Develpmental science and god: Now there’s a topic I never thought I’d post about

I thought I'd try to tread on ground that is usually considered decidedly UN-scientific. I've been thinking a lot about religion, faith, and the like, given that it's Passover for some of us, Easter's around the corner for even more of us, and spring has most definitively sprung in my neck of the woods. I find it fascinating and troublesome that there is shockingly little research out there on the implications of religious beliefs and/or the belief in a god (or gods) on children's development. There are studies out there that touch on the subject, of course, but systematic programs of research that investigate whether children benefit or are harmed by certain types of religious beliefs vs others do NOT abound (a kind reader pointed me out to this line of research, but it deals more with the cognitive developmental implications of assigning "theory of mind" to human vs non-human agents… in other words, not quite what we're looking for). But there ARE some studies scattered around that might help us think about the question a bit more deeply.

First, I'll back up a bit and give you my personal context which, let's face it, will colour the way I see the research and  the questions I most want answered through science. In fact, that last little bit I just wrote? That is a doozy of a thing to say for some people, I know. Yes, I firmly believe that science CAN and SHOULD inform how we think about religion and faith and its impact on children's well-being. Sam Harris, at an awesome TED talk, said it MUCH better than I could, so go ahead and listen to his talk on the subject and let me know what you think. His basic premise: Morality has for too long been the sole purview of religion and faith. This is a bad thing. A science of morality can and should exist… and the sooner the better.

(Of course, this doesn't mean we shouldn't also talk about what might be outside the bounds of science… and why. The why part is crucial for me. Karen Armstrong is this brilliant woman who does an excellent job of cracking my brain open every time I read another page of her book, The Case for God)

I'll come right out and say that I generally consider myself a hethen in that I was raised a (very guilt-prone, heavily moralistic) atheist. I do not associate myself with one religious institution and although I have stepped foot in many types of places of worship, I do not groc most. Of course, this upbringing and belief system will now heavily inform what my children will learn about religion and faith. There are several studies that have shown that, in general, children and adolescents most often appropriate the religious beliefs of their parents. Yes, they question them. But the better the parent-child relationship is, the more likely that children will align with their parents' faith. Also, factors such as growing up in a relatively strict family, with a father working out of the home and a mother in the home, and marital happiness all are associated with an increased chance of children and parents sharing the same religious beliefs

So, as I sit singing with my children at the Passover seder (my husband
is an atheist/agnostic Jew), as I cry with my in-laws about the plight
of oppressed people (thankfully, they focus on oppression
EVERYWHERE, not just for the Jews), as I watch with a mind-boggling
amount of pride as my children sing "the four questions"… in FREAKING
HEBREW, as I read from the haggadah and say words I don't believe (but
also don't feel hypocritical about reading), I wonder what this whole
thing is all about. I wonder what I'm teaching my children. What is this "thing" that they will likely appropriate from my husband and me? What are the core messages about religion and faith that I'm imparting to them? I wonder
what I'm going to say to my kids when they ask me why I'm praising a
god I don't profess to believe in, why I celebrate a group of people
who I most definitely do NOT feel are the "chosen" ones (for that would
imply that others have not been chosen and, dude, that can't be a good
thing). But I DO sing, and I DO teach my children these rituals and I
DO feel they are important and meaningful and quite beautiful (some of
it, not all, of course). I think the themes of oppression, death, rebirth, renewal, hope and transcendence are so important to discuss… over and over, year after year. I DO want them to celebrate spring and connection and love with their extended family. I want them to feel
connected not only to this generation and the last, but to generations
and generations before them who sang the same songs, told the same
stories, ate the same food, made the same jokes (oy… the jokes). And
I can't seem to do this outside of a context that revolves around a
deity that is not my own.

And we'll also be going to Easter Egg Hunts this weekend.

So many of you will be going to church and telling another story this weekend to your children. But at our seder table last night, I kept realizing that the Christian story at this same time of year has such similar themes: oppression, death, rebirth and so on. I'm not a theology expert and I've read far too little on the subject of how these Judeo-Christian stories arose in the first place and are connected. But it DOES seem to me, on the most basic level, that we're telling some pretty darn similar stories to our children.

So, here's what I'd like to talk about… or, rather, here's where I'd like to start this conversation that I hope can take us to some interesting places: What are you teaching your children about morality, faith, god, religion, worship, and so on? What do you most hope to give your children by telling these stories? What questions do you wish science would tackle in this area? Do you even think science has a place in this discussion? How would you feel if your children appropriated a completely different set of beliefs about faith than you espouse?

