Agnostic Humanist In The South

Do You Teach Your Children About Other Religions?

Mom, who are Adam and Eve?

The second Nikki asked me that I thought: Maybe you could have done a better job arming her with at least the knowledge of basic biblical stories if you’re going to raise her in Alabama?

Almost as good as when she asked me around Christmas, “Wait…is Jesus the baby or the man?” when looking at a Nativity scene.

I mean, I moan and groan about her being picked on for not being Christian, but I probably could do a better job at not making her a target of ridicule. Evidently, when she asked her friend about Adam and Eve she got something like an eyeroll and an, “I can’t EVEN…” reaction. I try to put myself in the shoes of that girl and have Nikki say the same thing to me at the same age and I think I might have died. The idea that a person DID NOT KNOW WHO ADAM AND EVER WERE…that idea might have actually killed me at age 9.

So, I explained it. I told her the biblical story of Creation and then explained how different facets of Christian churches interpret that. I told her that a lot in Alabama take that very literally but most Christians globally fall on a spectrum between “Adam and Eve” and “Divine Intervention/Big Bang.” I told her that the Christians falling further from the front half of that spectrum use the Creation Story in the bible as a simplified interpretation to explain something inexplicable. I didn’t want her to think all Christians fell in the Adam and Eve/Earth is 6,000 years old camp. But I did want her to know that the camp exists, so she should respect that story like I’ve taught her to respect all religious beliefs.

I’ve been thinking lately about finding people in my community of other religions besides Christianity, and going to lunch with them to quiz them on their beliefs so I can try to do a better job exposing my kids to world religions. I’ve read some things about all major religions, I know just enough to give a few sentences of an explanation, but I would love to hear from someone who is actually in the religion themselves. But I’m not sure, is that offensive? If you were a Muslim, or Hindu or Sikh (the one I’m personally very interested in) would it be weird to have someone kinda treat you like a caged animal at a zoo and ask you personal questions? Maybe I should email them instead? That may seem less rude.

I think I’d like to be able to give answers to these questions for as many religions as I could, when talking to my kids about world religions:

  • Are you monotheistic or polytheistic?
  • What is your source of “scripture”? (I’m not sure if that word is universal to all religions. Maybe “sacred text” would be more generic?)
  • Is your God omniscient and/or omnipotent? Does that God change the course of events or is he/she more like a “watch-maker” God…set it rolling and then is just an observer?
  • What is your religion’s story of the origin of the earth?
  • What happens after death? If there are more than one paths after death, who is allowed on the “salvation” type path?
  • What about attitudes towards non cisgendered straight people? (Nikki asks about this one all the time.) Is there a difference in what your church/religion says and in what most believe? (Similar to how the Catholic Church still officially condemns artificial birth control at the highest levels, but many priests in many church don’t council parishioners along those lines.)
  • Are there any animals that get different treatment than Christians? (Nikki finds this really interesting and loves hearing about how cows are sacred in various religions.)
  • What is the hardest thing/most difficult challenge you face being a non-Christian in the United States?

What do you think? Do you know any non-Christians that would take an email from me with those questions? Or does this still sound like someone being studied in a lab? I really just want to do a better job teaching my kids about ALL religions, and while I know about Christianity (although, obviously I’m doing a really shitty job of teaching it to the kids) I know almost nothing about other religions. And I’ve read boring text online but it just doesn’t hold my attention, I would love to be able to talk to someone in that religion, but I would never want to be offensive.

I’m just not sure you can probe someone about their religious beliefs in a respectful way unless you’re coming from the camp of, “Hey, I’m thinking of joining your church!” Otherwise it’s like I’m saying, “Hey! I don’t have any interest in joining your church because there’s no part of me who thinks what you believe is true, but will you talk to me about it anyway?”

Eh. I don’t know. Just sounds rude. Maybe I should just stick to the internet research, even if it does feel boring in impersonal.

22 thoughts on “Do You Teach Your Children About Other Religions?”

  1. I wish I had something constructive to say; just popping in to comment how much I appreciate this kind of open discourse. I don’t really know people of many other religions, except a few Mormons. Most of my friends tend to fall into a Catholic or Protestant camp, or grew up in one of those belief systems but are now non-practicing. I have a hodgepodge of different beliefs myself and am also very curious about other cultures and religions. Personally I would welcome an honest and inquisitive conversation, as long as the other person was okay with agreeing to disagree. Religion and spirituality are so personal. I don’t even have a good book recommendation for you, but I bet there are some out there, targeted for kids and adults both. Most religious leaders have some schooling on other religions and would be able to answer your types of questions, so that might be an option too if you or a family member have someone to recommend. Anyway, I think you’re doing a great job!

  2. Christian, as you know, but I’m all game for answering questions. Should we go to lunch or email?!!! Fun!! Ps. Nikki (or anyone else) can ask me questions anytime! I won’t know everything (quite a bit I still wonder about) but for the most part, I’m an open book. I HATE to debate and won’t do it, but I sincerely love sharing my testimony of the gospel. Love you guys and miss you like crazy!

