A fellow blogger and nonbeliever has a dilemma. I’d like to pose his question to our community since I know that not all will agree with my answer and may be able to offer alternative ideas for Jason. The same solution does not work for everyone.
Jason writes about the Vacation Bible School (VBS) dilemma for his 6-year-old here. His wife thinks it’s harmless for their daughter to attend this summer; he thinks it’s not as innocuous as it seems, that it’s brainwashing disguised as fun. Should he allow her to go or stand his ground?
Here are my thoughts:
As many of you know from my blog, my ex-husband is Baptist and has taken my kids to church on and off for over 10 years. (My youngest was 2 and my oldest was 5 when we split.) I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t bother the hell out of me that my ex- was taking my kids to all these things when he knew I was agnostic and didn’t want to indoctrinate the kids. (My views bothered him, too, understandably.)
So I had to take a different approach since I didn’t have any input when it came to time spent with Dad. However, I think it’s worked out pretty well for us–or, at least, for how I wanted my kids to approach religion.
When they were young, my kids went to all the churchy things, including a laying on of hands for a troubled elementary school girl. (That was a real eye-opener for them.) When they came home, I’d asked them all sorts of questions. “What did you think about your experience? What did you learn? Does that make sense? Do you see any similarities in believing in God and believing in Santa, the Tooth Fairy or Unicorns? Can we have fun with characters that are make-believe (think: Mickey Mouse)? Can we scare people with things that are make-believe (think: witches and ghosts)? Do people have to believe the same things? Why or why not? How do we know what someone tells us is true? What questions do you have? Do you ever make up stories? How will your friends know if what you tell them is true or not?” These are the questions (and many more) I’ve asked over the years, and my dialogue with my kids still continues. I try to ask them more than I tell them, especially as they grow older. They don’t want me telling them what to do nor what to think.
I agree with one of Jason’s commenters–his daughter will be exposed to religion and God throughout her life. My kids certainly were. His daughter’s friends will talk to her about religion–as may teachers (a fact for us). I also think that his wife made a good point–their daughter will start learning now what this whole religion thing is about. It’s going to happen sooner or later, and if he can help her think things through now, she won’t be drawn in by its mystery or by the appeal of the occult. He can sit down with her each day after VBS and talk to her about the stories she’s learning. Tell her that, throughout history, there have been many similar tales. He could tell her (now or later) about the history of religion and how it developed: Early man used god(s) to control other men, to bring order to his world, to explain his surroundings and to calm fears, his own as well as others. Religion has been used for power and control and personal comfort. But man cannot answer the big questions it asks: How did we get here. Where are we going. Who made all this sh*t.
Most of our knowledge is hearsay anyway. So this can be a good learning experience for his daughter because it will teach her to think about what she is learning at school, too. At age 6, I don’t think that a stance either way (to go or not to go) is going to make much of a difference. Unless this VBS dilemma becomes a huge, scary issue, one that Mom and Dad argue about, she’s not likely to have strong associations. Brainwashing is cumulative and takes many years of unchallenged indoctrination. I think this would be a great time to start her thinking about the topic of religion.
I happen to agree with Jason that VBS is a sneaky way to slip God in on the sly–with all the friends and fun and talk of love. But I look at it this way: When his daughter starts to drive and has a permit, he’ll be there to teach and guide her. That can be true now, too: Jason can be there to guide his daughter and to prevent her from falling for religion. With his help, her destination won’t be belief; it will be understanding, knowledge and skepticism.
What are your thoughts? VBS or no VBS?