I believe…

…in angels. (*something good in everything I see….* Is that stuck in your head now? You’re welcome.) Joking aside, I truly do. I believe in heaven, or at the very least, I believe in the idea of something more after death. I believe in hope and the hope that faith can engender. I believe that people can trust in something or someone that they can’t see. I believe in love-whether you love a man or a woman and whether you are a man or a woman. I believe in a woman’s right to abortion and I believe in the necessity of divorce.

It’s safe to say that I am a lapsed Catholic, yet I cannot help but hold fast the beliefs that helped make the world seem like a better place as I grew up. 

It’s not for me to decide whether God exists or not. I would never criticise someone else’s thoughts on the matter and I would hope to have my views respected, as with any topic. I came to my own conclusions as a young adult and have mulled these conclusions over and over as I get older, trying to figure out exactly what it is I am. I’m no atheist, but I can’t lay claim to the title of good little Irish Catholic girl any longer. I suppose I’m agnostic, in broad terms. Phil is as black-and-white an atheist as they come. Ghosts, angels, life after death, God, the Bible…all piffle as far as he is concerned. He’s not particularly passionate about the subject, he just doesn’t believe. Simples.  

Phil’s certainty and my hesitance have caused us little friction so far. We were united in our decision to marry in a registry office and we have no intention of baptising any future children in a church. And yet, simple as that decision was to make, it has opened a can of worms and tipped them all over the Baby Name book. What are we going to teach our children about religion?

I was raised a Roman Catholic, yes, but by a mother who genuinely believed what she was sharing with her children. I can’t pretend to be that, so where does that leave us? Phil and I were walking past the church in the village one lovely, frosty Sunday morning and I stopped to watch the churchgoers file in through the enormous oak doors. As a young couple walked up the cobbled path with their two little boys bounding ahead of them, I realised that Phil and I will probably never take our children to church on a Sunday morning. And I wondered out loud, will they be missing out? Phil poo-pooed my worries, and off we wandered. As we strolled, hand in hand, through the sleepy little village I pressed my point further. ‘But what we tell our children about what happens when you die?’ 

‘That you get buried in the ground and worms gobble you up’, was his (only slightly joking) reply. Great. And even though we talked and talked and talked about it all morning, we never really came to a conclusion. And it’s been niggling at me. I don’t want to teach my children about a belief system that I don’t fully believe in, but I want them to experience the beauty of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and the impossible history contained in a graveyard. I want them to believe that all dogs go to heaven and that when Grandma or Grandpa or Reg-from-next-door dies; they become a star in the sky. I know that it’s up to us how we raise our children, but am I aiming for the impossible?

(And will I ever get to teach our kids about heaven with Mr ‘And Then You Become Worm Food’, in the next room?!)

Categories: Family, Friends and Relationships, Religion
11 interesting thoughts on this

11 Comments

  1. Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Brilliant post Aisling (as ever!)

    My dad was firmly in the Phil-camp and never sugar-coated anything. However, this doesn't have to make life morbid – rather than focussing on death (or life after death), he focussed on life. When grandparents died, he reminded us how lucky we were to have had such wonderful people in our lives, and how it's natural to mourn their loss, but that their time was over. He taught us that the lack of afterlife was what made this life more special, and told us to grab all the opportunities it brought with both hands, as life is too damn short.

    There can still be faith and hope without heaven or god – faith in humanity's ability to do right, hope for your future. If you believe there's a heaven, then sharing that belief with your children is natural and good, but if you don't really believe it, then you're effectively handing them down a belief system that you yourself have rejected.

    I think that bumbling through the fine line between faith, cultural history and the magic of hope (especially childhood hope) sounds like a brilliant way to open a child's mind to the world.

    Sorry for the essay!

  2. Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Aisling, brilliant brilliant post! I have almost the exact same problem as you. Although I'm not a lapsed Catholic, I am lapsed CofE (although my parents are also lapsed, so I wasn't brought up entirely religious). I have very confused and agnostic religious and spiritual beliefs, that centre on the idea that there is 'something', I'm just not sure what exactly that is, or what it means. I don't think that organised religion necessarily has the answers, but I think that a code of belief that encourages love, hope and faith cannot be entirely negative. We're getting married in a church, because to me, regardless of belief, there is something innately hopeful and utterly beautiful about a building in which so many people have prayed about their hopes and dreams and fears over hundreds of years, and a place where so many couples have made the same vows we will make.

    G on the other hand is just like Phil, we're born, we live, we die, and then it is just us and those worms. He's not a fervent scary atheist, but he has no belief in God, or anything religious. I don't know what will happen with our children, I like to think we'll be able to bring them up to have a choice, to give them all the options and let them grow up to decide on their own. I have no idea how I think we will go about that in a practical sense. I just want my children to have the chance to learn, and question and decide on their own beliefs, I think I'm hoping I will figure it out as we go along?!

    K x

  3. Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Wow thats a toughie, I would teach them to look for the good in people and all the things that make us better people. You don't have to believe in God to be a good person nor should you have to go to church to have faith, I think the mere fact that you are asking the questions says you've got a great moral compass, I think your kids will take their lead from you.

