in which I am revealed as a godless heathen

Caleb and I are in the back of a cab headed to a soccer tournament, early Saturday morning.

“Mommy? Have I ever been in a church?” he asks, apropos of precisely nothing.

I think to myself that surely he must have been in a church, at some point in his eight years on the planet.  I stall: why?

“Well,” he says. “We were looking at an exhibit of chairs and we saw one of those church chairs for Christians–wow, that’s a lot of “ch” sounds–and anyway, I looked at that church chair and told Mrs. Allen that I’d never been to church.”

With the flair of a natural-born storyteller, Caleb paused and looked at me. “And then,” he continued, drawing it out, “the entire class looked at me with wide eyes and said what? you’ve never been to a church?

I am triumphant: Notre Dame! We went to Notre Dame when we were in Paris!

Caleb shakes his head, disappointed. “That’s not what I mean. We were just looking at things, so it wasn’t really church.”

Kid’s got a point. We were tourists, not worshippers, but his question has sent me into a parental tizzy of “shoulds:” I should be taking the kids to church, I should be reading to them from the various holy books, I should be better about explaining the principles of world religions…

“Actually, mommy, do we know other people who don’t pray?”

Add that to the “should” list: praying, instructions thereof.

I point out that none of his aunts, uncles, or grandparents pray, although one aunt has lately become a Buddhist, so she meditates. He snorted. “Meditating is not praying.”

For a heathen, he’s pretty clear about his spiritual definitions.  “But besides, that’s all family. I mean regular people we know who don’t pray.”

True, our family is not exactly what you’d call “regular,” but luckily most of our friends are unchurched, so I rattle off some names.

I grew up going to an Episcopal Church, which I liked mostly because of the word itself, which I stretched across my tongue: e-pissssss-co-PAY-leeeeee-an. I found out many years later that we went to church because of my mother’s own “should” list: she taught Sunday School because she “thought she should,” even though she didn’t like doing it and wasn’t much convinced about the existence of god.

Now I live with my children in a country where religion is an inescapable presence, from the mosques on every corner, to the adhan that sounds across the city five times a day, to the sprawling grounds of St. Andrews Church, which is used by all manner of non-Muslim congregations. The sheer physical fact of religious practice here makes our family’s absence of religion much more noticeable than if we still lived in New York. I like to think we’re raising our children in basic humanity 101: treat others as you would be treated, be grateful and generous with what you have, look for ways to make the world a better place.

But I wondered there, in the back of that cab, if somehow my son was feeling some profound spiritual absence, some gap in his life that only rituals could fulfill.

I took the plunge and asked the question: would you like to start going to church and learning prayers?

He looked at me, shocked. “No,” he said in those slow tones that children only use when their parents are being particularly idiotic. “I mean, maybe. But only to look around. I don’t want to do any of that church stuff.”

He’s a chip off the old heathen block, that boy.



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7 Responses to in which I am revealed as a godless heathen

  1. Arnebya March 12, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    We are Baptists. We don’t go to church regularly. We should. I want to. I don’t want to. My husband’s family looks at us funny when we don’t go because the kids should. We should. I want to. I don’t want to. Ugh. Sundays are for lounging around in pajamas and making hasty grocery runs for popcorn and sunflower seeds, not for doing “real” things like singing and praying and yes lawd hallelujah amen. But it is. It should be. I want to take them. I don’t feel like it. It is expected and I feel judged for not showing up regularly. Why can’t I talk to whomever I talk to, regardless of who I consider that person to be…from the comfort of my home? Oh, the fellowship. Um, I don’t want to. But I should. The kids should. I’m tired and want my Sundays to be lazy. I’m going to Hell.

    At least Caleb is clear in his heathenness.
    Arnebya recently posted..What Do You Remember From Kindergarten?My Profile

    • Deborah Quinn March 15, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

      I suppose in my heathenish state I should be glad that I don’t come from a religious family – there’s no pressure for us to being toe-ing someone’s line or anything, which is a relief, I have to say. Sunday is supposed to be a day of REST and last time I checked, “rest” and “get the kids out the door to something they don’t want to do” were NOT synonymous. so there. I think the lord would agree, don’t you?

  2. Kim at Mama Mzungu March 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Wonderful wonderful post! So well written (as always) and so much in here. And why is it that the kids always hit you with the big questions when you’re riding in the car?? I have a whole post about (my) Caleb asking me about death while driving home from school. Catches you off guard, huh? And then the “shoulds” start creeping in. In Kenya it’s really “where” do you go to church and not “if.” When we tell them I am Jewish and Colin is Bahai they scratch their heads and look a bit suspiciously at us. So, we just tell them that none of our churches are in our town, so we can’t go. IT gets us off the hook for a minute. ; )

    It’s hard to escape the “shoulds” though with the kids. Our parents are both pretty religious, and so there’s a lot of pressure. Right now, we’re just focusing on “making good choices” (in toddler parlance) and each day we say what we’re thankful for before dinner. I think it is entirely possible to raise moral and socially responsible children in the absence of religion, but there’s less of a script for it….
    Kim at Mama Mzungu recently posted..Choosing Peace in KenyaMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn March 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      I am totally going to borrow that phrase: morally and socially responsible children. Exactly. It’s what I want … and there isn’t an easy script for that…although there SHOULD be. (heh heh heh)

  3. Lady Jennie March 20, 2013 at 12:38 am #

    There should absolutely be no shoulds. I think people are called to that or they aren’t, but there is no point in doing something because you should (except basic humanity 101).
    Lady Jennie recently posted..Life in the Trenches – Chapter 11My Profile

    • Deborah Quinn March 23, 2013 at 11:26 am #

      Words to live by – avoid the shoulds! But I also want to make sure that my kids grow up with, if not a set religious perspective, then at least an awareness & a compassion about the importance of those perspectives for others. That basic Golden Rule stuff of doing unto others as you’d like them to do until you…(also Basic Humanity 101, as you so aptly titled it)!


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