I’m pretty proud of yesterday’s big conversation with Peanut, and I have only the Jehovah’s Witnesses to thank. I can’t believe it actually happened this brilliantly, but it did.
P and I were eating dinner when we saw a woman walk up the porch and knock. When I opened the door she apologized for interrupting dinner and invited us to a celebration of her faith and I thanked her then closed the door.
Peanut: What did she say?
Me: She wanted to invite us to a meeting.
P: Me, too?
P: And the cats?
M: No. Just the people.
P: What’s the meeting for?
M: Well, she and her family believe something and they want to tell us about what they believe.
P: Is it true?
M: Nobody knows, but she wants to tell us about it.
P: What does she believe?
M: Well, this is a big idea…….People have always tried to figure out how the Universe and the solar system and the Earth and humans got here, and some people believe that some chemicals got really hot and exploded and made the Universe, and some people believe that a kind of creator, not like a person but kind of like a ghost person that was here before anything else was here made the planets and the solar system and the people.
P: Do you believe that?
M: No. Daddy and I don’t believe that something decided to make the Universe. We believe that physics made the Universe. But lots of people we know believe a spirit decided to make everything and then created planets and people. [He asks who and I list the people we know and tell him who does and who does not believe in God.]
P: Well I believe a…what’s the name of it?
M: Most people who believe call it god. One god or lots of gods.
P: Yeah. I believe god made everything.
P: But I believe something else made god.
P: Yeah. It was kind of like a bicycle that was just a basket and people have to push it and it made the god.
M: So a bicycle that’s just a basket makes a creator, and the creator makes people, and the people push the bicycle.
P: Yup. That’s just what I believe.
P: Is god around anymore or did it die?
M: Depends who you ask. Many people believe many different things. Some believe god is everywhere and is still everywhere and will always be everywhere. Some believe god is an idea that people made and that idea died.
P: I don’t believe that.
P: No. The bicycle and the god are still around.
M: Hmmm. Okay.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to introduce the idea that lots of people believe different things about supernatural forces. And I wanted it to be a discussion that respects all ideas, like our discussion about the afterlife late last year. So I’m thrilled the faithful came to the door. I’m proud of myself for teaching P by example to respect what other people believe, and I’m proud of not teaching him only what I believe. I’m glad I’ve been introduced to so many faiths and paid attention, so I can explain, when he asks, the basics of Catholic and Lutheran and Muslim and Buddhist and Jewish belief. I’m glad I got to introduce the idea seriously, with no pressure to hurry, no frustration at who introduced the topic or how. I’m glad I got to explain that we believe something, that other people believe something, and that you never know who will believe what, but that it’s generally pretty important to them.
And I’m proud, in a detached intellctual kind of way, that P saw the immediate question of “what existed before the Creator?” because this kid is gonna be way cool to talk with about philosophy, theology, and sociology, whatever he ends up believing.
[for the record, I do not hold his faith in an immobile bicycle as Creator of the Universe and all within on par with other faiths, nor am I trying to mock religion when I detail his reaction to being exposed to the idea of god. It’s his first try at faith, he’s four, and we’re just getting started on this journey. Please don’t misinterpret my being willing to relate his “god #1 invents god #2 so the latter can create people to wheel god #1 around” theory as an attack on any ideas you may hold dear. Just because I don’t believe doesn’t mean I disdain belief itself. There is no way the bicycle that is just a basket dogma will hold up, nor that fascinating theological texts like Jesus Interrupted or Misquoting Jesus dedicated to Peanut’s bicycle-god-people trinity, but who am I to judge, is the point.)
You are so wise – I am learning so much from you. I agree with absolutely everything you had to say, but I doubt I would have seized the moment as well as you did. Yay for you!
No words can describe how much I adore, love, enjoy, respect this post. Bravo to you and Peanut (and also the chopped liver Mr. naptime) He is indeed wise beyond his age. And I am thinking: Why can’t the bicycle that’s like a basket hold up in the long run? Folks have believed in far more fantastical things throughout history. ;-) Off to tweet about this post now. Well done!
I really enjoyed your post.. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was amazed to read a post that didn’t mock, ridicule, or attack us for our beliefs. I have utmost respect for other people’s beliefs, whether or not they believe in God. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I love how you handled the discussion with Peanut. The fact that you are teaching your son that he should be respectful of others’ beliefs, whether or not he agrees with them is something that will do him well in the future. You sound like a great mom!
DH and I are atheists, but his mom is a JW. Makes for fun at parties.
I hoping to do the same as you, when the time comes.
The bicycle thing is a crackup. Good thing he didn’t steal my “Christ on a pogo stick” saying!
“And the cats?”
No, they can’t ride bikes.
What an amazing little person you are raising! The bicycle concept is pretty deep for a four-year-old! We are very open minded about religion and beliefs in our family too. I believe it helps us to raise more diverse human beings who respect the world around them. Kuddos to you!
