petite anglaise

November 26, 2004

fall from grace

Filed under: navel gazing, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 2:37 pm

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?


  1. As an atheistic agnostic myself, with no children, I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on this, but hey, that kind of thing doesn’t usually stop me! I think you’re on the right lines, but I’d be inclined to teach her about other belief systems too, and the differences between and within them – age-appropriately, of course – because if she feels drawn to belief, she’ll then have a range of options, not just Christianity. I agree about Christianity offering some good guidelines to live by; so do Islam, Buddhism, Humanism and the Baha’i, among others.

    Comment by Zinnia Cyclamen — November 26, 2004 @ 3:34 pm

  2. Agree with above – if you give her a good grounding in a lot of religions, she’ll be all the better at trivia games. :)

    Comment by srah — November 26, 2004 @ 4:17 pm

  3. Same here. I have an 8 year old and she started asking questions two years ago. I live in the US and it`s even worse here because everybody–and I say EVERYBODY belongs to a church. So off to sunday mass I went again. NOt because I wanted to but because my daughter had questions. Is that a good reason to go again? I don`t know but I had to do something, I am just waiting until she gets tired of it. My husband (who never goes to church by the way) says she should be allowed to fulfill her spiritual needs now because later–if she did not have religious foundation–she would be fodder for cults of any kind…..ahahah

    Comment by sandrine — November 26, 2004 @ 5:02 pm

  4. I grew up catholic and I think that’s what drove me to be un-religious. That and after I realized it was all b.s.

    I think children are smarter than we think. Like Sandrine, I plan on letting my (future) children decide their own destiny. I will show them the world, but it is up to them to decide and it’s not my place if they want to believe in any god. But I ain’t bringing it up until they do.

    Zinnia has a great idea in exposing them to all sorts of religion.

    Comment by Mona — November 26, 2004 @ 5:34 pm

  5. My parents never told me about Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, Jesus or the Easter bunny and I don’t believe I had a deprived childhood. I came back from school one day at the age of 7 to ask who Jesus was and I think my Mum explained that ‘some people believe…..’. I’d say, let Tadpole come across these things naturally, just as she will come across new food, languages and nationalities. It’s all part of finding out about the world.

    Comment by Lauren — November 26, 2004 @ 5:55 pm

  6. My parents decided to let me decide my own religion as a grown up. But they weren’t as open minded as they thought they were and they constantly slagged off Christianity, thereby prejudicing me and robbing me of some of my freedom to choose. Be careful to be as impartial as possible, That’s how you give your child true freedom to choose.

    Comment by Claire — November 26, 2004 @ 6:45 pm

  7. Nah, don’t teach her anything. Just buy her the back catalogue of A-Team DVD’s

    Comment by crumb — November 26, 2004 @ 7:28 pm

  8. I agree with Mona and Lauren.
    The “Christian” values you agree with are simply “humanist” values, which are not grounded in any religion, but present in many. You can teach her these values without brainwashing her and probably have done much of this already, just by living your life.

    That’s my view – but I’m no expert…

    Comment by witho — November 26, 2004 @ 8:09 pm

  9. I went to (protestant) sunday school when I was little and followed through until what we call “confirmation” here. I was a pretty believing teenager, and my faith kind of died out while I studied history of religions at university. Depending on my mood (and my courage) of the day, I define myself either as an agnostic leaning towards atheism, or as an atheist — but very tolerant of other people’s beliefs, and convinced that religion is a very important part of culture.

    I think it’s very important to have a good religious education in the religion that dominates your culture, and an understanding of other religions and their diversity as well. It’s not a question of believing or not, but of having a certain number of important keys in one’s hands for understanding the world we live in and where it came from. (I’m aware I’m taking for granted that one assumes culture is something which is important, and not just some silly useless thing some people play about with when they don’t have anything better to do.)

    I’m often appalled at how little many people know about christianity. I also think that there is a very similar “leap of faith” required to “believe there is” (follow a religion) or “believe there is not” (atheism) — agnosticism is a bit different, in my opinion. I would tend to say (from a moderately uninformed, non-parent point of view) that I would offer a child the basic religious education of his/her culture (unless he/she strongly refuses it), accompanied by encouragement to think critically, so that he/she can at some point decide where to stand regarding religion.

    Sorry, this was supposed to be brief, but ended up pretty rambling!

