Monday, October 24, 2011

Untitled (the post I have been trying to write for years about religion)

This post is about 2.5 years in the making. I have tried to write it a couple times, but didn't want to offend anyone with my opinions and ideas. But after listening to my mother sing a song about Jesus to M in the car the other day, and seeing my reaction to it, I finally feel like I just need to put this out there for discussion. So here goes a post about religion (yikes!)...

I do not come from a religious family. I was not baptized, I was actually blessed by a pastor friend of my parents. We did not attend church, like some of my other friends. When asked what religion I was, I would always say "no religion."

Growing up I attended a private school where 2-3 times a week we attended Chapel. We sang hymns (I was even in the chapel choir for 2 years), one of the Reverends gave a mini sermon (during which I would sit there flipping through the hymnal most days), we said the Lord's Prayer, and sang more hymns. We had classes about religion where we were taught all the basics...God created the world, God created Man and Woman, Noah built an Ark, Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph and performed miracles throughout his entire life, and eventually was crucified for our sins. I believed what I was taught, and never questioned it...what 10 year old does?

Then we moved to Florida and I became involved in a youth group at a local church. Most of my friends would go to these meetings during the week, and I heard about all the fun things they were doing, so I started to attend them myself. I fell in love with the youth leaders, and the sense of family between my friends and I during these gatherings. I started to attend the church on the weekends with my friends, and eventually went on religious retreats during the summer with this group. Yes, I went to church camp, but this was not your average church camp. And amidst all the activities and costume parties and cook outs, I  became wrapped up in the spiritual teachings and "devoted myself to Christ."

I came back from the first trip "born again" if you will. I read my bible, attended church, and the following year even became a junior leader at one of these camp adventures. But while I was talking the talk, I was totally not walking the walk. I thought that I could do whatever I wanted to, as long as I confessed my sins and asked for forgiveness, because God forgives right? This didn't stop me from having sex with my boyfriend, or lying to my parents, or drinking at parties...I did what every normal high school girl did, but I carried around a bible and quoted bible versus in yearbook notes to my friends.

Then I went to college and quickly forgot about religion entirely...and I attended Boston College, a jesuit university, where 99% of my friends were Catholic! It was during this time that I came to the realization that my whole religious phase in high school was not really sincere at all. I was drinking the Kool-Aid if you will. My friends were into it, and yes I had fun and loved everyone that I experienced this with, but I don't feel like it was genuine at all. It was during college that I became the skeptic that I am today.

I have a hard time defining my religious views. I feel like Athiest is so harsh a word, but in reality that is probably what I am now. I don't practice religion, I don't believe that there is a God above us willing us to do what we do, or guiding us along the way. I have become a person that needs evidence to believe things. I don't believe we were created by God. I believe in evolution, in the Big Bang...I don't believe in the miracles of Jesus, for the same reason that I don't believe in ghosts...because there is no hard evidence.

I told this to my mother the other day and I think she might have had a minor heart attack. She asked me how I couldn't believe in the "miracles of God." I told her that I do believe that wonderful mystical things happen in life, but in no way that I believe they are the will of some mythical super human that lives in the clouds. I do believe that there is an energy connecting all of us, and with positive energy, and positive thoughts and feelings, positive things can happen (a miracle being the extreme of these things) but in no way do I believe that it is due to "prayer" and "God."

I am still surrounded today by nothing by Catholic friends, and I watch them all go through the motions of getting married in a church, and baptizing their babies. None of them attend church on a regular basis, but they all consider themselves Catholics as they were raised that way. I think because I wasn't really raised a religion I don't really understand going through all of these "motions." I am not judging them in any way, of course, and attend all of these lovely ceremonies and love their children to death, I just will never fully understand it all.

And now that we have an inquisitive child, who in a few years, I am sure will be asking us all of the religious questions that kids do, I wonder how I am going to answer them. M has not been baptized, nor will she ever be. She has the freedom to chose whatever religion she wants to be. I will not impart my views upon her, but I will be honest with her about the way my husband and I feel about religion in general: I have no problem with any of them, I just don't believe in them!

At what point in her life can I tell her that the Noah's Ark she plays with is actually designed after a story in the Bible about a man who builds a gigantic boat to save all of animal-kind from a disastrous flood. A boat on which he supposedly gathered two of each of the 6 million species of animals. That was quite a boat. And people actually believe this well as burning bushes, and water being turned into wine, and seas being parted. Sounds like a Harry Potter book to me!

