Editor's note: Laurel Snyder is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a poet and author of many books for children. Follow her on Twitter at @laurelsnyder.
By Laurel Snyder, Special to CNN
(CNN) – A few years ago I was invited to my local Jewish Community Center to do a reading of my picture book “Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.” It was going to be a child-friendly event, so I took my kids along.
Now, “Baxter” isn’t really a book about being kosher. It’s about wanting to be accepted into a community. But I always like to make sure my listeners know what the word kosher means before I read it, since the joke at the center of the book depends on that. So as usual I asked the Jewish Community Center crowd if they could define the word.
Before anyone else could answer, my own son Mose, who was 5 at the time, jumped up and shouted out, “I know! I know! Kosher is us! We’re kosher!” Then he sat back down again, beaming proudly.
And I might have been proud too. Only, you see, we’re not kosher.
On the drive home I tried to figure out what to say to Mose about his mix-up. I wanted him to know what it means to be kosher, to live by a rigid religious dietary code, day in and day out. But I also needed him to understand that we’re not.
How could I show respect for this part of our Jewish tradition while also suggesting that it doesn’t seem relevant in our own household? Should I just blame it on my own parents, who didn’t raise me that way?
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
It’s not easy to explain something to a kid when you haven’t yet figured it out for yourself. One of the most helpful/terrible things about having children is that they require us to think things out explicitly. That often means they make us face the very things we’ve been avoiding.
Sometimes, as a result, kids challenge us to become more mindful or observant. I hadn’t been a member of a synagogue for years when I became a mom. I hadn’t hosted a Passover Seder or found the time to light Shabbat candles.
Even though I worked for a Jewish agency and wrote about religion professionally, when it came to my home life I was almost completely unobservant. Judaism was something I thought about more intellectually than personally. Religion was an interesting idea more than a belief system.
Now I light candles each week and say the blessings. I belong to a havurah – a cohort of local Jewish friends who get together for monthly potluck dinners – and also a synagogue.
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
Because there’s something about having kids that makes me want to be a better version of my Jewish self. I want something special to pass on to them. Something more than “You’re Jewish because I’m Jewish.”
But sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes my kids help me recognize the limits of my faith.
In truth, I do not keep kosher and I don’t really want to. My husband is not Jewish, though we’re raising our family to be. So, yeah, we eat tacos for Shabbat dinner most weeks and usually skip Friday night services.
This is the truth and I have to own it. I can only shift my life around so much without feeling inauthentic. Lying to my kids about my religious life is no way to model the value of faith.
So when, after the “Baxter”/kosher fiasco, I set out to write my new picture book, “Good night, laila tov” (laila tov means “good night” in Hebrew), I wanted to paint an honest portrait of my largely secular household.
I wanted my kids to recognize the family in my story as Jewish, but also as, well, like us. Which is to say, not exactly kosher.
On some level I was reacting to the fact that most of the Jewish picture books in my home feel like they’re about someone else. They’re usually set in a Polish village a century ago, or on the Lower East Side of New York City, where mothers cook and fathers pray.
I wanted “Good night, laila tov” to be a sort of lowest common denominator. Contemporary and universal. It’s not about Jewish history, and it doesn’t have a single rabbi in it. It won’t teach you new Hebrew words or show you how to say a certain prayer.
It’s just a story about a Jewish American family going camping, experiencing nature, love, work and rest. In writing it I hoped to capture something typical, something natural, something simple.
And it does present, to my mind, Jewish values: Nature is spiritual, and takes us beyond ourselves. Time spent with family is sacred.
The family in the book plants trees and picks up their campsite, because caring for the earth is part of Judaism, I think. Along with caring for each other.
But as I wrote, I found myself a little afraid that, in attempting to write a picture book for everyone, I was letting the Jewish particularity go. Aren’t family nature, and environmentalism tenets of faith beyond the Jewish world, in every religion?
What did it say about me, my choices, my household, that the Jewish life I was choosing to depict looked like it could be any household at all?
Then I come back around to that moment with Mose, that moment of realizing I’d somehow misled him. Because whatever I’m unsure of, whatever I don’t know about faith, I do know this: if it isn’t honest, it doesn’t count.
The purpose of faith, as I understand it, is to infuse life with greater meaning. To make it more real. Not to dress it up. Not to pretend.
My kids and I are on a journey together. We’re setting out for parts unknown.
And while we may find ourselves changing as we trek along, there is a sacred quality in simply being who we are today. Of stopping on the trail and taking a deep breath. It’s enough, I think, to be exactly who we are, kosher or not.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Laurel Snyder.
