "developing one's heart" requires participation in organized religion or belief in god. I know plenty of "religious" people whose hearts are not developed, and vice versa.

Parents absolutely play a key role in developing the hearts of their kids. But they do it not through going through the motions of institutionalized religion, but by demonstrating and living empathy and compassion, by loving their kids.

As for spiritual practice, that is not the same as organized religion or belief in god. I also have to reject your contention that religion "has been tasked" in our society with developing our heart. That's what parents are for.

Maybe coming out of what you describe as a materialistic atheist background, in addition to rejecting religion and god, you also internalized the elevation of logic and rationality to the only important things. But you seem to recognize that other aspects of being human are just as important, that is, emotion, intuition, what you are calling spirituality.

But you don't need to believe in god or be part of an organized religion to cultivate that part of yourself or to cultivate those things in your child.

And in fact, one of my points in the post was that I found it untenable to be going to churches that are based on the fundamental assumption of god (and of course, being Christian churches, of Jesus, etc.), when I myself did not believe those assumptions. I found it untenable to expect my children to go so Sunday school and not question those assumptions, when we've been raising them to be critical thinkers and to question things they don't understand or believe. I found it untenable to keep expecting them to go through the motions when I didn't believe the motions.

Of course I am not telling people they shouldn't go to church or believe in god. What I'm saying is that you can raise wonderful, moral, ethical, compassionate and even spiritual kids even if they don't believe in god or go to church.

Anonymous said...

Justin Horner,

Have you considered the Unitarians?

Anonymous said...

Unitarians? What, go from believing nothing to believing everything? ;)

Elise said...

Since my 12 year old daughter recently announced to me that she didn't believe in God I figured I would add my two cents. I was raised in a strict Catholic family and as a young child I believed it all. I became a rebellious young adult and declared that I didn't believe in anything anymore. As many have done, once I had kids I decided church was good for them. I baptised them and continued half-heartedly through first communion and first penance and then stopped totally. When my daughter told me she didn't believe, I was surprised to realize that this fact bothered me. After thinking it over I told her what I thought. I guess it boils down to the fact that although I have no proof that God does exist, I have no proof that there isn't a God. I don't really believe that there is some physical God out there micromanaging all of our lives but there are enough questions about our universe (and beyond) that I decided long ago to stop questioning. Its pointless to me to keep searching for answers when there are none to be found. I decided to be the best person I can be and just stop wondering. I told my daughter all of this and also that some people find it easier to be good people if they can picture a God that they are trying to please. I guess the reason why I don't accept the finality of saying "there isn't a God" is that I don't want to close my mind off to anything. Once we tell ourselves something with a certainty, its difficult to change our mind. Like I said, I have no proof either way and until I die, I won't have any. I have no real desire to find out. I guess for some people they may need to know or at least feel that they know.

A commment to Justin. For me and many people who were raised with religion, we feel lied to. You said "Religion is the institution in our culture that has been tasked with doing that. The institution gives you the spiritual outlook and skills that can be used throughout one's life in or outside of a religious context." For me, my religion failed miserably. Unlike Chip, I had no desire to search out an alternative religion because I personally felt like they were all basically the same. They teach morals but so few people are following them. The church that I used to go to had one older woman who came to church every sunday. She would be the first to leave and would zoom away in her car as everyone else was just leaving. Until one day she hit a child. To me this is symbolic of how many people in my church acted. They are focused on following the rules but not changing their heart. She went to church every week but never really got the real meaning. I felt by bringing my kids to church I would be surrounded by other people trying to be good people to. This was so far from the truth I got totally turned off. I actually found less moral people in my church than outside my church.

I agree with Chip because my kids are some of the best people I know and they certainly didn't learn how to act by going to church. And judging by how most of the people act in church, thank GOD for that! However, I feel as if its imperative that you educate your children about religion. If you do not, they may grow up feeling like they are missing out on something. When my kids were very little my neighbor told me that if I didn't bring them to church they would never know how bad it really was and would then be suseptible to be sucked in as an adult - hook, line and sinker. (she's another bitter non practicing catholic ha ha) As funny as it sounds this made sense to me at that time!! With that in mind, take everything I've said with a grain of salt....

Chip said...

hmmm, maybe some day I'll blog about my experiences at the Unitarian church. The short version: after going for a few months we stopped and are not tempted to return...

Elise, thanks for your response. I understand what you're saying, and I like how you explained god to your daughter. Your neighbor has a point, but I think the important thing is to talk about these things with your kids. I really doubt my kids will ever be suckered into a church. But maybe those few years going to church and sunday school was good just to innoculate them... All I know is that I couldn't have done it any longer.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Thanks to everyone who has responded so far. The responses have all been really honest, thoughtful, and interesting.

