“Did all that Jesus stuff really happen?” She’s sitting in the next room, watching cartoons.
“Did what really what?” I call back, buying myself a few seconds.
“Jesus and his mom and his other dad. Did all the Bible stuff really happen like that?”
She’s watching The Star. We watched it last night, and she hadn’t asked any questions then. Apparently, she liked the movie so much she’s rewatching it on her own. And this time she isn’t just focused on shouting, “Donkey kick!” and cracking herself up.
I’m careful about how much I expose my kids to Christian media. That sounds like an odd thing to say, since I’m a Christian and all, but it’s how I roll.
When that Bible miniseries came out a few years back, I prewatched it before letting my kids watch parts of it. It’s what my parents did when I was a kid and they’d rent a PG movie. They’d watch it the night before to see which parts to fast forward through when we all watched it as a family the next night.
Just like I wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons, my kids aren’t allowed to watch God’s Not Dead.
Part of my reasoning is I don’t want to expose my kids to garbage theology. I know how damaging that can be. I know how easily children absorb whatever messages happen to be floating around them. I know that my watching something gives it a stamp of approval in their eyes. It’s why I had to sneak around at night to watch God’s Not Dead when it came out on streaming, just so I could make up my own mind about it. Basically, in my house, bad Christian movies are viewed like porn.
But I have another reason. I know watching some of these shows are going to bring up questions. And I don’t know how to answer those questions.
Well, I know what my answers are to those questions. I know what I believe. But I don’t know how to express my beliefs without imposing those beliefs on my daughters.
And I’m especially concerned about that because they are daughters.
I know what churches can do to girls.
When my kids get angry with me because I won’t let them do something potentially dangerous, I tell them, “My job is to keep you safe.” That isn’t just about physical safety.
I’m an adult. I know what I’m getting into by coming in out of the wilderness to rejoin The Church. I know how dangerous it is.
But my kids don’t know that yet. If they follow me in, they follow me in as lambs. (I’m more of a pissed off, arthritic ewe with a bunch of badass scars from wolf bites.) I don’t want to lead my daughters into a slaughter.
And it’s nice little fantasy to think I could just head-butt any wolf that comes along, but that’s not realistic.
I won’t be sitting with my daughters during Sunday school classes. I won’t know what they’re being taught. And I know what sort of bullshit kids can be taught.
It’s not like I haven’t given it a shot. I’ve sent my daughters to Vacation Bible School twice. The first time, my oldest daughter (eight, at the time) said Jesus is God, and was corrected by an old man who told her, “No, Jesus is the son of God. Not God.” (So, fun times with crafts and heresy.)
The second time, my youngest daughter (five, at the time) came home and all she would talk about was hell, and how if you did something wrong you’d go to hell, and was I sure she wasn’t going to hell for some minor thing all kids do? (That was the last time I let my kids have unsupervised visits with conservative-leaning Mennonites.)
Clearly, the solution is to give my children a religious education at home, right?
And that brings us back to my daughter’s question. “Did all that Jesus stuff really happen?”
She’s not asking me for a historical argument for Jesus’s existence. She’s not asking me how a virgin birth is compatible with science. She’s asking, “What do you believe?”
Because with my kids, whatever Mom believes is the truth. And that’s a dangerous thing for a child to believe.
So it’s not as simple as me saying, “Yes, all that really happened.”
It involves a conversation about the entire Bible and how I believe some of it really happened and some of it didn’t happen exactly the way it’s written. Yes, there are ways of figuring out which parts of the Bible are more or less likely to be literally true. No, you don’t have to believe something happened the same way I believe it happened. Yes, I believe Jesus really was here and the Nativity story really did happen. When you grow up, you’ll have to figure out whether or not you believe that on your own. And I’ll be OK with it if you don’t believe all the same things I believe.
Everything, everything has to be prefaced with, “I believe…”
Because I will not feed my children the things I take on faith as if those beliefs were absolute fact.
If we know something is a fact, where’s the faith?
I’ll explain what I believe. I’ll explain why I believe it. And I’ll hope they’ll come to a point in their lives where they honestly believe those things too. But I won’t rob my children of their potential future faith in God by indoctrinating them into the cult of certainty.
I can’t control the future of my children’s spiritual life. What I can do is protect them from some of the damaging aspects of Christianity. What I can do is protect them from the power of my influence over them. What I can do is give them a chance to own their faith as adults.
Because I have faith in something else too. I have faith that God won’t abandon my children. I don’t have to drill any of this into their heads. If God calls, they’ll hear it. It’s up to me to make sure there isn’t a lot of noise competing with him when he does. It’s up to me to keep the wolves away, as best I can. It’s up to me to share what I believe, and then get out of God’s way.
Image credti: Matthew Kirkland (Creative Commons)