Trusting the Devil
It’s a pretty typical night in my home. My kids are having a play date with a couple of their friends. Happy shrieks are erupting from their room. Their dad is perched on a bar stool at the kitchen counter, chatting with my husband and I while dinner bakes in the oven.
I hear the baby crying and step out only for a moment to nurse him, but when I come back, I quickly surmise I missed something. The kids are wandering back into their room to play, but are having a heated discussion, words ricocheting back and forth. The look on my husband’s face is something like shock and amusement while my friend sits stunned and perturbed.
Steve is shaking his head. He takes a deep breath, trying to compose himself.
“My 5-year-old just told your kids that I trust the devil. She said mom told her that.”
The truth is, we know exactly why Steve’s daughter would be told this. She is continually being conditioned to believe that her father is evil, confused, misguided. That he rests in the very clutches of Satan himself.
Why? Because Steve is gay.
From the moment my husband and I met Steve, approximately 12 years ago, he was an open book. We all became fast friends as active members in the same youth group and it wasn’t long before Steve opened up about his struggle with attraction to men. At the time, we all believed that homosexuality was a very serious sin. In our minds, you weren’t born that way. It was merely a temptation some struggled with more than others, the same way some people were prone to alcoholism. It could be overcome, we thought.
Several years later we would stand witness to Steve’s marriage ceremony to his wife, happy that he triumphed over his most consuming temptation. We visited in the hospital when they had their two beautiful little girls, attended birthday parties, and generally stood by as observers of their life together.
However, we also observed Steve wrestle with the unrelenting depression that came from repressing his true self. Religion held him captive. His church taught that people like him were inherently sinful and should be shamed until they repented and changed their ways. They taught that even thinking about same-sex relations was as reprehensible as the act itself. It was an endless cycle of guilt, contrition and repression.
Finally, after seven years of marriage, Steve was honest with himself and admitted out loud that he is in fact, a gay man and that is perfectly okay. While none of us expected this would be glad news to his wife (who was aware of his attraction to men before their wedding day), what we did not expect was the way their children would come under such strict reconditioning.
After his 3-year-old daughter brought home a drawing from school one day, he and his wife asked who the man was in the top corner.
“Dad,” Steve heard her say.
“Awww,” both parents gushed before his wife remarked, “God!”
“What? She clearly said Dad,” Steve stated.
They quizzed the girl again, asking, “Did you say Dad or God?”
“Dad or God,” the girl smiled up at them.
“Who is that?” Steve pointed to the figure again.
“Dad!” The girl beamed at him.
“Way to pervert her mind,” his wife scoffed.
Given the aforementioned stories, I was not surprised to learn that his wife does not want their children around mine. Through the grapevine, she heard that my children, “don’t believe in God.” This was concluded to be “sad.”
Here is the real difference, though: I don’t hide different belief systems from my children. In fact, I encourage them to explore their spirituality, to pursue truth and happiness, wherever they may find it. My children attend Lutheran church with my mother and step dad, Catholic mass and Quaker meetings with me, they’ve attended the Hindu festival of Ganesh, they often meditate before bed and give thanks before eating meals.
I don’t hide religion from my children. I also don’t hide my own atheism from them. When they ask what I believe, I tell them honestly. I also tell them that they are the only ones who get to decide what they believe, and that it may change as they get older. I don’t consider my kids atheists any more than I consider them Muslim or Buddhist or Mormon. In the words of Richard Dawkins, “Would you ever speak of a 4-year-old’s political beliefs? Hannah is a socialist four-year-old, Mark a conservative. Who would ever dream of saying such a thing?”
The cult-like indoctrination among fundamentalists extends especially to their most innocent, unsuspecting children. I suppose it could be forgivable under the pretense that they are only teaching what they honestly believe is right and true. Except how do you turn a child against a loving, doting, active father figure? Where is the morality in that?
As parents, we can choose to indoctrinate, mold and convince our children to believe just like we do, or we can live our beliefs honestly and openly, and allow our children freedom of thought. Maybe that’s just “trusting the devil.” Ask yourself, what’s more dangerous?