‘Very Religious Parents’ Trying to Indoctrinate Their Grandkid

I got a letter from a reader today. Raise your hand if you can relate.

Looking for some advice on how to deal with my very Christian parents and my daughter. She’ll be 2 in January and is already saying “Amen” and “Yay God.” I am not Christian and feel disrespected by this. They know that I have COMPLETELY different beliefs. Any advice on how to “respectfully” get them to stop?

baby-mother-grandmother

Pretty typical, right?

I started to write this mom a private response but, with her permission, decided to make it public. I’d be curious — and I’m sure she would be, as well — to hear advice from anyone else who has had some “success” in dealing with this particular problem. In the meantime, here’s my two cents:

1. Be brief, be direct, and be nice. Brief because this is a can of worms that can get cray-cray pretty quickly. Direct because this is important and you need to make sure there are no misunderstandings. (No one wants to have to have this damn conversation more than once.) And nice because that’s what’s going to keep tensions from escalating.

2. Try to get your parents’ buy-in. This is the goal. If your parents understand where you are coming from, and genuinely want to help you out, you won’t have to worry that they will try to indoctrinate your kid behind your back.

3. Be ready to lay down the law. If, after stating your case, your parents refuse to cooperate, you need to let them know — as briefly, directly and nicely as possible — that there there will be consequences. Then you need to tell them what those consequences will be.

You might start out this way:

Mom and Dad, I’ve noticed you’ve been sharing your religious views with Jane and I’m glad to see that. Your Hinduism/Buddhism/Christianity is important to you, and I want you to feel comfortable talking to her, and me, about anything that is important to you. That said, because I don’t share all your beliefs, it’s really important to me that Jane gets to make up her own mind about what to believe. So when you’re talking about your faith, I would really appreciate it if you’d be clear with her that these are your beliefs, and not just straight facts. (You can do this really easily by just adding “I believe” or “we believe” onto statements about your religion.) Again, I’m not asking you to withhold your beliefs, but rather to put them into a context that allows for other belief systems to be respected, as well.

If you get an “Okay,” that’s a success. Done and done. Move on. If not:

The thing is, if you aren’t willing to temper your language, it puts pressure on me to use strong language, too. Every time you teach Jane something as though it’s the only truth, I have to balance out — or even “undo” — what you’ve said. And that’s not good for your relationship with Jane, or with me. I’ll feel disrespected and even antagonized. But if you speak in a way that leaves room for Jane to make up her own mind, I’ll feel more comfortable with the whole thing.”

Again, if you get an “Okay,” great. If they still don’t cooperate, you might ask: “Well, what would you be comfortable saying?” See if, after a little back and forth, you can agree on an approach.

If that fails, then your parents are being overbearing a-holes. Here’s where those consequences figure in:

If you want to continue to have one-on-one time with Jane, you will have to agree to an approach that works for all of us. I’ll give you some time to think about it. Let me know what you come up with.

That ought to get their attention.

Also, a quick reminder: Richard Wade, the incredibly wise “Ask Richard” columnist over at the Friendly Atheist has some great advice for secularists dealing with religious family members. You might check out his archives sometime!

Quick! What the Hell is Eid al-Adha?

There are certain religions that seem to wear their differences on their sleeves. Stand a Hasidic Jew next to a Sunni Muslim, for example, and I know immediately which is which. The headgear, the clothing. One is praying to God, the other invoking the name Allah. It’s kind of a no-brainer.

But if you remove the clothing and the terminology, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are so darn similar. Allah is just the Arabic word for God, after all. Both the Qur’an and Torah have their roots in the Old Testament of the Bible. And, in all three religions, Abraham was pretty much the shit.

You remember Abraham. He’s the guy who was willing to sacrifice his son to prove his love, loyalty and obedience to God. Pretty heady stuff. Anyway, it’s Abraham’s sacrifice that inspired the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha – which occurred yesterday but was completely overshadowed by the damn debt ceiling brouhaha  A day late and a dollar short, as they say. Anyway: Happy Eid! Here’s your rundown:

Holiday: Eid al-Adha

Pronounced: Eed el-AH-dah. (Say it out loud, and you’ll find it sounds like “eat-a-lotta.” Given that this holiday is based on food — killing it, eating it and sharing it — this couldn’t be more apropos.)