Sometimes I am surprised at the large number of people who post on CNN who don't believe in any God or have any faith - especially when the majority of people in the country do. But what amazes me considerably more is the blatant hostility they seem to express toward those of us who do have faith and do believe in God. They call us insane, stupid, lacking in common sense, destined to work meager and meaningless jobs. I don't see believers calling atheists names of that ilk - or of any ilk. Perhaps to be an atheist, you also have to be uncivil. I don't know - but give me the civility and gentility of religious belief any day.
I'm more surprised at how the religious react to factual information and logic.
No amount of belief makes something a fact. Also, Christians are more vile and belligerent than any atheist or agnostic. Just try saying anything at all against their beliefs and they'll scream bloody murder, but they have no problem in attacking Muslims, Hindus or anyone that doesn't subscribe to their beliefs. They tell good honest people that they will be tortured forever in a burning hell, if anyone protests things like the 10 commandments in a courthouse, their lives are threatened and their property damaged, their children are ridiculed and bullied. Yeah, Christians are soooo much better.
I'm not particularly religious but believe in God. Those who reflexively chime in with how Atheist they are fail to realize that Atheism and Secular fundamentalism is a religion too. It's all so phony.
It really bothers me to see ridiculous name calling on either side. If you haven't seen religious people talk bad about atheists, keep reading. We're accused of being cynical, arrogant, and lacking morals. Sure, that's true of some atheists. And it's true of some Christians, too.
Jennifer If atheism is a religion then abstinence is a s exual position.
Right on, and put Prayer back in school, force women to reproduce, teach magic in science class, and deny civil rights to gay couples.
Atheists are so snotty with their equal this and freedom that.
My religion is my faith in humanity, we will always find a why to survive and thrive.
If you are looking for civility on a message board about belief good luck. That is why we have a forum like this, a way for people to voice their opinions (for good or ill) and keep it anonymous.
You may want to re-think some of your unchallenged assumptions J. Or not, I don't give a s–t.
Drew, is right and there are bad examples on both sides.
Josef, could you give us some facts behind your point that "have no problem in attacking Muslims, Hindus or anyone that doesn't subscribe to their beliefs." Where have you seen this?
If a Christian does what he is called to do, and that is telll the world that Jesus Christ died for their sins, and anyone who believes in him has eternal life. That is not an attack if done properly in a loving manner.
@Luis Rubet – Those that pray at the alter of humanism fail to understand human nature. Humanism is a luxury, and it is fleeting.
J, I like the analogy. It is spot on.
In the US, we have "freedom of religion".
Unfortunately, it's getting harder to find freedom FROM religion.
This newfound religious ferver in the US is sickening. A very loud minority. Keep your god to yourself.
The rest of the civilized world is laughing at us, folks.
And no, I am not an "Atheist"
Agree, I find the Christians to be less tolerant. They tend to ridicule non-christians and would love to make thier religion law in this country.
You can denounce Christianity like Europe has and ironically allow the dubious uncertainties of Islam to take over the entire continent. Pick your poison dork.
Sean, you come to a "Belief" site and then complain "Unfortunately, it's getting harder to find freedom FROM religion."
Is that really what you want?
In regards to Christians being less tolerant of Immorality YES.
This Nation is a mess do to the slow takeover of Secular Humanism in our schools, look how many kids are killing!! Who do they most often attack?
If parents didn't start brainwashing their kids when they are young, their would be a lot more rational, sane people in the world.
CNN WHY are you always pushing these idiotic religious pieces just to have 10,000 stupid people posting about heaven and hell? It must be for web page hits.
They have advertisers, and portal clicks is what drives business. I beleive there is consequences, for stooping so low, that will eventually catch with you, that's why I personally don't engage in such behaviors in my personal life. But that's me not CNN.
.. Because gaining insight into others' religious beliefs and practices is oh so stupid and idiotic. If you are threatened by these stories, don't read them or maybe you need to evaluate why it is that they make you so uncomfortable.
why makes me uncomfortable? Let me explain – because they're are so many of you freaks, that believe in nothing, besides amuusing yourselves- you are brianwashing our young children to think like you. In other words, your contempt for Jesus, god and morality in general, is like an infectious disease. That's why- got it?
" so many of you freaks, that believe in nothing"
I guess I'll never understand this inherent desire in so many people, this "need" for a belief. It's disturbing. Obviously, you don't (or can't) believe in yourself.
There is morality without god.
I'd say more.
The Beacon of truth CNN, has once again given direction to masses about religion. Last week they are Christians christ never existed, on easter sunday. Now it's the jews turn to hear they're religion is no good either, (or not good enough for cnn of course). CNN giving opinions about morality nad religion, is like a chimpanzee giving direction on brain surgery- to put it lightly.
If you actually read the articles you whine about, you'd realize how silly your objections are. If your faith is so fragile that you can't handle it being looked at through an objective lens, you have bigger problems then some silly little article.
