Teaching Your Children About Spirituality

I’ve started to think that no matter how much you don’t believe in God, His name still crops up in the vernacular, and the collective conscious. For example, today, when the sun came out after a day of torrential downpours, I thought, “Oh no! God is a Yankees fan!” Now that I see the Phillies are winning, I’m thinking maybe He’s a Phillies fan. Or maybe God is one of those un-American dudes who prefers soccer to baseball. Maybe He’s not even American…but if He’s not, why would he let George W. in on the secret about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Regardless, it is certainly easy to slip into God-talk, and, as demonstrated above, it is just as easy to slip into really irreverent God-talk. (Honestly, my guess is that God is so devoted to the Mets, He doesn’t even know who’s in the World Series…)
However, I’ve been spending some time with my friends’ children lately, and I realize that you have to choose your words carefully, especially if you are spending time with children who don’t belong to you. Having penned the highly useful “5 Web sites to Develop Your Child’s Spirituality” and as a committed and spiritual yogini, I’m certainly not advocating telling anyone under the age of 10 that God is dead. (I’d say the 11th birthday is a good time to introduce Nietzsche). But as anyone who’s ever yelled “F(*K” in front of a toddler can attest, it’s easy to slip up.
Last week, I was hanging out with a friend’s six-year-old son who wanted to know why Bar Mitzvahs happened at 13:
Me: Because the Bible says so.
Him: Why?
Me: Because that’s when the people in the Bible decided.
Him: Who are they?
Me: Uh, the people in the Bible.
Him: But WHY?
Me: I don’t know. That’s why some people think the Bible is made up.
Oops. I’d like to hope he doesn’t know what “made up” means but given the highly skeptical nature of his questioning, I doubt that’s the case. Either way, I vowed to be more prepared the next time I was confronted. Sure enough, we were eating dinner the other night and he asked, “Is Hell a bad word?”
“Well,” I replied. “It is sometimes. It’s a not a good place.”
“What is it?”
“Do you know what Heaven is?”
He nodded.
“Well, Hell is the opposite of Heaven.”
“Ah, so it’s where you go if you don’t believe in Heaven.”
I was stumped, and tempted to reply, “No, if you don’t believe in Heaven you just live a fuller life on earth and then decompose when you die…” but instead went with an emphatic, “Um, kind of..sure!”
“But,” his wheels were spinning. “If God is everywhere….he’s not in Hell.”
“No. I guess not.”
I was still brainstorming a way to make Hell not seem scary when he hit me up again. “God is everywhere and everything right?”
“Yes!” This made sense from a yoga perspective, too, and it was better than distracting him with Dante, which had been my back up plan.
“Ok, fine.” He looked seriously perplexed. “There’s something I don’t get then. Who’s that..I mean…what’s that…uh, do you know His son?”
I choked on my breath for a second. Did I personally know God’s son? Why..yes! In fact, He loved me, or so I’d read on a bumper sticker in Florida. I replied evenly, “You mean Jesus?”
“Yeah! That’s him. Jesus. I don’t get how if God is everywhere and everything, he had a son. You can’t have a kid like that. You need a human parent to have a kid.”
Determined not to screw up, I explained, “Well, he had his mother. Mary. She’s a human.”
I thought I was saved. But he was too smart. “You need two parents. The Dad can’t be everywhere and everything.”
Think fast, I willed myself. “That’s true, usually you do need two parents. But that’s why Jesus is a miracle. He was born even though it shouldn’t have been possible, so it’s a miracle. Have you heard of miracles?”
He nodded enthusiastically, then paused. “Yeah. Like if you had a Chinese twin…”
“Excuse me?”
He tilted his head. “I mean a Japanese twin.”
“Connected, I mean.”
“Oh! You mean a Siamese twin.” I was lost.
He clapped his hands and nodded eagerly. “Yeah! Two heads…one body! Now that’s a miracle!”
Dutifully, I explained to him that Siamese twins actually have two bodies. But in hindsight, I think it’s probably ok that I told him the Bible was made up.

3 thoughts on “Teaching Your Children About Spirituality

  1. I was brought up by very secular liberal Quakers, but with lots of fundamentalist Christian relatives, and a father who deep down felt guilty that he was no longer one of them. So, we were taught to respect their beliefs so much that we bent over backwards until our heads got stuck up our asses, while they, meanwhile, clearly hadn't been taught to respect other people's beliefs or lack thereof–quite the opposite, in fact. And so, they had no problem with preaching their dogma at us and telling us we were going to Hell if we didn't believe in it. Because of that, I don't pretend I believe in anything to anybody. That's not to say I'm gonna go out of my way to tell my little cousins (children of the ones who preached to us when we were children) that the beliefs that have been hammered into them before they could speak are bullshit (or viciously homophobic, sexist, unspeakably hypocritical, and generally hateful, even though they are). Nonetheless, if they started the kind of conversation you're describing, I'd have no problem saying “that's what your parents believe. I don't.” And, who knows? Maybe, I'll have planted a seed of doubt that some day, might lead them to think that they they don't have to choose between being a right wing bigot and going to hell. Can't say I'd feel the least bit guilty about that….

  2. That last comment, I now realize, looking it over, was much more about me than about what you wrote–just describing a kind of parallel experience, given my own particular background. No criticism of your handling of the was situation intended…


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