The Church, Gratitude and The Erosion of Innocence

Child Praying
Ok kids, let’s all pray. But to who? And why?

There are probably many dads out there who would find this image beautiful. Not me. In fact, it makes me very uneasy – and it’s particularly concerning to me now because I’ve just found out that my own 3 year old daughter is being led in prayer at a local playgroup.

The church still plays a big role in the community in the UK. Churches and church halls are great facilities which run and host any number of activities and groups, some of which are very handy for parents looking for something to do with their kids. And it’s all put forward as being very open and caring and innocent and, quite honestly, I’m made to feel bad for being skeptical.

But, of course, I try to be magnanimous – mostly for my daughter, who deserves a variety of activities – and trust that these activities-held-in-church-halls, which purport to be god-free, are indeed run out of the goodness of people’s hearts, rather than as an opportunity to sow the seeds of religion in innocent young minds.

So, you can imagine my complete lack of surprise when my daughter put her hands together one night as I put her to bed, and began reciting a prayer. It was a heart-sinking moment, which marks a crushing realisation in my life as a hopeful person and dad; I cannot protect  her. And some people can’t fucking help themselves.

jacks-surprise
My reaction to the news that my child was being led in prayer at a local playgroup.

Turns out she was being led, with the rest of the children at the playgroup, in saying grace. The playgroup is held in the hall of a catholic church but, like all of these groups, the suggestion is and has repeatedly been made to me, that this is simply a matter of logistics. And, when dealing with the minds of 3 year old children, you’d be forgiven for assuming that there would be nothing more to it, right? Not so, Jack.

It is at this point in the post where I issue the obligatory disclaimer stating that everyone is entitled to their beliefs and that they can raise their child in any way they see fit.* And you may well be thinking what the big deal with saying grace is anyway?

Well, who are we thanking exactly? And why? Why do innocent children need to be taught deference to some unseen someone or something and have the need for extra gratitude foisted upon them? Where is the joy in that? Why not be thankful to real people and grateful for real reasons? Why not encourage confident and proud children, not ones who kneel to an invisible giver? It might be tempting to say it’s all harmless, but pick a god you don’t believe in – and let’s start getting your child to pray to them, shall we?

I emailed the group organiser for clarification on the church’s involvement in the group and her response was either massively sarcastic or worryingly oblivious. She seemed to take my “concerns” to mean I wanted more religion in the group, and even invited me to run a bible stories session. Fair dues to her, if that is a zing it’s a good one – but forgive me if I don’t laugh very long or hard for her lack of sympathy over my concerns.

It now falls to me to either be the bad guy and pull my child out of the group, leaving my mother-in-law at a loose end every Monday, or throw away my principles and go along with the “harmless” ritual. And that pisses me right off.

Every dad will face these moments where they feel their children slip away ever so slightly, and I think this might be my first. And it is so sad that this world, in which I find so much beauty, holds such traps.

Edit: This post now features on the National Secular Society blog.


*which applies to me too, right?

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19 thoughts on “The Church, Gratitude and The Erosion of Innocence

  1. I think that there are a number of great learning moments at any age and that exposure to religion is important so much as it is extraordinarily pervasive in our global culture. Not that it’s based in any sort of reality – but religion is part of our reality and as such we need to deal with it in age appropriate learning opportunities for our kids.

    I was raised in a home that was totally free from any and all discussion of religion. Zero – zip nada SFA. Now that I think about it there were a number of really important things my parents never taught me that could have helped enormously along the way – even general pointers would have helped but I digress.

    We did go to church before I was in grade one – Church Sunday School and I recall very clearly being told about this “god” that was everywhere but couldn’t be seen and all the usual bullox that followed this indoctrination. I also recall thinking the 5 year old equivalent to “This is Bullshit”

    Being a good kid and wanting to make my parents and adults happy I assumed it was really important to ‘believe this’ and I tried and tried and tried really hard. I also really had a hard time unpacking this “god is everywhere” at the same time thing…. Until one day on the way home from church I forced myself to believe I god’s left leg floating over a bus across the street. I still remember this image.

    We never went to church again.

    Enter the religious vacuum of the house of my childhood, and teenage years and really the rest of my life until a few years ago. For reasons beyond the scope of this message my wife and I were looking beyond the public school system (we live in Canada) as our daughter is special needs and the public system was just way too screwed up and full on private was out of reach financially.

    Out my naïveté I suggested to my wife, who considers herself a christian (call it christian lite) that we look at the local christian school. It was a lot cheaper and as it turns out the people there are really nice. SO we enrolled them and at the interviews when I was asked about my belief system I truly stated that I didn’t know. I didn’t and technically I still don’t but I’m pretty certain.

    That August before the kids went to school I figured I better get up to speed on this whole religion thing wo when the kids came home and asked questions I wouldn’t look like a dunce. So I started to do research from a pure “I don’t know” perspective and landed squarely in the “What on earth have I done putting my kids into a christian school” camp. But it was too late at that point and honestly 2 years later both my kids are better off for the increase in the pure quality of the school itself and it’s community.

    My children, and my wife of course, all know that I’m not a believer and this gives a good balance. I feel that one of the most important things we teach our children is the skill of decision making. We get into theological discussions at home and my kids (and wife) sometime roll their eyes when I constantly answer questions with questions like “well why do you think that” or “these two things seem to be in opposition to each other – what do you think” or “how do you ‘know’ that?”.

    I gave the kids two of Dan Barkers kids books “Maybe yes maybe no” and “maybe right maybe wrong” to help their budding skeptical minds. A few weeks later the kids came to me and asked “Dad – you and Mom are Santa Claus – right?” I replied “What do you think?” while trying to hide my smile.

    “KNEW IT KNEW IT” they jumped up and down so pleased with themselves. Then they asked if it’s okay if they still pretend at christmas…

    Long comment but close to my heart – take these as learning and teaching opportunities to open the mind of your child and to be inquisitive and curious and figure things out for themselves when it’s safe because one day you won’t be there to help them make the decision – you’ve already taught them how.

    Apologies for such a long note – just found your blog and thanks. I’m not out yet so I hope you don’t mind me using my alter ego for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thanks for such a thoughtful and personal response.

      My background is the opposite to your own, in that I was brought up in catholic Ireland which means you believe, no questions asked. I honestly didn’t come out of that cloud until well into my teens or even beyond. So I definitely a chip on my shoulder about that, and my concerns stem partly from that.

      I should say that I definitely intend for my children to learn about *everything* in a healthy, skeptical environment and I truly will be happy with their paths, as long as they are reached through sound reasoning.

      My concerns here are more with the age at which my child is encountering this (too young for me to even explain one way or another) and maybe the realisation of the task ahead of me, to guide them without interfering too much.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by. Good luck in your ongoing journey and best of luck to your family.

      PS: Your “roll eyes” comment made me laugh. I have always told my wife that I want our kids to question things – and she now blames me every time my daughter says, “why?”.

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  2. I have to say I share your concern about a three year old being indoctrinated…kids that age aren’t able to understand or reason about what they’re being taught. I’m new to atheism and come from an extremely devout catholic family. Two days ago I caught my parent teaching my three year old son to pray! That irritates the crap out of me, but I don’t want to deprive my son of his grandparents, who adore him. I came out to my parents as an atheist about a month ago but they don’t respect my stance. It’s deeply disturbing to me they’re teaching my son to pray.

    I think the lady was “worryingly oblivious” and not giving you a zinger…people tend not to be dead serious when they ask you to teach about the bible.

    *Love* your “jack” image!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      I sympathise with your situation – it’s similar to mine, if not worse. At least I have the option of removing my child from the playgroup, or confronting the organisers in a rational way. These things are made more difficult when it comes to family.

      I hope your parents can come to terms with your position and that you can reach some kind of happy medium when it comes to your child’s upbringing.

      PS: Glad you liked Jack’s complete lack of surprise. Love that film, and it summed up my reaction quite nicely.

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    1. Yep, that was definitely one of my points. Some people seem to find religious ideas harmless, as long as they tally closely with their own beliefs. My issue isn’t with specific ideas or doctrines, but with faith itself. People find it easier to see this when, as you suggest, the context is changed to a different religion.

      Thanks for your comment.

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  3. We share a few things: the Irish catholic unquestioning upbringing, subsequent atheism, and now the distress when seeing religion inflicted on one’s child.

    In my case it was inflicted on my daughter in a faith school when she was in Reception (aged 4). Before placing her there, when I expressed doubts about her going to a faith school, everyone told me not to worry about Church of England; ‘religion lite’, no problems. How wrong they were. The school brought them to their affiliated church at least once a week, the priest seemed to be in the class daily. Through her first term there I tried to bite my tongue but it just creeped-me-out.

    Two days before the end of her first term the local council told us a place in our first choice (state non-religious) school had become available. We grabbed it with both hands. That evening when we were getting ready to tell our daughter she was moving school she handed us a photocopy received from her faith school. A priest and a nun had spent the day telling them about the martyrdom of Saint Pancras. Our four-year-old explained in her limited world view about the bad men killing the good man because he was too good. My partner and I looked at each other a breathed a large sigh of relief.

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    1. Thanks for your comment.

      That situation would have killed me. I mean, saying grace at a playgroup is one thing but specific parables with messed up moral messages are quite another.

      Glad it worked our for you.

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  4. My faithless parents sent all four of their children to a Catholic primary school because of its reputation as a good school and it’s proximity to our home. We were taught by nuns. We had prayer in the morning, before break, before lunch and before home time. In Monday Mass 98% of the school got up for communion (I always wanted to know what those wafers tasted like!) My siblings and I could think of nothing funnier than imagining what it really means when they tell you that “god is everywhere” and would colapse in childish giggles at each others increasingly rude suggestions for where God might be found. I also recall, rather earnestly kneeling in my bedroom talking to god and even reading the first few verses in Genesis, attempting to somehow absorb faith. It never came.

