Many people are going to find issue with what I am about to talk about. Throughout the world, religious beliefs spark debate and disagreements cause violence. I’m don’t want to prove that I’m right or that anyone else is wrong. I really don’t want to talk about religious conflict around the globe. What I want is to tackle the question that exists in my own home: How and what do I teach my children about God? If you find yourself getting defensive, just stop reading. I’m not here to argue.
I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school for 7 years. Granted, they weren’t conservative garb wearing, ultra strict Catholic schools, but I was still exposed to the religion on some level day after day. I was Baptized, received my First Communion, did Reconciliation and was even Confirmed in the Catholic religion. I have a great respect for the institution and I feel that they are misrepresented in the media. Many only see their strict views on lifestyle choices while others scoff at the priest sex scandals. We forget how many people that Catholicism has helped through charity and counseling. A church is a place with their doors open for those that are lost. All of that being said, besides the family tradition, I don’t feel that organized religion plays a huge role in my life and I didn’t realize it until I had children.
I baptized my daughter, but all that I remember from the moment are 5 different cameras flashing. I don’t think I was even able to see her face. We haven’t been to church since. It didn’t have much meaning for me in that moment, and I know she will not even remember. I came to the conclusion that the traditional method of bringing important values into my children’s lives was not going to work for us. John is not Catholic and though he believes in some sort of higher power, I’m not going to ask him to teach our children something that I’m not even sure I believe in 100%. By default, I will thank God for what I have. When I stop to think about it, I don’t even know what I’m really saying. It’s the big mystery of religion that none of us will ever figure out until we get to the end. End of our lives, end of the world… who knows? But, in context to my question, what does it matter?
I don’t believe that there is a man in the clouds calling the shots. I don’t think we need to memorize a list of commandments to keep us in line out of fear. It’s just like spanking a child. Sure, they won’t act that way again. However, they are responding out of fear, not out of knowing the difference between right and wrong. Jesus may or may not have been real, but as I mentioned above, does it matter? The point is not the how, but the underlying message. Embrace all that are different and treat others as you would want to be treated. This doesn’t have anything to do with God or Jesus. This higher power is within and around all of us. It’s in those moments where we donate our time or our excess. It’s when we stop and stare in wonderment at something so beautiful that we wonder if it is real. It’s when we feel so beaten down, but we find the strength to stand up and keep going. It’s when we give and don’t expect to receive anything in return. Really, though they have different ways of getting there, all of these messages are at the bottom line of every organized religion.
I know all of this to be true in my life. I learned it because I was raised Catholic. Now to my question: How do I teach my children about all of this out of the context of organized religion? After thinking about this for a while, I know it’s not going to be through making them sit through Mass every Sunday. I must take a queue from the stories about Jesus and lead by example. If I show compassion, forgiveness and love to those around me, whether deserving or not, my children will learn to do the same. When they are old enough, I will take them to shelters to help with the poor so that they appreciate what they have. I will not hold grudges so that they will not. I will show them the beauty in people and things even if hidden at first. I will provide them with the skills and confidence to know that when things seem really bad, they can crawl deep inside of their souls to reignite that spark that will help them keep going. I will make sure they know that whenever they fall, I will always be there in person or spirit, no matter how old they are. If they ask, I will teach them to pray to whatever they want to believe in; and teach them to pray for others or for guidance, not for things.
What religion and churches provide people, is somewhere to belong where peace exists. It’s really a great thing, but I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone. Peace exists everywhere if you look hard enough. My goal is to teach my children how to find it and how to respect others for finding it in their own ways. Maybe they will discover it through music or dance; maybe through surrounding themselves with a great group of people, or through the beauty of our Mother Earth. I, myself, felt “God” in all of those things. Even if they end up in Church on their own looking for it, I will know that I have succeeded as long as they are happy. I don’t want to raise God fearing adults. I want them to act in ways which bring them tranquility that they wish to spread to others and eventually for them to be examples for their own children to follow.