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Children and Religion: What and How Will You Teach Your Kids about Religious Beliefs (or the Lack of Religious Beliefs)
What Will You Teach Your Children about Religion?
The obvious answer is that you will teach them what you believe. That is to be expected. But the more important question is...
What will you teach your children about members of other religions or about people who have no religion?
Can we teach our kids to be respectful and kind regardless of religious differences? Can we instill a sense of respect for human life and feelings and rights? Can we show them that people are going to believe different things but they are still people and should be treated nicely?
A little thought about world events and the division in this country will make obvious why this is such an important question, or it should. In this article, I am really, mostly, speaking to the Christians as the majority religion and I'm speaking of young, impressionable children. As kids get older, they will develop their own thought patterns, no doubt influenced by their parents. But their foundation of interaction with others can be established at a young age.
I am not a member of any religion and do not have a belief in any God. By this definition, I am an atheist and make no secret of that. But, this article isn't about my beliefs or whether I think anyone else's beliefs have merit. It isn't about what's right and wrong for us. This is about our children. And a hope for the future.
This is more of an open plea to all parents. Let's help our children live in a more harmonious, peaceful society, regardless of our religious beliefs or lack thereof. Can we do it, for their sake?
If you have already made an excuse about why you should be exempt from this, about how your beliefs are so absolutely correct that you don't care if your children use hate and ridicule to perpetuate them, then this may be lost on you and you are probably done reading.
But if not, and like me, you are tired of all the hatred in the name of religion, then join me. Let's vow to teach our children basic human compassion. If this atheist knows it's the right thing to do, perhaps your moral compass points in the same direction.
Can we teach our children that no matter what someone else believes or doesn't, that they should be nice to each other, respectful and thoughtful. Aren't those qualities we should want our kids to have and show the world? There is no reason a child should be ridiculed or bullied or ostracized on the playground because they are different than other kids in any way, including religion or lack of it. This acceptance of differences used to be more commonly taught, but seems to have taken a fall. Bullying is common and some parents think it's just a normal part of growing up. It's not and it's dangerous. Kindness shouldn't go out of style.
I realize that no one is obligated to listen to a word I say. I'm not an expert on child psychology, just a mom who hopes for a better world for all of our children.
Is this OK? Does it give you any sense of what a future would be like if we all taught our children to hate?
Yes, the Westboro Baptist Church is extreme. But, if children hear their parents talking about how much better their religion is than others, if they hear adults talking about how atheists or people who don't go to church or belong to other religions are "satan" or are going to hell, it's hard for them to separate that from how they treat people, mostly other kids.
You may be able to maintain social decorum, go to work and interact with people of other faiths and beliefs without acting on your distaste for their beliefs, but children don't have that filter. They will hurt and ridicule and bully and isolate other "different" children.
My plea is this...
EVEN IF YOU FEEL VERY STRONGLY ABOUT YOUR BELIEFS
EVEN IF YOU FEEL THAT OTHERS ARE VERY, VERY WRONG IN THEIR BELIEFS
EVEN IF YOU DISLIKE OTHERS IF THEY DISAGREE WITH YOU
EVEN IF YOU ENGAGE IN ADULT DEBATES ABOUT SUCH THINGS...
****Please, please can we teach our children to be tolerant, to treat others well regardless of their religion (or color of their skin, or socio-economic class, or whatever).****
And by teach, I mean set a good example. You can tell your children to be nice, but they are more likely to follow your example than your instructions. Please be careful of what your children see you do and hear you say with regards to different beliefs.
I realize this sounds a little hippy-love like or polly-anna, BUT these lessons that kids learn when they are young are actually valuable lessons for their lives. And should they really be fighting over something that they are not old enough to fully understand?
If that isn't good enough, then ask yourself...."What would Jesus do?"
Conversation with My Five Year Old
E: Mommy, what is God?
ME: Why do you ask sweetie?
E: Because kids at school talk about God and wonder why I don't go to church.
ME: There are a lot of things that we don't understand like why the world is so big and why there are different kinds of people and why things happen the way they do. Many people believe those things are because of God. They think God made the whole world and the universe and controls what happens in the world sometimes. It makes it easier to explain all those things that we don't understand. Remember in preschool when they would thank God for their lunch by praying? That's the God they are talking about (he went to a preschool loosely associated with a Catholic church). People go to church to learn about and thank their God for things.
E: Do you believe in God, mommy?
ME: Well, honey I don't know the answers to all those questions either, but I don't believe in a God as the explanation, no.
E: Do I believe in God?
ME: That's for you to decide but you are probably too young to really understand now. You will learn more about all of this as you get older. Don't worry about it now too much, ok.
E: Ok, mommy. What should I say to the other kids? Should I say that God isn't real?
ME: No honey. Do not tell other kids that what they believe or what their mommy and daddy believe is wrong. People get very upset about things that have to do with God. Everyone is free to think and believe what they want. Just play and have fun. If the other kids are ever mean to you about this, let me know, ok?
E: They weren't too mean, mommy, but they said that I should believe in God and I'm bad if I don't. Is that true?
ME: No, you are not bad, just different on this and that's ok. People are different in lots of ways, it doesn't make them bad and you are not bad. Just smile and say "ok, let's go finish playing." Don't fight about it or let what they say bother you. Be a nice kid just like we always talk about and keep being nice.
E: Yeah, that's what we did - we went and finished playing police chase. I was the police and we had a jail over in the snow...
ME: Good, honey, good. Tell mommy if anyone says anything else.
This interaction ended well with the kids. But, it could have been different if the other kids (or if my kid) were confrontational. I hope until the kids are really old enough to understand and have reasons for what they believe or not believe, they continue to just dismiss the differences as they did. I hope more, overall, though that they will use these skills of diplomacy as they get older. Even if they disagree with someone, perhaps it isn't necessary to hate.
You don't have to TELL children to hate or treat others badly because of their religion, they MIMIC what they hear from adults in their lives. So my humble request is for all of us to be careful to set a good example. The words you say and the attitude you present will be reflected in your child's behavior.
I will not presume to tell anyone else how to raise their children. But, because how you raise yours affects my child's life through their interactions, I have to ask this one favor.