    Comment by Steph — November 26, 2004 @ 10:18 pm

  10. I like the idea of a religious education that involves learning about lots of religions (as per Zinnia’s comment above). What about combining that with a bit of geography–something along the lines of “different people in different places have different traditions”?

    Comment by harvestbird — November 26, 2004 @ 10:40 pm

  11. Agnostic here. Grew up with a father who was completely against any ‘religious bs being shoved down my kid’s throat’, a mom who didn’t say otherwise and annual summer vacation visits to my dad’s sister who was a holy rolling fanatic (Baptist) that spoke ‘in tongue’ at Church and taught me fire & brimstone.

    There are times when I wish my parents had offered me more insight and education and that my aunt wasn’t such a fanatic.

    My only suggestion – educate your child without negative inflection to the variety and how not everyone is the same.

    Best wishes!

    Comment by jagyd — November 27, 2004 @ 3:26 am

  12. Yup – agree with all of the above – this is when you almost envy those with a clear and simple view of things! If it works out in France as it does in Ireland, she will do all the Christian things like Nativity plays etc at school. Let it all go by, except for the odd ‘some people think…..’ interjection and bide your time until Tadpole actually starts questioning things. That’s your chance to open up the debate. Taking it easy,and not ‘forcing’ anything down anyone’s throat’ worked for my 2.
    One was a ‘devout’ Catholic (I had to go through Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation), before breaking away to cheerful agnosticism; the other was a natural pagan from the word ‘go’.

    Comment by Ruth — November 27, 2004 @ 10:33 am

  13. I too was forced to do not only the Sunday morning thing, but actively participate i.e. play the violin along with the organ in the C of E etc, along with Friday night ‘youth’ group. Gaah! Due to the forcedness of it all, the moment I left home, I also stopped going. Don’t miss it at all. My hubby’s parents approach was totally different, they took him and his sister around the ages of 13 to different churches, C of E, presbytarian etc and said that they could choose any one of them, or none of them, it was up to them. Needless to say, they chose nothing. Spiritually we are in complete synch with one another. So I wouldn’t stress if I were you – because whatever you choose to do for your child, they will end up making up their own minds anyway.

    Comment by Van — November 27, 2004 @ 10:40 am

  14. Well, she’ll ask questions soon enough, and the best answer is probably along the lines of “some people think this, some other think that – And what about you mum? – Me, I really don’t know.”. I think that when children are old enough to ask such questions, they are usually wise enough to understand such answers.

    I’m not very comfortable with the idea that one day I’ll have to face such questions from my (future) children. I’m completely atheist, so is their likely mother, but I don’t think we should endoctrinate them with the conclusions we’ve patiently built up for ourselves; rather let them get to their own at their own rythms.

    It seems to me that the most important think is to make clear that:
    – it’s up to herself only to make up her mind;
    – the love and consideration of her parents is off topic there: whatever she believes, doesn’t believe or changes her mind about, will not change the way you love her. Social considerations are a key (the main?) point of religious choices and behavior; don’t unwillingly add your own pressure above it.
    – provide her with all “raw data” she might ask for. It seems reasonnable to expect she will ask for them… or I really hope so!

    Comment by Fabien — November 28, 2004 @ 1:09 am

  15. Above all the humanist values and some religion’s morals I assume you want your child to be able to grow self-assured and broad-minded. So I think it’s more about answering the existential questions beforehand fostering the child’s imagination (and later her judgement) with strong fiction (tales, then child litterature…).
    Highly recommended here is Bruno Bettelheim’s Psychanalyse des contes de fées.

    All things considered religion is just ‘supposed to be based on actual events where believing is a prerequisite for faith’, which is only sure to swamp a child’s mind if you want to adlib about Metaphysics for toddlers.

    Viktor, who doesn’t need such words as religion or atheism to know where he stands

    Comment by viktor — November 28, 2004 @ 5:01 pm

  16. Toughie. I was raised strict Catholic in a repressive Ireland which has led me to be a complete atheist who abhors organised religions. However, I do think that my strongly humanist values must have come from that religious upbringing, as we never had any classes at school that dealt with ‘citizenship’ or philosophy etc. A couple of close friends of mine have just had a baby. Like me they were force fed Catholicism as children and are now atheists. However the vast majority of schools in Ireland are Catholic. They don’t really feel they can marginalise their kid by not allowing her to say prayers, make her First Communion etc, so as a result they are now attending Mass again!

    Probably the best thing you can do for Tadpole is as Zinnia says and teach her about a lot of different belief systems. She’ll probably get bored of it all by about age 10 anyway!

