Jesus is a figure of huge cultural, social, and political significance in much of the world, and, even if you’re a non-believer or practice a faith other than Christianity, your child is likely to have questions about Jesus. If you anticipate these questions, you can avoid unflattering deer-in-headlights comparisons and hopefully send the message that questions about religion are no big deal.
At one point, after spending a weekend with her grandparents, Alice said, “Did you know that Jesus made the whole world?”
“I’ve heard that story,” I said. “Is that what Grandma says?”
“Yep. So, did Jesus make the world?”
I decided to try putting Jesus in context. I told her a Native American creation story, about the Big Bang, and about the seven days of creation in Genesis. I told her what we think we know: that once the Earth was here, things started to happen little by little, until one little creature had become a million little creatures, all changing and growing.
“Until there was everything — all the animals and even us and even AdRock,” she said, excitedly filling in the story of evolution with what’s most important to her: animals, her family, and her dog. She spent the rest of the day making up creation stories. “Maybe a giant crow made it. He cawed into the sky five times and the world was made and space and everything.” And later, “Maybe turtles, a whole stack of a hundred turtles standing on each other’s backs and — boom! — they made the world.”
I felt good about that conversation. We had celebrated human creativity and storytelling by putting one story in context with others and rewarded her curiosity with manageable facts.
Of course, for every question I’ve aced, there’s another I’ve totally fucked up, especially when she was very small and I was not so confident in my non-belief. Because I grew up in a Christian household, questions about Jesus have an emotional punch for me that questions about other religions don’t. At times, my answers have been defensive, too emotional, or too complicated, usually because I’ve forgotten to focus on what she’s really asking.
Sometimes, Alice asks, “Why don’t we go to church?” and I hear, “Why are you disappointing your parents?” Sometimes, she asks, “What’s heaven?” and I hear, “What’s the meaning of life on earth?” But those aren’t the questions she’s asking. As she’s grown older and better at understanding, I’ve grown wiser and better at responding to her curiosity rather than my own emotional baggage.
Ultimately, Alice will have to answer her own Big Existential Questions. For now, her questions about Jesus are just questions. Defensiveness or a reluctance to answer sends the message that the topic is off limits, and if there’s one thing I believe as a skeptical mama, it’s that no topic is off limits. I want her to bring me her questions. When I don’t have the answers, we’ll do what humans have always done: tell ourselves a story.
What about the rest of you? How do you address questions about god or religion?