By: Justin Wishart
On Monday, May 6, 2013, Julie M. Green wrote an article in the Calgary Metro (pg. 20) entitled ‘Where does religion fit in‘. She tells how she and her husband were raised Catholic but that they had made “a conscious decision to eschew religion when raising our son”. It was an open and honest article and I think represented how many parents approach raising their children and how religion fits into this. I have friends who would agree with this approach.
Green outlines their approach: “Like many parents, we do not want to force a particular faith onto our child. Rather, we want him to make an informed decision about his own spirituality when he is old and mature enough to do so… Though I wouldn’t liken a religious upbringing with child abuse, as some atheists famously do, I question whether it is selfish to blackball my son’s spiritual education.”
Yet, Green sees some problems with this approach. “Yet part of me wonders if agnosticism is truly the right move”. She recognizes that such an approach has some problems and lists them off. She worries that her son might miss out a “distinct sense of community and tradition” and that without religion “you are adrift.” She also wonders if she is “doing our son a disservice by leaving him out at sea with no oar”.
It appears Green senses that religion offers many pragmatic benefits to one’s life, and it is these pragmatic issues which cause her to pause and reflect on her parenting approach. This is very unfortunate because much more fundamental in considering which religion to choose is, whether that religion is true.
Yet, Green seems unconcerned with this consideration. “… we try to impart our Christian values in a loose fairy tale way. While it may be naïve of me to think you can cherry pick parts of a given religion and discard those that leave a bad aftertaste, so be it.”
Fist, she tries to impart Christian values, not because they are necessarily true, but presumably because they will help her son navigate life. Again, this is merely a pragmatic consideration.
Second, she doesn’t seem overly concerned about her being “naïve” as she shrugs her shoulders at the possibility. This is astonishing to me, particularly since she is talking about her son’s life who she obviously loves.
Some religions teach that you must meditate yourself towards ‘enlightenment’ where you can transcend our world and enter into union with ‘real reality’ (Buddhism). Others teach that you must follow a set of moral obligation so as to merit favour with God and enter into heaven (Islam). These are all beliefs on what is the ultimate reality, and as we see they are very different. They will change how you think about this world and how you are to act. Therefore, having a view (religious or otherwise) that reflects the actual world needs to be addressed first.
When we answer whether Christianity true or false, this significantly alters the framework in answering Green’s questions. Due to space, I obviously cannot address whether Christianity is true; but I will point out that a fundamental aspect of Christianity is that it claims to be true. That Christianity is the way reality actually is. If Christianity’s claimsare true, all other considerations that Green wrings her hands over become very simple to answer.
Assuming Christianity is true: Should we instruct our children into the Christian faith? Of course, we want our children to mentally live in the real world, not some fictitious world. Should we be worried about “blackballing” our children’s spiritual education? Of course not, teaching our children what is true is what a loving parent does for her child. The dilemmas seem to disappear.
To further make the point with an anaolgy, we can ask another question:Do we have moral objections to teaching our children math? Since Green says that her son goes to public school, I assume she does not have the same issues with her son learning math as she has with religion. Why not? It seems she agrees that math actually reflects reality and as such would not feel any moral dilemma with her son being instructed in the ways of math.
Green seems to provide an outline as to why she would be uncomfortable with approaching religion like math. “I’m a big believer in love over rites and rituals. Given the choice, I’ll choose human kindness and acceptance over doctrine and dogma any day of the week.” She calls this outlook Lennonism and calls herself a “Lennonist” (As in John Lennon of the Beatles). She would rather be inclusionary as opposed to exclusive. Yet, truth by its very nature is exclusive.
Going back to math, if her son came up to Green and said 2+2=5, Green would kindly correct her son and tell him 2+2=4, which is being exclusive. Would she be unloving or unkind to do so? Hardly! Yet, her son is still free to live the rest of his live thinking that 2+2=5.However, this would simply be wrong, and it is not unloving to point this out (assuming this is done with gentleness and respect).
Likewise, if Christianity is actually true, then it does not make it unloving or unkind to teach Christian doctrines even if our children live the rest of their lives in denial of the truth. This is what loving mothers and fathers do. Green wishes to maintain that things like relationships are most important, and I think this comes from a caring motivation. However, whatever the actual truth of reality is will dictate how one is to enter into these relationship in the most loving way!
For example, if it is true that eternal Salvation can only come through Jesus Christ, a loving parent would earnestly teach their children about Jesus. A loving parent would take the time to learn adequately who this Jesus was/is and what He taught so as to pass on the pertinent information to the children they love so much. This doesn’t make Green’s questions unimportant, but they are not of fundamental importance. The two difficult questions that must precede these types of questions are,“What is reality?” and “Is Christianity, properly defined, reality?” If we do not, or cannot, answer this, we cannot know how to relate to each other in the most loving way. What seems to be Green’s desire to be loving towards others cannot be ultimately knowable or doable until the more fundamental questions are answered.