Help Me In My Unbelief

An unbeliever's first steps into a faithless world

A test of principle

When I first deconverted and started to think about parenting as an unbeliever, I decided that I wanted to allow my children to make their own decisions about religion. It’s essentially the same approach that I’ve taken as a teacher, where I focus on values rather than outcomes. This isn’t always easy, as it is much less frustrating to take this process-based approach as opposed to teaching my own conclusions about reality (and it would be a bit early to do so, anyway, since my kids are still young), and the people around me – my wife, mother, etc. – really don’t have such compunctions.

Anyway, I was out with my family this evening, and my oldest son wanted a specific Thomas the Tank Engine train that he’s been looking for on several occasions. We happened to find the particular one he wanted, but later on when we were looking at books, he got interested in a “My First Bible Stories” (or somesuch) book and wanted it instead. When I heard him say, “Bible,” I have to admit that I cringed. When I asked him which one he wanted, trying as hard as possible not to bias his response, only to hear him still say, “Bible,” I was even more irritated. But I resisted the urge to pressure him away from the Bible toward the train, and we ended up leaving the store with the Bible stories book in hand.

I’ve been trying to tell myself the whole time since then that this isn’t a big deal. He’s reading Bible stories, but that shouldn’t be any different than reading Greek or Norse myths without the direct instruction about God (I think). I read lots of Bible stories as a child – and I still remember a lot of the stuff I learned in those years – and I ended up being an atheist, as have many, many other former Christians (even pastors!), so reading the Bible doesn’t necessarily end in an undesirable outcome. And trying to shelter my kids from the Bible itself is a futile task and probably counterproductive, since that will make them think that there’s a reason to read it if I want to hide it from them, which they might then endeavor to find.

The problem is that this method is inherently one where you surrender power. As a parent, you get so used to helping construct your child’s behavior and ethics that it becomes very tricky to let your child have the ability to draw their own conclusions about the world. That doesn’t mean you don’t get a say, but you prevent yourself from having the final say in the matter.

As simple as it seems, this is the kind of moment that tests one’s principles. I could have told my son no; I could have chosen for him; I could have set the example that the Bible is not worth reading; but ultimately, that would have been a matter of sacrificing my principles for a temporary expediency. If I can handle a minor situation like this, I hope I can handle the bigger stuff.

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One response to “A test of principle

  1. Neil Rickert April 8, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    I’ve been trying to tell myself the whole time since then that this isn’t a big deal.

    Honestly, it isn’t a big deal.

    Children are pretty good. They can tell what’s real and what’s just a story. Adults have problems with that, but not children who are brought up sensibly.

    My kids attended a neighborhood catholic school for two years, and are none the worse for it. We sent them there rather than to the neighborhood schools, where they would have been subject to a lot of bullying. After the two years, we managed to scrape together the funding to send them to an expensive private school.

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