(I FULLY acknowledge that I have only touched on the two most widely talked about religious traditions in this post. In part, I do this out of ignorance. I don't want to misrepresent faiths that I know only a tiny bit about. I'd love to hear from you about the whole variety of faith-based traditions that are being practiced at this time and how you think they can effect your children's well-being.)

20 thoughts on “Develpmental science and god: Now there’s a topic I never thought I’d post about

  1. Isn’t it an awesome book? I can’t wait to hear what you think about it.
    I haven’t taught Frances much at all. She knows that church is a place some people go to talk to god (though we’ve never been), and that different people have different ideas about what god is, and that some people think that when you die you go to heaven and other people don’t. None of this seems to have turned her into an amoral psychopath, so I think I’m doing ok. As for morality–we talk a fair bit about what’s right and what’s wrong, and it comes down to being fair and kind and generous, usually.
    I’m kind of expecting her to end up somewhere else than I am, at least partly because I don’t know where I am or how to label it or describe it, so what else can she do?

  2. I am a strong Protestant Christian, so I come at this topic from a very different place and I don’t know how to write about what I want my daughter to get out of our faith without sounding as though I’m proselytizing in this comment! So, I’ll say it but please don’t take it as proselytizing.
    We haven’t started teaching Evie very much, yet, since she is only 18 months. But we do pray before each meal and before bed, and she has many books such as board book bibles and board books about Noah’s Ark, for example. Eventually she’ll become interested in the stories like David and Goliath, but we don’t expect her to fully understand our faith for several years. I don’t know exactly how we’ll teach her about it, since she’s our first child.
    In short, I want her life to be overflowing with the love of God, and for her to show God’s love to others. I want her to become a Christian disciple. If she is not a Christian, I will be deeply sad about that but, of course, I imagine I will love her just as deeply as I would if she believed.
    I am not opposed to evaluating religion and morality with science, although I do believe that science can never fully explain faith and I wouldn’t want it to do so. I would be particularly interested to know whether Evie is less likely to share our beliefs because we adopted her (the old nature/nurture thing) although her birth parents are both Christians, culturally, but not practicing as far as I know.
    As far as the link between the Jewish and Christian holidays, the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples, now celebrated as Maundy Thursday (this coming Thursday) was a Passover Seder meal. Jesus was Jewish, and celebrated Passover the day before his death. In the Jewish tradition, as you know, Passover includes a remembrance of the 10th plague in which the firstborn sons were killed and then the Jews were freed from slavery to the Egyptians. Jesus’ death represents the ultimate death of the firstborn son, which frees all of us from the slavery of sin and death.

  3. As a humanist (academic), this kind of question makes sense to me, and indeed could be researched, to my mind: it wouldn’t be impossible to characterize certain belief systems as authoritarian and others as permissive, and conceivably some, even, as authoritative–so couldn’t they have developmental effects just as parenting styles do?
    Personally, every time I attend a seder and see the formalization of questioning and analysis, around the table, and even the purposeful assignment of a questioning role to the very youngest children, I think that can’t help but have an enormous positive effect upon children’s analytical abilities and confidence.
    (And possibly even less empowering rituals might cultivate in children a kind of confidence in the benign intentions of broader authority structures?) In any case, I think these are fascinating questions–thanks for the post!

  4. Like, Karen, I’m Protestant Christian and I second her post.
    Religiously, I want my children to ask hard questions about Christianity and understand how it provides an answer to so many of the world’s tough questions. As teens, I’ll encourage them to read C S Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”. I’ll teach them that although we believe Christians go to heaven, Pascal has already addressed the question about whether we are wrong, and his answer, known as Pascal’s wager. I’ll tell them about my own questions and ambiguities about Christianity. (Why would God send all the people who never had a chance to hear about him to Hell? No good answer for that one. And the question of theodicy, the question of why a good God allows unjust suffering, has no answer.)
    From a moral standpoint, even if I am wrong about the afterlife, I think the Judeo-Christian ethic is a good organizing principle for society.I want my children to be people with the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it, and I believe no other tradition is as likely to lead to this capacity.
    I will also teach them that science can’t answer the question of whether there is a God, and about the history of science and the split of philosophy into a “science part” (assumes no God is acting) and a “theology part,” and how many of the early great scientists were also great theologians.

