An Atheist Teaches Religion

Suddenly, I am in charge of my daughter’s Christian education. As a parent, I find myself doing a lot of things I’d never imagined myself doing. The latest is tackling my 6-year-old’s Christian education. As an atheist from an atheist family, it’s not exactly a natural fit. But I’m a believer in the power of faith, as well as in the value of kids having the sense of an omniscient power greater then themselves to help them feel safe and loved. Usually, that power would be Mom and Dad, but we are mere mortals after all.

Also, from a values perspective, I’m not convinced a 6-year-old can understand concepts like civitas, community or liberal ideas of freedom and personal responsibility. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is just so much more precise and easy to remember. The Ten Commandments make sense, mostly.

At a family magazine I once worked at, we once tried to assign a story on how to raise kids with a strong moral compass, without religion, but disappointingly, the story turned into the usual pap about teaching them to take turns, value other people’s opinions, not make fun of each other etc , without much from the framework perspective. I’ve become convinced that inculcating my child with values like sharing (not just her toys but our family’s monetary resources), getting along, working hard, not cheating, welcoming new people, feeling responsible towards her peer community, and of course, not stealing someone’s Wii or thrill-killing (to name a couple no-nos), may best be done through use of Juedo-Christian lore.

One of my favorite things about first grade was the bible stories we’d hear every morning on the carpet. This was in London, Ontario, in the early 1980s, so having a religious element in public school wasn’t unheard of, in fact, we said the Lord’s Prayer every morning too, as we did at Brownies on Tuesday nights.

My partner, on the other hand, is a lapsed Catholic who went to Catholic school and says it wasn’t all that, and finds it unnecessary to handle the God stuff vis a vis our new bible student. So, long story short, I find myself in the bible stories section buying a kids’ bible, as well as a handy book called “Do Unto Otters” that provides a nice narrative of doing unto others via anthropomorphized otters and rabbits and owls, so I’m all set. (Try explaining the concept of God to a 6-year-old heathen, without any learning aids, as I did last month, and you’ll find it’s not easy, hence the bookstore.)

I figure she’s got lots of time to paint her nails black and come home with a library edition of Ayn Rand, informing us that she’s taken up smoking American Spirits and that, BTW, there’s no such thing as God. But at age 6, I’d rather have a believer.