Raising Secularly Religious Kids

I joined a church yesterday. I, the eternally “unchurched” finally made a commitment to a religious institution. It’s kind of a big deal.

It is a big deal. I was raised in a secular household. I’m the kid of parents who were raised religious and wholly rejected raising their own kids religious. My mother’s background is Protestant, my father’s Catholic, mine is a patchwork of familial glimpses of piety, an upbringing in a Jewishly influenced Catholic city (hello New Orleans!) mixed with a healthy dose of the scientific method. Religion wasn’t part of the conversation in my house. There was no mention of God, no ritual, no holy text. There was Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mardi Gras, Easter, and summer vacation each turn of the year, but no mention of the spiritual underpinnings of any of these “holy”days.

It is probably because of this that I spent the better part of my life seeking. Since I was 14 years old I’ve been on a quest to understand what I believe and to see if there was a religion that checked all my boxes. I’ve read a lot. I pursued a BA in Religious Studies. I’ve gone “church shopping”. But I’ve never been able to commit. Nothing feels right because at the end of the day I’ll always be a “none”. I still feel this way but now I actually hold a membership to a church.

‘What church?’ you ask. As it happens, the one I’ve (very tentatively) chosen is the Unitarian Universalist church. Now, before I continue, I want to make it clear that I don’t consider myself a Unitarian. As ridiculous as that sounds, I’m not that far down the road of commitment, but I felt I wanted to show my support of this particular church by becoming a member.

I came to this church through a interfaith mom’s group that supported me after the birth of my second child. It has been a great source of community for me and I’ve continued to attend slowly building relationships that have helped me grow. Then I decided to start attending services to give me some personal time as well as some social time for my oldest, who is now in the children’s choir as well. Then my husband decided to join a poetry group that meets twice a month. It started to become clear that this was our community.

As I’ve said, I wasn’t raised with any spiritual sensibilities and on a certain level I see this as a deficit. My husband was raised Catholic and even though he’s no longer practicing (or recovering as some would call it) I can see that he benefited from having a framework for his spirituality. I want my kids to have something. I want them to have a place where they can ask those big questions as well as the sense of community that accompanies being involved in a place like church.

It’s hard to raise your kids with a sense of spirit without a framework to base it on. There is no language to pass down to them as a tool to formulate thought on the eternal. There are no like minded others to share in the discussion. No rituals to mark important life transitions. You lack a sense of belonging. Now, I don’t necessarily think I’ll ever tell my kids ‘you are Unitarian Universalist’ but the UU church is the only place I feel like we can attend without being forced to make a proclamation like that. For years I’ve felt a heart tug toward Judaism. It’s such a beautiful religion and on a certain level it feels like home but I can’t bring myself to forgo all the other truths within the world religions to abide only in one tradition. You can’t convert to Judaism and still openly consider the Upanishads or the Tao te Ching to be sacred and no rabbi would convert you unless you promised to raise your children strictly Jewish, which I would be lying if I said I would. They will be raised exposed to many things and probably never told they are of one tradition. In UU, at least I know no one will judge our spiritual flexibility, or at least they probably won’t say it to my face!

Because of my upbringing, I want my kids to have the framework, the community, the sense that these are important and worthwhile pursuits. For all of religion’s failings, I can at least say that it has these things in abundance. These are not attributes to be scoffed at. There is a reason people have always returned to religion even with it’s imperfections. It seems that after years of searching, the UU church is the closest thing I’ve found to a secularly religious community.Yes, it’s an oxymoron but I think it’s also an attempt at capturing something valuable for those of us who can’t stomach the general intolerance and inherent insular nature of most organized religion. Am I saying that UU is exempt from human failings? Of course not, but so far it’s the closest thing I’ve found to the right track.