So, I tread lightly when my son asks me a deep question. And I worry over when my daughter will start asking deep question, too; I am safe for now since she is still in pre-school. But of course, that will change all too soon.
While out on vacation, my mom asked me to take her to a Christian book store. As she browsed the merchandise in search of a gift, my son and I wandered just out of her earshot.
Just then, my son accosts me:
"Dad, what's a Christian anyway? I mean, is all this stuff in here Christian? It all looks so boring. Why are we in this store anyway?"
I gave him that look. You know, that glare that parents give their children when they are talking too much.
But he persisted.
He tried to claim innocence as he shrugged his shoulders.
"What did I do? Did I say something wrong? I just wanna know what a Christian is."
My son, who should already be a Christian in my mom's view, is asking what a Christian is.
In a Christian bookstore.
With my mother nearby.
That's bad news if my mom hears that kind of talk from my son. She'll know that I haven't been "training him up in the way that he should go".
I told him that we'd talk about it later. But for now, he needed to keep his mouth shut.
Then I gave him the parent glare again. This glare was a bit meaner than the previous one.
That time, he got the point.
Luckily, I remembered to keep my word and started talking more about religion with him a few days later. Because unbeknown to me, my son had another tough question coming down the pike. Our initial little talk would form some important groundwork for the next tough questions that was formulating in his mind.
I prefaced our first discussion by warning him that I would break his thumbs if he went back to his grandparents and talked about the things we would discuss concerning religion.
Okay, okay, I didn't tell my son I would break his thumbs. That's cruel.
But, I did explain to him that people can be very, very passionate about religious faith. He needed to realize that while his mother and I are very open, his grandparents are not and will become deeply hurt if he asked them certain taboo questions or misrepresented (or tattled about) something I said.
I'm taking a risk here. But, I think he got the picture this time.
I think he understands because he then admitted to thumbing through a copy of Babylon Religion that I have. My son claimed he found a story within that book where someone's arm was sawed off for believing in the "wrong" religion.
He said that after seeing that, he fully understood that people can get really mad about religion.
How the hell did he find that book anyway? I thought I put it away out of his reach.
Oh well . . . better for him to find that book than to find -- oh never mind.
(What? I was referring to my copy of The God Delusion.)
Unbelievably, he kept his mouth shut to listen to what I had to say. That doesn't happen often. He must have been really eager to have this talk.
So, I started discussing religion with him from a "history class" point of view. I explained to him that there are many faiths in our world. I told him that you'll find as many different ideas about God as you'll find cars in a Super Wal-Mart parking lot. Some of the followers from different religions get along with each other, whereas others do not. The same holds true for followers within the same religion. I told him that he needed to respect other people's beliefs and that he was responsible for finding his own sense of religious belief. And I told him that I would love him just the same if he ever decided to have no religious affiliation at all.
I also mentioned (as casually as I could) that many people do not believe in God at all. I told him that such people shouldn't be looked down upon, just like you shouldn't look down on anyone else of a different faith.
I told him that the three most noticeable religions today are Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. I told him about their most basic differences in a simplistic fashion. I told him that Christians are followers of Christianity.
Then I explained that Christianity is simply a religion where followers worship Yahweh. But, to please Yahweh, you must believe in the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ. I also tried to explain Judaism and Islam in similar, simplistic terms.
I also pointed out that other religions and belief systems are widely practiced. I mentioned Hinduism, Buddhism, and Wicca as other examples.
Eventually, he asked me why so many religions seemed to end with "isim".
After talking with my son, I sense that he is a theist at the moment. But I don't think he realizes Christian influences are being pushed onto him. He doesn't seem to see himself as Christian exactly. Just someone who believes in God. He only speaks of Jesus because he hears others throw that name around at church, at his grandparent's house, or on religious programs.
He didn't even realize that when he says "grace" over his food, that he is praying a Christian prayer. I even had to point that out to him.
But I also sense that my son has doubts about theism.
How do I know?
Well, the whole religion talk we had was about a week prior to this post.
And even more recently, my son asked his toughest question yet:
Daddy, does God care about me?How does a closet atheist answer such a question?
Why, you answer such a question with a question!
"Son", I ask with parental tenderness (ha, ha), "why do you ask such a question?"
"Because," he replied, "I ask God to do things for me and I pray to him, but he never seems to answer or say anything."
Ah, I see.
I know exactly what you mean.
Well, at least, that's what I thought inside my head.
But I didn't divulge my thoughts completely. Instead, I drew in a deep breath as basically said:
I can't answer that one for you, son. You have to decide what God means to you for yourself. I won't share my (non) belief about God with you right now. When you're older, I'll be more open with you. But for now, you need to decide how to believe in God.
You ask an important question, however. Don't feel ashamed for asking it. I have asked that question myself.
He sat quietly for a moment. Then went on talking about his favorite comic books and video games.
He can see that if he asked his Dad a question, he gets a response. Daddy cares.
But when he asks God for something, all he hears is silence.
I can certainly see why he wonders whether or not God cares about him.
I just hope my son doesn't develop feelings of worthlessness simply because he can't get an imaginary person to answer him.
I might need to bring up atheism to my son sooner than I though.