It's curious to me that so many non-believers took kids to church because they felt church would be somehow good for them. Chip, I think you might have missed Justin's main point: he doesn't feel alternative structures exist for cultivating "awe, gratitude, and compassion" among secularists, and he wishes there were. I think this is a real, substantial criticism of secular life. Chip's response is an intellectual one, but I don't think ideas are enough. To thrive, belief needs the kind of social reinforcement church provides -- a social context certainly helps pass one's values onto one's kids. People in university settings, or people embedded in some kind of stable institution like the military, get that, but most other people get it through church, and only church. The next closest thing might be a political collective or intentional community, but I've found those to be very fragile organizations, and by and large not kid-friendly. And, frankly, "awe, gratitude, and compassion" aren't the strong points of many secular progressive communities.

I'd love to provide a shake and bake solution to this problem; I don't have one. I personally cultivate something resembling a spiritual life through literature (and movies and other kinds of art): I learn awe from John Berger, gratitude from William Carlos Williams, and compassion from Alice Munro. My son is just a little dude, but I try to elicit lessons from his little-dude books when I read them to him. I hope to teach him how to read deeply as he gets older and use his reading to live other lives and discover the underlying structures that govern our world; I'd like for him to have teachers and even classmates who will help him find and cultivate compassion through imaginative literature. But my god, do they do that in school these days? Is it possible?

Here's a really intersting essay on "how fictional works nurture empathy and enhance our social and emotional lives.

And you know, I once wrote an book review essay that touches on how you cultivate awe and gratitude in a scientific world: you can read it here.

Chip said...

Jeremy, other developed societies somehow manage to do this without church. If you look at the church-going rates in other developed countries, for example, they are all quite low.

And am I misunderstanding what you all are meaning by cultivating "awe, gratitude, and compassion"? Because as I mentioned above I really don't see church as necessary for doing this. I'd also again point to other developed countries with very low rates of belief and church-going.

Chip said...

PS And if you are not a believer, how exactly does going to a church that is based on the assumption of belief going to do these things? If you want to go because you like ritual etc. that's one thing. But if you don't believe there's a god out there I'm not sure a) if you can force yourself to believe anyway; or b) how just going through the motions of attending church services will accomplish any of these goals.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Chip, I think you are misunderstanding a bit. Before I go on, I should first make it crystal clear that I don't believe in god and I am not advocating that anyone go to church. I also don't dispute that "developing one's heart" can be done outside a religious framework; that's what I was talking about when I talked about how much I relied on writing to help me do that.

But to back up a bit: I guess I'd dispute that European societies are better at cultivating the relationships to oneself and others that we're talking about here. This is based on experience and some reading; I don't have on hand any empirical data, although I'm sure somebody out there has tried to measure awe, compassion, etc. My impression is that both Western and Eastern European cultures are struggling mightily with issues of meaning and connection, and many feel the loss of religion (I'd put communism in the religious category, BTW). Which doesn't necessarily mean they want religion back, only that they recognize that something was lost when their societies advanced (and yes, I mean "advanced") to the post-religious stage.

Again: I'm not advocating church as a solution to the problem of cultivating certain qualities in kids. But I don't think it's contradictory to acknowledge, on one hand, that churches -- it might be more accurate to speak of organized spiritual practice -- are good at helping individuals and communities connect to something larger than themselves; and on the other hand, to argue that there is no god or supernatural dimension to life. I see church as a social practice that meets certain needs; I don't see it as a pipeline to the divine, because I don't believe in "the divine" in the sense of an autonomous, omnipotent entity (replace "the divine" for Karl Marx/Lenin/Stalin, and these statements can be applied to many communist parties, which performed a religious function for many people).

I guess where we disagree is that you appear to believe --and correct me if I'm wrong -- that it's enough for individuals to cultivate such traits in themselves and their children, within the ambit of private life (e.g., "That's what parents are for"). I don't think that's the case. The private sphere is where it begins and ends, of course, but I think it's both easier and stronger when awe, gratitude, compassion, etc. are practiced in a social context and socialized. I don't think secularists can successfully argue that they've created a full-blown alternative to church, in the sense of providing stable, multi-generational structures that help people (and kids in particular) to develop moral, ethical, and, for lack of a better term, spiritual beliefs and practices (to put these things in a different way: what are my ideals? how do I live with myself, in relation to my ideals? how do I live with other people? what's the best way to exist with nature?). For some secularists, I think school was supposed to take on this role, but the results have been, ah, mixed. I see many Jewish friends who feel able to be Jewish and benefit from Jewish traditions, without necessarily believing in the divine or supernatural. I envy that.

Again: none of this is intended to imply that we should all just go back to church, "because it's good for the children." If you don't believe in god, that's silly and hypocritical. The problem is: given that church isn't an option, how can I raise my kids to appreciate the beauty of the world around them, give thanks for what they have, and feel some degree of (he writes, at the risk of sounding riduculous) love for their fellow human beings?

