The one where Flea asks about God.

Image: Flikr/SteveGarfield
When I was a kid, Sundays followed the same routine every week.

We got up, got dressed in our smart clothes, had breakfast and then my older brothers and I would walk to the local church. My Dad would already be there, as he was the leader of the local cub’s group. My grandparents were church wardens, so they would be there, too. My Mum would stay at home, preparing the Sunday lunch. There would be a service, followed by Sunday school, then the walk home, and a family lunch.

As a parent myself, I have mixed feelings about the whole business. On the one hand, I think church is a brilliant way for kids to build relationships with adults who aren’t their parents, and learn about things like honesty, faith and kindness. On the other hand, many churches are unfortunately filled with bigots and snobs, and I’m not entirely sure I’m what you’d call a ‘believer’ these days. 

As with so many things in life, we’ve ended up with a half-arsed compromise. We go to church for Easter, harvest festival, Christmas and so on – and we also attend a lot of social events at our local church. Flea plays with the vicar’s children, and she’s very comfortable in that environment. But I’m not raising her within the faith.  

This amazingly well-thought out parenting strategy possibly explains the following conversation between Flea and our local vicar, Andrew, at the church Easter Eggstravaganza last week:

Flea: Did God really make the world?

Andrew: Yes, He really did.

Flea: How exactly? 

Andrew: Well, God does all sorts of clever things. He makes the world and all the animals and people in it. 

Flea: People?

Andrew: Yes, all the people.

Flea: (shaking her head) I don’t think he did.

Andrew: Why do you think that?

Flea: Because people are hard. It’s hard to put things on them, like arms and noses.

I think I need a better approach to the whole “God” thing. Any tips?

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.

22 Comments

  1. 13th April 2010 / 9:31 am

    I’m all for a healthy dose of scepticism and thinking for yourself 😉 Doesn’t mean you can’t be religious too.
    I think it sounds like you’re handling it all just right! Flea knows about the ideas and beliefs of your religion, but she’s not so consumed by them that there isn’t room for her to try and figure out her own way of thinking about things too. She can pick and choose – sounds perfect to me.

  2. 13th April 2010 / 9:32 am

    We’re kinda in the same boat. Both raised Catholic, wife now atheist, me agnostic. What doesn’t help is that in the west coast of Scotland you are either Catholic or Protestant. So junior goes to a non-denomonational school – seen as Protestant – and the concession is that she can pick her own faith, if any, when big enough to weigh it all up.
    But dear God, some people are certainly hostile to that idea. “How can you not believe, how can you let a little child not have a soul.” It’s incredible some of the reactions you get.
    And then there was the problems we had with muslims over Easter: http://www.scottish-blogger-dad.com/2010/04/05/dear-daughter-so-thats-what-muslims-dont-believe-in-at-easter/
    I think you’re doing the right thing. You aren’t making religion mysterious but at the same time you aren’t pushing dogma.
    Of course we haven’t yet had the issue where a close relative dies.

  3. 13th April 2010 / 9:43 am

    Oh that’s funny. She’s not soft your little one is she? (Did you see what I did there?)

  4. 13th April 2010 / 9:49 am

    I am what I call a reluctant worshiper. I no longer go to church, but agree on the morals, kindness side of things. We just do little things at home, I class myself as spiritual rather than religious – well I think I do.
    When I was struggling with the Easter story for the boys the blog world came to the rescue and a kind friend wrote a letter to them. I like the fact that is is not just black and white, where in a church it often is.

  5. 13th April 2010 / 3:03 pm

    My 7 yr old is very interested in religion and we have the view that we’ll tell her what we know about many different religions and let her choose what she believes. When she comes home from an R.E. lesson at school to tell me about what Jesus did I always mention that this is what ‘some’ people believe. Celebrating all sorts of festivals with food, crafts and stories is a very accessible way for children to encounter religions, and fun too. I actually find it quite easy to talk with her about these big questions, and to be open if I don’t have an answer for her. I find talking with my 3 year old about death – an idea she’s just come across – much harder though.

  6. Liz (LivingwithKids)
    13th April 2010 / 8:03 pm

    You just have to be honest, I think, she’s such a bright child. Tell her what you know to be true, leave out what you don’t.

  7. Johnny Cox
    13th April 2010 / 9:08 pm

    As a Christian, but one who is honest with the problems of the institution of church/religion, I would give this advice.
    Be consistent and forthright about the issue.
    If you are agnostic, tell your your children you are and why. Same goes for atheism, and Christianity. It is much easier for young people to figure things out if they know were everybody stands. Where the problem comes out is when parents do or believe things for one set of reasons, but send contradictory signals by their actions.
    For instance that story about Easter and the easter bunny. That is a classic example of Christians giving their kids a false impression of Christianity. That little girl may grow up to reject Christianity because she was given a characture of Christianity and not the real thing. Same thing goes for atheism, why go to church to pick up morals? If your children pick up on that, you are inferring atheism does not have a sufficient worldview to account for right and wrong, and undermining your atheism.
    We need to be consistent in our lives as our kids model our behavior. Many so called Christians go to church only because of it’s programming or status, but have no real belief that a man from Nazereth raised from the dead. In short don’t tell your kids not to smoke and then smoke, because they will most likely grow up to be smokers. It is that simple.
    Of course I strongly believe in God, but I can’t live my children’s Christianity for them. They do have to find God for themselves, but I will be there to point the way. This is different from some Christians or even atheists who say, “Well kid, there may or may not be a god so go out in the world and find him. If you don’t find him, he probably doesn’t exist, and if you do, don’t tell me, I don’t have room in my life right now for another moral authority.”

