Everything You Need to Know About Islam to Get Your Kids Up to Speed (Okay, Maybe Not EVERYTHING)

Islamic girlYou know what my life is missing? A Muslim kid. There's no doubt that if I had Muslim friends with a Muslim child, I would be telling my 8-year-old a lot more about Islam than I do — not just because I would want her understand her friends' beliefs, but because it would naturally just "come up" more often.

Having a living, breathing religious person in our midst really is the perfect invitation for religious literacy I've ever found. And vice versa! That's part of the reason I'm glad some of my friend's children know about my lack of religious beliefs; it gives those families an opening to talk about atheism and agnosticism in a compassionate way.

That Muslims so far have been given short shrift in my household is particularly disappointing given that Islam is one of the most widely misunderstood of the world's religions. So, starting today, which happens to be Muhammad's Birthday, I'm determined to find a few new ways to work Islam into our conversations. Anyone want to join me? If so, here are the basics:

Islam

Founded: 610

Deity: Allah (“The God” in Arabic)

Famous Dogma: There is only one true Allah, and this Allah neither begets nor is begotten. (This is  different from Hinduism, which encourages the worship of many gods, and Christianity, which encourages the worship of Jesus as Allah’s "only begotten son." Muslims revere Muhammad, but they do not worship him.)

Prayer rugs

Methods of Worship: Prayer (required five times a day, using prayer mats that face a building called the Kaaba in the middle of Mecca), reciting/singing the Qur'an, almsgiving, and fasting during the month of Ramadan. Formal services occur at mosques every Friday at noon.

Symbol: Star and the crescent

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Major Sects: Sunni and Shia

Sacred Texts: The Qur'an and the Hadith

Life-Cycle Celebrations: Naming ceremonies, marriages, pilgrimages to Mecca  — which are called Hajj.

Traditional Views of Afterlife: Righteous believers — those who pray, donate to charity, read the Qur'an and believe in one true Allah — are said to go to Paradise, a garden-like place of pleasure. Hell is depicted as a fiery place where those who do not conform to the teachings of the Qur'an will be banished forever.

BurkasClothing: The Qur'an encourages all Muslim men and women to dress modestly, but some Muslims have interpreted parts of the Qu'ran in a way that requires women to wear hijab (pronounced hee-JOB), clothing that covers the head and/or body. Most American Muslim women wear only head coverings as their hijab, while more devout Muslim women may be seen in face veils and abayas — long cloaks worn over their clothing. Only in very strict countries (such as Afghanistan) do women wear hijab in the form of full burkas, which cover their entire bodies, head to toe, including their eyes.

MuhammadMajor Narrative: Muḥammad was born in 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca. He was orphaned at age 6 and placed with family members — first his grandmother and then his uncle. He was a merchant and a shepherd and was known around Mecca as a man of high character. As an adult, Muhammad regularly took a few weeks off to meditate by himself in a nearby cave. During one visit, made when he was 40, Muhammad said he heard a voice speak to him. It was, he later learned, the angel Gabriel (yes, the same Gabriel from Christianity) acting as a sort of liaison to Allah and delivering messages intended just for him. Allah, Muhammad said, told him that there was only one true Allah, and that Muhammad should call himself a prophet and deliver messages about how to be a good Muslim — to be forgiving, charitable and empathetic to those less fortunate. Muhammad did as he was told, and was said to receive messages from God throughout the next two decades. Those messages eventually were compiled into the Qua'ran.

Interesting Fact: Depicting the prophet Muhammad is expressly forbidden in Islam, which is why Arabic calligraphy is such a popular art form in Islamic countries.

Important Holidays: Ramadan (a month of fasting celebrating Allah’s first contacted Muhammad), Eid ul-Fitr (a feast celebrating the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha (celebrates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for Allah), and Mawlid al-Nabi (Muhammad’s birthday.)

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Recommended Reading: My First Ramadan by Karen Katz (ages 3-5); The Best Eid Ever by Asma Mobin-Uddin and Laura Jacobsen (5 and up); Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story by Hena Khan and Julie Paschkis (6 and up); Celebrating Ramadan by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith (7 and up); , Muhammad by Demi (8 and up)

Recommended Viewing: Muhammad: The Last Prophet, an animated film about Muhammad’s life, is intended for small children. For slightly older children, there’s Koran by Hearta touching HBO documentary that follows three 10-year-old Muslim children.

