Four year old Frank was sitting with his brother in the bath this week and out of nowhere asked me; ‘do you believe in God, mama?’. I paused before offering up a classic deflection technique; ‘well, what do you believe?’ He didn’t skip a beat – ‘you first’. Damn it.
I was raised Catholic but my family aren’t especially devout; as is often the case my Grandparents are, but my parents less so. My brothers and I went to a Catholic school and although we didn’t attend Church every Sunday, we did ‘show our faces’ (as my Dad would say) periodically, and definitely at Easter and Christmas. I identified myself as Catholic well into my teenage years, when I was confirmed, and into my adulthood, although even my Christmas attendance became increasingly sparse as the years went by. My two boys had Catholic Christenings however, and my husband and I were married in a Church (albeit a Church of England one, purely due to its tantalisingly close location to our reception venue). Yet somewhere along the way I realised that my Catholism wasn’t based faith any more; I was clinging to it because it’s my heritage. And being proud of your heritage, and believing in and practising a religion, are two very different things.
So back to the bath tub and the God question. My husband is a proud and unapologetic atheist so I was pretty sure that if I consulted him on it he’d support whatever I wanted to say. I knew that Frank was asking because its Easter time; they have been learning about the Easter story at school, and he’d also been learning about Holi, so we’d spoken about Radha and Krishna as well as Jesus in the last few weeks. He doesn’t attend a religious school and is learning about religion in a very different way to how I was taught many moons ago. I don’t want to dissuade any budding faith, but I don’t want to lie to him about my own beliefs either. And suddenly I’m confronted with my own mini existential crisis; do I believe in God anymore? In that moment, in our bathroom with my children’s lovely clean faces looking up at me, it was a resounding and clear thought – no. Those years of prayer, and Sunday school, and nuns, and confirmation retreats, and Holy Communion in the white dresses and lighting candles in Church at advent; they are all part of my childhood experience and my heritage but no – I do not believe in God.
I’m quite a firm believer in something else though; telling your children the truth. Obviously this comes with certain exceptions (he doesn’t need to know what really happened to all those mini eggs) but where possible, I would like to tell the truth to them, or a child friendly version. So I took a deep breath and I said ‘no, I don’t, but lots of people do, and whatever you believe we will be absolutely ok with’. Frank reflected on this in silence for a moment, and I thought we were about to embark on a discussion about religion and God and faith, the nature of good and evil, and the paradox of free will. I frantically tried to remember my R.E classes and my brief flirtation with Philosophy courses at Cardiff Uni. I needn’t have panicked, he simply turned to his brother and said – ‘I believe in Batman’. Me too, boys. Me too.