    Comment by Claypot — November 29, 2004 @ 6:34 am

  17. I really don’t feel qualified to comment on how you should introduce your child to the religions of the world, since I am a recovering Catholic.

    But, I would like to comment on your fine taste in american television. “I pity the fool” that did not watch that show. Lieutenant Starbuck aka “Faceman” was my favorite.

    I am fascinated by the fact that it was so popular in Britain.

    Comment by Jason Stone — November 29, 2004 @ 11:12 am

  18. I think you can believe in God without necessarily being religious. Churches, or places of worship in general, have little spiritual interest for me personally, I feel that if your do believe in (a) God then you would accept that he(or indeed, she)is everywhere- what is the point of only praying in a church? Since my husband and I are of differing “branches” of Christianity we agreed that we should teach the broader ideals, which as someone pointed out, are common to many faiths, and not worry too much about the details- we both feel that it’s not really important if they go to Sunday school or catechism or whatever else, if they grow up to be tolerant loving human beings then I’ve succeeded as a parent. As someone who believes in God, I will leave it in his hands whether or not they do too. It will happen if it’s meant to.

    Comment by Suziboo — November 29, 2004 @ 1:41 pm

  19. :twisted: I too was raised Catholic as a kid (USA) and became an agnostic around age 11, never got confirmed, went on to fiddle with Buddhism, paganism and etc for about 20 years, and now have somehow arrived back at Christianity.
    Why? Because out of curiosity I actually started reading the Bible (something I’d never done very extensively as a kid) and found it (particualarly new testament)to be excellent and an eye opener. Also went to various christian churches out of nostalgia, and ended up staying.
    But I agree–no one can force anyone.
    Many people I know who were never baptized or brought up as anything end up confused, satan worshippers, or just depressed, thinking when they die, they will be dead meat.
    Kids seem to like religion–teens seem to disdain it–and many people like me, when they hit their 30s or 40s, end up going back to it with a friendlier eye.
    I’d vote towards a non “forcing” religious education in the religion of your choice, and yes, of course she will make up her own mind.
    Best of luck!

    Comment by Emily — November 29, 2004 @ 6:23 pm

  20. I’ve considered myself as an atheist since the age of about 10. For me this means an absence of gods of any description.

    There’s no point in being wishy-washy and leaving everything up to your daughter. Do whatever you feel comfy with and explain your own beliefs as much as you feel able to, but make it clear that you’d be very happy if as far as possible she made up her own mind.

    Personally, I always went for honesty with our daughter. I cannot abide all the lies that are told about Father Christmas, so I explained all about the myths that surround ‘him’ when she was less than three. That didn’t stop her having just as much fun as other children, looking forward to the celebrations and the general atmosphers of fun and togetherness. Nor did she ‘spill the beans’ to other childen. It spared her finding out one day that we’d systematically lied to her because we thought it’d be good for her.

    She’s now at university and I asked her recently if, with hindsight, she’d have preferred not to have been told. She said she didn’t know either way, since she’d known since such a young age, but didn’t think that knowing that Father Christmas was a big fib had taken away any of the fun of Christmas.

    As far as the even bigger ‘fib’ is concerned, religion was rarely mentioned at all, any more than fairies at the bottom of the garden, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. But, strangely, I do now regret that she’s so uninformed about stories from the Bible, as she has a real disadvantage when it comes to literary references that mean nothing to her.

    So, on balance, I’d say that it’s worth going through the Bible stories as fairy tales and just deal with any questions that arise in any way you feel comfortable with. I suspect that, in the end, children will always make up their own minds, no matter how much we agonise and whatever we tell them :wink:

    Comment by David H — November 30, 2004 @ 2:06 am

  21. My two go to their local Catholic school. The reason for this is less religious (1 agnostic parent and 1 atheist) than convenient. Their previous school was Catholic, but only because the local state school had closed (rural depopulation strikes again). This meant the State funded the Catholic system (oh, the irony!). When the girls moved house with their Mum, we looked at both schools in their new village and as the Catholic one used all the same text books etc, we opted for that. As far as I can tell, the only difference to the curriculum is the chance (not enforced) to follow Catechism classes. We’ve left it up to the kids to decide if they want to do it. Frankly, I made up my own mind and I’m sure they’ll do the same. I agree with the “some people believe…” approach, but I suppose I’d be a bit disappointed if they ended up being conventionally religious…

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — November 30, 2004 @ 3:05 pm

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