Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Parenting Without Religion

*We’ve got these chains that hang around our necks, 
people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.*

I wore around my neck, for years, a gold chain with a gold cross hanging from it. I was hoping it would bring me closer to feeling the divine. I wanted to believe. I wanted to be like everyone around me and I hoped and I prayed that the cross hanging from my neck would act as a guide and lead me away from the evil that was haunting my mind. That’s what I was taught as a child; any act or thought against god is an act of evil - of Satan. There was a time when I didn’t want to take that chain off, not even to shower or sleep. 

Metaphorically, a chain was placed around my neck, most of our necks, at birth. The moment we enter this world the religious ceremonies and rituals begin; circumcision, baptism, christening, baby blessing ceremonies and religious baby naming ceremonies. Infants are already being forcibly entrenched into a doctrine. 

Nurseries are adorned with crosses hanging above the cribs. Porcelain angels that look like toddlers with wings are on bended knees praying on the nightstand next to where the baby sleeps. Carefully crafted spiritual sayings engraved on wooden plaques hang above the threshold to the nursery. There is no free will in the little person’s life. Their religion, belief structure and their spirituality has been chosen for them. And if they decide to stray from this predetermined path, they will burn in hell forever. And of course the little angel on the nightstand will weep, and as well, all the angels will weep for your soul.

There are a lot of things that I feel are wrong about religion being taught to children. I understand why the church is so keen to get the little ones into church. Examining religion on a macro-level, it’s easier to normalize religion to a child than to an adult that has had little exposure to it. It’s also beneficial to get children into church to establish social processes, relationships, cultural rituals and to establish taboos within society that does not follow the teachings of the church. In other words - Get ’em while they’re young. 

It is this normalization of religious practice that I’m avoiding having my children exposed to. It’s easy to do when we’re home, but when we go and visit extended family it becomes harder. I want my children to respect people regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, political views and so on. The one I’m having difficulty with is religion. 

I’m not having difficulty teaching my children to respect religion and the religious, it’s having that respect reciprocated. 

It’s hard when you tell your children that they have to respect someone praying while at the same time being disrespected yourself and forced or expected to participate in the prayer ritual. It’s hard to tell my children to respect others and not to talk about “god is fake” to your religious cousins when that respect is not shown to you and what you believe. It’s hard to maintain a level of respect for people whom exhibit little respect or courtesy to you, your family or anyone that may be within ear shot. 

How to parent in a non-religious family living in a religious society? I’m not sure. It’s going to take some practice. It’s going to take patience and understanding from everyone. It’s going to involve confrontations. 

These are the things I’m going to talk about. How I handle certain situations. The outcome of those. The pros and cons. This is going to be a learning process for all of us. I hope I can be of encouragement for those of you in similar situations. 

In the end though, my greatest desire is to keep those chains from around my children’s necks.

*Song lyrics written by Steven Page & Ed Robertson “What A Good Boy”

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