Tag Archives: religion

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.

Faith, and the Lack Thereof

5 Apr

My husband and I are raising our daughters M and J to be practicing Catholics, but I don’t believe in God. While I see no conflict in those two facts, I know that many people do.

My husband and I agree that Christianity and science need not be at odds. He sees the Bible as an attempt by fallible humans’ to explain and share the plan and actions of an infallible God. Truths are within the pages of Bible, but it is up to the individual to understand what it teaches, sometimes literally, but frequently allegorically. This is a pathetically simplified way to look at it, but he and I simply differ at where we draw the line between the literal and allegory in the Bible. I see the Bible as a historical document that captures an ancient understanding of the world, but also demonstrates the inherent imperfection of translating language, context, and cultural assumptions to a different place and time.

While our differences in theology may not cause conflict, it’s certainly not easy.

A year ago, M, then aged 4, had a bombshell question. “Who took care of the very very very first person on earth when they were a baby?”

This is such a huge question. At the crux is the matter of how humans came to be. It’s one of those topics you do not bring up unless you’re either aching for a fight, or are certain that everyone in the room sees eye to eye on.

There were two answers to the question, I told the girls. It would be hard to understand how they could both be right, but I would try to explain. First I told them about God creating Adam from the earth. I explained that, as far as I understand, God made Adam as a grown-up, and Eve too. They had babies, I told the girls, and they raised them.

“So they got married?” asked J. She was clearly delighted at the prospect of a wedding featuring front and centre in the creation of everything.

I reminded my daughters that there was another story and provided a very simplified explanation of evolution. I pointed out that, while they share basic traits like five fingers per hand, hair colour, and dimples or a lack thereof with me and my husband, M and J aren’t just a mixture of the two of us. They’re not exactly like each other, either, identical twinhood notwithstanding. Offspring, I explained, are always a teeny bit different from their parents. I told the girls that the differences add up over the generations. I used our cat Penelope, tigers, and their shared ancestors as an illustration. I didn’t get into survival of the fittest; I figured that they had plenty to think about as it was. I gave them a second example using a wolves-and-dogs scenario, and then finally got around to primates. It was refreshing to have this discussion without encountering the common misconception that “we used to be monkeys.” As M pointed out, “So Penelope’s great great, lots of greats, grandma was tigers’ great great great grandma.”

It was tempting to stop here, but that would have been chickening out.

I pulled out a children’s Bible, as well as our copy of Evolution Revolution. I read the relevant passages of both books to the girls, and Melody began to get angry. She wanted an answer, and fast.

I explained to her that, long long ago, when the Bible was written, its authors did their best to explain God’s actions. Now that we understand that animals evolve over time, we can understand that God made humanity through evolution, and that there was a first man and a first woman, but that their mommies (“and daddies,” J reminded me) were monkeys. Their monkey mommies and daddies raised them, but (and this is where I just had to make it up on the fly) it wasn’t until they were grown up that they realized that they were different from their parents, that they were humans and not monkeys.

J was satisfied with the explanation, but M had a zillion more questions. Unfortunately, it was time for bath. She burst into tears. “I just want the answer!” she sobbed.

I didn’t reach that point of frustration until I was seven, and that’s when I became an atheist. There was no one who could resolve religion and science for me, so I chose science. I didn’t want M to start down that admittedly lonely road at the tender age of four. I just held her, and told her that I understood her desire to understand everything right now, but that we were going to have to take our time, refining our understanding and answering questions over days, and maybe years.

I told her something I only really came to understand in my mid-twenties, mostly thanks to my husband: For many many things, there simply isn’t a single right answer. The understanding of the subjectivity of perspective is a gift, I think, that multicultural families of all stripes, of necessity, share.

Sadia’s parents are nominally Muslim. She is a higher education business analyst, and has spent large chunks of her life in each of the UK, the US, and Bangladesh. She is married to an American soldier of Caucasian and Mexican descent who likes to add “American” as an option to standardized forms requesting self-identification of ethnicity. With their 5-year-old identical twins daughters and all-American foundling of a cat, they live just north of the Mexico-US border in El Paso, Texas. This post is derived from posts previously published on Sadia’ personal blog, Double the Fun.

Mama…Why, When, Who, How?

13 Mar

Ever heard “The Logical Song” by Supertramp? It takes you through an extraordinary journey of questioning the world around us. I thought of this song when my three- and- a- half year old son started bombarding me with questions, some were answerable others needed some serious soul-searching from my end.

