As a secularist and an atheist, my biggest issue with our daughter attending school – where she is really thriving – has been how religious teaching, specifically Christianity, has become part of her education. This is despite it being a non-faith state school.
They focused on the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and about his crucifixion & resurrection in the lead up to Easter. The way this has been presented – or at least interpreted by our daughter – has been as history, and she now even self identifies as a Christian.
Rather than rage against this development, I have decided to engage with her spark of interest in the story of Jesus. Despite my atheism, I embrace the importance of Christianity to the development of our culture.
I also appreciate that the religion has inspired some of the greatest art and architecture for many centuries. Churches and cathedrals remain some of my favourite buildings. Encouraging an appreciation of all of these fruits of religious inspiration is something I am keen to do.
But what of the story of Jesus? How do I – as an atheist – embrace that? Well it is a great story, full of rich characters and drama. I have no doubt that there are elements of truth in it, especially the political aspects of the story.
I also think there is a great deal to discuss in terms of how history is recorded and written. I believe the Romans have been depicted far more favourably than they deserve, in order to help with the spread of Christianity in the centuries that followed.
It also seems clear that the role of the Jewish church leaders has been unfairly depicted in comparison – that has led to centuries of anti-Semitism being justified.
Additionally, I think the only thing of note I picked up from Dan Brown’s lamentable thriller The Da Vinci Code, is the role of Mary Magdalene, and how she has been rewritten from her importance as an apostle – and perhaps even his wife – to become a prostitute that Jesus ‘saves’.
But I found a really rich seam of discussion with our daughter around the clear influence on the superhero tales we love to share. Superman especially has many echoes with the story of Jesus (along with Moses and the Jewish myth of the Golem) – he is sent to earth by a wise man from the stars, and then raised by humans, to fight for humanity with incredible powers inherited from his heavenly home. In the 1978 movie these parallels are more overt, with Jor-el depicted in a god-like fashion, the missing part of the story between being a child and manhood, and Superman even raises someone from the dead, Lazarus style.
To me, I just treat Jesus’ miracles as examples of him using his superpowers to help those in need – just like a superhero.
This has been useful in hopefully sowing the seeds of our daughter appreciating the story of Jesus as just that – a story. And the fact remains that while she currently believes in Jesus, miracles and all, she also believes in Father Christmas and dragons.
I should also take heart in the fact that as a child, I was presented with a far more religious upbringing, involving Sunday School, daily religious instruction at school, and no contrary opinions being shared – and look at the heathen I turned out to be!
9 thoughts on “Jesus Christ? He’s just another superhero…”
I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with how Christianity is taught at my boys school, much of it as unquestionable fact.
Then I remember that like you, I was also brought up with church and Sunday school etc and it didn’t stop me becoming an atheist.
Throw in some Buddhist festivals (my partner being a non-practising Buddhist), a couple of Hindu Temple open days and the excellent visitmymosque.org event and I’m hopeful they’re developing a much wider understanding of all religions than is necessarily taught at school, at least enough to appreciate it’s far from a binary subject.
Yes, talking/exposing them to other religions really important too.
Thanks for this viewpoint which is definitely relevant in our similar situation!
Our primary school is “non-denominational”… I’m still not clear if that means non-religious, I suspect not but it’s the closest we get in Scotland. But to be fair to them after the “Jesus as fact” stories coming home in the first term we also got a “factual” story about Shiva and someone being born from a lotus flower in the second.
I just couple that with all the other fantastical tales I share with my daughter. As I mention, Superman has so many biblical links that it offers a clear path to treating superheroes as similar mythology.
We’ve been having these conversations with friends about this very thing. Easter, going to its origins, is all about new life in the natural world. Are we keen our daughter being taught dreadful tales about crucifixion rather than celebrating the arrival of springtime? Not at all, but we’re likely going to get stuck with it through the education system as it is. Your experience, as with mine, of having a religious education and coming out okay at the end is some consolation but the undue prominence of religion feels archaic in 2017.
Yeah, a lot of this is managing a situation I wish I wasn’t in, but am trying to turn it into a positive. I’d like to get into discussing the way early christian church appropriated Jewish and pagan festivals to spread the gospel, but this year we have gone into the crucifixion – I feel if she’s getting taught it she should begin to understand it.
I never really enjoyed learning about Christianity in RE, but when I look back at my school days, I remember fondly, walking up to the village Church at Easter, and for the harvest festival and such (probably because it meant time out of school!), and it is something that id like my daughter to do when she reaches school age. But i’m not sure how i’d feel with it being pushed on children in the actual classrooms, it seems that time would be better served dedicated to Maths or Science. School is for learning, not listening to fairy tales.
This is very relevant to me at the moment and a useful way of looking at things. My 4 year old has just started at a CofE school (we didn’t really have a choice in the matter as we didn’t get a place at the only non-church school in our town). Already he has come home saying God is a man who lives in the sky, and he made us. As an atheist I’m finding it quite hard to stomach – I’ve just bought some age appropriate books about world religions, evolution and the Big Bang, so I’m hoping they will help lead discussions about other religions and atheism. Like you and some other commenters have said though – I was raised as a Christian with weekly Sunday school etc and I decided for myself at about 12 that I didn’t believe any of it so there is hope!
Just like everyone else has said, this is also particularly relevant to us at the moment. Like Sarah above, our son attends a CofE school, despite his Dad and I both being atheists. I have struggled a lot with how not to impress my own views on to him, just like the school are – so that Im not following a bad example. Its really hard to find a way to make him understand that school are teaching him facts (maths, science) and fiction (the bible). He believes (almost) every word his teachers tell him, and why wouldnt he, he’s 5!
Thank you so much for this inspired idea! Next time my son starts the conversation, I will begin to explore how similar Jesus is to Superman, and start to sow the seed that perhaps not all things that school tells him is real.