I remember, as a child, I truly believed Gods exist because of the stories my grandmother told of them and the movies we watched based on them. Even as a child, I looked upon them more as historical figures rather than mystical ones.
As a parent, I wouldn’t want to force my opinions and beliefs on my child. He’s free to explore and enjoy all aspects of various religious customs. He’s too young to understand the philosophy behind the meaning of God, but he’ll figure that out eventually.
Growing up with religion
I grew up in a house that practised many religious customs but was not strictly religious.
Practicality (and convenience) usually won over the rituals. As I grew older, I became more of a realist and stopped believing in mythological stories. I still enjoy them, though.
I was never interested in praying. I am disappointed by people who claim to be devout, but their actions are diametrically opposite of religious teachings of all kinds. I am yet to find a religion that accepts and includes rather than excludes and restricts.
Every good intention starts in search of meaning, then gets corrupted by power. The rise of self-proclaimed Godman or Godwoman has been a scary progression. Seeing how easily even the well-educated and well-placed masses have turned into blind followers is something I grasp to understand.
I listened to sermons, some of which made sense at the start, but every single one of them went downhill from there. I am now a certified atheist.
Religion vs Spirituality
I am a spiritual person. It has nothing to do with religion or its myriad practices. I believe in the energy surrounding us and how it is up to us to make it positive. I meditate and look within myself for answers. The rest I leave to the universe in the hope that all will turn out how it should.
Teaching Religion to Kids
Concepts of religion and spirituality are too broad for adults, let alone children, to understand. So, how do you talk to a child about them? You simply don’t.
Neither my husband nor I pray or celebrate any religious customs at home. But our parents do. If we’re with them, then we follow along.
Our son has grown up participating in festivals and my mom’s prayer group. He loves the social nature of it. In school, he’s taught to pray before meals and to thank God. He likes doing that and will add a thanks for the person who made the meal. He doesn’t do it every time he eats.
As an atheist, it initially bothered me that he followed religious practices he saw others do without understanding anything. What if he is misled into putting his faith in something intangible instead of trusting himself and his choices? But I kept my mouth shut and am slowly finding that my misgivings were unfounded.
When I asked him if he knew who God was, he told me that’s it’s someone who lives in space. Most likely an answer he heard from someone who has no clue either.
As he’s growing older, I can see a slight shift. He reads books and watches TV about things that are not real. He knows some things exist, and some are imaginative. He’s slowly moving towards categorising God into that list. I am neither happy nor sad about it. I understand that it is his journey to make.
Religion as a way to celebrate with a community
He has never asked us to explain God. We have not yet had a conversation with him about it. We live in a community that celebrates many festivals, and he loves to be a part of every one of them. He’s read stories about some Gods and finds them enjoyable. But mostly, he loves to celebrate.
Ganesh Chaturthi and Holi are two festivals celebrated with much pomp where we live. In 2020 when the lockdown caused all celebrations and gatherings to stop, he was disappointed about not seeing the Ganpati mandap. We were not living near either of his grandparents, so he couldn’t celebrate with them either.
He decided if he couldn’t go to a Ganpati mandap, he’d make one himself. He asked my help to make a Ganesha idol with dough. He decorated it and set up the space as he had seen my mother do multiple times – complete with flowers from our balcony garden and a banana. We don’t have a dedicated space for praying or keeping idols at our house, so he made a makeshift one at the dining table. He then called over some of his friends and showed them how to worship at his temple. It was a good day for him.
I thought about getting him some books that describe the concept of God, but in the end, I decided against it. Childhood is about exploring and forming your ideas about the world around you. More importantly, it is about learning to change your ideas about the world as you are presented with new information. It is a beautiful process.
We are always there for him if he ever wants to discuss the topic. Till then, we’ll be making Ganesha idols at home, and we’ll celebrate as many festivals with friends and family as we can. In difficult times, it’s important to remember that festivals are less about religious beliefs and more about bringing people together in celebration.