Thursday, November 17, 2011

To Believe or Not to Believe; Our Ability to Question

My daughter, Nikki, told us the other day that a little boy, who is given to being precocious on a daily basis, stood up in the middle of her second grade class and proudly announced "I have something to say; I do not believe in God!" Understandably, according to Nikki, her teacher was a bit rattled by this unexpected and potentially upsetting statement made most likely to get attention, and told him sternly to sit down, promptly cutting off any further second grade proselytizing...

Now while I know for a fact that her teacher is open-minded enough to accept all his students differences, this boy's unusual proclamation of atheism at age seven was a little more complicated than 5-Step Math and was obviously not a topic on which he was prepared to open up a discussion! I can only imagine the calls to the principal on that one!

Certainly, religion, faith and our various beliefs can be a difficult concept for adults, let alone children, to grasp. And unless you are raised in a household that doesn't provide any opportunity to even question attending Saturday synagogue, Sunday mass or the very existence of God, Jesus, Mohammed, Abraham, Buddha or Vishnu, then as an open-minded, liberal adult in a free country, most of us generally customize our religions to what currently makes sense to our lives and value systems.

Whether receiving Sunday communion while privately believing that Adam and Eve really were descendants of Lucy Australopithecus or maybe having unwavering faith that your spirit will reincarnate as a bird but secretly questioning how anyone can seriously have a blue body and four arms... No matter the religion, it is challenging to fanatically believe in every doctrine or deity without some doubt, isn't it?

Personally, although I was baptized as a Catholic, growing up with a mom and dad who each had their knuckles beat by nuns with rulers in boarding school, I was never forced to go to church each Sunday but found it to be very comforting to me, especially during the younger, darker periods in my life. The beauty of the old churches coupled with the quiet progression of the traditional Catholic mass and singing of hymns (Baptist service this was not!) left me with a sense of guilt-free peace. Of course, looking back, getting the giggles uncontrollably with my friend as someone sang a hymn out of tune was also a terrifyingly fun memory of those Sundays, as well!

After I had children, I was determined to at least give them a Catholic foundation at an early age, so each Sunday I marched them all up to attend mass as my husband, a self-porclaimed heathen, attended the Church of the NFL. I soon realized, however, that my memories of peace and comfort were quickly becoming a new reality of sweat-induced stress as my children wriggled and poked at each other, tried to lie down in the pews, wrote on all the donation envelopes with little golf pencils, dropped the little golf pencils under the pews 10 times, each asked to go to the bathroom at least once, asked me 20 times how many songs were left before it was time to leave so they could get the donut I threatened to take away at least 15 times as I apologized to the older lady sitting next to me who refused to offer her hand to me as a sign of peace simply because I had wiped Nikki's nose with it! How's that for Christian fellowship?!

Needless to say, I began to question the effectiveness of my very structured religion as it related to my very unstructured children! But I persevered, getting both Evan and Luke through Holy Communion classes that they hardly understood so they could share in a Sacrament so central to the Catholic faith. And now that they are older, I have let them decide if they would like to come to mass with me on Sundays or stay home with their heathen father to watch football. I think you can guess how this usually ends up...

So as I'm writing this on the day that Nikki is poised to participate in the sacrament of First Reconciliation, the rite before Communion where she must confess her sins of being mean to her brothers or not listening to mom, she is understandably terrified to sit in front of our priest tonight and I, as a proud and open-minded "Cafeteria Catholic" of course question the tenet that at seven years old we have sinned badly enough to warrant a confession.

But I will get her through this, because I am also a traditional, guilt-ridden Cafeteria Catholic, and therefore want her to grow up with some kind of foundation of faith and belief that she can in turn question when she gets older. And whether it's Buddha, God or NFL heathen, she will be free to make a choice about her own religion, as long as she doesn't stand up in the middle of class to tell everyone!