OMG!

It was the Good Friday last week. It was also the day when summer holidays commenced, with much fanfare and rejoicing in our household. Since Mamma had a holiday too, and the next holiday is really faar faaar away, we decided to celebrate! Off we went to the mall for lunch. Mamma and the kids. There was some debate as usual on what to eat and where.

Dottie pipes up – “Mamma, was Jesus Christ a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian?” I gave it a hard thought and concluded that in all possibilities he was most likely a non-vegetarian. “Yippieee!” Came the delighted yell. “That means I can eat a chicken burger. Yay!”. I was puzzled. On further inquiry found out the reasoning behind this inference.

“Oh Mamma, you dont even know? On Lord Shankar’s birthday we could not eat chicken burger because Shankar was a vegetarian!”

So here is the background. The grand parents were staying with us during Mahashivratri. It was a day of fasting and puja for them. Kids were denied a chicken burger by daddy and daddy being the typical objective species from Mars (remember where men are from?) who only processes in binary, had provided a very simple and convincing explanation!

I have been struggling to field a lot of questions on the big one lately. These are sometimes tougher to handle than the standard inquiries about where do babies come from. These questions do not go to daddy for some reason.

Is god real?
Where does he live?
Why doesn’t he eat the ‘prasad’ you make?
Are there many gods?
Then why do we have so many photos in our ‘god home’ (dev ghar).
Was Krishna a god?
Was Ram a god?
Was Jesus Christ a God?
So are there different gods for different religions?
Did different gods make different people?
If this story (Ram or Krishna’s) is from long long ago, are they alive now?
Where are they?
Was god alive long long ago?
Did god make us? But we came from your tummy!
Werent humans really monkeys before?
Did god make dinosaurs too?
Do Dinosaurs/Dogs/Animals have a religion?

I could go on. Let me state clearly that I dont want to get into the big debate on god’s existence here. That debate could go on and on till we are blue in the face and still be inconclusive. I am looking for simple explanations that can help them understand. I dont want to push them in any direction – of belief or non-belief. Let them figure it out as they grow, read and experience. Let them make a choice to believe or to not, or to believe in something else. I want them to learn to question everything, not necessarily accept things the way they are told without questioning them. I want them to be able to know how to look for answers and find them. I want them to develop and learn to apply their common sense and reasoning abilitites to such things.

I myself remember being thoroughly convinced of god’s existence as a child, then gradually shifted to challenging it, to later accepting the debate itself. Or accepting the fact that there is no answer. Or that the answer is really within yourself and its a matter of choice. To understanding that religion is not really about god. That religion only teaches us beliefs, rituals and traditions. Which is again a mixed bag, and you have to carefully choose what you want to pick from that bag and what to discard, with whatever balance and reason you can find. And that because we can listen, observe, learn, sense and feel, we need to believe in something to guide our actions. That disbelief in the widely recongnized image or idea of god also means believing in something different. That spirituality is different from religion and belief. It is related to what you experience. What you observe, sense, and feel, and what you understand from it all, and how that influences your actions in return.

Afterall us human beings need a framework to define our own morality. Therefore God. If you call her that. And she (If you can personify that then for me its a ‘she’ because so am I.) is also context specific. For me she is my family and people around me. They give me a purpose, to take up responsibilities, to work with accountability, to perform duties and enjoy them too. To overcome any feelings like anger, fear, guilt, laziness, inaction, indifference, resignation and so on that have the capacity to drag me down. To understand that these feelings are natural and will crop up at different times and in different situations. That I need to make a conscious effort to understand them and to channelize them towards finding a solution. That does not require anything other than the willingness to do so.

But I digress. (Ahem. May be I should quit my day job and get into the ‘self help’ business.)

So here is how I tried to answer their queries.

God is not a person, photo or idol, or a character. God is everywhere. God is in our minds, so that we can think. God is in the sun, because it gives us light and energy, God is in our parents and teachers because they love us and take care of us. God is in our friends, in the earth, in water, in food, in everything around us. God is something that helps us to live, and to be happy and kind human beings. We pray, or do puja, or celebrate festivals, or hear stories of Rama, Krishna and Ganapati bappa because that way we learn about our culture and our traditions. The stories sometimes help us to act in the right way. They teach us to respect and care for people, and to try and behave in a way which benefits everyone. Festivals and ceremonies bring people together, and we make special dishes, and that makes everyone happy.

Phew!

That does it for now. My responses got puzzled looks from unsure minds. But they seemed to be acceptable for the time being.

Have you parents faced these questions? What are your thoughts on how to handle them? Do you try to convince (or educate – if you will) your children about your own beliefs?

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4 Responses to OMG!

  1. What an interesting and lovely post ! But I have a question. Were we (I am 61) less curious and defiant s kids ? Were we hesitant to upset our parents with odd questions related to God , and his/her existence ? I dont ever recall asking questions like this to my parents, and sometimes I feel we learned the answers by observing how people lived. To me religion is a very personal thing. My mother in her own way, was a very ritual-aware person, was very knowldgeable about things, but what I learned from her was that religion was all about an ethos in which you lived. And so she respected my very close Moslem friends, offered a cake made by my daughter as naivedya to the Gods first, before the family got any samples to eat, and it made my daughter feel really great; and a close catholic friend of mine in the US, who knew her, actually had a mass said for her after she passed away. Thats what religion is to me. I wish my children learn that. My mother never sat down and talked to me about this. One learned by observing.

  2. Poet Mamma says:

    @Ugich Konitari – thanks for your comment and observations. Yes, I think my mom's (your) generation were more accepting. We did ask some questions – but then conformed to the expectations at least at that time. Now, my kids – may be there is more exposure to the world – but they demand a logical answer. Any hanky panky superficial – or because I say so explanation is not really acceptable. 🙂 May be the change is for the better. Who knows? Only time will tell!

  3. The Bride says:

    A really beautiful post. I loved this line: "Afterall us human beings need a framework to define our own morality. Therefore God."I think religion provides a structure that might be useful for children. It explains morality and the world simplistically. For me, it would be an easy inlet into introducing certain topics. However, since my husband and I have stopped practising religion, I don't know if I have the energy to restart everything just in order to educate my child. Even if I do go the religion route, I would consider myself a failure as a parent if my child does not question me. And once those questions arise, I would give my child my opinion and views but he is free to decide his own beliefs (and I am of course free to challenge those). To the previous commenter, I think that in earlier generations children were not encouraged to question so much. Rather obedience and compliance was valorised. For kids to ask these questions, you have to develop a questioning mind from a young age. My dad did this with me – he one day threw me completely when I was about 11 by asking 'but how do you know there's a God'? The conclusion I reached was probably not what he wanted and later in life when I eschewed organised religion, he really struggled with it, but at the end of the day that was his success as a parent. On the other hand, he never had these discussion wtih my sister so she generally accepted everything about religion and started questioning only when she was about 25!

  4. Poet Mamma says:

    @The Bride: I know what you mean – I am very happy that my children do question everything they are told. And they demand an answer filled with reason and facts. Which is a good thing. I know as they grow, things would nto be that simple, and I hope we, the parents find the ability to keep up with their questioning and guide them to find answers on their own. I know my parents tried to do that. My brother is one helluva "questioner" that way. He would not accept anything at face value. :-DBut most of our generation and the generation prior are told whats "true" and should be followed.

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