Religiously Indifferent: How My Parents Raised Me in a Culture Obsessed with Ideology

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It seems we Americans are increasingly obsessed with ideology. Everything from our television programs to social media networks is screened through our preferred belief systems. The desire to be challenged has been largely dismissed by the general American populace, preferring the agreeable to anything remotely intellectually stimulating.

Russell Brand on his pledge against voting? No gracias. I already know what I think.

“10 Golden Retrievers Smiling Like Humans”? I’ve already clicked.

Our incessant need for an agreeable, intellectually unchallenged life has trickled down to the black and white manner in which we are raising the next generation. Parents, it seems, wish to raise copies of themselves.

Because you turned out so damn perfect, right?

This is nothing new. What’s new is the ability for anyone to broadcast his or her parenting style. The latest of which I’ve come across is Julie Drizin’s piece in Salon, detailing her experience of raising her children as atheists in a “God-obsessed” culture.

Ms. Drizin’s task is difficult, no doubt. But why bother pushing any ideology in the first place?

Why Bother?

This all made me think of my experience of being raised as indifferent to religion. Respectful, but definitely indifferent. In fact, one could even say we were “religiously indifferent,” which also nicely sneaks the title of the piece in here.

Reading Drizin’s piece, it felt similar in some respects to stories of overtly religious people attempting to raise their children in what they would probably perceive as a Godless culture. Whereas Drizin finds disagreement with forcing children to read the pledge of allegiance, her polar opposite would likely think the practice is meaningless without school prayer.

This leads me to my question for the parenting community. Why bother? Why push ideology on kids at all?

Now, I of course realize this could quickly plummet into philosophical nothingness.

“Everything is ideology, isn’t it?”

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m merely talking about religion and politics. Treating one another kindly, respect, not murdering people — these are simply basic morals. No child is going to grow up, lamenting their parents because they were turned away from being a monster and murdering people at an early age.

To the contrary, there is no shortage of stories featuring children who have become outcasts to their family (or vice versa) because of festering political and/or religious disagreements. And these disagreements generally come up, because the child feels they were kept from something by being pushed aggressively in another direction.

We know that in general, overtly pushing children one way generally encourages them to go in the other direction eventually. To be fair, Drizin does mention that she has encouraged her children to read various religious texts; something we all should do considering that religion’s influence in shaping events is not going away anytime soon.

But why do parents think they need to start their kids from any box other than the one we’re all plopped into from the moment we’re born — inherently inquisitive? Methinks we could all learn from the school of Mr. and Mrs. Baur.

“No Jesus in our Christmas”

Religion was never discussed growing up. But it was never awkwardly avoided, like a homophobic father rationalizing his daughter’s lesbian partner as a long-term roommate.

I have vague memories of one grandmother saying, “Bless her/him” occasionally (not in response to a sneeze, mind you) and that’s about it. Until adulthood, I probably could count the amount of times I had been in a church on one hand. Considering every visit was for a funeral, I didn’t exactly have fond feelings toward church. And I certainly was not envious of kids going to Sunday school or services.

My first recollection of Christianity – there was no Jesus in our Christmas – was of one Mr. John Hagee, who I now know as a balls out crazy televangelist. But when I was little and caught him describing reasons I would go to Hell whilst flipping channels, I listened. I ran upstairs to my father; terrified I was indeed going to be condemned for eternity.

I also made a mental note to look up “condemned” later on.

Swiftly, my father brushed off this televangelist nonsense and told me I would be fine so long as I didn’t kill anyone. I realize “don’t kill” isn’t exactly setting the bar high, but the sentiment that I should be a good person was there.

It worked. I felt fine afterward. He didn’t need to tell me I would go to Heaven and fart pixy dust for eternity. Nor did he need to drop all of his beliefs on me at an age where I could barely remember how to get to school.

My remaining experiences with religion before college didn’t fare so well, either. Once I was asked if I believed in God, by a public school teacher no less, and gave a confused “yes?” The question mark was probably audible.

Of course, any atheist or agnostic would point out that I also at this time believed in an overweight man sneaking into homes from across the globe via a magical sleigh pulled by reindeer in one day.

I most certainly did.

My next recollection takes us into high school when a friend of mine tricked me into visiting a praise concert. I had no idea what “praise” meant in reference to music. When I asked for further explanation, she described it to me as live music with free food.

Sold.

The free food turned out to be essentially carrots with dip featuring a band less appealing than a dinner of carrots with dip. Their lyrics, from song to song, were always some variation of “thank you, Jesus.”

This led to a pastor who told a story I have since, thankfully, largely forgotten. I tuned out until the story inevitably turned into something that struck me as insulting toward Jews. I think the group even prayed for Jews to find “the way.”

Besides finding this all ridiculous, I was already far too busy staring deeply into my empty can of Pepsi, wondering if I could somehow shrink myself to fit inside.

College Stereotype

Needless to say I went into college with Christianity millions of miles from my mind. But I did gain an interest for travel and thereby different cultures, which ultimately led me to taking comparative religion classes where I studied everything from Native American belief systems to eastern religion. True to the college stereotype, I latched onto Buddhism pretty strongly, which in turn led to an even stronger interest in the Tibetan culture and political crisis.

I really hit the college stereotype hard there for a while there.

Regularly attending services at a Buddhist monastery for a few months was the closest I ever came to having a religion in the typical sense. While I may not be in a position to change my religion to Buddhism on Facebook, it did push me to take on new challenges, namely studying the aforementioned Tibetan crisis. This led to a summer in India living with exiled Tibetans on a college campus. I even made a film about it that got into an international film festival, which looks nice on a résumé when you’re, in part, a travel writer and filmmaker looking for more opportunities to explore the world.

And I attribute this all primarily to my parents’ collective indifference toward religion. Had they pushed me in any direction, I might have seen Buddhism as either “weird” because it wasn’t my religion or “silly” because it’s a religion. I might have been alienated from them once I grew older and started thinking for myself.

Today, I proudly maintain my religious indifference. At least as far as labeling myself is concerned. I’ve actually since become profoundly interested in studying various religions and the cultures tied to them.

Ultimately, should I ever bring life into this world, I’ll be happy to let him or her explore this incredible, largely unknown universe as they see fit.

 

About Joe Baur

Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at joebaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe
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