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The Debate: Do You Talk Religion?

My house is filled with singing these days -- mostly of Hebrew and English Passover songs that my son has been learning at school. This is a school that I adore in every way: great teachers, good projects, fabulous playground, really nice kids. But my children's classes are much more religious than we are at home. And so, my eldest already knows more Hebrew than his parents. He also understands that some people are Jewish and some aren't. In fact, he had a blast going with a neighbor last year to pick out her Christmas tree.

Still, the questions get harder as he gets older: Why did God kill first-borns? How do you explain God killing anyone as okay when you've been teaching over the years that guns (hence kill potential) are bad, bad, bad?

Meanwhile, a former colleague and I talked recently. He has three kids elementary school-aged and younger, and he and his wife (both non-practicing Catholics) are struggling with what to do about religion with their children. On Faith moderator Sally Quinn not that long ago wrote about seeing God through her son's eyes.

With Easter and Passover on the horizon, let's talk religion today. How have you introduced religion to your children? What questions do they throw out to you that are difficult to answer? Are your children more or less religious than you are?

Today's Talkers: ADHD Drug Use for Youth Obesity Raises Ethical Questions ... Family Almanac: Every Generation Gets Its Turn at Discipline

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 23, 2007; 8:30 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Preschoolers , Teens , The Debate , Tweens
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Comments


It's important to teach your children about religion and spirituality. Beginning the conversation with questions like "Why did God kill first-borns? How do you explain God killing anyone as okay..." only ends the discussion before you can start it. There's peace, hope, love, and strength in any religion, and what child can't benefit from that?

Posted by: Arlington Dad | March 23, 2007 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Been thinking about this one as well -- Went with my daughter's class to see that new movie "Bridge to Terabithia". She's 9.

For those who haven't seen it, there's a death in it -- of a child -- and a conversation between other children about whether or not the child is "damned to hell." Going to be curious to see how my daughter's teacher conducts the discussion of this movie in class in a public school.

I remember reading the book as a child but not really focussing on that part of the story. Kind of surprised it was stressed so heavily in the movie. . .

Posted by: Armchair Mom | March 23, 2007 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I'm right in the middle of this conversation. I don't want the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus to be the focus of the holidays, but I am not very religious. We decided to raise our son Catholic (as I was), but a lot of the Easter books out there are really ahrd for me to swallow.

Conversely I am very spiritual, but that was from a long personal journey, and I have no idea how to pass that on to my son.

Posted by: md | March 23, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

My husband and i were both raised as Methodists, but are now fairly agnostic (particularly about the Trinity) while we were dating we found a Unitarian church that suits us perfectly. We were married in the church and celebrated our child's baby dedication there (lovely ceremony, somewhat like a baptism, but more a celebration of new life than what a baptism represents) and regularly attend and are very involved in volunteering at the church. Most nights we have a blessing before the evening meal and our toddler does it with us and HOLLERS "AMEN!" at the end! We occasionally pray before bed, but we aren't strict at all about it. He attends sunday school wwhile we listen to the service. At this point he is too young to learn much about "religion" per se, but as he gets older he will. He was born with a bit of a fundamentalist fervor about some things and we are so happy that we found a faith that will nurture and respect that aspect of his spirit while also instilling him with knowledge about all the various faiths of the world. With such a background and personality, I pray he will become a great religious teacher and prophet-- can I get an "AMEN!"?

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

My 5-year old (PK) is in Hebrew School and also singing passover songs (we like "One morning when pharoah woke in his bed there were frogs in his bed ...".
I like to sleep in on Sunday mornings, so I would have waited another year, but at HS sign-up time she was asking a lot of questions about God and about being Jewish. I'm pretty religously literate, so we go over everything together too.
About the plague of the first-born, I don't really know. I just tell her that I don't know, but it doesn't seem right.

Posted by: inBoston | March 23, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse

How do you introduce religion to your kids? For observant Catholics (and most Christians), the introduction isn't formal - it's attendance at church every single Sunday and, starting when they're 4 or so, Sunday school. My parents just talked about what we learned at school and always answered our questions about church and the faith if we had them (this was especially important in high school, when the issues seem to get larger). They also taught by doing - being active in the parishes we belonged to. I think they've been (not unpleasantly) surprised that, after all 5 of us attending Catholic colleges (but public school before that), at least 3 of the kids became even more religious than they were, while the other 2 have stayed at about their level of observance.

Posted by: KAL | March 23, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

There's no way to guarantee how a child will respond to religious training or exposure. Children aren't clay and the best sculpting efforts of parents don't result in offspring conforming perfectly to the vision in parents' heads.

Send them to a religious school and some kids will find it suits them and others will revolt. Pray at meals and discuss the meaning of religious writings at home and some kids will carry the habit into adulthood and others won't.

Do what you can and roll the dice.

Posted by: Overby | March 23, 2007 10:07 AM | Report abuse

There are many things parents need to instill in their children as they grow up. Religion is NOT one of them. Religion and its beliefs must be chosen and children cannot choose. Spirituality and religion are the province of conscious, thinking beings. When one becomes an adult they can choose to believe or not to believe in God. Telling them about God, religion and the like as children takes that choice away. My children, if I have any, will be told about morals and values apart from religion (yup, shockingly those indeed exist) and when they are old enough to choose what it is they believe about the world, then they will choose it. I will not be the one to foster my choices on them.

Posted by: Ithink | March 23, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Luckily my oldest is 2 1/2 so we have not had to tackle the 10 plagues yet. He does know that tonight is Shabat and that we light candles, eat Chalah and drink "wine"!! He gets very excited for it every Friday. He starts a Jewish pre-school in the fall. It is affiliated with a conservative synogague and we tend to be be more reformed. So I am sure the questions will start coming next year when he is in school and even more so when his younger brother starts the year after that. Either way, no matter what religion you follow, if you choose to follow one, I think it is important to let your child be a part of it early. I think it is a big part of how we learn our morals and values and it helps kids make decisions to what degree they want to follow organized religion as they get older.

Posted by: HappyDad | March 23, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I are atheists and think religion is ridiculous. We have been married for nearly 23 years and are perfectly comfortable not participating in any religious observations. We believe very strongly in morality (i.e., following the golden rule) and setting a good example to our two boys without any reference to a deity. Both our sons are considerate, ethical, and responsible.

Posted by: ASR | March 23, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

"My husband and I are atheists and think religion is ridiculous. We have been married for nearly 23 years and are perfectly comfortable not participating in any religious observations."

Same here.
Religion is a fairy tale.
It is mostly rote and illusion.
Most of the observance is habit, forced upon children when they had no choice.
Most kids don't know what the word Amen means.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Wow, listen to the atheists. And they say Christians are self-righteous.

Posted by: Arlington Dad | March 23, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

How can you not introduce religion to your children? If you are not living it so that it shows, then you are not truly believing it. Make a decision and do it wholeheartedly.

Posted by: BAHB | March 23, 2007 10:23 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I were both raised Catholic but -for many reasons- do not consider ourselves Catholic any longer. All of our family, and most of our friends, are Catholic, however.

I agree with those who say you can teach spirituality and morality w/o formalized "religion." That is what we intend on doing with our daughter.

If / when she has questions about specific religion, we will try to answer/explore her questions (hopefully non-judgmentally, but that is something we will admittedly have to be conscious about). When she asks why we don't belong to a specific sect of religion, we will do the same.

If she wants to go with a specific organized religion when she is older, that will be her choice. Don't know that we'd like it, but it would be her choice.

Posted by: JS | March 23, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

I think people need to realize that no one is criticizing whether you choose to believe in a religion or choose not to. The question is, if you do believe in one, at what point and to what degree do you choose to introduce that religion to your children. No one is criticzing those who choose to be atheist, that is a perfectly acceptable choice.

Posted by: HappyDad | March 23, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Ithink, I agree that religion must be a choice, but bringing our child to church is not imposing any particular religon on him. Believe me! He is a fully questioning individual. Just because a child sees his parents practicing a belief does not take away the child's choice in whether or not to be a religious person for themselves. I know that from my own experience. right now, our child has attended religious education classes where the class debated Kant's Catagorical Imperative against Mennonite theories of pacifism so he certainly will be exposed to ideas of morals and values that are outside of religion. (PS I side with Kant, not the religious pacifist, but most in our congregation disagree-- and that is OK-- our son sees that people can disagree and still be friends.)

"Telling them about God, religion and the like as children takes that choice away."

Nonsense-- telling them about these things gives them one way of looking at the world-- a way that MANY other people use to look at the world and if you don't make your child aware of this it puts them at a disadvantage when they are trying to communicate.

It is obvious that you don't have children yet since you believe it is a snap to "foster your beliefs" on your own children. trust me-- the little buggers have their own ideas and they will question their parent's beliefs and come up with their own beliefs in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 10:28 AM | Report abuse

And to the one poster above . . . by painting all atheists as self-righteous you are doing the same thing that you -clearly- do not like to be accused of.

Some atheists are self-righteous. So are some Christians, Jews, Muslim, etc. No one religion -or people who don't believe in religion- has the market cornered on that trait.

Posted by: JS | March 23, 2007 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I'm a Unitarian Universalist, a noncreedal religion that teaches values and helps people explore their beliefs without teaching dogma. We talk a lot about the wisdom we can gain from different religions as well as different philosophies.

Right now my daughter's preschool class is learning about differences-- in families, in skin color, in disabilities-- and how we're all still human/ similar. These are the kinds of things my preschooler wants answers to right now. When she gets older, I know my church's Religious Education program will support her questions about God and spirituality.

When my daughters ask me hard questions, I draw from many different sources and religions, giving them options (and perhaps more questions!) instead of answers. This works for us and my children know they are free to question in the safe spaces of home and church.

Posted by: Neighbor | March 23, 2007 10:37 AM | Report abuse

"There are many things parents need to instill in their children as they grow up. Religion is NOT one of them. Religion and its beliefs must be chosen and children cannot choose."

You know, it's not just doctrine that some parents hope to hand down to their children. My family has been Polish and Catholic for hundreds of years. That will be part of my kids' heritage, and it would be remiss of me not to pass it down to them.

They can choose what to do with it once they're older.

Posted by: Lizzie | March 23, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I are training right now to be foster parents and we are facing important questions when it comes to the religion issue. I am a practicing Catholic and he is Methodist. We make our marriage work best by attending each others services alternating weeks, and respecting the Holy days of obligation for Catholicism. When we have a foster child in our home, that may yet bring in another set of beliefs. We are open to this, but are wondering if anyone else out there is handling something similar.

Posted by: amwhite | March 23, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I was raised Lutheran. Lake Wobegon country. Yep.

Like md, I consider myself spiritual but don't feel the particular need to attend church. Still, I do go, mainly for the sense of community and the hour of stillness I have to listen and reflect on the sermon. I send my oldest to Sunday school.

My feeling is this. I want my children to grow up to understand and have empathy of other people's culture and faith. I don't feel he could ever start to understand the importance Jewish Passover if he doesn't not have a similar connection. For a long time, I considered myself an atheist, then an agnostic, and now something closer to christian. I hope that as he gets older, he does question his faith. I matters not to me if he grows up a devout anything or an atheist. But I hope that introducing him to faith he can better relate to others in life who are motivated by their spiritual/religious views.

Posted by: LM in WI | March 23, 2007 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I was glad not to be the first! We have 10 month old, and plan to raise her agnostic/atheist until she can decide for herself. My hope is that she will see religion for the superstition that we believe it is - and that she will gain her own understanding about life as she grows.

To the person commenting on how self-righteous we atheists 'appear' - it is because we are a minority, and are prosecuted in subtle ways - mostly from Christians saying we will a)burn in hell b) destroy our and our childrens lives, and c) we don't have morals.

Look what the religious right has done to our country, and the world - then we can talk about self-righteousness.

For the atheists out there, check out www.meetup.com there are several atheists groups that meet on a regular basis to form a community in which we can gather and not talk about the adult imaginary friend some refer to as 'god' :)

Posted by: Another Atheist | March 23, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Why the hell is a Jewish kid going to pick out a Christmas tree??

