The Washington Post headline said it all: "Some Parents Who Shy From Religion Want Their Children to Taste Its Psychological and Spiritual Comforts." (As a former copy editor, I ask, "What was that? A double decker six- or eight-column headline in 36-point type?) The story by Stacy Weiner was just as broad and appeared, for some reason, in the health section. Still, it raised a perfectly valid issue. What happens when parents who have a skeptical or totally pluralistic approach to faith have childen? How does one teach postmodernism to a toddler? I mean, before they soak it up on Saturday morning in front of a television set?
Clearly, this is part of a larger story that we talk about all the time here at GetReligion -- the struggle of a true religious left to find an identity and to hand it down generation after generation. Yet, as Weiner's story notes, the secular/pluralist niche continues to grow. It is, for example, a growing segment of the Democratic Party's base. Ask Howard "Call me Job" Dean. Once again, let me urge everyone to read the "Tribal Relations" article that The Atlantic ran not that long ago about religion and politics in American life.
The Post article stresses that parents of vague beliefs should lean left as they explore the pews. You never know when you might run into a damaging blast of certainty.
Nevertheless, what will most readers make of this?
Like her husband, Varun Gauri, Ayesha Khan did some soul-searching and concluded that she wanted religion's bounties for their daughter Yasmeen and their year-old son, Sharif. At the top of Khan's wish list: a sense of community and spirituality.
Over the years, says Khan, she's seen religious community serve several of her friends -- mostly Jewish -- with its sense of shared history, support and belonging. "We no longer live among extended families and extended communities," she says Khan, 42, who is legal director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. And, she notes, "there really aren't intergenerational institutions that offer quite what religion does in our society."
Khan also believes that spirituality -- with its sense of purpose and meaning -- is key to her children's emotional well-being. And she's convinced it would be a lot tougher for them to develop spirituality without the structure and guidance that religion offers.
So she and Gauri are dishing up a religious smorgasbord: Islam from one grandma, Hindu from the other, a Quaker school, a Buddhist retreat and a bit of evangelical Christianity via their former nanny. As Khan acknowledges, "Only time will tell if we were creating great confusion or great enlightenment."
And there is the rub. Only time will tell. This is a fascinating article and the topic is ripe for news coverage. But I was troubled about several things. For example, Weiner does not interview any traditional authority figure or researcher who is skeptical about all this skepticism. The article is very one-sided, in other words. It could be a Unitarian or United Church of Christ tract.
Other than interviewing traditional believers, people who might see links between actual religious faith and its positive impact on the lives of children and adults, who else might this reporter have turned to for authoritative research?
I would suggest a follow-up story, focusing on the attempts of parents in interfaith marriages -- the best data has been collected by Jewish groups -- to raise their children in two faiths at the same time. During my days on the religion beat in Denver, the Jewish community there wrestled with this issue over and over.
The bottom line: Teaching children that two religions are true only teaches them that neither religion is true. Teaching them that all the religions are true will almost certainly teach them that there is no true faith at all, no religious faith that is worth their commitment.
Time will tell. And does anyone dare discuss eternity?