In the forests of the night

July 19, 2006

Obligatory warning: long post. Much religious auto-biography and reflection on piety and faith. Some heresy. Proceed with caution.

(But, sweet reward awaits! Gratuitous WonderBaby photo at end!)

A month or two ago, Amalah wrote a powerful post about her struggle with issues concerning faith. A couple of days ago, Nancy took on the same topic. Both wrote from the perspective of lapsed believers, of women who had grown up with faith but grown apart from faith. Both struggled, in their posts, to make sense of their relationship to God and Church. For the sake – for the possible sake – of their children.

Both posts hit me in the gut. Hard. I’ve been wrestling with these issues for, well, forever. Since my own faith started taking sucker punches from Real Life – divorce, death and other tragedies that make the voice waver as it recites the 23rd Psalm. Oh, yeah, and a young adulthood spent studying political philosophy, and reflecting upon the political uses of religion, most of which reduce to pacifying or mobilizing the masses. Hurt, and reason: both have a sobering effect on blind faith.

I was once a passionate Catholic. As a teenager I thought seriously, if briefly, about becoming a nun. (This in my goth phase. Yes, I was a Catholic goth. I wore a rosary as costume, but I took that rosary seriously, by God.) Not so much because I felt strongly about commiting to my faith, but because it was fascinating and I wanted to make it my own: all of the esotericism and the Latin and the mysteries and the feeling, at once giddy and solemn, of tapping into some deep vein of meaning. I would sit in the dark in my room during thunderstorms, looking out my window and trying to wrap my head around the relationship between God and Nature, trying to work out the theology of Milton and Blake and Big Blue Marble. I read the Bible for fun.

(You would have wanted to be my friend, for sure. I was good times. A bit intense, but really! Fun!)

I was into it. I loved it. It provided both security and stimulation, soothing me to sleep and pricking me awake, for a very long time. But then I grew up, and the stars threw down their spears.

I grew up, and my family – that had long been so solid, so secure – hit difficult times, and my parents split up, badly, and I left home and made all the bad decisions and took all the dangerous steps that disillusioned Catholic girls who leave home at 18 make. My mother declared that God had abandoned her, and me, and us, and insisted that she would herewith keep faith only with Mary and the saints and that I should do the same. God was a mean old guy who provided no comfort because He could not, my mother insisted, be trusted. He’d turn on you. He’d turned on her, and on us, after we had prayed so hard for Him to guide us and keep us.

I wasn’t sure that I agreed with my mother, but with every bad thing that happened in my life and in the lives of others, as the world came to seem uglier and uglier, my commitment to the Church waned. My faith waned. And it took a direct hit when, in my very late teens, after I had left my broken home to try to find my own place in the world, I was informed by a well-meaning – and very Catholic – boyfriend that I was going to hell. He had discovered, by finding and reading my diary, that I was tainted by sin (a long story, and a whole ‘nother post). And, after going to confession to consult with a priest as to whether my sins might taint him, he informed me that God had told him in the confessional booth that he could no longer associate with me. I was corrupt, I had committed a mortal sin, and I was going to hell.

God told him to break up with me. And that was that. It was absurd, unreasonable, and just enough to tip me over the edge that I was already teetering upon. This was not my Church, not my God.

It was, in a twisted way, my Lisbon Earthquake. I thought: how could a just God, a reasonable God, inspire such nonsense? And then I thought: what evidence have I ever had that God was any of those things? A few moments of spiritual epiphany while watching cute altar boys light candles and a succession of thunderstorms didn’t weigh up very well against broken families and death and starving children in Africa and fucked-up twenty-year-old boys spouting nonsense about God’s greater plan for their dating futures. Clearly, God was, as my mother said, a dodgy piece of work.

I wanted nothing to do with it, with Him. That day was the last day that I ever went to confession.

And then I went off to university and began studying philosophy and that did nothing to restore my faith. I began studying the Bible as a book and God as source material for art, literature and politics. I presented papers on how modern philosophers used women as figurative representatives of conventional Christian morality. I argued that some philosophers suggested, quietly, that women could be understood as the ultimate practitioners of moral deceit and use this deceit to their greater strength and that this practice reflected the politics of the Catholic Church and of Christianity generally and that this revealed all variety of interesting things about morality and virtue and the power of women.

I liked these arguments. A lot.

And I liked that, on one or two occasions, during mid-summer lectures in which I related these and similar arguments, a thunderstorm would roll in and lightning would flash right after I said something about Nietzsche or Machiavelli and godlessness.

It was an ambivalent relationship. Philosophy was more interesting when it was transgressive, and it only really felt transgressive when it confronted and challenged my faith. So faith became a way of keeping things exciting, of pricking myself awake when I became complacent about Liberalism and Secularism and Rationalism blah blah blah. I became an opportunistic believer, using God and belief in God as a tool to advance my own learning.

Then the Husband and I decided to start a family, and there were problems, complications, and for a while it looked like we couldn’t have a family. But then the path opened up and I became pregnant and thankful. I struck bargains with God. I swore up and down that I would raise a believing child if He let this child come into the world. And when more complications emerged I swore harder. I went to sleep murmuring Pater Nosters and Ave Marias. I prayed.

And I meant it. I prayed with full acknowledgement of my own confusion, my own ambivalence. I couldn’t do otherwise; there was no comfort in prayer unless it was confused prayer, if that makes sense. But my promise to give my child the opportunity to experience faith was not confused. I meant every word. I wanted – I want – my daughter, my children, to know God. As I did.

