I catch a lot of heat for omitting religion in Oliver's childhood. Jared and I have decided that it's best for our family and for our kids. Oliver can think for himself. He is smart. He will choose what he thinks is right when the time comes. Colin, too, will follow suit when he gets older. If they choose differently than we do, we will support them, no questions asked. They are our children and Jared and I want them to be happy.
I know this. I really, truly, 100% feel like we are doing right by our children in this way.
Yet it's still hard for me when people, well-meaning or no, tell me that I'm somehow harming my kids by doing this. It's hard to defend myself without turning everything into a huge argument, or worse, a personal attack. It's hard to say to somebody, "No. I disagree with you."
Since people often define themselves by their religions, even hinting that I disagree with their fundamental beliefs makes it seem like I am devaluing them as a people. I'm not. I never am. I never intend to harm people by my lack of beliefs. I don't intend to be confrontational, but nothing will make people argue more than a disagreement over religion. It's just a fact of life.
I'm not very forthcoming about being agnostic. I'd rather not argue with people. I don't like the constant pressure to be "converted." I don't want to hear your tales of woe about how I am wrong and I will come to see the light one day. But most of all, I don't mention my agnosticism because of the stigma. I don't want everyone out there thinking I am some evil, sinful person living without morals, values, and rules.
I'm not. We're not. We're good people, leading good lives. We have more or less the same "Christian values" as everyone else does, only we're not basing them on hopes or fears of redemption or condemnation. We disregard scripture and canon and tradition and instead use our own brains and our own consciences as guides. We're holding ourselves accountable for our actions just because we think it's right. Because we think people are good. Because we think we are good. Because we think everyone is deserving of love and nobody is below forgiveness. Period.
We live by the golden rule that transcends religion: Do unto others as others you would have them do unto you.
But the second people hear that we're agnostic, or even atheist? They're blinded to the goodness that might be in us. They assume we're "lost" or confused. They assume we're "heathens" who deserve a good baptizing and an outpouring of faith. It's like no religious person can accept that we have chosen this and that not believing can be somebody's informed decision.
Last week as Oliver and I were walking to the car after preschool, another mother was pulling her son through the parking lot. It was drizzling and the lot was slick. The boy slipped and fell and the bag of plastic fruit he had slung over his shoulder went skittering across the pavement. The mother yanked the boy up by his arm and started screaming at him.
I stood there gaping at that woman yelling at her 3-4 year old boy for tripping and falling. I couldn't believe it. I stopped and stared dumbfounded.
But do you know what Oliver did? He tugged on my hand and pulled me over to the boy and his mother. "It's okay," he said to them, "It was just a mistake. Calm down now. We can fix this together. It will be okay." And with that he squatted down and picked up the scuffed toys, dropping them one by one into the tote bag they came from. When everything was set back to right, Oliver smiled, waved goodbye to the boy, and headed back to our car like it was nothing. He stood up to an adult stranger, acting of his own volition, and did what he knew was right. He didn't expect any reward. He didn't do it because the Bible told him so. He did it just for the sake of doing good.
How could anybody look at that boy and accuse us of teaching him wrong? How could anyone tell me that a boy like that could be sent to hell for the way I'm raising him? I just can't see it.
After I got everybody all buckled in and we started heading home, I looked at Oliver in the rear view mirror and thought about how he handled the situation. He echoed my words but he fearlessly put them to use on his own. He put our beliefs into action, and that is the hardest part of being any religion.
"You did a good thing, you know that?"
"Yeah. I did. I am a good boy."
"Yes. You are. Did you know that boy?"
"No, he's just my new friend. I don't know him yet."
I rest assured knowing that if he does choose to adopt the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other faith when the time comes, he will be the best Christian, Muslim, Jew, or whatever else he chooses to be. And that's the best any parent can hope for.