I have two young daughters. I and my wife have raised them as Christians and fully fledged members of our family church. They’ve gone to Sunday School, church, youth organisations, summer meetings; all the fun and games that have been available.
Over the last year, as my faith has waned further and further, I have had a lot of thoughts about how exactly I’m going to broach this subject with my kids – what I should say to them, how much I should explain to them, what effects my words will have on them. These are standard fare of any parent in raising their children, but for me the complication comes when you raise them up to believe one thing – and continue to believe it in the face of all opposition and challenge – and then become something different.
In the early days, I worried about being wrong about giving up on Christianity. What if I was making a mistake? What if God was real and that denying it exposes you to the risk of eternal damnation in whatever form that takes? Did I want that for my kids? No – obviously not. Being honest, though, my fears of that particular outcome are becoming less and less acute.
Both of my children have “made a profession of faith”. At the times they told their mother and me, we were delighted! This was what every Christian parent wanted for their child! Nothing else mattered. Nothing about who they are or become, what they do, how they behave or treat other people – the only thing that matters is that they give their life to the Lord and earn their place in Heaven after all is said and done in this “scene of time”.
I faced a real (and continuing) dilemma when I stopped going to church. For health reasons, my wife no longer attends our congregation’s weekly meetings either, so for quite some time I had been the one taking my kids along. But when I could no longer face that particular ordeal, they stopped going, too, and only went to our Sunday School (which takes places before the Sunday morning service). There hasn’t been a huge amount of objection to this, and one question in the early days from my younger daughter about why we no longer went to church. I dodged it. I just didn’t have all my thoughts in a straight enough line to actually articulate them, especially in an “explain it like I’m 5” way…
Over the past few months, my mind has regularly wandered into the realms of what I’m going to say or how I’m going to explain my new position to my children.
And it all somewhat came to a head this past weekend. My older daughter happened to say something in passing about how we shouldn’t pay that much attention to one of the more educational TV programmes she watches because it talks about “the Big Bang and stuff like that”. The conversation didn’t carry – most of the people in the room are aware of where I now stand on these things and the circumstances didn’t really lend themselves to a deep and meaningful debate about the subject. But I made a mental note to perhaps use it as an opportunity to open up a bit more.
One of the things I have always promised myself is that I’d be honest with my kids. I’ve always had some problems and difficulties with certain aspects of the Christian faith, and I promised I’d never teach them anything that I didn’t fully understand or believe myself. For a long time, Creationism didn’t fall into that category, but now it very much does.
When, later on in the evening, an opening presented itself to pick up on my daughter’s earlier comment. I asked her if she could explain why she had said it. She didn’t really know, but I’m fairly convinced that the truth is it’s all she has ever known and all anyone has every told her is the truth. We live in a rural setting and she attends a school closely linked to our church, the various groups within church itself that she has attended over the years, and of course her parents – how was she ever going to think anything else! I then explained, hopefully without patronising, that there’s just no way that particular record of events can be a realistic explanation of how we came to be given everything else we now know. I went on to tell her that I no longer go to church because I simply don’t believe the things I read in the bible any more. I didn’t major on it – I could tell she was uncomfortable and I wasn’t exactly at my easiest. But, at the age of 11, she’ll be transferring from primary to secondary level education later this year and I tried to warn her that things will be very different there. We’ve dropped this hint on as many occasions as we can recently. We simply want to minimise the inevitable culture shock effect of going from where she is now to a cosmopolitan “big school”.
She’s a mature girl, and I’m pretty sure she understood what I was saying, if not the significance. And she knows that she will be able to open up to us with anything whenever she feels it necessary… whether she will or not when the time comes is an entirely different scenario.
I do have worries over how the future looks for the relationships within our family. My wife remains a Christian, although she finds herself agreeing with me more that she’d probably like when I challenge things I used to believe so wholeheartedly. How will we decide what are acceptable boundaries when our thresholds perhaps differ quite significantly? What ground rules will we make and try to enforce to keep our kids safe yet let them grow, be wise yet make the mistakes we’ve all made. I know these are the questions pretty much every parent wrestles with, but the slightly conflicting religious stand-points add a layer of unwanted complexity.
It’s going to be tricky, but if the first few years of their lives are anything to go by, we’ll do our best to make it as much fun as possible!!