Thursday, December 1, 2011

Religious (Mis)Education

Now that my son has begun to successfully navigate the world of public education I’m grappling with the idea of introducing him to a religious one. I have my own spiritual connection with the world around me and I pray constantly: Dear God! Thank God! God Dammit! And my favorite, Thank God Dammit! I love folklore and myths and stories and some of the most interesting are found in the Bible--Old Testament or New. But must we leave the gates of our own Garden of Eden for him to gain knowledge about God?

My son, like me, is Jewish because his mother is. And like me, he has more than Jewish blood running through his veins. I’m not sure if the fact that I never dated Jewish men is due to random chance or the Jewish cotillion I attended in middle school where none of my dance partners reached my chin, but like my mom, I married a goy. Whoever and whatever my son chooses for himself as an adult is fine with me. But right now I’m as hesitant to thrust him into the world of religion as I’d be to force him to visit just one booth on Career Day. I think it’s perfectly fine for a person still missing their two front teeth to aspire to be a wildlife biologist, organic farmer and bowling alley repairman in equal measure. And I’m just as hesitant to make him choose a single path to God.

However, as much as I want to spare him the dogma, I worry that he might miss some character building, too. My mother and I attended a New Age Church until I hit puberty when I suddenly found myself at synagogue wearing a Star of David. My first Sunday School teacher, a guard at a juvenile detention center, seemed to derive real pleasure from explaining, in great detail, the labor pains of childbirth. Our teacher the following year regaled us with horror stories about the Holocaust. My next and last teacher dedicated the entire year to suicide prevention, which, in retrospect, was probably a good idea, but not much fun. And, other than teaching me the Hebrew alphabet, I don’t remember our rabbi discussing anything other than the political and socio-economic details of The War in the Middle East.

All of which made the trappings of Christianity on my father’s side pretty tempting. She never said it, but I had the feeling my Grandma wanted me saved, not to be a better living girl, but a better dead one. The trilogy of romantic adventure Jews-for-Jesus books she’d given me when I was twelve were successful as page turners, but not as missionaries. By then I was already studying for my Bat Mitzvah and couldn’t squeeze Jesus into any picture other than the fluorescent velvet one I later bought to hang on my dorm room wall. But I always felt a little jealous of my Grandma’s certainty about salvation, not to mention the endless abundance of lemonade and sugar cookies her church handed out like blessings.

When my Grandma died and bequeathed me- her only Jewish grandchild- the golden crucifix she’d worn for as long as I’d known her, I was touched. I tried to put it around my neck but found that I could not wear it any more than I could belt out the hymns at the Gospel Chicken House where my father brought me once, on a whim. There the hootin’ hollerin’ foot stompin’ good time was almost enough to make me run and dunk myself in the river. But not quite.

And this year as the holidays approach I feel less of a need to shake who I am than ever. I struggle with routine so Hanukkah is eight times more difficult to celebrate than Christmas, but once again we’ll do it all. And though I don’t really think my son needs anyone to tell him what to believe, it’s likely I’ll pass on my almost supernatural love of New Years Eve, when the hope for reinvention and the promise of a clean slate—if only on my calendar— seems even more miraculous then the resurrection.


  1. I was raised by an atheist, so when I had kids, like you, I figured they'd be missing something if I didn't hand them a God wrapped up in a bow. Only problem was I found more hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness in church than I ever did in the Hell's Kitchen bars my dad used to take me to on Sundays when I was a kid.

    So over time, my "church" has come to be a far-flung family of friends of every religion, race, and gender (and transgender!) and sexuality.

    And come Christmas time, people are a little bit nicer. And if I could sum up my religion it's "Play nice!"