Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Spiritual Health of Children

Since I've been pregnant, I downloaded an app to my phone that gives me random information each week as well as allowing me to connect with other expectant moms. Several things surprised me about these forums.

First, people really don't think. Maybe it is the nature of pregnancy hormones, but the immediate reactions that are emotional and completely unresearched drive me crazy. This however is expected because as we know, most people are stupid and preggo ladies are under the influence of all manner of stressors. This however is not my main concern. I've long since reconciled myself to this situation (or so I tell myself).

The second and most important thing that struck me is the huge religious reaction to many topics.

This surprised me.

I didn't really think about all the super religious people being present. However there are quite a few who are all God this, Jesus my Lord and Savior that.

Then there are those in the other camp - of whom I thought even less: atheists and agnostics. I'm a little embarassed to say they weren't on my radar because of how anti-religious people are in the Bay. I meet more people who don't believe in God here than most places.

The funny thing is, now at the precipice of parenthood, I find antagonism towards the church to be disturbing.

I have, as a semi-religious person, always had some difficulty when faith comes under attack. After all, much of my life has been shaped by the thing. I've had many positive experiences with religion and therefore am incredibly angered when people make hurtful generalizations. It's just like saying "all white people are racist" or "all women are bad drivers" or "all pretty people are stupid." Obviously there are some churches that are frightening and horrible places. But we can't paint the entire institution with such a stroke.

Now that I'm about to bring another person into the world, I am thinking carefully about how they should be raised. Never in my mind did I doubt I would raise my child in a community of faith. The reason is I want my child to have a support system. I want them to have other adults around who can help them learn and grow. I want them to learn compassion and love as well as have a system of clearly defined ethics.

So you can imagine how I feel when I read about parents saying they don't want to raise their children in a faith community, but they're open and their kids can come to their own conclusions when they're older.

Insert incredulous stare here.

Children are influenced by their parents. They will not come to a conclusion about faith without being exposed to it. They will simply not care (as evidenced by my many friends raised in such a fashion). Instead they will be forced to haphazardly cobble together a system of ethics and set of values they glean from their friends and popular culture. If they're smart or lucky, they'll read some ethicists.

What the hell are these parents thinking?! Popular culture is a sess pool! Seriously - reality television alone is horrifying when considering values. And as far as friends (I love mine, I do.) no offense, but I'll take some pointers from wiser philosophers than listen to my junior high compatriots at the tender age of 13. The likelihood of all these children reading ancient works of philosophy and ethics is minute. I doubt they're explored in public schools and it's less likely all these children have curious minds that would seek such things from the library.

Without a cohesive set of ethics and values, it's hard to know how to act. Children look to parents for guidance in their actions. They seek approval. They will do what adults do because they want our love. They need instruction. They are learning as they go. They need a set of rules in place to follow. I see it in my job all the time. Children without rules are atrocious little monsters.

These are the immediate issues regarding not raising a child in a faith community (not to mention the lack of community which is a very real and horrible loss). But what does this do to the child once they become an adult?

They are lost. Spiritually lost.

I don't mean they're going to hell and must come back to the fold in order to avoid damnation. Rather I find many people seeking and not finding. I find many adults without faith to be empty and aching inside without understanding why.

For someone raised in faith,  this missing piece makes sense. Whenever I am gone from church I feel it - my separation from God. But someone who has no understanding, no language to describe the spirit is at a disadvantage. How can you find your way home when you have no compass? No map? No path? No stars? No landmarks?

You are truly lost in the dark.

That sounds like hell to me...a slow torturous self-made thing, so insidious it cannot be seen, but follows a person wherever he goes for life.

For some who are not sensitive to ways of the spirit, they may get on well enough without the path, blind as they are to the dark. To those of us who feel every blade of grass and relish the quietest bird song, we will ache to the point of self-destruction.

And guess what? A parent cannot know what type their child is at birth or even into elementary school. So logically, a parent who wants the best for their child should find a way to nurture their child's spirit and instill a system of ethics and values (which is aided by a community of likeminded adults). To not do this is to do a great diservice to the child.

Now some atheists will be angry with me for saying these things. And I have seen attempts at atheistic communities which have addressed *some* of these concerns, but only some. As one might expect, the biggest problem is the lack of cohesion of beliefs and values along with a lack of stories to support them. You cannot get a community to teach a set of values or standardize a curriculum without consensus. Then will you use Aesop's Fables to teach? Popular children's books? Who decides? Or do you just have your children run around playing without any set programming?

Besides this, it is rather difficult to go from town to town and find your local atheist club (though the internet has certainly helped to rectify this). While many are firm atheists, not believing in God doesn't hold the same fervor as the opposite. Many have as much difficulty with the idea of institutions as they do with a deity. It makes forming any kind of network of membership next to impossible.

Agnostics are even more problematic because by their very nature they do not know. How can you raise a child in "not knowing"? That is down right confusing and encourages the kind of Frankenstein approach to ethics and values that results in endless contradiction, confusion, and wavering. Children *hate* not knowing. Insecurity is something children cannot deal with. They freak out when feeling insecure (see foster kids everywhere). Yes a teenager may be able to make decisions (though probably only the most mature) about their spiritual health, but not a child. They need more than "I don't know."

Truly much is lost when a child is raised without any faith. Yes, finding the right faith community is difficult and may take years. However, it is worth the effort for the benefits to your child's spiritual and moral health. Adult hang ups about religion shouldn't get in the way of providing a rich spiritual environment for children. Do you have to believe everything that comes out of a pastor's mouth? No. Should you agree with everything? Absolutely not. But this is where expert parenting skills come into play. Find a good Sunday school curriculum, good people supporting your child, and a system of ethics you can get behind. Then when the kid gets older, they have a foundation they can use to help them make good decisions about their spiritual health. And that is exactly what we want.

No comments:

Post a Comment