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Young Children And Theology - Question


Guest OnTheFence
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Guest OnTheFence

I am divorced, with a 4 year old daughter. I'm ex-Christian, but my ex-wife is still surrounded by Christianity. I have a lot of deep aversions to my daughter being exposed to any theology until she gets to some age where she can determine things/think for herself.

 

But, at the same time, I don't want to project my own negativity on the subject onto her life, and her future. In some ways I feel that, if I sided with my 'fears', I could prevent her from experiencing the 'good' things about a spiritual culture--like 'community' and involvement.

 

My ex and I were both very much disappointed with the whole church scene (and god) in the end, as our marriage dissolved, so it isn't an issue (yet?). Still, I sometimes find my little girl mentioning 'Jesus', and to be honest it makes me cringe inside. I suspect this comes from my ex's mother who lives with them. She's a very typical holier-than-thou old lady with scorn and contempt for me, who doesn't have the capacity of forgiveness in her towards me. (which is strange because I didn't do anything wrong--I just got very, very sick)

 

I have debated about it with a few Christians I still know--how theology at Very young ages can, ironically, take away one's Power of Choice. To a very young, impressionable mind theology gets lodged in deep, and is incredibly hard to undo, even if you want to undo it, thereby short-circuiting your power of choice.

 

I'd appreciate opinions on this topic, especially from those of you out there with children.

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This is just a theory that I'm just espousing here, as I don't have any kids (yet), but...

 

I personally feel that four is a little young to be involved in religion. I would allow my kids to explore other possibilities once they're in their teens. Of course, if they have questions before them, I'd supply an answer that is as balanced as possible.

 

Also, being four years old, with the commentary on Jesus coming out already, I'd say you could sow the seeds of doubt in her mind. Ask her who Jesus and God are, and then ask her a hard-to-answer question (scaled down for a kid to understand, of course). When she says she doesn't know, tell her to ask mommy or grandma. Of course, they probably won't know either, or give her a bullshit answer. Even that young, kids aren't stupid. So, with any luck, after repeated sessions of this, she'll begin to see through it.

 

Again, it's just a theory here. I hope not to have to deal with that when I have kids of my own, some day.

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I would wait. At that age, they are far too susceptible to brainwashing and will believe anything an authority figure tells them. Why do you think most of us believed it? Our parents (or another authority figure) told us that it was all real when we were very, very young and we believed them. Many people never question it, even in adulthood.

 

I would wait til they were old enough to distinguish between fantasy and reality, when you could always talk about things later with them. Of course, when they're a bit older, you can tell them that Jesus is like Santa and they'll get the analogy.

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I have debated about it with a few Christians I still know--how theology at Very young ages can, ironically, take away one's Power of Choice. To a very young, impressionable mind theology gets lodged in deep, and is incredibly hard to undo, even if you want to undo it, thereby short-circuiting your power of choice.

 

I'd appreciate opinions on this topic, especially from those of you out there with children.

 

On the fence ... I can speak to your question from two different angles.

 

I'm the grown daughter of two people who left the church in my young teens (I was 11, 12) at the time. My father - in particular - was very open about his feelings on the subject. Open in a productive way - he did not show his bitterness to us children. But, he did expect us to THINK.

 

We had all (six children) been going to Catholic schools - my older sister and I continued on through the Catholic highschool. Our younger siblings transferred to public schools. We were all regularly exposed to theology through extended family. My father did not try and keep us from the theology - he just challenged us to THINK about it. Our dinner conversations were regularly about religion/politics during the 60s and 70s. In productive ways - Dad expected all of his children to process logically the world around us.

 

Now, as adults, some us of consider ourselves Christian, others don't. Those of us who are Christian are quite liberal in our view points. For many years I considered myself Diest. Now I do think of myself as Christian, but very liberal Christian.

