The Inheritance of Anxiety

By Wendy Thomas Russell | October 1, 2012 | one comment

Sometimes, in looking through the responses to my Survey for Nonreligious Parents, I’m faced with perfect examples of What Not To Do. Here’s one from a mom:

My child just yesterday stormed out of her classroom telling the teacher that she was ‘indoctrinating’ her in the telling of the Christian Easter story. I was very proud my child was so confident, assertive, and sure of her own non-belief that she was able to do this.

Confident and assertive? You bet! But sure of her own non-belief? In elementary school? Hell no. Most likely, this child was simply repeating what she’d heard at home — that talking about religious stories is called “indoctrination.” (Ain’t irony grand?)

In trying to protect her daughter against religious pariahs, this mother has managed to set her child on high alert over the freakin’ Easter story. Religion is an unescapable part of our country and our world, so why try to escape it? Teaching our kids to be tense, anxious or sensitive about religion does little more than set them up for a lot of tension, anxiety and hurt feelings. God is a part of our culture’s language, its songs, its poetry, its monuments and its works of art. God is a part of human history, and many of us happen to live in a Christian-majority country.

The trick is to get some perspective.

Is it really all that terrible that our kids hear about Easter in school? Or Passover or Eid or Diwali? Who does it hurt? I can think of many situations in which schools (particularly those with a religious bent) could play a role in influencing our kids. But, generally speaking, secular schools with irregular exposure to religious ideas aren’t going to make a damn bit of difference, unless the schools are getting some serious “backup” at home.

Sometimes it helps to think of religious references, events and activities as “cultural” rather than “religious.” Would it anger us to know that stories about Native American traditions were being shared in the classroom? Or if a teacher from Turkey talked a lot about the customs and beliefs of her home country?

Just as there’s a difference between learning and being indoctrinated, there’s also a difference between behavior and belief. We need not load everything with meaning. Kids may pledge their allegiance “under God” (or say they’ll “try to serve God” as part of the Girl Scout Promise) not because of religion but because of tradition, the same way they may sing Christmas songs or say “Bless you” when someone sneezes. Why not just explain to kids that the pledge and the Girl Scout Promise have God in them because their authors believed in God? Why not tell them that that people sing Christmas carols to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but that non-Christians can appreciate the carols, too. Why not say that schools may decorate for certain holidays because those holidays are important to so many people in this particular country?

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: If our kids want to a draw battle lines for themselves on these matters, so be it. But (for the love of God!) let’s not nudge them toward the battle.


One comment

  1. The trick is to teach your children EVERYTHING about these customs and stories, especially their pagan origins and similar mythologies. Then, when they raise their hands in class and expound on similar mythical traditions, they not only will be educating other children, but will put the teacher in a bind. If she’s open minded, she’ll appreciate the information and praise the child. If she silences the child for “blasphemy”, then you call in the lawyers.

    Otherwise, the other children in the classroom get their first bitter taste of “militant atheism”, confirming the prejudices their own parents might be putting upon them, and the little “firm non-believer” becomes and activist for the sake of activism without actually understanding the problem. A well educated child, raised as a “freethinker” and not “an atheist” is more immune to indoctrination.

    It is far better that our children ask tough questions rather than make bold statements. The first breaks the bonds of religion, the second merely introduces a different kind. Perhaps, “But Mrs. Smith, what do Easter eggs have to do with Jesus?”, or “Did you know the Egyptian Horus and Roman Attis did that very same thing hundreds of years earlier?” is a much deeper sting than “You’re indoctrinating me with Christianity, AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Leave a Reply


Relax, It’s Just God

A Blog for Secular Parents
For parents who aren’t religious, the task of talking to children about religion can be daunting. So daunting, in fact, that the entire subject often gets glossed over or ignored completely. Relax, It’s Just God is a blog (and soon a book) intended to help parents break their silence without breaking a sweat.
      Become a Subscriber!
                Categories
                            Popular Tags
                                Search Blogs
                                by Religion
                                    Stay Connected