My daughter will be five years old next month. She has not been christened, confirmed, baptized, or any other religious ceremony we put children through. I think one of those doesn’t normally happen until the tween years but I can never keep them all straight.
My little girl has been to mass on holidays and sat through a few sermons at my grandmother’s small, rural church. She’s gone to religious pre-schools and she has memorized a prayer to say before eating dinner. This is the extent of her religious exposure. And I feel like it’s time to change that, to introduce her to the loving and supportive communities that church can provide. There’s just one small problem. My husband and I are not remotely religious. I don’t even think we count as spiritual.
When I was younger, my family went to a Presbyterian church. I guess it was the middle ground between my father’s Catholic upbringing and my mother’s Brethren roots. I can still remember the first time I refused to go, saying that the whole thing was bogus. I was in fifth grade and my grandfather had just died. We were racing to the hospital, three hours away in Michigan. I spent the entire trip praying that he would be okay. I never even got to see my grandfather to say goodbye. It was the first time that I said, “If there was really a God, he would never have let this happen.”
I realize that there are plenty of people who will argue with me about that. I know reconciling the tragedies of the world with faith and spirituality is a difficult road for many. As I got older, I started to accept that God can’t control every bad thing that happens, that he can’t grant every prayer. I bought into that whole, “He has a plan that only He knows,” thing.
But somehow, overtime, that doubt crept back in to my mind. I saw the ways that churches abused their power and protected the guilty instead of the innocent. I saw churches that preached the love of God, only to condemn some human beings for who they love. Even worse, more than any scandal or dispute over beliefs, I simply lost faith. I stopped believing in all those old Biblical stories I learned as a child.
I cannot speak for my husband’s experience, but he too became disillusioned with religion in general. After serving as an altar boy for years, he won’t even take Communion when we attend Christmas Eve mass with his mother. He won’t even mouth the words of the prayers, ones that he’s had memorized since childhood.
My husband and I are completely and totally separated from the Christian industrial complex. And yet, there’s something that draws me back to it.
Even though my daughter will never learn true spirituality from me, she is surrounded by faith. Both of her grandmothers are extremely involved in their religion. My mother-in-law attends mass everyday and volunteers at a Catholic charity center at least once a week. She taught at a Catholic school her whole life.
I look at the faith my mother and mother-in-law hold and it seems nice. When I hear them pray, I feel the emotion in their voice as they put their troubles and concerns in God’s hands. I think of the relief they must feel at the idea that there is someone up there who loves them and who wants to help them with their troubles. All of this seems so desirable, and yet I can’t bring myself to accept it.
But there is a guilt at the idea of denying my daughter the chance for that faith. I feel bad thinking that she won’t grow up with the community and the support of a church. Even though I chose not to follow that path as an adult, I want her to be able to make that choice on her own and when she’s ready.
For all that people might criticize religious institutions for, and I realize that there’s plenty, churches provide moral outlines and community structure for children. There are studies showing that children who attend church get better grades. Other research says kids who attend church are better behaved. Still more shows that religious teens are less likely to use drugs.
I lost my faith at some point in time, but I never really soured on the idea of religion all together. I still believe that religion is an important part of our society and one that can go a tremendous amount of good.
I would like my daughter to get the chance to see what religion and spirituality look like. And while I plan to explain my own beliefs to her when she’s older, I don’t think that a 5-year-old is ready to understand a position that I still have a hard time explaining to myself. I don’t think she’ll get that I can appreciate and respect church without necessarily believing all of Christianity’s tenants.
For a while at least, it would seem like I need to pretend some sort of religious belief if I really want to get my daughter involved in a church. I would need to go and sit and sing, all the while realizing that I don’t feel emotionally attached to the words that are coming out of my mouth. This might seem disingenuous and horrible to some, but it’s a choice that floats around in the back of my mind.
I’m not trying to tell anyone else that they should pretend to be religious for the sake of their kids. I’m not suggesting that every child needs to go to church. Every parent needs to make religious decisions for themselves. But even though my faith has dissipated, I still appreciate and enjoy the traditions and culture of the religion I learned as a child. I still want to introduce my daughter to spirituality and to church. Right now, I’m just trying to find a way to do that.