I’ve always been fascinated with religion, or with what it reflects of the human condition. I was raised in an only recreationally religious home; my parents were non-committal-- not in a free-spirited, exploratory sense, but in that they made vague and somewhat awkward mentions of utilitarian Christianity in the course of holiday toasts, and left it at that. I was intrigued by friends’ families who displayed a more active engagement in some kind of religious life. I attended various religious services and activities with these friends, and appreciated the community and family cohesion that their structures fostered (I had an absolute ball at a Rosh Hoshanna dinner early in high school, for example, where I took some advantage of the fact that I was offered wine). I didn’t feel particularly invested in any one tradition, though; I found it puzzling, even as a child, that friends confidently espoused their beliefs as fact when, next door, someone else believed something else entirely.
Of course, as I gained a broader perspective and got wind of current events, I recognized this phenomenon playing out—and causing serious problems—on the world stage; religious belief not only binds families and communities together, but it can also blow them apart (I have one friend who’s “found Jesus” as a young adult, much to her parents’ chagrin, and another who’s parted ways with her conservative religious background and whose mother has subsequently disowned her). Our global community, too, suffers its biggest rifts over its religious differences, citing them as sufficient reason for warfare and beyond.
I decided to study religion in college, and, having always been something of a religious tourist up to that point, I went in with the opinion that all religions basically posit the same thing, and that their details are really not relevant. Not surprisingly, studying in some depth gave rise to a different understanding; while I do think all religions address the same fundamental questions, they answer those questions differently, and those differences can’t really be distilled (at least not respectfully). I don’t think there are any easy answers or quick solutions for the really big problems in the world, but I am sure that war and religion don’t have anything in common, and that those who espouse a close relationship between the two are disastrously misguided. As the Dalai Lama says, “We can't say that all religions are the same, different religions have different views and fundamental differences. But it does not matter, as all religions are meant to help in bringing about a better world with better and happier human beings. On this level, I think that through different philosophical explanations and approaches, all religions have the same goal and the same potential.”
A better world with happier human beings. What’s not to love?
I’m a Buddhist (you guessed that, right?). There aren’t any real beliefs involved in that for me, per se, beyond the fact that I’m having a human experience and that other human beings are, too. Thus enters compassion. And I believe that all people have within them the potential to be happy, and compassionate, and that when they are, the world changes for the better. I do actually sit down to practice Buddhism every day, though, which I guess makes me one of the more religious people I know (I think my own parents find this kind of weird… as a little aside, my dad asked Aaron and me, the night before our wedding, whether we were going to ask within the ceremony for God to bless our union… I was kind of surprised, but explained that we did not intend to ask that in those terms, exactly… so my dad went ahead and asked it himself, in a toast… it’s always in the toast!).
Aaron’s not religious at all, although he supports my Buddhist practice. His parents were of the bad-taste-in-the-mouth variety, having had negative experiences with religion as kids. His own feelings are neutral. Kaspar’s undecided, as of yet, being just six months old. I bring him to Buddhist meetings with me, during which he is doted upon, and he sits in my lap and chews on things when I practice each day. My Buddhist practice makes me a happier person—that’s why I do it—and therefore a better mom. I’ll continue to share it with Kaspar naturally like this, as he grows, but I’m going to try hard not to impose it upon him; what I care about is that he becomes a confident, happy, capable and free person. How exactly he goes about that will be up to him. He’ll no doubt ask me the big questions (birth, death and everything in between)—kids always do— I hope I can provide him with the tools to explore his world, within and without, so that he can find his answers.
What was your relationship or experience with religion like when you were a child? How has that affected your approach to religion with regard to your own kids now? Has having kids made you more or less religious somehow? Are your kids interested in your religion, or others? How do you share your religion with them? Looking forward to hearing about what kind of role religion plays in your home.