Below is a guest post on parenting from sex blogger Kendra Holliday.
Where Did I Go Right?
My Heathen Daughter
by Kendra Holliday, of The Beautiful Kind
I didn’t become atheist until I was 12, when I dropped my baby sister headfirst on a hardwood floor and realized that praying wasn’t going to save her life one bit. She survived unscathed (babies are made of rubber), though she still blames me whenever she has a moment of stupidity (no comment on how often that occurs).
Even before that, I was cynical when it came to religion. I was raised Methodist, which means I was forced to wear a lavender polyester pleated dress with a lace collar and attend Sunday School in a smelly church basement with kids who pulled my chair out from under me whenever I stood up to sing.
My heart wasn’t into learning about Jesus, so I suffered through the lessons in order to get to the donuts following class, perking up only when something salacious happened, such as when a nearly nude man was nailed to a cross and left to die after a long, drawn out public humiliation scene. That part was way more interesting than the parts about him cuddling lambs, children and lepers. Also, I was grossed out by the stories of women washing his feet with their hair.
At 23, I married a Jewish agnostic, and was glad to convert to Judaism in order to please his family. I liked the traditions and was fine with raising any kids we had Jewish. I figured it was all make-believe anyway, and they would eventually make their own decision about religion like I did.
When our daughter was born, I decided I would not a) drop her on her head, nor b) push atheism on her; rather, I would present her with ideas and let her think for herself. I actually hoped she would find comfort in religion – I envied those swaddled in a security blanket of faith. It seemed so much easier to believe what you were told, no matter how outlandish the stories, instead of thinking critically for yourself.
One thing I wasn’t planning on, however, was getting a divorce when my daughter was two years old. That really sucked.
I also didn’t plan on my ex-husband insisting she attend a private Jewish school, where every morning began with services and an hour-long lesson from the Old Testament. He wanted me to help pay for the elite education, but I refused.
“Why can’t you join a synagogue and raise her Jewish at home?” I complained.
But no, he wanted someone else to raise her Jewish, so she would fit in with the very cliquish local community. The Jews I know in St. Louis are not a humble lot – they take the Chosen People card they were handed very seriously. You get extra points for obedient children with advanced degrees, a condo in Vail or Miami, and an intimate relationship with large amounts of cash – perfectly respectable, albeit superficial, goals to be sure.
My little daughter was studying the Torah at school, and we had ongoing discussions about god. When she was six, it bothered her that I was atheist. She declared, “If you don’t believe in god, you don’t believe in anything.”
I argued, “Well I can see you, so I believe in you, but why should I believe in things I can’t see?”
She shot me a serious look and asked sternly, “Do you believe in your heart?”
She may have believed in god for a time, but, like me, she found Jesus creepy. “I’ll bet the person who wrote that is a drugoholic,” she speculated, about a fear-mongering JESUS SAVES flyer someone left on our car windshield.
Soon after, she announced, “I like puppies more than Jesus.”
A few months later, we were taking a moonlight stroll with a boy her age.
Always one to exercise her vivid imagination, she told the boy, “I think there are some goblins hiding up ahead in those bushes and we need to cast a spell to protect ourselves!”
He said, “You’re creeping me out!” Then he reassured her, “Don’t worry, we have Jesus on our side. I feel like angels are always looking down on me.”
Then it was her turn to say to him, “Now you’re creeping ME out!”
She was nine when she announced her atheism. After four years of learning stories from the Old Testament at her school, she decided the things I discussed with her made more sense than the things they told her.
For instance, I asked her if god created light on the first day, and then the sun on the fourth day, what was the original light source? She asked her teachers, and they reacted with annoyance at her logical question.
We also talked about raining frogs and oceans of blood and the science behind it (wind funnels and red algae), and after getting those explanations, my daughter stopped believing in the bible and focused her energy on believing in herself.
Now, she is 11 years old, and I continue to swell with pride whenever she shares something brilliant and insightful.
Yesterday, I asked her, “What do you think of adults who believe in god and told you all those bible stories?”
She thought for a moment, then answered, “When I was little, I was told god was above me, all powerful, and better than me. They tried brainwashing me. They taught me about locust plagues, and Cain slaying Abel, but they didn’t act like that was a terrible thing, just matter-of-fact, you know, sometimes brothers kill each other.”
I asked, “Sounds like they told you all kinds of crazy stories. Did they tell you the one about the two daughters who got their dad drunk and raped him?”
“NO!” She exclaimed. “That sounds quite interesting!”
“I know, right?” I paused. “Do you think they were trying to trick you? Do you think they believe it themselves?”
She said, “I think they are naïve. Deep down, people don’t truly believe in god, but they want to be protected, they want to be safe. They want someone to do right for them.
They know about all the suffering in the world, but they don’t do anything about it. They want ‘god’ to handle it.”
She concluded, “They want god to do their laundry.”