Responding to Challenging Religious Questions from Your Children

“Is there a God?”

“Is reincarnation real?”

“What happens when you die?”

These questions can be tough for a conscientious UU parent, particularly if you are agnostic or atheist, because so many of us want to be examples of having an open mind. My standard answer used to be, “If you believe it, then it is true for you.”

However, this is not helpful for young children, as they are not developmentally ready to develop their own personal faith, and certainly not ready to follow a different path than their parents. Our UU tradition has evolved into a rather complex set of possibilities regarding faith. Collectively, we hold no particular religious belief over others; instead, we are encouraged as individuals to develop our own personal faith. We honor the idea of questioning, including spiritual and religious-based questions. While many standard religious traditions discourage children from asking the “big questions”, our UU tradition encourages it. We support the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” This can be a challenge to adults who have experienced a personal loss of faith or belief.

This personal loss of faith, often, stems from a childhood filled with the negative aspects of religion; i.e., the devil, Hell, and the evils of sin. Those of us who broke free from these damaging rigid and authoritarian creeds are often at a loss when our kids are exploring their own budding sense of faith.

The best way we can help them is to allow them to question, to search, and to explore their emerging spiritual beliefs. As Rabbi Sandy Sasso comments, “Our challenge—and our opportunity—is to give our children language and tools designed to encourage the life of the spirit and to prepare them to deal with theological ideas” (Sophia Lyons Fahs Lecture, 2009).

If I could raise my three sons over again, I would do things a little differently. First, I would attend a UU church with them in order to expose them to different ways of thinking and a variety of belief systems. When asked the tough questions, I might answer, “I don’t really know; let’s do some research and talk about it.” I am grateful that my oldest son encourages my grandson, Koji, to attend Chalice with us. If (when) Koji asks some of those challenging questions, I hope I can be more helpful this time around! Thank you, Chalice, for being a part of a faith community for Koji and his peers.

Kathleen Swift
Director of Family Life
Office hours vary, flexible appointments.

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