For a lot of parents, myself included, this is a very tricky subject. I admit, I’ve struggled with the notion of God and religion since having children. I live in a deeply red state. Christianity is used as a weapon to speak out against tolerance, it’s used in support of bigotry and oppression, and it’s used as a way to stop our children from learning vital information they need to become critical thinkers. Adults think the terrorists who stormed the capitol are heroes, women should shut up and take a seat, and books should be burned in the church parking lot. Most people believe children should be taught the world is 6,000 years old and Noah had a big-ass farm on a boat (Seriously, where did they find the bamboo to feed the pandas?) If anything, I believe these mixed messages are damaging to our children. So how do you approach religion with your kids when you don’t buy into the dogma?
Many people of my generation can give you some horror story of growing up “in the church.” I was lucky enough that I felt I was more exposed to it without being fully inundated on a daily basis. I was allowed the freedom to make my own choices. Many people are told allowing their children to make their own choices is detrimental to their spiritual well-being and eventual fate. In response, they force their kids to believe and ensure they have no access to outside ideas simply because they are so afraid their children will burn in the fires of hell, enduring unspeakable torment for the rest of eternity. Can we admit this is an over-dramatic move from a God who is a bit of a diva? This is not healthy in any way. People like me do not believe fear must be a driving force of becoming a good person. Additionally, if I wind up being wrong, a truly wonderful and kind God would not send a good person to hell for not taking a bath in his holy water while letting a serial killer go to heaven simply for “accepting Jesus” before he’s executed. That just simply doesn’t make sense, and I think I’d rather go to the bad place with the people who give that kind of God the side-eye.
But here is the simple truth. In an area such as mine, deeply held religious beliefs are still the norm and no matter how much I try to shelter my children from harmful ideas, they will confront them on a daily basis. Today is election day. We will go out and vote for school board members, and half of the candidates believe children shouldn’t have access to books they deem “inappropriate, subversive or immoral.” The boogeyman is in the bathroom, and the satanists are coming for our kids. For those of us who attempt to teach our children to be independent critical thinkers, there will be a lot of hell to pay. When other children are born into an environment in which “the truth” is vehemently articulated as coming straight from a dusty old book full of so many contradictions and, frankly, pretty hateful and bloody stuff, what kind of person will those kids become (besides Trump supporters)?
Russell’s book fills a major void in the minds of parents like myself who worry about these very things. The answer, which would surprise many secular parents, is not to shelter our children from religious ideologies but to expose them to them in a way that is all encompassing and compassionate. Every child should know that people believe a great many different things, and faith can often be a driving force. Education is always the answer, in my experience, and this includes religious literacy. The more we know the more we are able to wield our intellects in a way that can shelter us and our children from damaging ideas and hurtful words. Should my children grow up and want to explore an ideology different from mine, that will be ok. That will be their choice. They should always be encouraged to ask questions, for that will open the door for them to develop their own ability to ask and contemplate and answer their own questions when they are adults. They will have the mental and emotional fortitude to do so, but they will do so in a way that’s respectful and tolerant of all peoples of all faiths, including those who have no faith in a supernatural entity or entities.
Russell’s book is practical, concise, and immensely helpful. She offers recommendations for children’s books that can help with various subjects, including other religions and very deep and difficult subjects such as death and grief. She illustrates her points with real life examples and even includes a world religions cheat sheet at the end that parents can use to increase their own understanding of the basic facets of the major world religions. I think this would be a fabulous book to own so you can revisit it when you’re feeling on shaky ground or when jackass Billy tells your kid that they are going to hell because they don’t believe Jesus took his dinosaur to the groomers for a nail trim. Yes, I jest, but I do feel it’s incredibly important to teach our children to be respectful of another’s ideals, even if that child does not return that respect. They should have compassion in that instance, because it means that child was not taught respect. Instead, they were taught to hate and distrust those who don’t share their worldview, which is dangerous in the long run. Responding with more hate will merely exacerbate the problem and lead us toward a more divisive future.
In short, this is a fabulous resource for parents who want to raise kind, intelligent, compassionate kids who aren’t afraid to be who they are and don’t have confusion about the world in which they live.
Published March 31, 2015 by Brown Paper Press. ISBN 9781941932001. Paperback. 196 pages.
Spoken from the heart, as ever – and very brave, considering where you live. However, I’m unable to forgive you for making me spray the water I was drinking while laughing at your bamboo for pandas joke 🤣 I shall now clean up.
Ha! My sincerest of apologies. At least you got a chance to wash whatever it was you sprayed.