The comment came, of course, when my husband was out of earshot. My kids were excited about opening their Advent calendar, which despite our lack of religious celebration, we do because we like the countdown to Christmas aspect. “You need to take those kids to church,” my mom hissed.
“No, I don’t,” I replied.
“Yes, you do,” she told me.
“NO, I really don’t,” I informed her.
She shut up. I guess she figured two times was enough to get her point across, and I’d get nasty if she kept pushing.
Ever since we left the Catholic Church, people have been hinting at me: I have to go to church. And if not for me, I have to go to church for the kids. Well, if we can’t be Catholic, maybe we could be Episcopalian? Or maybe we could be Lutheran. How about Unitarians? I seriously considered them for a while. I seriously considered the Quakers, too. I felt like I had to go to church. When you grow up thinking that missing Mass means you’re going to hell, you sort of feel like you’ve got to show your face somewhere on Sunday morning.
But guess what? You don’t.
My kids are growing up fine without any kind of religious instruction. They don’t need to believe that some guy on a cross died for their sins in order to understand that they should show kindness and compassion to everyone they meet. The two have, in fact, nothing to do with one another, from the evidence I see around me. I don’t need to teach them something that I, as an agnostic, don’t believe in, just so they grow up to be “good.” Instead, we talk about ethics, about right and wrong, about recent historical figures who have done right and wrong, the choices they made and why they made them. We talk about the choices they made, about the choices their friends make.
My kids don’t need a weekly injection of religion to grow up with ethically sound minds.
They don’t go to church to talk about this stuff. In fact, last time I checked, church didn’t talk about this stuff. They talk in riddles and parables that are really hard for little kids to understand and apply to their real lives.
Going to church also generally means one of two things, both of which are problematic. My kids either have to sit through church, or a one-hour event that they watch and don’t understand and find boring, boring, boring — disconnected from their real lives and generally incomprehensible. Or they’re whisked out partway through to some kind of “Sunday School” where they’re separated by age (i.e., from each other), grouped with adults we don’t know, and asked to do god knows what. These people have zero training in how to deal with my children’s special needs.
My kids all have ADHD, and their behavior can look willfully “bad” when it’s really the result of neurodivergence. That also means that when we do take the risk and go to church, we look like horrible-ass parents and get judgy-ass looks from everyone, because our kids are supposedly ill-behaved for their age. Uh-huh. Think about that next time you sit in your pew and meditate upon God’s welcoming arms.
I also have to wake up early, wake my kids up early, shove food into them, dress them up, dress myself up, load us all in the car, and pray we get there on time. Then keep them from killing each other in the pew. Hell to the no. They learn more about cuss words than Christ. Don’t lie to yourself. The logistics of getting to church are a sacrifice unto themselves, saith the Lord. You know what isn’t? Sleeping in on Sunday and then getting fast food pancakes for breakfast.
Churches tend to be segregated by race. That’s pretty messed up. Churches tend to be segregated by social class — also pretty messed up. They also tend to be segregated by language and ethnicity. None of those are cool in my book. You want a rainbow of colors, don’t go to church. Our local peace resource network is way more diverse. So is our local Food Not Bombs organization. Yes, there are always exceptions. Yes, you will tell us all about them in the comments. But in general, this is what I’ve seen.
But most of all, my kids don’t need a weekly injection of religion to grow up with ethically sound minds. They share more with each other than any children I’ve ever seen in my life. They take care of one another. They’re helpful and kind. We spend time talking about real social justice issues (not puzzling out, “well, when St. Paul said that about homosexuality, what he really meant was …” or “You can just ignore the entire book of Leviticus because …”), like the response to the AIDS crisis and what we can do to help feed people in our own communities. They see me make mats for the local homeless population, not sing hymns to a god who may or may not exist.
My kids are growing up fine without religious instruction. They don’t need to believe that some guy on a cross died for their sins in order to understand that they should show kindness and compassion to everyone they meet.
We tell them that their purpose is to make life better for other people. Their purpose is to leave the world better than they found it.
They don’t need to go to church for that.
I’m sleeping in on Sunday, Mom.