This weekend was a personal test for my parenting. As an atheist parent, I am pretty adamant in presenting both sides of an argument and using context when discussing religious belief with my kids. The only confirmation of how fair of a job I am doing is when the kids end up in awkward situations of religious types where I am not present. I eagerly wait to hear about the results later.
Before I go into my eldest son’s adventure in the land of Woo, I should probably elaborate on the foundation I’ve helped him create for his basis of logic. Much like newly minted adult atheists, my kids went through a lot of similar rationalizing, denial, and even outrage of religious doctrine. Fortunately, secular kids get to excel through those stages much quicker than indoctrinated adults who are fresh off the biblical ark.
One of the most important life skills is free thinking, and I encouraged this so much in my own children that it is intrinsic to their thought processes now. One effective method of encouraging and teaching free thought processes actually has nothing to do with questioning religious doctrine. That is just one path that develops later.
No, you encourage your children to think outside the box by allowing them to explore your authority. You, the parent, are the leading role model and authority in their lives, and while your children must respect that authority, never discourage them from questioning and verifying your role outside your own declarations. When you use the attitude of “Because I said so”, you are actually stunting the learning curve. One learns best by exploration in thought, so allow these trips outside your constructed realm of parenting.
Additionally, respect is very important; I doubt I need to dedicate a whole paragraph to this pillar of self, but one thing should be said. Respect, while given, does not always need to be earned either. Esteem for something and respect for it are very different things. Not everything in life is give and take. By insisting respect must be earned you make the willingness to give respect a commodity to be traded for unnecessary platitudes and ceremony. Essentially, unless otherwise known, assume everyone deserves respect.
Finally, I breed self appreciation in my children. This is an essential piece to being secular, in my own personal opinion. I want my children, as cliche as it sounds, to appreciate who they are. To appreciate who you are, why you are, strengths and weaknesses, teaches empathy and accountability. You can fully appreciate a larger portrait of what individuality truly means. And by having the ability to look at the whole in oneself means one can do that in relating to others.
All of these main pieces to my parenting has rendered open minded inquisitive children, who decisions are mostly well informed and extremely fair. I have little to no worries about how they handle awkward religious situations overall. So, back to my eldest son’s experiences at a charismatic (Pentecostal based) church this past weekend, and how he carried himself during the two hour service.
I had planned to take him to a charismatic service myself, but my fundamentalist parents beat me to the exposure when having him over for a night. It should be noted the grandparents know damn well my kids are secular. I’ve made it clear I didn’t want my children exposed to this sort of thing without me present at first, as well. So much for that. Undermining me is nothing new in their play book, but ultimately, I think it worked out.
My thirteen year old got the full Pentecostal sideshow. Anointing of believers, prayer circles complete with talking in tongues, music induced spirit slaying, choreographed interpretive dancing, a five minute lesson on the Trinity, and Jesus tag. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Oh, it was. He mentioned he really enjoyed the refreshments. Can’t be a good service without a snack and some juice, am I right?
He found the lesson on the trinity boring, and could barely control his laughing when telling me about Jesus tag. Essentially, the goal of the game is to infect (tag someone as it) with the Holy Spirit. He thought that was semi perverted in a funny way, and I agreed it was a good thing they called it Jesus tag and not something like “clergyman tickles”.
“Talking in tongues was really weird,” he said,”because Grampy is a steward, so he was in a prayer circle around some people, talking that nonsense.” He also felt awkward with his grandmother next to him with arms up high, doing the same as Grampy. My son knows it isn’t a real language, and struggled to reconcile this kind of clearly misguided emotional abandon. These are two grown adults he just spent the better part of a day with. Ate dinner with. Played video games and fed chickens with. People he can laugh, cry, and joke with. And here they were, disconnected with reality, participating in rituals.
My son better understands someone moved to tears by the vast beauty of a starry night over the Grand Canyon than a group think situation in a tiny church building. This teenager is learning how to view, and treat, irrationality in those he loves. And unlike diagnosed mental illness or drug abuse, he has a completely invisible adversary. An adversary that stole two hours of his visit from his relationship with his grand parents. Truly, he was mildly incensed that his grand parents chose a two hour church service as a priority above a rare visit from him.
The music and prayer was annoying, and he said most of the kids were glad to go to youth class so they didn’t have to witness the adults’ service. “Those kids were NOT happy to be there. Seriously, they were miserable.” Seeing one’s parents jumping, writhing and dancing in the spirit of the Lord put performance pressure on these other kids.
“Someday,” I explained,”they will be out there doing it too.”
“Do they have a choice?”
“What do you think?” He didn’t answer me on that one, possibly he already knows and is glad he had a choice. Either way, he left there with independently gained knowledge, confidence in his lack of belief reaffirmed. He doesn’t debate anyone yet. I discourage that until he has studied what he wants to argue, and he seems content with that. For now, he just hones his religious shut down skills.