My 16-year-old daughter is an atheist. You can’t imagine how many people–both Jewish and non-Jewish–this seems to bother more than me.
She’s been an atheist for a long time, years perhaps. First, we forced her to have a bat mitzvah–at least that’s what she says. She still resents having to say a bunch of words she didn’t agree with, though I don’t remember her complaining at the time. She seemed to enjoy the DJ, dancers, food, friends, and gifts at her party. And she did an excellent job reading her Torah portion and leading the service. It was a proud day for all of us.
But now she tells everyone she is an atheist; her religious grandparents who attend services every Friday night, her friends, and my friends. Most of the adults generally look at her in horror. They look at me in horror, too. What am I doing, raising a godless girl? It doesn’t matter if the adult she’s talking to is Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. It just seems awful to them. Check off their “this mother sucks” box.
I don’t think it’s uncommon for teenagers to not believe in God. And regardless of age, a whole lot of people, especially those of us who are of the Jewish persuasion, question whether God exists, but perhaps only to ourselves. I am probably forever going to be an agnostic, which to me means that I can’t figure it out, but I care a lot about it and wish I knew for sure.
Ah, you might be thinking to yourself, that’s why she doesn’t mind that her daughter is an atheist. But that’s not why. I don’t care because, frankly, it’s not my responsibility to make her believe something. It was my responsibility to teach her the religion and culture of her household, and I’ve done that. She went to Hebrew School. We always celebrate the Jewish holidays. The challah is freshly baked on Friday nights. But the question of whether God exists is for her, and her alone.
The teen years are full of questioning. Parents, friends, activities, teachers, colleges, majors, sexuality….the list goes on and on. Why shouldn’t they question God’s existence?
I teach my kids to question everything, to accept nothing, to decide for themselves what they are comfortable with. This includes a higher power. It’s not that I don’t want them to believe in God. In fact, I think there’s something so deeply wonderful about the idea of believing that someone or something is always with you, guiding and protecting you, loving you when you feel your most unloved.
I’m just not sure I can believe in that, for myself. If my kids want to, that’s fine. And if they don’t, that’s fine, too. We can question together. Or separately. Or not at all.