I don't talk about religion in our home. Or, at least, I try not to.
While I think having a moral compass and personal spirituality are important bases for a great life, I'm not doing it because of any robed, bearded, mythical being in the sky. You do it because you respect people, and you want to have a positive impact after your limited time here is done and you turn into a pile of dust. I haven't taken my kids to church, and don't plan on doing it anytime soon.
Former Reykjavik Mayor, Jón Gnarr, has written a great explanation of why he doesn't believe in god. It's a great story that explains the importance of community, and culture, but absolutely dismisses the existence of any flying spaghetti monster. Religion is a political tool, a substitute for critical thinking, a close-minded, often misogynist ideology, he argues. I agree.
In your house? Different rules, probably. And that's fine. Except when your kids and my kids go to school, those different rules mix.
This is how it works for everything. From bedtimes to toys to language to diet, you can set up the rules how you like them in your house, but once your kids get out in the real world, the rule book is out the window.
"When you die," Charlie told us over dinner. "When you die, you get to see god."
It wasn't quite a spit take, or a choke, but I put my fork down and paused. Thank,s Charlie's best friend, for dropping this nugget of playground wisdom.
"Who is god?," I followed up. Like I said, we don't talk religion in our house. One day the complexities and fallacies of belief systems will be discussed, but for now I want my kids to believe in themselves, so the notion of "god" has never been discussed.
After a thoughtful pause, Charlie offered "he's the king of the ghosts," and returned to his plate of noodles and cucumber slices.
I'll accept that answer. Then Zacharie moved in. "God is a legend, so he's not real," he explained. (Okay, maybe I've done the "god isn't real" thing once or twice.) And then the two of them talked about legends and how different people believe different things, and then their favorite song came on the radio and I was told to turn it up.
Saved by Ariana Grande.
The Sober Second Thought
This incident happened a few weeks ago and has been rattling around in my head ever since. I'm steadfast in my atheism, but how do I balance that reality with the world around my kids that chooses to so intricately blend religion, culture, and mythology?
Has my cone of silence about religion has left my kids vulnerable? Charlie knew nothing of god, so when his BFF gave him his "explain it to me like I'm five, because I am actually five" speech about god, Charlie bought it.
How should I handle it in my home? Do I empower my kids with the critical thinking skills, and confidence to tell their classmates that they're full of shit? Do my boys come right out and say god is make believe and an excuse for people not willing to look deeper into science to find the real reason things happen?
There's always a debate each December about Santa in the early school grades. Most all of us play along with this wonderful ruse, but some don't. They've got older siblings and the mystery has been solved, or they've got fundamentalist family beliefs that are not to be hijacked by a jolly red suit.
There's an unwritten rule that once you know the Santa Secret, you keep it secret and don't ruin the fun for others. The rule works because we're all in on the joke. We don't ruin it because, eventually, when the kids are old enough, they figure things out.
But what about religion? Are those of us who have "figured it out," expected to nurse the god plot along for the spiritual enjoyment of others? There is no naïve, pure joy gained from watching other people believe in god the way we watch kids with Santa.
It doesn't work because those who believe in god, a being no more plausible than Santa Claus, are not in on the joke. They don't ever get it. They never grow out of their spiritual naïveté. It deepens. And it makes things worse.
So, I won't play along with the god games on the playground. If you're going to let your kid bring their stories to school, I'm going to let my kids bring theirs. It's only fair. Isn't it?
This post originally appeared on DadCAMP.