Middle Eastern foodRecommended Eating: "Haram" refers to foods not permitted under Islamic law (alcohol and pork being the main prohibitions) "Halal" refers to foods that are permitted — including any meat which has been slaughtered according to Sharia law (for example, the animal must be treated well, must not suffer during death, and must face Mecca at the time of slaughter). Other good stuff: hummus, Baba ganoush, tabbouleh, pita bread, rice, kebabs, chicken shawarma...

•••

After writing this post, I realized that I do know a Muslim child. In a way, we all do. Malala Yousafzai, who is fighting for the rights of all children to receive an education in Afghanistan, could well be considered the new face of Islam. Non-Muslims may not agree with her religious beliefs, but her actions as a human being transcend all of that. What we hold in common is far more powerful than what what sets us apart. Let's make sure we let our children know that.

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Quick! What the Hell is Diwali?

Here's the Diwali installment of Relax, It's Just God's beloved* Holiday Cheat Sheet, a series offering parents the quick and dirty run-down on major religious holidays, so that they might come across as intelligent beings to their kids. I'm sure you guys remember all this stuff from last year, but rest assured, Diwali is just as cool and fun as it has always been. Why? (C'mon, you don't remember this?) Let me count the ways:

1. Fireworks

2. Bollywood music

3. Poker

4. Cool back story

5. Curry

6. Candles

7. Shopping

 * too strong?

Holiday: Diwali

Pronounced: Di-VAH-li

AKA: “Festival of Lights”

Religion Represented: Hinduism

Date: Corresponds with the new moon that falls between the 7th and 8th months of the Hindu lunisolar calendar. In 2013, the date is Nov. 3

Celebrates: The Hindu New Year

On a Scale of 1 to 10: Diwali is a 10.

Star of the Show: Lord Rama

The Back Story: Diwali celebrates the conquest of good over evil. There are lots of legends of how it began, but one of the most common is that Lord Rama — said to be an incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu — was exiled from his father’s kingdom for 14 years. While in exile, Rama’s wife was kidnapped, precipitating an epic journey to rescue her and defeat her demon captors. Following Rama’s victory, he returned to the kingdom to be crowned king and, eventually, emperor. His rule was a time of joy, peace and prosperity, and his people marked the happy homecoming by lighting rows of clay lamps, setting off fireworks and celebrating with family.

Associated Literary Passages: This story of Lord Rama is part of the Ramayana, one of the longest poems ever written and a "national epic of India."

The Food: There is not a set menu for Diwali, but dinner tends to be elaborate and vegetarian: curry, samosa, paneer, sabzi, rice and naan, among other yummies.  And sweets are a necessity, so plenty of desserts.

The Fun: Diwali celebrants often give their houses a deep cleaning, decorate their front doors and leave their wallets out during parties to encourage Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, to enter the home and bring them — what else? — wealth. They also light firecrackers, dance to Bollywood music and play poker late into the night. Oh and also? You are required — REQUIRED — to wear new clothes. Sign me up.

Conveying Meaning to Kids: Consider throwing a Diwali Party! Tell the Wikipedia-version of the Rama story, program your Pandora to Classic Bollywood, and let your child decorate the front door. Light as many candles as you can find (remember it’s a festival of lights!), serve Indian food and sweets (recipes here), and break out the playing cards for a few games of Go-Fish or, depending on the age/gambling penchant of the child, a little Five-Card Stud.

Originally appeared Oct. 26, 2011

It's a Fine Line Between Truth and Propaganda

Recently, on Hemant Mehta's FriendlyAthiest blog, I came across a video done by a guy who runs a Facebook page called Religion Hurts Humanity. The video, titled What Religions Have Contributed to the World This Month, is nine minutes full of news clips and headlines detailing all the terrible things done in the name of religion during the last 30 days. The amount of material alone makes the video pretty compelling. Here are some of the featured headlines:

Islamic militants kill 30 in Nigeria School attack 

Islamic states reject UN's attempt to protect women: It violates Sharia Law

Boy killed for an off-hand remark about Muhammad

Female genital mutilation victim was 'aged just seven' 

Children report sexual abuse cases by Bhutan's Buddhist monks

Scandal at the Vatican: Official Arrested in $26 million Corruption Plot

Serial sex offender priest told 7-year-old victim he could get dead grandfather into heaven

Exorcism Gone Wrong? Woman Goes Into Cardiac Arrest During Ritual

'Spiritual healer' George Goak guilty of groping patients

India villagers kill two for 'witchcraft'

Now, truthfully, if I didn't blog about religion, I probably wouldn't have watched the whole video. It was a real downer seeing that many horrific headlines all strung together like that. Not that the video doesn't have value. I think it's important to point out the role religious beliefs are playing in the world, especially when religious organizations are given 501(c)(3) status and protected from prosecution in some cases.

