Interfaith dialogue for six year olds

There was a mention of Jews on the radio a day or two ago, so L asked me who they were. Fortunately, we’ve 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 don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. She then asked why the Jews didn’t 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 don’t 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 Qur’an.

I’ve had variants on this discussion several times in the last year or so, as L starts to get to grips with religious pluralism. She’s doing that at a far earlier age than I did, which comes from being in a very ethnically and religiously diverse school. She’s 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 don’t know how much they’ve done on Judaism or Buddhism yet, but otherwise she’s 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 world’s religions suitable for an inquiring but somewhat unformed mind. I want to try and be informative and factually accurate, because I don’t want L to feel I’m not taking her questions seriously or can’t be relied on to answer them truthfully. On the other hand, I need to keep things simple and I also don’t want to start conflicts at her school, so I’m careful not to denigrate other religions. I’m conscious that anything that I say may get repeated in a somewhat garbled form, and if a six year old’s version of Christianity meets a six year old’s version of Islam or Sikhism the result may be unexpected. So what I’m trying to do is focus on belief in God (or gods), belief in Jesus and the books taken as scriptures. I’m conscious of some large gaps in my knowledge trying to do this (I know very little Sikh theology) and I’m not sure that Buddhism can easily be fitted into this framework (I’m really hoping that L doesn’t start asking about Buddhism till she’s a few years older). But as a basic framework, I hope my explanations at least aren’t 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 hasn’t 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, I’m 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 didn’t, I was happy to tell her that she was right and they were wrong.

Treating my Christian religion as my opinion doesn’t mean I am ashamed of my faith, and when L is older, I’m happy to explain why I believe what I believe and think it’s intellectually justified. But as well as not wanting to stir up things with her friends, I’m 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 people’s 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.

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4 thoughts on “Interfaith dialogue for six year olds

  1. It sounds like you are doing a great job – it can’t be easy to explain something so complex and rich in language a six-year old can understand. I was raised in a very fire-and-brimstone Protestant household where you either conformed to the system or you were wrong, and that was very damaging to my relationship with my parents when I came to reject their beliefs as a young adult. I really respect that you are going with a gentler approach, and I think that will serve you well in the future even if your child does eventually choose different beliefs.

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  2. You said : “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.”

    I disagree with that; it is not my experience.

    I also was brought up in a ‘Christian’ household where questioning of my parents’ beliefs was frowned upon at the very least and occasionally provoked the vitriolic and alarming response of “Get thee behind me, Satan” ! I kid you not.

    As I got older, married and kids of our own, I came to reject a lot of the, frankly, preposterous beliefs of orthodox Christianity to the deep chagrin of my dear Mother (my Father already long dead) but it never damaged our loving son/mother relationship at all as far as I could detect. She hoped I would be guided back onto the ‘path’ somehow, I suppose, and I would not dream of trying to undermine her cosy religious orthodoxy, because it satisfied her. Why should I upset my own Mother, after all ?

    We each have to raise our children the best way we are able and, with love and devotion both ways, I see no reason whatsoever why religious differences should cause rejection of the individual. It is religious intolerance that has caused so much conflict in the world and continues to do so. And it frequently starts in the home.

    Bringing up children is a joy and an awesome responsibility to do it well. I wish you good judgement with it.

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  3. My experience echos ChrisC’s, largely. When I abandoned the church/faith my parents prayed for me, and after some awkward moments, we tried to avoid all related topics when we got together. But I (an avowed atheist) remained a loving and loved son of fundamentalist parents for many decades before their deaths. (45+ years later in the case of my mother, who as far as I can tell never wavered in her belief that because I had “come forward” and accepted Christ in my youth I would be redeemed at the end.)

    Not that I disagree with your approach, which seems to me saner and far less likely to end in the kind of truncated relationship that I had with my parents, where whole realms of thought/conversation were simply off limits to us during our times together. (These times were not frequent, due to the exigencies of geography; if they had been, the tensions might have been greater.) But De puericulture-or-whatever-the-Latin-is-for-child-raising non disputandum est.

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  4. Children are full of cerebral and physical vitality. It is not easy to assess an individual child’s total cognitive ability, perceptions and so on. As a mum you will have a fair idea of what works. I like your approach to our pluralistic society and its faiths.

    When sprog was about 3 years old sprog noticed a little Downs girl in the café where we were. “Is she a witch?” she asked. A deep breath and some quick thinking produced an answer about some babies not growing inside their mummies tummies the way sprog did. (By then sprog had learned that much about baby creation). It meant, I explained, that the little girl would always be be a little bit different, but like sprog, would be a lovely person. A young woman sitting nearby overheard our conversation and to my surprise, congratulated me on my explanation, saying that she wished more people would think the same and do as I did.

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