 

____________________________

 

On another note, I am a parent of three children. Two of them young adults and one a teenager. All three of my children have been involved in Christianity from very young ages. All three have also been educated in other world religions (I am very active in interfaith dialog). Because of their exposure to other world religions, because I've expected them to think through the way they process the world (just as my father expected his children to think), my children are reaching adulthood with very open minds. I'm proud of each of them - not just of their spiritual choices (I've no idea whether my adult children consider themselves Christian, or not. I don't care.) but I am mostly proud of them because they are compassionate, loving young adults in a cynical world.

 

________________________

 

My advice?

 

Expose your children to the pluralistic world they live in. Take them to Native American events, take them to events where they will be exposed to different cultures, different religions. Get them reading materials about the world's different religions.

 

One good book to start with is: ONENESS: GREAT PRINCIPLES SHARED BY ALL RELIGIONS. You can read more about it at: http://www.onenessonline.com/

 

It is a very easy read, even young children can get something from it. This book is more for reference, it's not something you sit down and read from cover-to-cover. But, the book is great for little snippets that children can absorb. It may even be something you can use at meal time, or bedtime, in place of the typical "prayer".

 

It is possible to answer literalism in productive and positive ways. Just simply exposing your children regularly to the wide varity of spiritual thinking will give them permission to think. And trust me, children are naturally curious, they will respond.

 

The biggest favor my father ever did me, was to expect me to think in a productive and positive way. He did not give his children all the bitterness from his experience with Christianity. He gave us the ability to think critically, by consistently exposing us to other viewpoints. And for that I will always be grateful.

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I'd avoid Abrahamic theology, at least for young children. They don't need to be hearing about a supernatural tyrant and his fiery pits of everlasting agony.

 

Religion isn't a bad thing to raise children with. My fiancee's sister in law is Pagan and is raising her young girls (ages 4 and 7) with little bits of it. They seem to enjoy it, and are certainly not being harmed by it. But that's Paganism - Heathen religions are usually approachable and easy to deal with. They aren't laden with the rules, contradictions, and fears that the Abrahamic cults are.

 

Like Open_Minded said, a little exposure to all sorts of religious ideas can be a good thing. Expose them, when you think they are ready, to the religious views of many different cultures. European Paganism, Buddhism, Shinto, Hinduism, Native American religions, etc - kids really don't seem to have a hard time with this stuff, and they'll enjoy the learning experience if nothing else. And later in life, they'll probably thank you for not presenting a slanted and prejudiced view of religion, like a Xian parent for example would do.

 

Give them all sorts of things to look at, and when they get older, let them make up their own minds. When I was a child, I'd have really liked that, instead of being made to think that Xianity was the only valid choice.

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Guest OnTheFence

Hi Open minded,

 

Thanks so much for your post. I think I have been leaning towards what you call pluralism, that at a minimum I should just let my little girl know that there are a miriad of viewpoints out there, and try to instill in her the desire to sort through it herself.

 

I think your father made a very good decision in the face of personal bitterness.

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Hi Open minded,

 

Thanks so much for your post. I think I have been leaning towards what you call pluralism, that at a minimum I should just let my little girl know that there are a miriad of viewpoints out there, and try to instill in her the desire to sort through it herself.

 

I think your father made a very good decision in the face of personal bitterness.

 

No problem. So often - on this board - I feel as though I am learning a whole new side to my parent's lives. I was a child when they left the church, they spared us children the gory details. It wasn't until adulthood that they told us some of the more dramatic things - like receiving a letter of ex-communication from the vatican. Anyway, my time on this board has helped me to see their experience in a new light.

 

You'll do fine with your little girl, too. Over the years there will be many opportunities to talk about these things. Literalism is all around us, and she will ask you questions. My children all did. By the time they were 5-6 years old they knew my overall views on things. By the time they were in their early teens they had figured out more details - and now as young adults I am amazed at how aware they are of all the literalist undertones in our culture. And the most wonderful thing is that they have a healthy sense of humor regarding these issues. My son - especially - can make me laugh at the literalism. :grin:

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Well, let me put it this way. I remember when I was 5 or so and had a book of children's religious stories. I remember asking my mom, "it's just a story, right?" and being yelled at and told that I had Satan in me, or something to that effect, and spanked.

