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Four year old Frank was sitting with his brother in the bath, and out of nowhere asked me, “Do you believe in God, Mama?” I paused before trying a classic deflection technique- “Well, what do you believe?” He didn’t skip a beat- “You first.” Damn it.
I was raised Catholic but my family isn’t especially devout. As is often the case, my grandparents are, but my parents less so. My brothers and I went to a Catholic school. And although we didn’t attend Church every Sunday, we did ‘show our faces’ (as my Dad would say) periodically, and definitely on Easter and Christmas.
I identified myself as a Catholic well into my teenage years when I was confirmed, and into my adulthood, even as my Christmas attendance became increasingly sparse as the years went by. My husband and I were married in a Church (albeit a Church of England, purely due to its tantalizingly close location to our reception venue). My two boys had Catholic Christenings. And somewhere along the way, I realised that my Catholism wasn’t based on faith any more. I was clinging to it because it was my heritage. And being proud of your heritage, and believing in and practising a religion, are two very different things.
Anyway, now back to the bathtub and the God question. My husband is a proud and unapologetic atheist. So I was pretty sure, that if I consulted him on it, he’d support whatever I wanted to say. I knew that Frank was asking because it was Easter time. They had been learning about the Easter story and also about the Holi festival at school. So we’d spoken about Radha, Krishna, as well as Jesus in the last few weeks. He doesn’t attend a religious school, so he is learning about religion in a very different way from how I was taught many moons ago.
In that moment, in our bathroom, I suddenly felt I’m being confronted with my own mini existential crisis- Do I believe in God anymore? And at that point, when my children’s lovely clean faces were looking up at me, I got this resounding and clear answer in my mind- No.
Those years of prayer, the Sunday school, nuns, confirmation retreats, Holy Communion in white dresses and lighting candles in Church at advent, are all part of my childhood experience and my heritage; but no- I do not believe in God. I’m quite a firm believer in something else though- telling my children the truth. Obviously this comes with certain exceptions (he doesn’t need to know what really happened to all those mini eggs). I don’t want to dissuade any budding faith, but I don’t want to lie to him about my beliefs either. But where possible, I would like to tell the truth to them, or a child-friendly version.
So I took a deep breath and I said “No, I don’t, but lots of people do, and whatever you believe we will be absolutely okay with”. Frank reflected on this in silence for a moment. I thought we were about to embark on a discussion about religion, God and faith, the nature of good and evil, and the paradox of free will. I frantically tried to remember my R.E classes and my brief flirtation with philosophy courses at Cardiff University. I needn’t have panicked, he simply turned to his brother and said- “I believe in Batman.” “Me too, boys. Me too”, I sighed in relief.