Back in September, my son expressed an interest in joining the local Transatlantic Scout troop. I have my own issues with the Boy Scouts of America and their politics, but I put them aside and this is not the post for those issues. The bigger issue, until now, was the fact that a parental figure was expected to participate in glorious age-old scout traditions like hiking and camping and fishing and whittling soap bars. I don’t camp. I don’t fish or whittle or cook over an open flame at the expense of wine at dinner and coffee in the morning. As a child I was hideously allergic to grass and trees and pretty much all Mother Nature could throw at me, so let’s just say that the passing view of a scenic vista from a car window is often enough for me. I don’t feel any great need to immerse myself in the buggy, swamp like bog that is camping in Denmark. I don’t even really like trail mix.
But I digress. As long as one parental figure agreed to all the above conditions, then all systems were a go. Dad agreed, a uniform was ordered, badges were sewn on and there was a camp out. In Denmark, in the rain, which was the only thing that was wet because all BSA events are dry–meaning that there was no warming up at the fire with a hot toddy or even a beer. So far so good. A few more outings, a few more inches of thumb skin lost trying to sew on badges (is there a reason why BSA badges are not iron-on??), a few moments of feeling ridiculous at Pack meetings doing some sort of weird pep rally cheer and dying a little bit inside. Until a few weeks ago when my son was given a list of assignments to work on over the holiday break.
1. Plan a family outing. Ok, no biggie 2. Help with cooking, i.e. bake cookies, plan a meal etc.. Yup, ok 3. Faith character connection. Errrr…. 4. Make a list and practice ways of demonstrating your faith for the week.
Houston, we have a problem.
My husband was raised in the Church of England, which we joke is about as close as you can get to agnosticism while still maintaining membership in a recognized religion. I, on the other hand, was raised Roman Catholic. I never formally left the Catholic church, there was no angry letter, no ex-communication or resignation, I just stopped going to mass. I was baptized, communionized, confirmed. As-soon as I was an adult in the eyes of the church, I used my newly minted status to make the decision not to partake. As a teenager I had my own problems with the church, their views of women, of birth control. At 15 and 16 I think the fresh flush of righteous teen anger propelled me, but as an adult, it’s not anger, it’s just a kind of bland nothing-ness. Over the years my angst and anger and resentment and questions about indoctrination ended, to paraphrase Mr. Eliot, not with a bang, but a whimper.
Fast forward and we now have children of our own. As parents, we never made a conscious decision NOT to raise our children within the embrace of an organized religion. Because we ourselves are not active members or card-carrying holders, it just never came up. We answer questions as they arise (No, it is not a lady with a beard, it is a picture of a man called Jesus. No, they are not pirates, they are wise men. No, it is not a funny hat, it is a turban and it is worn by people who practice different religions around the world.). We mix and match and patch together. We celebrate a secular Christmas and often have Easter dinner at someone else’s house, but my children do not attach any religious significance to these things simply because they’ve never been taught to. They know that lots of people believe in God, that some don’t. They know some people practice Christianity, some Judaism, some Islam, Buddhist, Hindu etc. I would never stop them from going to church or temple with a friend if they so chose, from examining whatever religious ideals and tenants catch their fancy. But worship?
The irony is that one of the reasons why ultimately I agreed to my son joining the Scouts was that I thought it would be a good way for him to learn about community, responsibility and respect from an outside source. My children have lived in 3 different countries within the space of 4 years–a sense of community is something to be encouraged. Belonging to a church or temple, a parish, or a religious community is a time-tested way of encouraging community service. Often you are required to perform service projects, tithe and donate, not only money, but time–ideals that when you chose NOT to belong to an organized religion can be difficult to reinforce. So we thought it would be a good chance for boy #1 to learn about community and neighborhood. But the question of how do we worship has thrown me. How do we worship?
If there was religion out there that preached humanity, respect, equality and goodness, I would be the first one to sign up. And of course most religions do incorporate these tenants into their program. The problem for me is all the OTHER stuff that goes with it. I’ve never been particularly good with other people telling me what I can and can’t do, what I can and can’t believe. My parents raised me to question, to chase answers, to defy the status quo. Why can’t we do unto others as we wish others to do unto us while still believing in birth control? Why can’t I agree that worshiping a false idol (those $500 pair of boots I covet at the moment?) is not a great way to live your life while still maintaining my vociferously pro-choice attitude? I agree it’s not the best idea to covet your neighbor’s wife, but I also believe in gay marriage. I believe in treating others with respect and living a responsible and upstanding life but I eat pork and don’t cover my hair when I go out. I think we should give back, be socially responsible, help others in need. But I believe in science, in evolution, in the big-bang.
Some of the kindest, most loving people I know in the world are faithful. Some of the most intelligent, giving and thoughtful. Of course, some of the biggest idiots I’ve met in my life have been religious as well. But that is life–there are going to be extremes in every slice of humanity. When you run the gamut, you will find tigers of every stripe, examples that run across the board.
We do our best as parents to teach our children to respect others. We teach them that all people are equal, that skin color or sexual preference or whether or not they believe in God does not make someone worth more or less. But we don’t worship. Not on a daily basis, not weekly or monthly or yearly.
Will this ultimately hurt my children? Who can answer that? My children have yet to ask me what I believe. And I’m not sure how I would answer them. Is there a God? Who am I to answer that? Will my son be ostracized because he is growing up in a family without organized religion? I hope not. He belongs to a Scout troop overseas and in his den there are a Pakistani boy, an Indian boy, two Americans and a Scot. All of them worship differently, and one doesn’t worship at all. I can only hope that the lesson of tolerance and acceptance that I am assuming is behind this exercise is all-encompassing. That there is room for all.
It will be interesting to find out.