We are not religious. Not religious may be putting it lightly. I don’t mean that we just go to church or temple for the big holidays. Our attendance is much less frequent than that, as in we only go to church when somebody dies. Well, lately we’ve been to quite a few funerals so maybe that is more frequent than less. We are so-called non-believers. We are non-smokers as well. I cannot think of any other cool “non” phrases to describe us. Being non-believers doesn’t mean that our children are ignorant of religion. I mean every day at their public school, the posters on the walls remind them not to worry that they don’t believe in God because God believes in them and that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins. They also got to know that unicorns are the symbol of “sexual freedom, homosexual sex, lesbian sex, and group sex, etc.” I cannot imagine what the “etc.” could possibly be, but perhaps the Religion teacher could explain it to me. Thanks Miss Nun/Catechism Teacher for introducing 8-year-olds to the phrase “group sex”. As you can see, our school understands the concept of religious freedom a little differently than we do.
As parents, we feel that it is our responsibility to share some important beliefs and holidays from the world’s most prevalent religions with our children. Around this time of year, we talk about Easter and Passover. Just a disclaimer here – I teach religious stories as legends or mythology. I just tell them that there is such a holiday – it has a place in that religion’s history and culture. I don’t justify or judge. I allow my children to react as they will. From these and other stories I ask the girls what conclusions they can draw or if there is a moral in the story.
Our kids call Passover “Jewish Easter”. No offense Jewish friends, it’s due to the timing, not the celebration. I have never celebrated Passover myself but some Jewish friends gave us the breakdown back in Catholic school. (Many Jewish children attended our private Catholic school when we were kids. They were encouraged to share their religion and holidays with the class.) When I explained the whole “passing over” part with the lamb’s blood and all of that, my kids asked, “So their kids were saved, but what about the other people’s kids?” Welcome to the Bible, dear children. Their next question was in amazement, “So people celebrate that?” They completely glazed over the end of slavery part and focused on the part where one family is passed over and their first born is safe, while the other family is not. It was a lot of information to take in, slavery, plagues, a just, but vengeful god. Their conclusion drawn from the Passover story was that you shouldn’t be happy about your neighbor’s misfortune. Not the most direct conclusion and directly in conflict with celebrating your own good fortune of being passed over, but a conclusion which I can support.
Easter is closer to home due to my early education in Catholic school. I haven’t celebrated a religious Easter in more than 20 years, but I’ve got the main story down. My children were most interested in the Resurrection. The Crucifixion part they took as a sign of the times “back then”. Lizzie claimed that resurrection was impossible. She also figured that Jesus could not have come back as a ghost because ghosts don’t exist and that he couldn’t have come back to life as that is not possible. Her analysis was that crucifixion, while horrendous, did not in fact kill Jesus and so he simply regained consciousness and did not come back from the dead. In between all her reasoning, she demanded that I check for sure on the computer that Jesus came back in body not in spirit. Rosie, upon hearing confirmation that Jesus had come back in body, declared that she knew what had happened. “Jesus was a zombie,” she said. I cannot argue with that because that is more in keeping with the original story than Lizzie’s version and was the way a (then) 5-year-old explained it to herself.
At 5 years old, I did not think like that. I did not ask questions at Catholic school. I listened, and I took everything at face value. I believed whole-heartedly in Jesus, the Resurrection, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. As I learned that Santa didn’t exist, I naturally questioned the rest of my beliefs. So what happens when kids ask a lot of questions in Catholic school in America in the early 80’s?
Well, of course we got the typical answers from our teachers, nuns and priests, that you have to believe. Don’t ask how it happened, just know and believe that it did happen. Ok, but what if we do not and cannot believe? Well, you are on a path, they told us, which in the end will lead to belief. Perhaps you are too young now to give yourself over to faith, but don’t worry one day you will believe. And if we never believe, we never have faith in any of what you have taught us? Your path may take you another way, you may not be a believer. You may find your faith in 5 years or 50 years or not all. And that was it. No screaming at us. No telling us that we would go to hell. Just an acknowledgment that not everyone has faith. That was one of the critical moments in my path, my path as an atheist, the acknowledgement that there was another path because until that moment my entire education in Catholic school had left me with a constant sense of guilt. I felt guilty for practically everything I did, had done, or would do in the future. I was even born a sinner according to the church a concept that I never accepted and until today reject, hence my dislike of christenings.
Unfortunately, my kids while sitting in the halls of their school do not have that luxury – the luxury to discover their own path without guilt. The face of Jesus looks down on them on each floor of their school telling them “You must repent. Your time is running out”, “You cannot afford a life without the Lord”, “You were born to serve Him”.
Happy Zombie Jesus Day.
