Testament had been brewing in my mind for a long time; I just never realized it until about two years ago. It’s a novel about a high school senior who fails her science report on the evolution of humanity and gets caught up between her own religious upbringing and the project requirements of her science teacher. The novel is an entertaining and, I hope, suspenseful story encouraging critical thinking, logic, and the vast evidence uncovered by scientists the world over, and available to all of us.
You see, I married a wonderful woman who was raised similarly to my protagonist – variations, of course, exist for the purposes of creating an enticing narrative – but the similarities are remarkable. My wife, of her own accord, had many questions as a youth and young adult, but due to the strict nature of her upbringing always received unsatisfactory answers from loving family members and a rote evangelical perspective. In her parents’ home, there was no veering from the path. Ever.
Since those early days as a married couple, I have also come to love many members of my wife’s family, their children, and over the past dozen or so years, their children’s children. I have noticed that there are indeed generational changes in strictness of associated rules, such as drinking, movie going, what one reads, etc. However, the basic evangelical tenets remain untouched and as guarded over these generations.
Some of these nephews and grand nieces, have for several years now, begun asking me, “Why don’t you believe in God, uncle Brad?”. Let me start answering that by stating affirmatively that I am not an atheist, although I am often labeled as such by others, and am at a point where I rarely correct them anymore. I am a non-believer, but mostly, I’m a thinker. Please accept the former, and I’ll attempt to explain the latter, and I hope in so doing, my rationale for writing my debut novel.
I was not raised a believer. God and religion were only ever discussed in my parents’ home when my siblings or I asked a question about one or the other. My father was raised Mennonite, but never understood his prayers which he was taught in German – his only German. This bedside and table-side prayer, therefore, was nothing more than ritual. They were not carried over to us, his children.
My mother, when asked by one of us, “What religion are we?” would answer Protestant. I suspect her answer was the result of her non-religious upbringing of English parents. When we asked, “Mum, where is God?” she would answer, “God is everywhere” hoping to be done with it. “Is God in my cereal box?” one of us would follow up. “Yes,” my mother would reply. “Is he in the milk carton?” was a considered next question. “Yes. He is everywhere,” Mum would say, undoubtedly hoping to put an end to such questions. My parents would probably have considered themselves agnostics, as was/is regarded as a fashionable ‘way out’ by their generation. A back door in the event of, so to speak.
My ungodly parents threw us these bones to appease us, knowing the next question was most likely unrelated, as is often the case with children. However, I hear similarly base answers provided by the godly all the time. The difference is that both the answerer believes their answer, and the loving developing mind of the questioner comes to believe it too. Unfortunately, the lessons don’t stop at the milk carton and much misinformation follows. It’s indoctrination, pure and simple. Herein lay my concern. Children naturally ask questions. They should be taught to question everything and to think critically. Logically. And make their conclusions based upon a myriad of discoveries.
So should adults.
My wife and I have no children of our own. There is no grand reason for this – life happens, and we come out of it how we come out of it. Nevertheless, when opportunities to teach come to us, we choose to teach how to learn. Not having had children, all too often begets “Well, if you had children, you would understand.” This is magnified enormously when a child’s parents are godly. In my experience, it is strictly forbidden to answer a child of a pious family with an answer that does not fit the mold. It is a sure way to untie the bonds made within such a family. Even when these bonds seem firmly anchored.
I have been told by such a devout family member, that “there is a wall separating the godly from the ungodly,” apparently to protect them from the likes of me. A loving, caring, respectful, educated, critically thinking ‘uncle Brad.’ So, when these incredible young minds, out of grave concern for their uncle, wonder to me why I do not believe, I am unable to tell them. Not allowed to be truthful. Not entitled to present a scientifically viable answer to that which, ultimately cannot be known. I am not authorized to teach them how to think for themselves. How to question everything, and where they can begin their searches for other this-world answers.
My wife has come to learn to question everything. Perhaps counterintuitively, that includes questioning me! She is a deist, as she sees it. A deist, as opposed to a theist, believes that she was created by god, and then god went off to do other godly things, not giving her another thought. A theist thinks god watches and knows, and most often predestines all things. The theist tendency is to believe god is capable of anything, that he (it’s generally He) has written the playbook for humanity. No further thought need go into it. That’s what faith is for.
There is one lovely young child that continues to ask me, “have you become a Christian yet?” Her fear, I know, is that I won’t go to Heaven if I don’t believe. When I answer, “No,” I really wish I could explain why. That I could offer her other perspectives, and then have her challenge all perspectives with what is known. What is known is immense and its shadow overwhelmingly darkens what is believed. It’s time to teach children how to think for themselves.
Think of what humanity would learn from them!
I hope you enjoy Testament for the story I created to entertain you. In the process, perhaps subliminally, I hope you are encouraged to begin thinking for yourself – that is, if you don’t already. Testament is my answer to those fabulous grand nieces & nephews. Once they are older, I may steer them in the direction of Testament. It’s a testament of my love for each of them.
Finally, I have a challenge for godly parents. Teach your children to think for themselves. To think critically. To study what is known, and then decide what to believe. If god is real, they will come full circle and find him… or her… or… (insert pronoun).
In the meantime, consider what we will learn from them.
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