  5. I am agnostic leaning heavily towards atheist. I was raised quite involved in a liberal protestant church. My husband calls himself a “Christian existentialist” but all that really means is that he likes to read Kierkegaard, finds the Bible an interesting piece of literature with some profound messages, and is generally opposed to organized religion.
    I am living in a country, not the one of my birth and upbringing, in which 100% of available schools are explicitly Christian. There are variations in the denomination and degree of enmeshment with the local church authorities, but a Christian religious education is compulsory by the state. This freaks me right out. I’m carefully observing some of my colleagues’ children (one of my new colleagues has a child of school age and her religious beliefs seem to be quite close to mine) and this situation may play a large role in whether we choose to continue to live here after my semi-tenure decision (long story, just understand that tenure is a North American concept).
    I liked many aspects of being raised in a church community as a child. It was one of the few places I had adult friends, especially elderly ones. I liked the social justice orientation of my church. The actual faith part was never important to me: I went from blindly accepting it but not as a core part of my identity to rejecting it as a teenager.
    If there were Unitarians where I live I might have sought them out. They are the group with beliefs closest to mine, I think, and I think the community has benefits. But there aren’t any here, so I’m out of luck. I’m not willing to raise my child in a more authoritarian or confident (as in, we’re right, everyone else is wrong) religious tradition.

  6. You are a brave woman, Bella, to open this up for discussion!
    I think the words ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ in this context can cover about 3 different layers/ideas (probably more, but these are the ones that springs to mind at the moment):
    1. that God exists
    2. that one can learn what God is like
    3. that one can have a trusting, intimate relationship with God
    As a Christian, I teach my children (1) God exists although we can’t see or touch him, using analogies like wind and sunlight. I teach them (2) that God reveals his character through the bible. I teach them (3) that God loves them and desires relationship with them, and model this relationship by praying with them and for them.
    I teach them moral values and moral behaviour based on faith (2) – what God is like. For example, if they are fighting over toys, I will teach them that God says (in the bible) to be kind and share with one another. A lot of our daily training is like this.
    Worship is tricky. My belief is that worship comes from faith (3) – love of God and being loved by God. So until they ‘get’ this, they can sing songs of praise, and express thanks for stuff, but true worship won’t happen (I think).
    I am not a scientist, so I may have this completely wrong, but science seems to ask ‘how do we explain xyz in a way that fits all the facts?’ – head knowledge. Science assumes that the scientist has the ability to determine truth based on evidence. So science could conceivably deal with faith (1), and possibly parts of faith (2), but how could it possibly interact with faith (3), which is heart knowledge? But even more crucially, how can a scientist who assumes he/she has the ability to determine the truth, interact meaningfully with a God who claims to be infinitely superior to us in all ways, such that humility/teachability is the only reasonable approach?
    How would I feel if my children chose another set of beliefs. Very sad. I would feel that I had not done a good job of modelling faith (3). But I would be hopeful that God would draw them back. And do my best to shut up and pray :-)

  7. I agree with Penny that you are brave to put this post up. And I’m glad that everyone is staying so respectful when they discuss their beliefs.
    My husband and I are atheists, and we’re pretty wedded to the idea that science deals well with the pragmatic side of life and very committed to telling our children only things we know are true. I can be very literal, and once I start taking things on faith, I’m extremely easy to mislead.
    As for moral development, I’ve known people who profess to be religious and indeed make religion a central part of their life who were manipulative and dishonest. I’ve known people who were equally religious who really inspired me by making caring decisions at every turn. As an atheist, I try to take those good traits, which exist in people of all religious (or unreligious) stripes. I try to treat others fairly and with kindness and to take other people’s perspectives into account. Hopefully as my kids grow up, they’ll take on those habits and become people others like to be around.
    The only time I really wish I had a religious perspective to fall back on is when it comes to death. For myself, I can accept that life ends and we go on in other people’s memories only. It’s hard to explain that to my three year old. I really wish I could believe in an afterlife because I feel like that is a much more comforting scenario than the one I’m going to be able to give her.

  8. I want to sit back and refrain from commenting for another day or so. Thank you all so much for putting out your ideas, and in such respectful terms — I know how difficult it can be to talk about core values without sounding like you’re knocking others’ values.
    I did want to make it clear that I strongly encourage those of you who don’t share my general leanings to speak up. I am often touched and inspired by those who express their faith and how it effects their parenting, so please don’t hesitate only because you suspect I don’t share those precise views. I’m learning along with all of you. Sincerely.

