Monday, September 17, 2007

On religion

When we meet new people and I mention Moppet's name, something I often hear is 'Oh, but that's not a Hindu name, is it?' No, it's not, I reply and wait for the inevitable follow up question: So you're Indian but not Hindu? What are you then?

For simplicity's sake I say we're Christian, and while it is factually correct, I often feel like a hypocrite saying it. Moppet's Papa and I are Christians simply because of the families we were born into but neither of us practice the religion. Sure, we got married in a church, and Moppet has been baptized, but that was more for our extended families than for us. Christmas and Easter are celebrated, but as social events, not religious ones.

I'm still finding my own way through this, but the clearest way in which I can explain my position is that I believe in God (or some sort of a higher power) and not in any religion. It never really worried me until Moppet arrived. Because I don't know how I'm going to explain this to Moppet. I would like her to understand the religion she is born into, but I want her to choose the religion she follows, if at all. And I don't want my own beliefs, or lack of them, to influence her choice.

But is that possible? Parents are such enormous influences on their children. And aren't we really, at some level, bringing up our children to be stronger, faster, smarter, more successful versions of ourselves?

In my own family, my father is agnostic and my mother, a believer. My dad ensured that I went to Sunday school and got religious instruction, but he also encouraged me to question, think for myself and make my own choices. While this has been his guiding parenting principle across all things in life, in the matter of religion in particular, I think his own beliefs have influenced mine greatly. I remember the long discussions we have had on religion, some when I was just 10 or 11 years old. I remember his honest explanation of his agnostic position, and today I wonder if my experience of religion and spirituality as a child might have been different if it hadn't been seen through my dad's agnostic lens.

As an adult, I have no regrets about that. But as a mother, I wonder if I can be involved in my daughter's understanding and experience of religion without colouring it with my own.

I wish I knew.

Edited to add: I realise that the post does not quite explain why I want Moppet to experience and understand religion, if I don't believe myself.

One, as Kiran mentioned in the comments, religion does bring a sense of identity. There is a sense of community and belonging that I do not want to deprive Moppet of. Growing up, we went to church as a family every Sunday, my dad included. He believed his obligation to our church community was a social one, and fulfilled it religiously [sorry, just couldn't resist ;-)] I owe Moppet the opportunity to belong, and should she later choose not to, that is her decision to make, not mine.

Two, faith also brings hope, strength, and a sense of purpose. Especially as a child, when life can be so confusing and overwhelming, I think it is nice to be able to believe in a guardian angel, to know that miracles can happen. For all my feelings about religion being man-made, and rituals designed for an earlier time that have no relevance in today's world, there is certainly much human wisdom in religious texts that I would like Moppet to learn.

Thank you all for your comments. I know there are no easy answers, but your support and understanding gives me hope.

26 comments:

Squiggles Mom said...

That's something that I keep thinking about as well. I have no answers for you. But I believe that you shouldn't teach your child something that you can't preach. My uncle used to tell his american children that they couldn't eat beef as they were Hindus while continuing to eat himself. Ultimately he was challenged by them and he had to give it up himself because he wanted them to follow it.

I find myself celebrating festivals for Squiggles' benefit because I don't want her to miss out on the fun element, the excitement and the symbolism of such events. I accept that is what I will be doing and leave it to her to find some deeper meaning in it for herself when she grows up. I think I've rambled :).

Just Like That said...

Ah, Moppet's Mom, that's a difficult one, it is!

I don't have any abiding nuggets of wisdom to offer you... but maybe you could offer dear little Moppet the best of all religions ... so that she ultimately grows up into a wonderful young lady...God bless! :-)Who was it that said- humanity is the best religion of all...

Malavika said...

Interesting, and stuff I'm already worrying about a little [part of the long list :-)] The husband and I aren't religious at all. My folks are, but aren't into pujas and temples. The inlaws are pretty religious on the other hand and are fairly regular at temples, do pujas at home etc. Given that the MIL is going to be spending a fair amount of time with the kiddo, I wonder how it'll all work out..

Gauri said...

We too don't force anything down our kids' throats and don't intend to either.

Yes - to a great extent they are going to be influenced by us as their parents and our thoughts and principles but then like your dad did, I honestly feel it is upto us to encourage them to open up, question, think for themselves and then make their choices.

We are slowly reaching this stage with Aparna. Very soon the questions will begin and they should. But as of now, what we are trying to get across to both our children, through our own actions (not just words) is that each and every religion, in its own right, has to be respected. There is no question of any one-ups in this case. And as far as God is concerned, that is one single entity that does not belong to anyone or any religion in particular. It is a powerful existant force that the entire humanity bows to.

Tharini said...

I don't quite know what to say, except that I agree with all my heart that a child's perception IS coloured by his parents, and sometimes...there is nothing wrong with that. I think its a rite of passage that most go thru, to step outside the cocoon of childhood beliefs and question and learn from direct experience. I think our duty, is simply, to bring up our children, according to what we believe in, meaning them well, and leave the rest for them to grapple with on their own.

