Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A religious education

How do you go about teaching religion to your children?

I never thought about that question all that much until this past week when I read about Mrs. G getting in so much trouble over just this very thing (this last link is the one you should go to first). I didn’t even bother to dig very deep into the comments or links—I simply skimmed the surface and moved on—but what I read had already set the cogs a-turning in my head. I don’t know about the rest of you, but here’s how I tend to the religious education of my kiddos.

First off, I’m no saint. (If you’re not surprised, do me a favor and pretend to be.)

Second off, (third off, fourth off, SUGAR off!) (sorry—just ate three chocolates and my mind is moving way too fast; I’m not even going to try to account for the weird stuff that it puts forth), other than church, mealtime prayers, and other religious traditions, I don’t think little kids (ages 0-6, perhaps) need to be taught about God. Kids are naturally in tune with The Divine, and I have a hunch that any teaching we direct at very young mostly stems from our own undo fear and worry. Drilling them in God talk and Bible stories, while fun and even useful sometimes, makes me feel a little dirty, like I’m exploiting the innocent. Heck, my children (and some adults, yes?) have a tendency to lump the Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and God all in the same multi-colored, tinsel-draped, gold-encrusted cross and candy-stuffed basket. My kids will believe anything I tell them, so I try not to do so much talking and instead work on concrete things like good manners, not hitting, and learning to close their dresser drawers all the way.

That said, I think it is important to teach the bigger kids about God, and as I see it, there’s two sides to this Teach-Kids-About-God picture. There’s The Big God, the idea of God, the all-encompassing Great Spirit, Allah, Yahweh, etc, and then there is our specific slant on The Big God—in my case, the Mennonite view. I hold dear the teachings of Jesus (in particular, his peace teachings) and the Mennonite values of service, community, and shoofly, and I endeavor (some days more than others) to impart them to my children.

So in my typical eclectic, haphazard approach, we do some reading, some observing, and some talking. I introduce new (usually) age appropriate ideas, we read books, they ask questions (or, if I’m feeling particularly energetic, I ask questions of them). I say many things backwards (if not outright wrong), model an inconsistent example, and kiss them goodnight. All in all, it’s a pretty fair religious education.

How do I teach them about religion? Well, we read the Bible, thought I’m not sure this is totally wise, especially when delving into the blood-spattered Old Testament. I’ve been using a children’s Bible (complete with generic North American-centric pictures), and I’ve had to do a good bit of counter-teaching as we slaughtered our way through Joshua and Judges. More than once Yo-Yo has exploded angrily, “This God in the Old Testament is not our God! The Bible is a bad book!”

My replies are generally mild and go something like this, “Well, do you see what all the neighboring tribes were doing, sacrificing to idols and staking out their territory? The Israelites didn’t have any other example to follow. They were just like the people around them—attacking and killing was the norm—except they attached our God’s name to it. They didn’t know about Jesus yet, remember. Try to see this as a history, okay? It’s a very important history—everyone’s history is—but it doesn’t mean that this is really how God is or that God actually wants us to behave this way.”

I’m also teaching my children about other religions because I want them to have a deep respect for, and appreciation of, all different religions. Besides, I believe that we have more in common with other faiths than we generally are comfortable acknowledging.

I just finished reading a book to them about the seven main world religions and this week we started a book about Greek mythology. “Is this true? Did that really happen?” They might ask me these questions while I’m droning on about the Old Testament Ammonites, Hinduism, or Confucianism, and I just say, “Well, that’s what they believe happened.” Sometimes I add how I feel about a certain practice (especially if I think it's a harmful one), but many times I don’t. I’m not drawing conclusions for them, but I see the wheels in their heads turning: stories to explain why something happened...the Bible...the Buddha...Boo Radley... That they think enough to ask questions thrills me to no end. This is the part of parenting and teaching that I find most invigorating and challenging.

God is huge, and the world is wide; there are so many views, perspectives, and teachings. It’s my hope that in one way or another my children can grow to appreciate and value them all. And yes, I do hope that my children grow into adults who share a deep appreciation for Jesus’ teachings (in spite of my apparent expansive views, like most people I take comfort in my particular faith, and struggle to understand how something else could be as fulfilling or morally right as my way) and who are compassionate and loving. These are my lofty goals and the above-mentioned ways are my humble means to get there ... I hope.

Now for you. How do you teach your children about religion and faith? What’s your perspective on other religions? Speak to me, my peeps.

About one year ago: Breakfast Pizza.

5 comments:

  1. Wow. Big post, JJ. Now, because you asked, I'm going to tell you what I think:-).

    I grew up being talked to about God, being read Bible stories, being taken to Sunday School and Bible School and church. I know this kind of upbringing can have different results, but for ME, I can attest that it has made me a confident Christian. Not a blind one, not one who knows nothing of other religions (I learned about those in college), not one who never asked questions, but one who has always felt secure. That's what I want for my kids.

