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The Touchiest of all Subjects

Religion.

I know, I know. It’s one of those topics we’re not supposed to talk about. Sort of like how Obama is the only clear choice for this country, given the pool of candidates. But really, I didn’t say that.

But I understand that religion is a sacred topic for many people, and I respect that. The core of my non-belief is that in our wonderful, free country, we are each allowed to pursue our own personal religious philosophies. The only caveat to that is that it must not mix with politics or public schools.

Ahem.

While that may not have gone so well, let’s overlook that for a moment, and just remember that we do each have that individual freedom. So I’m going to dip a toe in the spiritual pool, because this blog is about our family and autism and ADHD, and all the things that go along with that.

And I don’t want to edit out things that might be uncomfortable, because then I’m not keepin’ it real.

For the record, we tried. When I was a kid, I went to church with friends all the time. I was the kid that waited until the end of service, and then went up to the minister and asked “Why doesn’t the Bible mention dinosaurs? What about the other planets? Why hasn’t there been a burning bush or miracle for two thousand years? Why are children allowed to starve?”

What about meeeee?? Can’t a dino get some props?

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In short, I was a church officiant’s worst nightmare.

My husband was also indoctrinated. Like most kids, he hated giving up half his weekend to sit on hard benches in stiff clothing, to then be forced to attend the pot-luck afterwards, where deacon’s wives would talk about the scandals of those not in attendance that week.

But our exodus from religion did not occur without a good deal of thought and study. I took college courses on religion and philosophy, and we both read a good deal on history and religious theory.

We are content. There’s something quite liberating about only having yourself (and the law) and your moral compass to answer to. We don’t worry about the threat of eternal damnation, because we worry about the immediate impact of our actions. We’re keenly aware that we’re only borrowing this earth for a short time, and we try to be conscientious stewards of it. We know that all living things on the planet are connected, so our actions always have an impact on others.

And we thought that it would be natural to pass this on to our child. And perhaps it would have been, if circumstances weren’t what they were, and our child wasn’t on the spectrum. But they are, and he is, and thus things become complicated that, under other conditions, would possibly not be so complicated.

Because I have a propensity for bad language, the following conversation came up the other morning. As I was helping Connor get his tennis shoes on, running late already, he innocently asks me, “Mom, what’s Jesus Christ?”

Me: “Well, he was the son of God, according to the Bible, and he lived a really long time ago, and he came to earth because people were sinning and making bad choices and he wanted to set them straight. It didn’t end well for him, though.” You can see I have a nice handle on this, with my extensive background and such.

Connor: “What’s God?”

Me: “Well, some people believe there’s this being, not a man but not really a ghost either, that created everything…the earth, the planets…everything. But we don’t believe that, we believe it’s just a story. We believe in science and reason and logic. But if you ever want to go to church to learn more about that, I will take you.”

Connor: “Well I’m going to go ahead and believe it. We should ALL believe it.” That would be the aspie control issue thing I’ve mentioned before.

Me: “No, you can’t decide what other people are going to believe. It’s something that each person spends a lot of time thinking about, and studying, and coming to their own conclusion. We are very sure that it is just one among many other stories to explain where the world came from, before people had an understanding about science and evolution.”

Things went off-topic from there, as they are prone to do with Connor. But not before I started feeling my stomach knot-up at the thought of sitting through a church service.

Which one would I take him to, if we were to go? To be honest, I’ve been to so many different kinds: Baptist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, Methodist, Evangelical, Catholic and Synagogue. My favorite was Synagogue, although we are not even the tiniest bit Jewish.

And no matter which one I take him to, there will be the inevitable introductions and explanations. There will be those that are sure I’m coming back into the fold, or who are inspired to personally bring me back themselves. And all the while, I’ll be wondering how much it would cost to get a Flying Spaghetti Monster tattoo.

What do you think, on my ankle?

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The logical part of me completely supports my son in whatever path of spirituality he chooses to follow. But there’s the other part of me, the emotional part, that is concerned. If he does want to go to church, and subscribe to Christian faith, how will we reconcile that around the dinner table?

Now, before you judge me, or think that’s terribly selfish or short-sighted, let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Aren’t many sects of the church interested in converting people to their beliefs? Don’t most faithful believers feel that it is such an irrefutable truth, that they would be pained to see their children stray from the teaching? They would truly, completely believe that their child was dooming their life to eternal damnation for straying from the word of God.