AKA: “Festival of Sacrifice”

Religion Represented: Islam

Date: Eid al-Adha falls on the 10th day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in the lunar Islamic calendar.

Celebrates: The willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for Allah.

On a Scale of 1 to 10: Eid al-Adha is a 9 or 10. It comes at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia — which is incredibly important to Muslims.

Star of the Show: Abraham

Back Story: Although the entire story of Abraham is worth noting in its entirety, Abraham is perhaps most famous for being willing to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion to Allah. As the story goes, just as Abraham was about to do the deed, Allah revealed that there was no need — that Abraham’s willingness to make the sacrifice was enough. A ram was sacrificed instead. And Abraham said: “Phew.” (Or, you know, probably did.)

Associated Literary Passages: Genesis 22:1-17Qur’an 37: 100-111.

The Food:  To mimic the slaughter of the ram, many Muslims slaughter an animal — such as a sheep, cow, camel, or goat. Once cleaned and cut, one third of the animal is kept, one third is shared with friends and family, and one third given to the poor and less fortunate. It’s this last part —sharing your wealth with others by giving your meat away — that serves as the heart of this holiday.

The Fun: Here in the United States, Muslims pray, exchange gifts and hold feasts. Meat is distributed throughout the community. Many Muslims go where the needs are — soup kitchens, hospitals, homeless shelters — as well as to graveyards to pay their respects to the dead.

Why Eid al-Adha is Often Misunderstood: The word “sacrifice” causes images of bloody, nasty torture rituals. But that isn’t the case. Eid’s sacrifices are akin to the slaughter of turkeys at Thanksgiving — with one exception: In the Middle East, people traditionally kill the animals themselves, while we have slaughterhouses do it.

Conveying Meaning to Kids: Giving food away is a concept all children can get on board with. You can then explain that Muslims give food away in order to honor Abraham. Maybe listen to some Egyptian music on Pandora while making cookies and then give the cookies away to neighbors. Or donate toys and clothes to local shelters. Be sure to check these delicious-looking Eid recipes out, as well. They’ll make your mouth water.

For more from the Holiday Cheat Sheet for Nonreligious Parents, click here.

This post originally appeared Nov. 7, 2011.

 

‘My Dearest Daughter’: Letter from an Atheist Mom

Letter WritingAtheist scientist Richard Dawkins once wrote a letter to his 10-year-old daughter about the importance of scientific evidence in weighing the legitimacy of religious claims. “To my dearest daughter,” his now-famous letter began. “Now that you are ten, I want to write to you about something that is important to me… Evidence.” His mission: to explain the vast chasm between faith and science, and make clear that science will always hold the trump card.

I’ve written before (rather poorly) about Dawkins’ letter and my own issues with it, but — as a non-believer, a parent and a writer myself — I can’t help but be drawn to the idea of putting my own feelings about religion in letter form. Instead of making a case for science — and, therefore, for atheism — I wanted to make a case for compassion, religious tolerance, and an appreciation of diversity.

The truth is, I’m not worried about science. Science is already a part of my daughter’s life; it comes up almost daily in our house. I don’t need to sell Maxine on biology or geology or meteorology or botany; she’s already a paying customer. I don’t need to sell her on the importance of evidence, either. She understands that evidence is something that is true, and faith is something that is believed. When you strip it down, the concept isn’t all that complex.

A dad once told me that he and his children didn’t often talk about religion directly in their house. “More often than not,” he said, “our conversations revolve around the ideas of evidence and logical reasoning. Religion hangs around the periphery of these conversations in the form of myth and magic.”

There’s nothing at all wrong with having conversations about evidence and logical reasoning. But if all religion does is “hang around the periphery,” there’s not a lot of room to give kids honest explanations for the belief systems of others, and not a lot of opportunity to send kids into the world ready to peacefully, confidently and happily interact with people from different cultures.

This was my thought, anyway — which was why, as a fun exercise, I wrote my own, decidedly non-Dawkinsian (!!) letter. I doubt I’ll ever give it to Maxine. My mission is to talk to her about religion, not write to her about it. Still, though, it could be a great reference point for me if I ever forget the point of all this. And maybe it will inspire others to put their own thoughts in writing.