However — you knew that was coming, didn't you? — in seeking to influence our feelings about religion by presenting only one set of facts, this particular video amounts to little more than propaganda — pretty effective propaganda at that. As a viewer, I found myself  getting angry — angry at the people who have done these terrible things, angry at their religions for being a part of it, angry at religious people for having something in common with the those who had committed these terrible acts.

But then I thought critically about what I was watching. (Let's hear it for critical thinking!) Yes, religion provides a lot of headline fodder, but the stories in this one video don't share any of the good things that religious people do — and, perhaps even more importantly, they represent a fraction of the awful, terrible, tragic things that go in general  every month.

10030271_h23302287_custom-b36e0cb541df443cc59199e783c085119bd665c2-s6-c30Consider this: Moments after watching the video, I saw this headline from Reuters: Indian school lunch poisoning: doctors race to save children. It came with a picture of a grandmother, in anguish, over the loss of her grandson to a rice and potato curry tainted by insecticide. (That's her on the left; tears your heart out, right?) The story was just as horrible as anything you'll see on the video — and it has nothing to do with religion.

It's much harder to be sad and scared than to be angry — which is why so many of us are quick to turn to the latter. And it's much harder to be angry when there's nowhere to direct the anger. Would genital mutilation be easier to stomach if it were simply cultural, rather than religious? Is molestation and child rape less vile when committed by people born with mental illnesses? Which breaks your heart more: to hear about children who died senselessly because of an Islamic attack, or to hear about children who died senselessly because a vat of food was accidentally poisoned? How can we qualify that?

My hope is that someday religious belief won't need to be put under the microscope like this because more people will be willing to see religion as a human creation rather than a divine creation. No version of "God" gives people cart blanche to be morally reprehensible human beings — which, I do think, is the video's core message.

But let's at least shoot for honesty. For the sake of the next generation, let's try to view religion for what it is: something (like so many other things!) that compels and enables people to do really wonderful and truly terrible things.

No denials, no excuses, no special treatment. No exaggeration.

And — please, brothers — no more propaganda.

12 Simple Differences Between Catholics and Protestants

The rapid rise of the "Nones" — those unaffiliated with religious groups — was back in the news this week, when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released its most recent study on American religiosity. Here's what Pew had to say:

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling... Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

In addition, the group emphasized that, for the first time in history, there is no Protestant majority in the United States. That is, Protestants have dropped to 48 percent, whereas they comprised 53 percent of the public as recently as 2007 — a drop of 5 percent in five years. (Catholics, by comparison dropped 1 percent during the same time period — to 22 percent). As you all know, Protestants are Christians who broke off from the Catholic Church 500 years ago. Although there are more than 33,000 (!!) Protestant denominations, all of them still operate in ways that are separate and distinct from the Catholic Church. But what are the differences, really? I mean, all Christians Churches hold the same core value: Jesus Christ was the son of the God who died for our sins, arose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. Isn't the rest just window-dressing?

Well, here, you decide.

Twelve Differences Between Catholics and Protestants:

1. The Pope. Catholics have a Pope, which they consider a vicar for Christ — an infallible stand-in, if you will — that heads the Church. Protestants believe no human is infallible and Jesus alone heads up the Church.

2.  Big, Fancy Cathedrals. Catholics have them; Protestants don't. Why? Well, Catholicism says that "humanity must discover its unity and salvation" within a church. Protestants say all Christians can be saved, regardless of church membership. (Ergo... shitty, abandoned storefront churches? All Protestant.)

3. Saints. Catholics pray to saints (holy dead people) in addition to God and Jesus. Protestants acknowledge saints, but don't pray to them. [Note: There is much debate about the use of the word "pray" in this context, so let me clarify: Saints are seen by Catholics as an intermediary to God or Jesus. Although Catholics do technically pray to saints, they are not praying for the saints to help them directly but to intervene on their behalf. They are asking the saints (in the form of a prayer) to pray for them. It's like praying for prayers. Hope this helps.]