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 10:51 AM | Report abuse

persecuted

Posted by: to AA | March 23, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Our family is also Unitarian Universalist. My husband and I met at church, in fact. We are very involved in that same church now, participating in lots of activities and attending nearly every Sunday. Our daughter is very interested in religion and we have always taken her to the Sunday School program there. The kids learn about Unitarian Universalism there, but also Judeo-Christian beliefs and world religions (on a three year cycle). The interesting thing to me is how much the kids at school talk religion...Religion and sex, religion and sex, religion and sex, that's all the kids on the playground seem to be into in the second grade... She's come home saying that kids tell her she's going to hell, for example. I'm glad we have talked about religion openly so that there's some framework for discussion. She's 7 and quite taken with God, Jesus, heaven, angels, etc. I'm glad she's exploring ideas of spirituality at this point in her life. Church for her is a safe, kind community of loving people and I hope that this is what she remembers in the long run.

Posted by: UU Mom | March 23, 2007 11:05 AM | Report abuse

My mom was a "Catholic school survivor" (as she calls it) and promised to never shove religion down her kids' throats. When we were older (maybe around 6 or 7), she gave us the choice to attend church (I think Catholic churches were the only churches around). If we liked it, we could continue going, and if we didn't, we didn't have to go.

I remember trying it, not seeing what the big deal was, and dropped out. That was nearly 30 years ago, and I have no regrets. I'm not big on religion, and I can't say I would be if I was forced to go. I really appreciate the fact my mom let us decide (although I'm sorry it had to come from the fact she was never given that choice).

If I ever have kids, I'm going the same route.

Posted by: ilc | March 23, 2007 11:08 AM | Report abuse

My children are taught to think rationally and clearly. I read Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins to them and explain to them the history of misery that religion has inflicted on humanity. They're happy that they don't waste their time on weekends or whenever going to Sunday school etc. When they're a little bit older (they're ten and six) I'll take them to a children's hospital for volunteer work so they fully realize that if there is a god it is a malicious and evil creature.

Posted by: atheist dad | March 23, 2007 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I believe that the spiritual journey, regardless of where it leads, is a part of an adult's maturation. I don't want to indoctrinate my child, but I do want to give her a framework to begin the questioning that is part of the journey. So, my husband and I have some chosen a denomination that doesn't offend our moral values. The best way to describe it is:
The spiritual quest is a big ocean, and I am making the journey in the boat I know best.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Another Atheist, I do hope you realize the irony that you are in fact practicing a "religion"! You have your stories that you like to tell that you have no way to showing are in fact true (God is nothing but an imaginary friend, religion is superstitious nonsense, etc.) and you have your community, (groups of people that are introduced through the internet are no more or less a "community" than any other).

Frankly, I'm not sure it is possible to avoid being a religious person. It's part of human nature to tell each other stories that give us hope and explain the mysterious and to celebatrate being part of a community beyond your own kin.

I just hope you are willing to respect the beliefs of others, just as I hope they will respect yours.

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I think it's very important to teach your children about the bible. If you want you can include religion.

Entirely apart from religion the bible is a center point of western culture and thought. If you hale from another culture then I think you need to teach your child about their holy books.

If someone says something to my children about "the wisdom of Solomon" I want them to have a clue. So culturally I think there is an obligation.

Beliefs are much more personal.

Many feel that it is the "un-churched" who are likely to join these fundamentalist groups or sect-like cults.

I think it's a good opportunity for Mom and Dad to brush up on their knowledge when kids start asking about ancient stories.

Although facts and figures have changed over the year I think that humans are still themselves and the bible is pretty darn good at exposing human nature. So you owe it to your child to make sure they are familiar with that.

Posted by: AnnR | March 23, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I was raised Catholic and married a man who is at the very least agnostic and occasionally atheist. We are just starting to attend a Unitarian church. Sometimes it feels a little "kumbaya" for my Catholic girl sensibilities but I MUCH prefer it to the way I was raised. I love how inclusive it is of everyone and all beliefs.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | March 23, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I'm about as atheist as they come. And yes, at some level, I think the random violence and tragedy that befalls good people is a pretty good indicator of why I feel that way.

But, I think Atheist Dad has crossed the line more than a small bit when he says "I'll take them to a children's hospital for volunteer work so they fully realize that if there is a god it is a malicious and evil creature."

Let's just raise our kids to be good, caring, considerate people and let them come to their own conclusions about issues such as the origin of the universe and what happens after death (which when you get right down to it are a lot less important than how we treat the people with whom we share the here-and-now).

Posted by: Hey, non-believers, chill out | March 23, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Over-intellectualizing anything we teach very young kids (mine are 3 and 5) can be exhausting, alienating and confusing for kids. My 5-y-o who attends Lutheran school and comes home with the word of God on her lips everyday told me that she thought God and Jesus and heaven are all just a made up story like the Easter Bunny and Davey Crockett. An atheist in the making? What do you do? Make a chart? People who are/were real (Jesus and Davey Crockett); stories that are real; People who are pretend (Easter Bunny -- okay not really a person); Stories that are pretend (possibly a great deal of the bible and Davey Crockett, see parable and faith categories below); People who were real, but the stories about them cannot be verified (again with Davey Crockett and Jesus); Stories that cannot be verified (creationism and/or Big Bang theory); people, things, places, omniscient beings we (would like to) believe in but cannot prove exist; "things we take on faith" category; parables; stories that may be real, but occurred at such time we don't accurately know whether it was the angel of death sent by God or a terrible disease . . . oh, wait, I am over-intellectualizing . . . she's only five and the answer is: Of course God, Jesus, heaven, the Easter Bunny and Davey Crockett are all real . . .

Posted by: Sluefoot | March 23, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Teach them the doctrines of major religions so that they understand just how bad those religions are [we recently had a great discussion on the stoning of witches, the death penalty for converting out of Islam, and the inherent evils of bacon and lobster].

Our elementary-aged children see little/no distinction between Zeus, Odin, God, Yaweh, Allah, and all of the other imaginary supernatural creatures [amusingly, they are still in doubt on Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny thanks in large part to some pretty good evidence created by my wife and me].

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

for the atheists

I understand the frustrations you voice about religion and I agree that morality and eithics can be taught without a religious context. I respect that you want your children to be able to decide for themselves what, if any faith they will have.

I don't think there is any harm in introducing a child to religion. Have any of you considered attending various faith services (mono and poly) and using those experiences to introduce your children to the world's cultures and often very similar values? While I hope my kids don't grow up to be bible thumpers, I will respect that if the time comes. I am struck however at what I see as a lack of interfaith discussion. For example, I find the last nine commandments to be universal values and ones that don't have to be Jewish or Christian to follow. I also personally do not believe the Bible is the word God. I also doubt that Jesus is the "son" of God. Yet I don't have to be a "Christian" to learn the ideas espoused by faith. I treat many of the books of the bible and other "sacred" texts to be philosophical essays on the nature of human existance. Obviously I can't have discussions like this with my 5 year old but by giving him religious instruction, someday I hope we will be able to talk about this in such a manner and he will be able to understand and relate precisely because faith has some kind of meaning for him.

Posted by: LM in WI | March 23, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

You know, I'm not a parent, but felt obliged to leave a comment. I was raised in a VERY active Methodist family, but attended twelve years of Catholic school. As a child, my religious education at home and church conflicted with the mandatory communion and confirmation classes at school. Constantly feeling pressure to choose one set of beliefs, I learned instead to constantly question religion and faith. At 12, I failed a test in religion class for writing "There is no God" as an answer to a question about making Jesus happy.

At 24, I have mellowed out. I still question religion, but that spirit of question now also involves searching. I believe in God, but I am not yet sure how to worship, so I keep looking. As I think about how I will one day raise my children, I think the best thing to do will be to include them in my own search. I want them to approach religion with the same spirit of questioning I did. But I will lay a basic foundation for faith - God, prayer, and service - so that they can build on it however they feel called to do so.

Posted by: TJ | March 23, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Hey, my children are taught to think rationally and clearly, too. I read John Paul II and Thomas Aquinas to them and explain to them salvation history, natural law and legal and philosophical reasoning from the ancient philosophers in the context of Judeo-Christian revelation. When they're a bit older we can tackle the deeper questions like the problem of evil and the meaning of suffering in light of Christ's sacrifice and 2,000 years of serious considerations of these questions.

Posted by: To atheist dad | March 23, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Jen, you're wrong. Not believing in god is no more a religion than not believing in Santa Claus or flying saucers or elves or any of the numerous things you probably don't believe in. Your line of reasoning gets really old and shows a lack of understanding of the definitions of the words "atheist" and "religion"

Any way back on topic. I've realized as a young child that I just couldn't believe in god. I never discussed the issue much with my son. I ended up having to send him to a christian high school because I didn't want to send him to a DC public school and I couldn't afford tuition for a secular private school. It was a difficult choice. He was pretty throughly indocdrinated in high school and now we can't talk about religion at all. He's a good boy though and for the most part we can talk about anything else and just agree to disagree on the god issue.

Posted by: Yet another Atheist | March 23, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

For the gal who was surprised the Bridge to Terebithia movie focused so much on the death--though I haven't seen the movie, I remember reading the book very vividly as a child--maybe 8 or 9. It had a serious effect, and that's my main memory of the book now.

A friend of mine (with a child my age--early 30s) said that it affected her son deeply, as well.

Kids pick up on things, and for a lot of us, that was the first time death was really discussed. I'd lost elderly relatives, and had been to many funerals, but somehow the concept of another child was different....

Posted by: M, in Annapolis | March 23, 2007 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I was raised protestant and survived 12 years of Catholic school. I remember a lot of interesting discussions about religious and social issues at the dinner table. My Mom, in particular, always tried to present the other side of what we were learning about in school, and I think as a result, I was able to develop my own viewpoints about issues like capital punishment and abortion at a fairly young age. Faith for my family was more cultural than anything, a way of connecting with an ethnic community in North America. I still attend services and would expose any child I have to my faith and culture. Ethical and moral behavior, however, would not have an opt-out clause.

Posted by: Silver Spring | March 23, 2007 11:31 AM | Report abuse

"For example, I find the last nine commandments to be universal values and ones that don't have to be Jewish or Christian to follow."

Just to confirm -- you're saying that 'Keeping the Sabbath Day holy' is a universal value that even agnostics should be comfortable with?

Likewise the prohibition to taking the Lord's name in vain?

Likewise the prohibition to making images or idols?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Am eager to read what others write. We have a somewhat observant Jewish home--keep separate dishes for meat and dairy, cook holiday foods, spend a lot of time hanging out at synogogue (do we actually spend more time in services chanting along with the prayers than we do hanging out in the hallways or at lunch with our friends? I doubt it).

I talk to the people who were sent to day schools, and I feel like such an illiterate next to them. I can chant along with many of the prayers, but they understand all the words, and know when different prayers were written and why. And they know the holiday prayers, and the perspectives of the classical commentators, and so much more of the history than I do. I feel like I was sent to honors classes in everything else, but remedial Judaism.

I want more for my toddler...but I also want to send her to public school. From what I hear, the 2-3 day a week Hebrew schools aren't much better now than when I went--most kids still come from families where Jewish learning isn't as much of a priority as other things. Should I get my kid a private tutor at the age of 5 to start teaching her all the stuff I can't? Wish I had a better idea.

Posted by: Elizabeth | March 23, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

My mother grew up in northern Ireland at the start of the "troubles" and saw first hand the devastation that senseless religious sectarianism can cause. As a result, she is bitter about religion of any kind and throughout my childhood, I wanted to explore that option but was afraid of her reaction. It wasn't until I went to college that I felt safe to ask questions and attend services, and I feel like I missed out on a great deal but emotionally and culturally.

I couldn't care less how another family raises their children with respect to religion. Ultimately they will make their own choices as they experience more and learn more. You are free to tell them what you believe and why and to share that tradition with them. But please, please have an open mind. Don't be critical of other belief (or non-belief) systems to your children, and allow them to explore those choices with your support.

Posted by: dc-er | March 23, 2007 11:37 AM | Report abuse

To all the atheists on the blog this morning, I want to share my story. My parents are both rational (Dad's a scientist), fairly agnostic, people who believed that children are not equipped to make religious choices and therefore I was never forced to go to Church, nor was I baptized.

However, that's a far cry from not being exposed to religion. For a couple years my Mom would take me to Sunday school to be with the other kids and gain some exposure. Both my parents were open to questions about other religions, and my dad was surprisingly open about why he didn't believe (apparently his theories on evolution got him in trouble going way back...)and were open to discussing why my Grandparents were Lutherans and they were not.

