October 24, 2010

My Daughter, The Victim of Religious Freedom

There are certain phrases, which when uttered, cause my level of respect for the person speaking them to instantly decrease. The amount of respect depends, of course, on the phrase itself. Some pull out a double-barreled shotgun, place it directly into the mouth of my respect for the person, utter some pithy, cliche phrase like "How about a bullet sandwich?" and pull the trigger, spraying respect-brains and bits of respect-skull all over the respect-living room wall. This category includes phrases such as:

"Jersey Shore is the greatest show ever!!"

"Stephanie Meyer is a literary genius." (Or some variation using 3rd grade vocabulary. "She write good books!" Stephen King agrees with me on this one.)

"**insert politician here** hates America and wants to destroy it!"



Other phrases do not do so much damage, but do make cringe internally and make a mental note to keep them in mind during future conversations. Some of these include:

"I hate speaking ill of others, but..." then proceed to speak ill of others.

"I can't wait to get out of here and get a beer!" (This one is only bad during certain situations, like school plays and job interviews.)

"God has a plan."


At this point, you may have come to a screeching halt and thought "WHAT?!?" so allow me to elaborate.

I think this is an idiotic concept. What? That wasn't enough elaboration? Fine!

The phrase "God has a plan" followed by "for me" is not as bad as when it is followed by "for you." This is something said when a tragic event occurs, such as a building collapsing on top of a cardboard box filled with puppies, especially puppies that you owned. While weeping among the wreckage, someone will come up to you, thinking they are being helpful and supportive and say "Don't be sad. God has a plan." They will then pat you on the back and walk away feeling amazing at the wonderful work they've done that day.

What I hear there is "God wanted to kill your puppies. He wanted their little lives crushed out under hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete, wood, glass and metal."

The people who use this phrase with the idea that it will bring comfort to people who are grieving. For some, it may work. For people who have devoted their lives (or a portion of their lives) to the church, or the mosque, or the temple, it is a reminder of where they have placed their faith. It is a comfort in time of need to be reminded that they are a part of something larger and more wonderful.

For others, however, it sounds more like "You are sad. You wouldn't be sad if you loved God more."

I know this isn't what they are saying and almost never what they imply, but this is how it sounds.


It's easier to smile and say "Thanks" than it is to get into a discussion about religious diversity.

God has a plan for my cuteness!



With this in mind, Sara and I had many long discussions before we had Harper about how to raise her in terms of religious traditions. Sara was raised Catholic, but doesn't really practice any more. I was raised Skeptical Jewish but now, I would have have to fill in the dot marked "None of the Above."

We wrote the wedding ceremony ourselves, selecting our favorite poems, songs and readings. We spent a few months in consultation with various priests, rabbis, shamans, witch doctors, etc., several of whom told us that unless we pick one tradition, our children would be hopelessly confused. One woman went so far as to tell us that unless one of us converted to the religion of the other, we shouldn't get married because some differences simply could not be overcome, no matter how much love exists.

We've decided that we're going to expose Harper (and future children) to our diverse backgrounds, taking special care not to imply that one is better than any other.

In my mind, spirituality exists to give comfort to people in time of need and help to explain things that we cannot understand. Religion is a collection of like-minded spiritual individuals who have found their comfort in similar concepts and rites.

To make an analogy, spirituality is the varied academic interests that people have in college while religion is there major.


We're not sure how this is going to work, but I have high hopes. I plan to teach Harper about the various religions of the world and teach her that no matter what she believes, she will always be our daughter and we will love her.

We will also teach her about religious tolerance, so that if she decides to be a Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Catholic, Free Presbyterian, Locked-Up Presbyterian, Sun Worshiper, Maya, Inca, Jew, Muslim, Goat-Sacrificer, etc., she will still recognize that other people may not be any of those and that she should not tell other people how to live their lives.

I am a Mohawk Indian.


I am a Sun War-Shipper!!





I have a few more thoughts on this, but I'm rambling and there is bacon on the stove. God may have a plan, but if it doesn't include bacon, why should I care about it?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jersey Shore is a kick ass show!

Desh said...

Speaking as a religious person, I think there's value to raising a kid with some sense of spirituality. Sure, picking one mainstream religion and sticking to it is one way to do that (and a pretty straightforward way at that), but kids are smart and won't get confused too easily if you present them with more variety than that.

However, in my expert opinion as someone with no formal religious leadership training and someone who doesn't have kids, I don't think any of what I said last paragraph is true if the parents don't buy into it even a little. If you honestly believe that God (or whatever supernatural beliefs any given spiritual path holds) doesn't exist any more than the tooth fairy does, and see no value in such beliefs yourself, then teaching that to your kid is just lying to her, and no one wins there.