I do not want this because I think that it will make her, them, morally superior beings (I don’t think this, not at all). I do not want this because I want to secure them a place in Heaven. I don’t know that I believe in security-patrolled Pearly Gates; I do know that it is possible to be ‘good’ without God (but please do not ask me to unpack that statement here.) I’m not looking for spiritual guarantees or moral failsafes, if such things even exist.

I want this because I want my children to have a meaningful choice in the matter of whether or not to embrace faith. And I don’t think that they will really, meaningfully, have such a choice if they are not exposed to faith from an early age. It’s all well and good to take a principled position against what might be called an indoctrination of faith, and to insist that exposure to religion is something best left until children have the maturity of reason to critically evaluate organized religion, but that position pre-determines its own end. If faith is set aside in childhood, and reserved for later examination and evaluation under the bright lights of reason, then it’s doomed from the start. Reason is antithetical to faith, especially in its first age, when it is clung to like a brass ring, when it causes us to chortle with delight at knowing, to thrill at being let in on the world’s secrets (Chrissi is still a baby because she still believes in Santa, right Mommy?) It is only the strongest, most hard-won faith that does not pale at the approach of reason. Reason shatters faith, exposes belief as simply that – belief.

Who among us would ever have given Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or Tinkerbell a second thought if we had only discovered them in the age of our reason? We might be amused or entertained by them, but we could never take them seriously. But when we meet Santa Claus in the innocence of our youth, we give him a chance. And we’re well-positioned to decide, when we’re ready, whether or not we want to continue believing in him. If we never believed in Santa as children, we can’t be said to have ever made the choice to not believe.

So it is, I think, with God. I’m not suggesting that God is a character of myth or fantasy, as Santa is generally understood, although many have argued and do argue that God is exactly that. What I am suggesting is that belief in God usually (not always – people do sometimes ‘find’ God and religion later in life) requires exposure to the real practice of faith before one learns that faith is, or appears to be (appears to be), contrary to reason. It requires having someone say, emphatically, insistently, that yes, Virginia, there is a God. It requires, yes, some sort of indoctrination into faith during childhood. Saying yes to religion. Talking seriously and respectfully about God and church and faith. Reading Bible stories. Attending church or synagogue. Saying prayers. Watching Little House on the Prairie. Some or all or variations of the above.

The problem? I no longer do these things, for the most part. My faith, such as it is, is quiet, private. It is something that I subject to scrutiny every time that I pull it out for inspiration or for comfort. It lives in the strange space that I’ve craved out in my soul for those things that I fear and love and am confused by and ever will be confused by. I’ve made my choices, it seems, if living in a state of such critical ambivalence can be regarded as a meaningful choice.

But I don’t want to make that choice for my children. So how do I create the opportunity for my children to have a choice, a real choice? For them to really, meaningfully explore the option of faith, and take that option seriously? Do I suck it up and re-enact the rituals of the religion of my own childhood, and swallow the hypocrisy as well-intended? Or is there another way?

How do you find your way when the path is dark?

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    { 58 comments }

    toyfoto July 20, 2006 at 12:26 am

    What a wonderful, thought full post. You bring up so many important points.

    As a lapsed Catholic, I have no answers. I personally don’t find much faith inside the church or in scriptures. I don’t find much goodness there. I must admit thought, at times, I have gotten great comfort from homilies … but I have also felt reassured and perhaps more solidly reassured by therapists. Female ones at that. I believe the goodness of people exists both inside and outside of faith. I plan on letting my daughter decide and helping her do so by exploring. I know it will be harder but I can’t imagine it could be any more difficult than waking up one morning to the realization that the church you grew up in wasn’t at all what you thought. And that you couldn’t suspend disbelief long enough to forgive the men in charge.

    kittenpie July 20, 2006 at 12:43 am

    I feel lucky that this is one of the parenting quandries that I don’t really face – I was not raised in any church or faith, not even with Santa.

    So I don’t worry about Pumkinpie lacking a relationship with a god. If she does attend church as a child, it will be if Misterpie decides to go back to the church he attended as a boy. I will be okay with that, because he was/is United – one of the few, perhaps the only, denomination that I am confortable with. And that because, while many branches of christian faith have codified “beliefs” that I object to, the United church is relaxed to the point that many accuse it of an overly-open, stance-resistant wishy-washiness. Well, for someone who would be just as happy with no religion, wishy-washy and open sounds good to me.

    SUEB0B July 20, 2006 at 1:01 am

    Dear HBM – I disagree with you about the exposure to faith as a child bit. I grew up in a very anti-religious family, as did my sibs, obviously. My parents kept us away from religion…yet…

    My sis became a Baptist at 16. I joined my church in my early 20s, though I consider myself in the mystical tradition more than a church member. My brother did not choose a faith but his daughter married a pastor and is in Assemblies of God.

    So let them grow up and be curious and see the world. Trust them. They will know their own path.

    lildb July 20, 2006 at 1:21 am

    I agree with Suebob. I am not remotely ambivelent about my anger toward organized religion; its permanent, negative effects on my psyche, and of those I love, and there is no way I’ll be desirious of sharing that pain with my child(ren). But I won’t take the opposite stance, either. I believe that the most harm done in my formative years regarding faith was not being given the opportunity to find that I held any of my own; I was not trusted to have faith. It was foisted on me, and I began to develop a deep distaste, a deep *distrust* of the whole shebang. I was exposed to an extreme, a waaaay-at-the-end-of-the-spectrum version of religious belief, and I don’t really think going the opposite direction will be a healthy alternative for my offspring. Instead, I will simply keep quiet when the issue begins to raise its inevitable head, or at least saying only minimal things, things that won’t necessarily push or prod my children in any specific direction. For I would be happiest to see them choose for themselves.

