A few of you may not know who I am, so here’s a quick biography. My name is Tom. I am married, and I have a 21 month old boy named Ethan. I like long walks on the beach, smoking cigarette butts from the ashtray (not really), and NPR news.  The End. Now onto the post.

Ethan has been saying a range of words for some time now.  He is taking on new words daily. Sometime in the very near future his little brain is going to take these words and begin to formulate them into a billion questions. These questions are going to seem basic and redundant to most, but these questions will be the foundation of how he begins to understand the world and what’s around him.

I am trying to prepare myself for questions that might come up in the next few years while he is a wee lad.

Example: Is there a God?

This is a question I have put a considerable amount of thought into, but with no answer. Eventually, at some point a god based question will cross my path, and I need to have a parental response suitable for a child.

If any full grown adult asked me this I would reply with a simple no followed by an earful of my nonsense.

How exactly do you tell your child or any child truthfully about the likeliness of there not actually being a god without fracturing his/her own sense of free-will to make his/her own decisions?

I do not want to persuade him into not believing in God (though I definitely prefer it). I want him to come to that conclusion himself, but then again I don’t want him packing off for vacation bible school when he is 5 years old.

Granted, when your 5 years old god, money, and other randomness doesn’t play a significant role in your life, but your response to these questions as a parent begins the building of their foundation of thought, and a simple understanding about life. So, I feel answering these questions appropriately is vital.

Amanda and I have had the “religion” discussion in terms of how to go about it with Ethan quite a few times. Amanda believes in a God, as I don’t. She asked “Well, what if I wanted to take him to church?” My response was “How old is he?” I don’t want him as a child (now-16) going to church. Am I being irrational? I don’t think I am. I feel taking him to church would be comparable to me sending him to a Nazi training camp, atheist cult, or Scientology what not as a child. I would just be plugging him into a different train of thought from early on.

Basically, it boils down to me wanting him to be his own free-thinking individual. I would prefer him not to be a sheep from the get-go as I was. I’d much rather he wanders down a path freshly made by him, and not the same beaten path of others.

Feel free to post a response. Tell me what you would do. One day most of you will have a child, or children. They are going to ask a God question. How will you respond? Obviously, you have time on your side, but if you had to answer right now what would your answer be?

ElTigreTom is a contributing writer fro ProjctGroupThink. Follow us on Twitter via the username PGTblog – all the cool kids are doing it!



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10 responses to “w.w.you.d.

  1. I might say something like “some people think there is and others think there isn’t,” and continue from there prompted by the child’s other questions or reactions. I know that giving my personal opinion at a young age that I would likely greatly influence their thoughts. I would mention my personal beliefs, but I would try not to impose them. If parents disagree, both could *calmly* and briefly say why they chose to believe what they do.

  2. My personal experience has shown religious teaching in childhood to have negative psychological effects. I believe, however, that if you and Amanda are both honest about your stances on things, the child will most likely benefit from the diversity of views.

    Personally, I am not sure that we should allow the teaching of religion to young children. It seems dangerous to influence a developing mind so radically (I daresay irresponsibly) – the term “brainwashing” springs readily to mind.

  3. kevinkmjr

    I have always found that, if nothing else, the church assists in building a set of values in a young child’s life. This is not to say that these values can’t be taught elsewhere, but I have yet to find a parent adequately swap the church community for another community.

    Another point that I have made with a close friend of mine that wants his daughter to make her own choice is that she won’t be able to make a choice if you refuse ‘on principle’ to ever expose her to the available choices out there.

    And people need to get of their high horse and stop calling it brainwashing. The community of people that meets within those walls meets there because that what they consciously decided to do. No one is forcing anyone to believe anything. They are teaching their belief system, if you don’t like that belief system, don’t go to that building, it’s very simple. O, but why can’t they do it my way or take my input, why am I the one that has to change? Because it’s their house, quit trying to make them change and get over it.

  4. kevinkmjr

    ElTigreTom, I apologize and got off point as the whole brainwashing label irritates me. One thing that i have seen to work before is this:

    Since your wife has an established belief system, allow her to take the child to church all but one Sunday a month. On that week, take the child to a place that practices a different belief and practice system. Make it a different place every month at first. Once you run out of options, go back through the organizations, and do each place for three months at a time to get a better feel for what they do there.

  5. jakefunc

    Tom, this is a really good question (you should go back and edit the tags on your post so
    it’ll come up in peoples’ search results). Having your child make their own decision about
    their spirituality (or lack thereof) is ‘the perfect situation’, and is, unfortunately,
    totally impossible. Every decision we make is based upon previous experiences in our lives,
    first formed by our parents, then family, then friends, schoolmates, employers, onward and
    onward, our minds becoming ever harder and harder with ‘knowledge’ until it gets to the point
    that our perceptions cannot change (supposedly. A liberal thinker might disagree, actively
    seeking to challenge their mind with all that is new). A young mind is truly a blank slate,
    and either way you push, or don’t push, will end in long, chalky lines.

