Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Raising Free Thinking Children: Part 1

My son and I had about an hour conversation the other day. It started by watching Ken Burns' new documentary, The War. He professed, that at 11 and in the public school system, he did not know which war was which, so we started talking. Speaking of the second world war, topics turned to kamikaze pilots, the terrorist suicide bombers, then, naturally, religious zealots.

For ease, here are the bullets of our conversation:

  • Some religious fundamentalists feel the need to kill for their religion.
  • Some of these people kill other believers, for not believing the "correct way".
  • The differences between Catholics and Christians.
  • Who wrote the bible, where they lived, how they lived, and what their situation entailed.
  • How the bible has been passed down, translated, re-worked for political reasons (The King James Bible, for example).
    • As an analogy, I told my son to imagine that I wrote a story about how great my grandfather was. That he lived to be 80, and was a great blacksmith who could make anything with metal. Now imagine that this story was translated into multiple languages, passed down over the ages, and the grapevine effect kicked in. Finally, in the future, my grandfather is revered for living to be 800 years old, and could magically create metal objects with his bare hands.
  • Multiple religions and multiple gods, different people and different cultures, and so on.
Many children go through playing the grapevine game. They learn how a simple message, over a short amount of time can mutate and take on a whole new meaning. Sometimes, you can identify the one person, who with a slight misunderstanding, identifies a pattern and a meaning that has some significance to them, and changes the entire message.

Some parents these days believe in telling their kids everything, and not hiding anything. I made the decision, years ago, that I would not systematically brainwash my son into believing anything. I question how he feels about religion, or if his classmates question his beliefs (we do live in a very conservative small town), or if he feels uncomfortable about faith. He usually says there is no problem, and shrugs it off. I have played out telling him exactly how I feel and why in my mind's eye, many times.

My parents took me to church occasionally at a very young age. My father was raised Irish-Catholic, my mother Presbyterian. I assumed their general, modern, and somewhat liberal views in God. I believed, and took it for granted that I would earn my way to heaven at some point. However, they never pushed me into a belief, and never silenced me on my questions and disbelief on certain stories of the bible. I attribute my ability to question authority and think freely to my parents, despite a loosely Christian upbringing.

My son, laying on the floor, looks up at me and says, "what is it called when you don't believe in any of that stuff?"
"What stuff, you mean religion and gods?"
"Yeah. Like if you don't think any of that stuff is real."
I trembled, composed myself, then spoke.
"That's called atheism."
He questioned the word, and I explained how theists believe in some religion, atheists believe in none.
"I don't believe in any of that stuff" he said.
"I will not ever try and influence your beliefs, and I am okay with whatever choice you make", I say, trying to not do the exact opposite of what I was saying.
I continue, "I spent most of my life believing in basic Christian concepts, but challenged them and researched them. I finally made up my own mind. I hope you make up yours in a similar way."
"How do you know so much about this stuff Dad?"

1 comment:

Kathryn King said...

I asked my son this weekend if he liked being Jewish. He said it didn't really matter. So then I asked if he believed in God. He said very quickly no. So then I asked if there isn't a god then how did all this come to be. He very thoughtfully said--evolution, big bang, that stuff. Alrighty then. I had decided there wasn't a god when I was 10 so he was about the age to embrace science over non-rational thought. What made me read your post is because he told me the reason he had wanted to study dark matter for his science fair project was to prove how all this meaning the world came to be.