As a little girl, I clocked in a ton of hours at the Church of the Nazarene. From Easter programs to Friday night youth choir, I participated in almost every activity the church offered, and even won a scholarship to help with my college costs.
But my children aren’t in Sunday school each week. They aren’t familiar with the creation story or Daniel and the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego could just as easily be the names of the kids in their 1st grade class.
According to their grandmother, my husband and I are raising heathens.
I’m actually pretty okay with that. I remember getting dressed up every week, prepared to sit in a pew and giggle with my friends. I went to church to see and be seen, to sing along with the choir, and to hear about how I was going to hell if I didn’t follow the rules.
Sure, I liked hanging out on retreats and “fellowship” with the friends I didn’t get to see during the week, but I never really felt that connection you were supposed to feel at church. I felt like people were always watching, expecting me to behave a certain way because my grandmother was a reverend. I didn’t understand why I needed to be baptized to start a new program or have a say in how things went, or why most of the fun stuff seemed to be some form of sin.
It wasn’t until I got older–much older–that I began to form a real relationship with God. Once I stopped attending church, things actually started to make sense. I developed new thoughts about religion, salvation, purpose, creation, and death. I became open to other ideas, traditions, and practices.
I’m not alone. A number of young people and parents are considered “nones,” people who have no religious affiliation.
In 2012, 21% of Gen Xers and 15% of Baby Boomers describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated. Currently, one third of Americans under 30 consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated with any religion. Seventy-four percent of us “nones” were actually raised with some sort of affiliation, but are finding other ways to connect with Mother/Father God, “the Universe,” or another higher power.Here's Why I'm Raising Heathens. #spirituality Click To Tweet
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that “46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day.”
Evolutionary scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins likened teaching religion to kids with child abuse. ‘What a child should be taught is that religion exists; that some people believe this and some people believe that,’ he told guests at the UK’s Chipping Norton Literary Festival. ‘What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe. That’s child abuse.‘
But a 2008 study found that children who are raised in religious households are “rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents.”
While our family doesn’t attend services regularly, we have found a non-denominational church that preaches New Thought and celebrates “the Magnificence of God in you and as you.” The weekly messages are offered on YouTube, the people greet us and the boys with “Happy Sunday!” and warm hugs, and the choir always brings down the house with songs asking the congregation to “be Jesus to somebody,” because “you may be the only Jesus they’ll ever see” (the song also asks you to be the Prophet Mohammed, Buddha, and/or Krishna to somebody).
My personal spiritual practice these days is a blend of the Christian faith I was raised into and parts of other religions. I read Bible verses on my smartphone, pray five times a day like the Muslims, and repeat mantras like the Buddhists. I enjoy yoga, and carry crystals on days when I feel “off.” I give money to the homeless and try to be helpful to most of the people I come in contact with. I try to be more Christlike–without shunning people who don’t subscribe to the concept of God at all.
I believe that God can be found anywhere, from the smile of a baby to the beauty of a flowing waterfall. I believe that all religions are telling different versions the same story–just with different characters. As Pope Gregory VII wrote to Al-Nasir, the Muslim Ruler of Bijaya in 1076, “We believe in and confess one God, admittedly, in a different way…”
Most importantly, I believe that my children should be allowed to follow whatever path leads them to peace, goodness, and purpose.
If that means I’m raising heathens, I’ll take it. God will forgive me.