Being that I’m hopelessly entangled in an on-again/off-again affair with procrastination, which, sadly, is much more often on-again than off-again, I have ample time to stumble across articles such as this: What Should Atheist Parents Tell their Kids about Religion? Rest assured, I am not here to argue the existence of God or the importance of religion. I just want to know what happened to truth and conviction.
The theme of the above mentioned article is one I come across constantly in parenting columns and blogs. The basic premise is, “I wholeheartedly believe x, but I’m going to make sure I expose my kids to the whole alphabet, so they can choose for themselves which letter they believe in.” This simply blows my mind. Regardless of what your beliefs are, if you believe them to be true, why would you not want to ensure that truth is communicated to your children?
For the Christian parents, if you believe that there is life after death, and that such life consists of eternal bliss or eternal suffering, why would you not do everything in your power to ensure your child obtains the former rather than the later? For the atheists, if you believe that religious beliefs are a waste of time and limit your child’s potential to ever become fully educated or enlightened or will lead them down the path of bigotry and hate, why would you encourage your child to start down a path that would lead to such a fate?
If you take out the polarizing topic of religious beliefs or other ideologies, it becomes apparent that truth really does exist, and that parents generally do their best to protect their children from the consequences of ignoring truth. Good parents wouldn’t tell little Johnny that stoves are hot, but leave it up to little Johnny to decide whether or not he wants to touch the stove. Or suppose little Johnny had CIPA, the genetic disorder which would prevent him from feeling pain. If his mom walked into the kitchen and saw Johnny with his hand on the burner, would she say, “Oh, that’s nice Johnny. I’m glad you’re happy with your hand there. Never mind that the flesh is melting off your bones.” Of course not! She would scoop her baby up, regardless of his age, and protect him.
So what does all of this mean? I figure it leads to one of two conclusions. Either, parents are not actually as convicted about their beliefs as they pretend to be, or they don’t really mean that their child can choose to believe something different. I find the first rather frightening, and the second rather pathetic.
Now, just to be clear, I’m not talking about things that are a matter of opinion or preference. Regarding the country in which your child may one day reside, favorite colors, potential professions, of course I believe children should be exposed to a wide variety of possibilities. But when it comes to the things that matter most, the beliefs that are the basis for one’s entire world view and ethical code, shouldn’t a good parent be a little more protective and proactive? If the parent believes there is fundamental truth to their beliefs, why would they provide their child with the opportunity to choose a life path that would rob them of the beauty that comes from truth?
Is it that, deep down, parents don’t actually believe the “truths” they profess? If there is no truth, if everything really is relative, if Sheryl Crow was right and whatever makes you happy can’t be bad, why do parents waste their time believing, or not believing, as the case may be? If everything is relative and Johnny can be happy and fulfilled and safe on any path of ideology he chooses, why waste your time with an ideology to begin with? Why bother having an opinion about the existence (or lack thereof) of a higher power if it doesn’t actually matter either way? It seems that extending this train of thought can lead to some pretty scary implications, but I’ll save that for another day.
Or is it that parents don’t really mean that Johnny can choose whatever letter he wants? Maybe parents just say this to be trendy. Or maybe they are using it as a twisted test of good parenting or as a means to validate whatever it is they believe. Do they just want to be able to look back and say, “Look at what I good example I was for Johnny. I exposed him to every possible belief system under the sun, yet he still chose to believe the same thing I believe. I am such a good parent, and, obviously he recognizes truth when he sees it.” But what happens if he doesn’t choose the same?
Obviously, there’s no cut and dry response to the questions I’m posing. But I just don’t understand why people don’t stand behind what they believe in, especially when it comes to passing on beliefs to their children. If something is true, why would you risk depriving your child of the benefits that come from living a life lit by that truth?