As a mother, my job is, in a nutshell, to teach my children to be the best people they can possibly be. Doing this in a world that is rather unforgiving and sometimes downright nasty is difficult. It’s impossible to hide them away, exposing them to only my opinions and experience. Ultimately, that would be a disservice to them and their futures. The best teacher is life and “The School of Hard Knocks,” if you will.
As a writer, one of the most difficult jobs is deciding what my next project will be. I had always assumed that I would write my first book, publish it, bask the glory of autographs and sales, take a short sabbatical, and then write my second best seller.
Oh, aren’t I just the cutest?
The School of Hard Knocks came full-bear on my youngest when he returned home one afternoon, walking off the bus with his head down and the weight of the world on his small shoulders.
“Mama,” he said, “I told my friends that I don’t think I believe in God and now they won’t talk to me.”
As he cried, my breath caught in my chest and I couldn’t decide which was worse: his pain or my inability to throttle the little brats who would reject my child because of his lack of belief. After calming him down and having many hours of self-reflection, I realized I had created this problem myself. This was my own fault. By “shutting them away” and raising them fully in a secular house, I had insulated them too much. I needed to turn that around immediately.
You see, I’m an atheist married to a non-practicing Baptist and we don’t take our children to church. They attend the odd Sunday service here and there at their grandparents’ Southern Baptist church and go to vacation bible school once a year, but that’s it. Because of my feeling that one’s religion is determined by one’s geographical location as well as one’s parents’ beliefs, I felt that taking our children to a Presbyterian or Baptist church on a regular basis would simply be indoctrination.
But, by not taking them, I was doing the same thing. I don’t espouse atheism to my children. I am very honest in my beliefs and upbringing, making sure to answer all questions of faith and religion truthfully and without the color of opinion. I have tried to emphasize to my children that they are too young to decide anything regarding matters of faith because they don’t have enough information to make an educated decision. But, because I hadn’t exposed them to any faith, they had chosen no faith.
Which was to be expected. But, not at all welcome. My atheism came about after 40 years. A child of 10 has no business making a decision of faith that could impact the rest of their lives. And so, in the middle of my youngest son’s crisis of faith and friendship, the idea for my second book was born.
Finding God is the working title and it will be a book about my children and I learning about other religions and their interpretations of a higher power, being exposed to different traditions and beliefs, and teaching them about the histories of each. I want them to experience a Passover Seder, Catholic Communion, Muslim prayer, and Buddhist chants. I want them to experience the sights and smells of a Hindu temple, feel the salt that has been blessed by a Shinto priest, and attend a meeting of local Satanists. I want them to decide if Joseph Smith truly received revelation from God in 19th century New York and hear the spirited hymns and sermons of an African Methodist Episcopalian congregation. Through it all, we will watch documentaries, interview leaders and followers, go to services, and delve into what it means to be Bahá’í, Wiccan, Sikh, and so much more.
And when this is all over, not only will we have a book, but we will all have a greater understanding of what it means to be a human who is reaching for answers and understanding of something greater than ourselves. And only then, will I allow them to decide what it is they believe and what it is that brings them comfort, peace, and joy. My greatest hope is that through this journey, my three children will decide how they fit into this world, what belief gives them comfort, and most of all have compassion for the friend, acquaintance, and stranger who believes differently than they do.
Today, on a day celebrating the life and teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., we began this book by learning about Lutheranism. We watched a documentary about the life of Martin Luther and his teachings. I’ve decided that we will start with Protestantism, the Christianity I know, and move onward to faiths where I will be as blind as they. We will walk this path together. And it is my most fervent hope that, in the end, we will craft a book that will help other parents teach their children about religion and faith. After all, we can’t only expose our children to one belief, give them a paragraph about other faiths in a history book, and hope that is enough to foster a greater understanding.
As I finish Memoirs of a Future Ghost, the groundwork will be laid for Finding God. I can’t wait to share this next adventure with all of you!