At some point, every parent must face choices about what to communicate regarding religion. For the lapsed, the skeptical, or the somewhat ambivalent, this can be tricky business. For some reason, we decided this Christmas season was as good a time as any.
In this NY Times article, Bruce Feiler observes that “when it comes to talking to children, fundamentalists (believers and nonbelievers alike) have it easy…They can simply express their convictions. But what about the rest of us? Are we supposed to share our uncertainties with our children or pretend we know all the answers and let them discover their own ambiguities in due time?”
Feiler interviews playwright John Patrick Shanley, whose insights are straightforward and brave:
The single father of two 18-year-old adopted boys, Mr. Shanley employed a different style with his own children. “I come from the school of thought that I should teach by example rather than by talking,” he said. “I believe deeply in the power of paradox and contradiction.”
His sons, for instance, knew he knelt down to pray for them every night, but that he didn’t go to church. They knew he said grace when they were in the country but not while they were in the city. “Children watch your actions and see whether or not you’re a doddering fool. And they see that if you’re a reasonably effective person and you can embrace ambiguity as a positive thing, they say, ‘I want to be like that.’ ”
But aren’t young children too vulnerable to embrace contradiction? I asked.
He answered: “If the idea is that when children are young you should give them very definite answers that do not reflect your actual experience of life, then you’re lying to your children, and one day they’re going to realize that you were a hypocrite. And isn’t being true as much as possible in life the best kind of education you can give the young?”
Shanley also wrote the script for Moonstruck so no surprise really that he’s so sharp.
illustration by Thomas Fuchs