A list of books for kids related to topics in the book Raising Freethinkers, suggested by readers.Read More
In my quest to prove that the winter holidays can be just as meaningful for us heathens as they are for the religious, I was turned on to the idea, very popular on the internet for the past few years, of the Christmas Countdown.Read More
When I was young, my father would remark on what seemed like almost every Sunday that it was "God's Day" and he'd forewarn that as a family, we would stay home and do nothing because of it. Sundays, Sabbath to Christians, were to be respected in our household when Dad was around. Yes, he'd prepare a hefty pancake breakfast for us and self-indulge in guitar-playing or song-writing, but for kids who wanted to watch television or have friends over, hanging around the house wasn't fun It took me over 20 years to shake off the stigma of that tradition. In reality, my father was most likely just providing an excuse to kick back & relax one day a week, but using the Sabbath for an excuse. He was (and still is) a factory worker, who at the time was raising a few kids, and in addition to tending to us weekday evenings while my Mom worked her part time job, he cared for us kids on the weekends, too: a 12 year old (myself), a 6 year old, and a newborn. Quite a task, I admit.
Once I grew up, Sundays came & went, and I always felt solemn on those days. I would stay home, mope around, and sometimes even relaxing to a good book wasn't satisfying. It was just a few years ago that I had started practicing trying to feel good about Sundays. Going fun places and doing fun activities rather than sitting at home alone. It took a long time for me to transition from seeing Sundays as "God's Day" to simply a second day of the weekend where I could enjoy friends and indulge in fun.
Being a Roman Catholic is a part of my past--from baptism as a baby to adult-confirmation around age 24. And unfortunately my Sunday memories aren't fond: my father pinching my upper arm really hard during Mass because I was dazing or dozing off. A priest reprimanding me around the time of my First Communion because I couldn't coerce my entire family into attending church with me. And being forced to memorize the Stations of the Cross until I wanted to pull my eyeballs from their sockets. I must be honest...I can't recall many pleasant Sunday memories. Most were just routine Sunday Blues, as I refer to them.
Today I'm very happy that neither of my children will ever be mandated by me to attend Catechism classes, nor will they be forced to go to a specific church. Sundays are a second Saturday in our house and enjoyment is to be had in one of many ways. And being that I'm one who enjoys connecting with a like-minded community, it's possible that my children will experience Sunday mornings in the Unitarian Universalist church, learning about all the religions without adhering to one specific core belief system and developing a connection to the UU's Seven Principles rather than the Ten Commandments. And hopefully become involved with humanitarian efforts alongside other Humanists.
I understand that for many, being a Catholic, or worshiping a God, is a welcomed feature of their lives. However, that's not the case for me. And I am grateful I can now say that it's okay. Part of rehabbing my former Catholic-mind involved myself attending Unitarian Universalist sermons, which brought me back into a church. I started going eight years ago. I grew to love the educational sermons led by various professional, intellectual people. I enjoyed the intellectual atmosphere and admired the values practiced. Now, I'm a public school teacher who, although an Atheist, educates high school Global History students on the various religions of the world (a requirement of the state curriculum). I'm also a member of a new, local Humanist chapter, which I see as another stepping stone in my personal journey through life as a proud, happy Atheist. Through identifying as a Humanist, I continue to believe that being a good person & having a heart isn't about honoring Jesus or connecting with God. It's about good habits, ethical practices, and being involved in a healthy future for not only oneself & those one loves, but the broader spectrum of community--those in my nation and around the world.
I will conclude on a humorous note: as I sat visiting my parents this past weekend, there was a knock at their door, which I promptly answered. A man informed me that he was there to take photographs of their home for home-owners insurance purposes--a routine procedure. After I asked him to wait and informed my parents of his request, my father seemed astonished and mumbled something while approaching the door. Whatever he said, ended with "...on a Sunday?!" I laughed to myself and thought of this blog post I had just penned. No matter how much time passes, some things never change.
Jessica is a history buff, as well as a certified New York State public school teacher and current vice president of the CNY Humanist Association. Her interests are listening to music, reading nonfiction memoirs, and both swimming and running. She has previously lived in Houston and Yonkers, and now presently resides in suburban Central New York. Her views are not those of the AHA, the CNYHA, or any other organization. In addition, her opinions are subject to change upon further reflection. Your thoughts, expressed in a polite way, are always welcome.