    Maybe the best answer would be to set Ethan into an more agnostic mind set; ‘God’ is a concept
    that is not very well understood by the human mind.

    Wait. What the fuck am I saying.. What a messy idea.

    There needs to be some kind of grounding, a foundation for knowledge to build off of.

    You should have like, 28 kids, and have them each follow a different religion/philosophy
    and argue with each other til they stumble on The Truth.

    Whatever plan you come up with is hopefully better than that, haha

  6. I’m going to honest here. I have spent the last 15 minutes writing and backspacing whatever it was that i had wrote.

    More backspacing.

    i’ll hit everyone back with replies in the next few days. I am brain-farting. i have been living off of energy drinks the past few days since the start of my new job. I’ve been also trying to write papers for school the past week and a half.

  7. Perhaps “brainwashing” is a bit hyperbolic, but it’s certainly not far enough off the mark for comfort. I’m not opposed to religion as such; but I understand that religious thought, in virtue of its gravity and its complexity, should seldom be taught to the often gullible minds of children.

    I speak as pointedly as I do about the matter because I don’t believe we as a society realize the potentiality of religious exposure to harm children psychologically. Many people struggle throughout childhood and adolescence with unlearning the preconceptions of their parents’ faith, or with compromising themselves to accord with values they never asked to learn. This creates an intense psychic disharmony, often during periods of life which are troubling enough as it is.

    Of course, little is true universally. I don’t believe that religion will always be bad for every child exposed to it. But we must approach the matter with reverence and trepidation – the damage, when it’s done, is very real and seldom repaired easily.

  8. Ahh… finally a day off and no more papers to write.

    And now onto the responses.

    Mike – You pretty much stated everything I wanted to say. My hesitation with religion and Ethan is because the effects of Religion can be hard, if not impossible to undo at the adult age.

    Yacob – Teaching that God is a concept is not all that bad of an idea. As a child he could be taught the “idea” of religion, but necessarily full on introduced into it. The main reason I want him to be older when he drifts into religion (if he chooses to) is because I think it’s hard to find religion as a credible reason for existence to the mature adult mind.

    kevinmk – My only problem with my wife taking him to church would be his age. At a young age you can be lead to believe anything, and everything.

    When I was a child I would ask where I came from. My mother would tell me I came from “Munchkin Land.” I believed this when I was a little kid.

    So the questions Ethan may pose while at church could be responded with a religious answer; therefore, he may take these religious answers to his questions at face value. And when these answers are bombarded on you on a weekly basis they eventually become true.

    I don’t want him to be caught up in a close-minded, I am right, follow god or you shall burn in hell for all eternity kind of lifestyle. i want him to be open-minded, and let’s face it, religion and open-mindedness doesn’t flow very well together.

    • davidrsheehan

      Tom, despite being devoutly opposed to the idea of a god, I have to argue with your last part.

      Religion and open-mindedness CAN (and probably do, if I looked for it) flow well together, just as not believing in god and being open-minded can.

      I think that Mike makes some interesting points about the psychological effects of religion on the impressionable, but I also understand now (not something I’ve always come to terms with very well) that religions are as much about the very human sense of “community” as they are about any belief.

      I was given the option to attend church as a child – my grandmother would sometimes take me. As a youth, I did bells for a while and my parents attended every time I played, just like with sports. But I never really believed, and always felt outside of the community, even in its midst (in retrospect, this was part of a larger problem I had/have with feeling communal bonds with humanity – a species I have some difficult times trying to understand most days).

      I didn’t answer your question, Tom, and I don’t think I can. I’d go with honesty, like others have said above. And open-mindedness. Try to turn your kid into a non-believer and they just might wind up being a priest. Kids have a funny way of gaining independence.

  9. kevinkmjr

    My final thought on this topic is the whole close minded concept. Most ‘non-believers’ (please forgive the grouping term) feel that they are more open minded for the sole fact that they refute the possablity of the existance of a god. It is my experience that the truth is, in my opinion, the opposite. Myself and many that believe like me CHOOSE to believe the way that we do in a non-denominational manner. I am very open to discussion and possibilities that lay out of the realms of my personal choice in belief. Most of the people that I know that are not believers will stearnly and/or angrily fight against the idea of a supreme being and/or a specific deity. Which is less open minded: believing in something while accepting other possibilities or completely ruling out certain ideas?

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