So, About Kids And Religion…
I know that polite people (and people who don’t own fireproof suits…) are not supposed to discuss politics or religion in public, but I’ve never really been all that smart.
This week it seems like everyone is talking about a recent study showing that religious kids are “less generous” than their agnostic/atheist counterparts. Mostly I’m seeing it linked, in social media, by those who don’t consider themselves particularly religious as vindication, and proof that hey, the unchurched can still be good people—maybe even better than those who have a date with God every Sunday. Although I appreciate the sentiment, the study and some of the reactions I’ve seen to it make me uncomfortable.
Being me, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s bothering me about this. Some of it comes down to my own belief system (or lack thereof), but a lot of it comes down to feeling like my time with my nearly-grown children is dwindling and I hope I’ve raised them to be good people. (Parenting! The gift of guilt that keeps on giving! Thank goodness raising humans doesn’t feel like a monumental task, or anything.)
My own history with religion is… complicated. I was raised a mostly non-religious Jew, exploring my heritage more and more in my teens and becoming devoted to Judaism for a few years before drifting away during college. Then there was a boyfriend who was part of a very extreme church which, over time, I went from poking fun at to joining for a while. (Hey, everyone gets to be young and dumb at least once.) Again, I drifted away after a while, only to end up spending most of my adult life as a rather middle-of-the-road, church-attending Methodist. I loved my long-time church for the people and the community. The “God stuff,” for lack of a better term, was fine too, I guess, but that was not my primary drive.
When we moved to Georgia, I discovered that churches in the south are different from those up in New England that I had come to know. Why this was a surprise, I have no idea—the culture here is different, so it makes sense. Like Goldilocks, I spent our first few years here trying to find our new church home. Some were too big, some were too small. We were at one church, attending regularly, for nearly a year. Another we frequented for several months. And one by one, we visited most of the churches in our area trying to find the “right” place. In the end, we never did. And eventually we stopped looking.
Over the years the kids have asked, now and then, why we no longer go to church. Both have, at various points, gone to services with friends. Every now and then I ask my teens if they miss it, and they both say they prefer sleeping in on Sundays. One of my kids claims not to believe in God, and the other is unsure. My own answer, more often than not, to “Do you believe in God?” is “I believe in something.”
So, back to the study: I’m bothered. I know plenty of kind and generous religious people and some of those people who call themselves Christians but whose behavior seems decidedly un-Christ-like. I know lots of kids being raised without organized religion who are kind and generous, and others who aren’t. Religion can be restrictive and dogmatic, and sometimes not in good ways. A moral compass needn’t be planted in religion, but some kids are raised without one of any kind, and what then? Can this study claim a sweeping generalization? Or are we looking at some sort of correlation here (maybe the more religious kids tend to follow rules more or model more on what they’ve seen; I don’t know) that’s now being touted as causation?
It’s not the study I care about, of course. It’s my kids. A little voice in the back of my head worries that my own indecision and choices have done them a disservice, somehow. I don’t want them to head off into the world (really soon, now, too) missing something I should’ve provided. Neither do I want them to judge those who are religious. I just want them to be good, happy people. Is that so much to ask?? (Answer: Yes.)
Here’s what I know, and what I’ve tried to pass along to my kids:
- The Golden Rule is always a good idea—treat others the way you’d like them to treat you.
- Your first assumption about someone else’s behavior should always be that it has little or nothing to do with you specifically.
- Miserable people are miserable to others. They need more kindness even though it feels like they deserve it less.
- You can’t control anyone else, and you can’t control how you feel, but you can control how you act.
- I happen to believe things happen for a reason, even if that reason isn’t clear to us for a really long time (or ever). I could be wrong, but that belief tends to bring me some comfort when things are hard.
- Actions speak louder than words.
- Unless you choose to go live in a cave, you are part of a community. Be an asset to that community even when it’s hard. Others will be there for you when you need them—not every time, and not always just the way you want, but in ways that will surprise you.
- Religion is a deeply personal choice, and for some it brings out their best, and for others it brings out their worst, and you have to make your own choices. When you see others who make you think negative things about religion or a lack thereof, consider they may not be the poster child for that group (no matter what they say).
- You always have the choice to be kind. It’s rare that you’ll regret it.
I just want my kids to be nice people. I don’t think they need religion for that, but if religion helps them, great. I’m curious to see where they end up once they’re out in the world. At the end of the day, no matter what they believe, I feel pretty confident I’ll still be proud to know them.