Moppet's Mom said...

Squiggles Mom: I completely agree with the 'don't preach what you don't practice' philosophy. My issue with religion is that I don't practice it, yet I would like Moppet to have her own experience of it before choosing to follow it or not. And I don't know how I can give her that experience without partaking of it myself.

JLT: It's a beautiful theory - I hope we will have the wisdom and patience to put at least some of it into practice!

Mala: Yeah, there are the times when I feel it would have been easier if I was religious. Things are so much clearer then. But then again....

Gauri: It's always nice to hear from you, it's like looking forward a few years and having the answers already! :-) But on a more serious note tolerance of all religions is certainly one of our values and one that I hope to pass on to Moppet. But tolerance of all religions and choice of one or none to follow is a different thing, and that's what I'm (prematurely, no doubt!) worrying about.

Tharini: You've said it much better than I have. This is what I hope to do with Moppet with mostly everything else in life. The problem with religion is that I don't believe (or rather don't know what to believe) and so I don't know what exactly to tell Moppet...

timepass said...

Humanity is indeed the best religion. We must teach our children to be compassionate and have equal respect for all religions.One good human being always makes a difference to the world. My father always tells me if your heart is pure, that's enough. God will himself take care of the rest.

Tharini said...

MM : I can see the dilemma you see urself in. Its hard for me to formulate thoughts on it. Maybe, its best to tell her what you DO know, believe and feel and leave the rest for her to find out on her own. (?) I don't know. But I do think that time will answer some of these questions for you.

Tharini said...

in response to ur response to squiggles mom : Yes, it is very hard to have our children partake of something that we ourselves haven;t experienced. And I do understand ur dilemma. Maybe this is one of the sacrifices needed to be made as a parent. That u give her equal opportunity to follow organised religion as a means to God before allowing her to question for herself and decide. After all, if a lot of other people before us have trodden this path, then it must lead somewhere, must it not?

karmickids said...

You know I have been all over the place with this religion business, having grown up with no religion, and now a believer through experience...I have come to believe that some experience of organised religion is essential to give one a sense of belonging, which is why I insisted on brat being brought up in the Hindu religion. To me every religion is beautiful and it is only man who has ritualised and commercialised it, but since I really dont know anything about rituals to teach brat, I leave that to his daadi. Once you are grounded in one religion you have a sense of identity, something I never had...perhaps I am wrong, but this has been my experience...I still dont follow any religion, but believe devoutly in Ganapati...

Sunita said...

A very good post. May be I will do one on a similar note.
In my view, we need to teach our children to pray or connect with the super power(God), irrespective of religion. That connection with the super power on an individual basis will give them 'hope'. Hope that if things aren't alright today, they will be someday and it helps you strive. Hope as in, ability to pray and pray for people you love.

Just Like That said...

Moppet's Mom: In my prayer room, I have Hindu gods and a little Infant Jesus as well. (Having studied in a convent, I sure said some of my prayers to Mary and Jesus as well) And Sonny boy recognises Christ as a God- tho' he's very confused by the wounds on His arms and legs...

Being a staunch believer, I bring Sonny boy up to believe as well. In a benevolent God who will take away his pains and hurts, and grant him his little pleasures in life, as well as a strict God who frowns upon little digressions and disobediences.

And that thought of a God up there looking after him does help, you know... Sonny boy keeps telling his Gods (whoever exist in his little mind) little things- his wishes, his complaints etc during his prayer sessions and when he's not being a 'good boy' a little fear of God not being happy with him also works wonders...

It makes our job of comforting and nurturing and disciplining easier...MUCH easier.:-)

noon said...

Hi MM,
Nice post. YOu know my views on this from my recent post. Kutti boy already knows a bunch of hymns and slokas - either from my singing Ganesh Pancharatnam to him every day or from my mom reciting slokas to him during her prayer. I have no problems with all this. Like Kiran said I would like for him to have some sense of identity and some idea of his roots in this respect. But I want him to have the freedom (which is hard in my family where a lot of them are religious in the traditional sense - well my brothers and in-laws more than any of my sisters) to think for himself and create his own understanding of God. I don't want him to be blindly religious or blindly ahteistic or agnositic just because that's what he saw growing up from one of us...I want him mainly to arrive at a comfortable understanding of it rather than feel restless and confused about this all the time...(well same holds for my daughter too - just that he is older than her now so used "he").

Just Like That said...

But yeah, its difficult to preach what you don't practise. I see your difficulties.:-(
Hope you find your solution along the way...:-)

WhatsInAName said...

I am really not the right person to comment on your thoughts.. since I have been brought up in quite the opposite way. A staunch Hindu brahmin.
But I agree with others that religion is but a way to make a person a good human being. The ways are many, the goal is one!
Let her just believe in what you believe! :)

Squiggles Mom said...

