An atheist dishes on St. Francis (or, transubstantiation is gross)
Posted on June 22nd, 2012
Yes, we’re atheists. No, I still haven’t gotten over the guy on “Darwin Day” who chastised me for my child’s Biblical name. Was I supposed to name Pea “Skeptical Serenity” or something? What the heck? (The guy, by the way, bears the name of an archangel.) After that, I was done with organized skeptic groups. For one thing, they feel like church coffee hours. I know church coffee hours, having done hundreds of them, and, well…why would I do that, only with people who are even more holier-than-thou than most church goers? Oh, irony.
Anyway. Both my husband and I have religious backgrounds. He was something of a religious wingnut before I met him, but if I’m remembering correctly, he came to atheism before I did. And yes, we gave our kid a Biblical name. We like it. Everyone else needs to get the heck over it.
So, that said:
Not too far from us is the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother (“the Grotto”). I don’t know what it means, really, because I am completely ignorant of Catholic everything. Admittedly, every time I’ve gone to a Catholic church I develop ADHD because I am so busy looking at all the pictures and statues. They have art! In the sanctuary! And all the candles! I can’t pay attention to anything else. I do get weirded out by the body on the cross; if we’re going to parse theology, I’m more into the risen Christ then the dying one. Also, transubstantiation is gross.
But we’re atheists. And yet, it’s a favorite place for me to take Pea. The grounds are gorgeous, there are birds everywhere, and it’s calm and peaceful. If you pay $4, you can take an elevator up the mountain and walk around and enjoy more gardens and a lovely view.
It’s also where Pea discovered Francis of Assisi. There’s a statute of Francis with the animals in the upper gardens. It’s her favorite place. She loves him and the stories about him. (Yep, we keep to the animal stories. I’m not explaining stigmata to a five-year-old, no way.)
Yesterday I asked what she wanted to do (thinking the Grotto was as far as I wanted to drive) and she coincidentally said “St. Francis!” We looked up Francis of Assisi online and talked about his life, and she asked me how to spell his name. I did, wrote it out for her, and she drew a picture of him with a lot of animals, including ostriches.
We visited the statute and walked through the grounds. Fortunately, she didn’t ask about any of the statutes showing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, because like stigmata, I’m not ready for that one yet. But the labyrinth! We walked it twice, because it’s just that much fun for a five-year-old to go on a life-sized maze.
I can only wonder what Atheist Archangel-Name thinks about skeptics teaching their child about St. Francis. Our reaction is why not? It’s cultural literacy — and it’s a good story. He was a man who was kind to animals. What’s not to like about that? The Grotto is not some sort of religious gateway drug.
My feeling is keeping your child from all exposure to religion is only going to make them more interested in it later on. Let them figure it out for themselves. If Pea gets to an age where she wants to go to church — we’ll take her. Hey, I still like singing hymns.