    I believe Jesus is THE way. It's just what I believe. And if I (or anyone) believes something strongly with their whole heart, believes that it's the right way, that there aren't other paths, why wouldn't that person want their children to know (what they believe is) the truth? I want to teach my children the truth. And, I want them to learn about other religions- not because those other religions may be right, but because I don't want them to be arrogant and disrespectful of others.

    I want my children to make their faith their own. I know very well that it's their choice whether or not they follow the Christian faith. BUT, I'm going to do my best to lay a foundation of what, I believe, is the right way. As they mature, they will (hopefully) ask hard questions. But, as for the young ones, I don't want to confuse them as to what their father and I believe. I want that to be totally clear.

    One more thing. I think in some ways we try to be too careful not to offend people because their beliefs might be different than ours. I think there is nothing wrong with coming out and speaking about what is true for you. We need to find balance between respectfulness of others AND being true to what we believe instead of sugar-coating things for other people's benefit.

    Phew.

    Excellent topic, JJ, thanks for keeping us on our toes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would say: Teach them about all world religions, Christianity included; but tell them that Jesus came and denounced "religion". Jesus was/is God--come to show humanity the divine. And what did Jesus show? He did not show power and majesty, he showed humility and compassion. He showed sacrificial love. He showed the way to true life.

    The religious Jews of his day were gravely offended because he claimed to be God and yet was not powerful and mighty! They wished for a god who was majestic, awe-inspiring and on their side! (exactly what Christianity wishes for and teaches today). They wished for a god who would help them defeat all their enemies! Even the disciples and the writers of the New Testament had trouble understanding the actions and teachings of Jesus. Religious of the day were so threatened and upset that they had to kill Jesus, and he suffered and died, not because he could have just zapped himself out of there and chose not to, but because he was only human, but with divine love. (He did not gather all his disciples together and ask them to fight and die for him). He understood why the religious wanted to kill him. He had divine compassion for them, and his whole purpose was to model it.

    We humans always wish for self-serving power. Whenever we bump up against something "bad" we want a god who will make it right, a god who can control what we cannot control. Notice that we ask God for release from suffering--pain (in all its varieties). And what causes the worst suffering? Unloving relationships--(would you rather live with a debilitating physical illness or live with not one single loving human relationship? Would you prefer losing every single loving human relationship than to die,or would you rather die?)

    Well, Jesus was humble and compassionate--not powerful and full of majesty,not controlling. He was divine love. He was sacrificial love. And that's what he showed humanity, and that's what he taught--a suffering love. Because really, loving your neighbor as yourself may be hard enough, but loving your enemies?! (You know, not just the hate-you, want-to-see-you-dead kind, but all the don't-agree-with-you, don't-want-you-living-next- door-to-me,etc. others) That takes self-sacrificial love. That takes suffering love. That takes divine love. And divine love is Jesus (God).

    And human hearts can hold this divinity within them. Human hearts can be Jesus (God) to each other. Human hearts that love with divine love (neighbor as self and enemy as self) can bring healing. They can bring true life to the humanity around them.

    As for religions other than Christianity, they are just that--other religions. All hearts can know divine love (whoever receives divine love, receives Jesus; whoever shows divine love, shows Jesus).

    Whew! Sorry for the length. There may be some theological gaps and questions here, but that is a synopsis of what I would teach my children if I had it to do again.

    kbs

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, I had no idea Mennonites could be such free spirits. Maybe because I am an idiot? I enjoyed the post. Do you know how to do HTML hyperlinks in comments? You could have linked to this post in my comments section, you know. I never mind linking, so long as it has something to do with the conversation at hand.

    If you don't know how, I can show you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'll second ThyHandHathProvided. Well put.
    JDM

    ReplyDelete
  5. I was brought up memorizing hundreds of verses, learning tons of doctrine (and application! application!), going to seminars, hearing Christian music, self-abasing and self-analyzing, dedicating and rededicating oneself to Christ, etc., etc. And I revolted against it all. Simply, the actions did not agree with the message. What I saw in the church and in my own family was completely opposed to Christ's life. I remember sitting in church hearing the pastor say "The WORLD thinks this... (chuckle)... but WE know this..." to congregational snickering. And I thought, wait, so, we're saved by grace, but then we prance around like we earned it and sneer at people who focus on "works"? I was a kid, but not then nor now a complete idiot.

    I did not revolt against Christ, miraculously.

    Anyway, I try not to do too much Christianese with my kids, partly because it feels like ashes in my mouth, partly because talk is extremely cheap, in my experience. They know what I believe, they understand as well as they can the concept of redemption and Christlike love, we read the Bible, especially anything Jesus said. Other religions? Sorry, I can't say. Even the evangelical's hero, C.S. Lewis, is not self-righteous on this question: remember his Calormen warrior in The Last Battle? He believed he was living his honorable and good life as a tribute to Tash, but Aslan took it (and him) to himself.

    ReplyDelete