Bottom line is that my parents were unbelievably mellow about the whole topic. I always got the sense that they would support me no matter what conclusions I came to (as long as they were well thought out). As an adult I understand that they probably wouldn't accept me as a Bible-beating prosylitizer, but they gave me the freedom to make my own journey. AND, in the end I choose my own sort of agnosticism with a deep respect and love for my friends who choose a more religious viewpoint.

Posted by: Seattle | March 23, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Yet another Atheist, how do you define religion? this is something that i have struggled with and I'm curious what others think.

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

"I understand the frustrations you voice about religion and I agree that morality and eithics can be taught without a religious context."

For many of us it goes further than this -- I believe it is not possible to behave consistent with any of the mono-theistic religious doctrines and be a moral person. One's morality in many aspects is defined by the degree to which one is willing to separate one's behavior from the behavior proscribed by these major religions.

Teaching children about religion is teaching them about the most evil, destructive force on the planet -- it is the one force most capable and likely to completely destroy the human race. Until they view God, Allah and Yaweh as equivalent to Zeus, Odin and Baal it is unlikely that mankind will have a chance at long-term survival [credit to Sam Harris on statement].

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

My three kids are all grown adults now. They were given no religious influence whatsoever by their parents, both atheists. They are all strong, happy and productive people now, all atheists like their parents, and all quite resentful at religion's influence on politics and public morality in this country, as are their parents.

Posted by: Charles | March 23, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I'm a 40 year old father of six boys and a little girl. I'm also an ordained deacon in our church. From the time my kids were young, I've prayed with them, read the Bible with them (straight through every year--okay, I skip a lot of the genealogies and we don't do Paul's letters until they're older). I also like just doing stuff with them. We don't have a TV or video games. We work together and do athletic stuff together. I'm also a scientist (Ph.D in biochemistry, postdoctoral work in infectious diseases, taught college molecular biology full-time for a few years but now analyze biotechnology for a living) and I enjoy teaching my older kids science as well as theology. There is a lot of tendentious crap out there about how science and Christianity are at odds with one another (Dawkins, Dennett and Harris), but there is a much better case to be made by anybody with more than a smidge of historical knowledge that western science could only have arisen only in the context of a Christian worldview (as it, in fact, did--universities are a Christian invention, all but a minor fraction of the most eminent early scientists were believers in the Trinity, even granting Isaac Newton his very particular reservations).

If you teach your children "religion" (whatever that is) and they see
1) that you don't believe it yourself or
2) that it's at odds with how you conduct the vast majority of your life then naturally aren't going to put a very high premium on it.

If (on the other hand) your faith is integrated into your life, you show your kids you love them by doing stuff with them and they know that their very existence pleases you, then they'll see the integrity. In such a case they might have a better than even chance of absorbing it. I take it as a matter of faith that we all have free will. I cannot choose what my children will believe. But I can teach them the things upon which I place ultimate value (most especially the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah, King of the Universe) and we'll see how it goes. We're still on the journey and my oldest is only a teenager.

Posted by: Deacon scientist | March 23, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

We discuss Jesus and God every day and say our prayers. I don't want my kids to have to wait 30 years to find Jesus Like I did. My parents are very anti religious and I eel like I was robbed of what was rightly mine. My kids won't be deprived of Jesus' love like I was.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

"Yet another Atheist, how do you define religion?"

In "Breaking the Spell", Dennett uses the definition that religion is a 'social system whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought' -- I've found this to be one of the best working definitions from an analytic point-of-view.

Posted by: Another agonstic blogger | March 23, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I was raised by a church going mother and a father who didn't seem to care one way or another about God. I stopped going to church when I was about 16, and haven't really been back since. I joke that I'm a "recovering" Catholic.

I'm going to be a mom in a few months, and this topic has been on my mind. Because my husband and I don't attend church, our children will likely not, either. There will be no religion, per se, in our house.

However, if my child experiences the death of a pet, or a grandparent, etc, I will indeed tell them that "Baxter has gone to heaven" or what have you. Do I believe in heaven? I'm honestly not sure. But it's a comforting thought (to some), and if it will help comfort my child, then so be it. When he is older, he can decide for himself. Anyone ever seen "Corinna, Corinna?" The father is an atheist and has never given his daughter any comforting words about what happened to her mother (she died). Isn't it our job to comfort and shelter our children while they're young?

Posted by: dlm79 | March 23, 2007 11:47 AM | Report abuse

"My parents are very anti religious and I eel like I was robbed of what was rightly mine."

What a very Christian attitude.

Posted by: to pATRICK | March 23, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

To anon 11:40 ~

Even if religion is a fairy tale you are remiss if you do not expose your children to it, because the vast majority of the world is religious.

How are your kids ever going to gain a sense of what the World is talking/fighting/praying about if they aren't taught the fundamentals?

There's a difference between educating and indoctrinating.

Posted by: Seattle | March 23, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Teaching children about religion is teaching them about the most evil, destructive force on the planet -- it is "the one force most capable and likely to completely destroy the human race. Until they view God, Allah and Yaweh as equivalent to Zeus, Odin and Baal it is unlikely that mankind will have a chance at long-term survival [credit to Sam Harris on statement]."

I am sure that HITLER,STALIN, POL POT and their ilk would gladly agree with you. Religion is like kryptonite to evil people, that is why they try to kill it as soon as possible. The Lord is in control of his creation, the sooner YOU realize that, the less you will worry.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Seattle:

"There's a difference between educating and indoctrinating."

Agree -- and didn't mean to imply that educating is not appropriate. As another writer noted, the western cultural traditions and literary allusions within the Bible are essential material to a well-rounded adult.

It's like reading 'Mein Kampf' -- understanding the story and context does not imply that one should be sympathetic to the author(s).

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I do believe in exposing our children to religion. I am a Muslim. When we were young, my parents enrolled my 2 brothers and me in a Church of England school (St. Sidwells). We attended some of the important church events (especially Easter), we sang in the choir, and the school also exposed the students to other faiths during yearly assemblies. I try to make sure my kids have a similar way of getting to know about other faiths. We discuss Christmas and Easter and what they mean to Christians. My 9 year old has friends of other faiths and they get along great. We need to explain different beliefs to our children in order for them to grow up to be more understanding and not judgemental or afraid of the unknown.

Posted by: mommyof2 | March 23, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

What you say, and how you say it, will ultimately be driven by your own understanding and beliefs. If you take religion seriously, as more than just another fairy tale, but as something that guides and shapes your life, then you will naturally talk about it with your kids.

If you're a firmly convinced atheist, then the question is not a problem for you, either. I strongly suspect that the parents who struggle with this the most are somewhere in the middle; they feel that they should be talking to their kids about religion, but religion is not a core part of their own lives, so they are sometimes at a loss over what to say. As a result, it's more like trying to discuss art appreciation with your kids (interesting and culturally important, but really, who remembers all that stuff from college?) than discussing how you expect them to treat the other children and parents they meet (basic values that come straight from your heart - don't hit, don't lie, don't cheat).

Posted by: Believer | March 23, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

thanks for providing your definition, another agnositic blogger. Doesn't satisfy me as a definiton because that would exclude my religion (Unitarian-Universalist). Guess I just need to keep looking. UU are used to that! :}

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I was raised Unitarian, and continue to attend a UU church. I am so pleased to see the over-representation of UU's on this blog and I hope you are all practicing your elevator speeches. I am so glad to be raised UU and not have the fears that are planted by other religions.

Posted by: another uu | March 23, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

This is a tad off topic, but my almost 5-year old son is starting to ask questions like "Why does God let people die?" I try to answer them but I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions or can recommend a good book for dealing with this kind of discussion with small children.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | March 23, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

to another uu - what's an elevator speech?

Posted by: dlm79 | March 23, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Jen -
I am not another athiest, but I wanted to add to your point. I don't think that many of the athiests in this chat are teaching their kids a "religion" in saying that God is a fairytale, etc. But what I find fascinating is that they are the ones who are indoctrinating their children the most - most others in the chat should see that Jews and Christians (I didn't notice any Muslims chatters yet) have said "we take them to church, we'll let them choose"

Posted by: for Jen | March 23, 2007 12:03 PM | Report abuse

"I am sure that HITLER,STALIN, POL POT and their ilk would gladly agree with you. "

Umm, Hitler was a Catholic in good-standing with the Church [who never ex-communicated him] -- in fact the Pope himself turned over the Jews living in the ghetto just outside the Vatican [most people don't remember that it was a Pope who first established the concept of a Jesish ghetto] to Hitler for their destruction [to be fair, he offered to protect any willing to convert].

"The Lord is in control of his creation, the sooner YOU realize that, the less you will worry."

In this, we are in complete agreement -- I believe that the Lord controls absolutely everything that he created.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

" I read Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins to them and explain to them the history of misery that religion has inflicted on humanity. They're happy that they don't waste their time on weekends or whenever going to Sunday school etc. When they're a little bit older (they're ten and six) . . ."

You're reading Sagan and Dawkins to a six year old? Which books? Why? You may have an axe to grind about religion, but don't you think this is a bit over the top?

Or are you exagerating for rhetorical effect?

At any rate, sitting on the floor listening to dad drone on and on reading Dawkins aloud has to be just as bad (and twice as boring) as sitting in a hard pew listening to an old fashioned hellfire and brimstone sermon (which have gone out of style, anyway).

Posted by: Demos | March 23, 2007 12:05 PM | Report abuse

WorkingMomX - There's a book called "When bad things happen to good people," that deals with death and why God "lets" it happen, etc. It's not a kids book, but I've heard good things about it, and it may help you explain things to your son - and to yourself. It was written by a Rabbi, but I've heard that even non-religious people have gotten comfort from it.

Posted by: dlm79 | March 23, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes you have to push yourself to talk about religion and your beliefs and values with your kids, because it's so personal. And it's OK to let that come through to the kids, that this subject is special, not just the run-of-the-mill conversation. But you gotta do it, even if infrequently and awkwardly, because they WILL develop values, and perhaps theological explanations of their values, that they get from SOMEWHERE, if not from their parents.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

"This is a tad off topic, but my almost 5-year old son is starting to ask questions like "Why does God let people die?" I try to answer them but I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions or can recommend a good book for dealing with this kind of discussion with small children."

Have you taken a look at the Fall of Freddie the Leaf? It's not a theological explanation, but for a small child, it's a good place to start.

Posted by: Older Dad | March 23, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Thank you - I agree entirely and appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Posted by: Deacon Scientist | March 23, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

"most others in the chat should see that Jews and Christians (I didn't notice any Muslims chatters yet) have said 'we take them to church, we'll let them choose'"

I don't see how this is any different than what most athiests do. I am an athiest and my husband and plan to explain, if asked, what we believe and don't believe, and explain that other people believe in God. Our kid will eventually get to choose, of course. (How can you force belief? I never understood that.) How is telling our children that we believe God is a fairytale any different that a believer saying that they believe God is reality??

Posted by: Alice | March 23, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

"Umm, Hitler was a Catholic in good-standing with the Church [who never ex-communicated him] -- in fact the Pope himself turned over the Jews living in the ghetto just outside the Vatican [most people don't remember that it was a Pope who first established the concept of a Jesish ghetto] to Hitler for their destruction [to be fair, he offered to protect any willing to convert]."

I did a major thesis on Hitler in college and this is PATENTLY untrue. Hitler despised religion except when it would further his goals. Atheists love these types of myths because it comforts them.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 12:11 PM | Report abuse

You also have to think that kids under 5 are not looking for the same answer to "why does god let people die" that we, as adults, are looking for. They are looking for a short answer that is honest, but not a whole theological discussion

Posted by: for kids under 5 | March 23, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

"I don't see how this is any different than what most athiests do. I am an athiest and my husband and plan to explain, if asked, what we believe and don't believe, and explain that other people believe in God. Our kid will eventually get to choose, of course. (How can you force belief? I never understood that.) How is telling our children that we believe God is a fairytale any different that a believer saying that they believe God is reality??"

You influence your children by being contemptous and constantly running down their faith questions with your own atheism. That is what my parents did and I luckily ran into some christians who took me to church and all my parents arguments were shown to be hollow and bitter.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

DH and I are atheists, and DD is too young to start asking about religion, but we've decided to be honest about our beliefs (or lack thereof), explain the little we know of religions and support her if she chooses to find out more, but also make her understand that supporting her does not mean we agree with her. I guess the most important lessons we hope to teach are to respect that others have different beliefs from yourself, and that you should be true to yourself.

