Wednesday, September 26, 2007

At 9, religion comes knocking once more

Background: In an earlier post, I spoke of a teacher telling my son about God when he was 5, and how he got past that. In the intervening years, his teachers said grace before lunch, but there was little other religion at school. At any rate, we've never been concerned that someone will indoctrinate him; our real concern has been that he will tell some teacher that they're stupid for believing in God.

We checked back with him when he was about 7, and he told us that his friends were very confused that he had no religion. He seemed a bit exasperated at their ignorance, but nothing else. Now, a few years later, and a few grades older, he's had another teacher-encounter.

School Prayer: This episode began with some discipline problems in the school's "upper elementary" grades. The principal reasoned that some kids needed to learn values. Unfortunately, in his mind "good" is something that comes from religion. Not wanting to evangelize his own Catholic faith, he decided that he should encourage children to explore their own religions. The means would be this: grace would not be said by a teacher; in the older classes, children would be expected to say grace. They were expected to ask their families for prayers from their own religions. Everyone was welcome: Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus. Unsurprisingly, he simply did not consider that some people might be atheists.

When our son told us this, we asked if he wanted us to do something about it and he said he didn't. He said he was going to make up some prayers. That had us a bit concerned, and so we had another long chat about religion.

Another chat about religion: By now, he had studied Greek myths. So, I used that as an example of why ancient people came up with the idea of a God of Lighting, and a God of the Sun. I told him about some Indian myths, and we had a good laugh at the idea that the sun was going around the earth because it was on the chariot of some God. That's so funny...and the sun does not even go around the Earth in the first place! Still, it's easy to see how people might have made those types of mistakes. There was more... but, at the end of it, I was satisfied that he wasn't confused at all. He was pretty clear that he was right, but he did not see religion as something adversarial -- so, he looked at his principal's request like he might some other apparently pointless request -- if the boss want it done, ... whatever.

We let it go at that... but then, there was a part-2...

Commandments: The principal decided to create a code of conduct, and came to explain what it was all about. He asked the class to do an exercise. He wanted them to think about the main rules of their religion, and write those rules out as an assignment.

So, little Z's hand shoots up.

"Yes, Z?" the principal asks.

"What if you're an atheist like me", Z asks. "What rules should I write?"

I'd have loved to have seen the principal's face :)

He came back with: "Research the rules of some well-known religion, and write those."

In case anyone is wondering, we've had some discussion about the relationship between values and religion, and the possibility of having values without religion, but at 9, his learning in this sphere comes primarily via emulation, not via abstract ideas. I tried offering to teach my son what some good rules were, and why. He wasn't interested. His assignment was to research some religion, and he insisted that he was going to write out the 10-commandments and present those.

That should make good "chat" material. I suppose I should thank the principal somewhat for triggering it! :)

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Blogger Rational Jenn said...

I enjoyed both of your posts about kids and religion. My oldest is nearly 5 1/2 and the idea that there is a supernatural entity has just not even entered his mind. I think when kids don't have religion thrust upon them, then it just never occurs to them to wonder about gods because it's so nonsensical.

The closest he's ever come happened a few weeks ago when he wanted to know who invented the universe. I told him that the universe didn't have an inventor--it just is--and he moved on from there. He's a muller though and could be formulating dozens of corollary questions for a later time.

Once he asked what a church was (we live in GA so we get to see lots of them) and I told him that's where some people go on Sundays. He wanted to know why and I said we had better things to do on Sundays! Again--that answer suffices--for now.

We have approached a few myths and some magical fantasy in stories we've read. He understands they are pretend and I plan to fall back on that when he wants to know WHY people go to church on Sunday.

In the meantime, his friend next door is having nightmares that he's being crucified....

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You often say how you have these 'talks' with your son, but then you also say that you can't reason with children, that they'll just listen to anything you say.

Two questions:

1) Have you ever had to be authoritarian with your son, because he just didn't understand something, "Don't do that - BECAUSE I SAY SO!"?

2) At what age does a kid start to reason, and if he isn't really reasoning, is providing a rational environment the best you can do? What does that entail?


8:37 AM  

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