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.