 

I plan to avoid exposing my kids to religion at a young age if I ever have kids. I don't want them to go through anything even remotely like what I went t hrough. Sure, they'll know that our relatives believe in something like Santa Claus, but I don't plan on them going to church until they're at least old enough to know the dfference between fantasy and reality. And I will never ever yell at them for asking questions.

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Well, let me put it this way. I remember when I was 5 or so and had a book of children's religious stories. I remember asking my mom, "it's just a story, right?" and being yelled at and told that I had Satan in me, or something to that effect, and spanked.

 

Amethyst ... I'm sorry to hear of your mother's response :(

 

Those types of questions are so common. One mother in my meditation group emailed me several weeks ago with what she considered a "cute daughter story". Her little girl came home from the Christian pre-school she goes to and asked her mother basically the same question.

 

Her mother's response was very different indeed. She chose to take that time and talk to her daughter about mythology. She even went to her book case and took down a book that had other creation and flood mythologies in it. The reason she emailed me is that she was proud of her pre-school daughter for being mature enough to ask the question.

 

Even after all this time on the board, and all this exposure to the literalist mentality - I cannot understand what type of fear would drive a parent to "beat the TRUTH" into their children. It is just simply beyond me. :HappyCry:

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My 5 year old Grandson believes in and loves "God that came back alive" after being taken to sunday school 3 times by his other grandparents. My daughter-in-law is a pagan. My son an atheist. My grandson also believes in the speed of dark (faster than the speed of light), invisible smart bugs, Queen Dragatha, dragons, fairies, that penguins in antartica have to be careful not to trip least they fall off the earth, and 3 other impossible things before breakfast everyday.

 

Point is children are going to believe in non-sense even if they have to make it up themselves. I wouldn't and don't get too bent out of shape by it.

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I'm in a very similar boat as you OnTheFence, 4 year old daughter, ex christian, although my ex wife still takes her to church every sunday.

 

The thing I remember most about growing up is that the life you live is a far bigger statement than the words you say. Kids who grow up in a christian household where the dad beats them still grow up totally messed up and often abuse their own kids, for example.

 

They will emulate who you are. Be good and godless and so will they. As of right now, all my daughter knows is that I don't go to church and we don't pray at my house. When she gets older I'll explain that god is just like santa claus and the easter bunny and dragons and princesses in stories.

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I would say don't teach your kids religion (it really screwed up my childhood, at least) but don't teach them bitterness either.

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OntheFence,

 

I empathized with you completely. I also have a 4 year old daughter and a 7 year old son. My ex-wife is also Christian, but mine is a pentecostal, charismatic, fundamentalist. There's no disappointment with church or any other aspect of Christianity with her. She's going to ram Jesus down the kids' throat no matter what I might do. Essentially, I am just letting things be until the kids ask me for an opinion. I'll be sure to tell them what I believe in a manner that they'll understand. I'm currently fighting to have them for the summers, and if I get them, it will make me feel much better about their upbringing. When they are with me, they'll get to see that there are more choices than just Christianity. I personally believe that starting children this young into religion without giving them any other options is dangerous and can be damaging. I know it's all I knew growing up and I'm now 37 and still struggling with fears of hell and damnation because of it being pounded into my head all my life.

 

There have been a few discussions on this board about whether or not you should allow your children to believe in Santa Claus. I have already gone down the road of "Santa-ism" with my kids and won't back off of it now. It is a fun time for them and for us as grown ups. I don't personally play Santa anymore, I just leave it to my ex so the kids don't get confused. My point here though is that when the time comes and they are old enough to know that Santa is only an idea and not a real being, I'll use that to teach them what the Christian god and Jesus are.

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