  9. I’m an agnostic leaning heavily towards atheist, and my husband is an atheist. I was not raised in a religion. My husband went to an Anglican church a bit when he was a kid. We both hold advanced degrees in science or engineering, and most (maybe even all) of our opinions about how the natural world works come from science.
    We haven’t really figured out what we’re going to tell our kids about religion. I want it to be respectful of people who do believe, but also honest to the reasons we don’t believe. I think (hope!) I have another year at least to figure this out.
    I am happy, however, to introduce “magic” into their lives. I just used the Binky Fairy to get my older daughter’s binkies away from her, and had no qualms about doing this. I actually wrote a post ruminating about this- I think these sorts of stories help us explain things that our kids aren’t quite old enough to get yet, similar to how fairy tales used to be a way to introduce rules like “don’t walk in the woods alone”.
    As for morality, I think that is something that is quite separate from religion, actually. Being religious doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be moral, and I obviously don’t think the lack of a religion precludes someone from being moral. To me, empathy is the foundation of all morality, and I plan to emphasize that to my girls.

  10. Oh, @Dr. Confused, I want to add- I was raised in an area where the schools, although technically not religious, actually had quite a bit of religion in them. I used to have to observe a moment of silence at the start of the day, and I knew that this was supposed to be for prayer. I was not taught evolution until I went to college. Some of my best friends believed I was going to hell, since I was not Christian. I used to go to church with some of my friends, and I imagine their parents hoped that they were helping me see the light.
    It didn’t really have any impact at all on my beliefs.

  11. I’m with Cloud. Religion is not the foundation of morality. If that were true, Christianity would be a moral religion. That’s why I am confused by Twin Mom’s assessment that [in her opinion] no other tradition could lead to the capacity of courage and doing what’s right. Historically there have been religions that have never been involved in war, genocide, killing, etc.
    I was always taught that children function in concrete operational mode until seven. I give my child the simplest science-based explanation for occurrences, e.g. rainbows, and we’re able to experiment at home with many of them like making rainbows with water mist or prisms. It’s a little different when your child is well past toddler stage and wants to know the whys behind everything — and can argue with you or tell you he isn’t satisfied with your answers!

  12. I keep coming back to read the replies because this is so fascinating.
    See, to me, God is a mental trick. A feeling. For me, “god” is when my limited mental capacities run straight into something I am not capable of understanding, and know it, and can only be amazed at how mind-twisting the universe is. I never get over the fact that I’m not solid, and the couch is not solid, and the only thing that keeps me from plummeting to the centre of the earth is an electromagnetic force that feels like solidity, but isn’t, meanwhile millions of atoms are streaming through me as if I were no more substantial than a ghost.
    Love’s a mental trick and a feeling, too. That doesn’t diminish it in anyone’s eyes. Some people even worship it. Why do we feel the need to make god into some humanoid creature who cares what school I go to or whether my team wins the football game tomorrow? I don’t get it, on one level. On another level, almost all of my relatives are hardcore evangelists who are truly hoping I will return to the church because they think that if I don’t, I’ll burn in hell. I feel badly for them, but I am not scared for me. I’ve developed a lot of experience in nodding while they try to convert me, and not getting offended because I know it comes from genuine concern.
    I am rambling. Sorry.

  13. This is a great post, thank you! I am definitely interested in any research you dig up on the impact of religious teaching on children’s development. I remember in The God Delusion (Dawkins) he talks about how children are very impressionable when it comes to religion, that religious beliefs are very easy to transmit, and I assume that assertion at least was based on research.
    I was raised an atheist and am now an atheist and a scientist as is my husband. When I was a child I actually went through a phase of craving religion, so I can see the truth to what Dawkins wrote. We did some religious rituals, both Jewish (dad) and Christian (mom) and I never thought it was odd that they did these things but didn’t believe. It was more along the lines of the magic Cloud is talking about.
    My boys are young enough (3) that religion has not come up at all. We absolutely teach morality, and it’s my deepest hope that they will grow into kind, compassionate and caring people. I answer all of their questions literally/scientifically. I also try to instill a sense of wonder in the natural world; I think that’s possible while still offering literal explanations.
    Isabela’s description of the Seder dinner actually made me teary, because I think that would be a beautiful experience for the boys, but we’re far from family and I have no idea how to do a Seder, and if I did it would be ‘faked’.
    If my boys become religious I won’t be too upset, as long as they are caring, kind, compassionate.