Marek CyzioApril 5, 2015 at 2:51 pm
I actually get really offended when people tell me that I will one day find my \”faith\”. It is like telling me I will one day get Alzheimer's.
AnonymousApril 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm
Hi there! Interesting perception. But how do you know that your children are being raised with the same sense of guilt that you were raised with?? As someone reading your post from the outside, it seems like you are projecting onto your children what you experienced, when in fact their experience might not be like yours at all. Just a thought–whether you believe or not, you cannot assume that your children see the world or even its religions or ideas or ideologies from your same perspective. Who knows? Maybe they are not growing up with a constant sense of guilt like you did. Each person is so totally different and unique, and so too is his/her experience and perceptions.
ChrisApril 5, 2015 at 6:09 pm
Marek – You made me laugh. Seriously, laugh out loud.Anon – My children's experience is different from my own, and they don't feel as I did as a child. They have the support of their parents and that makes them stronger. I, as a child, felt like a complete freak and outsider. My children are aware of the messages hanging around the school. They are aware of some teachers nasty comments (only teachers, other kids are ok). They let us know, not the other way around. So perhaps they don't feel guilty, but not without great effort on the part of our school to try to make them feel so. They will be adults raised in a non- religious family – for sure they will see the world differently. I can see that they already do 😊
toyaApril 5, 2015 at 10:47 pm
Children are amazing:)))
AnonymousApril 6, 2015 at 3:15 pm
if it will make you feel better, my daughter gets asked on a near daily basis why she doesn't believe in jesus by all of her friends?! ;)(giggle-giggle). such is living in a pretty much only roman catholic country, eh?!your writing is always so personal and beautiful and well written.in all seriousness, however, i, of course, will never shy from encouraging all to find faith in jesus.as for \”finding faith\” as a whole–i believe you have great faith in your life. you appear to be an amazing woman.hugs! b
ChrisApril 6, 2015 at 4:08 pm
2crazy;) – Thank you so much for your nice compliment. Some days I even feel like an amazing woman. It took me 40 years to get there.I know that recently my writing has been too personal for some judging by some of the e-mails I've gotten. You are a person of faith who is accepting of those without faith. It's nice and kind and inspiring and I thank you for that.My children have (so far) been spared any comments from friends at school. We'll see how that plays out as they get older. How does your daughter usually respond? As far as encouraging people to find faith, it's natural to try to get people excited about something important to you. And when it is your general attitude to welcome people to your faith, that's cool. However in my experience, when people tell me I should read the bible, should seek faith, that they will pray for my soul five seconds after they've found out I'm an atheist, it is a total negation of my lack of faith. It's hostile, like giving me and my way of life the middle finger. And then I have a petty desire to say something to negate that person's faith. I even know what I would say if I ever let myself say it. It's cruel, but true and would strike such a person deep in their heart, but I will continue to bite my tongue.Thank you again, amazing woman you 😘
MeApril 6, 2015 at 5:35 pm
I jak tu się nie uśmiechnąć? Tak trzymaj. Dobrze, że powstrzymujesz swoją ripostę – jeszcze byś obraziła katolickie uczucia religijne, a to jest u nas karalne.
AnonymousApril 6, 2015 at 5:55 pm
Poster at school is nothing comparing to growing numer of posters in the cities! Like this one huge advertisement \”códzołóstwo to grzech\” theme (I have no idea how is \”cudzołóstwo\” in English). Some people got annoyed and changed word for \”pedofilia\”.And the other one – this made me laugh. I go to school in Cracow, which, as we all know, has the highest pollution in Poland and is in the top 10 in Europe. And than you see \”There is worse smog. Go to confession and clear your heart.\” (or something similiar, I don't know by word).Actually I think that if I'm gonna find my faith some day it's not going to be catholic religion. Still it's not very probable, but well.Nina
AnonymousApril 7, 2015 at 7:42 am
well, very unfortunately, even people that love jesus do sometimes deserve the bird 😉 haha!you should have met my husband before he had his entire heart change—he was a very judgmental man. we talk about it all of the time—he can't believe how different he is today. all i can say is THANK YOU, LORD! i really like the guy that resides under my roof now.haha!hugs!b
ChrisApril 7, 2015 at 5:13 pm
Me – Kids are funny, aren't they? For now, I'm holding my tongue. I heard that offending a person's religious sensibilities is punishable by law. Too bad using religion to offend other people is not also punishable.
