I remember putting my kid in Kindergarten for the first time and wondering when religion would come up for the first time among her newfound peers. It was possible that she’d be the only child in her class being raised in a decidedly secular household. I wondered if that would make her feel alone or left out.
Then I met Courtney.
Courtney, a girl in Maxine’s classroom whose name is not really Courtney, was being raised in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She didn’t come to school on Halloween. She didn’t celebrate her birthday. She wasn’t allowed to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
After Courtney entered the picture, I immediately relaxed. Because no matter how left out Maxine might feel about her family’s non-belief, Courtney was always going to feel 100 times more left out — thanks to the hierarchy of stigmatization.
In the few years since then I’ve heard whisperings on the playground about Courtney. Not by kids, mind you — I don’t think they care yet — but by parents. “What’s the harm in letting her participate in the Halloween parade?” a few asked. “That’s so sad that she doesn’t get birthday parties!” others lamented. I admit, I whispered a bit, too.
Which is partly why, beginning in September, I’ve decided to run a mini-series about kooky, eccentric or otherwise unconventional belief systems — specifically those that American kids are likely run up against at some point during their lives. The tone will be neutral-ish (hey, that’s the best I can do, people), and the purpose will be simple: to arm nonreligious parents with some basic facts about minority religions and the people who practice them.
My hope is that parents will pass a bit of that knowledge onto their kids if and when appropriate.
It’s one thing to think certain religious beliefs are weird, wrong or harmful. But when we subtly (or not-so-subtly) pass on these judgements to our children, their religious peers suffer. They feel different. They feel outcast. And it’s sad for our kids, too, because each of those religious children holds the potential to be a pretty great friend.
Now re-read the above paragraph and substitute non-religious for religious. Because all too often, it’s our kids who are in the victim’s seat.
The Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. I don’t want people to judge me based exclusively on the fact that I don’t belong to a religious group, so I ought not judge others on the fact that they do.
It’s hard, I know. Some of the behavior within these religious groups is dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb. But let’s face it, all religions have some wackadoo in them. And this blog isn’t (usually) about affirming the vast amount of stupidity in our society (We have The Onion for that!), but about teaching our kids to be tolerant and compassionate toward people who are different from them.
The first is easy; the second requires some effort.
So you have a week to suggest specific sects to be represented in the series. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a gimme, but who else would you like to see? Mormonism? The Hare Krishna movement? Kabbalah?
And just FYI, Scientology will not be on the list; no cults will be on the list. But I will write a bit soon about differentiating for kids between religions and cults. Deal?