Skip to content

Letting kids explore religions

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. 


Thoughts come from your head

Not from some spirit, god, ancestor, ghost, or other paranormal source. The remarkable jazz vocalists Betty Carter and Diane Schuur have sung on Sesame Street about the true source of thoughts and dreams.

I once spoke to an LDS scientist whose testimony seemed to center in his belief that he could distinguish insights from outsights. I just made up the word outsight, so I might as well define it here. Outsight is a thought that is attributed to a supernatural entity, most commonly a spirit or god. I used to do this myself, giving credit to any wise words or noble thoughts to the Spirit.

There’s other kid-appropriate freethought music like this available on YouTube. I use a free and super-easy YouTube-to-MP3 converter to capture audio that I can then play in the car. Often the messages of such music offer drive-time opportunities to talk to my boys about concepts that are unlikely to come up while listening to the radio. Regarding copyright, much of this audio can’t be purchased anywhere because the songs were created specifically for video, and sometimes specifically for YouTube. See for example Evolution Made Us All, Cambrian Explosion, Godless and Free, It’s Only Natural, Rama’s Praises, and Beware of Dogma to get a sense of what’s available. These and other YouTube finds are in my “Freethought” playlist. Let me know if you have any other kid-appropriate videos to recommend for the playlist!

Help me understand this

The Atlantic reported today that Muslims are the LEAST likely religious group to believe that targeting and killing civilians is sometimes justified, followed by atheists and agnostics. You know who was MOST likely to believe that targeting and killing civilians is sometimes justified? Mormons.

The Gallup poll question was this: “Some people think that for the military to target and kill civilians is sometimes justified, while others think that kind of violence is never justified? Which is your opinion.” A) Never, B) Sometimes, C) Depends.

Here were the results that interested me:

Muslims: 78% Never, 21% Sometimes
Atheists/Agnostics/Nonreligious: 56% Never, 43% Sometimes
Mormons: 33% Never, 64% Sometimes; 3% Depends

Image from:

Protestants, Catholics, and Jews trailed Mormons in thinking it’s sometimes justified to target and kill civilians.

“Am I alone in being horrified by the percentage of Americans who are sometimes okay with efforts to ‘target and kill’ civilians?” asks the article’s Conor Friedersdorf. Obviously I’m with the 56% (only 56%?) of nonreligious folk who say, “Never.”

Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you would have answered that it’s sometimes okay to TARGET AND KILL CIVILIANS (and that should be over half of you) please help me understand. Leave a comment and clue me in.

True colors

It was my first day back at church camp. I had come to the camp the summer before and loved it. Our counselor asked each of the boys in our cabin to introduce themselves and to say why we were there, if we had been there before and if so what we liked about camp.

I said that I felt like camp was a place where I could show my true colors. I’m not sure exactly what I meant by that—I certainly wasn’t thinking about my burgeoning attractions for other guys—but I know that’s the phrase I used. There was a beautiful television commercial for Kodak film that had aired the previous holiday season using the song.

It turned out that “true colors” sounded just a little too suspicious to a group of teenage boys. I was embarrassed to find out later that they had been referring to me as “T.C.” One of the boys apologetically admitted at the end of camp that he understood what I meant, that he also felt that camp was a place he could be authentic, whatever that meant for him.

The irony of my remark at church camp, and of the setting of the Kodak commercial, of course, is that nearly every community of faith is more concerned about conformity than authenticity. According to Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct, unifying a group of people is the purpose of religion and the evolutionary advantage that religion lent to our ancestors. Even the Latin root of religion, religare, means “to bind together.” The singing, the dancing, the rituals, the shared stories, all serve to unify individuals within a group. But what happens when an individual just doesn’t believe the supernatural claims, or is gay, or is the wrong color? Some differences can be suppressed or hidden, but only to the detriment of the individual.

“Imagine a world where everyone feels like they can be themselves and be accepted for who they are.” These were words uttered at the Social Justice Summit that I helped plan in February. The sentiment was repeated at the Social Justice Training Institute that I just attended last week. The group facilitator talked about presenting oneself authentically in the world, and allowing others to feel physically and psychologically safe to present themselves authentically as well.

I want my own kids to feel safe to be who they are, to state their likes and dislikes, their beliefs or lack thereof, without feeling the suffocating pressure to lie in order to fit in. I know that pressure will be there, especially in high school, but the challenge will be to foster their sense of self confidence that they are fine just the way they are.

Thank you, Phil Collins, for making a video just for this particular post, complete with kids and religious imagery (including a devil and a unicorn?!—they’re mentioned 9 times in the Bible). Roseli loves you Phil, so this was just perfect!

And thank you, Rosine, for allowing me to be authentic. I love you.

Who are you?

If you have kids and they’re white, have you ever talked to them about what it means to be white or what it’s like to experience racism? I haven’t. But do people of color talk to their kids about race? Sure they do.

If you have kids and they’re able bodied, have you talked to them about what it’s like to be differently abled? Again, I haven’t. But do differently abled parents or parents of a child who is differently abled talk about their unique experiences and challenges? You bet.

I just returned from four days at the Social Justice Training Institute where one of the attendees made a comment that we should talk to our children about our privileged and subordinated identities. Why? Because being aware of our privileged and subordinated identities helps us better understand how they impact our lives. Only when members of society acknowledge their relative positions of power can we progress toward a society that is equitable, where all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.

His comment stuck with me. I realized that I talk to my kids about sexual orientation and religion, two areas surrounding my main subordinated identities, but my other identities are largely off the radar. My hope is to help my boys feel comfortable with their own identities, some of which are fixed and others that will emerge later, and to feel comfortable with the identities of others whether they are shared or different.

Teach your children well

…from the Old Testament. Forbid them from intermarriage. Love one child more than the next. Lie to foreigners that your wife is your sister. Conspire with a loved one to deceive an elderly family member, and you too will be walking in the righteous path of the Lord.

These four new stories were just added to the book of Genesis in The Brick Testament.

Consider again that pale blue dot

I just love this video.