The Religion Talk

15 Apr

After dinner, one of my 6-year-old twins, J, asked what she probably expected was a straightforward question: “Are we Christians?” I assume that it was prompted by the morning’s Sunday school lesson, today’s topic having been the denial of Peter.

My answer was anything but straightforward.

It’s not the “Christian” part that’s complicated. It’s the “we” part. I’m atheist. My ex-husband, the girls’ father, is Catholic. We agreed to raise the girls Catholic until they were old enough to make their own decisions about what they believe. Getting divorced didn’t affect my commitment to honour his faith. Our daughters and I continued to read Bible stories, attend church, pray nightly, and talk about how to apply Biblical allegories and principals to our daily lives. The girls weren’t particularly keen on attending church until their babysitter took them to hers. The girls begged to switch from Catholic church to our babysitter‘s nondenominational Christian church, which we’ve attended since.

I have been readying myself to answer J’s question for 20 years. I actually expected it to come from my sister, 10 years my junior and, like me, raised Muslim. She never asked. I was 7 when I decided that I was an atheist, so I’d been anticipated that my girls would start examining their own beliefs any day now. They’ll be 7 next month.

“Being Christian is something that each person needs to choose for themselves,” I told J. “You have to decide whether ‘Christian’ describes you. If you believe that God made the universe, that Jesus is His son, and that he sacrificed himself so that humans could be forgiven for their sins, that you’re a Christian.”

“I’m a Christian,” J responded, without missing a beat.”

“Me, too,” M added.

“What about you, Mommy?”

This was it.

“No, sweetie, I’m not. I think that Jesus was a great man, and I try to live the important lessons that his life taught us, but I don’t believe that he’s the son of God.”

“WHAT?” Both my daughters were shocked.

“If you’re not Christian,” M followed up, “Are you Jewish?”

“Nope. Not Jewish. But do you know that Jesus was Jewish?”

“What!?”

“Yep. If you have to accept Jesus’ sacrifice to be a Christian, then there couldn’t be any Christians until after Jesus died, right? So he couldn’t be Christian.”

M nodded, then focused back on the real topic of our conversation. “Why don’t you believe in Jesus, Mommy?”

“It’s God that I don’t believe in.”

“So you don’t say, ‘Father, Son, Holy Spirit?’ You just say, ‘Son, Holy Spirit?'”

“No, sweetie. I don’t believe that there is a God at all. I pray with you guys so that you can choose to be Christian, but what you believe is a decision that each person has to make for him- or herself. Papa and I wanted to give you all the information you needed to make your own decision about what you believe.”

“If you have no daughters, you wouldn’t pray?” J clarified.

“That’s correct.”

“So you’re not Jewish?” M persisted.

“It’s not just a choice between Christian and Jewish, sweetie. There are lots of different ways to pray and ideas to believe. My family is Muslim. Remember how our family in Missouri prays, kneeling and in Arabic? That’s how you pray in the religion called Islam. When do we pray?”

“At bedtime and when we want to,” J answered.

“When you’re Muslim, you pray 5 times a day, no matter what.”

“I only saw 3 times!”

“That’s because my cousins woke up super-early to pray and prayed after your bedtime too. There are strict rules on how to pray in Islam. You use the same words and gestures each time. You have to wash in a special way called wudu before prayer.”

“Even your feet?” M asked, appalled.

“Yes, washing your feet is part of it,” I told her.

“I don’t want to wash my feet a bunch of times.”

“Okay, baby. My point is that in different kinds of belief in God, called religions, people pray and think about God in different ways.”

I went into a high level comparison of the major monotheistic religions, and then threw in a few polytheist beliefs for good measure.

This simple chart compares the religious texts, prayer approaches, etc. of Christianity, Islam and Judeism. A child's handwriting has labelled the term 'atheist' with the name 'Mom.'

J wanted to know what I called myself. When I taught her the word “atheist,” she rolled in around on her tongue a few times, trying it out.

The girls didn’t make it to bed at our targeted 8:30 pm time. At 9:00, J still had me listing all our relatives who are Christian: pretty much everyone on her Dad’s side of the family. She and M both included themselves in the list. M wasn’t quite comfortable with leaving me off the list, but J said that she thought it was important that I should be free to believe what I want.

This parenting thing is complicated, and I certainly don’t make it any simpler on myself with my atheist pro-religion philosophies.

Sadia is the mother of identical twins, M and J, and coordinator of the mothers of multiples blog How Do You Do It? She lives in Texas, having been in the US for the past 15 years. Her childhood was about evenly split between Bangladesh and the United Kingdom. Her ex-husband is an all-American US soldier of Mexican, Scots-Irish, and French descent. While he attended American public schools and regularly attended Catholic church in childhood, Sadia attended Catholic and secular private schools and visited mosques a handful of times.

3 Responses to “The Religion Talk”

  1. Tee Fay April 25, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    I just want to say that I think it’s really, really nice that you are so impartial and you let your daughters choose. That’s so cool. I don’t have children but my mum kind of beat me over the head with her rather radical beliefs, whereas my dad (agnostic/atheist) didn’t really mind either way. I have ended up in an interracial and inter-religious marriage where my husband is Muslim. I used to think I was Christian, but literally just now tonight (which is how I found your post), I discovered the term “multifaith” and that is actually what I am.

    I have lived in different countries and had friends from all over and I just can’t say honestly that I am exclusively this or that. People tend to look for the differences between religions, but I just look for anything that appeals to me. Sometimes things overlap, sometimes they are unique to that faith. I don’t care; if it makes me peaceful and happy then I incorporate it into my lifestyle and my spiritual path.

    Right now I’m learning about Paganism and Wicca because I find them very interesting. So yep, definitely multifaith. It’s really nice that you are so open-minded and I’m sure your daughters will appreciate it when they grow up. I appreciate my dad’s approach that I could choose whatever I wanted more than my mum’s approach which was quite extreme. (I still feel nervous talking to her about religion, and I’m in my 30s! LOL)

  2. DesiValentine April 28, 2013 at 12:02 am #

    I’ve had a similar conversation with my kids. It’s just such a confusing thing, for them – and for us, sometimes, too. My husband and I are not part of any organized religion. We embrace the gift of lessons, but not the structure of dogma. His parents are nominally Anglican. My family is Lutheran and Catholic, with some Muslim and Hindu married-ins. But most of the children who come to my house for childcare are Catholic, so my children hear bits and pieces of religion from friends at home and at school, and then bring their questions to me at completely unanticipated moments. All my husband and I can do is answer patiently, and with respect, and hope that our kids grow to do the same. I think that’s true with most parenting challenges, really. 🙂

  3. natasha devalia May 8, 2013 at 3:35 am #

    Great post! Absolutely brilliant how you can stay so neutral and respectful on the matter. Inspiring.

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