Children ask the most innocent question to subjects we are often ill-equipped to answer. As a result, I think it is often best to raise the topics ahead of time or at least prepare for them. I think the three toughest questions are:
Well, we’ve covered the first two fairly well, I think. After reading the books by Pat Thomas, we had several mini discussions about it and I think Aristotle is satisfied by the answers. All that remains unspoken is the third topic – religion.
I’ve left this one for a while because hubby’s family are Taoists, although the level of devotion varies from family member to family member. My family is… um Christian? Well, my brother and I are, but my parents are probably best described as free thinkers. I won’t go so far as to call them atheists because my mother makes references to God being a higher power and Dad used to teach in a Methodist school (at least I think they were Methodist).
Religion is a complicated subject even for me because I have always understood Taoism to be a philosophy rather than a religion but the practice of it (at least in this household) appears to be more like a religion rather than a philosophy (if you know the difference, feel free to enlighten me). As far as Christianity goes, I’ve read the Bible and I know all the stories. I’ve been to church, but I’m not a regular attendee.
Hubby and I once said we would not influence the children’s religious decisions but we would leave it up to them to choose. Initially, I took it to mean that we didn’t teach them about religion. Or rather not about the specific religions. But I’ve come to realise that the hands off approach isn’t right either. If you want to make choices, you have to know what you’re choosing between. Rather than leave my children to the mercy of a religious zealot who may or may not have my children’s best interests at heart, I should be the one to provide them with the foundation and understanding of the different religions so that they can understand what they are all about and appreciate the different beliefs systems in place. I want to arm them with the information to make the right choices for themselves – if that’s possible.
The last is probably the most important of all because the value of honesty hinges upon it. A child sees truth only in black and white and will think a man is lying when he speaks something different to what the child believes. For example, “Why is that man lying?” Well, he isn’t. He really believes that what he says is true. It is also important for children to understand about the different belief systems because it helps your child accept those that are different.
Some time back, I wrote about a chapter in the book “Nurture Shock” that explained that children notice differences between themselves and those around them and if you don’t talk about those differences, your child will develop biasses against those that are different from your child. If you don’t talk about the different races, your child will naturally develop his own racial biasses. If that is so, then I’m sure the same can be said of religious biasses. If your child doesn’t understand the different belief systems that other people have, he will develop his own religious biasses.
I have always been a big believer in respecting the beliefs of others – no matter what I think of their belief systems. I hope that my children, too, will respect the beliefs of others even if they don’t share those beliefs.
So this Christmas, I talked to Aristotle about its significance. Rather than it simply being a holiday with snow and decorated pine trees where fake Santa comes around to give people presents, I want him to understand that it symbolises the day a God named Jesus came to walk on Earth. I want him to know this as he will know about his grandmother’s religion and why she prays to his ancestors and the goddess of Mercy.