  3. We have a kids book called The Story of Religion by Betsy and Giulio Maestro. It devotes a few pages to most major world religions (Sikh is only mentioned) and is organized from a historical perspective. It doesn’t answer all of your questions, but does address some of them. My kids come home from school asking about bible stories as well. Also my son had an ongoing debate with another child as to whether it was God or the Big Bang that created the universe (my son was arguing the Big Bang !) Like you I tell them about Christian beliefs as they come up. I do really wish I’d recorded or written down the story my daughter told me at Christmas when she was about 4. It involved baby Jesus riding in Santa’s sleigh to the manger scene! The three wisemen were involved somehow too, bringing “gold, Frankenstein, and Murray”!

  4. If you are genuinely interested in a different religion for educational purposes, I think it’s entirely appropriate to ask for a follower’s insight and ask those basic questions! (I’m pretty sure we’re on the same page that asking questions with the intent to find fault or make fun is inappropriate.) As far as the response you get, I think most people active in their church would be happy to answer questions. Some might not want to discuss it, but I’d say that’s a personal choice as opposed to a “the question was inappropriate” situation.

    For example, I was raised Mormon and even though I’m not practicing or consider myself LDS, I’d be more than happy to answer basic questions about the religion, as long as they come from a position of wanting to gain knowledge and be more educated on the subject. And I’d wager that most people would do the same – whether or not the intent of the person asking the question is conversion. It’s a chance to convey information about your religion (presumably something that’s very important to you) in a way where you know the other person is getting correct information, as opposed to who-knows-what info on the Internet.

    Imagine if you had the chance to explain atheism to someone who was genuinely interested…vs letting them randomly looking at websites. I bet you’d be thrilled to give a down to earth explanation, right?

    My two cents!

  5. Try googling books/supplies for UU Sunday school, they tend to teach many religions and might have stuff that’s age appropriate.

  6. I am a reform Jew and have answered many questions just like this. I enjoy those kinds of questions especially when they come from a place of wanting to learn.

  7. I grew up in the Baptist church, daughter of a Baptist preacher, and I attend a Methodist church now. One of the most beautiful, insightful things my father ever taught me about the creation story, and in fact, many of the stories in the Bible is this:

    Science tells us how God made the earth, Religion tells us why.

    I have always held to that belief, that there is nothing wrong with science, and the beauty in my faith is that it teaches me the why in life.

    Just my personal 2 cents. I love when people honestly ask questions about my faith, even when I know they are not religious, or don’t share the faith. If we could all have those kinds of discussions, the world would be a better place, so I say “ask away!”

  8. I’ve asked my co-workers about their religion and for more information, just like you posed here. Sometimes I’m hesitant if I don’t know them too well, but as long as you go into it with an open minded, wanting to learn attitude, they seem to be fine with it. I’ve also asked the similar type of questions to people that are a different race to find out more about their heritage and their family culture. Granted this one can be a little more dicey, but I make sure that the person I’m questioning knows I am truly trying to learn more about them, their family, and their cultures and not wanting to extend stereotypes or anything of the like. But I do think that is very similar to asking people about their religion. Some people will take it fine, others will be a little more offended, but I think most truly have no problem educating others about their beliefs.

  9. 1) I’m a Christian and I believe in Old Earth Creation. I am in a minority in my circle of friends, so thank you for telling your daughter not all Christians believe in the literal creation story.

    2) When I was in college I took a Sociology of Religion class and we had to visit with one other religion for a project. The groups we approached were all very interested in talking to us (my partner and I did Baha’i- very interesting) and sharing their point of view. So, I think many people would be willing to talk with you and answer questions. And I love that you are wanting to take her on this journey of education and awareness.

  10. I’m a Baha’i, which many people know little about, so I’m more than happy to answer questions. Unless people are just doing it to make fun of something unfamiliar. Which I don’t think is your intent. 🙂 I think this kind of thing is all just part of getting to know other people and more about the world in which we all live together.
    (Funny, I now see a previous commenter did a project on the Baha’i Faith.)

  11. I think that you’re onto a great idea here! When I was a child, I had hippie parents that used to both be Catholic. My Mom taught us the “Best Stuff” religion. Basically, she taught us about many different religions, and then she told us to take the beliefs from each one that felt true to us in our hearts. I loved this! I actually have a very strong connection with God, because of it, and am a very spiritual person. Of course, I don’t believe in organized religion for me personally, but I do feel God (whatever he or she may be) working in my life everyday.

    As a child, I did run into similar issues to Nikki’s. I had a few kids and TEACHERS! tell me that I was going to Hell. It upset me when I was younger, but as I got older (around 12), I would just calmly explain to people that I don’t even believe in Hell, so sorry, but you’re not scaring me.

    Learning about other religions didn’t really stop them from going all “fire and brimstone” when I said that we didn’t go to church, but boy was it helpful for me! It gave me a wider world view and made me a more open-minded person. Totally worth it!

