Why I Send My Child to Church When I’m Not Christian

I call myself an omnitheist. I believe that all paths of faith and belief from atheism to Zoroastrianism are equally correct because the universe is vast and has enough room for all of humankind’s fireside stories. I acknowledge all the gods as real, worship none and if I have a specific crisis of faith, I usually can solve it with a Doctor Who episode.

But my daughter goes to a Methodist church on a regular basis and I’m certainly okay with that.

I don’t go with her. These trips to church were started by my mother and sister-in-law, who attend every week. In general she stays with them once a month when it’s my wife’s weekend to work so that I don’t have the responsibility for keeping a five-year-old quiet in a house with a sleeping night nurse. Since they get up early on Sundays for church, it seemed only fair that they be able to take her along instead of having to wait for me to come get her.

Regardless of your faith or lack of, I think that it’s important in America to have some good foundational understanding of Christianity. The worship of Christ is on the decline, but Christians still make up three quarters of the population. Every single one of our presidents has identified as a Christian, and the same is true for nearly all of our other elected officials throughout history.

There’s really no excuse for someone in America to be ignorant of basic tenets of Christianity when so many of your friends and neighbors will be members of that faith. For better or for worse, whether you agree with their faith or not, getting along as a community in this country means that you have to find common ground with Christians.

“But aren’t you worried that someone will brainwash her?” is the question I get from most of my atheist friends who disapprove. They ask me why I don’t raise her in a home dedicated to logic and science instead of superstitious belief.

To answer the second one, all I can say is that if you’re going to be the kind of parent who keeps the magic of Santa Claus alive as much as possible, then you can’t really object to religion with a straight face, can you? And I am most definitely that kind of parent. Children should have their fairies and ghosts. Expressing our souls through tales is literally the entire history of our species. God, the Easter Bunny and the Loch Ness Monster all serve the same purpose in our lives.

As for brainwashing, a kid isn’t going to experience something like homophobia once at a church and then be cursed with it for the rest of his or her life. It’s the same sort of fuzzy logic you hear extreme Christians using whenever they find out their children have studied anything Muslim in school. You can’t be tricked into a toxic belief just because some grown-up told it to you a few times.

Brainwashing requires cutting people off from other streams of information. Someone may tell my daughter, “God hates fags” (and by the way, I ask her often what she hears at church, and it’s nothing vile or hateful), but she can weigh that against the gay families she knows and tell the difference between love and a jerk.

The presence of religion doesn’t drive away logic. I’ve told her that some people think that the dinosaur bones at the Houston Museum of Natural Science were put there by the devil to test Christians, but I’ve also told her that those people are lunatics with weak faith. I let her know that even if God did inspire the Bible, the people He was talking to were very primitive and couldn’t grasp a lot of the mysteries of the universe. Just as she has her little book of simplified Bible stories, so is the Bible the mind of God simplified for our puny human understanding. Maybe if we keep on evolving, we'll get the young-adult version someday.

Trying to expose her only to people who reject a belief in God is no guarantee of anything good either. I’ve seen plenty of atheists who were raging misogynists or bitter racists, and a fair number of them seem to hang out on conspiracy theory websites. I’d rather listen to a sermon than to someone rambling on about chemtrails. At least the former has music sometimes.

Now that she’s approaching a pretty good reading level, I do plan on finding her some books similar to her My First Read and Learn Bible exploring other faiths like Islam and Hinduism (suggestions in the comments welcome!). She’s a big fan of the mummies at the museum, so there are also the classic mythologies to explore. Just because certain gods are no longer widely worshipped doesn’t mean that their stories aren’t told or that they don’t continue to shape the world. Modern Christianity is as much a descendant of pagan influence as it is Christ’s teachings, after all.

There is a big difference between knowing something and blindly following it. And the more you know about many different things, the more likely you are to include them all when you consider your worldview. Patterns emerge among the various narratives. You can see the similarities between the resurrection of the god Osiris and Jesus, and both to something like Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That particular story, whoever the subject, is describing a part of a larger concept. None is the whole truth.

Religion is just a way to look at the world and interpret your place within it. Even though I personally don’t find any worth in any particular organized religion, I feel stronger for having studied them. I spent some years as a Buddhist and before that a Satanist and before that a vague, unaffiliated Christian. Being well-rounded and well-read seems a much healthier path than teaching her people of faith are stupid zombies or that atheists are immoral heathens. That way she can center what she believes in what she’s seen, not in adherence to group dogma. She enjoys her Sundays at church with her gran and her aunt. Just because I do not is no reason to deny her the experience.  

Jef has a new story about robot sharks,"A Senseless Eating Machine", out now in Lurking in the Deep. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner