A few weeks ago, my ten year old daughter proclaimed that she is an atheist. My daughter is not one to take a stand on something without doing her research. Just last year, after watching Blackfish, she did about a month’s worth of internet research, wrote a non-fiction children’s book about whales, and she told me that she will never step foot in a Sea World park ever again (not just Sea World, but any park that Sea World owns). She was nine at the time. So, when she announced that she believes in science, rather than God, I knew that she had already made up her mind.
I have been racking my brain on how this could have happened. I was quick to blame her father, my ex-husband, as he is an atheist. But then I remembered that shortly after my first daughter was born, we had a very enlightening conversation about religion. His view was not what one would expect of an atheist. He had very strong feelings on how we should raise our children. And his feelings were that they should be raised Catholic. I remember this conversation as if it were yesterday. He explained that his entire life was lived in fear of death. In his mind, everything he did was a risk, because ultimately, everything could result in death. And because he didn’t believe in God or in heaven, he was missing a very important element in his life. That element was hope. He said that he didn’t want his children growing up without hope that there is something better after we leave this planet. He didn’t want his daughters to be scared to die, and therefore, scared to live. Even if hope was all they got from religion, that was good enough for him. So, off we went, Catholic and Atheist, and had our children christened.
At that time, I was an avid, church-going Catholic. Since then, I have strayed from the church, but not from God. To this day, I still pray almost daily, and I still have faith that there is a God who listens and answers. However, I never continued my girls’ religious educations because of my own personal feelings about organized religion. I stopped sharing my beliefs with my children because I wasn’t certain that the teachings that I learned of as a child were the right way to teach my children about God. Although I still know when to sit, stand and kneel at church, a lot of the information that I once knew about God is no longer a part of my memory, and therefore, doesn’t make me a great teacher. And because I had a friend who decided on a religion later on in her life, I figured that, like her, my children would benefit from making their own choices about religion when the time was right for them.
It looks like that time has come earlier than I expected. Although my seven year old staunchly believes in God and in heaven, my ten year old firmly does not. And of course, it’s my fault for not guiding her toward a more hopeful kind of life-a life with God. I guess I just never thought that a little girl who still believes in Santa, the Elf on the Shelf, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy would go the opposite way when it came to believing in God.
So, now I’m left with guilt and the nagging feeling that I need to do something to show her that God is the right choice. Part of me wants to start going back to church, regardless of how hypocritical that would be. But another part of me thinks that forcing my beliefs on my daughter isn’t the right choice either. The truth of the matter is that no human being has ever died and come back to tell us all whether there is a God or not. Both science and religion have strong arguments on how we got here. It’s a lot like the chicken and the egg argument. So, I can’t have a conversation with my daughter telling her that I have all of the answers. No one does. And I also can’t have a conversation with her telling her that my answers are better or more believable than hers, because this isn’t about my perception. It’s about hers.
Because I have never spoken to her about what I believe, she’s only heard about what her father believes-and that is in science. I think the only thing I can do at this point is let her into my world. I can let her know that I have a belief that is different from hers and different from what most religious people believe. Maybe I can share my thoughts with her, and maybe we can research all of the different religions-everything from Buddhism to Judaism to Islam. In the end, she will still be the one to make up her own mind. But at least this way, she will have more options to choose from. And who knows? Maybe she’ll do her own research one day and decide that science and religion don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive after all.