To my dearest daughter,

I want to write to you about something that is important to a lot of people: Religion. As you know, religion is a a collection of beliefs, as well as views about how people ought to behave. Many beliefs involve a god or gods. Religion has been around for thousands and thousands of years. Many religions have faded with time, and many others have kept going. Some religions were formed quite recently.

Religion is very personal — meaning it varies widely from person to person — and people often feel strongly about it. So strong, in fact, that it often can lead to disagreements and hurt feelings — which is why you probably won’t learn much about it in school and why children aren’t often encouraged to talk about it on the playground.

Because your Daddy and I aren’t religious ourselves, and because nothing seems to be missing from your life, you might wonder why religion exists. Well, religion — all religions — were spread by human beings in response to certain questions and problems. The questions were things like: Why are we here?  What happens after we die? The problems were things like: death, suffering, sadness and abuse.

On a basic level, most religions are meant to make people’s lives better by giving them comfort and purpose and teaching them how to be good people. Most religions teach compassion, forgiveness, kindness and love. And those are all really great qualities, aren’t they? It’s no wonder so many people, including some of your own family members, are religious.

Of course, I know from personal experience that no one needs religion to be a good person, just as they don’t need religion to feel comfort or to have a purpose or to live a full and satisfying life.

Still, though, it’s important to me that you know about different religions and cultures for two reasons. First, I want you to make up your own mind about what you believe. And, second, I want you to be able to understand and appreciate all the different people you are going to meet during your life. Knowledge, awareness and curiosity are traits that tend to invite new and positive experiences — and I want nothing more than to see you fill your life with as many positive experiences as you can. In short, I think teaching you a bit about religion will help make you a happier person.

It’s also important that you know that religion has some downsides. Some people allow their religious beliefs to blind them. They use religious differences to justify war, even murder. They judge people who are different from them. Some people believe, for instance, that men shouldn’t fall in love with other men, or women shouldn’t fall in love with other women. Some people believe that women should not be allowed to have jobs, even if they really want them. Some people believe everyone should be forced to believe one particular thing or be put in jail, or even killed.

These things I mention are wrong because they hurt people who are just trying to live good lives and be true to themselves. And no one deserves to be hurt for that. In some ways, these kinds of actions seem very strange, because they go directly against the things I mentioned earlier: compassion, forgiveness, kindness and love.

In the next few years you will learn a lot about different religions and religious people. You may find you like the ideas in religion, connect to the beliefs, and want to try one out. You may also find you aren’t interested in religion, or that you don’t care for it at all. Whatever the case, I want you to know that what you believe and how you feel about religion doesn’t matter to me. Just like it doesn’t matter to me what other people in the world believe or think about religion. What does matter to me — and what I hope matters to you, too — is what’s in a person’s heart. What people do in life is what counts, not what they believe.

A lot of incredibly good people are religious, and a lot of incredibly good people are not religious. You can be either one, and, as long as you try to practice compassion, forgiveness, kindness and love, I’ll support you 100 percent. 

Thanks for listening,

Mom

Embracing Religion ‘For the Sake of the Kids’

Christian childrenI was at a birthday party last weekend when a fellow mom, who knows about my work, pulled me aside and told me her daughters will soon be starting CCD — AKA Catechism. Her husband was raised Catholic, she explained, but neither of them are religious now at all. She said she’d let me know it goes.

This business of giving children a religious education — or a religious “base,” as many people call it — is so fascinating to me. And, whenever it comes up, it reminds me of what a powerful structure religion can be.

In so many families, religion is presented as intrinsic to all things. It’s what allows humans to think and love and breath. It offers a clear perspective on the world and the world’s creation. It acts as a conduit for doing good. It clarifies the line between right and wrong. It provides the social outlet so many desire and the hope so many crave.

It’s no wonder that sometimes, long after people have left their parents’ religions behind, they find that their faith is still there, deep inside them, clinging to their subconscious like a tenacious child. And that’s a fitting metaphor, given that it’s the arrival of their own children that causes some parents to revisit their own childhood beliefs — and debate the merits of embracing religion for, as they say, “the sake of the kids.”

