Religion and chocolate: A little makes life sweeter, too much makes us sick
When our boys were seven years old, we were reading The Children’s Torah and came across some stories that I’d forgotten. Fun tales like when Lot gave his pre-teen daughters to old men for sex or the part about killing children who don’t observe the Sabbath. At one point, Zachary looked at me with his mouth open and I could read his mind.
“Are you kidding me?”
I shut the book and rubbed my eyes.
“Whether we’re reading history books or the Torah,” I said, “it’s important to read about mistakes and outdated views. We learn from them so we won’t make those same mistakes again. Besides, they recently discovered hallucinogenic plants on Mount Zion. I believe all these cats where high when they wrote this shit.”
Get rid of the references to child rape, and Judaism works for my family
Marc and I do use the morals and values from modern-day Judaism to encourage within our children proper decision-making, but we are not religious. The traditions and values, used sparingly, from our people’s past provide a sturdy foundation, and nothing more.
We also blend in the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism to further complicate the matter. I had my kids meditating and practicing yoga to release anxiety from the time they could walk. They are the only kids I know who mumble mantras and meditate when their parents piss them off.
Yes, Judaism and Buddhism combined together provide a balance that works for my family, not to mention a hell of a dinner menu every night.
From my own background in Catholicism, (that’s right, I converted) I’m also a big believer in the powers of guilt and manipulation. We cannot always be with our kids and should value anything that stops them from going along with the crowd.
Worrying about my mom or God’s judgment kept me drug-free and chaste for longer than anyone else I know, so I’m a big fan of that part of the movement.
Sprinkling different belief systems in our family’s daily routine can produce well-adjusted, tolerant, and loving children whose world view will benefit everyone. Almost every religion has their own version of the Golden Rule. Jewish boys and girls are taught that Hillel summed up their religion in one sentence, while standing on one foot:
What is intolerable to you, don’t do to anyone else. The rest is commentary, now go and study.
The most overused cliché in the history of parenthood is responsible for millions of miserable adults and overindulged children. Here it is:
“More than anything, I want my kids to be happy.”
My offspring’s happiness isn’t the most important thing in anyone’s world. Instead, I want them to be good. We demand that our children do the right thing, always, even when they’re not happy about it. This message can be summed up with one of my mother’s favorite sayings, one that she learned from her mother, and one that I use all the time:
“Too bad about you.”
In other words, “I don’t care if you’re unhappy; you’re going to do the right thing, the good thing, no matter what.”
I misbehaved a lot as a kid. Between birth and ten years of age, I can remember making people cry, beating up anyone who picked on my sister or brother, stealing a pack of bubblegum, blowing spitballs at kids who made fun of my hair, etc. My mother made me apologize, take the gum back, perform community service, and go to confession no matter how sad I got.
She wanted me to be a good person, above all.
Somewhere in elementary school it hit me that if I wanted to watch The Brady Bunch after homework and quit saying the rosary every night, I was going to have to settle down and behave.
I’ve been a good girl ever since. For the most part.
Jacob and Zachary understand this lesson well. We haven’t had to deal with any serious crimes, not yet anyway, but they know we expect them to bring honor to their family and themselves. How they feel about that is secondary.
I have certain expectations when we go somewhere and always talk to my boys about manners ahead of time, usually before we get out of the car, so they know how to behave. Why wouldn’t I do the same about life in general?
Jacob and Zachary came along with me to political rallies, diversity marches, and even door-to-door campaigns. I introduced them to my boycott list early on explaining that certain companies, with business practices so offensive, don’t deserve our money.
“That would mean we agree with them,” I told them. “We don’t.”
This sharing of expectations and values builds a family team and helps our children form an identity. They know a lot about what we do and do not accept.
We won’t go to a circus, rodeo, or Sea World because “we” believe that animals weren’t put here for our entertainment.
And Mommy couldn’t afford the therapy bills if we actually saw a whale eat someone who got too close.
“We” help candidates and causes we believe in because that’s our responsibility as citizens of a great country.
“We” say God bless them when we hear a fire truck or ambulance.
“We” accept others as they are without judgment.
“We” recycle and clean up the beaches and donate to charities.
“We” love our fellow man, even the assholes who cut us off on the freeway.
Then one day, back in 2006 when the organization was still awful, Zachary asked a question, “Can we join Boy Scouts?”
“That organization is on my boycott list,” I explained. “They discriminate against gay people and atheists.”
“What’s an atheist?” Jacob asked.
“Someone who doesn’t believe in God,” I said.
“Like Cousin Al,” Jacob replied.
“We have gay people in our family, too,” Zachary said. “Like Uncle Rita. She’s gay.”
“Right,” I said. “But even if we didn’t have gay people or atheists in our family, we wouldn’t join Boy Scouts. What if they discriminated against black people or kids in wheelchairs? We can’t join any group that says certain other kids can’t join.”
Jacob stood thinking about this for a moment. He’s a thinker. I always know something interesting is about to come out of his mouth when he scratches his temple and zones out for a moment.
“Boys and girls can get married,” he said, “but boys can’t marry boys and girls can’t marry girls.”
“Says who?” I asked.
The kid shrugged his shoulders. Ten bucks it was Grandpa.
“Well,” I said, “that’s not true. Some boys marry boys and some girls marry girls.”
“That’s kinda weird.”
Again, they were six years old.
Both children said this in unison, little noses wrinkled in confusion. I then named many friends and relatives who are here and queer and married. Jake and Zach raised their eyebrows, asked a few questions about “gay people” and then Jacob repeated himself.
That’s it, I decided, no more NASCAR. In his defense, though, the tone was more fascination than anything else.
“That’s the way God made them,” I said.
They liked that answer. I could tell because they stopped talking and resumed animal noises and I had to make them go outside to play.
If we don’t explain our world views to our children, how will they know what we think and believe? We shouldn’t limit conversations to SpongeBob’s favorite food or Hannah Montana’s fear of commitment.
Let’s talk about it all.