On the flip side, I worry that my son doesn’t know enough of the world, that he would believe what he’s told, what’s in the book, without exploring the bigger questions of the universe. I worry he would turn away from science and reason and logic, to follow a path of parables and story-telling. That’s no offense to anyone, it’s just what I believe.

It’s prickly, this briar patch. And it’s a fine line between our family’s beliefs, and letting free will run its course. I suppose what it means is that I will have to revisit my skeptical childhood, and teach him how to ask questions based on critical thinking. No small feat, that.

Although, to be honest, I’m reasonably certain he doesn’t have the attention span for that kind of in-depth analysis. In fact, I’m willing to bet that he can’t sit quietly through an entire church service. At least not today.

Let’s hope I don’t have to find out. In any case, we’ll be certain to take the pew nearest the back door.

What would you do if your child, especially a child with special needs, wanted to explore a belief system outside your own? What would your thoughts and feelings be about it?

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About Flannery

Kid, husband, dogs, my mother, full-time job, maximum stress, minimal relaxation...sooner or later I had to vent. AND we moved from California to Texas. I could start a whole other blog about that.

23 responses »

  1. Thankfully I have a kid who likes to watch the Ancient Aliens series on the History channel, so we haven’t had to deal with this yet. I’m sure he’s as big a skeptic as I am. BUT, he has had exposure through my in laws who are deeply entrenched in the whole organized religion culture.

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  2. I have a child who went in the opposite direction. She asked about god, and I explained to her that he was something some people believed in, but that it wasn’t something I believed in.

    OK, so this is awful, but she doesn’t believe in the big 3 anymore, so I pretty much likened it to Santa. How some people believe in Santa and others do not. I am such an awesome mom, right? I also told her there are lots of “gods” people believe in, and if she chooses to look into them when she is older, that is fine. I don’t know if she got it, but what she did get is that mommy and daddy don’t believe in god, and so then she isn’t going to believe in god. She then went to school and refused to say “under god” in the pledge, told all the other kids god doesn’t exist, and got upset when some disagreed.

    Unfortunately, we don’t live in the most progressive town (ie, the boonies), so I am sure most of the kids in her class attend church and what not. We had to talk with her about keeping that stuff to herself, just like how she doesn’t tell Ben there is no Santa. I told her she didn’t have to say “under god”, but she wasn’t to make a big deal of it, or say anything to the other kids.

    Oh, my sister has a bear that plays Jesus Loves Me…K flipped out about that, and told my sister and 2yo niece that JESUS IS NOT REAL!!!!! Lovely. I kinda feel like I just should have brushed the subject off and not said anything at all, bc apart from her going around telling people there is no god, I want her to be able to make her OWN decision one day. Her rigid thinking def gets in the way of that…

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  3. I’d leave a church service until your child requests it. There’s a lot you can learn and study through books and videos and I’d start there. There’s a big difference between religion and organized religion.

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  4. So, because I am a total lazy bastard, we are so not going there with the boys yet. Ted can’t handle potty training yet. He can’t answer “why” or “how” questions at nearly 6 years old. There’s no way to even have this type of conversation with him. At least without my brain exploding.

    Truthfully, flavor of Christianity – the one I was raised on – says that people can’t get into heaven unless they believe in Jesus Christ, make a public profession of faith, and really, honestly BELIEVE. To me, that leaves out those with autism, cognitive impairment of any sort, mental illness, etc.

    And, frankly, if my kids won’t be there, I don’t need to go to heaven either. We’re a family, damn it. You take us all, or you get none of us.

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  5. I’m one of those people who believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the sky. I liken it to this. A lot of Christian folks agree that homosexuality is a sin. I don’t. I was taught it was…but I don’t think love is a sin. I think there are worst things than love. Just on that same thread I believe there are worst things that believing in God. My brother doesn’t believe. I do. We both agree to respect that. If my children wind up not believing at a young age or not (both with Autism) then I would respect that. I didn’t want to go to church when I was younger..but it was forced on me. I still resent it. I think if a child is curious just let him be. If you know someone maybe let him go to church with them. Believe me I understand it’s hard. I don’t envy you. By the way…I don’t go to church. I can’t stand religion. What I have is faith. That’s different. Maybe teach him the difference between religion and faith. I think that’s a place to start. Maybe show all the different religions of the world. More than anything you are a great mom.

