Parenting, Religion, and Intellectual Honesty

August 4, 2006

Editor’s Note: Another good diary. My husband and I are having the same discussion, Somna. I can’t wait to read the responses. -Elisa

First of all, please pardon me if my thoughts wander.  This is a topic I’ve been skirting around for the past four years, and only now am I making a real effort to come to some sort of conclusion.

Last night, I opened up a dialogue with my husband about religion and our kids.  We didn’t come to any conclusions, since he says he needs time to think about it.  We both asked each other questions that neither of us had good answers for.

And so, gentle MTers, I’d like to hear your thoughts on children and religion.  Here’s our situation, and why I think it bears some thought:
My husband and I were both raised as Protestant Christians.  We converted to Roman Catholicism when we were in college, a couple of years before the excrement hit the air conditioning with the priest abuse scandals.  We were in Boston when the scandals broke, and with the help of a wonderful priest in our parish who fought hard against the Archdiocese, we weathered that storm well.  Both of our daughters were baptized in the Roman Catholic tradition, but it wasn’t long after our youngest was baptized that we stopped going to Mass.

There were a lot of reasons: I was unhappy with the priest in our new parish in Oklahoma, we were both appalled at the witch hunt for homosexuals in the seminaries, and neither of us was happy with the strong rhetoric coming from the Vatican in the wake of the new papacy.  At this point in our lives, I’d say that my husband is functionally a Deist-leaning existential agnostic, and I’m a Buddhist-leaning agnostic.  Where he sees no reason to seek out religion, I’d personally like to do some exploration.

But then there’s the kids.  And that’s where the discussion comes in, and I’m wondering how many other parents face this dilemma.

I want to take the kids to church.  I’m not really sure why.  Maybe it’s a holdover from my childhood, and while I’m comfortable throwing my own “chance for salvation” to the wind, I’m not so comfortable doing so with my kids.  On some level, I’d like the kids to have that larger sense of community that comes with regular religious services.  The hardest thing for me to let go in Catholicism is that sense of connection to a larger body, and the liturgical calendar.  There’s some comfort to be had in knowing that no matter where we go in life, there will at least be that connection and regularity.  

My husband asks me if I believe a person needs religion to have a sense of ethics or morality.  I answer no, of course not.  Then why do I feel the need to bring my kids to church, when I myself am not even sure that I believe in God, let alone all the rest?

I know the girls would enjoy it.  They like going places, and they enjoy the Protestant services they attend when they stay with my parents.  I personally feel that there is some good that can be reaped from Christianity, even if I don’t believe all the stories are necessarily true.  As Reza Aslan put it, whether the stories are true isn’t important; what’s important is, what do these stories mean?

But then my husband asks me how we can send our kids to Mass when inevitably, the day will come that we have to explain to them why we disagree with so many of the church’s teachings, from birth control and abortion to gay rights and women’s rights, even the very notion of sin, the existence of hell, and the mechanisms of salvation.  How can we be intellectually honest and still raise our children in a belief system we both question so much?  Why do I even want to do it?

Our extended families make the problem so much more complicated.  I can’t begin to describe the problems that would arise if we chose not to raise the girls Christian, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t affect me.  

This is something that needs a lot of meditation on my part, and I hope my husband will think hard on it too.  I don’t want to act on this alone and just start taking the girls to Mass; it’s a big decision – a HUGE decision – and it wouldn’t be fair to him if I acted unilaterally.  At this point, I just feel that our inaction isn’t really a decision – it’s part laziness, and part not wanting to confront the issue.  I’d really rather us come to a real decision together.

So, MTers, what are your thoughts on religion and children?  What have your experiences been?