Monday, April 05, 2010

Exclusivism and Parenting

Most every religion and religious sect believe they have a corner on the God market. If you tend to read only books from your religion's authors and the majority of your friends are from your faith, you may have missed how prevalent that notion is. It was not until I had been in a few of the "correct" faiths, and then also had become friends with people that held opposing "correct" faiths, that I decided to reject the whole idea of exclusivism.

I mentioned in the comments section of a recent post that the "outcomes" a belief produces has become very important to me. If a belief is consistently producing bad outcomes, it probably isn't worth having. Exclusivism, it seems to me, produces a lot of bad outcomes.

I believe exclusivism has particularly nasty effects in parenting. I heard the conversations of two parents this week whose children were "no longer following the Lord". The fear, the panic, the angst. Each were mentioning ways that they are "working" on their children. Getting them books, sending them audio sermons, letting the son/daughter know that the church is praying for them.

In some cases, the relationship completely breaks down between the child and parent. The parent does not know how to deal with their child leaving the faith. So they pester, or sulk, or criticize. Soon the son or daughter quits calling because there seems to be no getting around that topic.

I read this in blogs all the time. One woman who left her faith shared part of a text conversation she had with her mother. In it, the mother tells the daughter that she still "considers her part of the fold". The daughter once again repeats that she has left that faith.  The mother replies that it hurts her when the daughter says that.

I think that reaction, like much of religion, is about control.

My wife and I were discussing this on our way home from church and, as usual, our daughter was tuned in to our conversation.

"It sounds like their acceptance of their children is very conditional," Kathryn piped in with a touch of questioning concern in her voice.

After I pulled into our driveway, I turned and tried to allay her fears.

"Sweetheart, whether you become Taoist or Atheist, Buddhist or Baptist; none of that will ever affect how much I support and love you! You can choose what you want, and I will back you."

My daughter smiled from ear to ear, then threw her arms around me. "I love you Daddy!"

She was happy because she knew she was FREE!

My children mean more to me than any religion - every day of the week and twice on Sunday!


Don said...

Andrew- I think you know my story. My Mom is 89 and "worries" about me leaving "the faith". She converses with my conservative, fundamentalist son (my eldest) about the situation, but won't say a word about it to me. I am an only child. Most probably the reason I don't hear about it. To her credit, she does not hound me about it as some do. I'm sure she just worries in silence until she can talk to my eldest about my exit.

Redlefty said...

Our coping mechanicsms are fascinating! I often see the "I consider you in the fold" approach, which to me is mostly a "head in the sand" approach.

But we love our children and the thought of them in eternal torment is impossible, so our mind pulls all these cool tricks to make it so that we're not consumed with anxiety 24/7.

Andrew, your daughter's back-seat comment is very insightful!

At Easter lunch on Sunday, my 7yo girl asked about the role of women in church. And my fundamentlist in-laws were there. I didn't handle it perfectly, but got some good practice for next time, ha!

Logan said...

One smart kid you've got there Andrew!

Andrew said...

Don - It always amazes me how much fear many Christians live in. This is why I so strongly suspect that their theology is misplaced - perfect love casts out fear.

Red - Yeah, I think the head in the sand approach is big in Christendom... I mean if we REALLY believed in Hell, could anyone sleep at night?

Logan - Thanks! She amazes me with her understanding. (proud daddy moment)

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