A couple of posts in the bloggernacle have got me thinking about children and Mormonism. Currently at Times and Seasons, Russell Arben Fox has a beautiful post about his niece, a stillborn child. A few months ago BCC’s own Kristine Haglund Harris posted the topic "On Spiritual Education" at the same blog.
My 2 ½ year old son Ethan insists on praying without any help these days. Last night, as he asked God to bless his brother Matthew, Mama, and Dada, he also threw in his toys and his pillow (after opening his eyes and seeing them). But it was when he asked God to bless Homer Simpson that gave me pause. (I’ll thank everyone in advance for sparing me the lecture on letting my two year old watch The Simpsons — I’ve heard it enough already.)
I’m not at all bothered that he prayed for Homer (given Homer’s track record, he could use all the help he can get). What does make me worry is how my son’s spiritual life will develop. Sure, he’s two — there’s plenty of time to grow. But as early as possible, I want religion and spirituality to have meaning for him. As Kristine discussed, I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to cram him with the information we think we know is true (which most likely came from our own parents cramming it into us) so he can regurgitate it throughout life and then repeat the cycle with his own children. In other words, I don’t want to tell him about God, Jesus, and the First Vision as if they’re just facts of life, the same way I’d tell him Independence Day is July 4th and George Washington was the first President of the United States. Sure, someday he’ll develop an emotional attachment to those religious “facts,” but will he do so because they’re true or will he do so because he’s conditioned to – the same way he’ll develop an emotional attachment to his Americanism.
To put it another way, am I conditioning my son to become a believing Mormon by running through the standard practices, and if so how is that any different than a Catholic parent conditioning their child to become a Catholic? Will the meaning his faith gives his life simply be a product of his environment and self-inducement, or can it come from something else? Lastly, do we trust our children enough to let them take their own faith journey, or is it something we feel we need to rescue them from if the path isn’t the one we think they ought to take?