Image via WikipediaI have not read the actual book (Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion), but I thought it was an apt title for my own story as a parent, because in the end, even with everything I dealt with as a child myself, I somehow managed to parent beyond belief, at least beyond belief in Evangelical Fundamentalist teachings. This also included beyond the trappings I still had to pull my own self out of as an adult too. I do not know how I did it, but I seemed to have done it.
When I was little, I made a vow to myself not to do to my children what my parents, grandparents, and other relatives did to me. This also included on the religious front too. Now of course I did not have children yet, but like every little girl I had dreams about adulthood and family. To this day, I believe I kept that promise to myself and the other day, a conversation with my older son, seemed to confirm that I did in at least one area.
When my sons were little, I did not allow anyone to take them to an Evangelical Fundamentalist church, not even their own grandmother, to her dismay. That was part of my vow and I did pretty well with that because neither knew what it was like to attend one until they were teens. They only knew from my rantings that I did not agree with the beliefs of their grandmother or any of my other relatives.
I would "censor" everything my mother gave them that was religious, making sure it did not talk about "hellfire and damnation", before I allowed my sons free access to them. One Christmas she gave them several Children's Bible story books and saw me inspecting them. She asked, "Is what I gave them OK?" I sort of gave her a white lie and said, "No, they are fine." They were only fine in the respect that they did not preach any particular Christian doctrine, but told the stories in a manner more appealing to children. For all I knew, some Episcopalian wrote the stories to suit children, because it did not appear to be by any Evangelical author.
While I took my sons to an Episcopal Church until they had no interest in attending anymore and only to appease my mother, they had no actual interest in the stories, except for two- one a piece. My older son recently told me that he liked Samson and Delilah, only because Samson had long hair and “kicked ass” when someone cut it. I reminded him, that that did not happen until his hair grew back. My older son said, “Yeah, but he still kicked ass!” My younger son liked the story about "Joseph and the Coat of Many Colours", although I am uncertain as to why.
Regardless, my older son had no clue what it was like for me until he attended my grandmother's funeral. Up until that time, he only heard my rants on various things concerning Christianity, including in a priest's office. The funny thing was, just like myself as a young person, he wanted out of that church as fast as reasonably possible. I thought it was rather ironic, but when we got home, he said, "Mom, I am beginning to understand you."
The sermon was on "The Path of Salvation" and even my mother and aunt, who requested their minister preach on the topic, thought she was going to have an altar call during the funeral. She did not, thank goodness, because I did not want my son exposed to that, even if he was eighteen at that time. However, he felt ripped off, not because the sermon made no sense, but because he wanted to learn something about his great grandmother, who he hardly knew thanks to a few family disputes over religious stupidity. He did not learn a thing about her. Instead, what he got was some bizarre religious concept, which neither one of us can actually explain, because neither one of us understand what the hell they are talking about. We only know such a concept exists and it has to do with how one gets to heaven by following Jesus, Wesleyan style. This means being a "Perfect Christian", whatever that is.
Then the other day, we were once again talking about my mother and my teenage years, when my mother dragged me to church regularly, whether I wanted to go or not. This was after her last “born again” experience. Before that, it was very sporadic that we went to church. Even so, when we did go, I always found it a frightening experience, especially her behaviour after the first two times she was “born again”. She only got worse as I got older and my teen years were not much fun at all. Up until recent years, thanks to her forcing me to go as a teen and calling people heathens if they did not go, I worried about what other people would say about me not being there if I missed church for any reason, even as an adult. I did not want to deal with people telling me this or that all because I did not attend every time the church doors were open.
I also told my son that belief was not a choice, which it was not, and it took years for me to realize I did have a “choice”. He had no clue what I meant by that, so I explained that it was a case of "believing" whether you did or not and IF you said you did not, you caught the wrath of the adults, which I did not want to deal with. So, I said I did when I did not, just to keep them from getting angry with me. As long as you said you did, regardless if you did not, everything was fine and you did not catch hell from the adults.
This is not to say I did not believe some things about it. I did, but it was not what they believed nor did I believe it as strongly as any of them did and do. If any of us kids (my step-cousins and I) said anything that did not stick to what the adults wanted us to believe, we got the Inquisition and my mother still tries to give me the Inquisition to this day, if I say something she deems not to be Christian. Which is becoming more and more frequent and quite a challenge to deal with. There will come a day, probably soon, in which I will confirm to her, I am not a Christian, but rather a humanist and “the Inquisition” will be worse than ever, I am sure of that.
