I once attended a talk at a local library titled, How To Raise Ethical Kids Without Religion. There were 8 people in the audience, and the lecturer, a man in his late 50’s, sat at a table and began by poking fun at various religious beliefs. I assumed this was the introduction to The Talk, but over an hour later, his poking fun at religion was more aggressive, and then the talk ended and he took questions. I had brought a notebook and pencil to jot down all the great ideas I was certain I’d learn, and as I looked down at my blank page, I wondered if I had missed some integral part of the lecture. Perhaps I’d gazed out the window when he’d gotten to the actual content.
A woman beside me raised her hand with the first question. She relayed that she and her husband belonged to a church, and that she really did not want to belong to that church, or that religion, but her whole family and her husband’s whole family would be so devastated if they were to make a leap into the great void of Nothing. The lecturer responded by asking her about which church and religion, and then he promptly listed all the dumb things about it. The woman sat back down, and nodded along initially, then she became still as the speaker went on. I was gathering my bag at this point, about to slip out, when a woman sitting ahead of me spoke up. She had long white hair and looked to be in her mid-60’s. “I find,” she interrupted the man, “that if you are going to raise children without religion in a religious world, that it helps to create something to fill the void.” The man fell silent for a moment. “Kids will learn all about their friend’s holidays, their Chanukah and Christmas, and if the only thing happening at their home is a mockery of these things, there is no true bonding within the family.” The speaker looked ready to counter, but the woman went on in such a politely persistent way. “With my kids, we came up with fun traditions around those same holidays, and we did them each year. It gave them something of their own to look forward to when all their peers were looking forward to something too.”
This comment comes to mind as I slip around my home in the quiet hours after bedtime, taking note of what has to go. There are the dresses, each with a picture of a princess stitched on the front. My daughter puts one on and acts accordingly. And there are the glass slippers, a current favorite. Things that have entered our home as if through a window we left open overnight. Things we haven’t bought or brought into the house are what my kid is playing with. She brings them home from play dates, she gets them from a well-meaning neighbor. These props are sought out by 8 am and used every day. They have to go.
Part of me, like the man giving that lecture, wants to sweep them out the door and tell my daughter how these things are harmful, that they are tools that limit her. But this, right now, is her religion. And so I think of the woman with the long white hair, and I know I must move more carefully.