    But I understand your confusion. I feel it every day. I wake with it pressing on my heart with its heavy palm; I wake in the night and sense that weight.

    It’s heavy.

    sunshine scribe July 20, 2006 at 6:46 am

    I so understand your confusion. I have a deeply complicated relationship with my sense of faith. So does my husband but in a whole other way.

    I have major issues with organized religion and sexism in the church and a host of other things that make me feel uncomfortable embracing or advocating for my son. I’ve decided on a non-extreme or “forced” approach and to trust that he’ll find his faith. His dad and his grandparents teach him about their version of god and we have books that he explores and we’ll support him in his choices. I don’t know if that is the right path or not but it is the best I can do.

    Oh and one of my all time favourite Wonderbaby shots is trumped only by your admission to wanting to be a nun. A goth nun! Love it :)

    Jezer July 20, 2006 at 8:04 am

    Oh, I am so with you here.

    I grew up in a fundamental Baptist church–we were there every time the doors opened. I am forever grateful for that religious foundation. As an adult, I converted to Catholism because I loved the history and the rituals and the “total body” worship experience.

    Then, I married the Mr. Who is a baptized Catholic, but not a fan of organized religion in any way. AND we were not married in the Church and there was no dispensation. So now, basically, I am barred from the Eucharist and Confession and really, what’s the point?

    But I want Al to know God. And I, too, am uncertain about how to make that happen.

    Mother July 20, 2006 at 8:24 am

    Religion is a tough one for me. I grew up very religious – and not in a good way. It ruled my life – everyday I prayed for good things -and then when bad stuff happened, I was like “hello, where are you…”

    I realized later that I wanted to have sex and do fun things – and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite so I stopped going to church.

    I converted to Catholicism for marriage – but I don’t go to church. My husband was raised Catholic and has had very + experiences with it. Me, I’m just not so for organized religion I think.

    I do think spirituality is personal- and how you worship (be it meditation, having coffee in the morning, reading books, whatever) is your choice.

    However, I do want my daughter to learn about faith and the truths that religion (of most kinds) teach about – being kind of others, loving yourself, etc… I just don’t love how most religions are not so feminist (IMO).

    When I find a church that is truly feminist in its teaching and supports gay marriage – I’ll be there. AND she will too.

    I’m not sure if I’ll start taking her to a church if we move back East, but if I do, I’ll make sure she learns that it’s not absolute – but rather interpretation.

    metro mama July 20, 2006 at 8:32 am

    My husband and I are agnostic and I am deeply cynical about organized religion. I’ve wondered if and how we should try to expose Cakes to religion and god but I don’t know how I could without imparting my opinions. I would feel like a hypocrite.

    nikki July 20, 2006 at 8:35 am

    i actually wrote something similar [url=http://www.emich.net/~nikki/blog/index.php?m=07&y=06&entry=entry060702-131158][/url]. if you find any answers, please share with me! (hope you are feeling better) and my link isn’t working, so um copy and paste?

    bubandpie July 20, 2006 at 8:51 am

    I’ve been stumbling across a lot of posts on this issue lately (not just recent ones). I’m in a position right now of feeling comfortable with my faith (I’ve come out on the far side of my most recent dark night of the soul, though that’s not to say that there may not be others up ahead). I know that there’s no church I could attend that would teach exactly what I believe, and on the whole I seem more comfortable in churches that are more conservative than I am – where I’m probably the most liberal person there – rather than vice versa (which, from what I can tell, is a somewhat unusual trait). I feel like I want my children to start out with the simple certainties as their foundation, not so they’ll believe them for the rest of their lives, but as a basis for questioning. One thing that I really value is the way my evangelical upbringing always positioned me between two fairly powerful but opposing ideologies – one I encountered at church and the other I encountered virtually everywhere else (at school, in the media, etc.). I was always directing a critical eye both at the dominant culture around me and at the Christian sub-culture, and I never felt entirely at home in either – an uncomfortable experience, but a truly instructive one, I think.

    That said, I have no idea – NO IDEA – how to raise my children in an atmosphere of faith. I like the fact that the rhythm of our week includes Sunday School, that Bub is getting used to that weekly habit (and to the CDs full of the old, ancient hymns that we usually play on Sunday mornings). And we have adopted the habit of saying grace before our meals: “Great God, and giver of all good / Accept our praise and bless our food / Grace, health, and strength to us afford / Through Jesus Christ our risen Lord.” And then there’s a dramatic pause and Bub announces proudly:

    “Almond.”