Macondo, you’re sweet. I was lucky to be in the right mindset and have the time.
subWOW, for the record, Mr. Naptime just wasn’t home from work. He had a good laugh about the bicycle but was glad he wasn’t the one who had to introduce what grandma believes.
Heather, thanks. II try way too hard sometimes, but this seemed pretty easy.
Bookworm, I think it’s particularly destructive to humanity to mock what other people believe and feel. Nobody knows what is *out there* and I think we should all have a shot at finding meaning in our lives. I feel pretty strongly about what I believe, but would not want to raise a person who made other people feel small for believing something that brings them a purpose.
Lagunatic, I can’t imagine the family tension created in that situation. We won’t even use the A word in our families because so many people think that word is synonymous with a variety of terrible things. Galls me, but I’m not going door-to-door to explain atheism any time soon.
jc I heart that particular expletive. GREAT image, particularly with the rewritten, long haired white version of Christ.
Wow. You… you are so wise it blows my mind. I’ve been anticipating explaining this topic to my lil guy (though he’s barely 2). Thanks for giving me some tools to do so.
subWOW sent me this way and I was fascinated by this post. My kids are older now, we allowed them to explore different faiths and find their own way, it turns out, they feel more or less the same as we do, science has won them over in the end. As you said, trying to influence or create negativity, we felt, was not the path for us. Which is rather unusual for me, given my name, you can probably guess, I am usually all for some mocking, but not when it comes to someone’s personal beliefs. Sounds like you got through a potential hazard wonderfully!! Good luck with the next 6 million!!
Hey, kq. Death was harder to explain, but I gave a human-centric “dont’ worry, you get to choose what happens to your body, and by the way there are lots of ways to think about what happens after death” discussion that went over quite well. He plans to be buried and to be reincarnated as a car.
Wicked, I don’t handle many of the talks well, but I was ready for this one. I’ve explored a lot of religions in my day, and spent a lot of time with philosophy and quantum physics, so I just felt well equipped. My mom was pretty live and let live and I tried out my “I want to be a Catholic nun” phase and my “can we please go to Jehovah’s Witness bible study” phase then my Buddhist phase. Not to say that any belief is a phase, but for me they were. I’m pretty lucky to have a grandma who decided she couldn’t get past the discrepancies in her religion, investigated all the others, and came to the conclusion that “they’re all pretty much the same, and none of them make sense, but they feel good so you might as well stick with the one your family raised you in.” I think that kind of open mindedness is a gift.
For the record, I do enjoy a good mocking of the ideas in religions, and of the refusal by some of the more fanatical to examine their beliefs, but I don’t think mocking the person who believes something is of any use. Thanks for stopping by, and for reminding me that it only gets tougher from here. ;-)
this i love. all of it.
Well, J, we’re pretty fond of you, too, over here at the Nap and Tolerance B&B.
Nicely done. I’m still trying to firmly decide what I believe myself. I’m not too sure about Jesus being the savior, etc., and I know that really bothers my Catholic mom. She asked me why, if I don’t “really” believe in Jesus, we would celebrate Christmas. I said, “Well, I celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, too, so to me, it’s not that big of a deal to have a party to signify someone important in history, whether he existed, was god, or neither.” I think I got a good growl out of her with that one. haha.
Fie, we celebrate every holiday known to civilization, because we like parties. Every December we do Hannukah, Christmas, Solstice, New Year’s…we do Juneteenth (which I believe is the most worthy holiday there is) and equinoxes and on and on. Gotta add Shakespeare’s birthday…
I think not knowing or being sure is a valuable thing to teach kids, too. The search is the point, after all, so there’s nothing wrong with not knowing, I think. But again, who am I?
I think Peanut is brilliant. Child theology is so creative and wonderful. I think you’re doing a wondeful job with Peanut. As Cornel West says “doubt is not the oppisite of faith.” ;-) There’s room for everything, including a bicycle like a basket that made people. I love it.
He is brilliant. I can only imagine the conversations that will occur when the new baby is 4 and he is 8. I can’t wait to read them.
We’ve gone through some of the same stuff with our daughter. We’re using Greek/Roman mythology as a way to inspire in her a healthy skepticism of the mystical alongside an interest in the stories and the culture behind it all. I do have one tip, though: Don’t get an encyclopedia of myths/religions that has gory pictures of the crucifixion in it unless you want to talk about the crucifixion in detail. I had glossed it previously but had to kind of confront it head-on recently. Then again, I suspect that if more people confronted early in life the dirty bits about having your son brutally tortured and killed, fewer people would buy into the whole Christianity thing. Like you, I try not to expose that sort of scorn to my daughter. She’s surrounded by people who believe the stuff (especially here in the Bible belt), and one might as well try to get along with and understand others.
THIS is what I love about you and the way you actively parent. You get an opening like this and you just flat-out pounce on it! And you treat Peanut’s brain with so much respect…I’m always awestruck by the conversations you have.
:In the beginning was the Basket. And the Basket was All, alone and sufficient unto itself.
