Work with me, please.

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On the way to Dharma yesterday, I was listening to Howard University’s gospel radio program while Mae read her chemistry book in the back seat. I don’t remember exactly what song was on when Mae asked “What is this song about?” I told her it was a gospel song, and the singer was giving thanks for all that he had been given. Mae asked me, “Do you believe in God?”

I knew she was going to bring the topic back at some point because she was dissatisfied with the response I gave when she asked a few weeks ago. When I picked her up from after care that day, she was sitting on the side of the playground with a scowl on her face. The teacher sent her there to calm herself after a heated discussion with some little girls about the existence of God. Mae had called God “stupid” and attempted to explain in scientific terms how she could prove that God does not exist. The teacher acknowledged that Mae is entitled to her own opinion; the problem, she said, was that Mae was yelling in the kids’ faces and wouldn’t stop. On the way home, Mae explained her perspective to me. I couldn’t tell if she had read somewhere about evolution and creation, or what was the source of her conclusion. She ended with, “And that proves that God doesn’t exist, right?”

Ayiyi. I tried to explain tolerance, and a person’s right to believe as they wish. I told her that she can share her opinions if others are interested, and that she should listen to theirs. I told her that calling God stupid is offensive to some and she has to learn to disagree respectfully, or just keep her opinions to herself.

She was disappointed that I didn’t see the obvious logic of her position. (The word “obviously” was sprinkled throughout her explanation.) I think she was even more disappointed that I wasn’t answering her question directly.

So, yesterday in the car, I repeated what I’d said about people having different beliefs and the need to respect differences. I told her that she can no more disprove God to someone who believes than someone can convince her that God exists. She went into her quiet, contemplative mode and we went into the meditation center. For her, this type of contemplation means she’s re-loading, trying to think of another way to persuade or undo me.

After Dharma, Mae asked “Are Buddhas gods? If so, I may have to stop going to Dharma. That would be too bad because I like Dharma.” I told her that Buddhas were not gods, but real people. Silence. Reloading.

I like that Mae is inquisitive and critical. I was too at her age, minus the yelling in people’s faces. I only hope that she learns to manage her mouth sooner than later. I plan to continue answering her questions, or at least the faith-based ones, indirectly or not at all so that she learns to respect boundaries. And, too, the whole existence debate wore me out during my college and graduate school years. I have no interest in re-living those conversations, especially with a zealous 8-year old who, though bright, lacks the life experience to have a peaceful disagreement and genuine dialogue about a sensitive, sometimes divisive topic. My intent is to make the point that some people view and treat religion as a private issue, precisely so they won’t be badgered by people who believe otherwise.

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