Raising a churchless child
My husband and I were both raised Mormon. Independently of one another, we both stopped going to church after high school. Now, as adults, we are happy and comfortable with our personal belief systems and neither of us have any interest in going back to church, any church. My husband’s belief system leans more toward the scientific and rational, while I still entertain some spiritual beliefs that don’t have a particularly secular explanation… but in the end we’d probably both call ourselves agnostic. Basically, neither of us believe that we can be sure one way or the other and, at least for me, I’m just not sure it matters. In the end, shouldn’t we be good people because it’s just the right thing to do, independent of judgment from on high? And any God who might be out there… wouldn’t he/she/it be rather pleased I’ve lived a good life and been kind to others? There’s just something about the notion of an all powerful being who will punish me for not believing despite the quality of my life that seems a little… self serving? Narcissistic?
So we’ve decided to raise our daughter in the way that makes the most sense to us. As she grows up and begins to question the world around her, we’ll help her understand that people all over the world believe all kinds of different things. As an intelligent human being, it’s her job to find the belief system that is right for her and makes her feel happy and fulfilled. If she has a burning desire to become a Catholic or a Wiccan or whatever floats her spiritual boat, I’m behind her. I did my fair share of exploring various religions, and it helped me to come to where I am today, which is a very comfortable place independent of any organized religion. If she asks about God, we’ll help her explore her own thoughts and feelings about it. I have ZERO problem with her choosing a religion whenever she wants to, as long as she chooses something that makes her happy, that’s pretty much all I need from life.
There’s just one little snag… Her father and I did get something from our church attendance. We both got a good moral background that helped us not to be drunken partiers or crazy promiscuous as teenagers/college kids, and I like how that has helped informed who we are as adults. Of course, my friends and family tend to joke that I am secretly Amish, since I have never been a big drinker, never done any drugs (not even marijuana, not even once), and was always sexually responsible. I want our daughter to grow up with similar values, but the truth is that I think we can instill them without the help of the Almighty. In fact, our background in the church might have given us a little too much morality… For years with both had some issues with guilt and self-consciousness when it came to intimacy even though we were happily married, thanks to years of being told how wrong sex was. So maybe it’s not such a bad thing that our daughter won’t get any religious themes when it comes to morality. A cleaner, simpler lesson for her will be to just do the right thing. Do it because it’s right, not because you fear retribution or judgment.
This weekend at a Greek festival we saw one more aspect of church that we feel like is missing from our non-religious lives. Community. Everyone knew everyone, and everyone had the support of this vast social and religious network. Even though we live in a small town, the people here are not quick to make and maintain friendships, and in the end our neighborhood (which has thousands of houses within it’s sprawling borders) feels less like a community and more like a random collection of strangers. We have friends, but most of them live pretty far away and not many have kids. So how do we foster the kind of social atmosphere that will help our daughter to understand the worth of friends and loved ones beyond the family? Play groups? Clubs? Classes?
We’re still working on that part…
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As of 5pm EST on June 10, 2010, I am closing comments on this post. There are over three hundred comments, all of which have contributed to a lively, spirited, and amazing conversation about belief, God, children, and religion. I appreciate every comment (with the exception of the few threatening comments I did not publish) but reading and responding is practically becoming a full time job. I sincerely hope you will continue this discussion on your own blogs and link back. Linkbacks will still appear below. Thanks for being a part of this discussion, and feel free to email me if you have specific thoughts/questions.