    Pattie July 20, 2006 at 8:54 am

    I wrote about my own struggle with religion recently as well. You are not alone in your confusion. I also was raised Catholic, and my early expereinces were positive during my innocence. When I became older, and realized much of my religious intstruction was “fire and brimstone” and “sinners repent you horrible human being” and all that crap. I began to wonder why God would want me to feel so poorly, or suffer such guilt. I realized that much of what I was taught was an interpretation….from MAN about the bible. So, I drifted away. I stopped going to confession because I no longer believed in it. Eventually, I stopped going to church altogether.Then, I had children. Like you, I struggle with what to do with them as far as faith is concerned. You raise an excellent point that when they are young, they may give God more of a chance. Where the slippery slope comes in as a parent is supporting an organized religion that may not feel right to you. If it feels hypocritical to you, then maybe it is. I am on this journey, too, and other smart and well intended people have given me good advice. One that I am exploring is looking at other religions other than the one I was raised with. I think there are many ways to reach God if you want to. I wish I had the answer!

    macboudica July 20, 2006 at 9:24 am

    I have my own baggage about organized religion for various reasons. I want to believe in something but my experiences have taught me there is little for me in organized religion, so mine, too, is private. I tried going back to church when my middle child was a baby, but I felt like an imposter. So I don’t know what to tell you. I wish had some answers myself.

    tania (urban_mommy) July 20, 2006 at 9:40 am

    I feel for you (all) who struggle with this question. I am not remotely religious and was not really exposed to it as a child. I would like to give my son the oppportunity to know faith as a concept, knowing it by feeling it, experiencing it for real. But I do not believe that I can do that or facilitate that simply by exposing him to books or telling him about religions. My personal exclusion from participating in the practices I would be describing would imply a DISbelief that I suspect he would follow. Simply, I think we lead by example and so…
    1) Are you willing to go back to being a practicing Catholic for the sake of WB?
    2) If you aren’t ‘into it’ and do it anyway to set an example for WB, are you being disingenuous to the point of hypocrisy? And if so (and I’m not saying it is), is that ok?
    3) What happens when the parents set different examples? Will the child be forced to choose one of you to follow? What does that do to the ‘non-chosen’ parent’s relationship with the child?

    MetroDad July 20, 2006 at 9:41 am

    I think this is the type of parenting dilemma that prevails not only in regard to religion but also to many other aspects of raising a child. As always, the pivotal question is how do you raise your children to form their own independent decisions without unduly influencing them with your own prejudicial experiences? It’s a tough call (especially when it comes to religion.) I wish I had some advice for you but I’ve got nothing. However, as always, I found your post to be extremely thoughtful and interesting.

    Peter July 20, 2006 at 10:04 am

    My new years resolution was to begin attending Mass again after a long lay-off, maybe 15 years.
    Merry is four and I think it is time for her to start to understand that there maybe a Higher Power. I am not a staunch Catholic and I understand that organized religion is organized by Man and that Man is flawed. But the pomp, circumstance and ritual are a means to an end.
    My children will understand that there are other faiths and paths to God and that they are all valid. My sister spent a lot of time in her teens experiencing other faiths. She came back to what was comfortable in the end.
    As long as they understand the Religion they are happened because of dumb luck and not because it is The Answer then they should feel comfortable, when it comes time, to head out and try to determine their own answers.

    Mayberry July 20, 2006 at 10:14 am

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post, and to all the commenters too for their thoughts. There seem to be many of us cradle Catholics in this position. For the moment, I do attend Mass (although not weekly) and often bring my daughter (age 4) along. I answer her questions as honestly as I can (currently she believes that one of the many wonderful things about heaven is unlimited sno-cones). There are some more liberal parishes out there–I wish I were lucky enough to live near one.

    Heather July 20, 2006 at 10:18 am

    I had SO MUCH to say on this topic – I had to post it on my blog! I would have taken up way to much room here. Please pop over and Visit me! I am a saved by Grace Catholic

    “For it is by Grace you have been Saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God” Ephesians 2:8

    “As a Father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” Psalms 103:13

    BTW – LOVE the Gratuitous wonderbaby picture!

    Christina July 20, 2006 at 10:18 am

    I was raised in a religious struggle – my father, when I saw him, tried to force Catholicism on me, while my mom didn’t give me any direction about religion, other than telling me I’ll find my own beliefs.

    I joined the Presbyterian church as a teen, but looking back I don’t think my full heart was in it. I wanted to believe what they did, but once in college, I realized I couldn’t fully accept Christianity.

    I spent many years soul searching, and finally seem to be content with my faith. I don’t go to church, but I consider myself a Unitarian Universalist. Unitarians believe that there is truth to be found in all religions, and they also believe in gender equality and in gay marriage. To me, that’s about as perfect as you can get. I’ve always loved studying the beliefs of all sorts of religions, and I think there is some truth in most of them.

    My beliefs sometimes put me at odds with people, but I feel an amazing peace that I had never felt before. I sought comfort and peace from structured church rituals before, but found nothing. Man-made rituals don’t do much for me, I guess. I do love the mysticism of Catholicim, but I don’t think I’d ever become a Catholic.

    As for raising Cordy in a faith – when she gets older we may start going to the local unitarian church, if only for Sunday school for her. Each year of Sunday school teaches different religions, starting with simple beliefs (like be good to others) and building to more complex issues, such as one god or many and what happens when we die.

    Wow, this was long. I may have to work this out in more detail on my own blog.

    mothergoosemouse July 20, 2006 at 11:16 am

    No church for me. No church for my girls. We will answer questions from the perspective of science. Barring scientific explanation for events, we will explain that we don’t yet have all the answers, but that long ago, we didn’t have lots of the answers that we do now, and that scientists will continue to explore and answer (where possible).

    Kyle was raised as a Christian Scientist and has since renounced religion and faith in general, as well as his former denomination’s denial of disease.

    scarbie doll July 20, 2006 at 11:18 am

    I think everyone who was brought up with religion goes through this. Knowledge is power, but with knowledge comes the need to question. If Christianity wants to stay alive it needs a major overhaul.

    I married an agnostic. He believes in being. That’s it. He’s like, “hey trees are nice. Let’s look at them and feel happy.” He sees goodness in everything (except reality TV).