Posted by: DopeyTart | March 23, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"Doesn't satisfy me as a definiton because that would exclude my religion (Unitarian-Universalist)."

That's exactly the problem I have with UU - it's very difficult to create a meaningful definition of religion that would sweep in UU, but exclude the Lions Club, Elk Club, or pretty much any other social and benevolent association. The best description I know of UU is that it's what's left when you take religion out of church - and what's the point of that? If you are agnostic or atheist, admit it, and go involve yourself in the social, cultural and benevolent efforts that seem most meaningful to you. But why the heck build a Potemkin village of a church?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"I did a major thesis on Hitler in college and this is PATENTLY untrue"

What words are untrue?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Just realized that the word in the definition that is most problematic is "avow". since Unitarianism is creedless, there isn't any avowing going on. I think Amish and Mennonites are the same way-- though probably for a different reason. Any other commonly recognized religions out there that do not encourage participants to avow or "swear" to a particular belief?

And see the "avow" thing is where atheists do seem like a religion to me-- if you aren't willing to swear that you don't believe in God-- if you have the humility to say "You know, I really don't know for sure one way or the other on that point"-- well then the atheists will shut you out. I've lived it. You ain't nothing but a "namby-pamby" agnostic in their eyes.

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I would check out different synagogues and their Hebrew Schools. I taught Hebrew School in Boston and locally and have seen some things to be the same as when I atteneded in the 80s, but some wonderful programs, as well, that really involve the parents, the families and the making of a community. I think you'll be able to find one that is better than you are expecting.
We're in a similar boat although I wouldn't mind sending our daughter to a Jewish Day School, but my husband would like her in a public school. (Luckily we have more than a few years to work this one out.)
But I'm hoping to be a part of a Jewish community that will help her not just know she is Jewish, but actually feel Jewish - something that is sometimes difficult to get in Hebrew School.
Another thought... Jewish overnight camps are a great way to instill the values and culture in a casual setting.
Hope this helps a bit!
And Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by: To Elizabeth | March 23, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Patrick, your presumption that atheism is necessarily synonymous with contempt and bitterness is totally obnoxious. I am totally respectful of my faithful friends and relatives and would never put them down, but I still believe God is a made-up concept and plan to tell my children that is what I believe, if and when they ask. That is hardly "running down" their questions with my atheism, no more than attempting too explaining why God "allows" people to die -- as people on this board have said is a tough question to answer -- is "running down" their children's questions with their faith.

Posted by: Alice | March 23, 2007 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Your argument that he was a catholic in good standing is a red herring. Killing children and initiating a holocaust AUTOMATICALLY puts him in a "bad" standing with church teachings. Second, Hitler was his own religion and tried to build a personality cult. It is an outrageous claim to think Hitler was "in good standing" as a Christian.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Alice -
my point was that look at the posts by athiests in this chat - they are all virulently anti-religion and don't even discuss the option of their kids accepting it - seems to me they they think it unthinkable.

My point is that they indoctrinate their children in the same way as Christians, Jews, and Muslims (Hindu, and every other religion) - it is not indoctrination onf religion, but it is indoctrination all the same.

Posted by: for Alice | March 23, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

pATRICK why don't you re-read Alice and really think about what she is saying.

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

"I did a major thesis on Hitler in college and this is PATENTLY untrue."

No, Hitler was born and baptised Catholic. He never formally renounced his faith, and he was never ex-communicated [nor were any of the other Nazi Catholics of that day -- though the Catholic Church did ex-communicate all members of the Communist party within most of Eastern Europe immediately after WWII].

Was Hitler a practicing Catholic? No -- he was fairly pagan in his belief system -- but he clearly saw the use of religion [and championed it when it allowed him to exercise enhanced control].

"Atheists love these types of myths because it comforts them."

There is nothing comforting about evil.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

We're looking forward to introducing our daughter to our religion and doing our best to show her all the wonder it entails. If, as an adult, she chooses to go another way, we will be very disspointed, but we would feel extremely remiss in not sharing this part of our family, culture and heritage to her. It is part of who she is, part of her identity and important to us that she understands, feels proud, and attached to it.

Posted by: Culture | March 23, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Hey - Dopey Tart seems more flexible of the athiests on here - as do you Alice. I think that people teach what they believe (or don't) - that is my ultimate point and that to pretend that teaching them that religions aren't true means that you are indoctrinating them - just to be athiests

Posted by: for Alice | March 23, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

As Christians who attend church regularly and are actively involved in the church, I'm not sure how we (my spouse and I) could not discuss religious matters with our kids. It's like Charles the scientist above said: Our faith is so much a part of our lives, and a beneficial part, that we'd be remiss not to make it part of our children's lives as well. Our faith is part of who we are.

But this doesn't mean, as some here have suggested, that we don't also believe in encouraging our children to think for themselves. And we make clear that, from our perspective, there is truth to be found in nearly all religions, and certainly all people are worthy of respect regardless of which religious path they choose.

Posted by: Eric | March 23, 2007 12:25 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that unless you yourself have an answer to why God killed the firstborn--or, if you're religious but not part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, why God allows the kind of unhappiness on earth that makes Hell look like no big deal--then it's not a question you can answer for your children. If you have found your own answer, you can tell your children about it, but, if you have raised them properly, they will eventually look for and find their own answers. Your answer and your understanding will be a starting point for them.

Teaching your kids religion is only useful if you believe it. If you just want 'em to get ethics classes from someone else, don't do it. They'll learn hypocracy instead. If you believe, they will not be brainwashed into believing, too, but they will have a starting point from your understanding that will be of value to them. Honesty is really key here. If you don't know or don't understand or think that particular Bible story has to be some sort of weird allegory, say so.

Posted by: Suzanne | March 23, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Eric - just curious.. you say there is truth in "nearly all" religions. How will you explain to your children that you believe that there is no truth in certain religions?

Posted by: dlm79 | March 23, 2007 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Godwin's Law strikes again. Last I checked, Hitler didn't leave any offspring, so why don't we keep him out of this?

Posted by: sigh | March 23, 2007 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Teaching children about God, if done in love, can bring tremendous comfort to their young lives as they are exposed to death and other tribulations.
My children find tremendous comfort in the fact that God loves them just as they are and that there is nothing that they can do to loose that love. When a dear family friend died, they found great comfort in knowing that he was in heaven and no longer suffering. When questions have come up about bad things happening in the world, much of it we can relate to human action that brought about the bad events and that it is not God's will for people to suffer.
I have also made it very clear to our children that though we are commited christians, they will have to make their own decisions about faith as they grow up. We tell them that faith is not inherited but that each one of us has to seek and find. We tell them that they do not have to have faith for us to love them and cherish them. When our almost 10 year daughter has questions and doubts, we discuss what we believe but again tell her that ultimately, what she believes will be her decision to make.
ur children enjoy going to church and sunday school. If, when they are old enough to stay at home by themselves for a couple of hours, they no longer want to attend, we will not force them.
I would strongly disagree with anybody who sees this as indocrination. Our faith is so central to the way we choose to live our lives, I can't imagine somehow walling off our kids from it.

Posted by: FC mom | March 23, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

to anonymous at 12:15, have you actually attended a UU (Unitarian-Univeralist) service? If you did, it must not have been at my church! There are fervently religious people there-- some Wicca, some Christian, some Buddist-- and they take their religious beliefs very seriously. And all the beliefs are restected and nurtured (as long as they don't conflict with our seven principles). however, UU is a "congressional" faith and each congression is unique unto itself. there is no presiding bishop or pope that establishes church doctrine. If one UU church that you visited didn't appeal to you, then maybe you should try another. Or maybe you are the type of person that only wants a religion that tells you that there are certain beliefs you must have OR ELSE. I never understood the appeal of such faiths, but to each his own. I prefer a place that supports my continuing development of my personal faith.

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 12:35 PM | Report abuse

oops! sorry! meant to say "congregational" faith. Guess I have Congress on the brain!

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

How do the active Catholics here intend to explain to their kids that they supported an organization that not only allowed priests to rape their children, but covered up for it as well and has continually refused to admit and make right their greivous wrong? It may not have been YOUR priest but the whole organization supported the cover up and by continuing to support your parish, you are endorsing that behavior. I hope those priests have a good time in hell with Hitler and Stalin.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Recently I saw my neighbor at my Unitarian Universalist church with her 4 yr old in tow. I was happy to see her there because I believe it's a great place for families. I asked her what made her decide to attend that day. She said that her son had been asking "what is church" so she brought him. That was that though-- she kept him in the service and for him, "church" became a 75 minute excruciating bore.

For our family, our religious community is so much more than just the service; it's a community. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, people stepped in with meals, child care, hospital visits, etc. My child is affirmed, has friends there, learns stuff with religious content that she can't learn in her public school, has opportunities to participate in plays/talent shows/camping, etc.

I felt sad that instead of deciding to give church a real chance, like a six-month commitment, my neighbor gave her son a quick, negative exposure that might turn him off for years. On the other hand, she answered his question without her personal comment but let him experience it (at least one aspect of it) by himself. What do you all think of her approach?

Posted by: UU Mom | March 23, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Alice -
my point was that look at the posts by athiests in this chat - they are all virulently anti-religion and don't even discuss the option of their kids accepting it - seems to me they they think it unthinkable.

My point is that they indoctrinate their children in the same way as Christians, Jews, and Muslims (Hindu, and every other religion) - it is not indoctrination onf religion, but it is indoctrination all the same."

This hit the nail on the head, congrats on a good post. Atheists are not passive toward religion by any means but very aggressively anti religion. Same old arrogance, we indoctrinate our children, they enlighten theirs.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Dopey Tart! I agree with your completely reasonable approach to telling your kids about your beliefs.

Truth is that none of us know what the "TRUTH" is, and the greater imperative is to teach our kids to respect each other as they search for their own truths.

As it happens, religion doesn't play a huge role in my spirituality. However, I know people who have used religion as an incredible source of strength, and if it works for them I'm not going to put it down.

However, I do feel that kids need to be taught to think and not taught to just accept teachings blindly. I like that Jen's Church was teaching Kant - that's a discussion I would go to Church to hear :)

Posted by: Seattle | March 23, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

"My child is affirmed, has friends there, learns stuff with religious content that she can't learn in her public school, has opportunities to participate in plays/talent shows/camping, etc. "

Sounds more like show biz than a religion.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

In reference to the post above,

But, isn't it okay for kids to experience religion this way? What better way to learn that other kids may have different beliefs than you, but can still be your friends?

Posted by: Seattle | March 23, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

"my point was that look at the posts by athiests in this chat - they are all virulently anti-religion and don't even discuss the option of their kids accepting it - seems to me they they think it unthinkable."

Everyone posting here today is an atheist to a degree -- every person has encountered stories and traditions about some supernatural 'god' and dismissed the possibility of that god's existence [as others have said, it is unlikely that anyone posting here believes in Zeus, Odin, or many of the other gods].

The only difference in degree of atheism between pATRICK and me is that I've dismissed one more of these gods than pATRICK has.

And if you really understood why each of you has dismissed the possibility of existence of all of those other gods, you would probably understand why I've dismissed the possibility of the existence of yours.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

We are raising our children without religion or bible school at young ages because they will believe everything grownups tell them prior to age 10 or so. We are going to enroll them into a Methodist 6th grade to high school program because it is of significantly better quality than the local public school. This school teaches bible studies but (reportedly) also emphasizes religious tolerance. I think some religious studies are needed as part of school in much the same way as studying the greek myths to better understand history and art. My current goal is to raise my children as capable enough critical thinkers to not be easily brainwashed by ANY religion, fad, or group. If they decide their quality of life is better believing in Christian myths I will just have to respect this and set a good example of religious tolerance myself.

Posted by: NC agnostic | March 23, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

and UU mom's comment about the way her church rallied behind her family with visits to the hospital, childcare and meals where her husband was diagnosed with cancer-- that's "show biz"?

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

"What better way to learn that other kids may have different beliefs than you, but can still be your friends?"

Not all Christians believe this. Some shun those who who have different beliefs.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

"If they decide their quality of life is better believing in Christian myths I will just have to respect this and set a good example of religious tolerance myself."