I wonder, if you’re reading this, whether you’ve ever had to address this issue, or you know anyone who has. If so, what was the upshot? Were the children grateful or confused by the sudden religious infusion into their everyday lives? Were the parents glad to have done it — or did they regret the decision?

And do kids from secular homes ever come out of catechism/Hebrew Academy/Islamic madrasa/etc. as staunch believers?

Measuring the Space Between Indoctrination, Brainwashing

“I don’t want to brainwash my kids with my own views. I want them to decide for themselves what they believe.”

                                                                           — Pennsylvania mother of three

In secular circles, indoctrination and brainwashing are used almost interchangeably. It’s not all that hard to understand why. Instructing young, vulnerable children to pledge their blind allegiance to certain authority figures can, especially for the most cynical among us, evoke rather disturbing images. (Karl in A Clockwork Orange, anyone?) And because hell is so often dangled as a punishment for disbelief, religious indoctrination possesses a fear factor that seems, well, kind of mean.

Clockwork BrainwashBut, for all the sometimes-unpleasant underpinnings of indoctrination, there is a significant difference between what happens to children in CCD and what happened to Karl in Room 23. In short, indoctrination is not brainwashing. And I think that’s worth talking about — because parents who blow indoctrination out of proportion will hinder their kids’ ability to understand the difference between most religions and harmful cults. And I think that’s important — really important — especially if they don’t want to, ahem, indoctrinate their kids.

So here’s the deal: The Oxford English Dictionary defines brainwashing as pressuring someone to adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and forcible means. It often implies mind control, and other unethically manipulative methods of persuasion. Some religious sects and many cults are famous for employing classic brainwashing techniques. In his book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, author Lawrence Wright touches on a number of them. He writes of policies that prohibit church members from reading articles, essays or blogs that criticize Scientology, and he describes incidents of violence, threats and systematic punishments employed by church leaders to keep members from speaking — or even thinking — ill of Scientology themselves.

Robert Jay Lifton, an American psychiatrist, has devoted his life to the study of mind control. His books include The Nazi DoctorsCults in Our Midst and Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. In the latter, Lifton lays out “Eight Criteria for Thought Reform.” They are:

  1. Milieu Control — The control of information and communication, resulting in extreme isolation from the outside world.
  2. Mystical Manipulation — Experiences that appears spontaneous but are actually planned and orchestrated to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or other insight.
  3. Demand for Purity — The requirement to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. Guilt and shame are often employed.
  4. Confession — Ways to monitor the personal thoughts (“sins”) of individual members — which are then discussed and exploited by group leaders.
  5. Sacred Science — The idea that the group’s ideology is beyond questioning or dispute.
  6. Loading the Language — The use of jargon and terminology that the outside world does not understand as a means of gaining thought-control and conformity.
  7. Doctrine over Person — Subordinating all personal experiences to the ideology of the group.
  8. Dispensing of Existence — In order to be saved or enlightened, individuals must convert to the group’s ideology. If they are critical of the group, or decide to leave the group, they are rejected by all members.

It’s clear that, under Lifton’s criteria, few religious parents are actually brainwashing their children. They may be employing one or two of these methods — I know quite a few Catholics very familiar with No. 3, for instance, and a few Mormons familiar with No. 8, and, Oh My God, can we talk about the broad employment of No. 5?— but not more than a few, and certainly not all.

I’m not saying indoctrination is a good thing. To be honest, any degree of intentional indoctrination makes me twitchy, whether it’s associated with religion or with atheism. But, after viewing Lifton’s list, it’s clear that what most parents are doing — on both sides of the aisle — falls far outside the bounds of brainwashing. And that, at least, is a relief.

Don’t Freak Out; It’s Temporary

Relax, It's Just a TypewriterFirst the good news: Did you guys know this month marks the second anniversary of my blog? Yep, it’s true. Twice a week for the last two years I have been writing for and about nonreligious parents. It’s been wonderful, and still is, and if you’ll have me, I’d like to stay a bit longer.

That said, this fall is shaping up to be a very busy time for me, so — AND DON’T FREAK OUT ON ME HERE — for a while I’m going to scale back and post just once a week — on Mondays.

You’re not even disappointed, are you?

See now that’s just rude.