    We baptized Nate to follow family tradition. I had to really analyze why I was doing it. Especially when they say that the child is born with sin and needs the baptism as cleansing. We all no that no child is born with sin. That is preposterous.

    So what to do? For the small Armenian community in Toronto, church was about coming together. It was the piazza of sorts. But those are not the people I care to stroll beside any longer.

    I ask you this HBM — does that make the momosphere our new church? I think a further post to dissect my thoughts on this are in order. Thanks for the introspection.

    Michele July 20, 2006 at 11:23 am

    Bear with me. I feel a comment hi-jack coming and I apologize in advance.

    First, my husband and I want our kids to have good manners so we practice good manners around them. We want them to have better eating habits than we do so we feed them good, healthy nutritious stuff. We want them to enjoy exercise so we are trying to do fun things that are also exercise. We hope they want will play an instrument some day so we expose them to music. We want them to appreciate nature and respect the earth so we are teaching them about animals and plants and the sun and the ocean. We want them to be emotionally healthy so we show them healthy ways to express themselves and give them lots of love and attention. We hope they will be happily married/partnered some day so we try to be good examples in our marriage.

    Not breaking any new parenting ground here. So, I don’t understand the idea of exposing kids to everything else good, for their own good, but hoping they can wing the faith thing on their own. They need exposure and examples of faith so they have some foundation on which to build their own beliefs and practices some day.

    Second point, this is about me and my faith now. Back when I was young and single and had free time, I wanted to be thin and fit. I thought about joining a gym. But I hated the idea of organized gym classes and the whole gym mentality. I knew I would feel like an outsider and I didn’t want to be the “fattest fat chick” at the gym. I just knew everyone would be so brainwashed on their exercise high and carb-free and would know what they are doing and I would just get my shoelace caught in the treadmill and fly through the full length mirror. I hated the gym groupies and the steroid dudes slamming their free weights around, and the lycra fake-bake girls who come dressed to work out but really just spend the whole time flirting with the trainers and flipping their hair in the mirror, when they weren’t looking down their nose at my big ass-covering t-shirts and faded black leggings.

    Did I have a few prejudiced notions? Yep. So I tried going it alone. I bought fitness tapes and new sneakers. And they gathered dust. And I gathered more thigh mass.

    I still wanted to be fit. So I swallowed my pride and joined a gym. Not the fancy “in” gym, but a family one, with fat people and old people. I still hated the getting my ass up to go, but after a few weeks I started to see progress. I started to enjoy what I was doing and stopped feeling like the newbie. I kept at it. I never got thin, but I did get much more fit. I needed the motivation of the gym commitment to keep me going. And the regular practice made me a believer.

    If walked into a gym and worked out one time and said ‘I am not fit. I don’t like those people. Exercise is bullshit.” you would say “You need to keep at it. You need to stay motivated. It doesn’t happen instantly.” It’s the same way for me with faith. I don’t love everything about my (Catholic) church. But after years of being expected to go with my family, then years of making myself go as an adult, a lot of good stuff has worked its way through my muddled head. The exposure to the sacraments, the homilies, the people, has moved me, angered me, and challenged me. None of which I would have gotten sitting home on my ass waiting for the Holy Spirit to appear.

    The best advice my mother gave me was one someone else gave her “If you want to be holy, start by doing what holy people do.” I think that applies to alot more than just faith.

    penelopeto July 20, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    You once responded to a post of mine with an emphatic YES! YES! YES!
    I must do the same here, and a *wink* HELL YES!

    I’m Jewish; hubby is Not (that’s a religion to Jews). We struggle not only with the question of whether to raise our children with religion, but also with, which one?

    There is no easy answer, and we don’t really want to make a decision for them. For now we do this:
    extrapolate the traditions that are important to each of us, and integrate them into our daughter’s upbringing. We hope to give her enough of a base that she will, if she wants to and without shame or guilt (although guilt is certainly part of the Jewish tradition!) explore further at a later time.

    Such a tough one. the answer, like religion should, evolves as time passes.

    Dutch July 20, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    once you learn to read ancient greek, you can never take your fundamentalist relatives seriously. once you stop taking them seriously, it becomes easy to mock any organized religion.

    you used that aristotle quote a while back; I think it also explains our tendency as humans to make spirituality political. to organize it into dogma and doctrine and appoint figureheads that resemble ourselves. I guess that’s why religion is only a small part of spirituality, and why you can completely eschew the former but completely immerse yourself in the latter.

    good thoughts CC.

    PeetsMom July 20, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    It is difficult to know what is the “right” decision. I did not experience religion in my home growing up, though I have vague ideas that my parents had similar views and that my mom did indeed read the bible. As an adolescent, I joined groups with other friends and had a taste of a few other churches. Nothing really stuck with me except the belief that organized religions in general each have their own truths and merits. That said, I ended up marrying a man who attended Catholic school from Kindergarten to 12th grade, went to church EVERY Sunday (even leaving my apartment (prior to marriage) late on a Saturday night in order to be home for Mass on Sunday morning! WTF?). But when we married, he just STOPPED going. I didn’t ask him to, he just did. When we had kids, both were baptized in the Catholic Church. The kids have attended Mass probably 10-15 times in their lives so far (they are 8 & 11) and I do wonder what are we doing. I think I missed having some community with a church growing up, yet I feel oppressed and uncomfortable in a Catholic Mass…but this could be because I don’t know all the rituals…I don’t see their significance…

    I was of the idea that I’d wait until the kids were older…give them a “choice”, but I can see your point, having experienced nothing to begin with, that if there is no basis of information, how do you make an arguement for or against anything else! mmm..Did that make any sense at all??

