Explaining religion to my niece and nephews

HP and I are going down to visit my parents this Christmas. I'll be hanging out with my sister and her kids at some point. My sister is an atheist, but ever since her kids got old enough to talk, suddenly she's officially Catholic again. In front of the kids she does a convincing job of pretending she believes in all that horse shit, and gives me The Look when I roll my eyes when she talks god to the kids. But get her away from the family and suddenly she's rational and her need for fairy tales and magic to explain the unknowns in the Universe falls away.  I vastly prefer this person, my sister when she's away from her family. 

I find it all very sad—-that she feels the need to pretend. That her default doesn't lie in honesty. Her motivation for putting mythology into her kids' heads was something along the lines of the behavioral modification that goes hand-in-hand with being raised in the guilt-steeped culture of the church. Whatever. They're her kids and she can lie to them all she wants. I guess guilt is cheaper, easier and healthier than Ritalin.

My niece and nephews, 7,  10 and 13, respectively, may ask me about Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, God, Heaven, or other fairy tales. I have a feeling that I'll probably just avoid giving an answer. "Oh, that's an interesting question. You're mother would probably prefer I not discuss that with you. Sorry kid."   I have a feeling I may be brutally honest though, if I've had anything to drink.  Ugh.

Dilbert creator Scot Adams said, I’ve described the clash of Islam and Christianity – everything from the Crusades to the war on terror – as “The people who think a guy walked on water versus the people who think a horse can fly.” I submit that anything you add to that description is unnecessary for understanding the global clash of civilizations.

Most of all, I feel sad for her eldest, now going on 13—that he's being raised in a church where they teach him that an invisible man with a beard watches his every move and writes down any dirty thought he may have about sex. It's going to ruin and pervert all the magic of his discovery of masturbation.

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lightandstorm
    Nov 20, 2006 @ 16:25:00

    I agree that she shouldn't lie to her kids, especially if she doesn't believe it herself. I also agree that it can be quite a shame to grow up with all of that guilt.I guess it depends, though, on what church he's going to. I grew up Catholic and never ran into this mysterious man who writes down all my thoughts. 🙂 I never got lectures about masturbation, abortion, or homosexuality. In fact, the priests at my church now have straight up told us that there is nothing wrong with masturbation, and have encouraged the congregation to support gay marriage.But then, my church may be a bit out of the ordinary. 😉

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  2. karen
    Nov 20, 2006 @ 22:01:00

    i think there are few topics more difficult to deal with as a parent than religion. i grew up without religion and have thought many times how nice it would be if i could just believe in a benevolent god, that everything happened for a reason and that everything was going to be alright.
    i count myself as agnostic. I don't know if there is a god. i don't know that there isn't. i just don't know. and after 42 years of thinking about it (more or less), i'm pretty comfortable with that. still, it would have been nice to have something to believe in.
    to tell you the truth (although why i would is a mystery), i am raising my kids to believe there is a god and there is a heaven. it makes it easier for them to sleep at night in this uncertain world and there is plenty of time for them to figure out whatever private truth they come to.
    you might find that hypocritical. it may be. but it's working for me so far so i'm going to stick with it. 😉

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  3. Sean LaFianza
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 06:56:00

    [هذا هو الحكم]

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  4. jenny
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 08:01:00

    “The people who think a guy walked on water versus the people who think a horse can fly.”
    I'm familiar with the walking on water story, but is the horse reference based on an actual story from the Koran? Just wondering if you knew. I'm certainly far from a true scholar of Islam, but I've never heard any reference to this and you would think it would be as common with Muslims as the Jesus story is with Christians from the way Adams has phrased it. I suppose I could google it or ask a Muslim. Maybe I will.

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  5. Timmy!
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 12:52:00

    lexcorpninja: I assure you, your church is out of the ordinary. The policy of Holy Mother Church is a big NO on masturbation. They also have some very unpleasant things to say about gay people. A lot of people respond to this by saying that there are parts of the Church which are great (helping the poor, etc.) and that I shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. My response is that there are plenty organizations who do all those nice things (help the poor, etc.) without any of the Church's heavy handed cultural baggage, so why throw in with the organization that preaches intolerance, frowns on birth control, won't allow women into their ranks, and who only recently apologized for their persecution of Galileo? Karen: It's not for me to judge your situation. I'm not walking in your shoes and have no idea why or how you arrived at your conclusion. On principle, I feel the universe is magic enough without repeating stories that were made up when people still thought the Earth was flat. To quote Penn Jillette: I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day….Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around….Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.Ryeli: I'm not angry. You are projecting. Since the rest of your comment is predicated upon that assumption, I am reluctant to respond to any of it. Jenny: Here's one reference. Google has more.