4.  Holy Water. Catholics only.

5. Celibacy and Nuns. Catholics only.

6. Purgatory: Catholics only.

7. Scripture: The be-all, end-all for Protestants is "the Word of God." For Catholics, tradition is just important as scripture — maybe even more so.

8. Catechism: Protestant kids memorize the Bible. Catholic kids get catechism.

9. Authori-tay: In Catholicism, only the Roman Catholic Church has authority to interpret the Bible. Protestants hold that each individual has authority to interpret the Bible.

10. Sacraments: Catholic are the only ones to have the concept of the seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony). Protestants teach that salvation is attained through faith alone.

11. Holidays: Catholics have 10 Holy Days of Obligation (which mean they must go to Mass). Protestants are more like, "Just come to church on Christmas, that's all we ask."

12. Communion: In Catholicism, the bread and wine "become" the body and blood of Jesus Christ, meaning that Jesus is truly present on the altar. In Protestantism, the bread and wine are symbolic.

This post originally appeared in October 2012.

Kids Leaving Parents' Religion Certainly Gets People Talking

I'm hella busy today, but wanted to link to a few recent news posts about children leaving the faiths into which they were born. The first is informative, the second is instructive, and the third — well, the third is just trash. But watch it for the comedic value. Study: Religious Parents' Divorce May Cause Children to Leave the Church

The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion released a study Tuesday finding that children who have two religious parents are twice as likely to lose that religion if the parents divorce. The journal does not offer an explanation — those studies will be next, apparently — but does hypothesize that one reason may be that religious guidance gets put on the back burner in divorce situations. Baylor University also wrote about the study, and you can find that story here.

When Your Child Rejects Your Religion: Dos and Don'ts

Aimed at religious parents, this column from KSL.com in Utah has some great advice for religious parents whose children drift away from the family's chosen faith. It's advice that I wish more religious parents would heed. And, certainly, nonreligious parents who "fear" their children will someday adopt a religious practice would be wise to give the list a quick read, too.

Talking to Kids and Religion/Spirituality

I almost feel guilty pointing this one out, because IT'S SO BAD. But for us "nones" in more liberal parts of the country, perhaps it's good to get a dose of the other side now and again. Here's the setup: A morning news anchor for  a segment called "Take 5" at WZZM13 in Michigan and a "doctor" called Clark (from a place called the Clark Institute) discuss how children are moving away from religion and how sad it is because they're so alone and because kids so clearly yearn for God. I'm calling shenanigans on the whole 5-minute interview, but here are some high points (and, by that, I clearly mean low points):

1:33 Clark says: "The kids who went through the Newtown shooting — the ones that had a belief in God or some kind of church attendance or religion in the family, they did better after the shooting incident." [Um...WTF???]

2:00 "Wow, you were a unique preschool teacher, let me tell ya!" anchor lady says when Clark reveals that, as a preschool teacher, he told his kids about Judaism, Islam and Kwanza. [And this is somehow shocking? Also, Kwanza: not religious.]

3:50 Clark suggests when a child discloses to his parents that he's lost faith, a "great response" would be to laugh at the kid. [Another great response would be to add a bunch of money to a therapy jar, because that kid's probably going to need a lot of it.]

4:15 Anchor lady asks if parents are supposed to "leave it" to children to discover their own beliefs — an option she says "scares me because what might they find?" [Hmm. Waldo wearing a devil costume? Isn't the real question, what might they not find?]

God's (Alleged) Gender Proves Problematic for Some Parents

god About a year ago — when my daughter was six — I noticed that she had been sitting in silence for a surprisingly long time.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"I'm sad," she said.

"Why are you sad?" I asked.

"Because," she said, "God is a boy and not a girl."

"How do you know?"

"I just know," she said, glumly.

"And why does that make you sad?"

"Because," she said. "I'm a girl."

Featured-on-BlogHer

I don't spend a lot of time complaining about religion. Usually, I just don't see the point. Religion is so big and broad and amorphous. One person's going-to-synogogue-on-Saturday is another person's whipping-kids-for-talking-back. One person's giving-to-charitable-causes is another person's picketing-the-funerals-of-gay-soldiers. Just try to get two people to agree on the nature, purpose or value of "religion." But some things are just plain hard to swallow — in a universal sense. And, ever since that conversation with my daughter, the "gender" of God is one of them. Rarely, if ever, do children hear "Her" as a pronoun or "Mother" as a descriptor for God. Even "It" — which is the gender-neutral way that Muslims describe Allah in Arabic — sounds completely foreign to us.

