Couples often tell me that they want their children to have a religion that will teach the children good values. That’s a great start but it is certainly not a sufficient reason to choose to have a religion practiced in the home. First, you don’t need religion to be a person of principle and decency. There are many atheists and agnostics that are moral and socially responsible people without a spiritual life. What those people do not have, as parents, is a community that backs them up. They also lack ‘story of meaning.’ By that I mean, every religion has a core narrative that informs the daily life of its adherents.
For Christians, the life informing narrative is the story of Christ. You must have heard the phrase, “what would Jesus do?” That simple sentence invokes volumes and implies a way of life that is kind and loving.
For Jews the narrative of the Bible stories, especially the exodus from Egypt, provide the framework for Jewish behavior. The repeated refrain in the Hebrew Scriptures, “for you were strangers in Egypt” and is a frequent reminder to deal justly with others.
Children learn from stories. Telling them, “Share” or “Wait your turn” or “Eat your vegetables” are instructions that are better understood and retained when they are woven into a story. The same is true of stories that teach a child to be kind, honest, or respectful. Think about the books you have read to your children; didn’t many of them have an ethical message? From Aesop’s Fables to Harry Potter, human beings have been passing on our values through narratives.
Determining which narrative will belong to your child is an important decision. From that decision will extend a community of support, metaphors for life’s challenges and a sense of belonging. A child want to belong. An adult often wants to be unique. But a child is looking for the familiar. Having a place where we are the ‘same’ in a primal way helps a child to feel secure. You the parents get to decide what that will be. You as parents are responsible for giving that to your child.