A long time ago, I fretted about how I would teach my child about religion, or how I would give him a strong foundation in religion upon which he could build or against which he could rebel. Eventually, I accepted that I couldn't really think it into a neat package or plan for how those conversations would develop as he got older.
Now, though, some of those conversations have begun to happen. Yesterday, when taking out the trash, I noticed a small orange tabby cat wobbling around in a panic in our back yard. She tried to escape me, but couldn't move very well. She clearly couldn't make it over the fence. I tried to reassure her, and then went inside to summon the big guns: my wife. She has a history of taking care of cats, including strays. We theorized that this poor kitty had a broken leg, or a dislocated hip, that accounted for her terribly wobbly walk, caught her, put her in a cat carrier, and took her to the vet. It was a family affair, with all 3 of us going, including Thumper. He was very sweet, speaking soothingly and reassuring her, "It's OK, kitty," as we drove.
It turned out that the poor kitty had no chip, had no tags, and had FIV. Her wobbly walk was neurological, not physical, resulting from the ravages of the disease. With our own kitties to consider, we could not take her in. With no way to identify an owner, we couldn't send her home. And of course we couldn't just send her back out into the neighborhood to die slowly and painfully on her own. So we talked about it. Thumper decided that she needed a name, so he dubbed her "Emerson." Then we euthanized her.
Thumper had many questions, some of which went back to the death of our last two kitties, Puck and Tasha. I'm not quite as bad these days as I was in 2010, when I apparently felt like I was undercover here in the religious suburbs, but still, these conversations make me a little uncomfortable. I want him to be able to talk about it, though, so I did my best to answer honestly.
He wanted to know about Heaven, and whether Emerson would be alive again there. He wanted to know what it looked like. I fell back on the "some people believe" version of the story, but didn't commit to anything related to "I believe..." He seemed satisfied and didn't push the conversation much beyond that point.
Today, though, he asked me if anyone could count to infinity. I said, no, no one could count to infinity because it's endless. No matter what number you could count to, no matter how big that number was, infinity would be more. He said, "But God could count to infinity, right? Because He's special." So I asked him, "Buddy, it seems like you have a lot of questions about God, and Heaven, and Jesus. I don't really know the answers, but if you want to go to church or to Sunday school and learn more about this stuff, I'd be happy to go with you." He said, "No thanks." His Mama piped in with finding books about different religions and learning more about the variety of things that people believe about God. He was still uninterested. So I tried to make it more personal, mentioning a friend of his whose family is very religious, and I told him that we could check out their church with them. Maybe he could go to Sunday school with his friend.
No, he was still not interested.
So maybe I was right that without Belief, I can't help him find Belief. But I feel good that we've left the conversation open and have shown a willingness to talk about it and to help him find other resources for learning if he wants to. I suspect that no matter what we do, it'll be wrong in one way or another, but we're trying, and I hope that means a lot in the end.