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  6. Sean LaFianza
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 13:15:00

    fair enough… however, when i hear "Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, God, Heaven, or other fairy tales"… although that be your opinion and entitled to it… to call most of the world (having some faith in some energy higher than themselves) believers in fairy tales makes me think that your acting out of anger…. maybe not rage or hostility but certainly "a strong feeling of displeasure and annoyance."(please don't take this as me provoking you… just clearing up how i meant "angry")

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  7. karen
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 14:21:00

    I'm a big fan of Penn Jillette, he's a very smart guy.

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  8. lightandstorm
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 14:26:00

    That's what I get for going to Jesuit Catholic Church. They're a much more understanding and questioning group. I've had priests actually acknowledge what's wrong with our church as a whole, and that we all had to do our part to help fix it. To always question the status quo and to form our own opinions. That and it's also on a college campus, which means that all the priests are well educated in many different fields. We even have an engineering professor who says mass every once and a while. 🙂 But through this, they are still Catholic. They just won't recognize any human establishment or idea as infallible.And their theology is based on years of thought and writing, it's not just that my church "does things different." 😉

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  9. Timmy!
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 15:12:00

    OK, first question for Ryeli, Karen and Lexcorpninja:How is it you knew so quickly that I had responded in the comments? Were you notified somehow? Often I will leave a comment on a VOX blog and make a mental note to go back later to check, but often I forget to check, or if I remember, I can't find the damn blog on which I commented. VOX is littered with orphaned comments by me. As for your other comments…Ryeli: thanks for the clarification. "The Church" is made of people who screw themselves over and over, there are many backstabbers and hypocrites… Jesus said the same thing. I think really, deep down, that's where your disdain lies.Sort of. Yes, the Church is full to the brim with hypocrites. Every church is. And every group of people is going to be full of imperfection because people are imperfect. No big whup. I am over that. I have disdain for the Church for it's institutional sexism and homophobia—the stuff that's built in to what they teach. I don't have a problem with preaching love of your neighbor and not to judge and all that other innocuous stuff which we, as a species, would do well to practice. On the other hand, I wish the motivation for obeying such teachings were out of the goodness of one's heart or because it would help us as a species evolve into something better, not out of a fear of getting tossed into an everlasting lake of fire and brimstone if you don't obey. I realize your sister may just be playing "Catholic" and I agree that living a lie in front of your kids is a horrible thing to do, but don't group me (and others like me) in with "all those other hypocrites" because I have faith in an order and entity larger than my own reasoning.It's not "horrible" what she's doing, it's just sort of sad, from my perspective. And the point of the blog post was not that even about that, it was about what I should do when faced with the choice of covering for my sister by perpetuating a ridiculous set of myths to her kids, or whether I should tell them what I actually think. Out of respect for my sister, I'll probably do the former, but I get to grumble about it here on my blog, away from their prying eyes. No harm, no foul. I wish you had gotten past anti-god stuff in my post to see my dilemma. This says to me that either my writing is bad, or that you are not open minded enough to question your assumptions of the universe to even entertain, for a moment, that you might be wrong on the whole god thing, at least long enough to feel some empathy about my actual issue: Should I back up my sister and keep my trap shut about what I think, or should I stir up trouble by speaking the truth? And if I back her up, as I suspect I will, how do I cope with the bad feeling? Read the book "song of solomon" if you really think God thinks sex is dirty/wrong… it's "the church" that puts words in God's mouth. Religious people have been talking for God since the invention of the wheel. What's the cure? Believe in no god, no church, no religion, no mythology, nothing other than what we actually know to be true. This is the argument that hooked me back into totally belief in One God/Christ… all other arguments to God have fallacies… That's an interesting argument. Here are three hundred more. Insofar as believing in God because of a logical argument, you should be careful. You can go to hell for that.Many religions, especially Christians believe that you are saved by faith. In fact that is the only criteria. If you don't have faith then you don't get into Heaven, end of story. It doesn't matter how good you are or what works you did – it all rests on faith. So if faith is so important, then what is it? If Salvation is based on faith, and if faith is believing without proof, then proving God is real undermines salvation.Faith means to believe in something without evidence or proof. Using the term in the Christian sense, faith is required. You have to make a commitment to accept statements as true without evidence or proof. In fact that is God's test to see if you can believe in him without any reason other than trust in the authority of the church and it's holy books. And you are prohibited from doubting, questioning, scrutinizing, or putting the object of faith to the test. Once something that relies on faith is proven, then it becomes science. If everything were proven then there would be nothing left that is real to have faith in.The requirement of faith puts an interesting twist in the rules. If faith were optional then it wouldn't matter how you believed in something. But when the test of salvation is based not on what you believe in, but how you believe in it, i.e. faith, then if you don't believe in it by that method, you burn in Hell forever. Based on this, science can not lead you to God because if you get to God through science then you don't have faith and you got there the wrong way. There isn't anything in the Bible that indicates that you are saved through scientific discovery. It's about faith, and only faith.Read the rest of this article. There are those of us out there that can think for themselves, still relying on our God but not becoming a drone of the republican party or believing every agenda that comes from the 700 club, or whatever people think is the "voice" of Christianity.Religion is used, first and foremost, as a system of control. There are those, like you, who can escape certain parts of that system of control for certain periods of time. However, I still think you are trapped in an ideology, a system of belief, which limits your creativity, responsibility, and blunts the perception of the magic and beauty that exists all around us.But again, that's not really the point of my post today.Lexcorpninja: The Jesuits are the only Catholics I respect. If I were rich I would send my sister's kids to a Jesuit school. They teach you how to think—critically—about everything.

