There was a mention of Jews on the radio a day or two ago, so L asked me who they were. Fortunately, weve now discussed basic ideas of different religions several times, so I had a reasonably slick answer to hand. The Jews are the followers of a religion, they believe in God and in the stories in the Old Testament, but they dont believe that Jesus was the Son of God. She then asked why the Jews didnt believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but handily answered herself by saying that they probably thought he was the son of Joseph. (If necessary, I would have told her that people dont all believe the same things). Her final question was what the difference was between Jews and Muslims. I said that Muslims thought that God had spoken to a man called Muhammed, who had written down what he was told in a book called the Quran.
Ive had variants on this discussion several times in the last year or so, as L starts to get to grips with religious pluralism. Shes doing that at a far earlier age than I did, which comes from being in a very ethnically and religiously diverse school. Shes already had a class visit to a mosque, as well as visits from Christian clergy and a Sikh story-teller, and celebrations of Eid and Diwali and Chinese New Year, alongside Harvest, Easter, Christmas and Red Nose Day. I dont know how much theyve done on Judaism or Buddhism yet, but otherwise shes getting a broad spread of religious culture.
All this means that I need to come up with a coherent but not too controversial account of the worlds religions suitable for an inquiring but somewhat unformed mind. I want to try and be informative and factually accurate, because I dont want L to feel Im not taking her questions seriously or cant be relied on to answer them truthfully. On the other hand, I need to keep things simple and I also dont want to start conflicts at her school, so Im careful not to denigrate other religions. Im conscious that anything that I say may get repeated in a somewhat garbled form, and if a six year olds version of Christianity meets a six year olds version of Islam or Sikhism the result may be unexpected. So what Im trying to do is focus on belief in God (or gods), belief in Jesus and the books taken as scriptures. Im conscious of some large gaps in my knowledge trying to do this (I know very little Sikh theology) and Im not sure that Buddhism can easily be fitted into this framework (Im really hoping that L doesnt start asking about Buddhism till shes a few years older). But as a basic framework, I hope my explanations at least arent actively confuse ng.
I am also consciously making all my comments as statements of belief: we (Christians) believe that, Muslims believe that etc. And although L hasnt asked this yet, I will tell her if/when she asks, that different people believe different things, just as different people like different things to do or different TV programmes. In other words, Im not trying to make an explicit claim about Christianity as a true religion as opposed to other religions. I am treating religion as being a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact, at this stage. In contrast, when L last academic year got into an argument with her friends because she said the earth went round the sun and they said it didnt, I was happy to tell her that she was right and they were wrong.
Treating my Christian religion as my opinion doesnt mean I am ashamed of my faith, and when L is older, Im happy to explain why I believe what I believe and think its intellectually justified. But as well as not wanting to stir up things with her friends, Im also conscious of a longer-term issue. Though L is being raised as a Christian, when she is older she may leave the faith, or choose another one (At the least, she will need to find her own independent relationship to Christianity). If my relationship with her is tightly bound up with my factual claim that Christianity is true, then if she rejects that claim, it is difficult for her to do so without rejecting me as well. Bringing her up to respect other peoples religious beliefs, even if she does not share them, is in that way also a hope for the future in having my own views respected, and a message about how people with different religious beliefs (or none) can nevertheless remain friends.