My husband and I have made no secret about our Agnosticism. We are both former Catholics who spent some time considering our own religious paths independently, only to come to similar conclusions around the time we met in college. Our beliefs are pretty simple in that we refuse to define them. We are not godless, so to speak; I believe that there is likely some greater force in this world. But I struggle in giving this force an identity. And despite what some may doubt to be true, I am spiritually full.
Interestingly enough, I teach in a very conservative and religious community. My students are church-goers and take pride in their faith. And I respect this. While it's not what I believe, I admire the power of their convictions and the people they are as a result of their religious upbringing. These kids are honest, thoughtful, selfless and hard-working. They are true Christians. They are, for all intents and purposes, everything I want my children to become.
So when my oldest son mentioned Jesus the other day, I realized it's time to start thinking about faith and its role in my boys' upbringing. I will not force them to ascribe to a certain way of religious thinking, but I will encourage them to be spiritually full. In other words, I don't really care what they choose to believe so long as they're thinking about it, questioning it, and ascribing to a system of beliefs that honors kindness, empathy and compassion for those around them. We don't know exactly what that's going to look like yet; we're still ironing out the kinks. But we do know that a few tenets that will guide us along the way:
1. Religious Education
The first step towards respect is understanding. In college, I was in the middle of a civil, yet somewhat heated debate with my devoutly-Baptist friend. When I asked him why he was so sure his faith was the right one and not, say, Islam, he plainly told me, "I don't need to know about that because it isn't the true path to God." I can't abide cyclical reasoning and at that moment I ended the conversation. But I continued to be amazed by how many religiously righteous people new next-to-nothing about faiths other than their own. It astounded me. So my children's spiritual education will involve visits to temples, mosques, churches and other houses of worship. They will learn how people all over the world choose to honor their God(s), not just those who live in our community. I wish more young people took the time to explore other religions; those who acknowledge and respect differing outlooks are the peace-makers, the problem-solvers and the pioneers.
2. A Commitment to Service
One of the noblest aspects of organized religion is their commitment to service to those in need. Homeless shelters, food and clothing drives, and soup kitchens are often the work of religious groups because most religions preach the need for selflessness and service. My children will learn the value of self-sacrifice in an effort to help those less fortunate, and we will volunteer both our time and material possessions to see these lessons through. Because developing empathy and helping those in need is good for the soul and society.
3. Open Dialogue
I was always told to avoid conversations about money, politics, and religion at the dinner table because I could never change a person's mind on any of those topics. And for the most part, I agree. I'm not going to debate the Book of Revelations with my colleagues over lunch, but I do want my children to feel free to ask questions. I want to erase the notion that religion is a taboo discussion, especially if its done with a level of mutual respect. I want them to open their minds to the many possibilities. And if they choose to have faith in a certain dogma after exhausting every query, then so be it. I respect that. But to believe in something without questioning and searching for truth is not really believing in much at all. It's apathy. The questions might never be answered in absolutes. Heck, they might not be answered at all, but at least they're being considered.
4. Connecting with Nature
With our often over-connected world and the constant onslaught of flashing, buzzing solicitation, it's easy to lose one's sense of inner peace. I am a firm believer in the power of nature. In fact, I might even argue that nature IS my religion. So taking the time to literally smell the roses and find my inner dialogue is an important part of my spiritual health. I'm not anti-technology. My kids watch TV. We live in the smoggy inner-city and drive our SUV to work and school every day. But I also instill in my children the idea that nature has power. It is a reminder of where we came from and where we are headed. So we need to take time to be outside, walk to the park, hike in the mountains, camp at the lake, swim in the ocean. It's when we realize just how small we are in this vastness of nature that we can truly begin to consider why we're here in the first place.