My Kid’s New (And Adorably Diplomatic) Theory of Evolution

Friends
Friends

My daughter has this tendency to go all existentialist on me while riding in the car. I’m not sure what it is about this particular setting that motivates these sorts of talks. Is it sitting still with nothing else to do? Is it gazing up at the sky? Do all kids do this? Anyway, the other day, while driving Maxine and one of her friends to the pool, I listened as the two struck up a conversation about God. I can’t remember how it started (I didn’t turn on the voice recorder until later), but at some point they exchanged belief systems: The friend — a girl from a vaguely Christian, though not outwardly religious, family — said she believed in God. Maxine said she went back and forth on the matter.

When I’m adult, she told her friend, I probably won’t believe in God.

Really?, her friend asked, with equal parts surprise and confusion.

Here’s where the conversation went from there.

FRIEND: Well then how did we get here?

MAXINE: Oh I know how we got here. Long story.

FRIEND: Then I want to hear it. Tell me.

MAXINE: Okay. Well, there was this really little animal and that became a bigger animal and that became a bigger animal, then it grew to be a person. And the first person in the universe was that. Probably a cave person.

FRIEND: No, I know who the first person on Earth was: Adam.

MAXINE: Yeah.

FRIEND: And I know who the second person in the universe was. It was a girl. Eve. Adam gave birth to Eve…

MAXINE: No, I don’t think Adam gave birth to Eve.

FRIEND: No. I know that’s not true.

MAXINE: Adam and Eve had children and then they had children and then there was a bunch of universe of children. Ta-dah! Like my explanation?

FRIEND: Yes.

[Long pause]

FRIEND: But did…? How…? Wait. Okay, I don’t get this… If our families are different, who started our family? Like because there’s a big, huge generation — but how did it start?

MAXINE: Well, I think it started with cavemen before Adam. Because he’s probably the first person—like human being— and it probably started with cavemen. And then there was a weird caveman who probably gave birth to a person. Adam.

FRIEND: Adam.

MAXINE: Adam.

[Brief pause]

MAXINE: Hey, do you want to play Adam and Eve?

FRIEND: No.

MAXINE: Yeah, me neither.

I've always found it curious, as I'm sure you have, as to how some devoutly religious people can find factual truth in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve within the context of evolution.

Leave to second-graders to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Talking About Belief With Kids: When Logic Threatens to Overshadow Kindness

UnknownMy daughter, Maxine, is 8 years old and really getting the hang of logic these days. If A is true, then B must be true. If you believe A, you must believe B. If A doesn't exist... You get the drift. Anyway, Maxine's little cousin Jack  (4) is very into the movie Frozen right now, particularly the character of Elsa, the snow queen. Recently, when chatting about beliefs, he told his mom, "I believe in Elsa" — which is so cute it makes my heart hurt. But when I told Maxine about Jack's statement, she immediately went into critical mode.

"Jack can't believe in Elsa," she said.

If Jack believes in Elsa, she explained, he has to believe in Olaf (the snowman friend) and Sven (the talking reindeer). This was clearly illogical, and the whole thing bothered her. You could tell she wanted to call Jack up right that instant and tell him how wrong he was.

This is not to say that Maxine is free of her own irrational beliefs, of course; she has plenty of them, believe me. But she is, for the first time, beginning to make logical arguments of her own and experiencing a very strong desire to set people straight when they come to the "wrong" conclusions. (God help us all.)

Belief

The whole thing has made me realize that this is a great time and opportunity to talk with her a little about tolerance. After all, how kids respond or react when someone holds irrational or illogical beliefs is a huge indicator of their level of tolerance, is it not? How Maxine responds to her little cousin's announcement could easily indicate her ability to exercise restraint, compassion and kindness in the face of absurd testimony. And, let's face it, she will be hearing (and reading) a lot of that in her life.

We already know kids need to be encouraged to think critically about different beliefs, to weigh those beliefs against what they know to be true, and to figure out what makes sense to them. This is important stuff for kids.

But thinking critically about other's beliefs is very different from criticizing others' beliefs. We need to explain to our kids that people have lots of different reasons for believing the way they do and sometimes those reasons won't make any kind of sense. But everyone has a right to their own personal beliefs, and they don't deserve to be made fun of, or criticized, or talked into changing those beliefs. Unless their beliefs are hurting someone, people deserve to be left alone.

We all do.

If Maxine chooses not to believe in God, that's nobody's business but hers. If her cousin believes in Elsa, that's nobody's business but his.

When Opinions Expressed Are Not Your Own

Opinionated GuyFor many of us, strong opinions are like pheromones. They attract us. They lure us in. People who believe what they believe with passion, and who aren't afraid to state their truth — these people hold certain powers. The power to make us laugh. The power to make us think. The power to move us to share our own opinions.

Of course, we're not going to agree with all these opinions — or even find them valid! (Even Einstein expressed some bullshit opinions now and again.) We may even be offended and put off by certain assertions.

But the point remains: There is an underlying attraction that many of us feel to people who possess the courage of their convictions — perhaps because so many others lack it. I find this is particularly true in my relationships with women. It's incredibly hard for me to connect with passive women who soak up what others say and offer little of their own, who look to please others rather than challenge themselves. But when I meet a woman with a strong, clear voice and the willingness to share it, I'm very likely to want to take that woman out for dram of Pappy Van Winkle's.

