Recall from part 1 that I was teaching my kids some naughty words. Well, along those same lines, I've started teaching them about Jesus. The system I've been using is very similar to the one used by the Exterminator as he explained in his atheist confessions ("I say 'oh, Christ!' and 'oh, shit! about an equal number of times each day, even though I believe in only one of them").
Despite my efforts, though, during my recent visit to Lourdes, I discovered that my kids don't know who Jesus is apart from his role as an expletive.
We were staying in a convent, so of course every room had a crucifix in it. We got a room with a really gory one -- where you could see the blood dripping down His dead, drooping head -- hanging right over the bed. (Sweet dreams!) Honestly, it blows my mind that anyone could find such a gruesome image uplifting. Anyway, my little four-year-old Leo was sweetly playing on the bed when he noticed the thing and asked "Mommy, who's that?"
My husband and I looked at one another for a second and I said "It's a picture of someone being executed." Leo doesn't know that that means, but it was sufficient to get him to go back to playing.
On the other hand, I found that my kids can recognize Buddha. We were walking past a Chinese restaurant one day, and Leo said "Look, Mommy! It's Buddha!" I looked where he was pointing and, sure enough, there was a big golden statue of Buddha.
I taught my kids about Buddha kind of unintentionally. One time a colleague went on a business trip to China and brought back tiny Buddha statues for everyone, as souvenirs. I gave mine to my kids to use as a toy. All I told them about him was that his name is Buddha, so naturally they put him with their Spiderman, Batman, and Superman figurines (and dubbed him "Buddha-man").
Since then I figured I should try to make an effort to teach my kids about religion at home since they're bound to hear about it from other kids at school and get all sorts of wrong information. So I bought them an excellent book Les Religions du Monde, and put it on the shelf next to that other in-case-they-have-questions book I bought them (It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health).
I like the book on religions because it's quite even handed -- it covers all known major religions including extinct religions and some fairly obscure religions (although Mormonism didn't make the cut, unfortunately). The bigger the religion, the more extensive the description, but they don't favor one over another (in terms of presenting it as better or more reasonable) nor is there a subtext of "of course this is obviously all a bunch of hooey..." All we've learned from the book so far,though, is that Buddha is really huge. There's a Buddhist monk on the cover sitting next to a statue of Buddha, and the monk is no bigger than Buddha's hand! Now that's big!! (I know you're all waiting for me to add a comment about my earlier post here, but I would never stoop to that level... ;^) )
I can't seem to find a way to explain religion to my kids though. I feel like they're still a little too young to understand the difference between live people, historical figures, legendary characters loosely based on historical figures (eg. Santa Claus / Saint Nicholas), legendary characters that may be based on historical figures (eg. Jesus), fictional characters, etc. And how do you explain to a kid that many people think that there are invisible beings with supernatural powers? And that people think these beings really exist -- they don't see it as just imagination or playing pretend. And how do you explain that some people think they can communicate with mystical beings through lighting candles or saying particular phrases??? So for the moment we're at the point where "Buddha is huge" and the kids can see he's a statue and draw their own conclusions.
I'm happy we've had the opportunity to take the kids to Lourdes so they can see their Catholic heritage in its true context (something they wouldn't normally get from us). I made a point to take them to the basilica and get a picture in front of the giant golden crown.
"Big enough that Buddha could wear it!": the kids were duly impressed.
When we got back to our room, Nico looked out the window at the basilica and asked "Is that a castle, Mommy? Does the king live there?"
As usual, I was at a bit of a loss to explain.
The little angel on my one shoulder was saying "Tell him the truth! Tell him that some people believe there's a super-powerful magic being who likes people to worship him, so people build these elaborate buildings..." And the little devil on my other shoulder was saying "Ick! He's only six -- does he really need to hear about such things? Can't he stay innocent a little longer?"
So I just said "No, the king doesn't live there. We don't have a king anymore."
Nico was a little disappointed with that answer, so he invented a fanciful story about how every country (including France and the US) has lots of kings, and they live in castles with huge gold crowns on top.
Well, why not? He'll hear the standard myths in time, but for the moment he can have the fun of inventing his own. :D