Monday, January 19, 2015

Am I Raising My Kids Catholic, Just As An Attempt To Have "Good" Kids?

I read this article in the LA Times, and had to ask myself, am I raising my kids Catholic, just as an attempt to have "good" kids? 

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Phil Zuckerman writes that kids of a secular upbringing are just as likely as their religious peers (if not more so) to become upstanding, moral citizens. Not only that, but their parents are portrayed as even more committed to helping their children understand right from wrong: 

- Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology
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I hope I don't sound too surprised by this. Plenty of my kind, moral, non-religious friends can prove the whole Catholic thing isn't even necessary to have nice kids who make good decisions. 

According to Zuckerman's article, secular kids are actually more empathetic to others, ironically acting from a better internalization of The Golden Rule than their self-identifying Christian counterparts. And recalling my own high school experience, I can agree. My religiously unaffiliated friends were down-to-earth, genuine, and just plain likable. So what's with all our Sunday morning services and prayers before meals and family rosaries and Bible studies? (Besides the somewhat relevant issue that our kids just really enjoy that stuff.) 

There's something to be said for participation in a community of shared values. But tying morality to a single group of people is also dangerous, because all it takes is the crappy experience of a clique-ish youth group, yuppie parish, or dysfunctional family (aren't we all?), for someone to throw good values out with the fallible community to which they're affiliated. 

As one parent was quoted by the article: 

“If your morality is all tied in with God... ...what if you at some point start to question the existence of God? Does that mean your moral sense suddenly crumbles? The way we are teaching our children … no matter what they choose to believe later in life, even if they become religious or whatever, they are still going to have that system.”

Some might say, if the primary purpose of religion is to influence people to treat each other decently, then it can fade away into irrelevance, since secularism (arguably) has that covered. 

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Zuckerman refers to morality as a loosely-defined sense of treating others well, more than holding any particular positions on specific issues. And truthfully, if we could follow the OT prophet's advice, that God would rather we treat each other mercifully above anything else, then maybe all those other issues would stop being such, well, issues

The "seamless garment" concept of morality believes that every person, whomever from wherever doing whatever, has an equal value. It throws out ideas that healthcare is only for the rich, or violent crime is okay as long as it's in poor neighborhoods or third world countries. 

This description of Catholic morality* is rooted in the idea that God created people as inherently very good, so a person's worth is not dependent on their tangible skill sets. (Can they speak well? Did they attend a good school? Are they athletic? What is their earning potential? Can they breathe on their own? Are they attractive? Can they move their legs?)

But I don't think making moral choices, in and of itself, is the end purpose of life (though it might make for easier eulogies). I want my kids to live moral lives, because I believe it mirrors God. It's an opportunity for them to experience God in their everyday lives.

To treat others well, is to recognize their worth as God sees his creation. To choose the good of another, even over my own convenience or desire, is a participation in how Jesus loves humanity. 

So yes, I hope raising our kids in the Catholic Church will help them be "good" kids -- kind, generous and considerate, in general, moral. But ultimately, it's not the reason we show up for Mass each week. 

My hope in raising our kids Catholic is that they will experience and love the mystery of God incarnate among us. And then live out this encounter in their lives.

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*When I refer to Catholic morality,  please let me clarify that I refer to the teachings within Catholicism itself, not to any inherently secular political party that presumes to represent those teachings. 

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