Acceptance: Giving Children a Belief System

Until recently, I thought that we were bringing up our kids without religion.  We don't go to a place of worship and we don't teach the concept of God by that or any other name.  We also don't teach our children with religion.
For a while I wondered how to introduce these ideas to them since I felt they should understand that there are others who do believe in a higher power.  I'd concluded that I want to buy a book on world religions and read it to them to explain what others believe.

So like I said, I was quite sure we were bringing our children up without religion.
A story I heard a few weeks ago changed that theory.

I was listening to NPR (National Public Radio), the show was This American Life with Ira Glass.  Today's show topic was "Kid Logic." It was essentially "Kids Say the Darndest Things."  Some of the stories were cute, but one was downright sobering.

I had the volume turned down for a short while to do something and when I turned it back up it was in the middle of an essay by a father.  He was explaining how they had not brought their daughter up with any religious belief system (something I could certainly relate to).  He said that one day his daughter at age four asked about why we have Christmas and so he explained about baby Jesus, etc.  She liked hearing the story so he went and found a children's bible story book and shared more stories with her.  He tried to focus a lot on the message "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  She understood that to be the message that Jesus wanted to share.
Some time went by and they passed a church with a huge crucifix outside of it.  "Who's that Daddy?!" she asked.  Her dad had not covered that part of the story with her.  "That's Jesus," he answered, "Some people didn't like the things he was saying and so they killed him" was approximately his answer for her.
Time went by and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day came.  The daughter had the day off from school.  Her dad took the day off from work and they spent the day together.  They had a newspaper with a giant picture of MLK Jr. on it on their table and she asked who the picture was of.  He told her that was the man who was the reason that she had the day off from school that day.  He was a man who was a preacher and who wanted everyone to be treated equally.  She replied that that sounded like what Jesus taught.  Her dad agreed.  Her next question... "Did they kill him too?"

Now I was crying.  Why has it been that for nearly the entire history of human beings living on this earth, there have been people that have disagreed with other people enough to kill them?

I guess this post isn't so much about the killing part.  That was just the part that really got me, particularly because it came from the insight of a four year old.
What this post is about, is the similarity that the little girl pointed out.  When you take everything else away, you have a core belief.  Whatever it is for you is what you run on.  That to me, is your religion (organized or not).
Until that day I thought that we didn't have a religion in our household.  Now, I realized we do.  It doesn't have a name or a leader and maybe by the definition of "religion" that means that we don't have one, but we do have a belief system... a very strong belief system.

In our house there are the things that we live by:

1.  Accept yourself just as you are and accept others just as they are.
If we had to pick just one thing to live by, that would be it.

2.  We all share the common quality of being human and no one human is above or below another human.

3.  Take care of and help people and things that need help (humans, animals, earth).

Note that I would not teach acceptance of an individual's actions which are causing harm to others.  On the other hand, trying to understand where they are coming from and why they feel the need to harm others is an important thing to think about... but to always proceed with safety, caution and self preservation.

We run our household on these ideas.  They might as well be our religion.  We practice them, model them, and expect them.  They are our moral compass for life.

That day I realized that (at least in our household), we don't need a church or a leader to have a religion, just a solid idea of what we believe and a way of life that is consistent with those ideas.

What are the most important things you want your children to learn?


  1. You really need to read the books and (the latter is a squel of sorts to the former). Just look them up and read the blip and you'll know why. I have found both books very helpful.

  2. Must have typed some html inadvertantly--the book titles are missing..
    Parenting Beyond Belief
    Raising Freethinkers

  3. This is one area of parenting, and also just living, that I have struggled with. Like you, I don't have much of a traditional sense of being part of one particular religion. I raised my two older kids, now 14 and 13 as Agnostics. We have attended Pagan rituals a lot over the years. I also allow my son to go to church events that his friends invite him to.
    Through all of this, we have been attending the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for the past 13 years. I have found it to be a great place to meet that need for a community of like-minded people. I often call it a "religion where God is optional."
    My main concern is if I have done any dis-service to my kids by not giving them a firm sense of faith in something. I recently worked at a retirement home and I could see what a comfort faith and belief is for someone facing the end of their time here on earth.
    I have a younger child, age 6. I feel like I'm getting a second chance at this mom thing, and I have often thought about giving her a little bit more sense of belonging to a religion, but nothing dogmatic. Our nightime lully-byes (as she calls them) are Amazing Grace and We All Come From the Goddess.