« The first blogger baby of 2004 | Main | pass the geritol »

straight to hell, boys

[click for bigger image]I'm in the car with the son last night. The radio's on - KROCK, whose motto should be, You listen to us because you really don't have another rock alternative in New York! - and one of those indistinguishable bands is singing another indistinguishable song about being lovesick, but in an ironic, sarcastic kind of way, and you hear the very distinguishable sound of a word being cut out. It would not take a genius to know that the lovelorn singer just dropped the f-bomb. In an ironic way, of course.

Now, this is no big deal. Both my kids have CDs with that Tipper-induced Parental Warning: Rock Bands Cuss! on the cover. It's not a big issue with us; we if we deny them a CD they want, it's usually due to sexual content, not cursing. After all, they've been in the car with me when someone cuts me off or blocks an intersection or tailgates me in the right lane. There's not many words they haven't heard.

My point is...what was my point? Oh, yes. In the car. With the son. Not so professionaly edited F-word on the radio. No big whoop, right? Well, the son - who will be 11 this month - drops this on me.

Son: How come if God sends you to hell if you cursed in life, then everyone curses so much?
Me: Ummm...God doesn't send you to hell for cursing. As far as I know, hell is for (I resist the urge to break out into Pat Benatar's Hell is for Children) murderers. People like that.

If you know me, you know my dilemma here. Me: atheist/agnostic/something in between. Kids: Catholic, by default. So when the subject of religion comes up I rely on my vast repository of Catholic school/Catechism lessons and try to give them honest answers while teaching them the proper moral lesson for the subject at hand without bible thumping or preaching. It's a tough balancing act.

They go to church with their father - sometimes. When the mood to be pious strikes him, I suppose. They've done the religious instruction thing, received their sacraments, ate the wafer and made the face of digust just like their mother before them.

I gave up doing the Sunday School school thing with them. Often, their father would bail out and I'd have to take them and what I saw and heard there didn't really thrill me. The day we went for a group lesson - right before Easter about three years ago - and the instructor's point of the day was that poor people wouldn't be poor if they just had more faith in Jesus, we made some excuse to stop showing up for class and I did the rest of the lessons at home with them.

Well, sort of. I would scan that week's chapter, read the additional material provided and then come up with my own lesson, which was nothing more than a plea for my children to have good morals. You don't need readings from the Old Testament to teach your kids how to treat their fellow man.

So, back to hell and the f-word. I suddenly feel guilty for telling my son that God only sends murderers and such to hell when I don't believe in God or hell at all. This is the same guilt some parents get when telling their kids about the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. You know some day the truth will be told and then your kids will call you a liar and you'll have to explain why it's not really a lie, we were just trying to put some magic in their lives, but face it. They never really trust you again. It's the case of the Mom who Cried Tooth Fairy. Now they'll never believe you when you tell them that Dick Cheney really does exist.

Now what do I say to my son about hell? Do I tell him that fire and brimstone await him if continues to badger his sister about her spelling skills? Do I use something I don't believe in to my advantage - much like the He Knows When You Are Sleeping method of December behavior management - and become what I hated most about the adults in my life when I was a child? You know, that whole God is watching you and he'll punish you if you tease your sister again thing, or do I tell him that there's no such thing as hell (well, at least I don't think there is), but you will develop cold sores on your tongue every time your curse? Hmm. Advantage: Me.

We finally get home and we sit down for our nightly battle of Trivial Pursuit Junior, a game at which my son kicks my ass regularly, due to the fact (according to him, anyhow) that I'm too old to remember any of the basic things I learned back in school. Yes, all those years ago. Uphill both ways. Ten feet of snow. Etc.

The tv is on. CNN, Fox, one of the news channels that is constantly in the background in my home. They cut to the story about the bastard who killed his ten month old child and then kidnapped his other children. The son is horrified. He listens, entranced by the story of a father who could just murder his own family. Finally, I hit the mute button and roll the dice.

Mom, he says. I think God made hell for this. Guys like him. Not people who curse.

I just nod and give him a tight smile. So what if I'm leading him to believe something I don't? Who knows, he may be right and I may be wrong. We won't know until it's too late to throw that chapter into the catechism book. Meanwhile, there's no harm in letting a very sensitive eleven year old boy think that God gets even with people like Jerry William Jones, eventually. Let him think the world and what lies beyond is a balanced universe, where the bad guys roast after they die and the good guys float on clouds. In another year or so when he's in middle school, he'll get all cynical like the rest of them. For now, I'll encourage his belief that wrongs get righted in the afterlife.

