A couple of months ago I wrote a post called “Are You Teaching Her about Jesus?” I wrote about how a relative had put this question to me in a letter, clearly concerned about my daughter Sally’s spiritual well-being. And I wrote about how I’m still not sure how to respond to such questions given that we’re not “out” as atheists to our relatives at this point. One of my readers left this comment:
There is teaching “about” and there is teaching “to blindly believe in”. You can probably truthfully say yes … because if you want to raise an atheist, you have to teach them about other people’s beliefs so they will understand what’s going on. And especially to understand literature and the arts where references to classic mythology and Christianity are so prevalent.
The thing is, so far I haven’t taught my daughter anything at all about Jesus. You see, she has no concept whatsoever of “God” and I’m not sure where to begin exactly.
The commenter is right in that I do eventually plan to teach Sally “about” Jesus, “about” Christianity, and “about” other world religions. In fact, I’m really looking forward to studying it all together with her. I would ultimately like to visit various houses of worship with her, learning about the traditions and practices of a wide variety of religious and religious beliefs. I want her to be culturally literate and multiculturally sensitive.
But I’m not at all sure where to start. Sally is in preschool now, but, to the best of my knowledge at least, she has no concept of “God” or the “spiritual world.” Whenever I have read her board books that involve Bible stories (Noah’s Ark, Jesus’ birth), I have always edited that part out. How do I explain the concept of God – and especially the concept as opposed to the reality – to someone who is a total blank slate in that area?
And that’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. A what? A huge cosmic force? A powerful old man up in the sky? An all-powerful being outside of space and time? How do I make any of that make sense to a preschooler?
So far all Sally knows is the real world, the natural world. Sure, she’s seen Harry Potter and she’s fascinated with mermaids, but we always use questions to direct her to an understanding that dementors and mermaids alike are pretend. We show her a lot of Planet Earth and read National Geographic with her, all in an attempt to foster an interest in the natural world in her. We answer her questions about trees and electricity, about where babies come from and how food gets to the grocery store. But this is all real, concrete, and tangible.
I recently acquired a copy of the book Parenting Beyond Belief. I’m going to start reading it, and look for an answer to this very question. I know I need to tell Sally something before someone else does. And as I figure out how to do so, I’ll continue to share my experiences – and Sally’s.
In the meantime, I’d like to invite my readers to offer any experiences or thoughts they may have on this topic. I’m open!