I’m what you might call a fundamentalist agnostic: I really don’t know if there’s any sort of higher power or afterlife and I really don’t care. I’m at peace with uncertainty and I live my life trying to do as much good – or at least as little harm – as possible. My husband is similarly minded and so we’ve spent our Sunday mornings doing things like eating bagels or watching SportsCenter. This didn’t change for us after we had kids.
However, my son is 5 now and he has a lot of friends who are church-goers. Those friends have started sharing their religious education with him and suddenly I’m fielding questions about things like heaven from the backseat of the minivan. If I were talking to another adult, I’d offer a flip shrug and say “I don’t know about heaven. I’ll find out after I die, I guess.” That’s not going to work with my son. He has a child’s earnest curiosity about the idea of heaven; where it is, what it looks like, how can he go check it out without dying. All good questions. All questions I’m not entirely good at answering. The best I can do is say “Some people believe that after a body dies, the thoughts and feelings part of you – your soul – goes to heaven.” So far, that’s working for us.
He’s going to need more than that though. Religion is a big subject area and he’s only going to hear more about it as time goes on. I want to make sure the strongest messages in his head are ones of acceptance and tolerance of other faiths. I want other religions explained and demystified so he understands what people believe and how it drives their behavior. I want him to know that practicing religion is a choice he can make – or not make – on his own.
The best place for him to learn that is probably at church.
You see, I came to my fundamentalist agnosticism at the Unitarian church I attended growing up. Unitarian-Universalism is a religion about asking questions and looking deep for answers. It has no dogma and no creed but it does offer strong community and respect for all faiths. The religious education program there taught me about world religions in a non-judgmental way, explained many different belief traditions and let me draw my own conclusions. Along the way, I also learned important lessons about social justice and I made lifelong friends there, people who are important to me today.
I want all that for my kids. I want them to learn about religion from people who love and respect religion but treat all religions fairly. I want them to have a caring community of people and a place where they can explore hard questions. To give that to them, I’ll have to take my comfortably agnostic self to church instead of spending Sunday mornings in my jammies with an extra cup of coffee. I’ll need to join my son as he takes the first steps on what I hope will be a path of sincere consideration of spirituality that leads to compassion. I think it wil be a good experience for both of us.
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