The late journalist and social activist June Callwood once said that her religion was kindness.
Writer and provocateur Christopher Hitchens has been stirring up controversy everywhere with his latest book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I half expect him to pop up on CBC Kids: "Christopher is here to tell our little viewers that there is no Santa, and we all turn to dust when we die - including your dog. Up next, Teletubbies!"
In his book, he convincingly asserts that "the conscription of the unprotected child" into the bloodstained world of religion is a parent's greatest sin.
Is there a more polarizing issue than the place of religion in parenting? (Well, maybe the breast-or-bottle smackdown). Or are we beyond arguing about religion in our world of instant gratification, The Secret on DVD and YouTube? (YouTube as heavenly overseer? Not so far-fetched: You better not shout, you better not cry, you better not get loaded, take off your shirt and eat hamburgers off the floor, do I have to tell you why?)
Many modern parents, be they people of faith, atheists or agnostics, wrestle with the question of how to impart ethical values and a reverence for life to their children. And to complicate matters further, many of us are in different forms of "inter" relationships: interfaith, intercultural, intergenerational (you go, Demi).
A friend who is a Christian mom, and whose husband is Muslim, said that their interfaith family is characterized by no faith. They're atheists but firmly grounded in their cultural upbringings, which usually means in their food of origin. They do Easter and Eid. It's all about chocolate and baba ganouj. God doesn't enter into it.
In our case, I'm Jewish and my partner is not. We have always celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. Neither of us imposed our values on the other. In fact, Jewish concepts of Tzedakah (charity), Hesed (compassion) and Tikun Olam ("repairing the world") complemented my partner's Golden Rule ("do unto other as you would have them do unto you.") We had a menorah and lots of Christmas tchotchkes - but I drew the line at lights. Until the babies came.
One would think that, being Jewish, I might fiercely protect the minority status of my heritage and try to stave off the symbols and influence of the majority Canadian Christian culture.
You would be wrong.
First of all, that would be impossible. Two years ago, my eldest didn't even know who Santa was. Then we went to the Santa Claus parade. Clifford the Big Red Dog was there! Thomas the Tank Engine! Clowns giving candy! Santa on a huge sled! Before I knew it, my son was calling "Merry Christmas" to every passerby. I passed a store window and noticed a glazed-over, cheery, Cindy Lou Who smile on my own face. Hanukkah may have delicious artery-clogging latkes, but we cannot fight billions of dollars of marketing.
Even the lesser-hyped holiday of Easter has way more kid-friendly symbols than Passover does - bunnies, chocolate eggs, pretty baskets. We have a basket too - but with an abandoned baby in it, floating down the filthy Nile river. Potentially to his doom. To escape infanticide.
As the kids age, though, I think Judaism might have it sown up. We have blood, frogs, converts like Madonna and Britney, and a scary angel of death. Please. You may be able to catch more flies with honey, but you can catch more of a child's imagination with plagues.
However, we are getting to a stage when our child wants to have things clearly labelled for him, including his religious/cultural identity.
There was a time when the prevailing wisdom was to let the children choose what they want to "be." That doesn't sit well with me. I believe mine will choose many things when they grow up. Piano or soccer? Mac or PC? Pot or hashish? My children's identities and self-definitions will change through their lives, I assume.
But when they're young - when they're looking to us for security - I want to give them something to feel proud of, to feel clear about. Something that can be summed up in a word.
And now I know what it is: love.
During our journey at the Hospital for Sick Children with our second baby, throughout his medical trials and emergencies, many people have sent prayers, chants, vibes, reiki, great food and plain old-fashioned hope. We readily accepted it all. We did not care who the addressee was - the sentiment of love literally held up our sky and we believe that love contributed to Baby J's healing.
Perhaps Mr. Hitchens would find compassion for the world of religion if he could have met our interfaith and intermingled community in action.
Diane Flacks is an actor, writer, mom, multitasker and author
of the book Bear With Me.