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.
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?”
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.
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?