  4. Frances
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I am a first time commenter so please forgive the intrusion! I was brought up as C of E and now only really go to church at Christmas and Easter. I would want my children to understand the concept of religion and why people believe the concepts they do, but I don't know how much further I would go.

    I think above all, it's about teaching your children the ideas behind religion – i.e. kindness to others, hope for humanity etc – and giving them the ability to discuss, debate and question concepts. Children will study R.E to some extent at school so you can use that to engage with them and discuss those lessons with them.

    As Katie says above, churches can also be beautiful buildings and can be worth looking at simply for artistic reasons if nothing else I think.

  5. Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I think Frances has hit the nail on the head! (Hello!)

    I have drafted a few comments, but never clicked send because my thoughts were in no way orderly. My mum taught me that Christianity (and I by no means think this is the only religion that does this) is about love, kindness, compassion and humanity – and that is what has stuck with me.

    Sometimes I do get sad, when we are at church (pre-wedding requirement) that our children probably won't have what the children at the church do – parents both taking them – as F isn't keen on doing so and I am nervous about going it alone with explaining Christianity, which I will do.

    We have agreed that he never has to lie to our children about his beliefs, but that he will support me taking them to church every so often/won't contradict me talking about God until they are old enough to make their own decisions about these big life matters. That, in theory, works for us and I am very much using the model my mum and stepdad provided me with.

    I would rather our children have a grounding that they can disagree with, than no grounding and a feeling that they have missed out on what can be an amazing part of life.

  6. Posted February 1, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Oooh Aisling good post topic!
    I was brought up semi religiously I suppose, my mum certainly has some faith and my dad is about as atheist as it comes, also my school was fairly relighious (CofE). Ultimately I've settled into a sort of 'spiritual atheism' and I came to all my beliefs entirely on my own and without feeling any pressure from my parents either way. When I asked questions they answered them as best they could and that worked just fine as I'm sure it will for you too. Ultimately I like to ask 'why' too much to ever be able to follow a religion!

  7. Posted February 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Frances – welcome! And I absolutely agree with what you've said. I have no intention of bringing my children up with any religious affiliation, as Mr K and I are both strongly atheist, however churches ARE beautiful buildings, and I would want to encourage them to be able to go in and appreciate! And if they decided they wanted religion? Then I suppose I'd swallow it and support them…

    Bella, I disagree, I think I would rather bring my children up with the courage to make the choice rather than introducing religion to them at a young age. I guess it's the huge difference in yourfamily background and mine (my dad is a very very strong atheist) but I think you can have a very strong grounding in a non-religious upbringing. As long as the basic principles are there…this is good, this is bad, this is kind, this is compassionate…

    Interestingly a lot of my friends have, over the last few years, turned back to the Church (they are all people who had religious upbringings). They seem to derive comfort and sometimes guidance from it. It's just not for me.

  8. Posted February 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    I agree very much with the sentiments Anna has expressed. I plan to give any future children a strong moral and compassionate grounding. I will teach them to love and support neighbor and stranger alike, to show compassion and understanding to others, not to discriminate on the grounds of color, creed, disability, gender or sexual orientation etc.

    I was raised semi-religiously; I just see nothing now to support a belief in God. It would feel wrong of me to pick and choose, and tell my children about the things I like about Christianity while glossing over the things I don't feel are so pleasant (for example, if I tell my children about Heaven, what do I explain to then about Hell?).

  9. Posted February 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Bella- and I know my response is really personal to me, but having lapsed from religion for a long time, then turning back to it and finding it comforting and enriching, I don't think it's anything you'd choose to go for blindly, without knowing what it can bring you. If it was up to me as a teenager to choose -without any prior knowledge – if I wanted religion in my life, I never would have. In my case anyway, I'm glad I have it to turn towards. My brother and I had the exact same upbringing and he's now Humanist while I go to church quite regularly. I am keen to create the same situation for my own kids – show them what it is and support them if they don't feel it's for tthem.

  10. Posted February 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    This is what is so great about AOW – the freedom to agree, to disagree, to share opinions, insights and feelings.

    Ultimately raising children is a total privilege, and incredibly personal: I don't believe that one needs religion to be a fantastic person. At all. I also believe that for MY children MY approach is what will give them a strong basis – teaching them that being themselves is the most important thing, and that having courage, strength of character and love for all around them is vital.

    I'm not usually one to justify my opinions and feelings as I don't think anyone should have to – parent or not. As long as our future children are happy, thoughtful, loving people (who all contribute to the same blog too, obvs…) then that's all we can ask for x

  11. Posted February 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    I'm relatively new to AOW (and this is my first time commenting as well) but I'm just so impressed that this post was put up for discussion and that there are so many thoughtful comments.

    For my $0.02 – I would think the most important part is simply sharing your own beliefs honestly with your children. If that means taking them to church, great. If that means marching them out to a beautiful meadow to appreciate a sunrise, also great. Etc. Etc. It's the honesty and the modeling good values that's important – what they ultimately decide about the "big" questions will come much later and will hopefully be their own personal decision.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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