ANYWAY, those of you who subscribe twice-weekly will receive emails just once a week, and those who have weekly subscriptions will receive them every Monday instead of Thursday. Monthly subscribers, you will see no change. Of course, I may rerun posts once in a while and if I do, those will appear on Thursdays.

IN THE MEANTIME, I’m open to guest posts by any other secular parents out there. First-person posts are most welcome, but I’d consider relevant book reviews, as well. If you’re interested in pitching a story or getting some more information on guests posts, you can reach me at wendythomasrussell@gmail.com.

And be sure to track me down on Facebook and/or Twitter, if you’re active in those types of places and want to make me feel better about myself.

As always, I can’t thank each and every one of you enough for your continued support of my little project. I couldn’t do it without you, and I wouldn’t want to. See you Monday.

Survey: Nearly Half of All Parents Uncomfortable Talking to Kids About Religion

nervous mommaIn my two years of blogging, I’ve never before seen a study measuring the comfort level parents feel when talking to their kids about religion. I guess it’s too specific of a question to be addressed directly in mainstream religious surveys.

But, the other day, buried in a report about life insurance, of all things, I found an answer.

In a report called (yawn) “Public Affairs Life Strategy Survey” and funded by State Farm, surveyers found that 62 percent of parents in America are uncomfortable talking to their kids about life insurance. Harris Interactive revealed its findings after examining the opinions of 2,000 U.S. adults. Then it offered some comparisons.

According to the study, as reported by PR Newswire: 

When it comes to life’s most important topics, higher percentages of parents feel comfortable talking with their children about drugs and alcohol (55 percent), religion (53 percent) and politics (44 percent) than discussing life insurance (38 percent), family finances (36 percent) or sex/puberty (30 percent). 

Did you see that? Blink and you missed it.

Forty-five percent of parents in the United States say they are at least somewhat uncomfortable talking about religion with their children.

Wow wow and wow.

It’s easy to see why nonreligious parents (who make up no more than 20 percent of all parents) would have issues with talking to children about religion — oh, boy, is it easy — but these findings go directly against the common assumption that religious people know just what to say to their kids because they are guided by the well-practices teachings of their faith. The truth is, it’s as uncomfortable for some of them as it is for some of us.

And considering there are something like 150 million parents in the United States, that’s a whole lot of discomfort.

Inspiration for the Day: Walt Whitman’s Eulogy

Before he died in 1892, the great American poet Walt Whitman asked his friend and fellow secularist Robert Green Ingersoll to deliver a eulogy at his funeral.

Ingersoll was a political leader and orator known as “The Great Agnostic,” and the pair had been friends for a long time. Whitman once said of Ingersoll: “It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass… He lives, embodies, the individuality, I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen — American-flavored — pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light.” After reading a bit about Ingersoll and Whitman last night in Susan Jacoby’s book “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism,” I decided to find the eulogy online. It didn’t disappoint.

In my experience, the best eulogies do two things. First, they sum up the essence of a dead person both accurately and artfully. And, second, they inspire the living.

Ingersoll’s eulogy, which I’ve included in full below, did that. After reading it, I had half a mind to CafePress a What Would Walt Whitman Do? sticker for my car. Although the whole thing is worth reading, the most (nonreligiously) relevant paragraph is this one:

You know better than I what his life has been, but let me say one thing. Knowing, as he did, what others can know and what they cannot, he accepted and absorbed all theories, all creeds, all religions, and believed in none. His philosophy was a sky that embraced all clouds and accounted for all clouds. He had a philosophy and a religion of his own, broader, as he believed — and as I believe — than others. He accepted all, he understood all, and he was above all.

Beautiful, right? It reminded me a lot of a quote by revolutionary writer Thomas Paine, author of The Age of Reason.

“My own mind,” Paine wrote, “is my own church.”

this-is-what-you-should-do-whitman

                   

                    A TRIBUTE TO WALT WHITMAN 

                    by Robert Green Ingersoll

                  Camden, N.J., March 30, 1892



     MY FRIENDS: Again we, in the mystery of Life, are brought face

to face with the mystery of Death. A great man, a great American,

the most eminent citizen of this Republic, lies dead before us, and

we have met to pay a tribute to his greatness and his worth.



