This past Sunday we attended a friend's baby's christening. As both of us are humanists, we aren't in churches very often (in fact, I think the last time was three years ago at the Christening of the older sibling), but I always enjoy attending religious ceremonies as a chance to learn things first hand, experience others' traditions, and share in something that is an important part of other people's lives. The church, Skedsmo kirke, was built in around 1180, making it the oldest building in county. When the priest mentioned that the baptismal font dated from around 800 years ago, I got a shiver down my spine thinking of all the thousands of children that had been through the same exactly ceremony over so many hundreds of years.
We had a (Norwegian) humanist naming ceremony for the Troll, a secular equivalent, where sermons on God, and hymns about how all-knowing he is, are replaced by speeches on friendship and songs about free thinking. This post isn't abut the equivalence of the ceremonies as such, although, one day, I do plan on writing about how annoying it is that people consider the secular naming ceremony a lesser thing, or a theft of the religious tradition, ignoring the fact that celebrating a child entering the world is not the exclusive domain of the God-fearing.
As I suppose it was intended, the priests sermon during the christening really got me thinking -, though I'm not sure he would have liked where my thoughts ended up. The sermon began with a little story about watching some of the Rio Olympics on TV that morning, and how, through the wonders of modern technology he was able to watch an act of history in the making. He could be reliably confident that what what he had witnessed was true because he could corroborate the details with with other sources of information, like news websites on the internet. This story segued with equal measure of delight and torture into how with know the Bible to be True.
You see, stories in the Bible of Jesus turning water into wine, feeding the five thousand, or rising from the dead, or any of the other miraculous things what were reported to have happened, have to be true because the apostles said that they had witnessed the events as they happened and had faithfully (no pun intended) written them down. We know that these stories, written 2000 years ago, are true because people like John the Baptist said so, and why would we have cause to doubt them?
This is, of course, tautological nonsense. But this is not an anti-religious rant. What it got me really thinking about was how I am going to approach reasoning with the Lykketroll. For the priest 'because I said so' was a satisfying enough answer; one so satisfying that he has devoted his entire life the ideas that are claimed to be true. But I want the Lykketroll to be able work through and really consider the reasons for this beliefs, thoughts and actions and not rely on faith or deference to authority. I think that helping him be able to do this is the single most important thing I can do for him as his parent.
At the moment, I am the equivalent of God to the Lykketroll. I am all-knowing and all-powerful, and I control everything that happens to him. Right now, I don't even have to provide reasons for why he has to go to bed even though he hates sleeping, why he has to finish his porridge, or not chase the cats whilst wildly waving his wooden hammer. At some point though, I will have to start explaining things, and slowly teaching him to question things, without, somehow, undermining my authority as his parent and guardian.
Evidence of distinct parenting styles and their actual impact on how the child turn out later in life is a little shaky but I think they are useful to think about. I am doing to do my darndest to be an authoritative parent as this method of parenting comes more naturally and sounds more reasonable to me:
'Because I said so' is the equivalent of throwing a bucket of water on the fire of curiosity. It kills critical thinking and the exploration and discussion of ideas. I want the Lykketroll to know that rules, beliefs, decisions and actions should have reasons, and that his curiosity is always valid and always worthy of a response.
Of course, it could all backfire spectacularly as there's no guarantee that I'll get the desired response, or that my reasons/explanations will be good enough, however reasonable they are.
I can already see that my wife and I have to have some conversations about exactly how we're going to approach this as she has a tendency to learn towards the authoritarian, and has legitimate concerns about just how effective this kind of democratic parenting is. I know that I've have to reign in my wooly liberal tendencies in order for it to actually work.
I am fully aware that reasoning with a small child is like playing chess with a pigeon, but I'm hoping that by giving him reasons for my decisions, and teaching him that it is important to always ask questions, I am equipping him to think for himself. I am genuinely looking forward to the day when the Lykketroll's favourite and first answer to everything is why.