We are not religious. Not religious may be putting it lightly. I don’t mean that we just go to church or temple for the big holidays. Our attendance is much less frequent than that, as in we only go to church when somebody dies. Well, lately we’ve been to quite a few funerals so maybe that is more frequent than less. We are so-called non-believers. We are non-smokers as well. I cannot think of any other cool “non” phrases to describe us. Being non-believers doesn’t mean that our children are ignorant of religion. I mean every day at their public school, the posters on the walls remind them not to worry that they don’t believe in God because God believes in them and that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins. They also got to know that unicorns are the symbol of “sexual freedom, homosexual sex, lesbian sex, and group sex, etc.” I cannot imagine what the “etc.” could possibly be, but perhaps the Religion teacher could explain it to me. Thanks Miss Nun/Catechism Teacher for introducing 8-year-olds to the phrase “group sex”. As you can see, our school understands the concept of religious freedom a little differently than we do.
As parents, we feel that it is our responsibility to share some important beliefs and holidays from the world’s most prevalent religions with our children. Around this time of year, we talk about Easter and Passover. Just a disclaimer here – I teach religious stories as legends or mythology. I just tell them that there is such a holiday - it has a place in that religion’s history and culture. I don’t justify or judge. I allow my children to react as they will. From these and other stories I ask the girls what conclusions they can draw or if there is a moral in the story.
Our kids call Passover “Jewish Easter”. No offense Jewish friends, it’s due to the timing, not the celebration. I have never celebrated Passover myself but some Jewish friends gave us the breakdown back in Catholic school. (Many Jewish children attended our private Catholic school when we were kids. They were encouraged to share their religion and holidays with the class.) When I explained the whole “passing over” part with the lamb’s blood and all of that, my kids asked, “So their kids were saved, but what about the other people’s kids?” Welcome to the Bible, dear children. Their next question was in amazement, “So people celebrate that?” They completely glazed over the end of slavery part and focused on the part where one family is passed over and their first born is safe, while the other family is not. It was a lot of information to take in, slavery, plagues, a just, but vengeful god. Their conclusion drawn from the Passover story was that you shouldn’t be happy about your neighbor’s misfortune. Not the most direct conclusion and directly in conflict with celebrating your own good fortune of being passed over, but a conclusion which I can support.
Easter is closer to home due to my early education in Catholic school. I haven’t celebrated a religious Easter in more than 20 years, but I’ve got the main story down. My children were most interested in the Resurrection. The Crucifixion part they took as a sign of the times “back then”. Lizzie claimed that resurrection was impossible. She also figured that Jesus could not have come back as a ghost because ghosts don’t exist and that he couldn’t have come back to life as that is not possible. Her analysis was that crucifixion, while horrendous, did not in fact kill Jesus and so he simply regained consciousness and did not come back from the dead. In between all her reasoning, she demanded that I check for sure on the computer that Jesus came back in body not in spirit. Rosie, upon hearing confirmation that Jesus had come back in body, declared that she knew what had happened. “Jesus was a zombie,” she said. I cannot argue with that because that is more in keeping with the original story than Lizzie’s version and was the way a (then) 5-year-old explained it to herself.
At 5 years old, I did not think like that. I did not ask questions at Catholic school. I listened, and I took everything at face value. I believed whole-heartedly in Jesus, the Resurrection, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. As I learned that Santa didn’t exist, I naturally questioned the rest of my beliefs. So what happens when kids ask a lot of questions in Catholic school in America in the early 80’s?
Well, of course we got the typical answers from our teachers, nuns and priests, that you have to believe. Don’t ask how it happened, just know and believe that it did happen. Ok, but what if we do not and cannot believe? Well, you are on a path, they told us, which in the end will lead to belief. Perhaps you are too young now to give yourself over to faith, but don’t worry one day you will believe. And if we never believe, we never have faith in any of what you have taught us? Your path may take you another way, you may not be a believer. You may find your faith in 5 years or 50 years or not all. And that was it. No screaming at us. No telling us that we would go to hell. Just an acknowledgment that not everyone has faith. That was one of the critical moments in my path, my path as an atheist, the acknowledgement that there was another path because until that moment my entire education in Catholic school had left me with a constant sense of guilt. I felt guilty for practically everything I did, had done, or would do in the future. I was even born a sinner according to the church a concept that I never accepted and until today reject, hence my dislike of christenings.
Unfortunately, my kids while sitting in the halls of their school do not have that luxury – the luxury to discover their own path without guilt. The face of Jesus looks down on them on each floor of their school telling them “You must repent. Your time is running out”, “You cannot afford a life without the Lord”, “You were born to serve Him”.
Happy Zombie Jesus Day.