More on god, religion, children, morality and no research

The conversation in the comments section of my last post has been so interesting, I couldn't help but continue the dialogue. Yes, I know I might be alienating some readers, although I really hope I'm not. I was going to write this post in the comments section also, but then realized that (a) it was getting way too long for a comment, (b) I wanted to include some links and (c) some of you might not read comments or follow them after you post, so this might get a few more people involved in sharing their views.

First and foremost I want to once again encourage those of you who do NOT share my views to pipe in with your perspectives and help this space fill up with a multitude of voices. My choices are not meant in ANY way to disparage yours, nor are they meant to be prescriptive about what will help children grow up happier or healthier. I made it clear in my last post that research is not even close to coming up with an answer to these questions.

I completely agree with those who have said that you don't need religion to teach morality or practice a moral life. I obviously think my atheist parents brought me up with some pretty reasonable morals, given I write a whole lot of posts on this blog about how we might think about raising our children as best we can. A reader mentioned this book in the comments and I have to agree that I have found reading Parenting Beyond Belief a nice way to start thinking about the issues I'm struggling with, particularly trying to incorporate rituals and moral teachings within a larger framework that has to contend with culture, family and established religious doctrines. There are some very moving essays and some great practical tips for dealing with all sorts of issues from a skeptical/atheist/agnostic standpoint.
On the other side of the fence, from a more supportive-towards-spirituality and a less science-centred perspective, I referenced Karen Armstrong's book in the last post, but I thought I'd point you to
this article which is a much more condensed version of her approach to god, religion and spirituality.
I wanted also to elaborate a little more on where I stand on religion and god, building on some of the issues that other commenters brought up. What I'd like to teach my children — like many of you have mentioned — is a deep awe, respect and reverence for the natural world and for other humans, and the relationships we form with one another. Much of the natural world is (potentially) knowable through principles of science. Science does not leave me nor my husband feeling bereft of "higher meaning." It's quite the contrary… when I think about the wonders of how everything around us self-organizes into these exquisite patterns of order (and disorder), when I learn more and more about physics, biology, ecology, evolution and so on, I am more and more humbled.
@Andrea said it better than I could: I'm humbled by the way these natural forces work and, for me, imagining a deity did it all cheapens that sense of awe for me. Just because there are questions about this natural world that have not been answered by science (and may never be), does not mean for me that I want to invoke a "higher being" to explain away the mystery. In a way, I believe that "godliness" is IN all of this but the term is so loaded and singular and patriarchal FOR ME that it no longer can mean any of these things TO ME. Also, the term god often implies a "being," one which people feel they can talk to, communicate with, ask favours from, and so on. For me, that goes beyond the "godliness" in the natural world (and in our relationships with one another) and it's not something I feel I need to teach my children to believe or practice in order for them to feel peace and comfort or to learn moral principles. 

Many people tell me that a critical reason they feel their religion is so important, or wish they had religious beliefs when they don't, is because of the comfort that these sets of beliefs provide in terms of dealing with death… and helping our children deal with death. I want my kids to experience the wonder and awe that science can provide them… even in reference to the biggest questions about death and what happens later. Science can tell them that after death, their bodies don't just go "POOF" and disappear forever; they become part of the rest of the world. Basic physics will reassure them that matter does not disappear forever. It changes form, but it doesn't just go away. That to me is a deeply reassuring message to provide children when they worry about death — ours and theirs. Their bodies become part of the whole system we call earth and universe and nature and so on. (Don't get me wrong, this is a TERRIBLE subject to talk about with your kids and I am dreading it more than any other, to tell you the truth. Any of you who have had to have the difficult talk about your death, their death, the death of a loved relative, friend, pet, etc. know better than I do that often no words can comfort completely. I'm just not sure that science can't provide the same level of comfort that religion can, even in this tough domain). I have nothing to say about a soul and I don't feel any need to invoke one for the sake of my children. I don't really think my consciousness is all that darn important in the grand scheme of things and I think teaching my children that sort of humility might actually empower them to do some pretty cool things in THIS lifetime, with THIS consciousness. BUT I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO RESEARCH TO BACK UP MY CLAIMS.

What do YOU believe but cannot prove?

13 thoughts on “More on god, religion, children, morality and no research

  1. “What do YOU believe but cannot prove?”
    Our universe with this particular set of laws is not the only one to have existed. There are other universes. :-O
    Time is a wonderful “creation” (or intervention) because without it, everything would have happened all at once. That would not be fun. Time is godly.
    God is this amazing physicist hacker outside all these universes.

  2. I believe, but cannot prove, that some people seem to have psychic abilities.
    I also believe, but cannot prove, that I witnessed my friend’s dead grandmother’s attempt to communicate with her shortly after she died.
    And I also believe, but cannot prove, that people have repeatedly seen UFO’s over Ohio in recent weeks – and over Chicago’s O’Hare Airport a few years ago.
    That all sounds crazy, I know. My guess is someday science will deliver an explanation for these bizarre, fascinating phenomena.

  3. Just wanted to say that I liked your point about humility. It’s something we lack as a species and (here’s the bit I can’t prove) is possibly the main issue underlying a lot of our biggest problems.
    I really think if we got a bit of perspective on where we sit in the general scheme of things we wouldn’t be in quite so many messes.

  4. I also liked the humility comment. I wanted to clarify that my wanting my son to feel special wasn’t in the entitled vein but rather special to be part of all of this. Not better, not worse, just appreciative to have this opportunity to think, feel, see and be loved and hopefully leave this world having made a positive impact in some way.
    I also need a sense of purpose and wonder to keep my head from exploding. I’ve tried to view our existence as just a long series of random events and it just doesn’t work for me. So without being able to prove it, I believe there is some meaning to all of this even if I never figure it out with my limited perceptions.
    @hush – thanks for your comments re circumcision on the other thread.

  5. I believe in life after death… having lost loved ones and knowing that I (or my husband or child) won’t live forever means that I need to believe (even if I cannot prove with certainty) that there is an afterlife and that this life is not the final one. In this vein, I believe that our presence on this earth is to work to better ourselves and prepare ourselves for the afterlife. I am motivated by this belief to live my life to the best of my ability and to teach my baby to live a good life and to be a good person.
    These are just my personal thoughts (obviously) and I feel that everyone has their right to believe (and should believe) in what works for them and for their life. I love that there is a diversity of thoughts and feelings that exist in this world and hopefully we all end up at the same endpoint which is being good parents and raising great children!

  6. I believe that life is to be lived, to be experienced. Get to as much of it as you can. Do something that scares you(having children). And have faith that you can do it and do it good enough and live through it. I know people who are immobilized by the thought of experiencing pain and this keeps them in a job, a relationship, or city they don’t want to be in. Of course you could get hurt that’s why it’s an experience, but I also believe, but can’t prove, that you won’t get what you can’t handle. I’m hoping to teach my daughter to be brave and ‘go for it’ like I do and to be rational like her father. Hopefully she’ll be smart about her choices and will have lived a full and delicious life. Faith isn’t just for religion but for every moment of your life and that’s cool with me.

  7. I’m an agnostic Wiccan. I feel intuitively that there is a higher power of some sort, but although I tend to call it “Goddess”, I have trouble believing in it literally. On the other hand, I do think that all those amazing systems of nature have spirits attached – not because the higher power put them there, but because the energy of *our* wonder collects after a while, and becomes cohesive.
    I think spirituality is vitally important, but I don’t think that it has to have anything to do with religion. Religion is an easy, often prepackaged (depending on what you practice) way to teach children lessons about morality, ethics, and assorted values that are all important to function in a community – and to reinforce those lessons in adults. However… I don’t think it’s necessary. Spirituality – being open to the wonder of the world around you, and being sensitive to it and your effect on it – absolutely is. It’s just not generally teachable in prepackaged soundbites of of a book of wisdom. Or is it? ;)
    I think that one reason (and this is a new thought, which is why I’m including it in the comment) I’m not so comfortable with belief in a literal deity is that I’m ultimately more of a spiritual person than a religious one. Religion feels to me to be the outward motions, and may not have anything at all to do with spirituality. Spirituality, on the other hand, is experiencing the inner mystery that religion attempts to codify – and I think children are born spiritual beings. I’m missing the words to really express this feeling; I’m not sure they exist. Am I making sense?

  8. Yes, Katie B. ! You’re making sense. If you have the time, please read the link I made to Karen Armstrong’s writing. I think it might resonate, and give you more words, for what ultimately does not easily become expressed literally.

  9. I find that I’m thinking deeply on this matter of religion, spirituality and raising my children. All week, I have been cogitating on these posts, everyone’s comments and my thoughts on religion (revisited every few years).
    I love church for its community and sense of ritual, and I’ve returned to the Episcopal church where I grew up, which gives me such a sense of history and connection. But although I consider myself a Christian, I tend to the agnostic side of thinking, with a little aetheist and skeptisism thrown in.
    As I got the kids ready for church yesterday, I started to explain God and Jesus to my 3-year-old daughter. She knows Jesus as the baby from the Christmas story book we have. Now I was explaining that on Easter he was “re-born” and going to his father, God. I think I did a good job explaining it to her level.
    But I realized that I’m not sure how much of this religion I actually believe and how much I like for the story qualities and comfort of familiar and the community of people. I wonder what research really would show about the effects of raising children with religion. I keep thinking of how similar the biblical stories are to other “mythologies.” Luckily, the God I believe in does not mind doubters and skeptics, and he/she will accept me for who I am and respect that I am ethical, moral and a good person who is trying my best. That is what I want to be sure to teach my children.
    What I believe that I cannot prove is that there is more going on in this world than what science can currently explain.

  10. I believe, but cannot prove, that my life has no inherent meaning whatsoever–but that I can give it a meaning that is just as real and powerful as one that comes from outside or above.
    I believe that the person who landed on my blog after googling “elf identity” probably meant self-identity … but I can’t prove that either, and if not, that’s kind of cool.
    Other than that, there are precious few things I truly *believe*–even when I can prove them. I am very low on the feeling of knowingness (which if you’ve been reading the book I lent you will make sense, and otherwise not).
    Oddly I’ve been writing a bit about faith on my blog but from a very different angle. It’s funny how there’s syncronicity on these things sometimes.

  11. @L. – I just went and read your comment. You are so right–we seem to have very similar thinking on this matter! It’s like we are coming to the same thinking on issues but from two different directions (since I was raised Episcopalian and you were raised agnostic).
    I have thoughts about baptisms–feel free to email me if you want to talk about that or anything else: caramamamia at gmail dot com.

Leave a Reply