I let one slip after I get an answer wrong (What mammal uses echolocation? I thought it was dolphins, he knew without looking that the answer was bats), I think I said shit or damn or something. I cover my mouth like I always do when I curse in front of the kids (I actually need a muzzle when I'm playing video games) and the son says, at least you're not going to hell for that, mom.

Well, no. Not for that. I'm sure if there is a hell there's a handbasket waiting for me at the gates. But that's another morality tale for another day. Bible not included.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference straight to hell, boys:

» Pa'l infierno... from Babalu Blog
Loved this post by Michele at "A Small Victory". Very interesting reading for interfaith mommies and daddies.... [Read More]

» LOTD is U from Technically Speaking
I am maintaining my day behind schedule. Maybe one day I will get in sync with Kate. Here we go. U is for unbelievable. -- This site is full of unbelievable things. U is for unpunctual. This is a bit disappointing. U is for underworld's use. U is for u... [Read More]

» Going To Hell from CALIFORNIA YANKEE
Michele, of A Small Victory, offers this frank and funny post about how she managed to survive a religous discussion with her 11 year-old son. It's worth your time. Go read it. [Read More]

» Cultural Christianity VS Common Sense from Graphictruth
Michelle wrestles with the whole concept of hell in the context of her own agon/athiesm while trying to do the Right Thing by kids raised Catholic. This is not easy - especially if you have some significant doubts as to whether Church teachngs might no... [Read More]

» LOTD is U from Technically Speaking
I am maintaining my day behind schedule. Maybe one day I will get in sync with Kate. Here we go. U is for unbelievable. -- This site is full of unbelievable things. U is for unpunctual. This is a bit... [Read More]


Excellent: One of those blog-gems that you hope for in your daily browing pursuits but that you rarely find.
Honest and thought provoking. I loved the jump to Dick Cheney. That's what really caught my attention, it was the hook that reeled me into really reading it.

Oh yeah! The hand basket line was pretty good too.

For some reason, I'm reminded of the Catholic toilet-training book found on the Family Guy:

"You're a Naughty, Naughty boy, and That's Concentrated Evil Coming out the Back of You"

I really don't know the meaning of the word "off-topic"

Teased your sister, huh? Rooted against the Red Sox, huh? Yep, straight to he**, you know, heck!

Theologically speaking, of course.

Thanks for the great post, Michele. I know exactly what you mean, except I'm the (non-practicing) Catholic, and my hubby's the agnostic. I'm gonna have him read this...

My Mom's motto about cursing consisted of two points:

1. You're gonna hear it, so you might as well hear it from me first. (She defined them as best she could too, if we asked.)

2. Don't curse in my house until you're 18. Then you can do whatever the bleep you want....

That Trivial Pursuit card was defective: good questions for that game shouldn't have multiple possible answers. FWIW, you were right, too, since as I understand it dolphins also use echolocation.

I dunno, it's probably not a bad idea to live one's life as if there IS a Hell, just in case. It's not like learning 'Thou shalt not murder' and 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ass' are Bad Things.
At my wife's insistance our grown kids were raised in her church, they turned out fine and I doubt that my wonderful parenting skills had a lot to do with that. I'm certainly not a religious man, just a retired Deputy Sheriff. I do know that the vast majority of people I locked up were not raised as regular church goers. Is there a causual or casual relationship? Dunno. As hard as raising good kids and turning them into good adults is, anything that tilts the odds won't hurt. Was it hypocracy to send the kids (mostly I worked the graveyard shift and didn't get home in time to take them) to Sunday AM services? Was it hypocracy to sit there through the Wednesday evening services with the kids when I don't know and don't much care if the Preacher was preaching Revealed Truth or horsecrap? Probably. The kids turned out alright, though.
Klebold and Harris of Columbine were not raised in a church. I would submit that their parents could have used a little of my hypocracy.

Hell is the natural consequence for sin. Cursing is not a sin, but disobeying your parents, lying, and theft are sinful. Every human has sinned at least once, and therefore is deserving of hell, since 1) sinful people are not allowed in heaven (holy God cannot accept unholiness) and 2) sin deserves death.

The good news is that Jesus paid the punnishment for our sin by dying. So if we accept that price paid, we can go to heaven even though we are sinful. We can 'wear' his righteousness.

You can't 'pay' for your own sin with good deeds. You CAN pay for it with your eternal soul. If you would rather not pay for your own sin, you can accept that Jesus paid for it. It's your choice.

