Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bringing Up Agnostic Mormon Baby

The trickiest (and to many people, the most hypocrital) part of my Agnostic Mormonism is the question of where exactly I'm leading my children. My participation in the church and how I reconcile that with my actual beliefs are very complex things. I can't really discuss them with a 6-year-old. And yet, I'm bringing these kids to church and I'm reading the scriptures to them and we're listening to and singing Primary songs. They're slowly picking up on gospel principles. And I'm sort of encouraging it!

In this post, I talked a little bit about how I answer gospel questions and how and why I teach my children the gospel. Today I want to talk about what outcome I'm hoping for.

One of my brothers (who has been inactive his entire adult life) has always let my mom bring his kids to church with her. They've even been baptized! My husband and I were baffled by that for the longest time, because we couldn't imagine sending our kids into a place to learn things that we definitely do not believe.

But you know what? That attitude was actually born of my Mormon upbringing.

It's my Mormon upbringing that makes me terrified (or even just uncomfortable) that my kids will believe something different from what I believe. It's my Mormon upbringing that makes me terrified that my kids might subscribe to something that isn't "true". Mormons are scared of that. They're scared of "losing" their children to other belief systems. But the only reason to be scared of losing your children to another belief system is if you actually believe the thing you have is absolutely and exclusively true. And since I'm agnostic, and agnosticism is all about NOT claiming truth, the reality is that it just isn't that big of a deal if my kids believe something different from me or something that I feel is untrue or just plain long as it isn't making them do crazy things or treat other people badly. What's the worst that could happen? My kids might become faith-filled, believing Mormons. There are worse things. (Although there are few things worse than the idea of my kids becoming the judgmental, a-hole kind of Mormons. You know what I'm talking about, right?)

What I don't want for my kids is for them to experience a traumatic, life-changing faith crisis like mine. That's why I teach them the gospel from an agnostic perspective.

I teach them the stories from the scriptures, but I teach them as just that--stories. Even better if those stories illustrate courage or kindness or some other awesome character trait that I want my kids to develop. The biggest reason I teach them the scripture stories is because I plan to raise them in this church community and I want them to be culturally literate. I want them to know the stories and understand the references people make to them, because I don't want them to feel like outsiders. This is their church and their community. They shouldn't feel like outsiders.

When it comes to the hard theological questions, I try to answer in agnostic terms: "Some people believe X, some people believe Y, but nobody really knows for sure." I want them to be comfortable with not knowing the answers. I'm okay if they grow up to have "real" testimonies, but I kind of hope that they'll grow up to be agnostic Mormons like me. I want them to believe that we can't really know the church is true, but that the principles of the gospel can enrich your life and strengthen your family and make you a better person. I want them to believe that they can benefit from it without it necessarily being true.

I tend to look at the gospel narrative very figuratively, and I try to teach my children in the same way. Tons of religious people interpret their religion figuratively. They don't believe that some guy named Noah actually built a gigantic boat and then rounded up two of every.single.animal in the world and stuck them on said boat for 40 days. They view it all as an allegory, a vehicle for communicating worthy principles. Mormons don't do that. Not only do they interpret it all literally, but they also have a weirdly detailed answer for everything (Kolob, anyone?). I just try to benefit from the principles, and if that means imbibing the stories--and letting some weird details go in one ear and out the other--then that's okay.

My husband works with a lot of cultural Jews who maintain their traditions because it's what they grew up doing, it's a community they value, it gives their lives some kind of structure and meaning, etc. They don't have life-changing faith crises, because they never believed that their faith was the absolute story of existence. They never based their lives on whether or not it was true. They didn't allow the stakes to be so high.

I try to approach Mormonism that way. I don't take it too seriously. It's more my culture than it is my religion. I'm hoping that my kids will sort of catch that. Right now, I can't have deep theological conversations with them, but I can answer questions in a way that tells them we don't really know and that's okay.


  1. You do a great job with this blog! I have so many instances where I hear things come out of kids mouths and kind of shutter.

    Every night my son prays and asks Heavenly Father not to let him have bad dreams, but of course he ends up having a couple, now he won't say them because he doesn't think it works. What do I say to that? I ended up saying something about how God doesn't give us more than we can handle, yada, yada, but I don't know!

    Or when we drove by another LDS church building and my son asked, "Is that our church?" I said, "No" (because it technically wasn't, same religion, but not our church) and he said, "Oh, thats not the TRUE church." I can't help but cringe a little.

    Or when a little sunbeam told me her mom said she didn't have the holy ghost yet, because she wasn't baptized. Uh, in my opinion we can still feel the holy ghost before baptism, but this mother is straight by the book. Poor kid.

    It's hard to have an open mind and not take things so literally when everyone else does. You just end up looking like an a-hole :)

  2. I just hope you have no regrets when you're excluded from their temple weddings. When the 'other grandmother' gets more face time with their kids than you do. I have a SIL who is just like you, and her husband takes the kids to church. She stays home almost all the time. Her eldest daughter is whole hog Mormon. I do think it's the best thing to allow our kids to make their own decisions about belief, though. My kids are atheists, but I'm actually hoping their stance softens a bit as time goes on, lol.