Sunday, March 25, 2007

Living in a godless house ...

We live in a godless house.

That's not to say we don't have spirituality or values we want to impart to our children, just that they don't happen to include a supreme being.

We've always said that we will let Ittybit decide for herself what to believe about organized religion. It's a philosophy we understand parents of a certain age and upbringing to have harbored for at least a generation. We grew up with many kids whose spiritual search lead from Atheism to Zionism, and who eventually found something that best spoke to them.

Spirituality in our humble abode is more of a life tenet than dogma. Be good for goodness’ sake is our unspoken motto, and instead of church sermons our Sunday ritual has been sitting cross-legged or running around barefooted in a yoga studio with other moms and kid: a bendable play date.

It had occurred to me that Ittybit would learn things from other people that I don't agree with. I know my beliefs hold only so much weight and only for so long until I have to let them go and they evolve into her beliefs and her understandings -- beliefs that might be completely different from my own.

The last thing I wanted to do was raise a child who is intolerant of other people, and yet it seems that's just what I’m doing when I intervene on matters of fact when it comes to "faith."

I had envisioned explaining that we believe a certain "thing" and how that may differ from what others believe; diligently trying not to instill a prejudice that others' beliefs might be wrong. Of course I also envisioned these conversations taking place sometime in the not-foreseeable-future, say about the time she was trying to hit me up for the keys to the car or a raise in allowance.

But when a tired-of-being-cold preschooler, strapped into her car seat for our long Sunday drive, asked me to tell her "when God was going to bring spring" I had to pull the car over.

All of a sudden there seemed to be a definite right and a definite wrong.

"Honey, God doesn't bring spring. ... The seasons come based on the Earth's tilt and it’s rotation around the sun."

I didn't really expect her to understand, but I didn't expect big, fat, painful tears either.

"God does bring the spring … and the summer! He. Does. Bring. The. Seasons. So-and-so says he does."

And there it is -- a clash of faith.

"Well, honey, some people believe God is responsible for the creation of everything on Earth and in the universe, and that he sets things into motion, but we know that the seasons occur as a result of the Earth’s position in the solar system. It's nature.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

More tears and sobs -- so many in fact that I can barely make out the words that punctuate them.


How can I explain science to a preschooler? She neither understands nor cares how the universe works, but who's to say we can't start now? If God can personify faith, why can’t someone else personify science?

What we need, I think, is a woman. A strong woman who symbolizes all the wonders embodied in the natural world but who will recede in time, allowing science to stretch its wings and eventually leave the nest.

"Honey, let's just say, for now, that Mother Nature ushers in spring. She walks with spring around the globe to wherever it's going."

She was quiet for a time. She turned to look out the window and dried her tears.

The car was silent as I pulled back onto the road and drove a while longer.

When I checked the rearview mirror I saw the corners of her mouth turn up suddenly.

"Ittybit? How are you doing? Are you OK?"

"Yes, Mama. I'm fine. I'm just going to wait for Mother Nature to bring spring."


slouching mom said...

It was good to read what you had previewed for me on Friday!

I think you did wonderfully here. She clearly needed to have the source of spring personified, so Mother Nature was perfect!

My sister, who is at least an agnostic, if not an atheist, has a 19-year-old who has decided she wants to convert to Orthodox Judaism. My sister is not Jewish.

You just never know.

Sarah said...

This has to be a difficult talk to have with a child. When I was a kid, my parents used Mother Nature to explain rain after I came home from school wondering why my teacher thought G-d was crying.

I think you dealt with this situation very well. It's difficult to explain science and even more difficult to explain the complexities of religion. You did well!

The Mad Momma said...

i think the true test of your own beliefs begins when your children arrive...most of us dont really care till then...

rivergirlie said...

good work there. mother nature is a very fine proto deity - and on so many levels. quite inspired, actually

Bon said...

yep, nice work on the Mother Nature bit. both in terms of quick thinking, and offering a personification she can get her mind around.

this subject is one of the ones i dread most as O gets bigger...i have no interest in raising him within a faith, though the concept of a Supreme Being bothers me a great deal less than it does his dad. the grandparents are respectively, left-wingish Protestant and very dogmatic (my mom), atheist (my dad/stepmom), devout Catholic (inlaws), and then dh's only sibling converted to Judaism so the only cousins are Orthodox Jews. kind of a fun mixed bag, but wow...what a mess if you get them all talking. lots of room to explain to a toddler that there are many perspectives, but also lots of room for the tears you describe.

i think maybe i'll just steal your Mother Nature plan and see how long that carries us.