“Hey, Mom,” Connor (age 6) asked, as we ate lunch at the kitchen table last week. “What’s ‘religion’?”
I wondered where he learned the word, and where this was going, but I answered him as best I could.
“Religion is what a person believes about how the world was made and where we come from. Some people believe that a god created the earth, and some people believe it was science.” (“Science” is the umbrella term I tend to use with him for natural law, physics, astronomy, electricity, etc.)
“We believe that there is One God,” he said in that tone of voice I knew well — the same tone of voice I used to use when I would say, “We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” I suspected that he’d actually absorbed some of the religious sidebars at his old preschool, after all.
“Actually,” I interjected, “Your Dad and I believe that the world was made from science. Who believes that there is One God?” I was trying to figure out where he got this phrase.
He paused. “All my friends,” he answered.
Connor’s school is surprisingly diverse for what would seem from the outside to be a fairly white-bread community. Nearby are both Muslim and Jewish neighborhoods and community centers, and he has children in his class of many different races and backgrounds. A quick mental scan of his classmates left me realizing that, although some of his classmates’ families might be of different religions, they were all Abrahamic — they all do believe in One God. Pretty sure no Hindu families were represented there. Hmm.
“Everyone believes something a little bit different,” I explained. “You might ask your friends…” I paused, trying to think of how a child would explain their family’s religion, “…if they can tell you the name of their god.” I wondered if kindergartners would be able to namedrop Allah or Yahweh or Elohim. Kids from Christian families would just be confused if someone asked them to speak the name of their god. It’s just God!
(Sidebar: I didn’t know the name of Yahweh until I was probably 16 or 17, and my Sunday School teacher must have deviated from the standard Mormon Sunday School manual to teach us about Judaism, to give us kind of a base to start from, as far as the Old Testament goes. He explained that the name of God is not written, per Jewish teachings, and while he spoke the name Yahweh a few times, he only wrote it on the chalkboard once — YHWH — and immediately erased it. That left a deep impression on me for a long time. Elohim — another name of God from the Jewish tradition — is the name Mormons regularly use when referring to the name of their god, and no one ever seemed to have any qualms with writing it.)
I went on to explain to Connor that my Hindu coworker believes in many gods, including one that looks like an elephant with many arms. I hoped he would think that was super cool, but I didn’t get much of a reaction, so I just forged ahead.
Dad and I used to believe in one god, I told him, but over time, we decided that there wasn’t enough proof that there was a god, and that we thought it was science instead.
Connor, using a listening skill I didn’t think he possessed, paraphrased what I’d just said and repeated it back to me. “You said, ‘This doesn’t make sense!'”
In the end, I assured Connor that he’s allowed to believe whatever he thinks is true, and I reminded him that everyone believes different things. About then, his Dad came into the kitchen and the conversation came to its natural end.
It’s easier to indoctrinate with a belief than with a lack of belief — although we can certainly introduce him to the idea of critical thinking. I would honestly rather let Connor explore his belief system on his own as he reaches appropriate mental stages than try to indoctrinate him with the beliefs I came to on my own. Perhaps this would be an appropriate time to introduce him to some of the books I’ve found about other religions, since he seems to be interested in the concept. I’ve already gotten him Maybe Yes, Maybe No by Dan Barker to introduce critical thinking and skepticism… but he hasn’t been interested in reading it yet.
People have asked me what I would do if I found out my son believed in God. Now that the time has come, my answer is the same: I would talk with him about it, find out why he believed what he believed, tell him what I believe, and continue to love him.