My 10 year old son asked me yesterday, seemingly out of the blue, "Why did Hitler want to kill the Jews?" I said, "I don't know for sure, but it happened in the context of a long history of people persecuting the Jews." "How?" he asked. "Well, people blamed them for things they weren't responsible for, like disease." He asked, "You mean like the Black Plague?" "Yes, like the Black ," I said, slowly shaking my head. Then he asked, "Do Muslums hate homosexuals?" I said, "Probably." He asked me if I had ever read the Q'uran, and I said that I had tried but did not get very far. I kept silent about why. I hate it that my little boy has to ask these questions to understand our world.
His list of questions is wide-ranging: "Why do people believe the Bible is true?" "Do people really believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster?" How do we know that the Bib Bang Happened?" My answers, in a nutshell, were "Because that is what they were indoctrinated to believe," "I certainly hope not!" and "Because scientists have found evidence that supports the theory."
I am grateful, however, that he feels free to ask me, and that I can give him answers which, I hope, will engender understanding and not contribute to further prejudice and misinformation. I find myself being strangely generous in my description of Christians as I answer his incessant questions about religion. I don't want him to adopt the hateful, angry ranting he sees on YouTube videos from atheists. I completely understand their ranting, and have done some ranting myself, but now I can see that is not the way to go for me.
I encourage him to learn more about the subjects for himself, instead of being able to spew back what other people are saying about them. I try to do this myself. I want him to understand that people often believe what they believe because of where and to whom they were born, what they were told, how much they were encouraged or able to learn, etc.
Parents have so much power. I want him to have the information to think critically, to be intelligent and compassionate in his dealings with others, and to not learn to hate. In the process, I am finding that I am asking him to be a better person than I have been myself, to skip the vitriol and get right to the understanding and wisdom to effectively engender change. Mostly, I want him to see each and every person out there as an individual, who believes as he or she does because of a multiple of factors, and to base his interactions with them accordingly.
He is happily playing Super Smash Bros on the Wii right now, not thinking too deeply about anything. I think this is good.