I was walking home from school with my five year old daughter. As we approached our front door she looked up at me
“Daddy?” she asked in that tone of voice that all dads will recognise as a precursor to something that they’ve been pondering.
“Yes?” I answered with a little trepidation at what was going to follow.
“When you were a baby, did you have water put on your head?”
I thought I knew what she was asking about but thought I’d better check that she wasn’t referring to my bathing habits as a child.
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“Were you…” she paused, uncertain of the word. “ .. baptised?”
“No I wasn’t” I answered.
“Was I baptised?” she asked.
“No you haven’t been,” I replied.
“So that means I’m not a Christian baby?” she asked.
The BIG question. I was delighted that she was asking it because I have thought a number of times about how I would answer it when it came. However, the way that she asked it surprised me a little. My own religious beliefs are irrelevant but in this regard I actually agree with the views of Richard Dawkins. In most areas I disagree with his militant, fundamentalist brand of atheism – it smacks too much of intolerance and frankly dis-respect for the deeply held, deeply personal views of billions of people. However, he does make the point that children are children, not Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Zoroastrian children. Their parents may have beliefs but a child is a child with a destiny and free will of all of his or her own.
“That’s up to you,” I answered. “If you decide you want to be a Christian when you’re older you can be and you can be baptised. Jesus wasn’t baptised until he was a grown man. But just as well, if you want to be Hindu, Muslim or nothing at all that’s up to you. And I will support you and love you all the same. You can be whatever you want to be.”
She looked at me, understanding a little of what I was saying.
A few days later we were at the Victoria and Albert museum where they were hosting a fantastic set of festivities for the Hindu holy day of Diwali. My children made Diwali lanterns, they made shadow puppets of Rama, Sita, Hanuman and Ravana. They watched traditional Hindu dance and a theatre performance of the Ramayana. They sat there spellbound, surrounded by white, black, oriental and Indian faces. Some were wearing the obvious badges of following a particular religion – from crosses to hijabs. But the children were all just children – absorbed by the magic of the story. Later this year we’ll celebrate Christmas with great gusto and earlier in the year we had a great day out enjoying Chinese new year in Chinatown.
I looked across to my wife sitting next to me. “This is why I love Britain. Why the country is truly Great. There’s strength in diversity and it makes our children’s lives so much richer.”
I paused. “And if and when they do choose a faith, it’ll be so much stronger because it’ll be their choice.”