     I know he needs no words of mine. His fame is secure. He laid

the foundations of it deep in the human heart and brain. He was,

above all I have known, the poet of humanity, of sympathy. He was

so great that he rose above the greatest that he met without

arrogance, and so great that he stooped to the lowest without

conscious condescension. He never claimed to be lower or greater

than any of the sons of men.



     He came into our generation a free, untrammeled spirit, with

sympathy for all. His arm was beneath the form of the sick. He

sympathized with the imprisoned and despised, and even on the brow

of crime he was great enough to place the kiss of human sympathy.



     One of the greatest lines in our literature is his, and the

line is great enough to do honor to the greatest genius that has

ever lived. He said, speaking of an outcast: "Not till the sun

excludes you do I exclude you."



     His charity was as wide as the sky, and wherever there was

human suffering, human misfortune, the sympathy of Whitman bent

above it as the firmament bends above the earth.



     He was built on a broad and splendid plan -- ample, without

appearing to have limitations -- passing easily for a brother of

mountains and seas and constellations; caring nothing for the

little maps and charts with which timid pilots hug the shore, but

giving himself freely with recklessness of genius to winds and

waves and tides; caring for nothing as long as the stars were above

him. He walked among men, among writers, among verbal varnishers

and veneerers, among literary milliners and tailors, with the

unconscious majesty of an antique god.



     He was the poet of that divine democracy which gives equal

rights to all the sons and daughters of men. He uttered the great

American voice; uttered a song worthy of the great Republic. No man

ever said more for the rights of humanity, more in favor of real



democracy, of real justice. He neither scorned nor cringed, was

neither tyrant nor slave. He asked only to stand the equal of his

fellows beneath the great flag of nature, the blue and stars.



     He was the poet of Life. It was a joy simply to breathe. He

loved the clouds; he enjoyed the breath of morning, the twilight,

the wind, the winding streams. He loved to look at the sea when the

waves burst into the whitecaps of joy. He loved the fields, the

hills; he was acquainted with the trees, with birds, with all the

beautiful objects of the earth. He not only saw these objects, but

understood their meaning, and he used them that he might exhibit

his heart to his fellow-men.



     He was the poet of Love. He was not ashamed of that divine

passion that has built every home in the world; that divine passion

that has painted every picture and given us every real work of art;

that divine passion that has made the world worth living in and has

given some value to human life.



     He was the poet of the natural, and taught men not to be

ashamed of that which is natural. He was not only the poet of

democracy, not only the poet of the great Republic, but he was the

Poet of the human race. He was not confined to the limits of this

country, but his sympathy went out over the seas to all the nations

of the earth.



     He stretched out his hand and felt himself the equal of all

kings and of all princes, and the brother of all men, no matter how

high, no matter how low.



     He has uttered more supreme words than any writer of our

century, possibly of almost any other. He was, above all things, a

man, and above genius, above all the snow-capped peaks of

intelligence, above all art, rises the true man, Greater than all

is the true man, and he walked among his fellow-men as such.



     He was the poet of Death. He accepted all life and all death,

and he justified all. He had the courage to meet all, and was great

enough and splendid enough to harmonize all and to accept all there

is of life as a divine melody.



     You know better than I what his life has been, but let me say

one thing. Knowing, as he did, what others can know and what they

cannot, he accepted and absorbed all theories, all creeds, all

religions, and believed in none. His philosophy was a sky that

embraced all clouds and accounted for all clouds. He had a

philosophy and a religion of his own, broader, as he believed --

and as I believe -- than others. He accepted all, he understood

all, and he was above all.



     He was absolutely true to himself. He had frankness and

courage, and he was as candid as light. He was willing that all the

sons of men should be absolutely acquainted with his heart and

brain. He had nothing to conceal. Frank, candid, pure, serene,

noble, and yet for years he was maligned and slandered, simply

because he had the candor of nature. He will be understood yet, and

that for which he was condemned -- his frankness, his candor --

will add to the glory and greatness of his fame.



     He wrote a liturgy for mankind; he wrote a great and splendid

psalm of life, and he gave to us the gospel of humanity -- the

greatest gospel that can be preached.



     He was not afraid to live, not afraid to die. For many years

he and death were near neighbors. He was always willing and ready

to meet and greet this king called death, and for many months he

sat in the deepening twilight waiting for the night, waiting for

the light.



