Thursday, June 9, 2011

Non-Religious Parenting

One of the most common questions people ask me is 'How will you raise your children in regards to religion and God?' That is a great question! I have three beautiful and spirited girls. My oldest is 5, my middle child is 2, and the youngest is 4 months old.

My wife and I want our girls to have a broad religious background and a basic understanding of all major world religions. All religions will be presented in the same way; none favored and none presented with low regard. Of course we will also discuss science, evolution, agnosticism, and atheism. We do not hope to raise carbon copies of ourselves. Our goal is to raise children that are open minded and accepting of all religious views. Then, when our girls are old enough to make an informed and cognitive decision, we hope they pick a path that will lead them to happiness. Weather that path leads them to God, Science, or Buddha we will support them whole-heartedly and with passion.

My wife and I know what kind of education we would like our children to have, the question for us is 'how do you teach a five year old about various world religions?'

Step 1 - Educate yourself! You can't expect to teach your child anything if you don't know the subject matter first. There are many resources on the web and in the library regarding religion and science. Do some research and ensure that you will be able to answer any questions they may have. Does this mean you need to memorize every verse of the Koran or every page of The Origin of Species? Of course not; but you should understand the basic beliefs of each religion or scientific principle.

Step 2 - Pick 1-3 religions and/or scientific concepts at a time. Present the concepts slowly, over a set period of time. Don't bombard your kids with information because they won't be able to grasp the concepts or remember them.

Step 3 - Focus on the positive and simplify the concepts, especially for younger children. When you are doing your research (see Step 1), select a few selling points you want your children to know. Here is an example of a scientific lesson and a religious lesson:
--Evolution-- "Where do people come from? Well, some people believe that chimps and humans have a common ancestor. That means a long long time ago there was an animal that kind of looked like a human and kind of looked like a chimp. Can you think of ways we look like a chimp" You could compare pictures of humans / chimps / apes / etc... My 5 year old really grasped this concept because she can clearly see the similarities.
--Christianity-- "Who is Jesus? Well, some people believe he was the son of God. Jesus accepted the outcasts, he helped the sick and poor, and told people to love one another" By focusing on the positive messages, the child will hopefully understand the true meaning of the religion.

Notice that both evolution and Christianity were presented in the same way; 'some people believe...' When you enforce the concept that everybody has their on belief system, it teaches the child that it is okay to be religiously diverse.

Step 4 - Be honest, answer their questions, and don't be afraid to say "I don't know." If your child asks, "what do you believe?" Tell them, and tell them why. Show them that you made an educated and rational decision about your beliefs. Lead by example in hopes they will also make an educated and rational decision.

I ran across a video on youtube a few months back where the speaker talks about religious diversity within the family setting. Take a look:

Other Resources: Parenting Beyond Belief

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