Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and we have just returned from ten days in Ireland. During that trip, we were treated to a whirlwind tour of Irish history, including the people’s transformation from Celtic religions to Christianity. The “credit” for this is most often given to St. Patrick in the 5th century CE because he was the first to create a record of his actions, not necessarily the first to unpack Jesus on the Emerald Isle. Also there’s no evidence as of yet in the fossil record that there were ever snakes in Ireland. Plus, St. Patrick was probably Welsh.
In my world, nine years ago, St. Patrick’s Day was just an annoyance. Amateur Day; an excuse for Americans to get trashed at 11:00 in the morning and pretend they are Irish or care about their Irish roots. It was a day to stay home with a quiet pint and a Powers or perhaps head to the local non-Irish bar for a Guinness before 5:00 pm. Then my husband and a friend of his started an Irish band because you can’t make money playing your own songs—it’s covers or Celtic for cash. That’s when St. Patrick’s Day became a hellscape. A money-making hellscape, but a hellscape nonetheless. At least Satan gets souls.
This morning, it became a day for questions. We are raising our son without religion, which means we have to educate him about the concept of religion in society and the major religions being practiced. He goes to school with kids who have families in possibly dozens of countries around the world; their families speak 17 languages including English. Many of his friends are Muslim, though there are Christians and most likely Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus in his school. As well as the “nones,” like us.
I’m an atheist. Our boy (FJ) isn’t an atheist. He’s a kid. We want him to be a freethinker, which means we not only have to teach him about religions as a social phemonenon, but we have to teach him to challenge assumptions regarding gender, race, sexuality, and other social constructs. It means asking a lot of questions and not always having the answers. It means getting things wrong, and it means doing a lot of it without the same kind of community created by religion. Now that he’s nearing eight years old, those questions are becoming more numerous and the answers more nuanced and complicated.
This morning, as we readied FJ for school, my husband said, “Do you know what to say if kids ask you why we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?” FJ said no. I was silently wondering how Daddy was going to phrase, “Well, see, America, coming from Puritanical roots, enjoys sanctioned social holidays in which normally aberrant social behavior becomes acceptable and even expected.”
That’s not where he was going. “It’s because he is given credit for bringing Christianity to Ireland,” he said. My again silent thought was, “Why would we celebrate that?” (I keep a lot of things to myself. At least up until now.)
FJ made a face, “Christianity? You mean the person?” (Did I mention we have a lot of work to do?)
“No, the religion, people who believe in Jesus,” replied my husband, using a bit of shorthand.
I interjected at this point, thinking my child was being willfully obtuse–he’s been to Christian churches with family before. I gave him a pass because he’s had a fever for a couple of days. “FJ, you know there are many different religions, and all of them believe in their gods.”
Another face. “You mean Jesus was fake?”
It’s times like this when you a) Wish you had all the answers, and b) Remember that no one has all the answers, and kids need to know that. Judging by how many times we say, “I don’t know; let’s look it up,” FJ is well aware of this when it comes to his parents.
I said, “No, from what we know, Jesus was probably a real person.” I felt it was already getting beyond what FJ should say in a classroom without us getting a call from the principal’s office, so I went on, “We can talk more about this later, but for now, just leave it at ‘Because St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland.’” After all, just because our boy has an Irish name straight out of Irish legend, is white enough to be almost translucent, and has a father with deeply Irish connections in his ancestry doesn’t mean he’s the expert on All Things Irish.
I’ll leave that to the folks at the pub drinking green Budweiser.