I was born into a catholic family and raised with catholic beliefs, I went to a primary school with a strong catholic ethos and then on to a convent girl’s school for secondary education. I learned at a very young age that questioning the plausibility of Bible stories was not the done thing. To question God was a sin (in fairness, I was questioning the teacher, not God!) and that in spite of God creating us in his own image and telling us to “Love one another as Jesus loved you” there were certain people that God didn’t like us to associate with. Like protestants for instance. Even as a child I couldn’t understand that one. God loves everyone, so long as they attend church in the correct building every Sunday…
The older I got, the more I questioned. And in questioning, I learned that religious division was the source of much suffering around the world, I genuinely couldn’t see other human beings as anything more or less than people just like me, regardless of their sex, the colour of their skin or their religious beliefs. These things generally have absolutely no bearing on who they are as people, they’re either good people or they’re not. So I couldn’t understand how the God I had grown up with could allow all the hatred, the prejudice and the bloodshed in his name. In fact, I knew he wouldn’t, so perhaps he was as fictional as Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy? And if he wasn’t fictional and did allow it to happen, then I didn’t want to be a part of any religion.
When I had my first child, my religious beliefs were long gone, but no sooner had she arrived than people were asking “So, when’s the christening?” When I said there wasn’t going to be a christening, there were gasps followed by “How could you do that to her?”. Over the next few months, I was under increasing pressure to ‘welcome the baby’, this translated to “Just bloody christen her will you!” I was on the receiving end of many snide comments like “Well, I hope for your sake you’re right” and “Oh the poor child and she’s so innocent!” What does that even mean? I was choosing not to christen her, not contemplating feeding her to wolves! This tactic was then followed up by pointing out how my bad parenting choice would affect her in the future, “What about when all the other kids are making their communion? She’ll be the odd one out, you can’t do that to the child!” And of course, having been brought up Catholic, my own doubts kicked in too, I mean, what if I was wrong and all these people that I loved and respected were right? And so, she was eventually christened at 9 months old. When the other two kids arrived it wasn’t even discussed, they were just christened and I embarked on the strange journey that is – raising good Catholic children as a non-Catholic.
It started out easy enough, teaching right from wrong is a basic of parenting and a basic of church teachings. Saying our prayers at dinner and bedtime became a nice family activity, we generally made them up! When they started school it was still fairly easy, the messages coming home from religion class were about love, family, friendship and celebration of life. But when it came to confirmation time, it was time for some serious chats over dinner. I made it clear to them that if they chose to go ahead and become confirmed Catholics that they were going to be full Catholics in their own right and needed to understand what that meant. In order to prepare them for confirmation, we did some further reading on the history of the church, it’s teachings on subjects that may affect them in the future, like equality, marriage, divorce etc. that weren’t covered in the school curriculum thus far. We also discussed the teachings of other religions and the of course, the lack of religion. We discussed how secular laws sometimes went against religious teachings and how religious teachings sometimes didn’t quite fit with modern society and they may have to make difficult decisions in the future. I told them that if they had any doubts, they should not make a promise to follow church teachings if they didn’t intend to do so.
As a result of open and honest discussion, my two teenagers have chosen to become full Catholics so far. The eldest is an A grade student in religious studies and plans to become a religion and history teacher when she leaves school. The youngest is yet to come of age; we’ll see what she decides in three years time.
So it seems, in my experience, giving children access to information, allowing them to question beliefs and ideas actually makes those beliefs stronger.
Having said that, my teenagers are hoping for some changes in the church in the future. They believe that there should be equality among men and women in the church (and outside it), they believe we shouldn’t have a referendum on “gay marriage” because “gay marriage” shouldn’t exist. Not because they’re homophobic, but because they believe being gay shouldn’t be an issue, and it should just be called marriage. My heathen outlook isn’t influencing their choice to have their faith, but my liberal ideas seem to be rubbing off on them! I think that’s a good thing!