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Letting kids explore religions

August 30, 2011

National Public Radio’s Michel Martin held a thoughtful interview with two moms who are allowing their children to be exposed to diverse religious traditions.

Asra Nomani, an observant Muslim and professor of journalism at Georgetown University, described her struggle with  raising her son in a faith she does not fully believe herself.

I thought I had made an intentional choice: I’m going to raise him Muslim. A few years later, I went and talked to a class, and they asked me how I’m raising my son, and I said, ‘Oh, I’m raising him Muslim.’ Then I went home that night and I realized, you know what, I spent my adulthood getting out of my system so much of the doctrine that I was given as a child in Islam, why am I going to do that do my son? Why am I going to teach him doctrine that I don’t even fully believe?

And I had this conversation with my mother then when he was four, and she said, ‘Oh Asra, why don’t you want to pass the tradition on? And I told my mom, and maybe this will offend people, but it’s just how I felt, which was, ‘Mom, if I was a crack addict, I wouldn’t want to give my son the addition.’ And to me, a lot of times religion can be just like that. I can’t get it out of my system. I can’t get the hard wiring out.

I want to free my son. I want to free him to express his spirituality and express his sense of faith in whatever form it takes. So we have Nordic god statues at a meditation table. He considers himself the sole practitioner of Greek mythology in the world.

The other guest in the interview, Kara Powell, told of how she realized that by raising her daughter Catholic, she had simultaneously and inadvertently been keeping her ignorant of other faith traditions.

I had her go to Catholic school like I went. But at some point I realized I was passing on the faith just because it’s the only faith I knew. And I ended up putting her in a public school. And I remember going to her winter concert in third grade. And they had a song about dradles, and it was kind of like the Jewish kids would sing about dradles, and I didn’t know anything about being Jewish. And then a young black kid got up and sang a Negro spiritual and it was beautiful and it was something I’d never been exposed to. And I realized I had been passing on to her one thing and cutting her off from all the other interesting religions and ideas and concepts, and I thought it’s time for me to allow those things into her life.

You can listen to the interview here. These moms’ comments are reminiscent of a commentary that a Jewish mother wrote a couple months ago about losing her – and her kids’ – religion. 

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  1. “I want to free my son. I want to free him to express his spirituality and express his sense of faith in whatever form it takes. So we have Nordic god statues at a meditation table. He considers himself the sole practitioner of Greek mythology in the world.”

    – What a load of crap that statement is! If you want to free your son, then free him from faith. Christ sakes, why would you want to trade one form of idiocy for another?

  2. True Andrew. My 7-year-old likes the Greek gods, and we’re reading D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths in the evenings now. He doesn’t believe in these gods, he just thinks they’re cool, and I suspect Nomani’s son may feel the same. Exposing kids to other religions can serve to immunize them against faith.

  3. Dude, there is a big difference between your kids reading about gods (as mine do) and setting up a a meditation table — that’s apples and oranges.

  4. Jonathan permalink

    So in other words, instead of allowing him to choose for himself, “free him from faith” by “indoctrinating” him with atheism. Whether it’s true or not is not the point. If you tell your child there is only one correct way to believe instead of allowing freedom of choice, then you are indoctrinating.

    In 100 years, people are going to look at our understanding of the world and think of our theories as “idiocy” as well, so you might want to pipe down a bit. I thought atheists were supposed to be oh so tolerant.

    And I had a mind to comment on how I enjoy the study of other faiths and do so quite extensively. You should see my library. I’m not one who’s afraid to see what others believe, as evidenced by the fact that I come here so frequently. Maybe I’ll say more when I’m more in the mood.

    • @Johnathon, it’s not possible to “indoctrinate” people with atheism. It’s the condition into which all children are born. Religion has to be taught to them. There are no atheist “teachings”, it’s just observation followed by logical deductive reasoning. ALL religion is crap and is only worthy of study in order to try and figure out how religious idiots think and act.

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