I thought I had done everything right. I knew they had to be carefully taught to stay on the path, strong in their convictions, to resist peer pressure, reject conventional thinking and make their own decisions. I assiduously kept them from the insidious influences of dogma, ritual, superstition and belief in mythical beings, including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, unicorns and gods of any kind. I taught them to read everything, believe nothing until proven to their intellectual satisfaction and question all authority (except their mother, of course).


And, for the most part, I succeeded. My son became a biblical scholar in order to combat the religious cults that stole the minds of vulnerable youngsters. He worked as a deprogrammer for several years, having developed an amazing facility for debunking one gospel passage by quoting an equal but opposite postulation. I have seen him bring Jehovah's Witnesses to tears, using nothing but his bare hands and an encyclopedic knowledge of scripture. He far surpassed me in his pursuit of religious information, but arrived at the same conclusions as did I. He became as devout a post-theist as his mother, swelling my aged heart with pride.

And then the roof fell in. His youngest child, my once adorable blue-eyed blond baby grandson, just turned thirteen and decided he wants to be Jewish! His Myspace icon is Superjew, he's combing the 'net for a 'cool' yarmulke (which he couldn't find because he had no idea how to spell it), and he's trying to grow payis (those curly sideburns, Jewish dreads, for the edification of you goyim).

When asked why he had these odd desires, he replied that he liked the food, especially matzoh balls (yeah yeah...matzohs have balls) and latkes. And, of course, because the clothes are "cool". Please bear in mind that this kid lives in the second hole in the bible belt (Carson City, NV) and the nearest synagogue is forty miles away. I'm sure he's never met a rabbi, doesn't have a clue about the customs or culture of Judaism, and thinks 'kosher' is the name of a deli. And yet, the Jew gene apparently will not be denied, despite the best efforts of two generations of vehement anti-religionists.


So I can't help but wonder where I went wrong. My beloved grandson has rejected the non-faith of his forebears and reverted to blind theism. As a grieving grandmother, I can only ask: this is adolescent rebellion? Why couldn't he start smoking weed, like a normal teenager?

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Comment by Victoria's View on June 15, 2009 at 2:57pm
Ruth, I can honestly say I understand all that you are going through. I have a 13 year daughter who has had a parallel upbringing to your grandson. She too rebelled at 13. Firstly, she joined the local youth group that organise entertainment for young kids. Her two closest friends were involved with the group and they had asked Eliza along to a night.She wanted to find out for herself and although I was sad, I could not stop her from having an inside look. When I picked her up one evening , I noticed four twenty somethings giving a talk on the virtues of chasity. "Don't give it away" said some closet masterbating boy man." I was horrified, I had never discussed sex like that with my daughter, as if it were a prize to give only to that pre ordained husband. My catholic upbringing came flooding though my mind and it exploded into a red sweaty rash all over me. It took me years to rid myself of the guilt of dogma. I looked over at Eliza and she was laughing with her friends. Her friends exclaimed that evening that "Eliza has given her life to god". Every Thursday night my daughter sang songs about mythical men and woman of the bronze age and played pool and danced to church bands. She refused to discuss it with me and said that my atheism was a form of religion!! Within a month to my horror she changed religions and started going to events with a family on Friday nights to Johovah witness services. I masked my horror and like you Ruth, turned to atheist nexus to seek help.
If I displayed any form of distain she went into a rant about her rights. So I changed tactics and asked her all about the evening. Soon our discourse became congenial and she opened up about her thoughts on religion. I never judged her comments, just listened. She left of her own accord about a month ago and all up the process took about 3 months.
I heard her on the phone recently with a friend explaining that she did not want to go to youth any more because she wasnt having any fun and she had learnt everything she could there. Then she said "I learnt that it was all bull shit". How proud I was , but I never said a thing, because your right Kristy that would have been uncool.
Comment by Kitty on June 13, 2009 at 4:29pm
OK Gramma Ruth, you've got some excellent comments here. I must add, this is a phase. Remember being 13? My own son rebelled by cutting his hair and becoming a skinhead for a while. But guess what? he explored it and found it limiting. He's a good kid, well, he's not a kid anymore, he's 23, but throughout his life he's been a satanist, a skinhead, and an angry young man. That is youth. Let your grandson live it, and by all means, give him as much factual information about Jewishness you can. Also, there is a great T shirt on T shirt hell you could get him for kicks:

Comment by Chrys Stevenson on June 13, 2009 at 4:14pm
Juliet said: "... maybe Atheists should be more diligent about networking. Doesn't it feel good to get together and rant about the idiocy we have to deal with every day?"