A perfect example of what I was talking about. Absolutely perfect, thanks.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Jen:

FWIW - reading the UU material reminds me very much of the Socrates' Cafe [see Christopher Phillips] that my wife and I regularly attend - if so, I can certainly understand the appeal.

Posted by: Another agonstic blogger | March 23, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

"If they decide their quality of life is better believing in Christian myths I will just have to respect this and set a good example of religious tolerance myself."

Agree -- within reason. My guess is that you wouldn't be tolerant if they chose espouse racist beliefs, or sexist beliefs, or beliefs that you found to be outside the realm of acceptability.

I have many religious friends -- and it is fairly easy to be tolerant and respectful of their beliefs. There are many others with beliefs I find too outside the realm of acceptability to tolerate -- and many, but not all, of these would consider themselves very religious.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

"and UU mom's comment about the way her church rallied behind her family with visits to the hospital, childcare and meals where her husband was diagnosed with cancer-- that's "show biz"?

Doesn't almost pretty much any social group "rally" around each other in times of need?

Aren't the social groups more reliable than the religious groups?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I'll bite re: how I will explain the priest scandal to my kids. Same way I teach them about sin and evil in the hearts of all sorts of people.

People are sinners. There is no way around that. We try again and again not to sin and get better at it hopefully. The Church itself and what it teaches is not the problem. It's the individuals in it that need to reconcile with God and we need to pray for them.

KAL - what college did you go to? Can you say???

Posted by: Lou | March 23, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

"The Church itself and what it teaches is not the problem."

That's right, ignore the man behind the curtain...nothing to see here...all is well.

Sigh.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 1:19 PM | Report abuse

If athiesm is a "religion", then not collecting stamps is a hobby.

Posted by: Kenneth | March 23, 2007 1:19 PM | Report abuse

another agnositic blogger-- thanks for the referral-- I'll check it out!

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 1:24 PM | Report abuse

To pATRICK - your comments are so inflammatory, I'm led to believe they're snark. If you truly believe what you write, you are a perfect caricature of a "bible-thumper" in all its stereotypical negativies. This is further backed up by your name choice: the capitalization of ATRICK could easily represent "A trick," which is what your writing appears to be.

Seriously? "I did a major thesis in college"? That's your amazing argument stopper? Wow. In undergrad? I've gotten my undergraduate degree, my masters degree, and am halfway through my doctorate; I can tell you I've "done" a lot of major research papers. Doesn't amount to a hill of beans unless someone publishes them. Note: your beliefs and subsequent sifting through facts to find something to back up your beliefs does NOT make you an expert in anything.

By the way: a "thesis" is an idea, the argument you base your paper on. Did you "do" an idea?

Posted by: browncoat | March 23, 2007 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Once again we seem to get into the "all or nothing" trap. There are a lot more options out there than even the "big 4"- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Atheism.

I think what's most important is to teach kids respect for people's choices of faith, and to question their own beliefs, whatever they may be on whatever topic they may be.

It makes sense to teach your own child primarily based on your own faith, while I'd love to see books on buddhism being shared and going to temple as a family to educate on at least a basic level about the realities of other religions, I don't think it's necessary for a kid to get all these as long as the parents don't act like it's a horrible thing when the child chooses something else when they grow up.

Most parents really do NOT like the idea of their child becoming an independent adult, and IMO this is one of the hardest things they have to let go of.

And honesty should always come first- if you don't know the answers, admit it honestly. Say "God is mysterious and we have no clue" or go to a spiritual leader and ask them for explanation. ENCOURAGE THEIR QUESTIONS! They don't even have to accept it as "the right answer" they just have to know people are there to give their own answers and decide whether their inner faith will bring them to that path or not.

Again, it's more about respecting people's choices and being open to questioning one's self and one's beliefs that's important.

Posted by: Liz D | March 23, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

In the intro to the discussion you (the editor) mention that "He --your son-- also understands that some people are Jewish and some aren't."

In truth, he should understand that in this country of 280 or so million, just a few of them are non-Christians.

Posted by: SayItRight | March 23, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

the issue isn't that Atheists don't "collect stamps"-- it's that they think anyone who does "collect stamps" is a fool.

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

"the issue isn't that Atheists don't "collect stamps"-- it's that they think anyone who does "collect stamps" is a fool."

Are Atheists the only ones who think this?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Well, wouldn't you consider an adult to be a fool if they believed in fairy tails?

Posted by: Kenneth | March 23, 2007 1:49 PM | Report abuse

"If you did, it must not have been at my church! There are fervently religious people there-- some Wicca, some Christian, some Buddist-- and they take their religious beliefs very seriously. And all the beliefs are restected and nurtured (as long as they don't conflict with our seven principles)."

But Jen, the same is true of a Lion's Club meeting, PTA meeting, or neighborhood book club! There's nothing essentially religious about the organization, or anything that it does. What does your UU congregation do that could not be done by a non-religious organization?

"however, UU is a "congressional" faith and each congression is unique unto itself. there is no presiding bishop or pope that establishes church doctrine."

That's not unique - many churches are independent and non-denominational, including some independent Baptist churches, Churches of Christ, and community Bible churches. None of these require an "avowing" a formal creed or statement of faith - but they do presuppose a core belief in Christianity, and membership would make no sense if you did not share that belief.

"Or maybe you are the type of person that only wants a religion that tells you that there are certain beliefs you must have OR ELSE."

Heck no - but I do want a religion that has some content beyond "fellowship."

"I prefer a place that supports my continuing development of my personal faith."

Amen - development of personal faith is the basis of any serious religion. I would suggest that, if this is your goal, you would be better of among people who take religious faith seriously enough to think that it matters what you believe, understand that some beliefs can be false and harmful, and will responsibly help you think through and explore the fundamental questions of life.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Haven't seen any other Pagan posters here, so I'll throw in my two cents.

Our path isn't about belief, but about our actions and practices. Our kids have attended plenty of public rituals, and had fun at many of them. They've also attended Catholic mass with their grandparents (my parents), and found it "boring".

We teach that all paths are valid for the person on that path, and try to model respect for everyone's religions. We'd much prefer that our children learn to think critically, and choose for themselves what their religious life will be.

Last week end at Spiral Scouts, we had an Ostara egg hunt. Tomorrow is a public ritual for the Ostara Sabbat, and the oragnizers just might be planning another egg hunt there too. Whatever is planned, it will be a celebration of the return of spring, of renewed life and growth, and it will be fun and joyful.

"Why do people die?"

I take my kids out in the back yard to my compost bin, and show them the bugs, grubs, earthworms, fungus, etc. turning the dead plants into humus that will feed the vegetable patch and in turn us. I talk about the number of people on the planet, and how there wouldn't be enough room for any more babies to be born and grow up, if older people just went on living and living and living forever.

Death isn't evil, it's a necessary part of life. All of life feeds on death - just like the process happening in my compost bin.

Yes, we miss those we loved (mentioning pets - or family members - who have passed to the "summerlands") who are no longer with us. But we can remember them, and remember the fun we had with them. And celebrate their lives.

In the autumn at Samhain, we'll remember and honor the beloved dead in that Sabbat, and be grateful for the love and life-lessons (gifts) they gave us during their time with us. "What is remembered lives." They live on in us, in our hearts and our memories of them.

Posted by: Sue | March 23, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

We told our children that religion is for-profit business invented by and run by priests, that religious people believe in imaginery magical beings and think that dead is really not dead, and that it's all a bunch of idiotic superstitious nonsense designed to impress weak-minded fools. The subject really never came up again.

We ended up with two wonderful children that grew up to be ethical, kind and honest adults. They've never wasted a minute of their lives or a penny of their money on this rubbish. I'd say it turned out perfectly.

Posted by: Peter | March 23, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Peter--

you don't have to defame and name call in order to impress upon your kids that what you believe is right. You can just agree to disagree and not attempt to belittle another way of thinking. I don't know id G-d exists. But What I do know is that you can not prove he does not and no one else here can prove he does.

Posted by: HappyDad | March 23, 2007 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Kenneth, I just know that i don't know all the answers. I distrust those who think they do, whether they are fundamentalists or atheists.

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 2:25 PM | Report abuse

THis is getting as bad as On Balance, just on a much bigger scale. I hate to think this, but look how it easy it is to explain religious wars to our youth - just look at the anger and judgement on this board. It's quite sad.

Posted by: Wow | March 23, 2007 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Pointing out that religion is a business and that its target audience consists mainly of gullible and poorly educated people (that's why Africa is the current hot market for this stuff) is not defamation - it's simply a statement of fact.

And as for the usual responses "You can't prove it's not true", I would say that priests could as easily claim that flower fairies push up the roses in my garden - they would be able to produce just as much evidence as they have for the rest of their claims. Specifically, none. At some point common sense and rationality needs to apply.

When people make outlandish claims, the burden of proof rests with them. Organized religion rejects that burden because they cannot prove, or even test, any of their claims. Keep in mind, we are talking about a multi-billion dollar business based on stories, promises and threats about magical creatures. Fine in the 5th century, but utterly ridiculous in this day and age.

Posted by: Peter | March 23, 2007 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Amen Peter - pun intended. Well said.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 2:40 PM | Report abuse

"How do the active Catholics here intend to explain to their kids that they supported an organization that not only allowed priests to rape their children, but covered up for it as well and has continually refused to admit and make right their greivous wrong? It may not have been YOUR priest but the whole organization supported the cover up and by continuing to support your parish, you are endorsing that behavior."

In my archdiocese, the cardinal immediately established a policy that any priest accused of molestation would immediately be removed from his post, pending an investigation. Several priests were removed and defrocked.

I'd explain this to my kids by saying that the Catholic Church has been responsible for a number of horrible things over the past two thousand years, from the auto da fe up to the pedophilia scandal. No institution that is two thousand years old is going to have clean hands.

I'd also say that the Catholic Church is responsible for a lot that is greatly valued in Western society. If you've ever read any Greek or Roman authors, you have the Catholics to thank for keeping that record of scholarship around during the Dark Ages. Michaelangelo did his best work for the Church. The Church commissioned some of Mozart's and Bach's best work. Geoffery of Monmouth, who is pretty much the sole surviving source for the very early history of Britain, was a monk. St. Augustine continues to influence Western thought.

I'd teach my that the Church is a lot like the people who make it up, and a lot like people in general: sometimes it's unspeakably awful. Most of the time it's neutral. Sometimes it's sublime.

Posted by: Lizzie | March 23, 2007 2:44 PM | Report abuse

When I have children I plan to teach them about the most wonderful thing that has happened to me, and that has benefitted me in my life, so that they may benefit and be wise as well. I'll explain my decision to trust in Jesus as my own Lord and Savior & to try and live according to the Bible. I pray they will have the same belief. As a person who highly values independant thinking and reasoning, I'll welcome every question they have and will likely encourage more. My faith is based on many many historical facts. Reason & research is part of why I believe. In my opinion, Jesus's Messiahship, and the Bible, has been proved through dozens of prophcies coming true and through the Bible being historiacally accurate, not to mention the supernatural occurances in my life. I cannot disprove it, though I know one can choose not to believe it. In regards to the specific atheists who have indicated that they will keep exposure to religions from their children: I think the proper way to allow someone to make up their minds, is to allow them to have all the accurate/relevent information, and then they decide. Robbing them of information & other possible choices, and then asking them to make an ill-informed decision, doesn't foster independant thinking, but seems like a kind of brainwashing. If anyone wants to get to know God, He really rewards people who seek Him humbly with all their hearts. Basically, I think you rob your children when you do not expose them to such a foundational book that can thouroughly enrich their lives. Practically I'll probly bring up topics and issues, but gladly foster critical thinking. In Christianity, a belief must be one's own, so they must come to that conclusion themselves. As in anything, I want my future children to be able to examine and reason well, be well informed and not be duped into anything. I would talk to my children when questions arise in a loving, hopefully fun, and age-appropriate way. I wonder if many of us need to pray & research to settle some of our questions before we jump into settling them with our children? I don't think you should avoid important topics, if you do not have a good answer maybe your family can go to the Bible, or what you deem a good source for finding out the answer together. Trying to find out "the truth" about life is usuually helped by researching many independant smaller truths in my opinion. So, looking into facts, being humble & intellecually honest is a good way to find out the answers to these questions. A search for truth should never be ignored, or put down.

Posted by: SuzeQ | March 23, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Heres an interesting note about Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf. When her teacher tried to explain who God is, she said she already knew Him!