Of course, there are caveats. (Pappy's is too expensive for their not to be caveats.) Certain things will flat-out "ruin the mood." Hate and bigotry are two of them; aggression, ridicule and ill-humor are three more. Also, in my opinion, in order for a loud, proud assertion to hold any "pheromonic" power at all,  it must truly belong to the opinionated. If someone is simply regurgitating what they heard, without thinking critically about it, it doesn't count. That's just gullibility masquerading as opinion. And, forgive me, but gullibility never got anyone laid. (Not well anyway.)

So where do religious opinions fall in all this? Are strong expressions of of religious views an automatic turnoff for an"unaffiliated" type, such as myself?

Not at all. Most of us are open-minded enough (in the real world, not the one that exists online) to move right past opinions we don't care for and focus on other things.

But it is complicated. Not because of the nature of the opinions, but because so many really wonderful, kind, compassionate, generous and strong people believe in their religion because they were told to believe in their religion. They were raised to believe it. They were never given a chance not to believe it.

And when a person has been indoctrinated to hold a certain opinion, is it really their opinion at all?

I really am attracted to people with strong viewpoints on a whole matter of subjects — including religion. I just wish I could be sure the beliefs and opinions of the religious were truly theirs to share.

Brief Tribute to Obscure Children's Book (P.S. #Giveaway)

I've got a book recommendation for you. It's not religious in nature, but it's funny and quirky and carries a really great moral that certainly dovetails with some of my blogs about children and belief. The book is called "No! That's Wrong!" and was written in 2008 by Japanese author Zhaohua Ji and illustrated by Cui Xu.

It tells the tale of a bunny who finds a pair of underpants blowing in the wind. (See now, that's what you call a solid premise.) Anyway, this particular bunny has never seen a pair of underpants before, so he looks them over and determines that they must be a hat; after all, his ears fit perfectly through the little leg holes. The bunny is thrilled with his find, and proceeds to hop around the animal kingdom, where his friends comment on what a marvelous hat he's wearing.

But, of course, the bunny has underpants on his head. And we, the readers, are expected to help point out  our hero's obvious mistake. "No, that's wrong," we inform the wayward bunny. "It's not a hat." (This interactive element of the book is very fun for kids — and reminiscent of Mo Willem's Pigeon series.) At one point, the bunny runs into the most educated, humanized of his friends — a donkey — who backs us up. "What are you doing?" he says. "Why are you wearing underpants on your head? It's not a hat. They're underpants."

When the bunny tries puts the underpants on correctly, though, they don't look right. His tail doesn't fit, and the underpants are uncomfortable. After getting feedback from his friends — who think he's crazy for wearing his hat that way — and looking at himself in the glassy surface of a lake, the bunny takes off the underpants and puts them back on his head.

"No, I was right!" he says, hopping merrily along. "It's a wonderful hat!"

This message can relate to so many facets of life (and even be read literally), but I always think of religious belief when I read it. Sometimes you have to see what's right FOR YOU, even if others think it's silly or stupid or embarrassing or sad or flat-out wrong. Does your belief make you happy? Is it hurting anyone? Great. And if those around you are supportive and happy with your decision — well, all the better. The moral: A happy, non-conforming bunny is better than a unhappy, uncomfortable bunny who does what every Tom, Dick or Donkey tell him to do. Can't get much better than that.

Interested in the book but don't want to pay for it? Cheap bastards. (Not that I blame you.) Next week, I'll (randomly) choose one of my awesome subscribers to receive the book for free. Don't mind paying? You also can find it on Amazon here. Great for ages 3 to 9.

 

The God Book: A Tale for Children

If you’ve never read a Todd Parr book, you might want to check one out. Parr is a wonderful children's book author whose work heavily emphasizes inclusiveness and self-confidence. His writing is sweet and simple, his illustrations vibrant and kid-like. His first book, The Okay Book, is my all-time favorite — and my daughter's. She loves that little board book just as much today (age 6) as she did when we bought it for her at 9 months. In "The Okay Book," Parr writes:

It’s okay to be be short/ It's okay to be tall/ It's okay to wear two different socks/ It's okay to have freckles/ It's okay to eat all the frosting off your birthday cake/ It's okay to wear glasses/ It's okay to come from a different place/ It's okay to be scared... And so on.

I mention this book because Parr’s approach — simplicity, along with the ever-present notion that it's okay for people to be different — is perfectly aligned with mine when it comes to talking about religion with kids. If I were to write a Parr book, I would want it to offer an unbiased, non-indoctrinating description of God for kids. It would be called The God Book or maybe Some People Believe, and it would go something like this:

Some people believe everything in the world was created by a being called God.

Some people believe God watches over them and keeps them safe.

Some people believe God helps them make good decisions.

Some people believe God answers their prayers.

Some people believe books written a long time ago tell true stories about God.

Some people believe God has chosen certain human beings to talk to.

Some people believe these human beings are important to God, and so they should be important to us.

Some people believe when they die, they will see God for the first time in a place called Heaven.

Some people believe that only those who believe in God go to Heaven.

Some people believe there is not one God, but many gods.

Some people believe God may not be real.

Some people believe God is not real.

Some people believe it's very important to believe in God.

Some people believe it's not at all important to believe in God.

And then, ala Todd Parr, I’d write:

No matter what you believe, always be kind to people who believe a different way.

 

Now, If I could just get Parr to illustrate...