True Parent 4
In our current age of information and globalization, it’s easy for secular people to see the connections between tragedy, ignorance, and religious zealotry. Conversely, the devout may see our global crises as the consequences of the growing distance away from religion. Cynicism (or worse, contempt) can pervade the way we view those with beliefs different from our own.
But, as Wendy Thomas Russell points out in her new book, Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious, religion is just one aspect of culture—like music, food, and clothing. As parents, one of our most fundamental jobs is to raise our kids to treat people with an equal amount of respect, kindness, and compassion, regardless of whether that person believes in evolution, resurrection, or winged beasts made of pasta.
Relax: It’s Just God is valuable for so many reasons. The book offers helpful timelines for how to talk to kids about religion at every age and includes a handy appendix with the CliffsNotes version of each major religion of the world, along with ways to observe their holidays in a secular way. The bookâ€™s full of useful tools that you and your kids can use when confronted by religious peers and well-meaning family members. Best of all, it handles a potentially heavy topic with a lighthearted sense of humor, giving the reader the sense that we really can relax about it.
True Parent had an email conversation with Wendy Thomas Russell about her book, and why we need religious literacy now more than ever. (It’s not just so kids aren’t jerks to people different from them, either, though that certainly does matter.)
“Religion is hugely important to so many people in our lives,” Thomas Russell says, pointing out that most of us come from families that observe at least some religion. “It’s also infused into our culture and language and art and literature. We can create culturally illiterate children, but why would we want to?”
As uncomfortable as we might be discussing our own beliefs (or lack thereof) with our kids, children need a vocabulary for expressing and defending their own ideas. And even though most secular parents don’t want to indoctrinate kids into nonbelief, it can happen just the same if we avoid the topic altogether.
Thomas Russell explains that “[W]e have so many subconscious ways of communicating our feelings; the simple act of not talking about religion can send a message that adopting a faith isn’t really a viable option for our kids. We may not be trying to send that message, but our kids will receive it all the same.”
A working knowledge of world religions can be extremely important to how a kid grows up. As Thomas Russell points out, “literacy is a prerequisite to tolerance. It’s hard to show true compassion for things we don’t understand. If I said, 'I’m not black so I’m not going to bother telling my kids about black people,’ you would say: 'That doesn’t make any kind of sense.’ And you’d be right. We fear what we don’t understand. And in the United States, where 87 percent of the population is religious, avoiding the subject of religion with our kids doesn’t make any kind of sense.”
Thomas Russell also suggests that teaching kids about religion can help them feel free to come out of the secular closet with a minimized risk of being bullied for his beliefs.
“A kid who is literate in Bible stories, for instance, is not nearly as likely to stand out as being 'different’ in conversations about religion,” she says. “It shifts the conversation from the truth of the stories to the stories themselves—which is safer ground to stand on. Shared knowledge can read a lot like shared values.”
Talking about religion is a lot like talking about sex was for our parents, reminds Thomas Russell. Fortunately, we get to choose where our kids learn about both topics first.
“If we don’t talk to our kids about religion and make clear that we’re open to those discussions, someone else will have the conversation for us. If the 'someone else’ is a charismatic leader from a fundamentalist cult—and your kid is feeling curious (and, perhaps, a tad rebellious)—then, you know, God help us all.”
Relax: It’s Just God is available in bookstores now.