    This is a conversation hubby and I need to have again..thanks for the brain fodder!

    gingajoy July 20, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    Seriously thought-provoking post. First, the part about your teenage years. You and my hubs would have bonded big time (he was serious catholic at that age, also avid reader of Bible and explorer of faith; then lapsed in 20s, about when I got my filthy paws on him).

    Jokes aside, while I don;t have the same background in terms of having a strong and sure faith at some point, I do know that as a child I believed in God. Now, not so sure–and am considering writing my own post about it now that you’ve got me really thinking. I face a similar if less acutely felt quandary–I mindlessly tell Jack stories about Santa, and the toothfairy, and all host of magical things, but when he asked me what an Angel was the other day… I stumbled.
    Do we tell him the story of the nativity? How do we explain Jesus? Does faith need to be an aspect of it, or do we present it as another among other stories to choose from to explain the world? Is this fair, even?

    Your entry has really made me think about what a childhood without faith would be like–as both myself and my hubs believed in something big and protective as children. Does my son need this, and if so how do I give it to him without feeling like an enormous faker or hypocrite.

    Wow… you’ve definitely tapped into something here, HBM. Brilliantly executed post–seriously.
    The comments are also very interesting–I do like SueBob’s take, which is also reassuring in other ways.

    Her Bad Mother July 20, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    All of your comments so far have been great; I wish that I could address them all individually. As a start…

    On the issue of responding to children’s questions with science – yes, of course. The question is, how do you respond in the gaps, about the things that science doesn’t answer or even address (for example, whether or not there is a divine force in the universe)? I study philosopy, so I’m always concerned with answers being oriented toward knowledge and away from opinion or belief. But I don’t want to close off the possibility of belief. And if noing else, I want them always to have respect for people who DO believe. I want them, eventually, to be critical of organized religion. But I don’t want them to disdain those who follow it.

    On trusting children to find their own way – this appeals to me. But they *are* children. They look to their parents for guidance. If I want them to have a religious or spiritual (not the same thing) education, I need to show the way. Some way. Maybe that means just reading the Bible together and allowing them to form their own opinions about the stories therein. But I do want them to know that those stories are there, that they are the basis of our, and many other, cultures, and that they have moved history. And I want them to really be able to FEEL that.

    On approaching spirituality once you have studied Ancient Greek, and once you have studied philosophy: probably the greatest obstacle. Organized religion is revealed as the cave of shadow that it is. Teaching your children that it is important to understand the cave, when you resist the cave is a tough one, and the whole point of the latter half of the post. So maybe I should just teach her greek and get her into Plato’s dialogues. But then Nietzsche said that Xty is just Platonism for the people, so maybe that doesn’t get us anywhere.

    Big issues. Not easy.

    madge July 20, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    I’m also with Suebob. I was raised with nothing, religion-wise. Yet, I’ve come to a sort-of self-created Frankenstein faith. I’ve picked and chosen the elements in which I believe. It’s tough to find an organized religion to fit my creation. But I’m happy with it.

    I’ll be letting the kids figure the whole thing out themselves.

    Melissa July 20, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    I was raised without a real religion, but with a certain amount of spirituality. My dad was raised jewish but is an atheist. My mom was raised southern baptist, but has chossed to pick and choose what she believes in. I know certain things from both, some I do believe in and some I don’t. But I have never not believed. What I believe in doesn’t matter, but I do believe in a higher power, something that is greater than me. I also believe in angels, and re-incarnation. Without having any real religion, I chose what I wanted to believe in and ignored what I didn’t. And I’m okay with it. My kids know what I believe, and as they are toddlers, they are cool with that. But I will expose them to other things. I do think it is theirs to decided. But I think it is important to tell them what you believe too. No matter what it is.

    Andrea July 20, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    I was raised in an relgious home, my parents split when I was 12, at 16 I was definately not a believer, I married a catholic, our son is catholic, I find peace and solace in my own beliefs…dont feel I need to belong to an organized religion to prove I believe. My son will be explosed to the reglions I was exposed too as well as being raised catholic, as his father is strongly religious.

    I think in the end, if your beliefs are YOURS and TRUE to you, then you can’t go wrong

    :)

    crazymumma July 20, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Have to come back and read this later…SHOUKD be packing and cannot do the post justice with time…
    Anne

    Jenn July 20, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    I am going through the same internal struggle. Although, I never prayed or promised anything to have Allie.

    I wrote about this on my site as well. http://maniacaldays.blogspot.com/2006/05/sigh-baptism.html

    Started off having faith and going to youth group and the more I learned about the faith (Catholic College) the more I started to question it. I’m comfortable now in my lack of faith. My husband isn’t a devout follower, but still believes. Wants to have a baptism for our daughter…which is fine, he’s her father. But how do I allow her to go down that dark path, without following?

    I do have to say though (which will not be a popular thought, I’m sure) that I think the reason faith works well on children is because they don’t know any better…..I’m not convinced that’s a reason why they should be exposed.

    mamatulip July 20, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    Such an interesting post.

    I wasn’t raised in a religious home. I know next to nothing when it comes to religion. My husband, however, is Catholic — not practising, but he was raised in a Catholic home — and the biggest arguments we have are over whether or not we’re sending our kids to Catholic or public schools.

    And me? To be honest, I don’t know what I believe in, as far as God goes.

    pkzcass July 20, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    Great post and great responses!