ChrisApril 7, 2015 at 5:21 pm
Nina – I saw those posters and decided to check what it was. In the old school version of the 10 commandments it could be translating as \”coveting\” as in \”Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife\”. Covet means to desire something. It was hard for us to understand when our teacher explained to us that coveting, feeling jealousy or envy, and acting on those feelings were all the same level of sin. Another translation could be \”adultery\” which is used when a person in a committed relationship such as marriage cheats on their spouse. But I suspect they were thinking about general \”fornication\” which means sex between not married people.I saw a clever change to \”konkordat jest grzech\” which is quite clever I think.I hope that you cleaned out the smog from your heart 😉 Wroclaw had \”Night in the Confessional\”. Good luck in your spiritual search 🙂
ChrisApril 7, 2015 at 5:23 pm
2crazy – What happened to him that he made the change? I'm sure he is a living example for his congregation. I suspect you had something to do with it as well – the love of a good woman and all 🙂
AnonymousMarch 26, 2016 at 10:32 pm
I ended up here only after reading your post on Fb. I might totally be missing the point here (because I don't know you or anything about you ), so forgive me if my comment offends you. I'm sure that you're aware of the fact that Catholicism for ages has been a huge component of the Polish national identity. And so Catholicism, in the Polish case, is not only a religion,but it was also a means of resistance to foreign oppressors (first during the Partitions and then obviously during Communism), and it was one of the few things that kept people going during times that were absolutely hopeless and unbearable. Poland, like Christ, would resurrect – people used to say. And its also a huge part of the Polish tradition. So people value it. Maybe they don't understand it as much as you do, maybe they did not even read the bible once in their lives, maybe not all of it makes sense to them, but they have faith – because as you probably have seen, life for the average Pole living in a backwater village is not the most pleasant, is it? So they have faith. Its either faith or despair. And so you have the absolute right not to be a part of the system, but if you try to change the system you will not succeed. I'm thinking about the Rekolekcje example – if you try to fight it, people will simply dismiss you, and I'm afraid that some might be even hostile towards you – because to them you (a foreigner) will try to mess with something that gives meaning to their life. And besides, I don't fully get what the fuss is all about. Is the school forcing your kids to attend the Rekolekcje? If it is, then we have a huge problem. But if it is not then what's the big deal? Take them home for the three days, teach them some math (they will probably learn at home more than at school anyway),do something fun. It's not like they're missing actual school days and getting behind on their work, because all the other kids will be at Rekolekcje, not at school having lessons, right? I, on the other hand, remember skipping actual school on Good Friday because in my country of residence public schools do not close for Catholic Holidays. And so I did miss a day of legit school in order to attend a religious service – on a day of immense importance to Catholics. Should I have had to do that? In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to. And you wouldn't have your dilemmas in a perfect world either. But since we do not live in a perfect world, compromises need to be made. Or so I think.My mother could have argued with the school. I demand a day off on Good Friday for the entire school, she could've said – couldn't she? Yet, she didn't. She could've sent me to a Catholic school – solves the problem, right?You too have the option of sending your children to non-Catholic non-public schools (they do exist in Poland). But honestly, I would just advise you to let it go. Chill Chris. 🙂
ChrisMarch 27, 2016 at 6:16 am
Hi Anon – I'm always chill and you're right, you don't know about our struggle with school from this one post. It's not about Rekolekcje for which our children stayed home. It's about the times they were forced to attend catechism (almost 20 times). It's about the nun blocking the door with her body when they try to leave. It's about the catechism teacher whispering in my ear that my children are the most important in the school and it is her mission to save them. It's about how the Muslim children in our school are treated. It's about the altars in the halls of the school. It's about a life size Jesus cutout welcoming us to school. It's about praying at every school assembly. It's about mandatory assembly led by a priest. It's about the principal suggesting that our children wear some kind of marking on their clothes to be sure they don't \”accidentally\” end up in Religia. It's about all that and more. That's a big deal to me. It negates the way in which I choose to raise my children. I am able to filter it out. They are too young. You advised me to send my children to a non-Catholic non-public school. My children's school is public and should be neutral. I don't think sending my children to private school is the solution. Reminding this public school of their responsibilities to all students is a better option. That's what we've been doing for the last 6 years. We may have been first, but we're not alone. It's not foreigners against the school or even against the church. It's a group of parents who believe school should be free from overt religious messages. Most of the parents standing with us are Catholic. They value their religion, but like us, feel the school has gone too far. Actually I should say went too far because this post is from a year ago and things have changed for the better. I don't agree that it's not worth fighting for. While Rekolekcje still takes place, the younger kids had it before school and didn't miss any lessons. There are no posters declaring that Jesus is waiting for us or that unicorns symbolize group sex as there were before. There are no altars. There are no mandatory religious assemblies. It's great and in no way prevents Catholic parents from bringing up their children Catholic.I know how important the church is to Polish people and their history. I respect that. And don't worry, you didn't offend me. From this one post you couldn't know the extent of this situation.
AnonymousMarch 27, 2016 at 10:22 pm
I did not realize that it was so bad. It seems that the school really is overdoing it – \”marking\” your children or blocking their way is absolutely unacceptable!