We have a small group of local atheists who meet monthly at a local pub. None of us knew each other before starting the group, and we all get on famously. It's a great experience. I'd recommend it to anyone!
Comment by Juliet Defarge on June 13, 2009 at 7:44am
So much of religion is the comforting feeling of belonging to a supportive group. I'm not up for mimicking the ceremonies and rituals of religious groups, but maybe Atheists should be more diligent about networking. Doesn't it feel good to get together and rant about the idiocy we have to deal with every day? Put that together with a barbecue and some great t-shirts, and we'll have a better shot at meeting the social and identity-building needs of our young-uns.
Meanwhile, Ruth, have a sober talk with your grandson about women's rights in Israel.
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on June 13, 2009 at 6:03am
S Hawkins, it might be worth exploring whether your grandson can have a non-religious Bar-Mitzvah. I know that this is possible in Melbourne where there is a group of non-religious secular Jews who celebrate Jewish rituals without buying into any of the doctrine or dogma. Perhaps there is something similar in the US?

Dick Gross is a former mayor of St Kilda in Melbourne. Here is part of an interview:

Narr:
As a child Gross found Jewish services boring, and argued with his parents about going to synagogue. For his father, Jewish culture was more important than belief.

Dick Gross
Former Mayor of St Kilda
First of all he said -- you do have to go and you don't go for belief. He didn't put it in these words. He said, you go because it's part of the society and culture in which you find yourself. So he says, I'm here for the social context. He didn't use that language but that's what he meant. So that conversation with my father was absolutely critical, because it was a window into his own secular soul. Dad said to me, okay, I know you don't like synagogue, you know, I don't like it that much either, but all my mates are here, I'm here, my culture's here, you're here.

Narr:
Dick Gross was one of the founders of a Saturday school for families who want a Jewish community and identity without having to go to synagogue.

Dick Gross
Former Mayor of St Kilda
The Jewish Saturday School was set up as a secular humanist alternative to other Jewish institutions. It provides an alternative which is a non-religious expression of Judaism, on the basis that Judaism is an ethnicity, a culture and a religion. You can take the religion out and you still have the culture and the ethnicity.

Narr:
As well as sport and socialising, culture and history, children at the school prepare for secular versions of Jewish rituals. A key ceremony for teenagers is Bar Mitzvah. Dick Gross’s son Zac recently went through this rite.

Zac Gross
In the religious culture, you'd stand up in front of your family and read from the Torah in Hebrew, and it would be a lot more religious and official. Because this is a secular Jewish school, we don't read from the Torah, instead we have two speeches, one is about a Jewish topic and the other is about anything you like, as long as it's got to do with Judaism.

Dick Gross
Former Mayor of St Kilda
Zac's bar mitzvah for me was incredibly moving. I thought he shone as an individual, I thought he was welcomed into a community, and I think he was given an insight into the change that is about to assail his body. So it had all of those functions. And you know, I think he's quite a mature young man now.

Zac Gross
I really enjoyed it, because I'd been practicing just for six months on my speeches, let alone studying, you know, ancient Hebrew history. And so it was like the big present at the end of hard work. And I really enjoyed it, going up there and making my speeches in front of all my family and friends. Yeah, it was like a -- it was a great party.

Narr:
Gross argues that ritual is important for everyone, whether they’re religious or not.

Dick Gross
Former Mayor of St Kilda
I believe that religions have those ceremonies and it is our duty as unbelievers to at least try to visit the area that religion has honed to such success, plagiarise it, pinch it and the rewards are enormous. For me, seeing my child be welcomed into the community was incredibly moving and very important.

Full interview: http://www.abc.net.au/compass/s600938.htm
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on June 13, 2009 at 5:53am
He's 13. Tell him you think it's wonderful he's decided to explore his heritage. The more you protest, the cooler it will seem. How else does an atheist's kid rebel? I'll let my friend, Vicki, know about this thread. She had the same kind of problem with her daughter recently, but it resolved itself. Don't worry, grandma. As we say in Oz, "She'll be right, mate."
Comment by S. Hawkins on June 12, 2009 at 7:20pm
Another worried grandparent here. My daughter says she is completely non-religious and is married to a non-religious Jew. He wants nothing to do with religion, but my my daughter (who is NOT Jewish) wants their son to have a Bar Mizvah. He will have to go to classes and learn and recite the Torah. She said she wants him to know his Jewish heritage which I think is ridiculous since she doesn't want him to go to go to catechism or learn the New Testament which was our heritage (in the past). I can't understand her reasoning about this. Why introduce her son to religion when neither she nor her husband are religious?

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