Sunday, August 03, 2008

if God is God he is not good...if God is good, he is not God...

Lisa has written an excellent post on the pros and cons of religion. This started out as a comment on that, but when I exceeded 2000 characters, I decided to make it a rant. I agree that organized religion may be helpful in instilling ethics in young minds, but I take issue with the idea that it’s required to instill ethics in young people.

I’m a cheerful agnostic. When I was 5 or 6, I realized that I viewed most of what I was taught in the name of religion (Lutheran) as having about as much truthfulness and reality as Santa, and although I continued to attend church (I was a little kid and had no choice), it all seemed like so much group fantasy to me. I agreed to be confirmed on the condition that I be allowed to leave the church after that, if I so desired. And I did (desire to leave the church, and did leave it, at age 15). All of which is background to my saying that my four children were raised without religion. In fact, I’ll digress for a moment with a hilarious anecdote about how non-religious we were.

When the boys were 7, they became cub scouts. I was their den mother. There were 8 boys in our den; 4 Jewish boys and technically, 4 Christian boys, although 2 of them were Mike & Chris, who were being raised outside any church. One summer afternoon when they’d been out playing, Mike and Chris came running into the house, shouting, “Mom! Mom! Guess what!” They were sweaty and out of breath, but clearly excited and happy.

“What?” I asked.

“We’re JEWISH!” they exclaimed, in unison.

“Uh, no, actually, we’re not…” I said.

“Yes, Mom, we ARE! We’re JEWISH!” they said again, in the same confident, happy way that an adult might have announced he was holding a winning lottery ticket.

“Well it would be fine if we were, but we aren’t,” I said, and then I asked, “How did you come to this conclusion?”

The boys exchanged a look.

“Ms. D (mother of the neighbor kid with whom they’d been playing) TOLD us we’re Jewish!” Chris said.

“Huh? Whaddya mean, she TOLD you?”

Mike said, “Well, she asked what church we went to…Prestonwood Baptist or All Saints…and we said, NEITHER…and she said, “Oh, you’re JEWISH!”

I love that story. I did not see it as some sort of hunger for religion on the part of the boys. Their best friend then and now, a guy whom I refer to as my third son, happens to be Jewish, and I viewed it as their simply wanting to identify more closely with him. Maybe I was wrong. I don’t know. I do know that my children are now 32, 29, and 22. None of them attends church or has any interest in religion, insofar as I know; in fact, one of them purports to be an atheist. Nevertheless, I feel confident saying that anyone who's met them would agree that none of them has problems with moral ambiguity. Although we didn't raise them in any church, A and I managed to convey to them that there is right and wrong, good and evil in this world, and that each of us must either try to choose right and good or live with the consequences, a big part of which includes the simple act of having to look yourself in the eye in the morning as you brush your teeth.

Perhaps it helped that A had spent time early in his career working as a civil rights lawyer, but whether that played a part or not, discussing ethics and moral issues at the dinner table was part and parcel of our life, day in and day out, from the time the kids could hold a fork. And whatever it was, they are now four young adults who are honest, industrious, and for the most part thoughtful. If I had it to do over, perhaps I'd try harder to find a church that I could live with, because I believe religion can add a dimension, and even a richness, to life that remains elusive outside that context. Still, most organized religion puts me off, and I'll continue to argue that children can be raised to be ethical, industrious, thoughtful human beings without being raised in the church.


Diane said...

yes, I agree with you that it is possible (perhaps not even hard) to raise moral, ethical children without going to church.

I'm not even sure that raising moral, ethical children is one of the main jobs of the church. It's a byproduct, I think (Or I hope).

will think on this more...

Lisa :-] said...

Still, most organized religion puts me off, and I'll continue to argue that children can be raised to be ethical, industrious, thoughtful human beings without being raised in the church.

I didn't actually say that church was necessary to instill values in children; I said, in my observations with the young people I'm working with now, it seems to have helped.

I also said that if parents leave the void, it will be filled with whatever pop culture can jam into it. And that's the point: YOU did not leave the void. And other parents might not, either. But you can't deny that there are those parents who take for granted that other institutions--the school system, their church, whatever...--willtake care of the "hard parts" of raising their kids.

Chris said...

What does an agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac do?

Lie awake at night wondering if there is a dog.

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week. Tip your waiters and waitresses!

TJ said...

What religion has a record of largely being right and useful?
Sure there are good acts in the name of faith but those are acts that come from people with good intent.You can find them inside and outside of a religon.
It is my opinion that our children need to skilled in faith, faith in things that work.
Void in children a break in continuity; a gap. Let us fill it with the awe of science. The facts that state "what it is" and is indeed "just what it is." Our children will stand stronger if they lean on solid truths.
Fill there hearts with love and their minds with science, they won't be let down.
BUT if it takes religion to make a single person see the awesome works of this universe then that is a start....
Hugs TJ

Paul said...

I see religion as an excuse for mankind required by people who see mankind as inherently evil.

If you believe that most people are good (apologies to Atticus Finch) and that this life has meaning, you don't need the myths.

Chris--good one.