A family member accused me of endangering my children. According to this person, without a religious framework in which to raise my little desafortunados, I risk, (gasp!) damning them to eternal hell or – worse yet – subjecting the “good” people in the world to my ruthless heathens.
There is no way to raise ethical, kind, responsible children without threatening them with the wrath of an invisible being, I was informed. I countered that scaring people into behaving according to a code of conduct out of fear of winning a ticket to a perpetual spot on a broiler and being poked by the horned one, does not speak well about the solid foundation for that particular code.
Doing “right” for the sake of what is right and not simply to make it past the divine velvet rope, thereby avoiding becoming the next well-done entree for Lucifer seems inherently better to me. So, is it possible to raise enlightened individuals without the use of the big G-o-d?
I first encountered this question when a friend was going through the admittedly successful 12-step program to manage addiction. Being supportive, I offered to go with her to a meeting where I first heard the famous “let go, let God” recommendation. I was troubled by this. It seemed that the addiction was simply being transferred from the substance to the deity. Individuals were not being empowered to deal with their addictions in a constructive manner.
In fact, is not the whole process of surrendering to an external force for help a way to deflect responsibility and thwart personal growth? So it is with telling children to adopt certain attitudes and ethical codes because God says so. In contrast, teaching children by word and example that doing good is its own reward and that being a good citizen within a community benefits not only the individual but the community as well, fosters a sense of personal responsibility and communal connection. This can be accomplished without the need to refer to the punishment that will be meted out by the all powerful if the individual “misbehaves.”
Considering the community as a team and each individual as a team member, it is obvious why it is best to approach good citizenry as a matter of both individual and collective survival and prosperity. In this case, the “do unto others” axiom is useful not because some man many years ago wrote it in a book, but because it stands to reason that within a group, reactions and consequences will follow any action. Children can be taught the appropriate ethical framework necessary for peaceful co-existence just as they can be taught polite behavior in public, the rules on the playground, and the letters of the alphabet. By learning what they live, children can find reward and personal satisfaction in observing their parents and role models and building their own rational, moral compass; an internal foundation, not an external imposition and threat. No “eye for an eye,” just basic human goodness.