There are some things about religion that I do actually love. I love the sense of community and family that comes with going to church. My mother sings in the church choir, and each week my father goes and sits in the audience. They are friends with everyone there, and my dad is fishing buddies with the head Pastor. It is a huge part of their lives now (this is the same church I started going to in high school) and I love that. The only time I actually step foot in a church (despite the odd wedding or baptism) is with my parents at Christmas time, and I love singing the Christmas hyms, but get terribly uncomfortable listening to the pastor's sermons because I just don't buy into it all. (If my mother is reading this, she just had another heart attack.)

My mother also asked me yesterday "well then, who do you pray to?" And I told her "I don't pray to anyone." And that is the truth. I don't say prayers to Jesus or God. I actually don't say prayers at all. I tend to think good thoughts over and over in my head, but I am not asking someone to help me or answer my "prayers." It is more of a sending of good vibes and positive thoughts and energy. I guess one could call that a prayer, but I don't. I don't believe that there is someone listening inside my head, waiting to answer.

People might ask me how I can say all this, when I am going through all of this infertility stuff, because some consider M my little miracle. I consider her a gift from science. Thanks to science, not God, I was able to get pregnant. This doesn't mean I am not thankful for her every second of my life. She is a blessing to me, I know, but it is because of science that she was born, not prayers, not God.

Even as I write all this I realize that it sounds kind of shocking to put this all down on (e-) paper. This is really the first time I have gathered my thoughts about this all at once, and come to this conclusion. Am I an atheist? I guess I am after I re-read this post.

Now I have to struggle with how to let M choose her own beliefs in the future. Are there any non-religious moms out there with some advice? Would love to hear from all of you about how you are raising your children when it comes to religion.

I hope I did not offend anyone with my ramblings. Just because I don't follow or believe it, doesn't mean I have a problem with anyone else and their religion.


  1. I have written and rewritten my response about three times now and it never comes out just right. That's the funny thing about talks on religion. It's a touchy subject and it's really a shame.

    I was raised Catholic. I was baptized and confirmed. I was in the church youth group in high school. Come college, the only time I went to church was on Christmas Eve. I did that for my grandmother.

    Once I had my first child I stopped going altogether. I realized that attending because it was important to someone else was not a good reason to be going, even once a year. And I realized that was not something I wanted to be teaching my children.

    I don't believe in the teachings of the Bible. I don't believe in most of what the Catholic church teaches.

    Like you, Mama J, I don't pray. When I'm asked to pray for others, I respond that I will keep people in my thoughts, as that is the best I can do. And I will hope, with every inch of my being, that good comes from that. I believe in positive energy and positive thinking and I believe in being a good person. I also believe bad things happen to good people and I think that sucks, but it's life. And I don't believe that God or a higher power has much to do about that.

    Religion is the root of so much evil in this world. I will never understand the logic behind such extremists... this whole answering to a higher power stuff. I answer to me and that's good enough in my book.

  2. I forgot to address your question about kids and religion. When our son asks questions about God or Jesus or anything religious, my husband and I respond with "Some people believe..." I know someday we'll have to go further than that, but for now that's what works for us.

  3. J- We think so much alike it is good to hear your thoughts. I miss the community that comes with being affiliated with a religion and the accountability between like minded and ethically moral people. The sense of community and family.... I think this is the most important part. Our son goes to a Presbyterian preschool and they have chapel once a week. It is hard to know how we will deal with the questions, but I know the lessons about dealing with humanity and building his character are good ones. The golden rule etc.... but I think the bible stories are just that... stories, to be used as they have always been used to teach lessons by example using entertaining anecdotes. I am sure I will think of more to write later.... glad you brought this up! xo

  4. Mama J,

    Count me in the same camp as you and previous posters Jamie and Amy. I was raised Catholic but was the one of us four kids who pushed back a bit ("why do I have to be Catholic just because you are?"). I also went to BC for undergrad and have many friends who religiously (ha!) attend services, send their kids to CCD, etc. (Ha! Remember all those people who wouldn't dream of eating meat on Fridays during Lent but didn't see anything wrong with various goings-on on Saturday night??)

