Parent vs. parent: Raising children without religion

My son Henry was born in the early summer of 2000. He was premature, and spent ten days in the NICU. I had been an on-again, off-again Episcopalian for the ten or so years before I had Henry, but after his birth I returned to church, in an effort to sort out why my son would be healthy when other babies in the NICU were not, why one baby died while we were there and others were staying for months and months with no possibility of going home. I had Henry baptized because I thought it would help me to sort out my own feelings about faith and community, and would give me a way to connect with something larger than myself.

Through much of my adult life--through two years of inexplicable infertility and a surprise premature delivery and the first signs that my son was not on target developmentally--I struggled to decide what exactly it was that I believed, and how I would teach my son about faith and kindness and Christian charity. And then, in September of 2001, two planes crashed into the World Trade Towers. Two more crashed in Washington DC and in rural Pennsylvania. And I watched as Christian communities in my city and others responded with hate and anger and fear, and I wondered if those were the values I wanted to my son to learn.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, I lost what remained of my faith, not so much in God but in the organizations that purport to represent him. I lost my faith in dogma and theology. I lost my faith in the made-up rules for how to be Godly and good. Instead, I started to think about what it was that I really believed, what I would place my faith in, if not in religion. I believe in science and medicine; I believe in community and philanthropy. I believe in the soul and in reincarnation. I believe that how we act is more important than how we pray.

We have always taught our sons to respect other people's religious beliefs, and to respect their places of worship. We have talked to them about different religions, and about how one religion isn't better or worse than another. We talk to them about respecting nature and people. We have taught them that the most important thing is what is in their hearts, not what words they say or what building they kneel in.

I think people assume sometimes that raising a child without religion means raising him without any sort of moral compass, but this isn't true at all, at least not for my sons. I want my sons to grow up to be compassionate and caring; I want them to have a sense of their place in the world and an understanding of how their actions affect other people. I want them to be accepting and welcoming of people who are different from them. I am often envious of people with a strong religious base because they can use the shorthand of What Would Jesus Do? to teach their children all these things. In many ways, I think I have made it harder on myself by choosing to raise my sons without religion. At the same time, though, I think I am raising children who will have great faith. It just may not be in God, and I am fine with that.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.