Tackling the great unknown

The yearly invitation from our local Baptist church to attend their Christmas services has just come through the door. Every year I get excited about going to the candlelit carol service and every year I never go, mainly as S works a lot this time of year and I don’t want to go alone. But this year I figure I can take E. (Before anyone comments on the hypocrisy of never setting foot in church the rest of the year but going at Christmas, yes I know. But I do it anyway.)

I can tell my proposal to take E to church makes S a little nervous. He’s not, and never has been, a church going man. And so here we are examining the concept of organised religion into parenting.

I’ve had conversations about this in the past. Friends and/ or colleagues have discussed this and loudly proclaimed that if they ever have children they won’t be taking them to church because “I want them to have a choice.” I’ve often found that people with no experience of church going have this idea that very little goes on inside a church except brainwashing. Therefore if their child steps inside the church they will be lost to the forces of science and reason forever. Oh dear.

You cannot possibly be expected to make an informed choice if you have little or no knowledge of one side of the conversation. So I think a little church learning does no harm. And like it or not, so much of our modern life and politics and rituals (including public holidays and general celebrations) have quite a lot to do with religion so to turn your back on it completely ensures that you bring your child up ignorant of much that defines us.

The problem with debate on religion being centred around war, science, the Middle East and gender equality is that people lose sight of the nicer stuff. I should point out that I am not a believer in God. But there’s something to be said for the basic tenet of being nice to each other, of drawing strength from an unknown source. I want to try and explain to E, when she’s bigger, about why people choose to believe and what they get from it. I want to point out the poetry in church ceremonies that’s missing from civil ceremonies; I want to try and cover the longing you get somedays for there to be some bigger plan, that we aren’t just alone in the universe, scurrying around for no reason. And then I can point out the nasty stuff, about how it has been distorted and used as an excuse for evil go getting.

I don’t think I can have a sensible conversation with E about this if she’s never set foot in a church. So perhaps we’ll make the Christmas carol concert this year. She might sleep or cry through the service, but it’s a start.

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2 Responses to Tackling the great unknown

  1. Carl Davis says:

    It always makes me cringe a little when parents invoke ‘choice’ as an excuse not to take kids to church / talk about religion and faith as well as present atheism as the one and only option. Its not really a choice at all.

    I went to a Church of England infant school. Every Thursday the school, one and all, would cross the road and troop up the hill, our chairs in hand, to the church for the school service. Each winter we would seemingly spend weeks practicing for the nativity or each autumn collecting endless tinned soup to redistribute to pensioners for the Harvest Festival.

    We had the morning prayer to recite every day and said grace before each dinner. Being thankful is never a bad thing.

    Much as I may have rebelled against religion as a teenage scout* in the very same church hall that I had used in infant school years earlier, I look back now and think it rather did me good. I’m a Buddhist now as you know, but, even if I don’t believe in God, have grown up to respect Jesus as an historical figure. Not the son of God maybe, but a rebel, revolutionary and a philosopher with a fantastic set of teachings in his armoury. To us he’s regarded widely as a ‘Bodhisattva’.

    Anyway, as you say, much of British public life still revolves around the Church year and and its workings, and will for a long time to come, whatever the census results or Richard Dawkins says, or the best efforts of The Church of England to avoid the modern world and keep looking totally irrelevant.

    If nothing else, its important to have a bulwark against capitalism’s best efforts to turn Christmas into the ultimate celebration of greed and avarice. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is an important weapon (and secular adaption of the Christmas ideal), but nothing beats the real thing.

    I hope you get to the carol service, if not this year then soon. I always have the urge myself. Maybe if you don’t, you could at least start a little tradition, and like me, watch ‘Carol’s From Kings’ together on the BBC every Christmas Eve, and maybe the odd biblical epic at Easter.

    Merry Christmas.

    *We had some very long-winded conversations at our scout troop in order to get our ‘Faith’ badges. It’s a wonder we got any night-hikes or camping in at all…

    • basfordianthoughts says:

      Thanks Carl! I remember praying at the end of school, after we’d put chairs on the tables to help the cleaners. And I went to Sunday school for years too, even after it became more of a place to see my mates (and, in my mum’s case, to escape a morning with my dad). I think it did me good as well.
      Merry Christmas to you too!

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