When I finally let go of my Catholic faith - along with the religious teachings that provided ready answers to questions of death and dying - the topic often made me feel uncomfortable. I didn't have a reassuring answer to the "What happens when we die" type of question. And when my two daughters grew older and started to ask those deeper questions, I began feeling more pressure to have comforting yet truthful ways to discuss death, dying, and how to lead a meaningful life.
One answer - read lots of literature together! Children's stories offer no shortage of thoughtful fodder for conversation about death and dying - even when that isn't a topic you intended to discuss. A case in point - Charlotte's Web.
Over the past weeks, as the June evenings grew longer and longer, every night my 5 and 7 year old daughters cuddled together with me on my bed to read E.B. White's beloved novel.
Charlotte's Web is the story of a tiny runt of a pig named Wilbur who is first saved from death by young Fern Arable, and eventually goes to live on the farm of Fern's uncle, Mr. Zuckerman. There Wilbur gets to know the other animals in the barn, but doesn't make a true friend until he meets Charlotte - a large grey spider who makes her home in Wilbur's doorway.
In between giggling over my my attempts to "do the voices" of the fast-talking Goose, sweet humble Wilbur, sly rat Templeton, and calm clever Charlotte - my girls and I had dozens of deep conversations. Sometimes they were prompted by my questions.....
Do you think Wilbur should have escaped when he had the chance? Charlotte says that she "has to say what's true" - what do you think about that? Why do you think Charlotte was so calm at the end?
But more often, discussions were led by their observations.....
Templeton's not such a jerk now, but maybe he's just fooling. Why did that Goose have to tell him he's going to die? That's just mean!
And honestly, I had forgotten how intense this book really is. There is no gentle build-up to more emotional parts. The very first line of the book is "Where's Papa going with that ax?". Overall, the author is fairly matter-of-fact about death - dispassionately describing the details of Charlotte's method of trapping and eating her prey. ("I always give them an anaesthetic so they won't feel pain. It's a little service I throw in.") And Wilbur's impending Christmas-time slaughter is handled in the same forthright way. ("When a pig is to be butchered, everybody helps.")
But I had also forgotten how deeply meaningful the book can be. Yes, there is the theme of friendship, but now I noticed something else: the power of the right words to change our self perception - and even the opinions of others. When Charlotte plays her "trick" (as she calls it) and labels Wilbur "some pig", "terrific", and "radiant", he is initially uncomfortable with those terms until finally becoming inspired to attempt acting in a "terrific and radiant" way. Eventually he sees those qualities in himself and the farmhand (Lurvy), the Zuckermans and the Arables all start noticing their amazing pig.
Yes, there is some brief religious content in Charlotte's Web - but presented in a gentle, non-proselytizing way. When Lurvy first sees "Some Pig" in the web, he drops to his knees to pray. And the messages are sometimes called a "miracle" by Mr. Zuckerman who promptly drives over to consult with his minister, who advises him not to tell anyone and "I can explain it in my sermon next Sunday." (Lots of opportunity for conversation there!)
In the end, I had expected my daughters to be more moved by the story, but instead, I was the one blinking back tears as Charlotte dies alone at the fair. But I reminded myself not to expect too much at their ages. In Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief, Dale McGowan notes, "Compared to their parents, children have a greatly reduced grasp of death" but "...early engagement can only help to build a foundation of understanding and familiarity to ease and inform their later encounters with this most profound of all human realities."
For now, the main results of reading Charlotte's Web are a temporary halt to killing all spiders in our home and the addition of "Salutations!" to our family's vocabulary. However, even if my daughters never remember the details of our bedtime conversations about Charlotte's Web, I hope it adds another layer to the foundation of experiences they'll have to draw on later when needed.
I'll leave the final words to Charlotte:
"After all, what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."
Corrina lives in Central New York with her husband, their two little girls, and piles of books that often threaten to take over unless tamed. She is an elementary school teacher and current president of the CNY Humanist Association. Her views are not those of the AHA, the CNYHA, or any other organization. In addition, her opinions are subject to change upon further reflection. Your thoughts, expressed in a polite way, are always welcome.