I would describe myself as an agnostic, I think. I don’t have any strong beliefs about the existence or non-existence of some kind of deity. But I don’t have any certainty either, so I don’t think the word ‘atheist’ is appropriate.
I was christened Church of England, and as a child went to both the C of E and Methodist Sunday schools in my village. Not simultaneously, I hasten to add. I ‘defected’ to the Methodists because my friends went there and it was more laid back; I crossed back over to the other side when I was too old for Sunday school to join the choir. The Methodist choir in the village church was made up of old ladies with pink rinses and thin, reedy voices, the attraction of the C of E choir on the other hand was the ‘proper’ flowing robes and wooden crucifixes on a string and that musically they took themselves rather more seriously. And if my memory serves me correctly I think there may have been a boy I was interested in. Although quite how I thought I’d make an impression wearing my NHS glasses and choir robes I really don’t know. I quite enjoyed the singing, but I remember the Sunday services being particularly tedious as the priest wasn’t much of an orator and his sermons were long drawn out affairs.
My subsequent fall from grace came about for several reasons.
I got lazier and I started to want a lie-in on a Sunday. I also started to resent being ‘forced’ to do anything. On principle. I was entering a phase where I questioned everything, religion included. I wasn’t at all sure I believed in any of it, and even if I did, I failed to see how attending church every week was necessary.
And then there was the A-Team. Choir practice was on Friday evenings. So was the A-Team. Everyone at school watched it and I hated feeling left out. Faced with such powerful arguments, and after I’d accidentally overslept three Sundays in a row, my mother realised there was no point forcing the issue. I was eleven years old. I’ve attended a couple of weddings and carol services since. Other than that, I tend to visit churches to admire their architecture when we’re on holiday.
Now I am a parent. We live in a country where catholicism is the main religion, but state institutions (and therefore all schools) are secular. The Frog is a non-practising Catholic, although he did attend a private Catholic infant school with real nuns (ostensibly because it was close to his mother’s place of work) and even went on a school trip to the Vatican to see the Pope one Easter.
My dilemma is this: what do I teach the Tadpole about religion? Should I buy her a book of bible stories some day – for her general culture and because I think many of the principles taught by Christianity are sound guidelines to live by – and explain that some people believe in God, but that I’m not one of them?
Am I going to deprive her of the magic of seeing a nativity play at Christmas and singing carols? The right to have a crush on a guitar playing Sunday school teacher or choirboy? How will I explain to her what happens to people when they die when the time comes without upsetting her if I’m going to leave angels and heaven out of the equation?
Clearly the Frog and I both had some religious education and then were free to make up our own minds when we were old enough to do so. How can I give Tadpole the same freedom?