Posted by: Helen Keller | March 23, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

"What does your UU congregation do that could not be done by a non-religious organization?"

Talk about/explore religion and spirituality-- taboo subjects in the secular world.

Posted by: Neighbor | March 23, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Re: Lou's comment:
I'll bite re: how I will explain the priest scandal to my kids. Same way I teach them about sin and evil in the hearts of all sorts of people.

People are sinners. There is no way around that. We try again and again not to sin and get better at it hopefully. The Church itself and what it teaches is not the problem. It's the individuals in it that need to reconcile with God and we need to pray for them.

______________________

Exactly the same way we teach our kids, three of whom are now teenagers. The people who run the church are human beings; always have been. (And that applies whether the "church" is Catholic as in our case or any other denomination.) They're mortal human beings who usually are trying to do their best, but come up short. We need to understand and learn from them.

Yes, folks, the history of the Catholic church contains enough Borgia popes, selling of indulgences, de Medici intrigue, Crusades, and now (and probably for a long time) sexual escapades by priests to come in for a wealth of criticism. And our kids understand that (as appropriate for their age). It's important to us that they understand that we believe that's a sign of human failure, meaning we need to try harder but "love the sinner and hate the sin." The church history also contains enough examples of folks like Roncalli, Wojtyla, Aquinas, Teresa, etc. to balance it out.

As for how we teach them: we try to set the example. Then they make up their own mind.

My mother is Catholic; my father was raised Methodist but was really an agnostic. (When we lived in Mississippi in 1968, his favor expression was that the neighbors would burn a cross on [a family's] lawn on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday, and think they're making Jesus happy. I won't use the word's he used in place of [a family].) My father's father was Catholic - as in French Canadian - and his mother was Baptist. My great-grandmother was a member of the Cree tribe who didn't subscribe to a western religion. So there's a long history of letting each generation make up its own mind, and we try to follow that with our kids.

But we always have taken them to church, and gotten them involved in the social justice activities as well as others to try to make sure they learn what we think the point of religion is.

Posted by: Army Brat | March 23, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Weird story. Sister in law bought my kids a childrens bible. My oldest, who was about 5 or 6 at the time could read it and did. It was attractive and colorful. She had nightmares 2 nights in a row. First night, I just thought it was a bad dream, next night I really want to know what is scaring her. She ask is God really going to kill all the people that are bad! So I initially hide the children's Bible from her sight, but read it later that night. It was everything I remembered about sunday school Old testament lessons, but with updated pictures. It was 1000 percent fear God and the wrath of good. N love, no beauty of life. It was absolutely the worst childrens interpretation, but it was on par to what I recalled of childrens religous learning that has honestly scared me to this day. As for talking to my kids on religion. I need to formally expose them more. My key is that you must always interpret things for yourself, rationally and objectively, and all people walking this earth are people just like you. Their title [priest, pastor, father, bishop] nor stated purpose does not make them any better than you. So demand equal respect and never bow or concede to them based on title.

Posted by: RobGreg | March 23, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

"Heck no - but I do want a religion that has some content beyond "fellowship." "

That is really offensive. I get very tired of people who say UUS believe in nothing. Having attended many traditional christian churches and been around many, I can say, UUs are generally the most moral and ethical people I have been around. UU does have a set of core beliefs.


"We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote


The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."[4]

And, no, these beliefs are not true of all churches or the US in general.

Posted by: friend of uu | March 23, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Lou - Not at all - I went to Notre Dame.

I handle tough questions the same way - the Catholic Church (like any other) is full of sinners. Lots of us are pretty bad sinners, in fact, and evil can corrupt any individual. We can rightly condemn evil actions and punish wrongdoers, and work for change. But the presence of sinful people (whom the Church welcomes, since salvation is a great thing for us sinners) doesn't affect the truth claims of the Church. The deposit of faith, the reality of Jesus's love and sacrifice, are all present in and faithfully kept by the magisterium. And for individuals, at least there's always the hope of redemption and forgiveness (even as we have a legitimate right to lock people up if they've committed crimes).

I can respect others' beliefs and certainly respect other people, and I'll teach my kids the same thing. In doing so, I don't have to worry that independent thinking and rationality will necessarily lead my kids away from their faith - in fact, they're integral parts of our faith, and Christianity isn't afraid of challenges and stands up to hard scrutiny. But you teach your kids respect by demonstrating it.

Posted by: KAL | March 23, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

As background, my partner is an ordained MCC (Metropolitan Community Churches) minister, who was until recently working as administrator at a Unitarian Universalist church. I am a former seeker who grew up with no religion in my house, but who had grandparents on either side who dragged us to church as children.

"The best description I know of UU is that it's what's left when you take religion out of church - and what's the point of that?"

I agree with this so much, and it's part of why I'm becoming disillusioned about the UU church, even though we still attend occasionally, and I still teach Sunday School and sing in the choir and such. I formerly was a 'spiritual not religious' person, but find myself more and more comfortable with Christianity the more I experience the loving joyful church that MCC is (my dad calls it Baptist Lite - all the gospel music, none of the hellfire).

We do devotions at home (Christian ones) and read the Bible with DD every night she's at home. My partner still preaches regularly (once a month or so), and we go to the MCC church regularly as well as the UU church. DD has more friends at the UU church (much larger congregation than the MCC church) but thinks of herself as a Christian UU and has a home in both churches.

Posted by: Rebecca in AR | March 23, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

"In truth, he should understand that in this country of 280 or so million, just a few of them are non-Christians."

According to the most recent census, approximately 78% of the population is Christian [assuming you are willing to call Scientology / Mormonism fundamentally Christian in nature].

I don't think 60 million people constitutes 'just a few' who are non-Christian.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

This is certainly a multi-party dialogue among non-experts and somehow people un-educated in religion, in whom I include myself. But in my opinion it is possible to see three trends:

1) One who has given up any search and with a chest full of pride trusting oneself derides any honest human search for God. (see Peter: "We told our children that religion is for-profit business invented by and run by priests.").

2. One who seeks a religion that "fits myself" (see March 23, 1:50pm ("I prefer a place that supports my continuing development of my personal faith."), with eyes turned inside, like Buddha, enjoying oneself with the hope that truth, joy, life, will come from oneself. Another well-intentioned though semi-empty approach.

3) A third view is that of him/her who seeks truth, what is beautiful, life permanent, in an external Being. The root of this search is the humble acceptance that we are dust and to dust we will return. In this approach the eyes of the seeker are frighteningly open to the Almighty. Not to the emptiness of oneself. Think about the eyes of the Holy Saints of the Church: feeding the leper, caring for the wounded, given up money, fame, health and life. Teresa of Calcutta yesterday, St. Francis 700 hundred years ago, or Karol Wojtyla 10 years ago are not just a coincidence of good fellows who happened to do good things. They are clear examples of the good fruit that grows when we stick to the vine: Jesus, the Christ, He who endured all suffering in supreme humility so we may live, and live in abundance.

This latter truth, and no other, gives hope and explains life, the good life, to ourselves, to the world, and those who come after us: our children.

Posted by: SayItRight | March 23, 2007 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Saying you will not expose your children to religion and then expect them to "choose for themselves" is like never exposing them to math and then expecting them to be able to add. Why not expose them to various belief systems (not just yours) and THEN let them choose?

Posted by: RM | March 23, 2007 3:26 PM | Report abuse

There's a big difference between teaching your kids that people are fallible and sending them over to Mr. Dahmers house for dinner!

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Isn't the concept of 'introducing' children to religion somewhat off the wall? as if it is a subject or a sport? When do you introduce them to baseball or hockey? Our children have been attending church since birth, baptized as infants and enjoy and apply their knowledge of God's grace and mercy.

Posted by: HankC | March 23, 2007 3:37 PM | Report abuse

"Talk about/explore religion and spirituality-- taboo subjects in the secular world."

I disagree with that - "religion" is explored in a variety of settings. Bill Moyer specials, college history of religion classes, "Jesus Seminar" books, yoga classes, book clubs, etc. But there's a difference between studying religion as a social, literary or mythological phenomenon, one the one hand, and seriously considering religion as a way to find truth about the world and our place in it. It's a bit like the difference between a sociologist studying marriage, and looking for a husband or wife to spend the rest of your life with.

If religion is just "another myth to live by" or only offers "poetic truth," then it's not worth my time (or, I'm convinced, your time). That's a lot like saying "I find Tolkein deeply meaningful," "I just love some of Yoda's insights," or "I'm a sucker for Christmas movies." Fine - but that's literature, not reality.

If UU is a forum for exploring any and all beliefs (or no belief at all) without anyone thinking it matters what you believe, or that any of it is important enough to be considered "true" or "false" - well, you can do that in any coffee shop or student union.

You can be respectful of my beliefs, sincerity and integrity while being convinced that I'm completely and totally wrong. You don't have to agree with me.

But to be truly religious, you have to take religion seriously enough to think that both the questions AND the answers matter.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

RM asks why not expose my children to various beliefs and then let them choose? Are you seriously suggesting that I should have presented to my young children, who trusted me absolutely, one possible "view" of the world that says magical creatures exist and run everything?

Would you "explain" to your young children that one possible career they might explore later in life is the adult entertainment industry, or suggest that perhaps the reason the establishment in general doesn't like crack or heroin is because they just haven't tried it themselves?

My point here is that we owe our children the truth, at a minimum. And I don't mean by that, a series of stories adapted from Egyptian and Mesopotamian creation myths. I mean the truth. Here is what is known and can be proven. Here is what is thought to have happened, but we are still working on means of proving or disproving the hypothesis. There is no place in there for superstition. This is the 21st Century. There are no devils, angels, gods, fairies, goblins, demons, vampires, etc. All of these are the inventions of man. You just can't lie to your kids.

I know people that send their kids to religious schools, keep them in religious day care, make them pray every night and limit their friends to people they know from Church. Brainwashed from morning to night. On the other hand, my kids always had full access to any books or data they wanted. Tell me if the religous accord their children the same access. I don't think so.

Posted by: Peter | March 23, 2007 3:42 PM | Report abuse

"That is really offensive. I get very tired of people who say UUS believe in nothing. Having attended many traditional christian churches and been around many, I can say, UUs are generally the most moral and ethical people I have been around."


No one said that they weren't moral or ethical.


"UU does have a set of core beliefs."

I've seen them - thanks for brining them into the discussion. Those aren't beliefs - they're a code of social conduct. Please offer a prevailing (not necessarily formal, official, or universal) UU belief on:

1) The existance of non-existance of a supreme being;

2) The nature of reality;

3) The existance or nature of the human soul; or

4) The ultimate purpose of life.

These are the questions addressed by the great religions of the world. Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Daoism . . . they all speak to one or more of these issues, and they all have their unique answers.

Again, there's nothing in that list of core principles that couldn't be adopted by the: United Nations, a political party, the Lion's Club, or a rural commune.

What makes UU a religious organization rather than something else? Simply that it evolved from several churches? That it calls its local bodies "congregations?" If that's it, there's not much religion left.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 3:51 PM | Report abuse

On the other hand, my kids always had full access to any books or data they wanted. Tell me if the religous accord their children the same access. I don't think so.

_________________

Peter: in one word: yes.

My children have access to whatever religion-related books or data they want. We encourage them to think, to question. If as adults they are religious, it's because they have accepted the tenets of the religion, not because their parents have tried to brainwash them (which isn't possible, if you've ever had the pleasure of three teenagers in your house).

You're scaring me, Peter. Why do your children trust you "absolutely"? Mine don't trust me that way - they know I'm a fallible human being who loves them completely and tries hard, but who makes mistakes. Maybe they didn't realize this when they were 2 or 3, but it happened long before they hit 13.

Posted by: Army Brat | March 23, 2007 3:51 PM | Report abuse

"I know people that send their kids to religious schools, keep them in religious day care, make them pray every night and limit their friends to people they know from Church. Brainwashed from morning to night. On the other hand, my kids always had full access to any books or data they wanted. Tell me if the religous accord their children the same access. I don't think so."

You HAVE intoduced a religion to them, it is called pop culture. Your kids will learn their values from a drug infested, amoral hollywood. Their desires will be shaped by Madison Avenue and their morals by Oprah and the victimhood industry. Good luck, you and you kids will need it.


Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 3:54 PM | Report abuse

My children have already been exposed to my and my husband's religious beliefs. They will go to Catholic schools. To me, not sharing my beliefs on religion would be just as ridiculous as not sharing my views on illegal drugs, underage drinking, teenagers having sex, crime, etc.

They are free to ask as many questions as they have. They are free to learn about other religions and views. When they are adults, they will have enough information to make their own decisions.

Posted by: MOMto3 | March 23, 2007 3:56 PM | Report abuse

"My children have already been exposed to my and my husband's religious beliefs. They will go to Catholic schools. To me, not sharing my beliefs on religion would be just as ridiculous as not sharing my views on illegal drugs, underage drinking, teenagers having sex, crime, etc.

They are free to ask as many questions as they have. They are free to learn about other religions and views. When they are adults, they will have enough information to make their own decisions. "


Congratulations, I think your post is the best of the day. Good Job

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

"They are clear examples of the good fruit that grows when we stick to the vine: Jesus, the Christ, He who endured all suffering in supreme humility so we may live, and live in abundance."

OOOHHHHH -- now I get it -- you are right and everyone else is wrong -- how silly of all us not to see this immediately.

It's a shame the 4 BILLION current non-Christians in the world are all going to burn in hell for eternity because they aren't as smart as you.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Scaring you! I was of course talking about my kids when they were very young. All youngsters trust adults unless they are afraid of them.

That's what I find offensive about Sunday school. When some well-meaning fool tells children that there's a God and that he loves them (that would be the mysoginistic, child killing, chronically insecure God of the old testament that needs lots of animals killed in his name). They believe that rubbish.

Do Sunday school teachers ever, ever tell the kids that we in the Church believe the following, but it's all based on stories written thousands of years ago by primitives and that none of it's testable or provable, and by the way, it makes no sense to anyone with a half a brain? Of course not. They are selling a story and they stick to it. It's scary that we let our children be manipulated by these people.

Posted by: Peter | March 23, 2007 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I always find it interesting how angry and cynical atheists are. You would think having figured every thing out and being smarter than us christian fools would have them dancing and singing. Yet they aren't. Separation from God never brings happiness, something our "enlightened" friends never seem to get.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 4:07 PM | Report abuse

In all of your entries, there is an underlying theme: "I'm right, you're wrong" Typical of Christianity, very typical.

Posted by: To Patrick | March 23, 2007 4:08 PM | Report abuse

By the way PETER, it must just kill you to be named after the rock upon which Jesus built the church.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 4:09 PM | Report abuse

to "to Patrick" Seriously, you think Patrick is the only poster today with the "I'm right, you're wrong" theme?

Posted by: Arlington Dad | March 23, 2007 4:10 PM | Report abuse

"Separation from God never brings happiness"

I suggest you try it for a while - if you have the mental capability, and the wherewithall to control your own life by using your brain to decide (rationally) on how to live your life, you will be happier.

This is especailly true if you are a Catholic - fire and brimstone and all that guilt goes bye-bye. Guilt is for children. If you act in a moral way, guilt doesn't factor into an adults life.

I was a believer many years ago, and now I am not; I am much happier as a person knowing that when I used to pray, I was simply talking to myself.

I leave you with a quote from a dyslexic (sp?) atheist: "there is no dog"

Posted by: another to Patrick | March 23, 2007 4:13 PM | Report abuse

"Seriously, you think Patrick is the only poster today with the "I'm right, you're wrong" theme?"

Beyond that, if you don't think something is right, why the heck would you believe it? That doesn't mean that you don't respect people who disagree with you, but it's nonsensical to believe things you aren't convinced are true. This goes for any field. Science - you wouldn't believe in darwinian evolution if you weren't convinced it was true (and that people who don't believe it is true are mistaken). Politics - you wouldn't be affiliated with a particular political party or movement if you thought they were completely wrong.

There is nothing wrong with believing in truth. Respect for others, and a willingness to look at evidence are vital - but that's as true in philosophy, science, journalism and politics as it is in religion.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

"I always find it interesting how angry and cynical atheists are."

Us agnostics are much happier -- it's kinda like the marketing department, we maintain a very strict 2-drink minimum...

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

"This is especailly true if you are a Catholic - fire and brimstone and all that guilt goes bye-bye. Guilt is for children. If you act in a moral way, guilt doesn't factor into an adults life."

I am actually Prebyterian. Yes guilt does go away when you don't hold your conscience accountable. A moral way? What is a moral way? There is no moral way except what the individual deems it to be in your statement. It all becomes relative and such then ceases to have any more weight than anyone elses morality. For example, if I am poor and you are not, it is then entirely moral for me to take your stuff since i find it morally offensive for you to live well and not me. My morality has been fulfilled. That is the slippery slope of relativism.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 23, 2007 4:19 PM | Report abuse

It often doesn't seem to matter what you do. After 12 years of catholic school my four siblings and I all came out somewhere between agnostic and atheist. A good friends parents raised him with out religion and his brother is a born again Christian. Other kids follow exactly what their parents teach.

What is sad is parents who are cruel to their children because the child's beliefs do not match their own.

Posted by: Bookworm Mom | March 23, 2007 4:20 PM | Report abuse

1:11 --

Sometimes social groups pitch in when life goes south for a member, but generally not in the same way as churches, mosques, temples do.

Somebody from the book club or cycling group might check on you IF you're good friends with some of them. But cyclists, PTAs, etc. rarely have the bodies to help alleviate crises with members like a religious group does, many of which have standing committees organized for the express purpose of helping with the long term care of ill members, for example.

Clearly all sorts of groups can provide similar social support, but generally ones that are non-religious in nature don't, not because they're composed of worse people any any way, but because they're not designed to and it is not part of their raison d'etre.

Also, even for a purely secular person, schuls and so forth are handy umbrella groups for all sorts of charity work.

Posted by: Knause | March 23, 2007 4:25 PM | Report abuse

"It often doesn't seem to matter what you do. After 12 years of catholic school my four siblings and I all came out somewhere between agnostic and atheist."

A while back my mother asked what she did that caused my brother and I to become agnostic.

I told her she succeeded.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 4:26 PM | Report abuse

"Sometimes social groups pitch in when life goes south for a member, but generally not in the same way as churches, mosques, temples do."

That's true - but is largely driven by the faith that binds the religious communities together. The context of the discussion was the nature of the Unitarian Universalist organization - whether it is still a religious group, or whether all the religious content has been drained out, leaving it essentially as nothing more than any another community social organization.

I, for one, see nothing uniquely "religious" about UU.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Religious groups (not all, obviously) can be useful even for the secular for the context. In what other setting, except occasionally with very close relatives or friends, is it acceptable to ponder aloud such questions as, "Am I a good person? What the *&%$ is the point of anything? Should I feel guilty about doing X?"

Try bringing that up with people at work or from the gym. Watch them edge away. Even good friends quickly get sick of that kind of subject matter.

People do and probably should ask such things from time to time without being accused of navel-gazing. Religious groups provide a context for doing so.

Of course there are some groups, religious and not, that search not for answers together but act as if they already have them all. These groups are less helpful.

Posted by: Knause | March 23, 2007 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Peter: calm down. Let me address your "point"

Do Sunday school teachers ever, ever tell the kids that we in the Church believe the following, but it's all based on stories written thousands of years ago by primitives and that none of it's testable or provable, and by the way, it makes no sense to anyone with a half a brain?

_____________________________

Well, other than your last clause, believe it or not, yes. For churches that do not believe in literal veracity of the Bible - and there are many, including Catholics - the concept of "parables" is well known. I was taught in Sunday school that the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is a parable; it's about original sin. Catholic doctrine includes evolution; the Catholic high school my son attends actually teaches it fairly thoroughly.

So, yes, you're putting it in a somewhat rough way, but I and my kids were taught in Sunday school and other religious education that the stories in the old testament came from ancient societies (I object to your use of the word "primitives"), and that it's not testable or provable and that it's not literally true. But the important points to glean are the relationship between God and man.

And the new testament is also given scrutiny - last year when my middle daughter was in 8th grade, her religious education class did a very good study on the Pauline books - the various letters attributed to Paul. There was a reasonably good analysis of which ones were most likely written by the man known as the apostle Paul, which ones almost certainly weren't, and which ones are the subject of debate. There was also a good discussion of how they came to be included in the Bible.

I'm not saying that there aren't some people who are kept somewhat sheltered and have a worldview like those you cite. I'm just pointing out that if you'd actually look around, there's a very diverse group of people out there who qualify as "religious" and your diatribes clearly don't apply to some of them.

Posted by: Army Brat | March 23, 2007 4:38 PM | Report abuse

"Religious groups (not all, obviously) can be useful even for the secular for the context. In what other setting, except occasionally with very close relatives or friends, is it acceptable to ponder aloud such questions as, "Am I a good person? What the *&%$ is the point of anything? Should I feel guilty about doing X?""

Check out and see if you have a Socrates' Cafe in your area -- or start one if you don't -- our group has had a number of these conversations and it's been a good learning experience.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Buddhism is non-theistic. Is it not a religion either?

I have a feeling all these anons attacking UUism would be attacking any other religion besides their own, for whatever reason.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

While the debate going on here has both fascinated and appalled me, I'd just like to remind everyone of the questions posed by the moderator:

1. How have you introduced religion to your children?
2. What questions do they throw out to you that are difficult to answer?
3. Are your children more or less religious than you are?

While I respect and appreciate everyone's contribution above, I must admit that I'm much more interested in hearing your answers to these three questions than your opinion on whether or not atheism is a religion.

Posted by: TJ | March 23, 2007 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I, for one, see nothing uniquely "religious" about UU.

Posted by: | March 23, 2007 04:29 PM

Have you ever been to a UU service? It feels just like any other church I've been to (Cahtolic, Lutherian, Jewish, Eastern Orthadox, etc.).

Posted by: Bookworm Mom | March 23, 2007 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The UUs seem to try to answer the same questions other churches do, even if they're less dogmatic about what the answers are.

For those who prefer some kind of catechism, UUs can seem pretty formless, but its not like they're a model train club. They're a church. Ask the IRS.

Posted by: Knause | March 23, 2007 4:46 PM | Report abuse

3:51 -- Buddhism explictly says it does not try to address any of the four things offered in the post as essential religious questions.

Consequently it is unsatisfying for people who are greatly worried about what happens to them when they die.

Posted by: Pisor | March 23, 2007 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I note many of these Socractic Cafes meet in UU churchs-- typically Sunday morning before church service begins. Doesn't surprize me a bit.

Posted by: Jen | March 23, 2007 4:53 PM | Report abuse

"Buddhism is non-theistic. Is it not a religion either?"

Of course it's a religion - it has a very clear and distinctive answer to the questions of "what is the nature of reality," "what's the nature of the human soul," and "what is the purpose of life." It is, like many other oriental religions, in some ways more akin to what Westerners think of as philosophy than religion, but it clearly addresses the same "ultimate questions" as any other religion. It's clearly more than a social, cultural or benevolent organization or movement.

"Have you ever been to a UU service? It feels just like any other church I've been to (Cahtolic, Lutherian, Jewish, Eastern Orthadox, etc.)."

Religion is much more than the "feel" of a public gathering - that's just "churchiness." In fact, an undue focus on the form and style of worship can quickly stifle any true spiritual development. Going through the motions can be emotionally comforting, but if there's no real belief or understanding, it's as hollow as two pre-schoolers playing "wedding."

Any group will, over time, develop its unique rituals and style. Some civic groups borrow from military forms, some from political forms, some from religious forms. Borrowing the forms of religion no more turns a civic group into a religion than wearing a Shriner's fez turns a midwestern farmer into a Turk.

Why is it so important to claim that UU is a "religion" when there's no particular set of religious beliefs associated with it - or even the expectation that a member hold any religious beliefs whatever? If we don't think that any particular belief regarding a supreme being, human souls, the nature of reality, or the purpose of life is important, then why the heck is it so important to be part of a "religious" group?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I had to do some work! An "elevator speech" is is a brief wrap-up of a concept that could be delivered in the time it takes to take the elevator, for example, to your office.

My current minister is theistic. He talks about God all the time. I am not theistic, I am more spiritual and mystical. I believe there is a power bigger than myself and I call it "Mother Nature." I have very strong feelings about people who use their religion to punish people. Jesus taught "God is love"

Posted by: another UU | March 23, 2007 5:04 PM | Report abuse

"The UUs seem to try to answer the same questions other churches do, even if they're less dogmatic about what the answers are. "

Really? You can be a member in full fellowship and good standing without having any particular answer to any of those questions, or even thinking that the questions are meaningful. What's with that? What does it give you, other than another social circle?