    I was raised Catholic, fell away in high school and college, went through the motions to get married in the Catholic church (beautiful pictures and all), registered with the parish where I live, and then stopped going to Mass.

    Fast forward to two boys. I go through the motions again to have them baptized, send them to Sunday school (won’t send them to Catholic school because our public school system is REALLY good and I pay plenty in taxes), and go through the motions again to have son #1 make first communion. Son #2 is coming up on that this year. Again I’ll go through the motions. I may even drag them to church a couple times a month.

    I am not an openly religious person. I question the Catholic faith and was quite amazed by The DaVinci Code. I’m more inclined to go the scientific way, but I feel that the boys should know about “God” now while young, and they can question when they get older. I’ll keep them in the Catholic church, but I’m going to be very sure to impress upon them my more liberal views about abortion, gay marriage, etc.

    I guess my reasons for going along with the program are to give them a ready-made answer for things they (and I) can’t explain. One that is comforting to them. I also want them to be good people and even though I don’t believe you need organized religion for that, I’m just trying to cover all of my bases.

    The one thing I don’t do that I think I should be doing is discussing what they learned in Sunday school with them. I’m not sure what to do about that.

    As for me, I disagree with much that the Catholic church teaches, but I do enjoy the hymns and the comforting rituals, and I prefer the anonymity.

    Lastly, I think that even if they eventually don’t get anything out of the act of going to church, at least it teaches them respect for being in a public place of worship and helps them learn self control and a bit of sacrifice. And a teensy bit of the old Catholic guilt won’t kill them either.

    I’m bookmarking your blog!

    Rock the Cradle July 20, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    I was raised in a Unitarian Universalist community. UU is more of a community than a single faith, as all faiths are part of it. And unfaithful (in a sense) as well. Clear as mud, eh?

    That being said, I am generally wary of talking about faith and spirituality, so for now I will just say thanks for the posting. It’s helped me to focus on what I want to say in my own space.

    Veronica Mitchell July 20, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    No suggestions here, but I wish you well.

    freezio July 20, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    If it’s going to be science, then the unanswerable questions are easy: the answer is that nobody knows for sure. That’s actually the aspect of rational thought which I find the most comforting; there’s no need for any leaps of faith, or answers to every single question. But what I really wanted to say is that it figures that you were a catholic Goth as a teen-ager. I think most Goths (at least the old-school ones) always wanted to be catholic. I mean, you’d've already had all the gear, with your rosary beads, and your St Christopher’s.

    Mrs. Chicky July 20, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    As a lapsed Catholic myself I have no answers. I wish I did, I sincerely wish I did. And there lies the crux (the cross?) of the problem. I struggle with this topic everyday of my life and I think I need some more time with it. You gave me some food for thought, though. I don’t know if I agree with you on everything but some of your ideas struck a chord.

    Not quite off topic, I would have loved to have known you as a goth-Catholic wanna be nun teenager. ;)

    bubandpie July 20, 2006 at 8:59 pm

    Oh – and I only just now caught the Blake reference. Very cool.

    soleclaw July 20, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    I honestly didn’t have time to read through everyone’s comments, so if I’m repeating something someone else mentioned, just ignore me.

    I know you had read my posts about spirituality and I struggle with the same thoughts.

    I have yet to write about this, but I recently sort of stumbled upon a nice church. I’m sure you’ve heard of Unitarian Universalism. I know that depending on one’s geographical location each church varies in its practicies. But the one I found near me is lovely. To be honest, I have only gone once (twice this coming Sunday) and am not really doing it for myself at all.

    The UU religious education system is unique in that it teaches children morality above all, using several religions and their books as guides. This exposes the children to a variety of faiths, enabling them to one day make their own decisions. This is what I have always been looking for…above all, a place where my daughter will not feel afraid to ask the questions I never did.

    Izzy July 21, 2006 at 12:21 am

    I struggle with the same issue regarding my children. I want them to have choices without being indoctrinated while learning about their options. I had a real “lightbulb moment” not too long ago at my daughter’s Methodist church preschool and though I know they have the best of intentions, the whole premise of organized religion felt very cultish at that moment. And I can’t shake that feeling. So without a clue what I’m doing, I flounder and end up sharing with my daughter my personal philosophies about life and faith. That’s not really giving her options but it’s the best I can do right now.

    GIRL'S GONE CHILD July 21, 2006 at 12:55 am

    We decided to raise Archer Jewish because it was very important to the huz. I was raised with EVERYTHING. We went to mass on Christmas, temple every Thanksgiving (as well as on Jewish holidays) and spent many a weekend meditating in the self-realization-fellowship. We attended services at the Christian Science church and my mom sang in the choir at the Unitarian. We studied Budha in my mom’s neighborhood ‘bible class’ on Sundays and read from the Koran. It was amazing and from it I formed my own personal beliefs and ideas.

    Even though we’re raising Archer as a Jew I want him to experience and learn about all faiths so he too can believe in some sort of “higher power” his way, not mine, not some church’s but HIS.

    MommyWithAttitude July 21, 2006 at 1:23 am

    Well once again you’ve written a post about which I could write a hundred blog posts in response. MUST STOP DOING THAT TO ME HBM!

    But in a nutshell, I thought about being a nun too and not because my faith is that strong, but because it seemed kind of independent and counter-culture and I thought maybe I could do something good in the world.

