My 7-year old asked me, “Daddy, are all the stories in the Bible true?”
I said, “What do you think?”
She said, “I don’t think so.”
I said, “Why?”
She furrowed her brow and was silent for a few seconds. Then she said, “I don’t know. But I think some of them aren’t real. I’ll think about it some more.”
I said, “Okay.” Then she ran off to play with her brother.
And that, in a nutshell, is what I think about raising freethinking kids. For those who want more than a nutshell, read on.
If “freethinking” or “freethought” is an unfamiliar word for you, let me give a brief explanation. Freethinking does not imply that you are free to think whatever you want. It is a “philosophical viewpoint which holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, or other dogmas.”
“Freethought holds that individuals should not accept ideas proposed as truth without recourse to knowledge and reason. Thus, freethinkers strive to build their opinions on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logical principles, independent of any logical fallacies or the intellectually limiting effects of authority, confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, sectarianism, tradition, urban legend, and all other dogmas.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freethought)
My desire to have freethinking kids is really a desire for them to be able to think for themselves, to be able to express their thoughts in a logical, reasonable fashion. As much as possible, my wife and I avoid being dogmatic to them. If full, detailed explanation is yet inappropriate or too complex, we just tell them we’ll explain when they’re older and they’ll understand better then.
In matters of religion, I rarely tell them what to think or do. I just ask questions and let them think through the answers.
My kids go to a Christian school. Sometimes, they want to go to Sunday School as well and I take them there. If they would rather stay at home, then I allow them to do so anyway. Sometimes I ask, “Why don’t you want to go?” and listen to their reasons. Most of the time, they’ll just say, “It’s boring,” and I’ll leave it at that. Sometimes, I’ll try to probe deeper and ask, “Well, why is it boring?” and other such questions until they get tired of me asking. And when they do, I am content to let them do something else and play. I will not push the issue right there and then. They have plenty of time to come back to me when they have thought about it or when they have another question.
Sometimes, I’ll offer my own opinion, but I won’t force it on them. I remember when the aforementioned 7-year old was still 6, I told her, “I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I don’t think they’re real.” She said, “Why don’t you believe in heaven? You should believe in heaven. You’re sinning. You will go to hell.”
I smiled and said, “Well, how do you know they’re real? Have you seen heaven or hell?”
“No, but you should believe in them,” and she said that with all the conviction she could muster.
“Well, just think about it,” I said.
“Okay,” she said.
Just a while ago, I asked her what she now thought of heaven and hell and she said, “I don’t know but it seems like a fairy tale.”
I don’t know what they’ll grow up believing and I don’t think I’d really mind as long as I know they’ve thought hard about it, they’re not afraid to question it, and they have good reasons for believing whatever they do. What’s important for me is the process they go through to reach those beliefs, but otherwise, their journey is their own to discover, explore and enjoy.
As I am enjoying mine.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.