::And lo! the Basket assumed a different form, and became like unto a bicycle. The Basket was the Bicycle, and the Bicycle was the Basket. And it was good.
:::And with the passing of time, the Bicycle that was the Basket created the world and all that was in it. The Basket created the world and the Bicycle created the world; human beings and plants and animals and peanuts created they as one.
::::And the Peanut honored the Bicycle that was a Basket, divining it’s true nature. And it was good.
Spoiler alert for Peanut: there’s a pogo stick and a jet pack!
Sometimes kids are just better at understanding the profound in life. Our 5 year old asked, “Who is God?” Our response was similar and very open to what everyone else believes. It does make for an interesting, deep and often hilarious conversation.
Awesome him and awesome you. Everyone has their own beliefs and that is what makes this world tick.
” a bike that is a basket made God.” (smiling.)
What an awesome post, and what an awesome Peanut! I love how open and accepting kids are. We are Catholic and our best friends are Jewish, which frequently leads to my girls asking A LOT of questions. They can’t always figure it out and I freely admit to them that I can’t, either, and we are all OK with that. There’s no judgment, no strict adherence to the rules just because somebody told us so. There’s just acceptance.
(Which is so much different than my old-school Catholic upbringing…you know, uniforms, Friday Mass, the works…)
I like the way you talk to Peanut. So many people treat small children like they cannot understand anything at all. But you talk to him and explain your thoughts like you would if anyone else asked you. And of course, he is very smart and creative and thoughtful as well, which is only magnified by the wonderful conversations you have together. And BTW, I’m with Peanut… “The bicycle and the god are still around.”
faemom and ck: thanks for the sweet comments.
Daryl, we’ve been flipping through a children’s mythology anthology, but I hadn’t mentioned anything about the polytheistic mortals and the way the gods meddled so willingly in human affairs. But now I have my opening. And on the crucifixion stuff, I’m having to hide our huge book of paintings in the Louvre because 50% of that thing is dead Christs and the other 50% is warring nobles and dead bodies. Ah, to be a child in the 1600s… ;-)
squadra, I am actually standing for the ovation. That was awesome.
jc you make me laugh. Love the spoiler alert.
amothershood and jen, it is kind of fun, isn’t it.
gibby, I’ve always marveled how Catholics and Jews flock together. I was raised Catholic and more than 60% of my friends are Jewish, and 30% are former Catholics. Your comment made me remember my first brush with skepticism: my devout Irish Catholic grandfather LOST it when the Vatican said, we changed our mind on the whole meat on Friday thing. He went ballistic. “What else did they invent? Is the whole thing just bullshit?” So glad nobody told him Hell isn’t even in the Bible. He might have had an aneurysm right there.
Organic, I have real trouble dumbing things down, and I get a lot of eye rolls. P asked yesterday how butchers make cows die and I told him and my mom just about threw me across the car. What does she want me to say…little fairies ask the cows nicely to be meat and the cows just *poof* become steak? Sigh. I’m glad the bicycle is still around in your world. I could stand pushing a metagod around for a while.
@naptimewriting for mythology books for kids (if you happen to find yourself hunting for another), I highly recommend “Greek Myths for Young Children” by Heather Amery and Linda Edwards, which I reviewed at http://dadlib.com/2010/02/10/greek-myths-for-young-children/ . The only potential red flag I saw was that it doesn’t gloss over various deaths (though neither does it dwell on them).
Thanks, Daryl! I’ll go read the review. I don’t like our anthology because it’s too wordy, doesn’t have enough pictures, and doesn’t tell the stories particularly well, nor pick the best. If you’re gonna do mythology, do it with grand, sweeping stories, right?
naptimewriting: my sister who left you information or an invitation – did so out of a thing called LOVE for her fellow person, believe me this it’s not easy to knock on a stranger’s door! no one wants to be rejected. But this is our mission- try and inform all mankind regardless of race or culture – that there is a Creator who has a name: Jehovah, and he has promised to make this Earth that we all live on- “A Paradise” and in order to do so – All those who do not wish to live according to his commandments then they are going to be destroyed and once that has happened, then there will be a New World that will be ruled by Theocracy not Democracy no Human government so far has been able to resolve any of mankind’s dilemnas. Only thru Theoracy can human problems be resolved. We are seeking people’s who hearts and minds that ready to hear the Good News about God’s Kingdom, so please come and visit your nearest Kingdom Hall all are welcome!
Brilliant! Brilliant!!!! And from now on this is what I am going to tell the Jehovah folks I believe:
“It was kind of like a bicycle that was just a basket and people have to push it and it made the god.”
BloginSong, that would be so freaking awesome.
YOU are a wise woman! I loved the conversation you had with Peanut, very well handled, IMO!
well maybe someone had a devise like a bike and basket at the sermon on the mount feeding 6000 people had to be an overwelming event but the bike made it easier
I love it Alyce! Yes. Better service through God tools. ;-)