Parenting, I tell you, isn’t easy.

I see numerous moms around me who make it look like an effortless fairy tale, but me I am constantly fumbling over issues. When I look back at the time I began this fascinating journey of motherhood, the initial few years now seem like a breeze. As my three-and-a- half year old is growing and becoming inquisitive, my job as his mother is more interesting, but challenging. The journey is hilarious, fascinating and mind-boggling all at the same time. I have to admit there are times when I have to sit back and make a serious analysis of how I need to ensue. Those first years seem like a breeze because my primary role as mother was satisfying my sons physiological needs; lack of sleep and a small level of fatigue were my biggest issues. Today, his questions that are often accompanied by that: Don’t fail me mama, I will find out, look makes it tough.

I was born in a Hindu household in India. Unlike most typical homes where god played a central role that guided the lifestyle of most Indian families, my parents were not big advocates of religion or god. We did not go on annual pilgrimages during our summer breaks, our weekends did not consist of touring nearby temples, and most importantly my parents never really forced the concept of religion or god on us. We celebrated festivals like any other Hindu family, we were told stories about magnificent god kings, but festivals meant new clothes, goodies to eat, and stories with colorful scenarios that would send any child’s imagination soaring.

In retrospect, I don’t think my parents were non-believers, they were busy with their careers, and god did not seem like something that was a significant part of their lifestyle. My husband, however, comes from a family that was different from mine. His summers consisted of touring various temples around south India; he is well-versed in all the mythological characters that exist in Hinduism, in a nutshell religion and god played a big part in his family.

So here we are, as parents with two very separate childhood experiences and different ideologies with regards to god/religion. This difference does not in any form or fashion interfere with our daily routines, but we do have healthy arguments about how things should be done or not done on the matter.

I’ve had interesting dialogues in my head about the why’s and how’s regarding this very confusing chapter on god/religion. As I mentioned earlier, my parents were neither biased in their love for god, nor did they completely shun the concept. But lately in her retired time off, my mother has taken to it very seriously, the consequence being that I was taken on a guilt-trip on how I should begin inculcating a bit of god in my children. This is very confusing to me, I do not necessarily see the point of it and I am not against it either. I am not mostly against it because of that unknown guilt that harbors in me when it comes to the mysterious religion issue.

So during my recent visit to India I decided to teach my son some Hindu prayers – just to placate my mother. My son repeated and learned them quickly. He got exposed to a lot more of it as our stay in India progressed, till one day he stood up straight and asked me, “Mama what is god?”

Whoa! This completely confounded me. I’m not ready for the question myself leave alone explaining it to a three-and-a-half year old. I managed to burble something on the lines of god loving everyone and all the good things that are associated with the concept of god that he would understand at his age. I was angry and disappointed with myself for doing so; I always prided myself on being a mother who was honest with my feelings and beliefs, particularly when it came to my children.

This was a deal breaking moment for me. It was time to catch the bull by its horns. As an adult I have had several moments where my personal version of god/religion has come to my refuge, but I have never labeled myself as religious or not. Yes, it was a convenient option for me, but children don’t need convenience, they need permanence. Until this point, it has been a very personal choice, but it seems like I cannot continue on this way.

As a parent, I have to take a stand on every issue; it is the only route to take. Children need direction and consistency; in my son’s mind he needed a reason for being asked to say the prayers everyday.

As a parent, I either had to continue with this practice when we returned home to Chengdu, or give it up completely – till he is old enough to make up his own mind about whether or not to embrace god/religion. I’ve chosen to let my son be the judge of how he wants to approach the issue when he is older and hopefully wiser.

But in the meantime I have begun to re-evaluate myself as a mother. I have begun to consciously take a stand on most issues in my life, at least the ones that I plan to expose my children to. I want to be ready when my son poses the next big question.

I am getting there slowly, but surely.

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Renuka Venkataraman is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering.

“I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I lived in Dallas, Texas for almost 15 years and worked as teacher for special needs kids for 10 of those years. I moved to Chengdu in September 2011 with my husband, two kids and our miniature dachshund Zen. I’m looking at motherhood under a very different light here in Chengdu. It has brought a sense of positivity and purpose to my life in many ways I can’t wait to experience and share with all you other Multicultural Moms.”