    My twin girls are 22 months, and Christmas is coming, so I've been thinking about these things, too. For the most part, at least at first, I'll go with the "some people believe" that Jamie mentioned. I know I will struggle with this at some point because it will be hard not to sound critical or demeaning. Look, people want comfort in their lives. I'm ok with other people being comforted by things that seem foolish to me.

    Another thing I struggle with is that religion, and Christianity in particular, plays such a large role in education (European history, art, etc.). I think I'll want my girls to know something about religion in order to be well-rounded and educated. I suppose one key will be having them learn about a variety of religions.

    I also hear you on the infertility front. I believe that my doctors performed amazing feats of science, and I believe that my acupuncturist performed amazing feats of (umm) science(? -- I believe there's science involved but also that acupuncture helps with the positive energy you wrote about). I consider my girls "miracles". That word just has a different meaning for me than for the religious folks.

    I have spoken with scientists before who believe in all the things you mentioned (big bang, etc.) but also believe that some divine being was behind it all. Of course, those scientists necessarily must believe that the Bible is a set of stories that are not meant to be taken literally. I simply cannot resist the snarky comment that anyone who has ever played the telephone game should realize that it is ridiculous to believe that stories being passed down orally for many (hundreds? I don't recall.) years should not be relied upon as conforming to the original (likewise for prophecies revealed to someone looking into a hat, which prophecies just so happened to be self-serving to the "prophet").

    I used to think of myself as Agnostic, but I think I just didn't want to use the word Atheist because it carries a lot of negativity for many (most?) people.

    I've gone on far too long. I'll just add that I really enjoy your posts, Mama J.

  5. I do believe in something. I just haven't quite figuired out what that is yet entirely. However, that is just how life goes. Our beliefs are constantly changing and evolving due to new expierences and discoveries.

    I feel it is important to have a moral compass and how one finds that direction certainly differs from person to person, family to family, and faith to religion. I actully choose to send both of my children to a Christian school and they attend religion once a week and pray daily etc... However, we usually do not attend church. We picked the school not necessarily for the religious education, which is only a small portion of thier day, but more specifically for the morals, values and strong academics. Lastly we wanted our kids to be surrounded by other children whose parents also value high standards academically, socially, morally etc... So, even though I don't have it all figuired out I agree the community aspect is definitely important and has significant benefits.

    Also, for a young child who is curious about what they are saying at grace in social situations, when around others etc.... Just tell her the grace is to thank daddy (father). Simple enough of an explanation for now :)


  6. That is a tough post to write, I really admire your honesty. Raising your kids today with morals and values is difficult, no matter what your beliefs. We are definitely raising our kids in the hopes that they will truly love Jesus some day, but my worry is that I will somehow make them into those crazy Christians who judge everyone and everything in their path who don't agree with them. Jesus didn't just sit in some fancy church somewhere, hanging out with all the fancy people looking down his nose at all of the "sinners." From a religious perspective, if all sin is equal, how does espousing a religious belief suddenly make you better than anyone else or give you the right to judge someone who chooses a different lifestyle than you? The part of the bible that I try to teach my kids is to love your God and to love your neighbor... and there is no asterisk after neighbor that says that you only have to love the neighbors who think the way you do or who act the way you do. God meant everyone. Jesus got his hands dirty; he made an impact; he helped those who the rest of the world had cast off and forgotten about. My biggest belief, no matter what your faith, is that actions speak louder than words and that taking the time to do community service with your kids so that they can see those in need and appreciate what they have will make the biggest impact. They are so many in the religious world who give religion a bad name, so many who have made religion into a business or use it in the name of violence, racism, etc. But in my heart of hearts, I just can't look at nature, at how our bodies work, at how small miracles happen every day in the lives of my family, and not believe that there is something out there that is so much bigger than me.

  7. I go back and forth about joining a synagogue. Not because I believe, but because I want my children to understand what it is to be Jewish in a largely non-Jewish society. I don't believe in god or pray, but I think that being Jewish is a huge part of who I am and I don't want my children to miss out on that even though their father (like mine) was raised Catholic. I want my kids to go to Hebrew school like I did, meet other Jewish children (we live in a largely Catholic neighborhood), and learn Jewish traditions. I want them to have a Jewish community. It feels odd to join a synagogue when I'm so far from religious, but with a huge Catholic family on my husband's side and no Jewish family on my side I don't know what else to do. It's tough.