     He never lost his hope. When the mists filled the valleys, he

looked upon the mountain tops, and when the mountains in darkness

disappeared, he fixed his gaze upon the stars.



     In his brain were the blessed memories of the day, and in his

heart were mingled the dawn and dusk of life.



     He was not afraid; he was cheerful every moment. The laughing

nymphs of day did not desert him. They remained that they might

clasp the hands and greet with smiles the veiled and silent sisters

of the night. And when they did come, Walt Whitman stretched his

hand to them. On one side were the nymphs of the day, and on the

other the silent sisters of the night, and so, hand in hand,

between smiles and tears, he reached his journey's end.



     From the frontier of life, from the western wave-kissed shore,

he sent us messages of content and hope, and these messages seem

now like strains of music blown by the "Mystic Trumpeter" from

Death's pale realm.



     To-day we give back to Mother Nature, to her clasp and kiss,

one of the bravest, sweetest souls that ever lived in human clay.



     Charitable as the air and generous as Nature, he was negligent

of all except to do and say what he believed he should do and

should say.



     And I to-day thank him, not only for you but for myself, --

for all the brave words he has uttered. I thank him for all the

great and splendid words he has said in favor of liberty, in favor

of man and woman, in favor of motherhood, in favor of fathers, in

favor of children, and I thank him for the brave words that he has

said of death.



     He has lived, he has died, and death is less terrible than it

was before. Thousands and millions will walk down into the "dark

valley of the shadow" holding Walt Whitman by the hand. Long after

we are dead the brave words he has spoken will sound like trumpets

to the dying.



     And so I lay this little wreath upon this great man's tomb. I

loved him living, and I love him still.



                          ********



                         Bank of Wisdom

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Addressing ‘God’ in Secular Families: When is the Right Time?

When my daughter was 2, and barely out of diapers, she had her first Potty Emergency.

We’d been having lunch when suddenly she rose and sprinted to the bathroom with the speed and determination of a hunted deer. I’d been hopeful she made it in time, but when I arrived several seconds later, she was standing in front of the toilet, fully clothed, staring down at a puddle on the floor. Her little shoulders had fallen. Without looking up at me, she shook her little head and said exactly what I would have said in the same situation:

“Jesus Christ.”

I’m sure my Presbyterian ancestors would have been charmed to know the only thing my daughter knew about the Christian Messiah was that he made for an effective expletive.

In many nonreligious families, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for religious references to arise outside of idioms, proverbs and occasional profanity. Few of us visit churches or attend mosque or synagogue or temple. We don’t pray before meals. We don’t emphasize the religious aspects of national holidays. We don’t have Bibles or Qur’ans lying around. God just doesn’t come up.

As a result, sometimes we don’t know how to start the conversations. How do we kick things off? And when, exactly, are our kids ready to have these talks?

GodTalks

“I don’t want to make a big deal of telling her I don’t believe in God,” one atheist mom told me, “but there never seems to be a right time to say it.”

There is no magic age for God talk, and it depends a lot on the personality of the child, but kids are generally ready to start exploring ideas of spirituality around ages 4 or 5. This is when blossoming imaginations welcome supernatural ideas, and when concepts like good and evil come into focus. It’s about this time, too, when inquisition replaces demand as the rhetorical tool of choice:  Why did this happen?” “What happens if someone does that?” And it’s during these years they are first exposed to the reality that mom and dad don’t have exclusive control of the thought process: kids at preschool and daycare also have ideas to share.

Watch carefully, and you’ll see the signs of mental development, and a readiness for thoughts unrelated to immediate needs and wants. You may notice a new interest in how plants and insects die, curiosity about the sunshine, and a knack for picking up on anything “out of the ordinary.” They’ll pretty soon notice that people have different answers, different explanations, and that some of them will undoubtedly involve faith.

Even when you know the timing is right, the thought of broaching the subject of religion can be intimidating — even paralyzing. Many parents fret that they waited too long. Their children begin to “act” on what they hear without the benefit of context. They may assume that the religious ideas voiced by relatives or peers are absolute truth. They may learn to phrase things in ways that make their parents uncomfortable, which causes the parents to try to “undo” the children’s learning.