  14. I’m a lapsed Catholic, so lapsed that I consider myself athiest. I was brought up in a pretty strict Catholic houshold ( Italian Catholic)and that pushed me in the other direction. Hubby is a non-practising Catholic.
    We had both our kids baptised, seeing we live in a Catholic country. But I will not be involved in my children’s religious instructions as I think it would be just hypocritical. We chose to have Noah (5) do religion at school ( optional subject at all school levels ) as I don’t want to stop him from learning about something he may find he is interested in. I want to give him some choice in the matter. Just becasue I’m an athiest, I don’t expect him to be one.
    In my kids’ life we also have some wonderful people who are very religiious (grandma, distant cousins)who my kids can turn to if they have questions about religion that I can’t answer. I tend to answer the frequent questions my son asks with ‘some people believe..’, but recently he has been asking, ‘yes, but what do you believe mum?’ I have told him honestly what I believe (toned down of course), then change the subject. Surprisingly last Easter ( he was 4) he came to some interesting conclusions about reincarnation that really blew me away. I really love that he is piecing things together and coming up with his own answers.
    My son is sensitive, compassionate and kind. Qualities he was born with and which have been fine-tuned along the way. He doesn’t need religion to make him any more empathetic, kind or loving.

  15. I’m an atheist, DH is an agnostic; we were both raised Catholic. We are still culturally Catholic – for the sake of my parents and our sweet elderly aunts, we got married in the church and had our children baptized.
    We live in a rural part of the US where people do not seem to do much critical thinking, and most believe in various tenets of evangelical christianity; they are honestly fearful of an antichrist, of this apocalypse/war called the rapture – all kinds of horrible eventualities.
    So we keep our atheism under wraps in our community. If the good people of Podunkville ever knew the truth about us, it would hurt our family’s bottom line. So we use all of the usual coded language to keep up appearances.
    As for what to teach our kids, I enjoyed the book “Parenting Beyond Belief.” I think it is important for them to know that religious authority does not equal moral authority, and that there is a fine line between a religious “message from God” some man claims to know, and straight up mental insanity. Discussions about religion are things I generally avoid – I’m confident enough in my own beliefs I suppose, that I don’t need others to agree with me. Then again, atheists score no points in some post-death realm for converting anyone – so I’m lacking the proper incentives for opening that can of worms in the first place!

  16. I love ritual and tradition – if I could get it to make sense in my head and heart I’d grab onto to one of those highly ritualistic faiths in a heartbeat. Cathedrals are some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. As it is, I’m agnostic at best, maybe too scared to be a card carrying atheist. My main wish for my child is that he grow up believing that his life is special – that the human condition is a gift be it from god or a random cosmic act – and he find a way to appreciate this life whether or not he believes it is the only one he’ll have. And that he never stops asking why.
    I’d like to also object to the notion that it takes a religious upbringing and faith in God to instill a solid moral belief system in a person. Ideas of fairness, justice and virtuous behavior all predate Christianity.
    Tangentially, I had my son circumcised and I’m not at all sure I should have especially since it wasn’t for any reason other than it seemed customary.

  17. @mom2boy – Sorry you’re doubting your decision. If it helps – we had DS circumcized as well, and we chose to do so for a whole host of reasons: DH is circumcized and prefers it, and also for hygienic and disease concerns (HIV/STD’s and penile cancer prevention), based on research plus gut intuition at the time. That said, I think equally strong arguments can be made on either side of the debate. The AAP has changed its mind multiple times on the recommendations (currently they’re against it). I love how some parents get very One True Way about it, and keep informing me what a supposedly cruel, unnecessary thing we had done…. which, ironically, makes me turn away from their way of thinking all the more. Kind of like people trying to convert you to their religion!

