Religion, Belief, and Parenting according to a Non-Practicing Parent

Today is my second consecutive day of stay-at-home parenting with Nugget. He’s been amazing. I have no idea what I’ve been doing for the last 36 hours. It feels like I’ve mostly been soothing him and then rushing to throw laundry in the dryer before he flips out.

Currently, we’re listening to the World of Warcraft soundtrack as he lays on his play mat and babbles at toys he clearly doesn’t quite know are there yet. He seems to like the music, though.

I’ve given a lot of thought over the last several months to how I would respond to the big questions about life from a young child: death, God, fact versus belief.

I still don’t really know how I would respond, except to be as honest as possible, even if–especially if–my answers are significantly different from some of Nugget’s family or friends.

I fall somewhere between agnostic and atheist, and I don’t care about Belief enough to decide Once And For All which one I am. The thought that there is some kind of supernatural force governing everything in the universe is comforting. But gods are humanity’s cultural manifestations of millennia of questioning who, what, where, how, or why we are. Some people will disagree, and that’s fine.

The Universe, on the other hand, is an infinite expanse that contains everything that we have ever known to exist or will exist, and exponentially more.  I think it stands to reason that the universe itself is the omnipotent and omniscient force that people search for in a god.

I like reading about ancient mythology and observing the way it has permeated mainstream culture. You don’t have to look very hard at a game like World of Warcraft to see the influences of Tolkien, who himself was influenced by ancient beliefs, and particularly Norse religion and culture. I also have a habit of going on search engine deep-dives of such topics as string theory or the Fermi paradox, trying to wrap my head around what all of this means.

My wife, on the other hand, is Christian, in her own way. As she puts it, she follows her faith, but not her religion. She believes in God and believes that Jesus and the Bible can provide a solid moral foundation for a child and a family.

She also believes that people who use Bible passages to condemn homosexuality or claim that the earth is 6,000 years old are idiots who give Christians like her a bad name. We definitely agree on those points.

She has read a lot of books about Wicca and traditional herbalism. As both a scientist and a devout gardener, she is fascinated by the medicinal (or lethal) properties derived from the most common plants, flowers, and herbs.

She doesn’t pray, at least not outwardly, but she also doesn’t sacrifice goats to help her poblano pepper harvest. Although I bet she could whip up a delicious goat stew.

As you might have guessed, we’ve had a lot of conversations about how we want to raise Nugget when it comes to religion. We’ve basically settled on finding a small community church with modern progressive values that rejects blatantly unscientific beliefs.

We haven’t looked very hard, but we haven’t found one in our immediate area. Wife would like to take our kids to church regularly and expose them to religion, but more importantly, to a community of people whom they can trust and learn from. When Nugget and his theoretical sibling(s) are older, they can decide for themselves what to believe.

I am generally okay with this plan. But I still know that Nugget will ask me why I don’t pray in church, or if I believe in God. And I’m going to be honest with him.

That’s the easy part, really. The hard part will be navigating our children’s understanding of religion when it comes to… everyone else.

My dad asked me three months before Nugget was born if/when we were planning to baptize him, and would it be in the Catholic Church? He has also questioned whether we would send Nugget to private school. Most of the private schools in Maryland are religious institutions. I’m not paying for that shit.

My wife’s family are mostly Presbyterian or Catholic, depending on which side we’re talking about. They have never once questioned or confronted me about my beliefs. Maybe that’s because I respectfully bow my head when they pray before dinner, but it’s more likely that they’re just not interested.

They have been much more casual with their questions regarding how we raise Nugget, but they will definitely be reading Bible stories to him when he’s a bit older. And that’s okay, because if he asks me those big life questions in their presence, my answers won’t change.

I don’t know what Nugget will believe, but it’s fun to think about the types of questions he might ask, how he might process the ideas he encounters.

As a family, I think we’ll be happy if we can instill in him just a few basic values: respect, compassion, and the fact that life on our round, 4.5-billion year-old Earth evolved from a single microorganism into the complex, beautiful tapestry it is today.

And probably that aliens exist, statistically speaking.

Hail Science!

Steve D

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