Thursday, July 23, 2015

There's No Fire Here

Religion is one of those hot button issues that can really get people worked up. Because of this, and because we are what I consider to be a non-religious household, I tend to avoid discussing religion with others. For the most part this approached has worked well for me since I simply don't bring the subject up. But as my Facebook pages attests to, my friends cover a broad spectrum of religious beliefs--from the non-believing to the evangelical preachers and everywhere in between. Many times I don't agree with what I see but I simply choose to ignore it since it is highly unlikely that anything I could say would persuade anyone to change their minds. And besides, who am I to try to change anyone's mind? Perhaps it is my generally lack of faith that allows me to take such a cavalier attitude towards religion. I won't proselytize to you about my beliefs and expect you extend the same courtesy to me. (Ironically I was a religion minor in college but I approached the subject as a purely academic exercise where I would question everything with a critical, uninvested interest). And even as a family, when we've had religious beliefs we don't agree with pushed into our faces---we once had American dinner guests who insisted we all join them in a prayer before we began eating--- it has been relatively easy to look the other way. Until now.

Last week Sidney informed me that if you prayed hard enough dead soldiers would no longer be dead. His comment caught me by surprise since we were in the car and I was more focused on the traffic than what he was saying. I asked him to repeat what he said then questioned where he had heard this. He informed me that a boy a camp had told him that this was true and he wanted to pray to bring all of the soldiers back from the dead. Then later in the week on the drive home he began whimpering and told me that he was afraid he was going to burn to death. When I asked him why he thought this, he said (another) child at the playground had told him that he would burn in hell because he didn't go to church. Like it or not, my approach to looking the other way when it comes to religion and religious education was now smacking me in the face.

But I really shouldn't be surprised by this turn of events. After all, the United States is a country that was founded on religious freedom. Or Christian freedom as one elected official recently said on national television. Although I beg to differ on the nuances of this take of the country's founding, it would be hard to argue that we aren't a country where religion is important to many people. Churches are the cornerstones of many communities and our country's youth regularly go abroad as missionaries hoping to spread the word of their faith to people around the globe. Religious organizations work both domestically and internationally to provide needed services and support to those who lack the basics that many of us take for granted. I've sat through community meetings and forums that have been started with Christian prayers and I've worked in government offices where bibles and crosses are accepted, if not encouraged, office decor. And we currently have over an egg carton full of presidential candidates who are trying to out Christian one another in their quest for the Oval Office. As a military family we often feel like the odd family out because we don't wear our (Christian) religious beliefs on our sleeves for the whole world to see. Most recently our base orientation program included information on the Christian religious offerings on base with nary a reference to anything else. All of this in the land that professes to a clear separation of church and state. But we are used to this and will quietly mull over what is said, and what isn't said, between ourselves and leave it at that.

So what did I say to, in my opinion, Sidney's misguided statements? I quickly assured him that that no amount of praying would ever bring any soldier back from the dead and that no, he was not going to burn in hell. Even though I was seething at the thought that someone told my son that he was going to burn to death, I reminded myself that this was another child who said these scathing words to him and it is likely that he was only repeating words that he himself had heard from an adult. I went on to tell him that different people believe different things so the only thing he had to worry about was what he believed and what we believed as a family. We would respect the opinions of other people and if he ever had any questions, he should let us know. Both times he nodded and let it go but I know I've only bought myself a brief reprieve. He will be back with more questions, both his own and those that have been raised by the comments of others and I need to be ready. I'm not sure what he will ask or how I will answer but all of this has me thinking about the different types of religious and moral education and how best to relay our beliefs to Sidney without scaring him or discounting what others believe. Because respecting others is one of our family's firmly held beliefs.

What will I say? I have no idea. But I do know there won't be any threats of flames and the rising of the dead in any of my explanations.

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