Talking to Kids About God

My bumper sticker says, “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.”  It cracks me up every time.

Each year, one of the students will get a good long look at it, fix me with a decent stare, then declare it hilarious.  They find it that much funnier because I’m not a believer.

Yes, that’s what we call it.  I don’t believe.  I teach them the word atheist, but we don’t use it often.  It scares the parents.  They don’t get that they are more powerful than I will ever be, and that living an authentically good life is the best example they can set.  They prefer to pawn it off on the atheist when their kids act up.  It’s easier that way.

Students have asked me more than once why I don’t believe.  I don’t get into it.  And here’s the really weird reason why.  I don’t want them to follow. While I am resigned in my belief system, I wouldn’t really wish it onto another person.  There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with the realization that you are solely responsible for your actions.  Each part of life is yours to determine, dictate, and to decide.

Faith has a number of really good coping mechanisms.  First, if the community is good at all, there’s built-in love and support.  Second, there’s always someone to pray for you, even if they don’t know you.  It’s like having your back, only on a cosmic level.  There’s shared vocabulary and intent.  You have a tribe.  I have to say, I think it’s pretty satisfying to never really doubt your decisions. If you want something badly enough, you can say you’re called to that action or item.  God talked to you, you didn’t make that decision at all.  If you’re going through hard times, you’re being tried by God to see if you are still faithful.  Sometimes God tests your love and loyalty.  Nothing in life is random.

There’s a lot of comfort in not being in charge.

At no point do I encourage kids to follow my path.  It’s hard.  It can be lonely.  It’s downright daunting to figure out how to have an equivalent to prayer for people going through hard times.  Let’s be honest, my call of “sending good vibes” sounds like I’ve been smoking illegal substances.  You’re in my thoughts — hardly comforting. I’m responsible for everything I do in life, every decision, every action, every word.  There are no rewards when it’s over, nor are there punishments.  It’s up to me to decide if I’m satisfied with it all. And when it’s done…

Then all that’s left is whatever small, meager legacy I’ve built for myself.

I don’t guide students my way because it is, quite frankly, too hard.  Better to sleep in the comfort of God’s safe arms.

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6 thoughts on “Talking to Kids About God

  1. mistasir says:

    While I think you’ve done a relatively good job of outlining the positives of religious faith, the negatives need at least a cursory mention. If the belief in God (I’ll focus on the monotheisms as they seem most prevalent in western societies) is intrinsically linked to a political ideology in the community/state/country you are raised in, then by adopting a laissez faire approach you condemn (pun intended) not only them but their constituency to whatever backwards-thinking demagogue commands their vote. Whether this be in the highly-visible fields of health or immigration, it also trickles down to things such as lack of funding for research and pressure on school systems.

    The second and far more personal negative effect that monotheisitic religions can have is on the promulgation of a belief in a torturous afterlife. The anxiety and fear that is inflicted upon children through threats of eternal hell fire is reprehensible, and the propensity for this to have an impact on their adult life is profound.

    So while I agree that proselytising your atheism would be improper, helping to develop students’ critical and analytic faculties would help to ensure that perhaps some of them might employ an epistemological look at their own beliefs and assumptions.

    • Suzanne says:

      What I didn’t mention, is ALWAYS in these exchanges I make a point of telling students that they need to TALK to their parents and religious leaders about their faith. I am very clear, I wouldn’t take faith away from someone AT ALL. It is a gift. The most disappointing part of all of this is how few of the students actually have a faith foundation. They really don’t know much about the religion they follow or how to use that to go forth. I find that quite curious, especially given the current political climate.

  2. Wow. This is not how Faith works for me. The community part absolutely, but not the other. It’s pretty hard to be a control freak and have Faith. I need to process an answer for you, but if that is how you view peoples’ relationship with God—I see why you are where you are.

    • Suzanne says:

      I love your comment about being a control freak and having faith! I know it wasn’t meant that way, but it is a brilliant turn of phrase.

  3. Jolene says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I do have faith as you know, however I do not feel the community part in my experience. Matter of fact, I do not participate with a church at all any more. Yes, they do have a community but I have found both times when my family or I needed them, I found judgmental people. First time was when we had our fire and my parents were going through their divorce. Yes, the church donated clothing, yet when we came, my sister and I would be judge that we wore the same thing to church every Sunday. Yes, they did judge, I over heard the comments. While I joined my Mom’s group during Sunday School to leave the rude comments I was hearing, I only found that no one would associate with her or sit near her because she was going through a divorce. I found the same thing for myself when I would visit other churches to find a new one while and right after I divorced. It did not matter what religion they all did the same thing. I believe you can have your religion, your belief and follow God without the church. I just wanted to share my views of the community that I have encountered, full of hypocrites, Again, I did enjoy reading your point of view.

    • Suzanne says:

      Oh, Jolene that’s just awful. I, too, encountered a lot of ostracism and critical comments upon attendance when I was younger. I think it’s hard to reconcile the goals of the church and its community with the actions of a few small-minded people. One one hand, that’s not “the church”, but on the other hand, the church is its members.

      I think it sucks they weren’t there for you when you needed them. I also believe church membership is like dating; you have to attend a lot to find the right one for you. I do believe that there is one out there for you if and when you are ready to have that in your life again. It’s a great honor to return and help lead the type of community you know people want and need.

      Then again, given all the stuff in your life, there’s a lot to be said for sleeping in! 🙂

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