Jennifer Brown maybe I can help you with this a little bit. Perhaps not, but I’ll share my experience with you and let you decide.
My family lives all over Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma (with a few stragglers in Arizona, Florida, Connecticut and Alaska) and the first 10 years of my life absolutely mirrored your own, I’m fairly certain, with one pretty significant difference. I went to church with my Mamaw, because my Mom and Dad didn’t go. I don’t remember that we ever talked about why.
When I moved to Alaska in 1983, I was 10. There was a bus that picked kids up for church and Sunday School at the local Baptist church and for awhile, I continued to attend just because I always had. After a couple of years, though, I got busy and stopped attending. I was like you. I was never very invested in the whole scene. I remember a few hymns, and I remember a lot of the stories in the Bible. I still have my childhood bible, and it holds my great, great grandmother’s handmade handkerchiefs folded between its pages.
And my 9 year-old son is reading that sonofabitch, cover to cover. Just because. On the way to school the other day, he told me an entire story, in great detail. It sounded familiar, sort of, so I asked him what book it came from.
“The Bible, Mom.”
Um. Okay. He’s also just finished reading all of the Rick Riordan series and can give me a pretty comprehensive history lesson on Greek, Roman, and Trojan mythology. And to him, they’re the same genre.
What genre that is changes for him day to day. Some days, it’s creative non-fiction. Some days, realistic fiction. Some days, straight up fantasy.
My kids have never been to church (except for a couple of times, a few years back, because my son asked if we could go.). And I know it’s different to say that in the bible belt, believe me (though for such a pious-acting strip of dirt, I find the placement of billboards to be a curiosity…CHURCH ADVERTISEMENT/ADULT BOOK STORE/CHURCH ADVERTISEMENT/ADULT BOOK STORE. Lol). Alaska is far more tolerant of diversity than the state I was born in. It’s really much more tolerant of everything. So, I didn’t get much backlash for not being a churchgoer.
I wasn’t as aware as you are when my kids were small that we’d ever really have a need to have the conversation; at least not until they were older. My ex-husband and I had already decided that when the kids were much older, we’d encourage them to explore religion at an academic level. Religions, I mean. And once they’d done some research, they could make their own decisions about what they believed, just as we had.
Boy were we naive. My daughter’s first in-home sitter was a devout Catholic who tacked, “How do you think Jesus would feel if he…” on to every scolding, to the degree that my two year old started saying things like, “Jesus wants me to be really, really hayve at Miss Myrna’s (she thought when I would tell her to behave that it was like “be good”. Hence, “be hayve” lol).” But, all in all, my daughter didn’t really ask questions until she was eight or nine. She became curious because of Alex.
I don’t really know where my son heard about God, but he started asking me about ‘him’ when he was three.
I should back up here. I actually have a draft on here that addresses religion. I never finished it because I couldn’t find the right word for what I am. I don’t fit agnostic. I don’t fit atheistic. I did, for most of my life, identify with atheism. Benignly. When my son had his lung hemorrhage, things changed some for me. When he started to talk, he would point out pictures of relatives who had died long before he was born, and he’d call them by their nicknames (Mamaw, Mackie, Pawpaw..all names only family used, and I was the only family he had here. i didn’t tell him.) He remembers being with these people when he was a baby. I’m inclined to believe him.
So, that fucked up my atheism. Sort of. I guess I fit best into Pantheism. I don’t believe that the bible is anything more than a bunch of stories meant to teach us lessons (some good, some not so great). I think some of them are based on actual events. But I don’t believe there’s a presence, with awareness, somewhere out there watching me and deciding my fate after I die. I do believe our energy has to go somewhere, and who’s to say Alex didn’t experience the energy of his relatives when he was comatose. I’m sure not going to tell him he’s wrong.
Anyway, back to your concern. My kids have been raised in a place where no one blinks if you don’t attend church. They don’t. And yet, they still heard all sorts of stuff about God from outside sources, at a very young age. They formed ideas based on the things they heard, and they had questions. And I just talked to them about it. Alex asked about God, and we discussed God. I didn’t deny God was real, or say he was. I said that some people believe he’s this (insert description here). Other people believe he’s this (other religion description). There are lots of other people who believe he is lots of other things, and when you’re bigger, you can learn all about that if you decide to.
What do you believe, Mom?
I believe that God is that little voice you hear in your head that whispers to you when you may be about to do something you’re not sure is a good thing. I think that God is in the Golden Rule. You should always treat other people the way you’d want them to treat you. You should share, and be generous with your things. If you see a stranger, and they feel scary to you, you should always come get me or dad. If you hurt someone, you should ask them how you can help make it better.
Alex believes in God. Bible God.
And I let him.
It will be whatever it is, and as long as you don’t forbid him to believe a certain way, I’m certain that whatever way he happens to believe will contain within it all of the parts that matter.