Sorry about the late start. I spent the morning having my sweet, snuffly daughter checked out by her pediatrician. (Yes, the office has emergency hours even on Easter. I’m thinking of lobbying the Vatican to have the entire practice considered for sainthood.) Nothing addles the mind quite like an 8-month-old with a 103-degree fever. But with everyone either napping or in a chocolate-bunny-induced stupor, I wanted to share a few choice bits from the dozens of much-appreciated emails you all sent regarding faith, doubt, and parenthood. (Please excuse any formatting disasters, I'm working against the clock here.)
From Jordynne Olivia Lobo:
Your envy of the certitude of the believing and non-believing is, I think, misplaced. Having been an atheist who has since had her faith return--by the least expected and suprarational means: it found me--it seems that the atheist does not know certitude but imperfect belief insofar as his empiricism allows belief in the non-existence of the Almighty. Even the most resolute agnostic or atheist may not argue that Science Knows All, because he knows that Science--like its archaeological branch that binds you in thrall through its unearthing of hitherto unknown and lost scriptures--is constantly having to correct its own view of every phenonmenon. You will, I hope, give a listening to the Alison Krauss & Union Station song "Living Prayer" which, I feel, nicely captures the (and my) human experience of genuine faith (and genuine faith is always ingenuous), which is, I assure you, is not about and which has nothing to do with certitude.
Certitude may be all right for angels, but we haven't made a great success of it. Too often it's an excuse for pounding on people who lack it, or who lack our particular brand of it. And it almost always means, "Stop thinking, everyone. We already have the answer. Anything more will just muddy the waters." And then you have to choose your friends very carefully, and your reading. Besides, two groups of people are often certain about contradictory things. For at least one group, certitude is a principle of error. Why envy that? Anyway, uncertainty gets a bit more bearable when I can stop thinking of it as a deficiency, or as something I need to get over, like a bad cold. I am finite, short-lived, and easily distracted; Reality—or whatever you call it—is not in my league. Even the small questions are maddening. Why does ice float on water? Yeah, yeah, the hydrogen atoms shift with respect to the oxygen. But why is that? It's certainly a good thing for us; we wouldn't be here otherwise. But why? Beats me. But it beats me in a way that keeps me coming back for more, and I can't say that about ingesting dogmas.
This from Andy Krauss and Ted McDermott:
As a couple of gay occasional Catholics with two kids in preschool, we’ve given a lot of thought to the matter of how, or what, to teach little ones about religion, the mysteries of the universe, Catholicism, etc. Needless to say, there are some things about official Catholic teaching that we consider utterly false that no child (or adult) should be subjected to. But there is also some helpful structure and simple answers to certain of life’s questions that the Catholic religion offers which have served us well in the past year or two. As to whether kids should receive any religious indoctrination at all from such an early age, just ask those parents who’ve raised their kids in a religious vacuum what it’s like to come home and find their kids bedrooms transformed into shrines to some awful spiritual cult. (Evangelical Christianism comes to mind.) We think it’s better to inoculate them early so that they don’t discover spirituality in a dangerous sort of way at an impressionable stage later in life. We hope it works for us!
I couldn't resist Geoff Arnold's superdiversity:
You want diversity, Michelle? Let me tell you about diversity: I was born to Church of England (i.e. Episcopal) parents in England, my mother adopted Catholicism when my father left (when I was 6); I became a hard-core atheist at age 15 (in 1965). I still am; I have an abiding interest in the philosophy of religion. (Read Antony Kenny and Dan Dennett!) My wife was born of American Lutheran and Episcopalian parents, went to Catholic and Quaker schools, spent 10 years as an agnostic "apatheist", then converted to Judaism. Our son experimented with Quakerism before settling on the Episcopal church; he's now (at age 32) enrolled in an Episcopal Seminary in California, where he lives with his wife. And my daughter keeps coming back to Wicca, but when she got engaged to a Boston Irish Catholic she went through all the processes to convert to Catholicism (including a stern homily be Cardinal "Paedophil-lover" Bernard Law). However both my daughter and her husband are so appalled by the intolerance of the Catholic church that they want their son (my first grandson) to have nothing to do with it! How did all this happen, how did we approach things? Open communication, no indoctrination, supporting the kids' questions and explorations. We all respect each other, even if we all disagree fundamentally about the nature of spirituality and the divine. And we all know when to keep our mouths shut!
From two unsigned missives. This:
As one who went from Roman Catholic to Pentacostal to Orthodox Christian, I understand disenchantment with religion and the draw of faith. I was taught that Orthodox meant “more strict” when it came to religion, but in practice I find the opposite to be true. Why? Because Orthodoxy is largely apophatic. It approaches the person of God from what we know we don’t know, rather than by asserting things about God which we can only guess about. So...Instead of teaching what must be true, you can explain what cannot be true and leave the rest to the kids. I’m often not sure what I believe about the world, but I’m really sure about two things: 1) My personal experience and 2) I don’t know what I don’t know. Seems simple, but we humans so often sentimentalize our experience to be much better, or worse, than reality. We also focus so much on what we think we know that we start to believe that we know more than we actually do...which is the mother of all assumptions. When it comes to faith, refusing to sentimentalize our history and keeping our eyes on what we don’t know protect against cultism and fanaticism.
As I see it, we all need code of belief to live in society and a set of core principle to dichotomize the universe into useful partitions. And there are different ways we can arrive at that code. Religion evolved to fill that need and serves a very useful purpose. Many people need ritual and liturgy to bind themselves to a community. The binding is important and how you get there is less important. Thus religion per se is not a problem. It's the illogical extrapolation of religious zealotry that is bad about religion. The tension between encouraging participation through faith and reigning in its excess is as old as the schism between protestants and catholics. In the end, people who can think for themselves are never a problem whether they believe or don't.
And finally, Chadrick123 writes:
There has been lots written about the journey of faith. Most of us spend our whole life in our quest for understanding. The journey out of faith is just as intense and just as long-lasting as any journey into it. Most of us who have been Christians in the past are always conflicted with the good we experienced alongside the bad. We finally come to terms and admit that we learned many beautiful and meaningful concepts about life, death and god, even though we reject the greater part of a previously held religious belief. Today, I do not call myself a Christian simply because I do not claim Jesus as a personal savior as that seems to be a defining requirement. But I still hold dear some wonderful concepts which can be correctly called Christian because they were taught to me in a Christian context. Life, at its best, is a journey. Teaching our children that at an early age seems important to me, more than teaching that they must believe one thing or another. I have far greater confidence in the people who admit there are lots of concepts they're uncertain of than I am those who are sure they've got it all nailed down. There's nothing to be ashamed of in admitting we're still in the process of learning and becoming. At 77 years I'm far more comfortable still being on the journey than I was as a brash young man convinced I had all the answers. Calling myself an agnostic is comfortable for me because I'm unwilling to declare that there is no god, as much as I'm not entirely convinced there is one.
Many thanks all. --Michelle
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