Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Does God Live On a Mountain in Egypt? - How to Be a Jewish Atheist and Raise a Kid

Sometimes I'm Jew-ier than others
So I face a dilemma.  I am a culturally Jewish woman who doesn't believe in God and I have a kid.  Teaching her about her cultural heritage is really important to me.  Celebrating holidays, attending Tot Shabbat services, putting money in the tzedakah box, learning about Jewish history are all things I couldn't imagine depriving her of.  They were so integral to my youth, so a part of my idea of what a Jewish childhood should be, that I make an effort to introduce them to my daughter when the opportunity arises.  We don't light candles every Friday, but every once and a while we do.  We don't make challah all the time, but she enjoys when I make it, and enjoys eating it when I take her to Tot Shabbat.  She loves attending the Sunday school Parent and Me class once or twice a month.  I eagerly look forward to the day I get to watch her
What? Baymax and Donatello
don't go to your Sedars?

dress up in a homemade dreidel costume and sing a little song on the bimah with her kindergarten Torah school class.  She has a little Passover play set and thoroughly enjoys putting all the pieces on the Sedar plate and setting up all her little toys around the table so she can tell the story of the Exodus.  Well, her version.  In her version, the frogs come and lock all the bad guy Egyptians up in a cage and then all the Jewish babies come back and everybody is happy and eat matzah and charoset but not maror because that is yucky and she doesn't like it so nobody has to eat it.

But despite all my efforts in raising her Jewish, I am at a quandary when I am asked questions like:

"Where does God live?  Does God live on a mountain in Egypt where Moses went?"

"What does God look like?"

"Who is God?"

Oooo Magical Photons!
Now a person of faith might have reasonable, age appropriate responses to those questions.  Maybe they would say that God lives in your heart or that God is all around us or that God is blah blah blah... But... the thing is, I don't believe in God.  Neither, for that matter, does my ex.  He was nominally raised Jewish most of his life and converted when we married, but is not practicing beyond lighting Hanukkah candles with her, which isn't terrible all things considered.  I have had people ask me, "Well if you don't believe in God why are you celebrating Jewish holidays?" to which I ask them, "If you don't believe in Lent, why are you getting drunk at Mardi Gras? If you aren't Christian, why are you giving presents for Christmas?  If you aren't Irish Catholic, why are you wearing green on St Patrick's day?  If you don't believe in the Resurrection of Christ, why are your kids making cotton ball bunnies at Easter?"  The answer to all these questions is simple: cultural celebration is often times removed from actual religious observance.  Being Jewish is more than just believing in the Torah.  Being Jewish is who I AM.

Believe it or not, there are quite a number of Jewish atheists/ agnostics, even
This book is GREAT
whole congregations of Reconstructionist Jews for whom belief in God is not required.  But the dude (lady? genderless spirit-deal?) comes up in the stories. So what do I tell her when she asks about God?  She is 4. Now for background, I have brought home the book Older Than the Stars for her, a book that discusses the Big Bang, the formation of the universe, the creation of the solar system.  She has other books about space that talk about cosmology and universe expansion.  If you were to ask her how the universe was created, she would tell you that a long time ago there was a big explosion and all the bits that came from that formed the universe.  She actually gets it, or as much as a 4 year old can. She is a scientist.  But then there is this God character that keeps showing up.  What's up with that? 

Thus far I have sort of dodged the conversation.  Unlike other random questions that she has asked me lately ("Mommy, what is a pillow?"  "Mommy, what is a rock?") she hasn't mentioned the "G" word in a few days.  And I am grateful.  Because I know when we have the conversation it will go like this:

"Well some people believe... "
Ok this is good.  I'm not being dismissive of other cultures.

"Some people believe that God created the universe and that God helps people sometimes."
Is this enough?

"But I don't believe in God, I believe that the universe was created in the Big Bang like in your book."
Ok, point made

Kiddo - "So who did Moses talk to?"


So for now I avoid.  And I hope she forgets about it until I come up with a better answer.  Do I say that the stories are made up?  If I do will she start asking why we celebrate the Sedar in the first place?  Is "because we are Jewish" enough of an answer?  I don't even know.  Thankfully she often forgets her train of thought and something she was so curious about one day, is forgotten the next. Like how she forgot to follow up on that "Where do babies come from?" question.  That one I answered as honestly as I could until we got to the, "Yeah, ok but HOW does it come out?" to which I responded that it came out through the mommy's vagina, to which she responded by laughing hysterically, "WHAT?!  A baby in a vagina!  WHAT?!" and rolled around on the floor maniacally as if I had told her the funniest joke in the world.  For the record, to her the funniest joke in the world is:

"The chair fell in the yogurt"

That's it.  No set up.  "The chair fell in the yogurt."

So maybe that is a good solution to my God Dilemma.

"Where does God live?"

"Banana butts"

No comments: