Does your child deserve a relationship with God, even if you don’t have one?
Since I gave up social media for Lent, I’ve had a lot of time to ponder this question. (I’ve also found myself wondering: What Would Jesus Tweet? But that’s another story.) My quandary has been inspired by EO’s recent interest in all things spiritual. She’s coming home from school excited to share the debates she’s had in her Philosophy and Religious Studies class. She’s asking her church-going friends all kinds of questions about synagogues and the Bible and plagues. She’s given up soft drinks for Lent. She wants to see The Matrix. I fully expect her to start her own religion one day, devoted to The Gospel According to Morpheus.
I think her enthusiasm is fantastic but, since we aren’t members of a church, it begs a larger question, which is: have we let her down in the whole religious education department? Does she need spiritual guidance in her life?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-religion. (You can take the girl out of the church…) But I lack the certainty to call myself devout, a true believer. I just don’t know, is the thing. And while I have fond memories of going to mass and Sunday lunch with my grandparents, these days I’m more likely to find spirituality during hikes with my dog or listening to Vaughn Williams or in those soft, quiet moments when the cat has curled up on YO’s bed and I’m tucking them both in for the night. Add to that the difficulty many of us lapsed Catholics have in separating religion from the ills of organized religion and the whole idea of going to church or teaching our kids about God becomes riddled with hypocrisy. I avoid the topic because I just don’t know what to say. It’s a subject more confusing and anxiety-inducing than sex or drugs. (I can see it now: EO’s ultimate rebellion will be to become a nun!)
To help me out, I decided to ask some church-going friends about the spiritual paths their children are on and why it matters.
Ann’s daughter is currently preparing for confirmation, and her son goes to chapel every day at his boarding school. Ann says they go to church because she wants her children to think there’s something better than humans in this world. Something good and constant. Something she associates with God.
“I ask them to pray on their own,” she said, “each night, to help them look around and notice who needs help. To ask of God: let me see more, let me hear more.”
Tess is a mother of four and her feelings echo Ann’s belief in a benevolent God bigger than our daily existence. She said she was raised to fear God as an omniscient force, but she has since found a spirituality, and a church in Hong Kong that focuses on a loving God. She and her family are active in church outreach programs where they can ‘be the hands and feet of Christ’.
“Giving and receiving love is a gift,” she said. “I want my kids to know they are unconditionally loved, that there is order in the chaos of the world, to know whatever challenges they are facing, they are not walking alone ever. I also love the 10 Commandments – such good rules to live by. It helps them develop their personal boundaries and morals.”
I asked Ann if she thought God – or a God – was necessary to being a good person. Can’t we teach kindness outside the church? She said, “Do I think God has to be a part of it? No. But I would like it to be.”
In one of his recent columns for the FT about this topic, Harry Eyres interviewed Czech priest and theologian, Tomas Halik, who said: “Secular society underestimates the power of religion, which can be abused and in the worst cases is associated with violence but which also has great positive energy. Much depends on personalities.”
It’s difficult to focus on the positive when we hear so much about the hardline faithful around the world and their attempts to control, restrict and even destroy in the name of their chosen God. Here again, Halik has some interesting thoughts to add to this debate. “The main line,” he says, “is not between believers and non-believers but between dwellers and seekers, people for whom belief is a path, not a doctrine.”
I’m not sure I’m ready to guide my daughters to that path. Maybe they have to find it for themselves. But I do feel a certain loss at the huge gaps in their religious knowledge. Stories that I took for granted – of the parting of the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, Jesus and his disciples – are complete unknowns to my girls. Okay, so maybe my memory of Moses is more Charlton Heston than Sunday school, but I realize now that these stories meant something. As Ann said, “They resonate with you later in life.”
Goodness. Benevolence. Compassion. Something bigger than our existence on Earth. These are ideals I want my girls to embrace. And a good dose of Cecil B. DeMille won’t hurt either.
For more from Tess, please check out: http://tesspeak.typepad.com/
And for my kind of religious experience, a little Vaughn Williams: