Just recently I’ve noticed lots of comments in Facebook groups and the such in reference to Christian groups and how some parents don’t want their children to be encouraged to praise Jesus/God.
I will start now with a disclaimer. I describe myself as an atheist, but find myself endlessly fascinated with religion (be it Christianity or other religions). My husband is religious. Over our time we have had many a discussion about his faith, and I have asked questions of him to try to understand more about why certain events are observed, why different parts of the services are as they are. I think that my questions, in a bid to try to understand my husband’s faith, have helped him re-examine and learn more about it himself.
Daniel and Emma attend two playgroups each week. Both are held in Church Halls (Church of England Churches). there is nowhere else that I can take both my children for 90 minutes of play in a safe, clean and well equipped environment with a drink and biscuit (for them and me!) for the bargain price of £1.50. I accept that there may, on occasion, be reference to Jesus and God. Be this in the displays or words used. And I don’t really think there is an issue with that.
I have seen comments from parents with children in CofE schools or pre schools who get angry and upset when their children mention that they have been talking about Jesus and God. I can’t think of any setting with a religious ethos where I wouldn’t expect that to be the case; of course children in these settings will be learning about the faith. If I attended a group in a local Mosque then I would expect references to Allah or Mohammed and perhaps crafts and events in reference to, and celebration of, the Islamic Holy Festivals.
The reality is that our country is built on a Christian Faith. Our school terms and holidays are based on the Christian Festivals of Easter and Christmas (and yes I am aware of the Pagan influence of the dates these fall – but then Paganism itself is a religion). I bet many of the parents complaining about the reference to Jesus and God will happily participate in the exchanging of gifts at Christmas and Easter.
This isn’t meant to be a provocative post, I’m not wanting a debate on the ethics of religion or supposed indoctrination of children, more I just don’t understand the seemingly cheap and easy swipes at Christianity. Yes, religion has its issues, but I don’t understand why, if you are against religion in such a way, you would send your child to a school with a religious ethos? I know that in some areas there aren’t many schools that are non-denomination but I think there are better ways to deal with the issue of your children being taught about faith.
The real thing that has saddened me is some of the discussions that have been shared about how parents approach it when their child say they have been learning about Jesus. Some comments have been that parents tell their children that it’s just a story that some people believe, but it isn’t true. Is that not as bad as someone saying that religion is an absolute truth? The reality is that a man called Jesus existed. He claims he is the Son of God. There are lots of historical documents and artifacts that back up the claims in the religious texts. As much as having faith baffles me my lack of faith baffles my husband.
My own upbringing was very open on discussions of religion. One of my earliest memories of primary school is a supply teacher asking us to put our hand up if we weren’t christened. I wasn’t and so raised my hand. Mine was the only hand to go up. The teacher made some comment about it and basically told me I must still have sin. As a six-year-old I am not sure I understood the concept of sin, and even now at 30-something years old the concept of Original Sin is something I *really* struggle with. That teacher was wrong. He was wrong to single me out. He was wrong to make me feel bad for something that was not my choice.
I remember having conversations with my parents as my fascination with religion developed (I remember I read the entire children’s Bible that was in my room over a period of evenings one summer – fascinated by the stories). I remember asking my mum and dad if they believed in God. Their answer was, I think the right one. They never discouraged my questions on religion (the same as they never discouraged my various other questions including one memorable question where I was most upset my Dad wanted to buy bamboo skewers and I was convinced this would lead to all the Pandas dropping dead – it clearly didn’t but I was encouraged to explain why I was upset, not simply say you can’t buy that). My parents’ response on religion was always, consistently, along the lines of, well, do you believe in a God? And we had discussions about who or what a God might be. My parents don’t believe in God but I was never made to feel like my interest (and fleeting belief) was wrong or something that couldn’t be discussed. And I think it helped me to make my own decisions about religion.
Children believe a lot of what is said by their parents and other influential adults. In the same way that I am really careful about too many gender stereotypes, I am clear about the approach to religion. Daniel and Emma will, like many children, have a natural curiosity about religion. It is unavoidable. Christianity influences many of the everyday phrases in our world and religion exists, whether I follow faith or not.
I hope the approach Damian and I take will allow Daniel and Emma to find their own paths and make up their own minds as to whether they choose to observe a faith, be it Christianity or another. I would hate them to feel that they are unable to talk to use as they begin to develop their own views and approaches.