I was 8 years old, fidgeting in my seat, sandwiched between my father and my grandmother in Sunday morning church. It was hour two of a long Catholic service and I was regretting not going to the children's class with all the songs and snacks. I was listening to the priest talking about beliefs in false idols and he mentioned Santa, the Easter bunny and other lies of false worship we tell children and I sat straight up in my seat.
“Wait, SANTA isn’t REAL?” I whispered into my dad’s ear. “I thought you said Santa was real!”
My dad, who was halfway through his nap, pulled me close and whispered into my ear a sentence that completely turned my world upside down. “Nope, sorry. Santa, Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, all those fairy tale characters are just made up so kids will do what they say or like a spokesperson.”
I sat there stunned. Not real? Who was that guy whose lap I sat on in the mall? Where are my teeth going then? And would I get gifts and money now? I leaned back to my dad, “So, none of those magical people are real?”
Dad shook his head. “Sorry, kiddo, it was time for you to know anyways.”
Mickey Mouse? Nope.
Big Bird? Nope.
Mr. Bubble? Nope.
"Even him?" I pointed at the cross with Jesus hanging over the altar. "He’s not real either?"
My dad, who was looking out the window at the neighboring McDonald’s sign, shook his head. Nope not even him. He was referring to Ronald McDonald; I was pointing at Jesus. I sat there stunned and thought it through. Jesus is the kid's character they made up for kids to understand religion better, like a mascot. It all made sense!
My next couple of visits to church were interesting as I was trying to let on to the adults that I knew Jesus wasn't real, that I was in on the ruse and I was a 'grown up' now, entrusted with this adult secret. I started reading the church lessons and teachings with this mindset and slowly started noticing how many adults still believed in Jesus and was shocked. It took many more years to work out that the religion part was full of horrible ideas and vague moral lessons. When I met my first atheist that questioning mindset had been set and it all came crumbling down.
I went through the 'Strident Atheist' period and argued and ranted at anyone bringing up Christianity until my family declared the topic off limits. As I met other atheists and realized they didn't spend their free time railing against Christianity I began to crave the balance of a calm life with my family and friends, regardless of their religious choosing.
The biggest piece that was missing in my life was the desire to help others without going through a Christian organization to do so. The humanist movement really spoke to me and helped focus my desire to do good in the world.
Then, I had a child.
When she was 9 weeks old, my religious mother, my very religious step-mother and my newly religious father asked if she could be baptized. And then I watched them physically cringe in anticipation of the righteous anger they were expecting from me. I asked them why that ceremony was so important to them and then asked for more time to think about their request.
That's when I started to research godless parenting. Thanks to the internet, the library system and Amazon, I was able to amass a large amount of parenting books, guides, and blogs to help guide me. I joined a couple of secular parenting groups online and started digging in.
I realized my kid would be exposed to the Christian religion and banning her from learning about Jesus and the Bible would leave her ignorant to common teachings and lessons not only in our family but in school and social situations. My father was a new convert thanks to a pastor who stepped up to counsel him after his life changing stroke. He went from a robust hard working man to physically and mentally disabled in a blink of an eye. The pastor from a local church began visiting him during his 5 month hospital stay and helped guide him in accepting his new life with grace. This transformation in my own father became a good lesson for my own child about how religious tenants can be used for good.
As my child began being introduced to Jesus via my family I set hard rules. At the time, my sister did not have children but I still framed in this way: Whatever teachings about Jesus you want to expose my child to, I get the same opportunity with your own children in exposing them to my own mindset.
I began using the word Choice a lot when my child asked about our family and their talk of Jesus.
Why don't we go to church like Grandma does? Going to church every Sunday for Grandma is very important to her. That's her choice to go.
Aunt K says Christmas is about Jesus, not gifts. That is exactly what she believes and it's very important to her. Christmas is a time of giving back and showing our love for each other. It's fun to give gifts.
When my daughter was 3, I asked her to put together her toys she no longer liked, and we cleaned them up and donated them. She wanted to give people umbrellas as well so we carried them in the car and gave them out as needed. I constantly reference these acts as how we help others during the holiday season and brainstorm ways to do more throughout the year.
Why does that family wear scarves on their heads and wear all black? It's their choice and an important part of their religion.
We discuss moral lessons and how we can apply them. We live by a large amount of people begging for money/food on the street. We save our water bottles and give them out as we can. As she got older, I constantly sought out ways for us to volunteer, help, and assist with making the world a better place.
Exposure to many other cultures, traditions and religions is key for us. Seeing other cultures celebrate their religious holidays helps put Christianity as a choice along with so many other cultures' traditions. If you are only exposed to one type of thinking, you think that's the only path available . Exploring other religions helps children see what is important to others and keeps them curious about the world around them. At 7 years old, my child started noticing that other cultures had many similar moral lessons, cultural icons and holidays.
I did not allow my parents to baptize my child after all. I decided my child can choose her own path in the future when she is old enough to understand what it stands for.
I’m being proactive in showing how Christianity is embedded into our culture and our own traditions. You can't ignore the world around them or limit their exposure to religious teachings, and people . If you don't explain Santa, the tooth fairy, Christmas trees, Menorahs, and their origins then other people will explain them for you. So I’ve tried to get ahead of the onslaught and frame it correctly.
I try and model good citizen behavior for my own family and encourage and praise it when I see it in action online, and in person, regardless of whether the source is secular or not. Because what I want most for my daughter is good character and a solid understanding of the world around us.