Monday, April 18, 2011

That's Not a Candygram

One of the most difficult things about raising kids when the two parents have vastly different religious views is how you balance talking about religion. In my perfect world, my kids wouldn't be indoctrinated into any religion, but instead just be taught morals and ethics detached from any religious bells and whistles until they're old enough and discerning enough to be introduced the spectrum of religious beliefs that different people around the world have, say around age 10-12. I want my kids to be kind to others, to share what they have, to stand up for those weaker than them, to be responsible and take care of the earth, to help those who need help. I want them to do this because it's the right thing, not because some invisible friend says they'll go to hell if they don't.

Unfortunately, this is not my perfect world. And because circumstances dictate that my kids attend a Catholic school, it has become a constant battle to separate out the positive messages from what I see as the destructive ideology and to explain why said destructive ideology is destructive in terms that an 11-year-old and a 5-year-old can understand.  I fear I am not threading the gauntlet well, and have ended up with an 11-year-old who rolls his eyes and uses air quotes every time he utters the word "jesus" and a 5-year-old who is bewildered that Mommy is not praising "Jesus."

On the one hand, I don't want to inculcate my kids with my sometimes overly vehement aversion to Christianity, on the other hand, I think a lot of Christianity the way it's practiced by "christians" is poisonous and needs to be called out as such. Misogyny, homophobia, intolerance, racism, and sick ideas about sex are  some of the things I find offensive in Christianity. But instead of saving these conversations until they're old enough to understand the complexities and to be able to discuss it, I'm forced by circumstance to daily walk a tightrope about when to just let something go and when to break out the flow charts explaining why Mom is having an aneurysm. It's so tiring and so needless that it really just sometimes breaks my heart.

To make it more complicated, there are apparently all kinds of "jump-for-jesus" dog whistles that those of who are un-initiated miss. For instance, the 5-year-old has been talking for weeks about the "girl who got her arm bitten off by the shark and got right back in the water!" He asked me, and I told him, yes, I had heard the story. I asked where he heard it, and he told me they were talking about it in class. I found this an odd thing to be teaching kindergartners, but I didn't think that much about it. But he kept talking about it. Seems they're really hammering this little parable home.

So today I catch an article about the movie about the girl, and it turns out it's a "Christian" movie about how Jesus was using a shark to test her family's faith or something.

In the words of the Slate article:

Hamilton's family were evangelical Christians who understood what had happened to Bethany as a personal and providential test of faith, and also saw it as an opportunity to testify to the wider world.

I find that a really obscenely  inappropriate message for a 5-year-old. "Hey, you know your buddy Jesus? Better be careful or he'll send a shark to bite your arm off just make sure you still believe in him!" WTF?

Seems when one of these "Christian" movies come out, religious schools go into promotional overdrive, telling little tie-in stories to encourage kids to beg their parents to go see the movie. We went through that whole bullshit before when I refused to let my then 12-year-old daughter see the torture-porn Mel Gibson was peddling in Passion of the Christ with a gaggle of little fundie girls she knew. That was a knock-down drag-out fight at the time. But in a few months, those same girls were telling her that her mom was working for the devil because she wrote horror books, and that was the end of my daughter's flirtation with religion, without me having to say a word.

I'm not making a big deal of it with the small child. I'm biting my tongue and skirting the edges. He's trying to learn how to read, and he doesn't need Mommy stomping around cursing. But I did tell him that if there was a Jesus, he certainly wouldn't be sending sharks to attack children. I try and tell myself that if I keep trying to be a better example of compassion (even though dog knows I fail miserably often enough when things like this make me screaming mad), the kids are going to come to their own conclusions without me inserting my sometimes very bitter opinions.  It doesn't always work, but I'll keep on trying.


  1. I'm sufficiently superstitious to believe in Something Out There. Like that or don't (I have angry militant atheist friends), I am.

    I have one overwhelming logical problem with Christianity and another with monotheism in general. A) Heaven and Hell make for awesome and gripping mythology, but they are incompatible with the real world's complex shades of moral grey. B) I can't imagine a Creator who's supposed to be at all benign who wants people to worship him. A good parent raises their child to be independent of them, and after that any gratitude or love is optional and a free choice made by the child.

    ...I just realized I'm already writing a book about each of these themes. Should I start expecting this, that if anything is important to me I'll write a book about it?

  2. I think that's the way it turns out: we work out the twisty little knots of what's important to us by writing about it. Hopefully we do it in a way that edifies both us as writers and our readers.

    Of course this week I would just be writing about zombies EATING ALMOST EVERYONE I KNOW. And I would sit on top of the water tower and laugh and laugh while I threw bottles of steak sauce.

  3. Just be glad I'm not Mormon....