We are raising our children without religion. I suppose if you’d like to put a label on what we are, you could call us atheists, free thinkers, or humanists, but it has always seemed a bit odd to label something that simply does not exist. I have been without belief since I was a child, though back then, I tried in every way I could to deny that reality.
I dutifully attended CCD (catechism education) classes in preparation for the Catholic sacraments. As I sat in these classes and learned the history of the church, the thing that struck me was the place of women. I was only 12 years old, but I was certain that I wanted to exist in a world that values equal treatment for men and women. The Catholic Church and many other religious institutions do not hold women in equal regard. I felt deeply that women could do anything men could do.
Despite my conflict with the Church, I continued to try to find a place in religion. I attended a Catholic high school, where I had to take mandatory religion classes every semester. Each class only continued to fracture my already broken thoughts about God.
I met my husband in college and though we never directly spoke about it, he seemed to be in the same place. He was also raised in Catholic family, but we didn’t feel compelled to go to mass during this time. Religion didn’t factor into our everyday lives. The only time we found ourselves in a church was for a wedding or funeral. We still weren’t ready to truly face the fact that we were living without religion, so we were married in a church. To do this, we had to participate in marriage-preparation classes. We had fun laughing at the class leaders’ antiquated views of married life, but didn’t get anything valuable out of the experience.
When we returned to Rochester after living overseas, we wanted to become more involved in the community. Finding a church was something we thought we should do. We attended a few and settled on one that seemed to have a young, vibrant community. Things were okay for a few years of our regular attendance. Minnesota was debating a constitutional amendment to deny gay people the right to marry, and we wholeheartedly disagreed with it. The Church did not, and the Priest often talked about it. We baptized our two children, but eventually we knew our hearts couldn’t accept their discrimination, and we stopped going.
For us, religion isn’t necessary to raise kind, smart, successful children. We are raising our kids to live in an evidence-based world where facts are important. We’ve taught them morals, not based on rules from a book, but rather based on empathy – the Golden Rule. Hurting others hurts you, and it hurts our world. Our children think critically and desire the truth, but they also have been taught to be respectful toward others’ beliefs. When my mother-in-law tries to read to them from her Bible, my son listens politely, despite his lack of belief. Our daughter enjoys going to church with family because she likes to do things with the people she loves.
So what does this mean for their future? I don’t really have an opinion on that. If my children choose to find religion valuable in their adult lives, that is their choice. That’s the best thing about raising our kids this way; we don’t have to disparage religion because we just don’t focus on it. If they ask, they’ll know our history, and I’ll tell them why I made the choices I made. Otherwise, we don’t spend time thinking or talking about religion.
A forced belief system (or lack of belief system) likely will result in a rebellion. Besides, children are going to learn more about how to be a good person from watching your actions. You can talk about the Bible all you want, but if you are intolerant toward others, THIS is what they will pick up. My husband and I work hard to give back to our community. We are involved in diverse groups of people where we are open-minded toward others’ differences. We donate to important causes that we believe in. I hope they model how to respond to life the way they see us responding: with respect, kindness, empathy, passion, hard work, and care for others. My belief is that this will bring them success.