Believers, Teach Your Children Well

by Laura

My daughter’s teacher (public school) sends out weekly emails that basically list what’s been taught in class and request donations for things. This week’s email said, “Congrats to all the cherubs who made their holy communions.  What a great achievement!”

Oh yes, she calls the students cherubs. Isn’t that precious?

Now, this confirms some of what my daughter told me last week, that the kids had all been discussing their communions. She said they asked her about communion and she said she didn’t know what that was. She says one girl said, “Then you must be Jewish. My parents say I’m not allowed to be friends with Jewish kids.”

Okay, now I kind of doubt that. I don’t doubt that she said it, but I suspect the girl was just a brat who decided to use religious differences as an excuse to ostracize my daughter.

But it made me think. What does my daughter know about religion?

My husband says he’s agnostic and I’m an Atheist. But we’ve never told our daughter that she has to believe what we believe. Prior to attending school, we touched on the subject of religion when discussing holidays. When she attended Montessori preschool in Colorado, the other children talked about God, so she asked me about God. I did my best to explain things. At first she said she wanted to believe in God, then later she decided she didn’t. She was four. I supported her whims, but didn’t take any of it too seriously. It came up again in Kindergarten and 1st Grade in Seattle, when other kids attended bible camp. By then, she’d pretty much made up her mind that she wasn’t terribly interested in organized religion. She’d lost a grandparent. She knew some family members thought he was in Heaven, so we talked about that sort of thing. She liked the idea, but wasn’t really buying it. Then we moved to Pennsylvania and the kids here like to talk about CCD.

Now we’re getting into familiar territory for me, because I was raised here and I remember most of my friends attended CCD. My daughter is nine now. I remember things heating up at around that age. I remember kids making fun of me for not believing in Noah and the Ark. I remember weird storybooks in the doctor’s office, one about Abraham and Isaac was particularly troubling to me. I remember kids asking me what I was, and I remember my mother telling my brother and I that we should say we were Secular Humanists, as if that would stop the teasing.

My daughter knows my father’s family was Jewish and my mother’s family was Catholic. She knows my husband’s family is Catholic. She knows that religious people believe in God and they have different rules to follow. But beyond that, what does she know? She knows we’re different because we don’t go to church. She knows churches are big buildings where a lot of her secular summer classes are held. She’s jealous of the kids who get to play at the playgrounds outside those churches. But mostly, what she knows about religion comes from her peers. And it hasn’t been good.

Believers, if you want to make your faith look good, instruct your children in how to be better little humans. Because what my daughter is learning from her peers is that religious people are mean, that they tease outsiders and that they think they’re special. I don’t say negative things about any religion to my daughter, but she has started saying negative things, based on the treatment she’s getting from her classmates.

I do my best to keep my children open-minded, curious and tolerant. It would be nice if religious parents would do the same.