I see a lot of articles about how to keep your kids in the faith. They speak to that deep fear that your kids will end up in hell, either in this life or the next or both, if they leave the faith in which they were raised. I’m not going to say that’s a misplaced fear. For one thing, I’m not a parent, so I have exactly zero experience with the many fears involved and exactly zero authority on how to process those fears. For another, because I can empathize. I can see how you want the best for your kids, and if you’ve found the best thing in the world, the secret of the universe, nothing would bring you more joy than your kids finding it to, and nothing would bring you more sorrow than seeing them leave it behind.
There’s a formula to those “keep your kids in the faith” pieces.The writers know that some parents assume that because they are Catholic/Calvinist/Mormon/Orthodox Jewish/Baptist that it would be apocalyptic if their kid came to a different conclusion. And for certain faiths, that’s intellectually honest. If you really think, as certain fundamentalist sects do, that anyone outside your faith will burn in hell, whether they’ve heard of your denomination or not, then you damn better make sure your own kids don’t end up in the dark, because you love them. It makes sense. What to do then? If you’re trying to sell something, tell those parents that you’ve got a magic pill, a prayer or a book or a parenting tip that will keep your kids tied to the truth. Some are actually abusive and some aren’t, but the end-game’s all the same. Push these buttons to program your kid, and try to forget about free will.
I’m a kid that left it behind.
In my case, “it” was the Reformed or Calvinist faith, with a Presbyterian Church in America flavor. It was informed by John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Knox, but also by the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s, the 1980s “Moral Majority” as led by Francis Schaeffer, and the 1970s Presbyterian split between conservatives and liberals. It was a very modern, very American incarnation of Christianity, with pledging to the flag at vacation Bible school and tacit support of the Republican Party. If you’re in the thick of it though, it seems like the Only Way to Be a Christian.
To be clear, I didn’t just leave bits and pieces. I left things considered to be the very essence of the faith I grew up with, things like Sola Scriptura, once saved always saved, and substitutionary atonement. I added in heresies like purgatory and inclusionary salvation, and I became a “liberal” feminist supportive of women’s ordination and equality of the sexes. I learned science and that you could be a person of faith while understanding evolution. I started reading those Old Testament prophets and noticed how much they talked about poverty and social justice, and I read Jesus’ words as if He really meant them. I discovered liturgy, the Rosary, candles and incense, and the greatest secret of all, the Eucharist. I started believing that miracles happened when the bread and wine were consecrated, that I was actually, bodily participating in prayer with every saint past, present, and future with Christ’s own out of time passion and resurrection, and my mind still gets blown that it’s actually happening.
But there’s always a sliver of pain. I will never invite my parents to visit my church, because there’s a statue of Mary in the back and we do the Angelus (with Hail Marys!) at the end of services. They don’t know about that particular heresy of mine, and I don’t want to pain them unnecessarily. As it is, my mom has wondered out loud if I’ll really be in heaven with her, and she makes frequent asides about how I “know” that predestination is written all over the Bible. I don’t take the bait anymore, because what’s the point? I used to tease her that at least I wasn’t atheist or Muslim, but she didn’t laugh. If I won’t say that all Muslims and atheists are definitely going to burn in eternal hell, then it’s almost as bad as if I myself wasn’t Christian anymore. We’ve reached an uneasy peace, but I don’t want to rock the boat.
It’s an uneven battle, because I have no plan of changing her mind, or the minds of anyone else I grew up with. I respect the fact that they strongly believe something different, though we pray to the same God, and that’s the end of it. I only ask for the same, but because of their view of salvation, that’s not on the table.
Sorry y’all, I don’t have something to say to wrap it up, to bring it home. I just wanted to write, to poke at some deep layers and see what came up. Now I’ve got to go help my roommate cook dinner for us and her two kids. Beef soup sounds good. Peace folks.