Elise said...

I'm still following the discussion and have another quick comment.
Jeremy, I'm not sure how old your kids are but mine are 14, 12 and 10. I feel like at this point there personalities are pretty well developed. You have an interesting comment but I'm still am in full agreement with Chip. I guess I teach them how to act at home and everytime they interact with others is when they get to "practice" being good. I guess I see it as a "the proof is in the pudding" kind of thing and my kids are the pudding!

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

My little dude is two and a half! Well, the fact of the matter is that he will NOT grow up inside any religious institution or with parents who have any kind of regular spiritual practice. So, while we might seem to be disagreeing in theory, in fact we're in the same boat -- and you seem to be saying: don't worry about it, be a good parent and raise 'em right and it'll be fine.

Well, OK. I'll take it, because I don't have any choice.

Chip said...

I think Elise is right. And I'll just add that even for people who are raised in religious traditions, going to church, believing in god, etc., I really believe that their morals, ethics, sense of justice, awe, compassion and empathy come from the adults around them, from their parents, guardians, relatives, etc., not from religion itself.

Since you have a range of those kinds of characteristics among religious people, religion itself doesn't explain the difference. And I'd wager that among nonreligious people you have a very similar range of those characteristics.

Of course religions themselves claim they are necessary to develop them, and perhaps for some people they do...

As for your larger point Jeremy, yes, it's not just the individual, of course, but we as families do exist in social contexts, even without church: neighborhoods and schools and clubs and organizations. It is within those social contexts that we operate and actualize our empathy etc. And it is in those contexts that our kids see us doing that, which is key.

As for institutions to "replace" church for secularists, for social reasons, I think that's what the Unitarian Church is all about, isn't it? But it is still very church-like. I don't have an answer to that, but it seems that that is beyond what I'm arguing in this piece, which is, simply, that kids are just fine without religion or belief in god.

So Jeremy, I have no doubt at all that your little dude and his future siblings will appreciate the beauty of the world around them, give thanks for what they have, and feel some degree of love for their fellow human beings? (and no, the love for fellow humans is absolutely not ridiculous!)

Elise said...

Another interesting thought about myself. I do feel that I became a "good person" because of a combination of my parents and church. But the difference between myself and my kids is that there was a lot of fear involved for me, fear of god and fear of being spanked. My kids are good because they just want to be good people. They do not fear god or me.

Elise said...

I published that comment before I proof read it...sounds very self-centered "ANOTHER interesting comment about ME" HA HA HA!! Its all about ME

Unknown said...

This continues to be an interesting discussion, and I guess it is encumbant upon me to ask myself why I feel church/synogogue/whatever is important enough for Violet when I got along just fine (I assume) without it.

I remember the first conversation I had with my wife about religion. She's forthrightly anti-deist and not all that interested in spirituality, but at that time I was making the typical blanket statements about the idiocy of religion, how it's superstition and based on things you can't prove, and it's soooo sexist and anti-intellectual, etc etc. Hating ignorant blowhards even more than religious nutcakes, she challenged me, rightly, by pointing out that I had never been to church, knew next to nothing about religion and spirituality, and was being an arrogant prick to say such things when so many millions of people appreciate religion in their lives.

"Right again," I said, and have spent the years since in a sort of religious studies sub-hobby in my reading life. It's from what I've learned laregly through books that I get the ideas I expressed above. But as Elise pointed out, the proof's in the community of faith, and I still can't say I've been a member yet. I thought Violet could be the catalyst.

And, yes, I'm thinking of something flexible and reasonable, like the Unitarians or even Buddhism. I'm enough of a materialist to not be able to stomach the Trinity, the Assumption, heaven, hell, God stopping the sun in the sky to allow for the murder of more Ammorites, and the whole else of spiritual gimme-a-breakism.

I do think, though, that secular intellectualism is overrated in the society. I mean, there is simply no taboo against staying in school for your whole life, getting more and more mental training, and learning more and more things. I just think you can balance that out by spending a little time each week in another institution; one that is, basically, committed to the ideal of a nourished soul and active heart.

I also appreciate Jeremy's accurate sum-up of my whole point on the awe and compassion thing.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm a little late to this discussion, but I want to comment on how wonderful I think the back and forth is. Here is the little gem within the internet world. Intelligent, thoughtful people, parents, who understand themselves and are willing to say what they think. I love this, makes me feel all warm inside. I sure hope my kid gets to hang out with all your kids when he grows up!