So, I can get up to heaven, have St. Peter tell me I sucked as a person and then say "Well that's ok. I may have been a serial killer, but hey, Jesus took those nails for me so I don't have to repent. Now where's my wings?"

Curious that I read that Senator Ose wants the 'seven deadly words' permanently banned from TV in today's paper.

No, Michele, it doesn't quite work THAT way, either. I'm not Catholic, but more and more lately, I find myself leaning toward the necessity of some type of Purgatory...if for no other reason than to handle cases like the one you describe.

But I don't want to debate theology. I just wanted to make the observation that, from the picture you've provided, it looks like the Fires of Hell are erupting from Satan's nether regions...which, for all I know, may indeed be the case.

Seriously, though, a little religious instruction is not going to do your kids any harm. Your atheism/agnosticism is ultimately a matter of faith, as is their child-like trust in the limited Church teaching they've received thus far. They'll make up their own minds later on. And if they decide, against your own judgement, to follow the way of the Cross -- or even some other way, for that matter -- I'm sure you'll love them just the same. Seems to me you're doing a pretty good job of it right now.

Without getting into specific beliefs about Heaven and Hell or why someone would go, I'll just comment on one thing. I do think it's different for you to talk about Hell to your son than to talk about the Easter Bunny or Santa. You know it's you who puts the presents under the tree on Christmas morning. You don't believe in Heaven or Hell, but you don't 'know' there's not one. Just like I don't 'know' that there is one. It's just what I choose to believe. This isn't a factual thing you are lying about. It's a belief you are allowing him to hold until he's old enough to decide for himself even though you don't hold it personally. There is a difference.

FYI--Dolphins also use echolocation, so you were right about that one even if the Trivial Pursuit card wanted bats as the answer.


The theories on Hell are theologically diverse. The bottom line is that Hell is where you pay for your sins. No bible thumping, but the Old Testament had the Old Covenant, which was the 10 Commandments, a score card for going to heaven or hell, the New Testament has the New Covenant, which is the Golden Rule, which is "Do unto your neighbor that which You would do unto yourself", which is a measuring stick as it were as to your acceptability for heaven. So theoretically, and all these thoughts are either theory or philosophical anyway, if you were a serial killer, and you meet your Maker, he will ask you if you have treated your neighbor as you would have treated yourself, and in the face of the Maker's grace, you would have no choice but to be honest, and based on your answer, the Maker decides your eternal vacation spot.

My parents were hypocrites and proud of it. They could curse like sailors but we weren't even allowed to say "oh God!" unless we were actually asking said deity for something. My parents rarely went to church, but my sister and I had to go with my grandmother to church every Sunday (Methodist or Presbyterian; how I envied my Episcopal and Catholic friends whose churches had all sorts of pretty colors and rituals and things the plain white-painted churches I went to didn't). We also weren't allowed to drink or smoke, or go with the grownups to see the grownup movie ("It's for grownups," "You're not old enough," "When you're older," and so on were the mantras I grew used to hearing), or do loads of things that they made clear were For Adults Only. Did I resent that? Sure, lots of times. But now -- I am glad they gave me that kind of childhood. I recall that when they finally started letting us into their adult world (too soon and more due to the growing dysfunction of their marriage and their alcoholism) it was not the privileged, wonderful realm I had imagined.

The moral of my story? Um, well -- don't feel guilty about being a "hypocrite" to your kids. You don't let them drive your car yet, do you? Then why would you dump an adult load of "reality" on them before they can handle it?

Michele, Great post. It's a tough position for you to be in. I wonder, however, why you see the benefits of a somewhat religious upbringing. Putting the whole "I survived Catholic school" thing aside for a moment, there's really some great stuff in it all, don't you think? My 17 year old niece asked me to be her confirmation sponsor right at a time in which I was going through as bit of a "rough patch" concerning my faith. I had to suggest my little sister for a sponsor. THAT was humbling.

Regarding cussing and what NOT to do. I submit that Catholicism is not a religion of subtraction, but rather a faith/religion of addition. It's not about what you can't do, but about what you don't HAVE to do anymore and what you are free to do as a result of faith. Grace builds on nature and all that...

Oh, to end my homilette: Serial killers can covert and get to heaven? (Well, maybe after some serious time in Purgatory. We're talking folding the chairs when they shut it all down.)We can be scandalized (and I think we should be) and we can also be awed at the great mercy and magnanimty of God who we can not judge as we do other humans. He's a bit bigger than that I'd say.

Thanks for a thought provoking post.