On our way home in the car, the 11 year-old lodged an official complaint against his younger brother for embarassing him in school: He talks about God too much. He said things like, “God created everything” in daily, random conversations, without prompting. On top of that, he also sometimes sports a British accent, according to his older brother, “Like Charlie and Lola!”
(Trying very hard not to laugh out loud since both kids were visibly upset).
“People don’t talk that way. It is rude. You can’t assume that the person believes in what YOU believe in.”
“He was telling Miss [Babysitter] about the Ten Commandments!”
“Well,” I attempted to smooth things out, “Miss [Babysitter] is probably not offended. At any rate, it is very possible she is Catholic since her family moved from Poland when she was in high school.”
“Isn’t it rude to assume?” Once again, he got me right then and there.
He was so indignant. Mr. Monk, my 6-year-old, started wailing. “I DID NOT! And why can’t I tell her about the Ten Commandments? She knows about them too!”
At the same time I was proud that we must be doing something right bringing up my oldest, I also felt panic. Surely my youngest is confused as hell. If we insist on him going to Religious Ed every Saturday morning, why can’t he talk about what he has learned there? And if there are people that do not believe in Jesus and God as taught in Religious Ed, for example, Mommy Heathen here, why does he have to believe? Of course, these were questions swarming inside my head as I sped home since the radio cranked up way high was not enough to drone out Mr. Monk’s indignant sobbing. He himself has not asked me those questions yet. Not that day. But they did come way sooner than I had expected.
Seriously? What kind of 6-year-old discusses religious pluralism with their parents?
“Why do people that were not baptized NOT believe in the same god as people that were baptized?”
The questions came. They came fast and furious. We were going to bed. Supposed to.
Not knowing how to answer this question, I decided to take the literal approach:
“Honey, you know that Muslims and the Jewish people believe in the same god that you do. [I am assuming he does for the convenience of having a conversation with him that would actually get us somewhere…] The main difference is that they do not believe that Jesus is the savior.”
Did I say it right? Is Jesus Christ the savior? I was sure I pulled that line out from one of the Christmas carols.
“Do you believe Jesus Christ is the savior?”
“No.” I said without hesitation.
I never talk down to my children. I made a conscious decision when I was pregnant with my first born and one day, all of a sudden, I realized just how heavy that burden is, to be responsible for another human being’s moral upbringing.
He turned away from me. I could see his shoulders heaving. He was quietly sobbing.
Oh my god. Was he fearing for my soul? Finally he turned to look at me in the eyes, very seriously, too serious for a 6 year old.
“Do you want me to learn that Jesus Christ is the savior? That GOD created the world?”
I explained that since his father is Catholic, and I am not, I would prefer that his father talks to him about this subject.
“No.” He said emphatically. “I want to know whether YOU want me to learn about this.”
I started to explain why we decided to have them baptized and have them attend Religious Ed: Moral upbringing. It takes a village.
Growing up, I was never religious yet deep down I understood the expectations of me to be good. To do good. Karma. Reincarnation. It was never explicitly taught, but I knew. Everyone of us knew. It is embedded in the culture. I am certainly not suggesting Asian societies/cultures are more moral. Ha. Far from it. My theory is that the subtle permeation in daily life of the implicit belief in Karma, in What goes around, comes around, in you do reap what you sow, makes it easier to conform to a certain moral code without an explicit religious upbringing.
My husband and I were alone in the city. Far away from any “villages” that we could count on as a moral foundation for our children. We thought, Catholic Church! Besides, my husband went through the whole Religious Ed ordeal ritual thing and he turned out fine, it just seemed a natural conclusion to draw.
“I don’t need you to learn about God, which god, I am not sure. You will have to make your own decision when you grow up. But right now, I want to make sure that you can learn right from wrong. That you will know to do the right thing when we are not around.”
With a stroke of genius, I used Spiderman as an example to explain Karma.
“Remember when Peter Parker let the robber go because he was mad at the man for cheating him out of his winnings, but later the robber killed his uncle?”
I think he got it. I hope he got it. He turned his back towards me again. Silence. But I could tell from his breathing that he was not falling asleep. It was almost midnight. My child with an old soul…
“Are you worried that mommy may go to hell?”
“Not really. I don’t know.” His voice was calm.
I told him about how when his broher was his age, he came home one day after Religious Ed and asked us, “Are you and daddy going to hell?” Apparently the teacher had told him that his parents would be going to hell if they (we) don’t go to mass every Sunday.
“That was awful!” He commented. He did not sound traumatized. THAT. Seemed to be all I could have asked for that night.
How much do you tell your children when they are so young? Too little, you are sheltering them. Too much, you are burdening them. I decided I would make my one last pitch and let it be. Well, as much “let it be” as I could muster as a mother.
“I want you to remember this: there are people that will use religion as an excuse to try to get you to do things that you know are not right, to beleive things that you know are wrong. Anybody, ANYBODY, that uses religion as an excuse to talk you out of thinking for yourself…”
“… is wrong?” He finished the sentence for me.
“Yes.” I sighed and gave him a hug.
“Ok. I am going to sleep now. Good night.”
Then he was sound asleep.