The confusing, complicated desire of parents with no religion to raise their kids with faith.
I’m the kind of Christian that many adults warned me about as a child: I’ve been a church member for most of my adult life, but I have at times gone years without regular attendance, my theology is squishy, and I don’t really pray, to name just a few qualities that put me on the breezy outer edge of Christianity’s big tent. I think of myself as “religious but not spiritual”: The rituals of faith—the songs, the stories, the bread and wine—are meaningful to me, but I can’t say much for certain beyond that. When I read the verse in Revelation where God says “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth,” I think, Yep, that’s me!
Although I was raised evangelical, somehow the gruel-thin texture of my adult faith has never troubled me. Or at least not until this summer, when my infant daughter careened into my life—including my spiritual life, such as it is. I knew I wanted to raise her “in the church.” I want her to know the stories and songs that I love and to have a similar moral and cultural grounding that my husband and I were raised with. But I don’t want her to be afraid of a hell I don’t believe in, and I don’t want to lie about what I believe. So what should that look like, exactly?
This is one of the questions animating the new book Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children. Out later this month, it looks at how contemporary “Nones”—people who report that they have no religious affiliation whatsoever—handle the question of moral and spiritual formation with their children. Drawing on lengthy interviews with dozens of parents and bolstered by survey data, Christel Manning finds a surprisingly wide variety of approaches among parents who profess no faith of their own. It seems that while an increasing number of people are comfortable self-identifying as “No religion,” many still have a hard time using the same label for their children.
Manning, a professor of religious studies at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, is a self-described None, having drifted away from church-going as a teenager. But as a younger child, she had loved rituals like nightly prayers and lighting Advent candles. When she had her own daughter, Manning wondered if she should expose her to these traditions in some form. “It was all so beautiful and comforting and safe,” she writes. “Why hold a child hostage to my doubts?”
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