He still did not quite understand, except he remembers the anger my mother spews when we say something contradictory to her beliefs, so he too tries to avoid it. I further explained to him that every piece of information that came my way was censored, adding that we did not have the internet back then, so it was very easy to censor things. I did not get to read anything unless it met the adults' approval. My son jokingly said, "Thank God for the internet." He knew I knew he was joking, because he knows I usually go on rants that humans actually did it, but I did not that time. Instead, I proceeded to tell him about the time when I was fourteen or fifteen years old, in my room, and minding my own business as I read with great interest some information about humanism. I forgot exactly what was now, but I remember it was on humanism and when I stumbled onto humanism as an adult, it all seemed very familiar to me.
I was so intrigued by what I was reading that I did not notice my mother had walked in unannounced, until the humanist reading was suddenly snatched out of my hands. Her face was so red with anger as she shouted, "THAT'S NOT CHRISTIAN!", which she still screams to this day, if something contradicts her beliefs.
I had no idea what I had done wrong, but she walked out with MY reading material without any explanation. I never saw that particular reading material again. To this day, I have no clue what she did with it, except maybe threw it away, like she did so many other things that did not fit her dogma, including Jehovah Witness material.
When I was finished telling him about the censorship and invasion of privacy, he said, "I am so glad you did not do that to us." I agreed with him, adding that is the worst thing you can do a teenager. As a teen, I knew there was a bigger world out there than just my relatives' religious world, because I spent most of my childhood in it, but I was not allowed to learn anything about more about it. The door was slammed shut on the real world and the only thing I was to learn was their religious beliefs, the Bible, Billy Graham, and other like approved reading.
Instead of an occasional foot into the religious world, it was now a 24/7 ordeal, which made life even more miserable than just living with it only when we visited her relatives. I went from a miserably abusive world, in which we had to stay in, due to her relatives religious beliefs, to a miserable religious one after she finally left my father. While I was glad to be free of him, I was not so glad that my reading activities had suddenly become limited and I was forced to believe what they taught, rather I wanted to or not. It was not a choice, unless I wanted to face their primitive anger over it.
Music was a different story, even if they preferred I listened to Christian music. However, it was not censored as much as the reading material was. What I read was more important than the music I listened to as a teenager. I do not know why reading was more important than music, but to my relatives it was. Regardless, I still had to parrot them, if I wanted to get along with them, no matter what I thought. As long as I kept my thoughts to myself, I was fine.
However, my language was censored too. I could not say any bad words or say “God” unless I was talking about Him and in a respectful manner. I had to respect my elders, regardless of what they did to me. This included my bio-father too, for they were/are certain that God will deal with him appropriately and I should not be angry with the man, because anger is a sin.
Thus even my emotions were censored, but even my sons know that is not what the Bible says about anger. Still, any display of emotion beyond happiness or joyfulness, was a sin. I am sure if I had always grown up in that religious environment on a constant basis, my life would have been even more miserable than it was. Even worse if she had not left my abusive father and constantly enforced religion on me at the same time. However, that does not mean some of these beliefs were not imposed on me before she left him. They just were not a constant, except for the one where we were forced to stay with my abusive father due to their religious beliefs. Again, none of it was a choice. It was do or else.
Obviously, I did not take any of this crap to heart, for if I did, I would have raised my sons in a similar manner. Instead, I taught them the Bible was filled with stories and were not meant to be taken literally, there was no talk of Satan, hell, or alike in our home, and above all, I taught my sons to think for themselves, instead of blindly following others. They know the Bible is very errant and that it is filled with myths, but they are not afraid to read any of it. My sons have also been free to read anything else they want to read. If they had questions I could not answer, I would get them the appropriate reading material. Sometimes I would even take them to the appropriate person, like a doctor when they hit puberty, to answer their questions. All of this has made for some very lively discussions between my sons and me because almost no topic has ever been off limits in my home. They expressed their thoughts, even if we did not agree and sometimes I would express mine, if I felt like it.
The moment my older son said, "I am glad you did not do that to us," I felt as though I had done something right as a parent and knew that in at least one area, I managed to keep the vow I had made to myself as a child. I know I was not a perfect parent. What parent is? However, when your adult child says to you such things as, "I am starting to understand you" and "I am glad you did not do that to us", it gives you a good feeling and an acknowledgment that whatever parent you had set out to be at the start, you succeeded, at least in the one area they are referring to at the time.
In this case, with one son who claims to be “Tao Buddhist” and another who states he makes his own rules with no religious affiliation, I would say that, without any help from other non-theists, I managed to parent "Beyond Belief". I do not know how I did it, except to do the exact opposite of what my relatives did to me. My sons are now eighteen and twenty and to this day, no one has indoctrinated them into Evangelical Fundamentalism and I hope no one ever does. They are not even Christian for that matter. So, I must have done something right as a parent.