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  6. If he wants to explore it, by all means, he may do so. He is the one that made the decision not to finish sacrament prep and I wasn’t going to force him. He views religion as mythology. And part of my Devout-Catholic upbringing is sad but part of me is proud of him for reading about it and trying to understand it so he can make his own decision.

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  7. This is tough! We take all our kids to the Mormon church and it is not easy. Danny is not particularly fond of church, and we have to keep him out of the hour when all the kids are together. So, I teach him on my own. This has brought up a bunch of interesting issues. Religion is so abstract and complex and as I try to teach him the concepts in a way he will understand, it has made me look more closely at some of our beliefs.

    I used to think if my kids decided not to be Mormon it would be the most heartbreaking thing imaginable. Now, I feel differently. I want them to be able to explore and find what brings them peace. If it’s the Mormon church, that’s fantastic. If not, I want them to be able to talk tome. With Dan, I don’t know how much spirituality will be a part of his life. He doesn’t seem very interested in abstract ideas. So, we’ll see.

    I love this post though. It has really made me think!

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  8. You know this is a subject near and dear, and me and my library are READY for Ben to ask questions. Gods, what i wouldn’t GIVE to have a reason to discuss religion!

    my luck he will be an Athiest like his father and look upon my altar and candles as voodoo nonsense. and he’s be partly right…

    (for those that don’t know, i’ve got a degree in this shit, and LURVE talking about it–much to other people’s discomfort)

    On a serious note–if he does show SERIOUS interest in attnending church service–i would suggest finding a Unitarian option? a little less “doctriney” and a little more “potlucky”–often giving the sense of community people crave when it comes to religion

    now–i’m off to piss off some people about the whole “Jesus had a wife” thing… *rubs hands together*

    Good luck!

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  9. I’m really grateful to have friends with children slightly older than mine so I can see how you deal with these things. Actually, it might just be easier since you’ve been through it to just go ahead and raise mine.

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  10. When this came up in our household we attended the Unitarian Universalist church in our hometown, although I didn’t know a lot about it, I was pretty sure we could avoid indoctrination there. We enjoyed the community so much that we joined the fellowship. I am an atheist, my husband an agnostic and there we were signing the membership book. Of course, if what you are looking for is traditional Chritianity, this isn’t the way to go probably but it did expose my son, and us, to many different belief systems and some very awesome people. Our UU Fellowship even had an atheist group that met every other week.
    We have since moved to another city and my son is in a much smaller school where Jesus seems to come up way more often, and I share your concerns. He has made several statements so far like, “well I’m believing in god, I don’t want to go to fire.” Ugh,

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  11. I am trying to handle my autie son’s questions about religion the same as I did my NT daughter. He has shown very little interest, so far. He has asked what Jesus and God is, but doesn’t understand it. He says it doesn’t make sense and I agree with that sentiment. I am am having a hard time getting him to understand that even though it doesn’t make sense to our family it does to others. He thinks that there is no god and that everyone should be able to see that or explain to him how they know there is. He can’t grasp that they believe in something that in his mind is just so nonsensical. He has never asked to go to church, and I haven’t offered, but if he did I’d take him. My daughter has attended several with friends and believed for awhile. I allowed her her space to explore religion, while offering science to compare to and it’s not surprising that she has is a nonbeliever at the age of 14. I believe every child should be offered the opportunity to explore what fits for them without judgment. Though, I worried at first, that my son in all his gullibility would choose the Christian way, because it sounds so scary to not do so when you’re a child and you feel you might go to hell if you don’t. I know it scared me into believing as a child. So far, he doesn’t want anything to do with it and would not be able to sit through a church service quietly if his life depended on it, so I’m fairly certain that if he decided to try it out once would be about all the more he’d ask to go.