  12. Carmen – Vancouver, BC – Addicted to Diet Coke, Chick Lit, home design shows; mom to a 9 year old girl & 12year old boy. By day, I'm a research scientist.
    Carmen says:

    I am not a follower of any religion, but I would also like to be able to have enough knowledge to explain things to my kids. If you do find that you’re able to collect this information, I’d really appreciate it if you’d share it. 🙂

  13. My husband and I are both agnostic but our 16 year old daughter says she believes in Christ. We were always VERY open with her about religious questions (I went to a Catholic school and spent an hour a day for YEARS learning the Bible so I do know it well). We have also really encouraged her to read about different belief systems so she can pick for herself what she wants to believe and that we would always guide her as much as possible in that respect.

    Luckily, we live in a really diverse area (Bay Area, CA) so she has lots of different friends with lots of different beliefs and when she started to really have questions about what to believe we encouraged her to go to church with different friends to see what felt best to her. That was around 8th grade I think? Since then she’s done a lot more reading (YAY for raising readers!) and has stopped the church trips but she hasn’t really settled on a religion. She said for now she has trouble with the fact that she believes in evolution and science but still believes in a higher power and that’s hard for her to rectify.

    My best advice is just to listen be as honest as possible and if you don’t know the answer to something you can always look it up together or tell her that you will do some research and get back to her when you have an answer.

  14. You should visit the Unitarian Universalist fellowship in Huntsville!
    I think you would really like it. It’s not Christian, per se — but based on 7 principles:
    The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

    My UU has a kids’ “religious education” (RE) class that discusses Christian beliefs, along with the beliefs of other religions, so they get a basic understanding of all the major faiths. The members of the church range all over the spectrum, from atheist to Hindu to Jewish to Christian to agnostic to humanist to earth-centered (pagan) and Wiccan . . .

  15. I loved teaching world religions at Catholic High until I ran out of room in my schedule. The kids enjoyed learning about other faith traditions and we had several parents of non Christian students in as guest speakers. If I can find a copy of the textbook, I’ll bring it on Sunday. It’s pretty simple and even though it’s from a Catholic book company, it seems fair and balanced and just gives the basics of each religion. I think it would be a good resource for Nyoka. Also, did you know that the Catholic church has an official statement that it recognizes and respects the light in other faiths? Not a full out acceptance of everything, of course, but it’s reassuring to me that the actual official stance is more open than many local practitioners are. As someone who is still basically Catholic but frustrated by so much intolerance, I am encouraged by that. One more thing in this novel of a comment: we had a teacher who is Muslim. She just moved to Texas, but if you would like to email her with Muslim questions, I’m sure she would be happy to answer. She and I asked each other all kinds of religion questions while she was at Catholic!

  16. I read a book a few years ago about three women from three different faiths who got together to discuss their religions. It is called The Faith Club.
    I would love it if you would share your experience here if you are ever able to do it (and the other people are okay with it). I am too nervous to ask people questions, too afraid I’m going to offend someone. But what a great idea! If we could talk more openly about things and learn to understand one another there would be much less hatred and fewer problems in the world, I think.

  17. I have a diverse groups of friends from many religions such as Christians of lots of denominations (including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons), Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, and People Who Don’t Care. Most people are really cool about talking about religion, but there are a few taboos. For instance, some people might be uncomfortable about talking about gay rights, for example, because they’re afraid of being thought of as bigots if they’re against them or because they don’t believe what their religion says. And when you’re talking to a Muslim, be careful not to insult Mohammad accidentally. And of course you’ll want to avoid using the Lord’s name in vain (saying “Oh my God” or something) if you’re talking to someone very religious. Although it’s insulting, it’s a phrase so commonly used that most Christians have gotten used to it. Lastly, don’t write down the word “God” if you’re writing an email to an Orthodox Jew. You can write G-d instead. I hope this helps!

  18. I’m so interested to see how this progresses for you guys – I am also an atheist raising my daughter in an extremely conservative state. I’m less worried about comments from strangers, though, than from my family. I have not “come out” as atheist to my dad and brother; despite the fact that neither of them goes to church on a regular basis, I don’t think either of them will understand my reasons, or my decision not to indoctrinate my daughter. Like you, I’ll answer her questions as they arise, and maybe we’ll learn about other religions together, but I worry about our lack of religion ultimately driving a wedge into my otherwise-close relationships with them. Regardless, thanks for writing about this!

  19. YES! I don’t know you, but can we be besties? Lol. My husband is devoutly Christian, but I was raised with a worldly view of religion (helped by traveling the world) and frankly I don’t feel like ANY of them got it just right, or in a way that speaks to me. But I feel God (for lack of a better name) working in my life all the time.

    It’s difficult to explain this to people. They don’t get it.

    But I still love talking to people and listening about their faith and how it works, and why it’s important to them. I find it fascinating.

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