"Buddhism explictly says it does not try to address any of the four things offered in the post as essential religious questions."

Sorry, but the four noble truths, eight fold path, and doctrines of desire and samsara lay out a pretty clear understanding of the nature of reality, the human soul, and the purpose of life. It's not in the same form as the three Abrahamic religions, but there's real content there.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

God should be religated to the same level as Santa Clause, The Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy- pure and simple fantasy.

Posted by: Pops | March 23, 2007 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Yes, why did God kill the first born? Why did God wipe out every living thing that Noah couldn't squeeze on the ark? Why did Lot offer his two virgin daughters to a bunch of horny townsfolk so they'd quit bugging himi while he was trying to chat with a couple of angers?
Answer: None of these things really happened. There is no god. And THAT is what our children should be taught.

Posted by: Big Daddy | March 23, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

One of the best things we did with our kids in elementary school is give them a solid background in mythology -- especially the Greek/Roman variety but also a lot of Norse [and some Native American]. When we also then gave them Christian stories, they could then immediately recognize the mythical aspects.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

the idea that i find interesting is that people, both atheist & christians, are claiming that they want to teach their children THE TRUTH, in all its glory. well, THE TRUTH is that we don't know. not one of us.

what's wrong with a little whimsey or pretend? oh, wait a minute... it's not THE TRUTH. oh, heaving busom. what ever shall i do! this reminds me of the descriptions of the officials of the soviet union. they were so afraid of whimsey that they tried to stomp it out of their children. the drawing of dragons or other mythical creatures was not encouraged. after all, it wasn't THE TRUTH.

reality & the truth can be very overrated.

Posted by: quark | March 23, 2007 5:26 PM | Report abuse

pATRICK - thanks for the kind words.

TJ asked for responses to the actual questions posed by the moderator-

1. How have you introduced religion to your children?
They have gone to church with us since the age of about 3 months. We pray at dinner as a family. We talk about the blessings we have as a family. My oldest starts Kindergarten at a Catholic School in August. The younger ones will go there as well.

2. What questions do they throw out to you that are difficult to answer?
My oldest is only 5 so his questions are pretty basic--Why doesn't everyone celebrate Christmas? What does Jewish mean? Why do you ask God for help?
3. Are your children more or less religious than you are? My children are young so it's hard to say. The oldest is very interested and Sunday school is probably the only time all week he sits still for a straight hour.

Posted by: MOMto3 | March 23, 2007 5:31 PM | Report abuse

"they could then immediately recognize the mythical aspects. " such as? Did not Solomon built a temple? Did not 12 followers of Jesus spread a church that started from nothing and all except one were crucified? as with many critics of organized religion, and especially of Christianity, the criticism is with the description of rather than the acts themselves...

Posted by: HankC | March 23, 2007 5:40 PM | Report abuse

"reality & the truth can be very overrated."

They can also be under-rated. I think we're all well aware of our human limitations. But when we come to science, law, medicine, journalism, etc. we all want to understand reality as well as we can - rather than be fed a line. Why should we want anything less when it comes to the really important questions? Why am I here? What is reality? Do I have a soul? Does it matter how I live?

Fantasy and whimsy are great. But to turn religion into fantasy and whimsy is to deny it its power, and to play games with the most important issues we'll ever face.

So yes - admit that we are imperfect, and our understanding will always be limited. But find something other than a myth to live by.

Posted by: Believer | March 23, 2007 5:41 PM | Report abuse

""they could then immediately recognize the mythical aspects. " such as? Did not Solomon built a temple? Did not 12 followers of Jesus spread a church that started from nothing and all except one were crucified? as with many critics of organized religion, and especially of Christianity, the criticism is with the description of rather than the acts themselves..."

So there's this talking snake, and really nasty apple. Then there is the rainfall that would sink a battleship that spares a wooden arc that contains two of each of the millions of animals. Things get bad around the talking burning bush time, when an angel kills all of the first-born right before the Red Sea suddenly splits in half. Of course, there is the woman turning into a pillar of salt that makes for some amusement.

Things get better with a virgin birth and walking on water. Later, the water gets turned into wine, and people get raised from the dead.

Even elementary school kids can see these as mythical...

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2007 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Nobody said Buddhism was content free. It does not, however, tackle the same issues as the three big monotheisms or many other religions.

Buddhism deals with the causes and the end of pain. Arguably it deals with the nature of reality in the sense that it asserts most people don't see reality, but it doesn't deal with the origins of reality, i.e. how reality came to exist.

Specifically, it does not focus on whether some cosmic big cheese does or does not exist or on the ultimate purpose of life. The soul, if we define it as some part of humans that continues to exist after physical death, is not a Buddhist concern. In response to questions about the afterlife, the Buddha is said to have asked where a flame goes when it is extinguished.

Posted by: Gary C | March 25, 2007 11:17 AM | Report abuse

The dismissal of all religion as run by con artists and sustained by deluded dupes is as shallow as it is cynical.

Religious belief, if not religious organizations, are possibly as old as humankind. Flower remnants found at prehistoric burial sites suggest a belief in an afterlife. This practice existed before the invention of monetary systems and possibly before organized trade. It strains credulity and much-lauded rationality to think people did this as part of some early scam master's plan.

Further, the religion-as-profit-center outlook does not explain the majority of clergy who are not rich or those who accept a cut in income when joining it.
Nor does it explain those who do not participate in organized religious groups and do not contribute money to them yet maintain inclinations toward spirituality.

Sure, Joel Osteen and his kind are dandy examples of how religion CAN be a money maker. But the assertion that religion per se, in all its varied forms, is all about the Benjamins is not based in rationality or greater intelligence, but in cynicism. And cynicism isn't smarter, it's just easier.

Posted by: Gary C | March 25, 2007 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Potential disputants might note the above posts do not claim religion is good or bad.

Religious belief is like a hammer or any other tool -- neither good nor evil but can be used to perpetrate either.

That seems like a useful lesson for older kids.

Posted by: Gary C | March 25, 2007 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Getting back more or less on topic, for those of you who DO plan to guide your children in the path of some religion or another, how do you/will you know if you're succeeding?

Grades indicate how kids are performing in school. Parents can daily observe the acquisition and observation of table manners. It's not hard to tell if children are improving at playing the flute or soccer. Stephen Prothero has pointed out that factual knowledge of religious texts and religious devotion are not closely linked.

So parents, what are the metrics of success in your religious guidance of your children?

(This question is not aimed at parents who wish their offspring to have no religion and it is not aimed at those who to have their children make their own decisions about the matter.)

Posted by: Gary C | March 25, 2007 7:47 PM | Report abuse

That last part should read "...not aimed at those who want to have their children make their own decisions about the matter."

Posted by: Gary C | March 26, 2007 12:18 AM | Report abuse

"So parents, what are the metrics of success in your religious guidance of your children?"

For our family, the primary metric is whether our child's personal relationship with God informs his choices about his life, his activities, his decisions. Does he turn to God for comfort when he experiences loss? Does he turn to God for direction? Is his relationship with God more important than his relationship with us, his parents, or any other human? If the answer to these questions is yes, we believe we will have given our child the ability to find his own purpose in life.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

We were raised catholics and it didn't stick. It's like believing in Santa Claus as far as I am concerned. We raised our children with no religion and our daughter (17)turned out agnostic like us(although we didn't mind letting her go to church a few times with her neighbor friend when she was invited). Our son (14) seems to have a desire to believe in god. He is influenced by friends at school and others. We don't mind it either as long as it makes him feel good. They both know the cultural aspects of christianity.

Posted by: agnostic | March 26, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

12:14

How do you know any of that about your child?

How are you measuring relative importance?

Posted by: Curious | March 26, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

you measure relative importance by listening rather than controlling conversation. the topics about which your child talks most, and first, are the ones on her mind. for example, if all she talks about is her boyfriend, what he is doing, where he is going to school, and only secondarily about her BFF and BFF's choices, you have a good indicator that her boyfriend is more important than her BFF.

Listening is the only way to find out what your children are thinking, on any topic.

Posted by: to Curious | March 26, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

None of the "Big 4" was ever discussed in our house. Those are: money, sex, politics, and religion. We were forced to go to Sunday school because my mother wanted us to; however, when I was a senior in high school I begged off and bargained with my mother. I would make Sunday dinner if I didn't have to keep going to Sunday school. She bought into it. She was happy because she didn't have to cook dinner; I was happy because I didn't have to go to Sunday school and listen to stories from our tight-a**ed, hypocritical, control freak Sunday school teachers. BTW, you don't need a degree to teach Sunday school, only a holier-than-thou attitude.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2007 3:08 PM | Report abuse

To 2:48

Don't mean to sound snarky, but some clarification would be helpful.

Listening sounds like generally reasonable indicator -- except on this topic. The poster above said success would be defined as the child valuing a relationship with God over relationship with parents or any other human.

With teenagers, especially with boys, it seems doubtful most of their turmoil would be vocalized. Many thought-consuming humiliations and crushes that are DESPERATELY important to teens never pass their lips when the 'rents are around. That goes double for when they feel guilty.

So how would the earlier poster know whether or not his/her kids are turning to God for comfort or guidance?

It sounds like the poster has entered "windows into men's souls" territory.

Posted by: Curious | March 26, 2007 10:27 PM | Report abuse

So if listening is the way to determine what is important to a youngster, is the degree of religious faith determined by the noisiness of the belief?

It sounds like parents would credit extroverted kids with having stronger religious ties than quiet kids.

Posted by: Curious | March 26, 2007 10:39 PM | Report abuse

I am a bit late to the discussion but how do families handle inter-faith marriages? My husband is a non practicing Jew and I am two things-a non-practicing Jew AND a non-practicing Episcopalian, seriously. He was bar mitzvahed and I was baptized. Around 13 or so, I wanted to know about my other religion and attended synagogue for a while but never converted; however in the reformed synagogues I am considered Jewish since I have it in my blood. We have discussed it and at this point really don't see the need to do either but do know that at some point we will need to explore this with our daughter, just not right now. So, what are we to do?

Posted by: Nutty Mama | March 29, 2007 8:34 AM | Report abuse

"Nutty",

before you can help your child work through the question of religion, you have to work through it yourself. Without trying to presuppose what your answers will be, I'd suggest that you need to ask yourself:

- Is religion important to me? Why (or why not)?

- To what extent is there truth to be found in religion? What kind of truth?

- Are some religious teachings true? Are some false? How important is it to tell the difference between the two?

- If you can't speak of religious beliefs as "true" or "false," then how do you evaluate them? If religion is purely aesthetic (neither true nor false, but a matter of taste & culture), then value does it have?

- Does religion have any role in shaping a worthwhile life? How? Does it have a role in helping you decide how to live? Or does it only provide psychological comfort?

I would not suggest using these questions to guide discussions with a child, but if you work through them and settle them in your own mind, you should be in a strong position to start talking about religion with your children. It's going to be very difficult to discuss religion in a meaningful way with your kids if you aren't sure whether it's important, and in way.

Posted by: Believer | March 29, 2007 9:50 AM | Report abuse

. . . and in WHAT way

Posted by: Believer | March 29, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Believer...Thank you. As you can easily tell this has always been a difficult one for me. But I consider myself lucky to have been exposed to more than one view on life and religion. For me it has bred compassion for all types.

Posted by: Nutty Mama | March 29, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

"Nutty",

You are lucky - it can be a real benefit to be exposed to a variety of points of view. And, compassion is something we all need. The one thing I would add is that we can seek truth and compassion at the same time. Having firm views on things is not incompatible with being compassionate.

(Although I will admit, there are far too many people in the world who seek either truth and arrogance, or compassion and ambivalence).

Good luck with your kids!

Posted by: Believer | March 30, 2007 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I'm going to teach my kids religion. I remember sitting in freshman English to years back (college) and reading literature with Biblical references. Most of my class didn't understand them, and so missed out on a whole world of meaning that enhances experiences in literature, and elsewhere in life. Religion adds a lot of valuable culture. Even an atheist ought to understand the stories of religion, if only for the depth it adds to life.

Posted by: Robbie | April 2, 2007 11:42 AM | Report abuse

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