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  12. My mother-in-law has been known to take my ASD son to her United Church. Mostly he likes the toys and the singing. When I asked if he believed in God, he said, “God? Thas silly.”
    I admit, as an atheist myself, I liked that answer, but truth to tell, I would rather he had more questions. He believes in the Power Rangers, Transformers and Big Bad Beetleborgs. If you can’t see it, it isn’t real. He sees these characters all the time. After watching a cartoon bible story(about the loaves and fishes), he was willing to believe in Jesus, but when I asked who he was, he said. “Fish guy”. Hm, maybe we will bring up the topic when he is older.

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  13. I don’t foresee a day when this will be an issue simply because of my son’s ability to process such complex information. But, you know…never say never. I was brought up in one faith in a haphazard fashion, attended church and synagogue with friends, and went to a Quaker school for part of my high school years. I’ve come to realize that I don’t crave the organization of a church, but I like some of the rituals. My relationship with God is my own. I’d be happy if my child wanted to understand some kind of spirituality of any sort and would support and encourage him as best I could. Great post with lots of food for thought.

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  14. Yes, a touchy topic and yet a very good question whichever side of Belief you stand on and whether or not you’re impaired by any type of disability. Every child I’ve raised has had Special Needs and so imparting my Wisdom as a Parent *winks* hasn’t always been “typical” to say the least. I am a person of Faith, but not a fan of having Religion opposed to Relationship with God so that is where I happen to stand & naturally my Hope is that is where my Loved ones would stand also, but by choice, not coersion. There’s a difference between having Religion and having Relationship with the Creator and one that took me a lot of time to actually figure out so I totally get why it can be an even bigger mystery to children to figure out as they decide what and who to Believe and who to have a meaningful Relationship with and not just go through the motions. {Whether that is with God or anyone else.} Figuring out how best to have a Relationship with Spirit is a lot more to wrap one’s mind around than say having a Relationship with someone with flesh on. *Smiles* I’m no Spiritual Guru or Zen Jedi Master, but I found that Honest heartfelt simple answers worked best whether I was dealing with the questions the Children asked, or even a curious Adult who embarked upon the conversation of Spirituality with me and how I came to my particular conclusion and how best to come to theirs. When it comes to Faith and Spirituality each person must find their own path and choose, I can’t do it for them. As a Believer of coarse I feel confident that if someone’s Desire is to know God Relationally, it will happen. And if there is no Desire then naturally it will not happen anymore than someone not wanting a Relationship with me will get to know me either and become close and truly believe in me and my attributes. You sound like a wonderful Mom who will support and advocate for your Child in whatever the Desires of his Heart are and you’ll work out whatever differences you could end up with if you find yourselves standing on different sides of Belief. Blessings from the Arizona Desert… Dawn… The Bohemian

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  15. I’m different. I was raised by an atheist father and a non-practicing Catholic mom. My parents never (and I mean not one time ever) set foot in a church. I can see how the lack of faith on my father’s part is affecting his emotional state at age 80 being my mom’s primary caregiver (she is disabled by Parkinsons). Without faith, it is hard to face end of life issues.

    Eventually as an adult and some agnostic wanderings, I converted to Catholicism in my 30s. My son was baptized and has only known having religion in his life since he was born. He hasn’t got the capacity to question as Connor does (maybe when he is older). He has unquestioning faith now but if that changes, we can explore that together and as a community with his school and separately with our church. But I hope that his faith will always be a strength for him in all things including dealing with issues that arise from his disability.

    I am very proud of Connor for being able to express the inquiry, despite whatever stubborn control streak he’s got going on. His awareness and curiosity will get him far in education and in life. Giving him the chance to check out books and videos and explore different age-appropriate understandings of different beliefs will give him great perspective and decision making tools. If you two do it together, I’m thinking you could bond and learn from each other in ways that will give you deeper understanding of each other and provide lifetime relationship skills. xo

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  16. Flan, I have known your for a while now and know you well enough (I think) to know this took a lot to write and a lot to wrestle with. It’s not easy when our kids start to ask those difficult questions….you are handling this with dignity and grace. And he will come to his own decision with guidance from you…you will point him in the right direction and for that he is one lucky little boy.

    xxoo–Liz

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  17. Good job on teaching him the critical questioning. That is a skill that will serve him well and protect him in many situations. I found your blog, because I googled “I hate school fundraisers.” very funny post by the way. thanks.

    I thought hard about how I was going to combat the school’s info-mercial that they put my kid through before placing that hot little order form in his 6yr old hands.