This isn't to say, of course, that all religions conceptualize God as a man. They don't — not literally anyway.

Christianity describes God as a Trinity: the father (God), the son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit (who the heck knows). The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear that "God is neither man nor woman." Yet, that statement is immediately followed by: "He is God."

There's that He again.

Similarly, in Sikhism, Guru Granth Sahib is known for saying God was indescribable, but then the guru repeatedly referred to this indescribable being as "He" and "Father." Even Hindus, which have goddesses out the yin-yang, still describe their top god — Brahma — in entirely masculine terms. Judaism's God is, perhaps, the least manly of the bunch. Still, though, Jews — like Christians — are pretty tied to the language of the Torah/Old Testament. And, there, as we know too well, references to God are overwhelmingly male-dominated.

I Googled "God" today, and guess how many images of women came up?

Now, let me be clear: I am not weighing in on the debate over whether God is a man, woman, both or neither. That is one debate that will always be completely irrelevant to me personally. But there is no denying that we, as a society, continue to couch God in male terms. Even those of us who don't believe in God do it. At very early ages, American children are encouraged to form their images of God as a man. Specifically, an old man. Even more specifically, an old man with a beard.

Now, if you're a little boy, this is probably a nonissue. No big deal. Completely innocuous. But if you're a girl — well, one need only look at the conversation with my daughter to see that the distinction is a huge deal. Just huge.

When girls hear — and they all hear it — that the entity in charge of the whole universe, the one who has all the power, is a boy (more boy than girl, at the very least!) it changes things for her. It gives her a new perspective on her life and life in general. It limits her. It may even sadden her.

And that — on a very personal level — saddens me.

I dare say, it should sadden us all.

Anyone else have similar experiences or thoughts on this? If so, I'd really love to hear them.

An Interview with the Guy Who Named the 'Nones'

Barry KosminThere was a time, in the extremely recent past, when Americans with no religion were "the others." For decades, religious affiliation has fascinated researchers. Countless studies and surveys show document a painstaking analysis of each minor population shift. A switch from, say, Methodist to Baptist or Catholic to Protestant has been marked with great interest, year by year. Sure, the numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have remained relatively small next to Christians — but they, too, have been counted. Their numbers seemed to matter.

Always absent from these studies and surveys was a specific category for Americans with no religion. Those of us who didn't "belong" in an established group — for whatever reason. We were simply the "others." Too few to name, much less care about.

But that all changed in the first years of the 21st Century.

After a decade (the 90s) in which religious affiliation dropped dramatically — by several percentage points (and, yes, that was considered dramatic) — the country's top researchers realized they needed a new category.

Barry A. Kosmin was one of them. As the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and a professor at Trinity College, Kosmin had been helping to conduct the American Religion Identification Survey for nearly three decades. Once they'd evaluated data from the 1990s, Kosmin and his team were determined to name a new category.

"Nonreligious" was a possibility. So was "non-faith" and "non-affiliated."

But Kosmin rejected all of these. The "non" part bothered him. "Non-affiliated" would be like calling people "non-white," he said. "We didn't want to suggest that 'affiliated' was the norm, and every one else was an 'other.'"

"Nomenclature," he added, " is quite important in these things."

So Kosmin began calling this group the "nones," a shortened version for "none of the above" — which is what people often said when asked to name their religion. He never thought the term would stick.

"It began as a joke," he said, "but now, like many of these things, it has taken on its own life."

Indeed. Today, "nones" are everywhere. Both in a literal sense and a literary one.

"Nones" now make up an estimated 20 percent of the American population — or 60 million people. And most major research groups have given in to the verbiage, at least to some degree. (Some still prefer "unaffiliated" in their official questionnaires.) Journalists, especially, have embraced the word.

"Nones form Biggest Slice of Obama's Religious Voters," said an October headline in the Huffington Post.

"The 'nones' now form the worlds' third-largest religion' reported the Religion News Service  last month.

The list goes on and on.

That's not to say the word is without its critics. For many on the more spiritual end of the "nonreligious" spectrum, "nones" sounds too dismissive. They liken it to "nothing," and sometimes the response is: "I'm not nothing!"

Still, like Kosmin said, the word now has a life of its own. Even Gallup Poll, which published  a report today, saying that the number of people who prefer "no religion" leveled off a bit between 2011 and 2012, put "nones" in its headline.

[Special thanks to Hemant Mehta who referenced this blog on his website The Friendly Atheist.]

Washington Post Blog Spotlights 'Relax, It's Just God'

spotlight

This isn't so much a blog as brag, so if you are my close friends, family, or just really kind readers who don't mind if I bend your ears for a few minutes, please stick around. The rest of you: I totally understand. Enjoy our day. So this morning, I was featured in the Washington Post's On Parenting blog. The blog is written by Janice D'Arcy, an amazing parenting blogger whose work I've followed for a long time. She contacted me because of the Pew Research Center's new study finding that 20 percent of Americans belong to the ever-widening circle of "nones" — that is, people who do not adhere to any specific religion. D'Arcy asked me to share some general thoughts about why parents should introduce religion/faith to children even when they don't believe or aren't particularly religious themselves.

Here's the piece:

 

Explaining God without belief

 

Americans are increasingly less religious and less inclined to identify themselves with a particular faith, according to a fascinating new poll and survey. Among those without ties to a religious institution are many parents of young children, a group that can struggle with how to present the concepts of religious faith to children.

The Pew Research Center found that the number of people who said they are “unaffiliated” with a religion has grown to 20 percent of the population. The percentage includes more than 33 million who say they are atheist or agnostic.

A companion survey, produced by Pew and the PBS show Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, found that the unaffiliated, or “nones,” frequently report belief in God or an embrace of spirituality. However, their faith in particular religious institutions has waned. “Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics,” the survey found.

For these Americans, the question of how to explain religion and religious institutions gets complicated. How to translate to a child an adult’s intellectual or ideological differences with concepts most others hold to be sacred? How to not talk about it when religious references are all around?

For insight into this struggle, I turned to Wendy Thomas Russell, the author of a blog on secular living and the forthcoming book, “Relax It’s Just God,” on the subject of secular parenting.

I asked her for some guiding principles for secular parents. She said that it’s essential these parents talk about religion in depth and with frequency. Here’s why:

“Parents can’t shield their kids from religion. It’s impossible. Despite the somewhat rapid proliferation of ‘nones’ in this country, we are still the minority. Four of every five kids in our children’s classrooms have parents who self-identify as religious. So the chances are really high that our kids are going to be ‘introduced’ to religion, if not on the playground, then through TV shows, music, architecture, politics, history books, literature, bumper stickers, you name it. And our language! Our language is steeped in religious references. ‘I’d move heaven and earth,’ ‘God-forsaken town,’ ‘devil-may-care’…

But let’s say you’re a parent who has some baggage. Religion freaks you out a little; it makes you tense. So why should you go out of your way to expose your kid to other peoples’ religious beliefs? And who cares if you share your own anxiety over the subject?

First, and most importantly, religious tolerance doesn’t just happen. Parents have to teach it.

It’s human nature to be scared or skeptical of people we don’t understand; it’s why we parents have no qualms talking to our kids about people with disabilities. We don’t want our kids to treat disabled people badly; we want them to know that disabled people may be different from us, but they are people, and they deserve respect. Likewise, if we don’t tell our kids about religious people in a respectful way, we can’t possibly expect them to learn how to treat religious people with respect. It’s that simple.

Second, just because religion isn’t important to us personally doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

The chances are very good that my kid will meet people who are devoutly religious. Some of those people will be in her circle of friends. Some of them will be in her own family. Understanding religion and why it’s important means that she will be able to former closer bonds to the people she loves. She’ll also be more likely to judge people on the content of their character, rather than the “accuracy” of their beliefs.

Third, be the change you want to see.

I’m a nonreligious parent who wishes that more of my kid’s friends were being exposed to the idea of agnosticism and humanism and even atheism in a non-biased way. I can’t make that happen, but I can damn well live by the Golden Rule and treat others the way I want to be treated. Eventually, it’s bound to catch on, right?

Fourth, it may save your kid a lot of embarrassment.

In researching my book, I’ve learned that a lot of kids with little to no religious literacy begin to feel embarrassed about their lack of knowledge right around the time middle school begins. Which, with so many other things going on, is pretty much the worst time in a kid’s life to have to deal with embarrassment…

I don’t think any parent sets out to pass their anxieties on to their kids. If anything, parents think they’re being rightfully protective, not irrationally anxious. But when it comes to religion, anything short of encouraging kids to make up their own minds is probably going to translate as anxiety. And there’s just no need for it. Our kids shouldn’t have to fight our battles.”

What do you think? Might her advice apply to all parents? Is exposure to all religions the best way to give perspective and teach tolerance?