Tuesday, June 06, 2006

There but for the Grace of... who now?

Last night we were eating dinner. About half way through, Sophie put her hands palms together and says something incomprehensible. We ask her what she is saying. She does it again: "God is Great, God is Good..."

It felt like being hit in the stomach.

Carly teaches swim lessons at the YMCA.
I teach philosophy (and religion in the Fall) at an Episcopal College.
We accept that we are in the South, and that we are exposed to this sort of thing all of the time. But somehow we assumed our children were insulated from it.
The kids spend a couple hours a day in the daycare at the YMCA (for free) while Carly teaches. It has worked pretty well up until now.

I am sure Sophie has no idea what she is doing or saying, but the thought of some Daycare person encouraging, correcting and leading MY children in this sort of thing makes me sick and furious. It is this sort of indoctrination of the youth, before they can even think to question, when they are sponges soaking up what adults tell them, and when they are most eager to please us, that infuriates me.

On the other hand, this is the Young Man's Christian Association, and the kids are going to be exposed to Supersthroughout their lives, especially so long as we are in the South. What should we expect? I guess I hoped I wouldn't have to deal with this so early in their lives. Before they could even begin to make sense of the concepts (which I maintain or fundamentally incoherent).

95% of the time, the YMCA is just a club with a pool. Carly may cringe a little when they start their meetings with a devotion (me too for faculty meetings). But, the work and play at the site is mostly just healthy fun physical activity.

I am not really concerned that saying grace before snack-time will convert my kids to Christians. Once they begin to talk about that stuff, I am pretty sure we can counter this indoctrination with some reason and education, and let the kids (when they are more mature) decide for themselves. We include the myths about Santa and the Easter bunny in their lives. We sing Christmas carols with Jeebus in the lyrics and such.
There is just something creepy about the daycare/daycamp people with their sacchrin smiles telling our impressionable children all about God and the baby jeebus.

Am I overreacting to all this?


At 11:46 AM, Blogger lex said...

hey dear!

i had a visceral twinge of sympathetic fury for ya… though i have great faith that you'll weather it with grace (puns intended :). one thought though: there is no reason to let the deists and theists own grace: i myself take a great deal of pleasure in participating in/leading a grace as a celebration of community with those i am sharing a meal, and also as a moment to reflect on the ecology and meaning of the food we are eating (the conditions of the labor that produced it, the history or a recipie or culture of a cuisine, the works we will accomplish by its sustenance, the ecosystems in which it's production, consumption and waste are embedded).

the conscious consideration of food is a fabulous opportunity to connect your children and yourselves with the world in which they interact—food is a critical part of that interaction.

peace and love,

on a more ecumenical note, there is a fabulous book of graces ranging from the atheist to buddhist to catholic to wiccan that (for me anyoway) underscores the continuities that atheists, agnostics and theists all share (all are systems of trying to get along in the world and understanding it), while demonstrating difference as well. might be an interesting opportunity to expose your little ones to differences in spiritual perspective that's not merely opositional or prohibitive? lemme know and i'll dig up the name.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger jeff said...

I don't think you're overreacting at all, Steve. I think it's a big deal, and it is creepy. On the other hand, I think that your kids will both be fine, despite indoctrination they find everywhere, as long as y'all are keeping open communication about it and such. I'm curious what you said (if anything) to her when you heard her saying grace?

I like the sentiment of what Lex is saying, though I tend to avoid grace-saying practices because they are so intertwined with god-stuff, and I just don't want to confuse anybody about my beliefs. :)

At 4:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so what did you end up doing? It would be interesting to know where Sophie learned this, and what she thought it meant. I'm trying to think of some ritual-type activity to compare it to that would make sense to a 2 year old.
Touchy. Wow, it's kind of like the atheist version of the "birds & bees" conversation - "You see, some people feel that there's this big, really powerful person who lives in the sky..."
Maybe you should just explain that "gods are just monsters with a lot of hit points."

That was a joke, Steve.


At 9:16 AM, Blogger Scholz said...

I like the idea of the 'big monsters with lots of hitpoints'. I will add that to the list.

Our temporary solution is something of a delaying tactic while we determine a longer term solution.

Kids in daycare are labelled with stickers for all sort of messages. We can put a sticker that says "no wheat!" they can put a sticker that says "changed diaper" etc..
So we've opted to say "no snack" for now. It may seem like punishing the kids, but we are talking about two hours here, not all day.
They rotate the kids in groups of ten or so (of the forty or so kids in there), so it isn't like Sophie and Will are standing by themselves watching the other kids eat. This is a temporary solution, especially if we do send Sophie to day-camp, which is slightly longer three or four hours, and may have greater emphasis on 'character' education.

One solution we've proposed is to simply teach her to stay quiet when they say grace and if asked to join, say 'no thank you.' We don't want to teach her to make fun of other people, even if they are ignorant and stoopid (do as I say, not as a do :) )

Other alternatives are :
1. make up a different homophonic grace (dog is good, dog is great, is my favorite). SO she can play along, and hopefully no one will notice.
2. teaching her about God as something people 'pretend' exists. We play pretend (mostly Sophie's Coffee shop where she serves us make believe Lattes). So she might get that. Though at least with pretend coffee, there is also 'real' coffee. But pretend God is just pretend god.

At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We almost had a similar thing happen because one of Sabrina's little friends started talking about baby Jesus all the time. Luckily we noticed it before Sabrina caught on and they moved away a short time later... problem delayed.

At the moment we are haven't taken any great pains to avoid stories about God - but she also has picked up a belief in Santa and the tooth fairy from other kids. So we plan to deal with God once she figures out the others. On the other hand we live in the Pacific Northwest and not the South and she has never said anything at all about God or Jesus yet.

Get ready for 2nd-3rd grade or so when she starts discussing this with other kids and they tell her she is going to hell.

I was told I would go to hell because I was Jewish and therefore "didn't believe in God". My mother countered that the Jews didn't believe in hell. Since at the time I considered myself half-Jewish and half-Christian I thought that was a good answer and I started liking the no-hell religion better. (And eventually moved from that to the clear supieriority of no religion).

Good luck and keep us posted.

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heeheehee - stickers on the kids! Could you could have one that says "No God"!


At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, drat it, I meant that to have a question mark at the end...."No God!"?

At 8:50 AM, Blogger ripz said...

hey there,
I just couldn't help putting up a comment. I believe you must have heard this anecdote..
A man is getting his hair trimmed by the barber and they have a conversation regarding God. The barber says there is No God and the man says there is. No amount of convincing changes the barber's view point. Suddenly, there is this young man dressed shabbily and with long unkempt hair passes by. The man says..there are no barbers considering that such people roam the streets. The barber amazed by such a statement says that there are barbers but it is the people who do not come to him.

Now think about it!!!

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Scholz said...

Here is another anecdote - a barber and a dragon trainer are having a conversation. The barber asks the dragon trainer "how is business?" The trainer smiles and says "great, see all the well trained dragons roaming about?" The barber looks about, seeing no dragons. "Not really...." He replies hesitantly.
The dragon trainer smiles and says "well if you looked hard enough you would."
The dragon trainer then goes home, provided tax free by the government, to prepare his lecture to very young children about how if they don't give 10% of their wealth to him (again tax free), he will send the dragons off to get them.


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