Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Religious Upbringing of Children

The late Douglas Adams wrote a wonderful story in his incredibly misnamed five volume trilogy, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, about a distant race of people who wanted to know the meaning of life, after thousands of years of work, and building multiple computers, they learned that the answer was 42. Unfortunately, after Adams gave us the answer, he never got around to explaining the question.

When What’s-His-Name was about 12, he began to leave childhood and become self-aware, he began questioning the world around him. So it was only natural that one day he asked me the same question.

“Dad?” he asked. “Why are we here? What is life all about?”

“42.” I promptly answered. I can’t say I was expecting the question, but I was ready. Thank you, Mr. Adams.

“Dad! Be serious, I want to know what life is all about.” What’s-His-Name was practically yelling.

“Son, if you don’t believe me, go ask your mother.” This was another great answer. My son and I both knew I had never missed an opportunity to play a practical joke on him, and he knew better than to completely believe me. His mother, The Doc, is absolutely trustworthy, having had her sense of humor surgically removed during the third year of med school.

So my son promptly ran to the other end of the house and asked his mother the same question and just as promptly got an answer, “42.” The Doc loves Douglas Adams as much as I do. She used to operate in scrubs with “Don’t Panic” stenciled on the back. Okay, some vestigial remains of her sense of humor are still attached.

You could hear What’s-His-Name wailing from the other end of the house. I’m still not sure if he was upset at an answer he couldn’t understand or the realization that all of his genetic material came from the two of us.

This incident happened years before I had worked out the tenets of my own church, St. Mark’s Buddhist Bar and Tabernacle, but even then I knew that every child needs some form of religious or ethical foundation. Eventually, we settled for something simple; Life Sucks and Then You Die.

Simple religions for simple people and this one fulfilled all the needs of a religion. It explains why bad things happen; Life Sucks. And it handles the question of an afterlife; You Die. It encourages a practical, though somewhat stoic, lifestyle. Okay, it probably fails one major test of a religion, it doesn’t coerce tithing, but my boys didn’t yet have the resources that would attract an established church.

Faithful readers by now realize that my philosophy of raising children is to take every possible opportunity to fill their heads with bullshit and lunacy. I believe in stretching their brains before life locks them into a role. Having been raised in Our Lady of Perpetual Motion, a church that was constantly terrified that someone somewhere was having a good time, I was determined to have my sons avoid this infection until they had developed sufficient antibodies. Besides, I was worried that if I was caught back on church grounds, they might burn me at the stake.

I wasn’t sure the boys completely understood this philosophy until I attended a parent/teachers conference when The-Other-One was in the third grade. The teacher was a little upset with my son’s history report about the hardships faced by the Pilgrims. She couldn’t understand why the son of a history professor would end his report with… and you guessed it… “Life Sucks and Then You Die.”

I could have told her there were 42 reasons, but she wasn’t ready for a religious breakthrough.

1 comment:

  1. I too decided to give up the guilt that certain leaders of my particular faith liked to lather on 12 year olds. When I found myself unable to sleep for fear I'd left a sin unconfessed during my "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep", I decided something must be wrong and promptly became an agnostic. I fended off the Bible studies lady for two years, passing two 28 lesson Bible study courses with 100% on every question. She kept asking me to get baptized and I told her no. It wasn't until the tender age of 17 that I finally remembered from my Bible studies that the purveyors of guilt were not in harmony with the Book which was the foundation of their supposed faith. Once I got past that, I was baptized on the spot, demanded that God show up once in a while so I'd know He was there and began my long struggle to be a better person. I've been a thorn in the side of the Sisters of Perpetual Guilt wing of the church ever since. I believe I was placed here by God to keep the pot stirred. I can't imagine why He'd put someone like me in among this crowd of sinners, mentally ill persons and teapot megalomaniacs. Some of them are actually quite nice, though, I must admit.