On Raising the Godless

In the old days, it was simpler: You just went to the same church your family went to. Whether deep down you agreed with any of it was beside the point. You went because your family, friends, neighbours, and co-workers went there. It was as much a social expectation as anything else. But if you were a working class WASP, it was just what one did.

Then they went and invented the Pill and suddenly, we didn’t have to go to church anymore. Or something like that.

Last Christmas we decided that we would introduce James to two concepts: Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. The reason for this was twofold: At three years and some, he now can converse with us proficiently, even if he repeats himself all the time and has the attention span of a chipmunk on meth. So we started talking about how Christmas works.

There’s Santa and he has reindeer and he comes in your house on Christmas Eve and, drinks the cup of tea and eats the cookie we left for him. And he gives carrots to the reindeer. And he leaves a stocking full of toys and candy on the foot of your bed (it’s a British thing, apparently). And because you’ve been good, you get a Leapster Explorer, which will cease to interest you in two months.

But it seemed lacking somehow and I didn’t want his entire concept of the holiday to be about that damn Toys R Us catalog. I want him to eventually understand that Christmas is about more important things like eating, boozing, and not working.

The thing is, as you’re probably aware, we’re not religious. I tried to throw my lot in with the Unitarians a few years ago but it didn’t take as I got the general sense that particular church really just caters to middle-to-upper-middle class Westmounters and NDGers. Recently, we’ve been going here and we’ll see how that goes. We’ll go to my family’s United Church on trips to New Brunswick just so his grandmother can show off her grandson to her friends. Last year, she gave him a pop-up book about Bethlehem. Yes, I would have rather she not do that but, in the interest of family peace, I stifled my opinions on the subject. To her credit, she’s only once asked us if we intend to have him baptized (we do not).

But the book ended up being an introduction to the concept of Jesus so that worked out well. But it left the question of how, if you don’t acccept the concept of the conception, birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, do you explain what Jesus is to a three year. We can’t say, "We’re celebrating the birth of our saviour" because we’re not. So what I came up with is this: "A long time ago, Jesus was born. People thought he was nice, so now we have Christmas." He’s three. That’s all he’s getting.

While more people are going without religion these days, Christianity still leaves a cultural impression and we’ll have to figure out how to navigate that. I can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist. If he’s going to live in the world, he’ll need to have at least a passing familiarity with what many people in the world believe. My friend in Toronto had the best take on the subject: "Jesus is just alright with me. His fans can be a little intense, though."

I started writing this post at Christmas and today is Good Friday. I haven’t figured out how to approach that particular subject yet. I think I’ll just sit him down in front of Jesus Christ Superstar.

"So you see, son, Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication but they did have a shitload of sequins. Give me a shout if you have any questions."

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3 thoughts on “On Raising the Godless

  1. I raised two godless children and am participating on the periphery in the raising of the third generation of godless. We celebrated the secular conspicuous consumption aspect of Christmas and Easter with Santa and the Easter Bunny and my kids were told the religious stories connected to those holidays as cultural myths which is how my daughter has handled it with the Gr-Son. They were all exposed to the Christian religion and church as well.

    I also taught them the basics about reason and logic and just like the stories about Santa and the Easter Bunny not to mention the Tooth Fairy and Elves who left pots of gold at the end of the rainbow eventually came into question as their ability to use reason and logic developed, so too did the stories about Jesus. When they asked, I told them I did not believe any of those stories were based in reality but many people, including the Grammas and most of their other relatives, do and eventually they would have to make up their own minds about whether they were true or not. They did.

    Teach your son to use reason and logic to navigate the world and he’ll figure out the stories are just stories all by himself.

    1. Thanks for that. I think that sounds pretty similar to the approach I’d like to take. At least, in as much as I like to pretend I know what I’m doing when it comes to parenting. 😉

      1. Good luck and remember none of us really knows WTH we’re doing when it comes to parenting. Each kid is an experiment. Be the best you you can be and it will be OK.

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