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  10. lightandstorm
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 15:24:00

    Go to the VoxWatch page, and click recent activity. It shows you all of the threads you've participated in. ;)Religious people have been talking for God since the invention of the
    wheel. What's the cure? Believe in no god, no church, no religion, no
    mythology, nothing other than what we actually know to be true.Or, believe in a God that you can never fully understand. Who is much greater than any human church or oganization, and none of us could ever hope to speak for him. Believe that nothing is as simple as humans want to make it. :)Also I reject one premise of that argument that proving God undermines him (I don't think you can prove him, but that's due to our limitations, not to a contradiction of this sort). I don't agree that "faith is believing without proof."

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  11. Timmy!
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 15:42:00

    Lexcorpninja: Or, believe in a God that you can never fully understand. Who is much
    greater than any human church or oganization, and none of us could ever
    hope to speak for him. Believe that nothing is as simple as humans
    want to make it. :)If I were to believe in God, that is exactly how I would describe it. (and thanks for the recent activity heads up)

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  12. Timmy!
    Nov 22, 2006 @ 15:34:00

    Ryeli: fair enough… however, when i hear "Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy,
    the Easter Bunny, God, Heaven, or other fairy tales"… although that
    be your opinion and entitled to it… to call most of the world (having
    some faith in some energy higher than themselves) believers in fairy
    tales makes me think that your acting out of anger…. maybe not rage
    or hostility but certainly "a strong feeling of displeasure and
    annoyance."OK, I admit that whole mixing of God in with Santa and the Tooth Fairy, etc., was probably needless baiting (though very satisfying to write). And yes, it is my opinion, though it may change tomorrow if I see different evidence. And yes, I think most of the (humans of this) world who believe in fairy tales are silly and immature. With all these people living their lives for some payoff in the
    afterlife instead of living like this is their one and only shot, it's no wonder our planet is on a toboggan straight to Hell. And the thought that 95% of the people of the planet hold some view of God doesn't sway me the slightest bit. There's always a line at Sizzler, after all. Microsoft Windows is on 95% of the computers, and Windows still sucks ass. A thousand years ago everybody knew for a fact that the Earth was flat. The fact is, humans have always been delusional and likely will be until we evolve beyond a need to explain the universe with superstition.

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  13. lightandstorm
    Nov 22, 2006 @ 16:01:00

    A very smart man once told me not to displace Hope into the future. The reward for living a good life, it's here, but it's not as simple or easy as we would have wanted it to be. It's much deeper and much more meaningful than most people's visions of how Heaven might look. Don't put off living until later. Right now is all we have.

    Reply

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