And I totally agree that love and tolerance are more important than any of that. Worst case, tolerance without belief can leave a person with less hope and meaning in their life (and is usually not that bad). Worst case, belief without tolerance can lead to hatred, wars, and genocide. So...yeah.

Justin said...

Josh,

It's not that I believe or disbelieve in God. It's that I've felt no need to do either. There may or may not be a God, but I don't see how it should affect my life either way.

My concern is that I will accidentally impart this same thought on my daughter where she may find comfort with either belief or disbelief. I know that we inflict our thoughts on our children, often without meaning to.

http://raisingamazingdaughters.wordpress.com said...

I think God has a plan for your religious path and you are following it exactly. Or... there is no God, no plan, and you are doing what you think is best. Or, Harper will end up trashing you to her therapist. Oh wait, that'll happen regardless. :)Harper is lucky to have parents who think, who love and who act accordingly.You will all be fine. God (or me, or whichever of us has faith in you) has spoken.

Justin said...

Debbie,

Thank you for your input. I keep forgetting that there are other people in the world who have daughters, on whom I could rely as a resource. I hope we are doing well by Harper and I like to think that just by thinking about these about these things and keeping them in mind we will be able to control how we act.

Also, I have been loving your blog. It's a great format and the topics are fantastic.

edb said...

Justin,

This plan is almost exactly the same as our plans for future children. Neither of us believe in a particular faith enough to instill it in our offspring. While my husband is spiritual and very judeo-christian is his way of thinking (10 years of CCD will do that to anyone), I'm an agnostic (he would interrupt me here and say that I am an atheist in denial!)

But I do some drawbacks to our plan:

1. I would like our children to experience the sense of community that comes from religious organizations. Not just the traditions and customs, but the idea that there is an extended group of people that you are responsible to/for and who also care for you.

2. I was somewhat raised in this manner (no particular faith, "mom and dad just want you to be happy and love you no matter what") and I did have a hard time grappling with my own spiritual beliefs in my early twenties. I don't know if that's a bad thing but I know that my parents feel as though they let me down. I think the educating and awareness of other religions will be important to focus on - I do feel like that was missing in my upbringing.
3. Following up with #2, I am often jealous that my husband has such a great knowledge of the Bible - simply because of it's historical value and it's a text that is so intertwined with our daily life. I feel like a working knowledge of the Bible, Torah, Koran, etc. are necessary for any educated person(and aren't you a little jealous/annoyed every time Jed Bartlet has the perfect passage to enlighten and highlight any situation he encounters?

Food for thought, speaking of which, I missed lunch... that explains the rambling!

edb said...

Justin,

This plan is almost exactly the same as our plans for future children. Neither of us believe in a particular faith enough to instill it in our offspring. While my husband is spiritual and very judeo-christian is his way of thinking (10 years of CCD will do that to anyone), I'm an agnostic (he would interrupt me here and say that I am an atheist in denial!)

But I do some drawbacks to our plan:

1. I would like our children to experience the sense of community that comes from religious organizations. Not just the traditions and customs, but the idea that there is an extended group of people that you are responsible to/for and who also care for you.

2. I was somewhat raised in this manner (no particular faith, "mom and dad just want you to be happy and love you no matter what") and I did have a hard time grappling with my own spiritual beliefs in my early twenties. I don't know if that's a bad thing but I know that my parents feel as though they let me down. I think the educating and awareness of other religions will be important to focus on - I do feel like that was missing in my upbringing.
3. Following up with #2, I am often jealous that my husband has such a great knowledge of the Bible - simply because of it's historical value and it's a text that is so intertwined with our daily life. I feel like a working knowledge of the Bible, Torah, Koran, etc. are necessary for any educated person(and aren't you a little jealous/annoyed every time Jed Bartlet has the perfect passage to enlighten and highlight any situation he encounters?

Food for thought, speaking of which, I missed lunch... that explains the rambling!

Justin Aion said...

Elizabeth,

I think these are very valid concerns and I will address each one in turn with my own BS ideas.

1)A community can spring forth from anywhere, regardless of the historical ties. We developed a sense of community doing musicals and plays in high school, didn't we? Nothing religious about that, although I'm sure Doc and Mr. Goltz would beg to differ.

2) I think struggling with your religious beliefs makes you stronger in your convictions, regardless of the conclusion. I feel as though my faith (or lack thereof) is stronger because I came by it honestly and on my own terms. Sara feels stronger about her beliefs now than she did before we met, although they have changed drastically in that time.

3)I completely agree with you. One of the things that helps me in my discussions with people who wish to push their faith on me is that I do have a working knowledge of both the old and the new testaments. I haven't spent any time reading the Koran, but I would like to. I think it is important to study these books as they make up a huge portion of our societal framework (Even though we are not a christian nation)

I may write another post on this topic in a few months since I've come to a few more conclusions, but that's a ways off.

Again, thank you so much for reading and posting your comments. They are, as always, appreciated!

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