I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer. I have no intention of telling TJ’s grandparents about this, because I don’t think they would understand. If they read this, I suppose that’s on them, but I don’t want anyone trying to change his mind about things – good intentions or not.
“I don’t believe in God. I believe in the Big Bang.”
This is what my not quite 8-year-old said to me this morning when I asked him whether or not he wanted to go to Vacation Bible School next week. His grandma had mentioned it as a potential activity for him since the town summer recreation program ended last week. TJ, however, is not interested in the least. He is adamantly opposed to going.
This Mom Believes in God
I am Christian. I am not your stereotypical Christian, although I grew up that way. I went to Amity Reformed Church, which can be described as Dutch Presbyterian and part of the Reformed Church of America (RCA). I faithfully attended Sunday School every week. I went to church every Sunday until I was old enough to tell my parents I didn’t want to go because it was boring. But I still went to Sunday School and was very active in youth group. I was devoted to my confirmation class, and I took my confirmation into the church very seriously. I believed it all.
My high school Sunday School class was fascinating. We weren’t just being taught Bible stories anymore. We were being taught how to question our beliefs while still keeping our faith. I think this was an advantage of mine that many other young Christians never had. My Sunday School teachers were also our youth group leaders. We talked about scientific, rational explanations for the miracles Jesus performed that were still miracles of humanity, if not supernatural. We discussed making moral decisions as young adults after watching uncomfortable videos about sex and drugs. We did volunteer work and helped out at church suppers and breakfasts for the people who attended the ridiculously early Sunrise Service each year on Easter Sunday.
My beliefs were transformed further when I went to college, although I was still teasingly called “Little Church Girl” by one of my coworkers at the grocery store when I was home on break. I had lived a very sheltered life before college, and I was very naive when I went out into the world. Some things I learned the hard way, and others I learned by other people’s bad examples. I had some very good friends on the college newspaper staff with whom I shared long discussions on every deep subject there is. We were all Christian in some form or another, but we also believed in science and shades of gray and liberal politics. We were all psychology majors, as well – not English or journalism majors, as most would have assumed would be running the newspaper.
After college, I met a still wider range of people with the advent of the Internet as more than just AOL chat rooms. I belonged to a writing community and made connections with people that still hold even now, more than a decade after the website itself became defunct. They engaged me, challenged me, made me consider different perspectives I hadn’t known existed before.
And so I ended up becoming an uncommon sort of Christian who believes in God, but does not necessarily define God the same way others do. I believe God is the name of whatever power it is that does all of those things we can’t explain, the reason we have science, and not necessarily an intelligent being who had personal conversations with people in the form of a burning bush. I believe the Bible was written by men who explained God in the terms they understand, framed by their culture and the world they lived in. I believe that other world religions formed the exact same way, and that every culture’s version of God is essentially the same thing – the force of nature responsible for everything we don’t understand, described in the terms the people were best able to understand it at the time. I believe Jesus Christ existed, and that He understood what we call God better than any of his contemporaries. That’s what made Him special, what made Him such a powerful voice.
That’s what I believe.
But My Son Does Not
When TJ was born, I still wanted him to be baptized – for tradition if not something even higher. I had serious issues with the pastor of my childhood church, though, and I did not want that man to be the one to bless my son. I became an ordained minister so I could baptize him myself. Mock the Universal Life Church if you will, but even though some people become ordained online for a laugh, I believe that people are called in their own way. The ULC maintains that:
The Universal Life Church Monastery will not stand between you and your God and we recognize that each minister and clergy member has the right to choose his or her own spiritual path. Each minister legally ordained by the ULC Monastery is at liberty to follow any religious path so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others.
So TJ has been baptized, but he has been baptized by me, which allows me to believe that when I baptized him in the name of God, this was not at odds with his own lack of faith in God – since I believe that God is a force of nature and science.
Still, it was kind of a shock to hear these words from my son this morning.
When he said that he believed in the Big Bang but not God, I told him that I believed in both – that I believe that God is the reason the Big Bang happened. He responded that he believes in the supernova that caused the Big Bang. (He reads a lot of fascinating books about science, but they are still quite simplified for elementary school students, so do not explain all of the current scientific theories about how the Big Bang may have occurred. Supernova is not a popularly accepted theory, but I suppose it makes more sense for young minds.)
I told him that his grandparents believe in God, and he rolled his eyes and said ruefully, “Yeah, so do Jack and Ryan.”
Jack and Ryan are twins who were in his second grade class. They were best friends…until they weren’t. Further discussion with TJ this morning determined that religion was the cause for their falling out. They were talking to him about God, and TJ told them he didn’t believe in God. And it didn’t go over well.
If TJ is so firm in his belief in science over religion that he was willing to lose a friendship he cherished over it, I respect that. I’m sad that his friends couldn’t accept him as a non-believer and decided to shun him after that, but I realize what a grown up decision my boy made.
I will not try to push my beliefs on him, but as he gets older, I will encourage him to learn more about various world religions so he can have more knowledge of other people’s beliefs. We will have to discuss trying not to accidentally offend people who hold different beliefs; this is as much an Asperger’s discussion as a religious one, as we both have a tendency to say things that come out wrong with “tone” we didn’t intend.
I hope that TJ does not lose more friendships due to his beliefs. I wish more parents would teach their children to be tolerant of different beliefs, that we could all live together in a respectful environment free of prejudice and hatred. I’m tolerant of pretty much any beliefs other than hate and intolerance. I wish the world could be that way.
I accept my son’s rational belief in science. Do your children’s beliefs differ from your own?