I don't think you can give her a good feel for the religion unless you get involved in it even if it's for her sake. Because as you said she will be influenced by what you believe. So maybe the answer lies in going back to your inner self and revisiting your own views alongwith Moppet. Then maybe both of you can arrive at the same or a different conclusion together.

Rohini said...

This has been hugely bothering me as well - having been planning a pot on this for a while but haven't had the chance to think it through... but I think the thing that matters to be above all is that I don't want to be a hypocrite and tell my kid stuff that I myself don't believe in..

Maybe I will get around to writing that post after all...

choxbox said...

Tag done! Rather late but done nevertheless!

This post is a bit serious-ish so willget back and write my thoughts. Have actually written them down already when The Muser had done a similar post some time back called 'Anatomy and Philosophy' (I think).

Suki said...

As re: a religious community... well, are you thinking of Christianty here? Because amongst Hindus, in my experience, that sense of a community is not there. And what part of it IS there is easily share-able. Anyone is welcome to eat, celebrate and rejoice during Durga Puja or Diwali, whether you're Hindu or not. No one asks, no one cares. As long as you aren't a violent atheist(I was going to write "aesthete"!) going around insulting everything all over the place.

Don't fret so much about getting Moppet to "belong." She's a very strong character on her own, and that will carry her a long way. She does sound the kind of person who'll end up with a very select group of friends though, and that will give her a much better and deeper sense of belonging than religion, which is barely a part of most of our lives by now.

As long as her little, imperious, friendly and adventurous mind isn't suppressed, she'll do fine! Don't fret!

the mad momma said...

hmm.posts on religion help because of our situation. lets see. for now, i get annoyed when ppl assume i am a hindu. why not ask me? will do a post on that.

the mad momma said...

well i am on the opposite end as kiran simply because the brat and bean will be brought up like her - with pretty much no particular religion. i am okay with ppl telling the brat and bean mythological stories etc. but i am not sure where to draw the line when it comes to influencing them. God i sound confused!

i will agree with Tharini though. that you can only bring up a child in what you believe in. if you dont believe - that is what you teach. its very hard, if you ask me, to teach a child to question at such an early stage. that comes later. right now i think they need a solid stance from you... either a believing or non-believing one. and later they can choose what they want to do with what you've given them.

rbdans said...

Three previous failed attempts to comment on this post :(
My father who was an agnostic the first 45 or so years of his life, turned into a firm believer. He had his reasons to do so, but that only complicated things further for us as kids...
Maybe i'll finish up the half-baked post in my draft to put things into context..

Sue said...

I think we should go the extra mile to teach our children all that we can, so as to give them the option of following (or not) any particular religious thought.

I don't do puja, but I show The Bhablet my MIL's puja place, and tell him stories about Gopal, because that is his heritage. It was something V was brought up on and just because I was not, I don't think his son shouldn't know the stories at least. Of course, when you tell a Bhablet religious stories they tend to sound different: I was showing him a pandal in the making y'day and telling him about how Durga would visit us with her four 'babies', and then we would play all day and eat and sing (and do puja) and then they would all say 'ta-ta' and go back home to sleep at 9 o' clock. You get the picture.

artnavy said...

The post and the comments thereon were very interesting. While I belive in God I am not religious.

But I do enjoy celebrating all festivals. SO that is what I expose Anush to- a rather shallow glimpse of Hinduism- but somehow it has never been an issue- YET :-))

utbtkids said...

Okay this is waht i was thinking. My philosophy 'God is too big in to fit in to any one religion' and 'relegions are different path leading to God'. I follow hinduism because that was what I was taught. I am a true believer and my relegion is like second skin to me. Every relegion has some uglies, I have learnt to over look uglies in my religion and modify/inerpret it to suit me... I do this because I believe that in spirit my religion and its philosophies suit me but the uglies might be the interpretations of another human being, which might have worked for his mind set, but every individual is different and I pick what works for me. I would not wait for Chula and Mieja to pick a religion. I would teach them Hinduism for the one and only reason - concept of God/religion/spirituality is confusing enough. I would rather guide them instead of letting them get lost. If they adapt/modify/change a few things here and there, i wouldn't mind.

SUR NOTES said...

hey there...lovely post...but whats new about that? you always write beautifully.

just a small response to the community bit- both my parents are hindu- and punjabi...but that was not the community they identified with. their community were an eclectic bunch of friends- from different communities, beliefs etc. this was the community i grew up feeling a part of- i never felt like i lacked roots or a sense of belonging.

i am hoping that is what will work for sanah too. both of us are non believers- with a rather varied and diverse knowledge of religions( sounds strange- but the philosophical, cultural and performative aspects of religion fascinates both of us)

and like rohini, i have to be upfront and direct with sanah about why i am a non believer. she has to make meaning of it and figure it out...