Relax, It’s Just God

Title: Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious

Author: Wendy Thomas Russell

Completed: May 2022 (Full list of books)

Overview: My daughter has started asking questions about religion and I’ve been curious about how to discuss different aspects of it. Several characters in her favorite books fast for Ramadan so she is interested in trying to do it too… but she does not understand why they are fasting. The greatest benefit of this book was giving me time to reflect on my thoughts and some questions to ask myself about how I would like to discuss these topics with her. She sees a Lalibela Cross, Nataraja, Ganesha, and several Buddha statues around the house, but we typically only talk about these or any religion around the appropriate holidays. Religions are too important culturally and to the majority of the global population to not discuss it at all (no matter what we believe) and now I feel a bit more comfortable talking about them with my curious five year old.

Highlights:

  • As Kosmin observed, religious convictions fluctuate on a societal level in direct relation to a perceived need for external comfort. It’s the reason “comfortable” people tend to be less religious than those whose lives are in chaos. Kosmin cited affluent Japan, where some 84 percent of the population claims no personal religion, versus impoverished Haiti, where the figure is 1 percent.
  • I began to question the whole hell thing. I couldn’t fathom that nice people would suffer eternally simply for being born into other religions, or for being ignorant, or for having a skeptical mind. Any God that would do that wasn’t a benevolent God. And the God I knew was, if nothing else, good. So I lost hell, which also meant I lost Satan. And once Satan was out of the way—well, the dominos kept falling.
  • As a practical matter, it may help to think of indoctrination as a sort of halfway mark between simple suggestion and full-on brainwashing. It doesn’t require threats or abuse, but it does require a strong influence over someone—sort of like parental guidance on steroids. For the purposes of this book, you can be reasonably sure you’re indoctrinating your kids if you teach them the following: • Your way is the only right way to believe.
  • People who disagree with these beliefs are less moral, less intelligent, and less worthy of respect.
  • You can see right off the bat how religious people run the risk of indoctrinating their kids by suggesting that religion is synonymous with morality. But anti-religious people run the risk of indoctrination, as well, particularly when they suggest to children that people who believe in the supernatural lack intelligence or reason. In both cases, pretty strong judgment calls are being made,
  • If you’re not sure your child is “ready” to discuss religious belief, try playing a game called “Fact, Fiction or Belief” to find out for sure. Define fact as anything that’s true; fiction as anything that’s made up; and belief as anything that some people think is fact and other people think is fiction. (For purposes of this game, all opinions, preferences, and tastes can be considered belief.) Then make statements and have your child label them accordingly. For instance, you might say: “The moon is in the sky.” (Fact!) “You like to eat rocks.” (Fiction!) “Pink is the best of all the colors.” (Belief!) Remember: Don’t try to make things too literal or complicated, or to inject actual religious beliefs into your examples.
  • one side note to this subject of simplicity. The younger the child, the less you should talk. They will undoubtedly lose interest, and—frankly—their curiosity probably only extends so far. For example, if your three-year-old asks, out of the blue, “What is an angel?” he’s probably not asking for an essay on everything you know about angels. He wants the short answer. “An angel,” you might say, “is like a fairy with wings.” At five or six, your child might be ready for a few additional details: “Some people think that really good people become angels after they die.” Only later—at, say, eight or nine—will kids appreciate a more sophisticated answer. But, even then, remember to keep it simple:
  • When it comes down to it, “tolerance” is just a way of asking people not to be total dicks to one another.
  • the best way to make sure our children are both able and willing to organize and formulate their own arguments is not by telling them what to challenge, but by letting them challenge us. Linda Hatfield, parenting coach and co-founder of a Southern California-based parenting program called Parenting from the Heart, said the only way to truly empower children is to let them protest our decisions and opinions, take part in decision-making, and (a good amount of the time, at least) get their way.
  • Many religious storybooks are perfectly appropriate for secular families. Here are some of my favorites.
    • Amma, Tell me About Diwali! (2011), Amma, Tell Me About Holi! (2011) and Amma, Tell Me About Krishna! (2012) by Bhatki Mathur
    • The Best Eid Ever by Asma Mobin-Uddin and Laura Jacobsen (2007)
    • Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places by Joseph Bruchac and Thomas Locker (1999)
    • Bubbe’s Belated Bat Mitzvah by Isabel Pinson (2014)
    • Buddha by Susan L. Roth (2012)
    • Celebrate: A Book of Jewish Holidays by Judy Gross and Bari Weissman (2005)
    • David and Goliath by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers and Scott Cameron (1996)
    • DK Children’s Illustrated Bible by Selina Hastings and Eric Thomas (2005)
    • The Easter Story by Brian Wildsmith (2000)
    • Exodus by Brian Wildsmith (1998)
    • Guru Nanak: The First Skih Guru by Rina Signh and Andree Pouliot (2011)
    • How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head by Harish Johari and Vatsala Sperling (2003)
    • Joseph by Brian Wildsmith (1997)
    • The Legend of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu and Demi (2007)
    • The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow by Sanjay Patel (2006)
    • Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher by Lynn Tuttle Gunney and Jane Conteh-Morgan (2008)
    • Muhammad by Demi (2003)
    • Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story by Hena Khan and Julie Paschkis (2008)
    • Noah’s Ark by Jerry Pinkney (2002)
    • Passover by Miriam Nerlove (1989)
    • Rumi: Whirling Dervish by Demi (2013)
    • The Three Questions (2003), Zen Shorts (2005), and Zen Ties (2008) by Jon J. Muth
  • But religious knowledge, like religious tolerance, doesn’t just happen. We parents have to make it happen. Unfortunately, saying the word “Hanukkah” once a year and pointing out burkas in the airport just doesn’t cut it. Knowledge requires context. Tolerance requires action. If we want our children to be interested in and respectful of those around them, we must knit a sense of interest and respect into our childrearing—today and throughout the year.
  • As long as you are raising your kids to be self-confident critical thinkers with a strong moral base and a genuine understanding of religious ideas, your kid is very unlikely to accept any closed-minded religious dogma as true.
  • If we define religion as something that helps us focus on what’s important, gives our life meaning, inspires us to be better people, then it’s fair to say that, in a way, we all have a religion. So what’s yours? Is it nature? Is it physics? Is it music? Art? Literature? Writing? Parenting? Yoga? Wine?
  • “Don’t tell children what they will need to unlearn later.”
  • Talking about decomposing bodies may, at first, seem ghoulish, but the actual science of death is not only fascinating to children, but can be comforting, too. Kids are still figuring out how things die (“Could I have caused it?”) and how it feels to be dead (“Will I be lonely?”). This is precisely why it’s so important to explain to kids how we humans work—how our beating hearts are what keep us alive, and that there is a difference between bodies and consciousness.
  • Sadness, Friedman told me, is such a healthy emotion at times of devastating loss. It’s appropriate. And trying to remove the sadness when someone is grieving is both inappropriate and unhealthy. To make his point, Friedman pointed to the emotion of happiness. Would we ever tell a loved one that they ought to feel less happy about a job offer because they might lose that job some day? Would we tell someone to not feel so good about their engagement because 50 percent of marriages end in divorce?
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