Out of the Mouths of Children

One of the reasons I love Unitarian Universalist Children’s Religious Education is the openness–they’re not afraid to share the stories and tenets of other religions with their children. They give them their own free path to explore, with teachers to support them along the way.

I don’t necessarily want children, but if I did–that would be the kind of religious education I would want them to have.

Mine was far different. The majority of my formative religious education happened in the first ten years of my life, when we attended the Presbyterian church that my Protestant father and Catholic mother had compromised on (don’t ask me why…). Sunday school consisted mostly of Bible drills and coloring books, but I still struggled to understand the why.

Why did Jesus have to die for us? Who was Jesus, anyhow? If he was God’s son, who was his mother? (I fancied it was Mother Nature.) And if he was God’s son, how did he already exist in heaven–didn’t he have to be born sometime, somewhere?

Of course, none of my Sunday school teachers struggling to answer these questions told me that these were questions that the Church had struggled with since the beginning.

But, in a childlike way, I still believed. The heaven I imagined was more like Narnia, and I thought that Jesus would look like my favorite uncle, who also sported a beard. Our church had high windows that reached to the arched ceiling and I would spend whole services with my neck craned up, seeking a glimpse of the angels I was convinced were peeking in on us.

When our teachers would ask us, “Do you believe that Jesus is your savior?” I would eagerly affirm it along with the chorus of the other children saying, “Yes!” I didn’t really understand what that meant, but I knew I was supposed to say it.

Looking back now, the thought of it disturbs me a little–the way I parroted things and learned to keep my questions to myself.

In one of my religion classes, my professor explained the theory that there are two kinds of believing–childhood faith, where the world seems a magical ┬áplace and it is easier to believe fantastical things, and adult faith, which is a tougher thing because one has learned the logic of the world.

In a way, I think it is wrong to play the imaginative minds of children into believing only one story when their daydreams are still so vivid. I think we should share the stories of all religions with them, while their minds can still pull them into the passion and wonder of such stories. I think the child-like mind is an incredible and beautiful place to experience religion–but we should allow it to have broad horizons and endless questions.

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