I was standing outside this morning and my son was playing with his transformer toys in the yard. As I stood there, dazed still from having just woken up, one of my neighbors walked up to me, all smiles and shiny cheeks. I said good morning in my polite but reserved way and she said good morning back but it was obvious she had meandered over to me with a purpose and I waited patently for that purpose to be revealed. The conversation we had was a bit shocking, but also a bit satisfying.
Neighbor Lady: How's it going?This is when I began to get uncomfortable. Tomorrow is Sunday. Sunday morning. She wants to take my son to a 'thing' on Sunday morning. I must have paused for a little too long or was wearing my concern plainly on my face because my neighbor continued -
Me: Oh, OK. I work nights so I'm just getting myself up now.
NL: Well it's nice that your son lets you sleep in.
M: Yeah, he's a good boy, I am lucky.
NL: I wanted to ask you about him, we're going to this thing tomorrow and I wanted to know if he could come?
M: Oh yeah, what kind of thing? What time? He's going to hang out with his grandmother sometime tomorrow so it might not work out.
NL: It's in the morning.
NL: It's a church thing, but the kids don't really do a lot of the church stuff they just play. I thought he might like it.It was at this point that I took a long pause. I told the neighbor, a very nice lady who I honestly feel wasn't trying to be insulting and who has genuine concerns regarding god, judgment, and hell, that I needed a minute to think about things. She seemed to misinterpret my pause as if I were considering for even a moment allowing my son to go with her but that was fine as she patiently waited while I considered my response.
M: Well what kind of church thing is it?
NL: Well, it's church. We go to a really nice church down the street and I have heard you and your boyfriend talking about being atheists, but I figure your son might still want to see what it's all about.
M: My 6 year old son?
NL: Well, yeah.
M: You're asking to take my 6 year old kid to a church, knowing that I'm an atheist?
NL: Well, I know you rejected god, but that doesn't mean your boy has to grow up without knowing all his options, right? I'm not trying to offend you...
M: You have the little blond girl, right? The nice girl my son plays with?This was the end of the conversation. I don't know if the interaction offended the woman or not, but it shouldn't have. I remember being a kid and being present during similar conversations between my parents and friends and neighbors of theirs. When I was in 5th grade my parents decided I was old enough to go to church with people if I wanted to and I remember going to a Carman concert with some neighbors of mine and feeling like I had stepped into the twilight zone.
NL: Yeah, she's my daughter and she LOVES the church we go to.
M: I want you to consider something and I'm not trying to be mean, I'm trying to prove a point. Were I to come up to you and ask you if I could take your daughter with me and my son to an activity where all of the people there besides your daughter would be atheists 'just to give her another perspective', would you be comfortable with that?
NL: (immediately blurts out) Well of course not!
M: Well then you completely understand why I would rather not have my son go to church with you tomorrow. And for the record, I would never suggest that myself - not for my son or your daughter. Our kids are 6 - I feel like they need to figure out for themselves what they believe and right now, they're still taking in all the possible explanations.
NL: Well, if you want your son to make up his own mind, why would you be opposed to him coming to church with us and checking it out?
M: For one, I think he's too young. More important than that, he's not the one who asked me if he could go to church, you are. He's not yet interested in your faith and I'm not going to push the exposure on him. When he's ready, he'll look into it and if you guys are still living next to us, I'll let him know then that you'll be happy to take him to church with you.
The religious practice of 'get 'em while they're young' seems unsavory to me because it takes the minds of people just as willing to accept the existence of Santa Clause or Optimus Prime on faith as anything else, and produces for them a creator god who they are to take on faith is real as well. Then, they take away Santa and Optimus as fanciful, childish things, yet they maintain that god is the real deal? How can you willingly do that to a kid and not consider than you might be messing them up?