    The only thing I came up with was to have him think about it crtically, to ask him some important questions that I knew those slick snake oil salesman did not clue him into. like, how much is the school getting out of this, was that person getting paid to come and tell him all about the plastic penguin he could win. Thankfully, he came to the conclusion that he would like to help his school but he was sure they weren’t getting as much money by purchasing useless carp. On his own, he came up with the idea of making his own pictures and see if his family or neighbors would donate a dollar to his school. I told him since he was so good at thinking about this in another way rather than just what was told (sold) to him that I would match what ever he raised.

    This could have been a big fight, this could have been an uncomfortable converstation but when put to the test of critical thinking he came to his own conclusion.

    I know I got off subject but I think the same tactic could be used to make it less stressful and more education exploration. Maybe little by little you can supply the learning opprotunities and your son will do his own critical thinking about what he needs or wants out of religion or spirituallity.

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  18. I think you are an amazing mom. There are so many books and resources online that will allow you to help Connor research religion. I applaud you for being so open to it. So many people are not.

    I would love to hear more about this journey with him. You’ll have to keep us posted. My husband and I have both said that our boys can follow what they wish…we just want to encourage them to have some sort of moral compass in their lives…

    .

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  19. Excellent post!! I loved reading it and those are difficult questions to answer. I think your position of gently counseling him while giving him opportunities to “experiment” and explore on his own is a really wonderful position. I hope dinner times are kept safe!

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  20. Loved it! I see your deliemma. While we (the fam) are Catholic, adn we are raising our daughter to be Catholic, we also believe that when she hits 8th grade, and she has to choose to become a full member of the church, it will truly be HER choice. I am not a cradle Catholic, though my husband is. That choice is important to me. I was allowed to choose, my husband, even though he was born into the religion, was allowed to choose, and Katie will be allowed to choose as well. I know not many people are as open about religion as we are, but that’s how we plan to handle it. The best thing (in my opinion) you can do is to allow your child to educate himself on the different religions nd make his own choice as to what to belive.

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  21. I don’t know why we cannot talk about touchy subjects. Just because people might not agree why can’t we have a rationale discussion? So here is my take….

    I was a total lapsed Catholic until I had Allie. My husband believes in a higher power, but believes religion corrupts. When I had Allie I reallly struggled with having her baptized. I just felt, for me, it was a part of who I was. Thankfully my husband didn’t fight me and agreed that since this is what I knew, he would go along with it. With Boo, though, I made the chaplin come every day into the NICU to bless her. It was me who NEEDED the thought that God would take care of my baby if the doctors couldn’t. As soon as we could, I had Boo baptized. Again, more because this is my heritage (for lack of a better phrase).

    When it came time for CCD, it just seemed a natural progression (I will also admit it was because my parents would kill me if Allie wasn’t signed up!). Of course this means during the school year we attend Church (we kind of take a vacation during the summer months). It has created a struggle for me. For example, I like about 95% of Catholics do not believe in most of the Church’s teachings. However we go, because it is like being an American. You live in America, you believe in the Constitution but you do not believe in owning slaves and you believe in a women’s right to vote ( both of which were/were not in there until an amendment). You grow up Catholic, you believe in Catholic guilt, sitting in a hard pew every week, and disagree with some of the teachings.

    So at the end of the day, for me, we bring the girls to Church because we want them to believe that there is good in the world, that there is something better for us after we suffer in this life, that we are here to help one another and that there is a higher power looking out for us. I take the good of the Church (love/help one another) and leave the rest behind (their fear of same sex marriage).

    Again, this is only my rationalization!

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  22. I think smart people always have questions. I’ve heard a fascinating theory that even the most devout believers should question their beliefs – or else they are just blindly following because someone (human) told them to; they are not actively DECIDING to believe.

    When religious beliefs are presented as daily, family values (as many are), the questions will come later – as children grow and are exposed to other ways of thinking. Your little prodigy just had his eyes opened a little earlier than most.

    Love that you’re exploring the tough questions on your blog. Naturally, we should all be allowed to weigh in on your parenting. Survey says: Nice job!

    Reply
  23. Pingback: Norman Rockwell Holidays at Our House « Living on the Spectrum: The Connor Chronicles

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