Friday, December 4, 2009

The BIG Question

It seemed easy enough when we started talking about how we were going to raise the Minion. Being agnostic I planned on exposing him to as many different ideas as possible and allowing him to make his own educated decision at an appropriate age. Simple enough, right?

Not so much. In the intro to sociology classes that I teach, religion is the easiest way to teach about the functionalist perspective. What purpose does religion serve in society? One of the main things that religion does for a given culture is to explain natural phenomenon. Think about common mythology - why do droughts occur? Because the rain god(s) haven't been honored properly. Why does the sun rise and set? At the will of the gods. Obviously, we're now able to answer these questions from a scientific standpoint, but there are still questions that we're unable to answer.

The question I'm most concerned about coming up down the road is "what happens when you die?" Every child asks that at some point or another. I remember when I first became concerned about this issue - I was 7 when my Nana died. She had a stroke right in front of us while we were visiting for lunch. I don't remember if she died right away, or if she died later on after spending some time in the hospital. I didn't go to her funeral, but that was the first time that I can remember being afraid of dying and wondering where Nana went afterward. I still remember laying in bed unable to sleep because I was so anxious about it (an early symptom of OCD, no doubt), and one night finally going downstairs to ask my parents about it. As I've mentioned before, I was raised Catholic, so I got the Heaven talk. My grandfather died when my mom was a kid, and I used to look at the holes in the clouds and wondering if he was "up there." I remember not being quite satisfied with that explanation, even at that age. As an agnostic parent I don't have those stories at my disposal, anyway.

C, K, M, and I were doing a little bit of wine drinking last Friday, and the topic of death and afterlife came up. As I mentioned in an earlier post, M is an atheist and K is agnostic. M doesn't think anything happens to you when you die, that it's just over. He is ok with this, and says that this is why you need to live your life to its fullest. You only get one chance to be here, a finite time to be a "being."

I take a different stance on the issue - I don't know what happens to you when you die. We have no way of knowing that until we experience it (or don't experience it, as M would say). Do I like to think that there's something else after our lives are over? Of course! I like to believe that there's something "on the other side," as it's so often put, but I don't know that for sure. As an adult, I've come to terms with that, even though my OCD manifests itself partly in serious anxiety over aging and death. The idea of there being nothing on the other side terrifies me. But for a young child, who has no perspective or experience to draw on, it just seems so callous to me to say "We don't know." It seems like there should be a better option to make it seem not as scary.

I've been planning to purchase the book Parenting Beyond Belief. It's been on my list of things to do for quite some time now. It's always recommended by the other agnostic parents on the parenting board I frequent. I've read excerpts from it and I follow the blog, so I'm looking forward to finally sitting down and reading about other parents who have similar views on religion. As always, I'm open to other suggestions, as well :)

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