    And then here I am. ;)

    But on the issue of indoctrination, my husband was raised atheist and believes that is very superior and all that. But I totally disagree. I believe that to raise a child without religion (is certainly a parent’s right and choice but still) is ALSO a form of indoctrination. Everything we teach our children about anything can be called “indoctrination.”

    Mostly I struggle because while I’m quite religious, I’m very private about it. That or I’m a hypocrite because if you knew me you’d never guess that I’m religious. So I don’t take my kids to church very often even though I feel I should… because I’D rather hang out in my pajamas and drink coffee on Sunday morning.

    Oh I could go on and on. Perhaps I’ll blog about this one day too.

    And the Mommy Wars are coming tomorrow (or the day after). I mean it this time!

    Anonymous July 21, 2006 at 7:44 am

    I have chosen not to believe. It seems to work for me, but I was never in a position where I was a true believer in the first place, nor have I made any deals with any dieties, so it’s a touch easier for me.

    Anonymous July 21, 2006 at 7:45 am

    Crap. That last comment was from me, Sarah (Goon Squad Sarah). I don’t know why blogger won’t acknowledge me.

    Maybe it’s a Christian outfit.

    Rock the Cradle July 21, 2006 at 8:58 am

    For what it’s worth, I’ve posted my “response” if that’s what it can be called. It just would have taken up too much space here!

    Cheers.

    chelle July 21, 2006 at 11:02 am

    I am Catholic. My spirituality is something that I keep private. My daughter is baptized and will attend a Catholic school, be confirmed and do all that jazz. We will attend church every week (we do not attend now, but will once we live in one community).

    It is not all due to my great sense of religion and God per say. It is the community and the morals that I believe will be beneficial to her well being and growth as a person.

    Great post. Makes me think till my head hurts…Love that!

    Kristen July 21, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    HBM, I haven’t had time to read through all of the comments yet, so I hope I’m not missing more significant points that I should address, and I’ll plan to go back later (when not at work, doh!) to make sure. But I just wanted to say a couple of things: 1.) I struggle with the same questions. 2.) Even though I struggle, my kids are almost 5 and 3 now, and that struggle has gone on longer than yours has (regarding Wonder Baby specifically anyway), and what I’ve come to – for now – is that I can teach my kids not to shut down the idea of God and “faith” without “indoctrinating” them into the organized religions with which I have major disagreements and which cause me spiritual heartburn. That method involves a lot more talking, a lot more honest “I don’t know, but I think maybe X” answers to your curious child, but I think it’s healthier than taking them to a church simply because I haven’t figured out a better way. I did that for a while too (took them to church because I didn’t know a better way) and I found myself trying to qualify all of the Sunday school lessons every week – it felt too forced and confusing. Now, while I still worry and struggle internally, I am able to honestly tell my kids that I don’t know everything, that beliefs change, but that there are some “universal truths” (if you will) that *I* believe are critical.

    Sorry for the rambling comment. I shouldn’t do this at work – I’m not 100% focused. Anyway, I appreciated your thoughtful post and wanted you to know that there are people who have similar struggles, and also wanted to tell you my personal experience and journey down that path (so far – who knows where we’ll be in another year or 10).

    Silly Hily July 21, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    First let me say what a precious picture that is to put with this post.
    When the path is dark, I remind myself that I really believe God has a plan for me. A path of His own. I believe that everything happens for a reason, His reason. This might be easy for me to believe because I’ve never had anything truly devastating happen to me. I’ve never had a loved one pass away unexpectedly (my biggest fear). Heck, three of my Grandparents just now passed away in the last several years. They all lived long, fulfilling lives.
    However, I do look back at times when I cried, times when I wondered “why” and now I see “why.” I understand “why.” For example: The man I thought I was in love with and destined to be with, dumped me after two years. My heart was hurt, torn, broke, and didn’t function properly. Then in one swoop, came my now husband. I would have put up with that idiot of a boyfriend for the rest of my life had he not broke up with me. Thankfully, he did. Thankfully, he hurt me b/c if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be married to my husband now and I wouldn’t have my two perfect children. And for that matter, I wouldn’t have converted to Catholicism. The best thing that happened from me converting was me finally questioning faith. I never questioned it growing up. I didn’t think I was supposed to. Becoming Catholic though, I “learned” more about God and about Christianity in one year than I was “taught” the previous 24 years. I grew up (and still live) in the Bible belt where if you aren’t strict Southern Baptist, then you are going to hell. Thankfully, switching faiths taught me that no ONE way is the right way.
    To end this comment and keep from rambling on and on and on, I’ll say that I will raise my children in the Catholic Church but if they one day decide to leave it and go somewhere else, that’s fine with me. As long as they believe in God and are good people, I’ll be a happy mommy.

    Gingers Mom July 21, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    I’m sorry that you ever went through a time that you felt you had to reject God in some way. It is a dark and lonely place to be. If one takes the time to understand Him they would know that His very nature is that of Love. Bad things don’t happen BECAUSE of Him. That’s just the nature of this world. Sin happens and its consequences follow. I do know this that if you believe that Jesus is the son of God and that He sacrificed all for the love of all people you will be with Him in heaven. Maybe that isn’t your reason to bring faith to your kids, but why not? How much greater can you get than that?

    Mother Bumper July 21, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Another wonderful and necessary post. I guess I gave my comments in person but I just need to express how glad you wrote this because it made me think about the religion “issue”. I had pushed that back on the list of things to address but I can’t leave it low forever (as much as I wish I could). Thank you for restarting the dialogue.

    Thank you for the birthday greetings and I loved my birthday “cake”.

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