Raising Kids With Religion – or Not

I was raised Catholic. And like everyone else who was raised Catholic, I am what you might call “lapsed.” (In reality I am actually just “not a Catholic anymore,” but my parents might read this, so let’s go with “lapsed.”)

I don’t put much truck in religion these days; it has its purpose for many, and I don’t begrudge them their beliefs, except of course when they use those beliefs as a rationale for violence and intolerance and hatred and war and etc. Which is a lot of people, but it certainly isn’t the majority. So go ahead and pray if you like; I just won’t be joining you.

But my son might.

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This is one of my favorite images from 2015 because it mocks both my son AND Jesus!

Currently, Detective Munch hasn’t been baptized.

As a new dad, the question is: should he be? Should I brainwash my son the way I was brainwashed by my parents and my catechism teachers and my high school and Kirk Cameron and the backs of all our money and Tim Tebow and etc.? Or should I leave him alone, give him a nice little religion free Christmas every year, and let him find his own way? As a former Catholic, the idea of raising kids with religion is a bit of a tricky subject. Especially after my mother called and begged me to baptize my baby.

You might be surprised to learn that I’m leaning towards getting him baptized. And not just to hedge my bets! I honestly believe it’s better to give him a base from which to have his faith eroded than to start him at zero. The way I see it, indoctrinating him early is the only real way to give him a choice in the matter. If he rushes a religion now and joins up in time for First Communion, he’s a lot more likely to bow out when he starts thinking for himself than he is to glom onto a random set of beliefs after starting with nothing. And being religious as a youngster has few consequences, so long as you don’t count the lifelong fun-annihilating guilt he’ll be saddled with every time he masturbates.

Humility. Kindness. Selflessness. Hope. Discipline. Most religions focus on these virtues as building blocks, and I don’t disagree. But even thought I think my son needs to grow up with a solid foundation in such values, I don’t have the time to teach this kind of wishy-washy stuff! So I’ll get some guy to pour some water on his face and let them do the heavy lifting for the first 12-15 years of his life while I sit back with my feet up and wait to see what happens.

At the very least, if there is a hell governed by byzantine rules about not swearing too much and avoiding meat on Fridays and something absurd called “original sin” that punishes infants for no fucking reason other than to scare parents into worshiping a vengeful angry boogey-man in the sky, my son will be protected for a little while. That works for me. The biggest drawback for me is that in order to sell it, I’ll probably need to go to church with him a lot more than I’d like.

And if he decides to stick with religion, I won’t protest. Unless he starts shooting people that disagree with him, or he joins the (clearly-forthcoming) New Crusades.

I’m not a big God guy. I don’t believe in him and I think the belief can be toxic (to be fair, blind certainty in anything can be toxic). But I’m still planning to raise my son with a modicum of faith and a background in one. Because I think it’s important for him to learn for himself – rather than be told straight-out – that God is a fraud. He’ll figure that out eventually, when his countless prayers go unanswered, his idealism is slowly eroded and extinguished with age, and he ultimately realizes that no, things don’t happen for a reason. And until he figures that out, there’s a lot of good to be found in religion – ideals that need not be conjoined to a belief in a higher power, sure, but it’s not a bad shortcut to getting some of that stuff to stick.

Further, tempting though it may be to puncture what I believe to be a misguided faith in the supernatural, I’m not sure it’s really my place to tell my son there’s no God. Because as sure as I am that there isn’t, I can never be positive. And just because you believe in Jesus doesn’t mean I think you’re evil. I might think you’re a little silly but I don’t think you’re destined to burn in hell and I’m not going to spend my time convincing you that you will.

Sadly, that realization is one of the biggest and most infuriating differences between those who are religious and those who aren’t. That will be one thing I impart to my son on my own: be happy with your own beliefs and let other people be happy with theirs.

Unless they’re Nazis. Then just run.

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9 thoughts on “Raising Kids With Religion – or Not

  1. i tried to encourage faith, not dogma. it’s the dogma that wrecks it all. my son once told me he thought i was a Tsaoist. i looked it up (interesting when your middle schooler knows more than you do) and i think he was right. we did go to an episcopal church for about five years – wallpaper catholics is how some people refer to it. i felt like i gave them the exposure and left the final decisions up to them.

  2. ‪I love this article but I’ve been thinking about it more over the past day. At least in my experience, losing faith sucks. A lot. It’s painful, lonely, and leaving the church is really hard. I respect (and maybe agree with???) your reasoning here but I’m curious what you think about that part of it. Did you experience that and is it alright to set your kid up for that?‬

  3. I’ve been having this same debate with my husband. I, too, am a lapsed catholic, he was not raised with religion. I’d like to give them a base (not Catholicism necessarily, more like an overview of God and faith)and then choose for themselves what they want to believe. I think it’s a big idea to decide for yourself, so when you do, it’s a big moment of growth. I think, in some ways, it’s one of the first big decisions they’ll make.

  4. I was raised in a religious household but always questioned (even as a child). Reading the bible a few times (and studying other religions) made me a non believer. My spouse and I have been married for 24 years and have 5 children (23,21,17,13,9). Everyone assumes we are religious because of the size of our family but we are not. All of our children were raised with this: no one knows for certain if there is a god or afterlife no matter how much they believe there is and being a good person doesn’t require a religion. I personally lean toward there being none but the only truthful answer about a creator or what happens when we die that I can give my children is that no one knows for certain. Much to the dismay of our religious family members, all 5 of our kids are incredibly kind, law abiding, productive, well rounded, and rational young people. I
    Truly in all aspects “good”. The evidence shows that we have done a good job raising them with no religion.

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  7. hat realization is one of the biggest and most infuriating differences between those who are religious and those who aren’t. That will be one thing I impart to my son on my own: be happy with your own beliefs and let other people be happy with theirs.

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