Saturday, March 10, 2007

Crossing the line

While I tend to shy away from religious posts, it's almost Easter and I want some feedback. The question of the day:

"What is our responsibility, as parents, friends, human beings, whatever, to influencing another person's spirituality?"

A friend of mine recently had a rant. One of the points she makes is that she doesn't want her mother-in-law cramming religion down her kids throats. My question is, by not exposing her kids to her in-law's beliefs, is she cramming her own beliefs down their throats?

My parents never forced me to believe anything, and as a result, I didn't believe anything for a long time. Eventually, though, I think basic humanity kicks in and we embark on a passage of self-discovery. Probably sometime around that first philosophy course in high school or college.

Anyway, here is my edited response to her post:


Food for thought--by *not* exposing your children to your mother-in-laws views, aren't you sort of cramming your beliefs down their throat? It's a delicate balance--I hope I can walk the fine line my parents did. This might get lengthy, but here's the basic time line of my spiritual awakening:

1) I went to a church as soon as I was old enough to understand the concepts. Eventually, once I got into it, I started asking questions in Sunday School. Naturally, when the questions got too complex, the teacher defaulted to "you just have to have faith." Even as a 10 year old, my bullshit detector was going off the charts.

2) Once I expressed my malcontent with the non-answers and question avoidance I was getting, my parents said I no longer had to attend. And so begins my journey towards atheism.

3) Sometime around 17ish, I had the sudden realization that it requires every bit as much faith to be an atheist as it did to be a card-carrying member of any religious party. This posed a serious moral dilemma. Suddenly, my spiritual compass takes a severe left hand turn towards the agnostic.

4) After failing out of my first attempt at college (uhh, yeah, going from all-boys boarding school with very strict rules to "sure, bring a beer to your 8 am class, or don't come at all if you don't feel like it" didn't go over so well), I did some soul-searching as a ranch hand on the Mexican border. After experiencing what could only be described as a miracle, I returned to church, got baptized, and got back on the path to Monotheism.

5) Every church I went to managed to offend me within about 3 Sundays. One thing every Monotheistic religion teaches is that if it's truly the "Word of God," you'd feel it in your heart. All I felt were liars and charlatans. That's when it dawned on me that the Bible is 98% fiction, as I suspected years before. I haven't bothered with church since.

6) So where did I go from there? Why, I made my own religion, of course. I believe in a higher power. Call it God, call it Allah, call it Mother Nature or Mother Earth, call it what you will. There is a guiding force greater than me. And it guides *me*. My relationship with God is strictly one on one. I don't feel compelled to sell it to anyone else. I trust my instincts and listen to my heart. And I pray. I don't pray for miracles, or for a better life, or for the sins of others--I pray for guidance. And I've never been turned down unanswered. Is it just the act of sitting down and thinking about what's troubling you? Perhaps--but I always figure out a better way to do something than how I'm doing it now. And I sure as hell don't judge ANYBODY. I've got enough of my own problems to worry about.

"Ben, where the fuck are you going with all this," you ask?

My longwinded point is that I needed exposure to a shitload of different experiences before I found my own sense of spirituality. I didn't even mention dabbling in Judaism, Muslim, Hindi, etc, when I was looking for what was right for me.

I know I don't get a vote, but I say send the kids off once or twice with mummy dearest. She'll be tickled, and kids are smart. It won't do any harm. They'll come back with questions, certainly. You can always say "that's what grandma thinks is true." They'll ask what you think is true, and you can tell them. And when you're done, you can tell them life is a quest of self-discovery, and deciding for yourself what you believe. When they're older, you won't believe how much more they love you for letting them make the choice.



Dave said...

Ben. Good shit. This is the reason I link to your feed. I just wanted to let you know, your words do not fall on a deaf audience, this latest post resonates with me deeply. Keep the philosophical juices churning bro.


tom said...

Good advice, I never forced my kids one way or another and they have found their own spirituality..

billy said...

spirituality is very important for the kids. just gotta be there for them. make them understand the big picture but not like with draconian madness.

Anonymous said...

As a parent, you bear responsibility for helping your children develop. Personally, I believe that's equipping them for the explorative journey, but that's not a dominant viewpoint.

I don't think that "preach 'em all, let Kid sort 'em out" is a responsible approach, though. There are some memes that are very powerful, seductive, and dangerous. Depending on the age, kids really look up to adults, they might not be ready to realize that Grandma could be wrong. Worse, that Grandma and mom disagree, and so one of them is wrong. And if Grandma has 300 other people who agree with her...

At a certain age, they'll be ready, but a completely laissez-faire attitude is not well reasoned. Teach them how to question, and how to to wire up the BS detector. Of course, this shows my own beliefs. But, I do believe that we should be able to control our memes, and not the other way around, so I guess I'm a memeticist first.

Nicole said...

This is an excellent post Benny...good read!

I think, well it is normal to want to pass on family traditions and beliefs, one should walk a fine line inregards to religions and children. Especially with the certain stigmas that come with certain religions. Like catholics and birth control and different perceptions of women's rights and the whole gay acceptance issues.

I told my kids that I think 99% of the bible is bullshit. It's stories written to teach lessons and fear tactics.

Is there a god? Was there a Jesus?

I think that there may have been a man named Jesus that existed. I like to think that he was a rebel of sorts that stood up for the under-dog. Is it so shocking to believe that Jesus married and did father children? I actually kind of like that idea.

Ben I have never really heard of the religion you have mentioned that you believe you are. What is it?
You have kind of lived a pretty interesting life. I NEVER in a million years would have ever suspected that you had lived a ranch hand's existence!! :)

You should talk more about your life, let us understand what it is that makes Big Ben tick!

Angel said...

What you said made a lot of sense!

If you teach your kid to question and learn, then they'll figure out what it is they feel, when they're ready. I must admit that if you expose a child to something, though, the fact that they're very impressionable can work against them. It isn't til their teens that they usually start to question what people say is "the right way" or "what you should think".

My daughter is 2, and I know that once she starts into the school system, she'll start learning about different things from her classmates. Including religion. My goal as a mom is to be honest with her.

Bring on the questions! lol

TMLSB said...

nice job on that dude. That's about exactly how I feel about it as well. If you don't commit to a particiular religion, most folks don't know or care about the difference between athiest, agnostic, etc.

My parents forced me to go to church, as did my wife's parents. Forced her I mean. And I resented every day of it and never believed any of it.

I've had several profound experiences in my life that changed my opinion of a higher power, but i stand firm on my beliefs regarding organized religion.

As a matter of fact, you've motivated to blog about this.

Thanks dude, and good luck on the bidness.