As we approach the holidays, we are often reminded of just how much religion permeates our culture. Christmas trees, menorahs, Kwanzaa traditions, Santa at the mall (for children who believe), holiday music on every radio station. December also marks the beginning of the Islamic New Year.
We can’t get away from it. During this time of year, symbols of faith are ubiquitous.
With the exception of some extremists who feel their holiday is not getting enough attention, most people seem happy to celebrate alongside others who share different beliefs. We should not take this for granted, because when it comes to improving the lives of children who are raised with faith, one of the biggest obstacles seems to be disdain for other people’s beliefs.
I used to condemn various religions until I realized that being part of a belief system is in our DNA. Even if we put aside everything that has to do with God-worship, each of us believes in something that is not empirically known. For example, I believe that if everybody began putting away our shopping carts, instead of leaving them in the parking lot for attendants to put away, our communities would be a little friendlier. I believe time and space are infinite. I believe my daughter will grow up to be even more caring and passionate than she already is.
Yet you would be hard pressed to find anyone who believes just what I do. So, in the quest to make this world a better place —and protecting kids from being religiously abused or neglected —it’s counterproductive to spend our energy debating the legitimacy of another’s faith. I’m not saying we have to respect other people’s beliefs, only that we should accept the fact that every person has his or her own ideas about what feels true, and move on. If we don’t, we get caught up in a theological quagmire that prevents us from helping children and others who are victimized by religious belief.
What is productive when considering our different faiths? I suggest we ask the question, what impact does our faith have on others? The focus of my work, of course, has been on the welfare of children, who often get little say about what belief systems they subscribe to. Therefore, I ask, does carrying out your beliefs help the children in your life? Could it be harming them?
This holiday season, I propose that we take time to not just revel in our own beliefs, but also think about how our beliefs affect society’s youngest members. I’m going to think about that the next time my daughter and I are out buying holiday gifts and I tell her to put away the shopping cart.