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Thanks, Rebekah! I think so, too. Daddy Dialectic was originally started as my personal journal when I was a stay at home dad. When that ended a few months ago, I wondered if I shouldn't just shut the blog down and move on to something else--but I found that I really valued the micro-community that gathered here, plus there's so much more to say about fatherhood and parenthood, that I don't feel like is being said elsewhere. I invited some other dads to blog and the scope has expanded; I'd like to think Daddy Dialectic is a nice place to drop by from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Great thread... even though I'm stumbling acrossed it a bit late. I just started my own blog called "My Mother is a Religious Nut, and Dad was an Atheist"... so, you can see I probably am interested in this. I also have kids of my own and we do not go to church much to most of my friends and family's dismay... But, it's funny how my kids are a couple of the best kids around (if I don't say so myself, of course! ;)

Anonymous said...

great blog and great topic.

religions are only as good as the people who follow them. Religions fail because people fail. "God" never created a "religion," he created us and wants us to "choose" to follow him, not because we have to.

As far as our kids go...give them the opportunity to follow or not to follow and let them decide when their adults.

Keep up the great blogging.

Anonymous said...

Great discussion. I realize that you all have said most of what I was going to far more eloquently than I could have.
Do kids do fine without religion? Yeah! They are fine and joyful by nature. It's me who needs the support and fellowship. As they say, if Mama is happy ... and then there are the donuts, for which my 3 year old is very happy.

Jenn, the mom to Harry, 3 and Greg, 1

Anonymous said...

Wow, really great discussion here, thanks much to all.

My wife and I both consider ourselves Agnostic, and are pregnant with our first child. We have already decided not to "indoctrinate" our children with any particular faith, but are completely open to them selecting a faith (and a relationship with God) later in their life.

My position isnt that religion is bad per se, but that blanket indoctrination of a belief system, before there is understanding, is dangerous for children. The ole "I am X so I am raising my kids X" type of thing.

We intend to provide information and options to our children (on many of the worlds religions) and support them in the process of deciding what is right for them.

I like to think of it as similar to how you might approach your children with professions or work later in life. I do not want to indoctrinate my children that they should be athletes, doctors, or actors in their early childhood. Nor do I want them to be a Y just because daddy or mommy works as Y. This is a decision my children will have to make later in life and determine what is best for them. I see my role as being to educate, challenge and support them in this process.

But we do have a question we have been struggling with. How do we best approach the Christmas season and traditions with our children? Understanding that a 5 or 6 year old really does not appreciate the differences between the faiths, it would seem easiest to emulate a lot of the Christmas practices (ie. putting up lights and exchanging gifts) without the religion doctrine or deeper meaning. This however seems very hypocritical to us, and potentially confusing for our children later in life.

However, putting a young child in the position of trying to explain to classmates why they dont celebrate Christmas and the "what are you" type questions also seems confusing and unfair to the child (why cant I just be like everyone else) type thing.

Anyone have any feedback or suggestions on this?

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Hi WesB. Our son goes to preschool at the Jewish Community Center and we engage in modified versions of Jewish holidays at home, but we're not Jewish. We celebrate Christmas, but we're not Christians. A couple weeks ago we went to an Indian friend's diwali celebration, but we're definitely not Hindu. We basically take what seems fun or wise to us and try to apply that to our home. Our son knows and, to a limited degree, understands the religious dimensions of these holidays--I actually think it's good for him to know, as part of my efforts to groom him as a cultured person--but we are mostly interested in the pathways these holidays have to offer to tradition, history, gratitude, and so forth. I don't agree that young children aren't able to grasp or appreciate differences between faiths. I think they can, and, indeed, I think it's important to cultivate that appreciation.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, thanks for the response. At what age would you begin cultivating that appreciation of the differences between the faiths? I guess my assumption (which may be incorrect) is that you would not try to explain to a 2 or 3 year old that they are going to their friends house for a Hindu celebration, or that they open presents on Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but may explain that to an older child.

Maybe I am not giving the kids enough credit and putting too much emphasis on how to water down the meaning of holidays and religion?

At preschool, if asked by another child if he is Jewish, what would your child say? Or did kids not talk like that in preschool :) (as you can tell, I have no idea!)

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Heck, I think you just have to play it by ear and allow your kid to lead the discussion. Liko found out all about Jesus because his music classes were held in the basement of a church; it was just a matter of time (at age three) before he asked who the guy on the cross is. Later we linked Jesus to Christmas, I forget how that came up. That made him curious about God! And so on.

But there are just stories, as far as our family is concerned; we don't belittle them but we also don't fall on our knees in front of anything. I've also been giving him small doses of the Greek and Norse myths. I think at age four Liko is gradually realizing that people have different cultures and each culture has a different story, not to mention different dress, architecture, and so on. He gets it, that people are different and difference is OK.

That's a good question about whether Jewishness comes up at school. I have no idea, but I doubt very much that it's a big deal.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Wes, this discussion is continuing here, thanks to you.

Secudad said...

Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing. I've been writing on the same subject, although my kids are much younger. Our plan is to not take our kids to church until they're old enough to really process what they're hearing. We will not shelter them from religion, as this can result in what Dale McGowan refers to as the "teen epiphany."