Be careful what you teach the children-They just might expect it to be true.
I grew up in a farm and factory community. Half the locals worked on farms, the other half worked for a large diesel engine manufacturing company. In this town we had your standard array of protestant and catholic configurations.
Saying you went to church was like sitting in a restaurant and ordering Coke – even if there’s Pepsi on tap, everybody knows what you mean. For the most part, I assumed everyone was a Baptist, just like me. I remember the first day I learned that this was not the case. I received it with mixed emotions – excited to understand this new facet of life, but hesitant should it prove to be a force to drive me from my friends. I was already an outcast for not having cable, would this be one more reason I would not fit in?
My parents were very kind to let me come to this conclusion on my own in my opinion. Considering the environment in which they had grown up and the common prejudices of their peers, it would have been all too easy for them to have adopted a more vocal “us and them” rhetoric regarding other religions or denominations. As a result, I took their quiet tolerance and subtle example setting as evidence that they were ok with people believing different things and so should I be. I balanced this against their insistence in mandatory church attendance. As time has shown, they were generally less tolerant than I assumed them to be (or became that way themselves over time) so who knows what they were really trying to teach (I mean I could ask, but likely it would just end in awkward conversation.)
What is most interesting to me as a father is that I have all these occasions to examine every detail of the things my parents chose to pass along to me about faith, religion, church and a host of other topics. I need to do it, in fact, because I find myself at that same point with my own children.
I don’t think I was fully aware – nor could I have been – as a child of the immense pressure that rests squarely on the shoulders of parents as they make those choices. I know – for some – it is really no choice at all. There is a set list of dogmatic principles to pass along that must not be diverged from at any cost. But I imagine (imagine because I’ve never actually heard them say as much) that my parents are much like me in that often they have difficulty “staying on message.”
Life is complicated, and not always tolerant of inflexible doctrines, and never more is this true than when you are a parent. I don’t think any divergent movement would ever have emerged in any religion, tradition, or culture had not there always been behind it the force of the accepting parent. “I know what my son or daughter believes or is or says is different than what you think is best, but I love and trust and respect the goodness of my son or daughter and if that puts me at odds with God or the State or Church or Company or Synagogue or Mosque or Family or Temple etc ad infinitum, then so be it.”
If we grow up teaching our children to be tolerant of other faiths then we better be ready to accept that tolerance when it finally arrives full force in our living rooms. If we raise them up to believe that all people are created equal then we better be prepared to give equal rights when least expected. If we raise our kids to believe that they can be anything – astronauts, doctors, governors, movie stars, or the President of the United States – as long as they work hard and stay committed to the task, then we better be working on creating a world where that kind of nonsense is true.
I don’t know what world you live in but hard work and talent are nowhere near the sum total of what it takes to succeed in the world I’m familiar with, Not that it will never be that way, just that we still have a long way to go, and however optimistic we want our kids to be about how good we can make the world, how valuable or relevant Church and religion are in our society, or how real God is to many humans, we have to be honest with them about how far we have yet to go as well.
We may not always need to tell them “no that can’t be done”, but we may need to work more closely with them to get them a realistic picture of what “yes” might need to look like.