  18. I am Jewish (Reform) and my husband was raised vaguely Christian but converted to Judaism. My son is still young enough (18 months) that we’re only at the stage where we’re just exposing him to Jewish traditions and holidays. He stayed awake all the way through both seders this week, ate some charoset, clapped along with “Dayenu”… so far, so good.
    Ultimately, I’m hoping that Judaism will provide him with some guidance for choices and decisions, along with a framework for thinking about things. I also hope that he grows up with a sense of being a part of a long line of tradition. And with all my heart, I’m hoping that he questions all of it along the way and draws his own conclusions. One of the things that I love about Judaism, and a lot of what brought my husband to it, is that absolutely everything in the religion is up for debate. There’s commentary, interpretations, disagreements, and it’s okay to answer things for yourself. Everyone questions everything. I’m also a scientist (finishing my PhD in a few months) and I’ve never had even a moment where science has run up against my faith.
    I’ll also mention that most of the Jews I know are agnostic, a few are atheist, and they’re still Jewish. Any rabbi will tell you that a belief in G-d isn’t all that important for Jewish faith. Judaism teaches that Jewish laws and customs are supposed to be observed and followed for their own sake, as well as for the good of you and your community. You’re not doing it to please G-d, you’re not doing it to be rewarded later, etc. So a belief in a higher power doesn’t really factor in.

  19. Sorry for the length, this is much on my brain recently!
    I think I’m closest to mom2boy. I love ritual and tradition, and also have a deep need for spiritual thought and experience. I don’t what I think about God. I don’t have that feeling like some people do, that I *know* God is out there or that a God loves me, but I also think science (ironically) and critical thinking lead me to believe in something Other. Especially asking, where did the universe come from, and why did it start at one time and not another? For me science and religion are not mutually exclusive. However I’m not sure there’s any psychological science I’m dying to see regarding religion, because people will hold the beliefs they do, and act on them accordingly, regardless of what psychology says the consequences are.
    Since my teens I’d identified as pagan, because my God, such as it is, is immanent (present in all things), and I find spirituality in nature. I spent a long time trying different Unitarian churches. I liked their politics but it drove me nuts that they wouldn’t talk about God, or morality, or values. Just this past year I discovered the Episcopalian Church and it’s been a revelation, so to speak, for me. I’ve been attending and participating regularly.
    For me Christianity and its scripture are not at all literal beliefs but deeply metaphorical. I take a much more historical viewpoint–a la John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. From that angle, I really value its lens on morality, radical inclusion, wisdom, etc. I believe that anything that’s lasted so long has something valuable to say, take comfort in the traditions from so long ago, and enjoy its strong connection to our cultural history.
    Until she got too wiggly, I took my now-10-mo-old daughter to church and enjoyed having her blessed each week. I’ve never taken my 3-y-o son. He’s too rambunctious for services and my husband prefers to spend time with him at home on the weekends rather than have him in church school. But I’m also highly hesitant to have him exposed to religious teaching while he’s at such a literal age. At the same time, I was raised very agnostic and I regret not being raised with some kind of faith in the Other; I think it’s much easier to acquire at a young age than at an older age, bar some startling religious experience.
    I am now approaching my personal deadline for baptizing my daughter and it’s causing me a lot of internal debate. We held a pagan baptism at home for my son and I thought it was really special and individual–people gave him all kinds of wishes corresponding to the four elements. Now I’m thinking about a church baptism for my daughter, but I’d miss the at-home version; and if I do have her baptized, should I have my son done too? Lots of questions, and no answers yet.

  20. Well, I came to this website to read about bedtime, and fell into this instead! Fascinating. I am a scientist, agnostic, married to an atheist. I say agnostic, because, although I don’t believe in god, my sense of wonder about the natural world (which is continually reinforced by what science reveals to us) is, I believe, as strong as any sense of wonder held by the religious about God. Studying art only makes you appreciate it more, and science does the same for all the aspects of the world.I also think the world is so complex that science will never explain everything – which is fine, and even more wonderful, and I don’t feel we need to call on some other being to fill in that gap in our understanding. This is the sense of wonder I hope to instill in our children.
    I’ve been careful about introducing the idea of God and religion to my 3 1/2 year old for the same reasons mentioned above (respect for those who believe, difficulty in explaining the finality of death, difficulty in explaining exactly what ‘God’ or religion is, etc), but we have introduced ‘magic’. He loves his superheroes, easter bunnies, etc. However, we’re careful to explain that some magic is not real (I wouldn’t want him to rely on his web-spinning wrists to help out when jumping off a 5-ft high wall!). As a result, he’s hinted that he believes that most of these magical creatures are not real (Santa included, boohoo!), but continues to play along. I think he is humouring us! It’s really amazing how perceptive they are at that age.
    As an aside, I thought I’d throw in that he is one of the most empathetic children I know, which, although we have raised him that way (as I am sure have most of his schoolfriends’ parents), appears to be to a large degree inate. He is just a sensitive, caring child. No religion needed.

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