Focus-on-Religion_14496806

“My son overheard a discussion that I was having with another adult,” one mother told me. “When he heard me mention ‘God’ he asked: ‘Do you mean the ‘One True God?’ Apparently, his public school kindergarten teachers were praying with the kids in class.”

This is not to say it’s imperative that we parents are the ones to bring up religion. More than 50 percent of parents surveyed said their kids had brought up the subject themselves. Don’t be surprised when the moment arrives. Accept the opportunity, and dive right in: “I’m glad your Uncle Joe brought it up!” you might say. “This is interesting stuff.”

The trick, if there is a trick to this, is to let children’s curiosity be your guide. Try not to tell them more than they want to know, or answer questions they’re not asking. There’s no need for a boring dissertation or a nervous oratory. Nothing needs to be forced or coerced.

Seriously, if talking about religion is anything other than natural and interesting, you’re probably trying too hard.

Quick! What the Hell is Yom Kippur?

I read a fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times this morning about local protests against the sacrificial slaughter of chickens being conducted this week in Jewish enclaves throughout Los Angeles — and, indeed, throughout the world. The ritual, as kaparotkapparot or kaparos, is supposed to help “cleanse” people of their sins. It’s an orthodox Jewish thing.

More progressive Jews are calling the ritual archaic and meaningless, and point to the treatment of the chickens before their deaths as further reason to stop the killings. Faith leaders have joined with animal-rights activists in the protest.

So, here’s the deal: The sacrifices all tie into the Jewish High Holy Days leading up to Yom Kippur. This period is meant to be a period of “atonement” — asking God to forgive your sins. The chicken is supposed to “accept” all the sins of those present and then be killed (knife to the throat) in one, big, bloody symbolic gesture.

Anyhoo…. in anticipation of Yom Kippur, which lasts exactly 25 hours beginning tomorrow evening, here is the latest addition to your friendly neighborhood Holiday Cheat Sheet.

Holiday: Yom Kippur (pronounced Yom Ki-POOR)

AKA: The Day of Atonement

Religion Represented: Judaism

Date: The 10th day of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar.

Not To Be Confused With: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

On a Scale of 1 to 10: Yom Kippur is a heavy 10.

What It Is: Yom Kippur is the last and most important of Judaism’s 10 High Holy Days, which begin on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As you might recall, the New Year is a time to reflect on one’s life and resolve to be a better person in the coming year. On Yom Kippur, God is said to take a look at the deeds of the Jewish people and to seal each person’s fate in the “Book of Life.” More than anything, Yom Kippur is a day of seeking forgiveness and giving to charity. (And, um, slaughtering chickens.)

Associated Literary Passages: Leviticus 16:29 and 23:27; Numbers 29:7-11 and Mishnah Tract Yomah 8:1

The Sabbath of All Sabbaths: Saturday (“the sabbath”) is to Jews what Sunday is to Christians; it is the “day of rest” when synagogues hold their weekly worship services. Yom Kippur is considered the “Sabbath of all Sabbaths” because, not only is it a day of complete rest (no work, no driving, etc.) but it’s a day of fasting and other restrictions: no washing or bathing, no perfumes or deodorants, no wearing leather shoes, and no sex. Services run all day on Yom Kippur — from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — with a break around 3 p.m. People wear white, and services generally end with a long blow from the shofar.

Coolest Thing about Yom Kippur: During their ever-so-long day of synagogue services (decidedly NOT the coolest thing about Yom Kippur, given the no-deodorant rule), participants take part in a “group confession.” They confess to being aggressive, slanderous, acting callously, and a number of other things — usually involving behaving badly toward others in speech or deed. The cool thing is that the sins are confessed in the plural — “we” have done this, “we” have done that — emphasizing “communal responsibility for sins.” Now, I don’t believe in “sins,” AT ALL, and I know that, in this sense, they are only talking about the Jewish people. But I think if more human beings could adopt even a little of this attitude, “we” could kick up the world’s compassion level a notch or two. Minus the chickens, of course.

Appropriate Greeting: “Have an easy fast.” (“Happy Yom Kippur” is not considered appropriate, as Yom Kippur is not a “happy” holiday.)


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