We don’t go to church. Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’m failing my kids because of it. I have friends who are religion regulars—some who have deep-rooted connections to their faiths, others whose attendance is based more on we-should-do-this-for-the-kids than on their own personal beliefs.
I support all of them.
I support anyone, in fact, who’s doing something that works for them, if that something doesn’t hurt anyone else. I don’t care about their reasons for doing it.
I don’t care if someone is Jewish or Baptist, Muslim or Buddhist. He’s an atheist? Wonderful. She’s agnostic? Fantastic!
I even don’t care if you’re Catholic—“even” because that’s the church in which I was raised, where I made my first communion, confessed my sins and was confirmed. It’s also where I learned to feel unnecessarily and overly guilty about any number of things. It’s where I got my first bitter tastes of exclusion—when, to me, inclusion is far more palatable. It’s where the phrase or you’ll go to hell was planted in my soul.
But. But. I recognize that not everyone had the experience I did. And I know Catholicism works for some people. They’re able to look beyond the plague of horrific scandals, and focus on quite the opposite: doing the right thing. To those people I say good for you.
My own affiliation with the church, however, began petering while I was in high school and came to a screeching halt after I left for college. (Incidentally, I’m not alone. Studies show that as many as 80 percent of teens leave the church during their first year of college).
I don’t go to church—but that doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual. Spirituality, as I think of it, is about having a life filled with meaning and value. It’s about forming deep relationships, and striving to be true to my inner belief system.
For most of my adult life, I haven’t felt like I needed organized religion to help me in these areas. In contrast, many of the especially devout seem to come to religion with a need: they’re looking for something to lean on, a support system. For many, it’s a last resort—it “saves” them.
As author Anne Lamott, one of my favorite people alive, wrote in her book Traveling Mercies:
“When I was at the end of my rope, the people at St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on. The church became my home in the old meaning of home—that it’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in. They even said, ‘You come back now.’ ”
As I started to write this column, I was reminded of Lamott’s essay “Why I Make Sam Go to Church” in the same book. Of her son, she wrote:
“The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want—which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians—people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful."
Recently, I’ve been thinking about the banding together part, about whether there’s more doing-good power in a group vs. an individual—and whether a church (especially one more inclusive and progressive than that of my childhood) might be the best conduit in facilitating such banding together.
And that’s led me to wonder if my spirituality has its roots in the religious education of my youth—an education that, despite being wrapped in a shroud of rote memorization and my-way-or-the-highway rules, offered lessons in community, morality and values.
Am I failing my children by not providing them with such education? By not giving them a spiritual community, am I depriving them of the ability to “follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle”? Will they not be “part of something beautiful”?
I wonder all of this in moments when, for instance, I overhear my son asking my father-in-law: “What’s a Jesus?” (and then “overhear” the shocked and disapproving pause that follows).
Maybe it’s time for him to learn.
Do you go to church? If so, do you go for you—or for your kids? Please weigh in below.