    I too despise the seemingly innocent pushing of faith onto the unaware child. My own children come home singing songs from their Church of England school about how Jesus made them… and then I’m pleased to hear them add their own lyrics and realise that with a good dose of logic from home, it’s very difficult for an outsider to taint their minds. We read books about Darwin at bedtime which I think adds balance!

    And, what of the 4 of us? My eldest sister and I are fierce atheists, my other sister and brother merely don’t believe. No harm done in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Religion is a filthy virus that gets into children’s minds and once it takes root it is very difficult to eradicate. I speak from experience as someone who was indoctrinated as a Catholic, but have now escaped the clutches of the church and am free to enjoy the rest of my life as a free person. The churches are having a last-ditch attempt to retain their privileged position in our society and are using their vast resources (money from people who they have indoctrinated with guilt and promises of afterlife) to lobby the government to block human rights for the people of this country.

    The good news is that the young are falling away from religion at an accelerated rate, and research shows that 51% of the UK have no religion (https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-belief-some-surveys-and-statistics/the-british-social-attitudes-survey/) but the religions are not going to accept defeat easily.

    There are two good organisations who are working to make our country better for its citizens without belief in sky fairies; the British Humanist Association (www.humanism.org.uk) and the National Secular Society (www.secularism.org.uk). They have campaigns to get rid of collective worship in schools (an anachronism in the 21st century), getting rid of the bishops in the House of Lords (unelected godbotherers deciding what happens in our democracy) and have successfully worked on getting the Scouts’ and Guides’ promises changed to have no reference to any god.

    May I suggest that the many atheists/Humanists/secularists among us get together and support these two organisations financially so that they can campaign and lobby to promote Humanism and to ensure a secular state with no privilege for religions of any kind.

    If Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and Darrel Ray’s ‘The God Virus’ were required reading in all schools and homes, religious observance would cease within a generation, apart from those too indoctrinated to be able to accept the logical thinking presented in these and similar books.

    The views of some people that religion does no harm, and that the likes of the church of England are ‘benign’ are very much misguided. As the old saying goes, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ And have no doubt, religions are very much an evil influence in our society and they need to be challenged and removed from their privileged position so that our children can grow up free of the influence of these medieval superstitions.

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    1. Thanks for your impassioned comments. I too admire the work of BHA and NSS and, indeed, am proud to say that NSS reproduced this very post on their own blog.

      I am also reminded that BHA (I think) ran a campaign to send a copy of Alom Shaha’s “The Young Atheist’s Handbook” to every school in England, in response to a copy of the bible being sent by the current government – Mr. Gove, to be specific.

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  6. You clearly are a concerned and responsive parent. You have gone to the trouble to start up this blog.
    Why don’t you start up a secular child care/play group of your own?
    One where there is no religion; just children playing and having a good and happy time.
    Let’s be honest: many of us prefer the easy way out and business organisations are always there to provide it for us if they can make money out of the activity provided.
    Religious organisations share the same goals. They just take a much longer-term view on the matter.
    Your children are their future consumers who they will fleece mercilesly once they can contribute financially.
    To protect your child and all the other children from an exploitative organisation like a church you and others owe it to the children – the adults of the future – to keep them safe, happy and secure.
    Be self-reliant, self-sufficient and self-providing. That way the churches can go to hell for all you care.

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    1. Thanks for your comment and advice. I wish it were that easy. I know that might sound like a kop out, but it really is a. difficult to find daily activities which exclusively avoid churches or church halls and b. a massive undertaking for me to somehow set up my own playgroup.

      I’ll remain vigilant, for sure, and maybe long-term I’ll meet like-minded ppl who between us might have the resources to “compete” in some way – but at the moment, pragmatism also plays a part, sadly.

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  7. If I were in the same situation, I’d be pissed too. No one has the right to tell my child what to believe. I wouldn’t go up to their child and tell them that their god isn’t real. Why do we have to put up with people telling our kids that there is one? There’s a saying: Treat religion like your penis. Worship it all you want, just don’t show it off in public or shove it down kids’ throats. Vulgar, yes, but also accurate.

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  8. Pingback: Keep Your Religion Away From My Kid | Confessions of an Average Mom

    1. Thanks for the feedback and for your own response. It mirrors my own feelings, which are of hope for my child mixed with frustration and even anger at these organisations and individuals who want to corrupt their innocence for, well, I don’t even know why.

      It’s a huge topic, a massive source of frustration for me, and one I am yet to fully get my head around.

      No doubt, I’ll blog more about it in the future – here’s hoping we each see progress in some way as we move along with our children.

      Take care.

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