  8. 13th April 2010 / 8:13 pm

    I hope so. She’s obviously naturally skeptical which is going to be fun, too!

  9. 13th April 2010 / 8:14 pm

    God, that’s a horrible thing to say to someone! I think ‘dogma’ is a good word – I made the choice not to send Flea to a church school because my conversations with the head mistress convinced me that there was no real separation there of education and religion, which really concerns me.

  10. 13th April 2010 / 8:16 pm

    What sort of letter was it, if you don’t mind me asking?
    We’re reasonably spiritual and we use things like Montessori ceremonies for birthdays and various festivals, I think it’s important for life not to be completely secular. Like I said, it’s a confused perspective!

  11. 13th April 2010 / 8:17 pm

    Yes, I’ve posted before about conversations about death. I comfort myself with the knowledge that before the age of 8 or 9 most children don’t really grasp what “death” means in that they cannot truly comprehend the permanence.

  12. 13th April 2010 / 8:18 pm

    Thanks CJ. I think that’s what’s hard – not knowing what to say. I’m used to being able to answer Flea’s questions but with these sorts of things I’m sometimes completely lost.

  13. 13th April 2010 / 8:18 pm

    That’s a really nice way of looking at it, actually, thanks!

  14. 14th April 2010 / 11:35 am

    oh this is so hard. I’m faced with similar issue – although thankfully, no questions. yet. I live in Ireland were the state schools are catholic and where faith formation is part of the curriculum. This scares the shit out of me for two reasons – neither hubby or I are catholic, and neither of us are religious. Hubby would go wtih the flow, but I actually have an active dislike of organised religion – especially misogynist ones. BUT, I don’t want the girls to be excluded or feel ‘different’ by insisting they are taken out of class when catholiciskm is taught. WE have a choice – to send the girls to an (otherwise) great primary school, in walking distance from our house, where ll their frineds will live on our road. Or spend the next ten years driving to school for half an hour, where all their friends will live a distance away, but multi-denominational. I;ve opted for the walking to school and close friends option, and am having to park my issues with the church. It will be my job to explain that while we do not believe certian things, others do and must be respected. I can’t make her think her friends are all believing something wrong. I still have to figure out how i do this. WE got married and had them christening in the Unitarian church which embraces all religions and is really about spirituality. That is how I want them to go. So I suppose I should be committing myself to taking them on a sunday so at least we have something to counter the catholic conversion at school! But it scares me – I feel so strongly I don’t want them brainwahsed by stuff I simply so not believe, but I don’t want them growing up in a vacuum also. Some of the advice you got is good. Sorry , this turned into an epic!

  15. 14th April 2010 / 10:55 pm

    I’m having trouble with this myself. I tend to tell my 5yr old “This is what mummy believes (Agnosticism with a splash of atheism and buddhism thrown in), this is what some other people believe, here are some more options, you can pick when you’re grown.” It does rather confuse him.

  16. 14th April 2010 / 11:50 pm

    Hi Johnny
    Thanks for commenting, you make some great points. I do want to give my daughter an accurate idea of religion and I make a point of explaining the beliefs to her as I understand them, without simplifying too far.
    Certainly, we don’t go to church just because it’s a place to learn about morals, but it’s a place where we learn about the underlying stories and beliefs to the festivals that mark the different points of the year.
    I think also, though, that being part of a congregation was one of the most positive parts of my childhood – I knew people of all ages, single people, families, retired people. I think many secular children end up only ever talking to their parents and teachers and all other adults are “strangers” – which is something I don’t want for Flea. I’m not sure I’ve explained that very well, but it’s about being part of a community as well as a family, I guess.

  17. 14th April 2010 / 11:52 pm

    Wow, that is a tremendously hard decision. Because when they start school it is very hard to be the child who doesn’t believe what everyone else believes, and I know from watching Flea, she is already so opinionated and if she thinks something is true then almost nothing I say will shift her from that opinion – I have to let her try for herself – which of course is tricky in the instance of a faith-based question!

  18. 14th April 2010 / 11:52 pm

    This looks fab, thanks so much for the recommendation x

  19. 14th April 2010 / 11:54 pm

    Nice to know I’m not the only one!
    I think it’s tricky to present kids with lots of choice and almost invite them to choose, when they are only just beginning to grasp the concepts involved. I try therefore to tie the stories I tell her to the earth and nature and cycles, so I have something concrete to show her when I’m explaining something – but I’m not sure it’s perfect.

  20. 16th April 2010 / 8:15 pm

    We live next door to a Roman Catholic family. Really really nice, and really really religious. Luckily the mom has a great sense of humor. Her little girl realized when she was about 8 that we didn’t go to church – this really rocked her world and she asked my eldest daughter about it. Niamhy was also 8 and her explanation went like this…’We used to go to church, but we stopped when Jesus died’. I’ve probably screwed up her life by leaving the church at Easter….

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