Question: My child’s classmate has been proselytizing about Jesus Christ. We are not Christian. My own child has now asked me to confirm that our God is the right one, and that others are wrong. How do I explain to my child that we don’t believe in Christianity, but to respect the other child’s beliefs?
Most of us can relate to unwanted proselytizing at one point or another. Who hasn’t answered the door to an attempted converter? I’ll never forget my roommate one summer during college. A fiery Southern Baptist, she stated calmly, “You’ll burn in hell because you don’t believe in Jesus.” She asserted that it wouldn’t matter how good my life or deeds, because, in her opinion, all nonbelievers burn for eternity.
While I don’t like proselytizing, I also don’t want my child disrespecting a classmate, or telling someone that his beliefs are wrong. I explain that there are many different religions, and that each person believes his religion is right. And it’s ok for different people to have different beliefs, it even makes life more interesting. Historically, Jesus Christ did exist as a person, so this part works for me; we just don’t believe that he was the son of g*d. If you’re Jewish, you could tell him that Christians and Muslims use our Torah as part of their religion and call it the Old Testament. I like this aspect because it emphasizes what we have in common, rather than how we are different.
Nancy Sheftel-Gomes, Education Director at Sherith Israel, replied to the question, “All people live in the same world and try to understand how it came to be and its wonders and majesties. Different people have different answers to those big questions. There are different truths. One thing everyone shares is the longing for a world where our loved ones are kept well and safe and where people are good to one another. We are Jewish. Our belief is that there is one G-d that we cannot see. Jews strive to live in the image of G-d by doing good and being kind and continuing in protecting and caring for G-d’s creation.”
According to a Muslim educator I emailed with, you could tell your children, “Different people and religions believe different things, and we need to be good and kind to all people. As Muslims we believe that Jesus was a great man and a prophet and we respect and love him, but we believe that there is only one God and that He didn’t have any children.” I love that this quote can be adjusted for many different faiths.
A Hindu speaker affiliated with ING gave advice applicable to many faith: “Hindus, today, do respect all prophets, Jesus being one of them. His teachings of loving your enemy, and neighbor, kindness, love and helping the lowly and downtrodden are all basic human values, and we have no arguments against that. We do not force the practice of our faith on anyone. We believe every soul is potentially Divine, and that divinity will guide one to the truth.” She added, “The essence of Hinduism is based on the belief that God is self-evident, impersonal, omniscient . . . All can find Him. All can discover Him for themselves . . . As a result, tolerance is built into Hinduism.”
According to our preschool director, Fern Eisenberg at Beth Shalom Preschool, parents should show empathy when a child is disappointed by not celebrating Christmas or Easter. “A child who feels understood feels loved.” For instance, you can say, “you really want to celebrate Christmas. Santa Claus looks so fun, and you feel left out.” Further, she reminded me, children who are affiliated have an easier time with other beliefs and holidays. You can then remind your children what they do celebrate, so you focus on what they have rather than what they don’t. Whatever your level of religiousness, think about how to incorporate your beliefs into your daily life. Celebrating fun holidays, whether Purim, Id or Diwali, can bring belonging to your child’s life.
What if you don’t believe in a religion? You’re not alone. The Dalai Lama said during a recent talk in San Francisco that it’s important to respect non-believers, and that they number about one billion worldwide. You could say, “We believe that what’s most important is showing people that we care about them,” or whatever your values are. Celebrating values can be just as rewarding as celebrating a religious holiday. You can attend a family yoga class, join and visit a CSA farm to support organic food, make meals for friends with sick children, or raise money or the whales. If compassion is your belief, you can find ideas in my Teaching Your Child Compassion article.
A great children’s book that talks about different names for g*d is: In G*d’s Name by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso