We, no doubt like thousands of parents up and down the land, recently received a letter from our son’s school, explaining the details for the school Christmas carol service in the local church and asking if we agreed to his attendance or if we wanted him to stay behind in school whilst it was taking place.
Now I am a Christian, I sometimes preach and lead worship in my church, I often am asked to help other people on their faith journeys and I have a regular pattern of prayer at home. My partner, too, is a committed Christian. It would be fair to say that our joint faith in Christ has a huge influence on all aspects of our life both individually and as a couple.
But out sons, to put it simply, are not. They are atheist and agnostic respectively.
Maybe, as some will no doubt claim, they are going through the teenage rebellion years – being 15 and 19 respectively this would certainly fit. Maybe, as others will presume, they are trying to shock, or trying to provoke argument, or something similar – certainly their delight in a strange juxtaposition of black clothing, heavy metal music, and the kid’s TV show, My Little Pony, can be fairly shocking,(particularly hearing them talk excitedly about the adventures of Twilight Sparkle and friends whilst listening to the heaviest of heavy metal guitars….)
But I personally don’t think they are being rebellious, or trying to be shocking, or trying to provoke argument. They are both intelligent, kind, respectful, honest, considerate boys who show an amazing depth of thought when you start to discuss any of the big questions of the day with them. They both are aware of current affairs and political arguments. They both were brought up Roman Catholic until they made their first Communion and from their early exposure to church as well as other opportunities, learned a lot about Christianity. Both of them know a substantial amount about other faiths as well. Their identities as agnostic and atheist are well thought out, well considered and intelligently decided.
But, to come back to the letter from the school, it was worded in a way which asked for our position as parents. It asked for our decision based on our faith. It made no mention of the faith of our son, nor had any suggestion that attendance at the church would be discussed with him. It seemed as if his wishes were irrelevant to the question. And I couldn’t, with good conscience, let it pass as it stood – I felt I had to do something, say something, to the school to prompt them to ask for my son’s opinion.
If I, as a Christian, wish to be respected in my faith, wish to be allowed to practise my faith and wish to be consulted about things that may impact on my faith, how on earth can I, even for a second, impose my beliefs on others? The imposition of a belief system or religion is just as bad as the imposition of state-sanctioned racism or state-sanctioned homophobia.
So I fully and wholeheartedly respect my son’s positions regarding faith and belief, and they, in turn, respect mine. And if my son’s school think for a second I will act any differently then I pity them.