If your so fragile J, that you can't take the truth about CNN. Maybe another job would be good for you? I think there's a septic system company down the street, looking for a collection engineer. Just a suggestion
So many people are proud of their atheism, it's depressing and disgusting. So basically they believe we're the highest animal on food chain, with our intellect being what puts us on the top of the heap. If that is indeed the case, say goodbye to all morality and true justice because it has been proven time and time again, in a million different situations, that man is NOT a servant to justice and tolerance but to naked self-interest. Man is selfish by nature and will alter concepts of truth and justice in order to satisfy his own needs. Don't let any atheist fool you that their belief system is strong enough to overcome our own corrupt nature.
So many Christians are proud of their belief in ancient mythology. Yet when you think about it logically, it's just archaic myths, written thousands of years ago by members of a primitive culture. Christians, deny modern scientific knowledge yet blindly embrace ancient myths and superst!tions. That's what's REALLY disgusting.
So that would mean EVERY religion is right. Explain that.
You're so proud of yourself for not believing in lots of other religions. Never think twice that you're not a hindu or a muslim. We just take it one more.
LOL..............nothing to say.
Saying that atheism is bad doesn't make god real. I'm an atheist and I try to be the best person that I can be. Your lack of belief that a person can be good without a god says a lot about you and nothing about me.
Time to hit the books, Farrell. Atheism is merely a lack of belief: it's not a "belief system". We as atheists don't have anything to offer but the truth that should be obvious anyway: gods were invented by primitive men. They are imaginary.
That's all atheism is. The morals are up to you.
Exactly right. The belief in "self" and man, led every civilization to utter chaos and destruction. That's why it's happening now. If one can outright reject God, then they have chosen the darkness. A normal person, who just isn't sure if God exists, does not reject and speak hate. These people who utterly have a primal need to blaspheme God and Jesus Christ are actually following the dark. May God be able to redeem them.
"The wicked will NOT understand".
You misunderstand atheists. Many of us have gone through a crisis of faith in which we realize how insignificant we truly are in the universe, with no god or purpose to guide us. We ARE NOT any kind of chosen people, much less a chosen species–I've always found it quite arrogant of the faithful to believe that God created the universe for us, that God created this world for us to abuse, that God created man in his own image to be superior to animals–total BS. And now, many of us are normal people, trying to live good lives. We have morals, we have values, just not quite all the same morals and values that you do–the first being we don't see any good reason to pray to anyone or ask for penance. We face the same challenges every day that believers do, but without the anesthetic of religion.
If my son dies, I won't see him in heaven or any afterlife; he no longer exists.
If something goes wrong, it's not "God's Plan", it's just a really crappy day.
If I look at all the pain and suffering in the world, think about all the people who have ever lived and died under the harsh rule of theocratic laws, or even just from the harsh reality of life, it can be overwhelming to think that it has all happened for no good reason.
To quote Abraham Lincoln: "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion." You see, it's really that simple. All the other stuff attached to religious beliefs does nothing but separate the masses and start wars; in my opinion that's not very religious.
What is your good? What is your bad? If a pedophile believes he is right in molesting a child, because that's his good, what results is Secular Humanism, you make yourself your own god. Eve was told she would become like God if she ate the apple, you see what happened. Same situation here.
Good logic, those atheist pedophiles are dangerous. Thank goodness we have our priesthood to protect us from such things.
Lainie11, for what it's worth I actually believe in God. However, I don't believe in organized religion or those who stand behind the veil of religion to promote their evil deeds. Basically, I'm just hoping my good is good enough. Hope that's good enough for you.
children should not be brainwashed into religion...they should be allowed to make my their minds as adults away from the pressure of the church and parents...but more times then not they will accept it for what it is, just PR and BS.
Although if you did it my way churches wouldn't last long..
When are people going to understand that it is all made up BS used to control people? Seriously, if you are over 16 and believe in "god", it is time to seek professional help.
There is a reason for everything. Kosher and Halal (very similar, although not completely) were intended to ensure safe slaughter and eating practices in a time where livestock didn't get antibiotics/dewormed/etc. The religious aspects of it are really secondary.
Atheist here. I see nothing wrong with raising your children with faith (myth) provided you: 1. Don't deny evolution. 2. Don't promote ignorance and intelligent design/creationism. 3. Don't shove you beliefs on others and try to invoke them in public schools, etc.
The fact remains that religion/faith has caused more deaths and wars than any other single cause. The Earth is 4.5 Billion years old. Dinosaurs existed, just not with man. Evolution is both a scientific theory and a scientific FACT. The whole "Noah's Ark" thing, "Parting" the Red Sea, "rising" from the dead, and other parts of the bible are complete and total myths. There is NO academically accepted, peer reviewed evidence that "jesus" ever existed. You'd think the MOST important person in Catholicism/Christianity/Baptist/Lutheran/Pentacostal and other faiths would have proof of life, but none exists. Belief what you want but keep it out of public schools, government, law & jurisprudence, domestic and foreign policy.
If you want to raise your children to be burger flippers and ditch diggers, fine. Teach them all your religious/faith insanity and myths. They'll be working in menial jobs and manual labor.
If you don't want religious people to "shove their beliefs" on you, why are you trying to do it with your own beliefs here? It's very hypocritical.
Not hypocritical. He's voicing an opinion. What he's complaining about is religious people trying to enshrine their beliefs in public life (like printing "In God We Trust" on everyone's money) and trying to get their Bronze-Age myths taught in science class.
There's a difference between that and opining in a public forum.
PumpNDump, you're telling me it is okay for ME to live my faith, but lie about my faith.
1) If I believe in creationism, that God created the universe, including the world I live in – with all creation (including creating man) how can I not deny evolution. 2) How can I not promote creationism when that is part of my faith and my beliefs. 3) If I believe and have faith in a God who is real, who gave His Son on a cross to save me from my sins, how can I not want these things taught in school. It's okay for things to be taught in school that I do not believe in, but yet, it's not okay for the things that I believe in to be taught in school. That sounds like a double standard to me.
How can I have faith in a God who destroyed the world with water because of the corruptness of man-kind and yet not teach my children that the "Noah's Ark thing", "parting the Red-Sea thing" really happened. I would then be living a lie and my faith would be null and void. My faith tells me that Jesus lived, died for my sins and is now my Lord and Savior. How can you not teach your children the truth about a resurrected Jesus.
I have proof of life. Every breathe I breathe is proof of life. Every creature (man and animals) on this earth is proof there is life. The fact that you were able to type your opinion is proof of life.
If I really believe and have faith in my God how can I not share what I know is real? If I could keep it quite, it wouldn't be much of a faith, now would it.
If you wish to be an atheist, that is your choice, but don't be telling those with a belief in God and with a faith of their own, that they are not allowed to live it.
You may see these things as unreal. Just as you think other people should keep quite about their faith, then you should keep quite about your opinions (in all fairness). If you don't believe in God or any person's specific faith, then why are you reading articles about someone's religion. (Maybe it is so you can demand that people keep quite about their faith). And sad to say, many people are intimated by those who are trying to squelch their right to have a faith and belief in God.
Faith = the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. If I had tangible proof, then there would be no need for faith. Whether you agree or disagree with me, it is irrelevant. I have a faith in God and am not ashamed to let others know of that faith.
I have a faith in a God who can sustain me and who can keep me. I also have a very good job (professional level), own my own home and both of my children have degrees in the medical field. So just because someone has a faith in God, does not mean they are illiterate or destined to "flip burgers.
What REALLY frightens me is the thought of doctors who don't "believe" in evolution. How do these people study microbiology, and prescribe vaccines and antibiotics with a straight face?
You think Jewish people don't teach our children critical thinking skills?! That's hilarious and so far removed from reality that I have to believe you've never personally known a Jewish person. Ever heard the expression "people of the book"? Look it up on the Googlenet. Shalom.
Question for atheists... How can there be a big bang theory when you can't hear anything in a vacuum? Also, if the "theory" of evolution was a fact, we still should be hanging in trees.
I'm athiest and do not care about the big bang theory. Why do I have to pick something?
Just because we have an incomplete understanding of something today does not make it logical to claim it can never be understood.
Jazzman: If you believe that about evolution than you truly are an idiot. Try reading something useful based on facts (something scientific perhaps) before you speak on something you clearly have no comprehension of. Then again, I guess if you're believing the whole Adam and Eve crap than you're agreeing that incest if perfectly fine-how the hell else did the world get populated from your point if this is what you believe?
From the tone of your comment, you still are living in a tree..Your God created you to learn and adapt. Thus you evolve.
Christians, if your god created the Universe, then who created your god, and who created whomever create, the one that created your god, etc. etc. etc.? You don't believe that the Universe was spontaneously created from nothing, yet you believe that an invisible, supernatural being in the sky either always existed, or poofed himself into being out of nothing. And if you don't believe in evolution, I guess you think all those hundreds of thousands of scientists with high IQ's and advanced degrees in science just don't know what they're talking about, but of course YOU do. I pity you, you obviously are lacking in any basic intelligence.
Remember is was opponents to the expansion of the universe theory that labeled it the Big Bang Theory.
Evolution, climbing in trees requires muscles, muscles require energy, the brain requires a large amount of energy too.
You can't do both well. If you don't do either well you don't live long enough to reproduce.
Hey! Get back up your tree.
Atheists.... What facts??? Did you ever hear about the missing link?? I will tell you. IT IS STILL MISSING!!! THEY HAVE NO PROOF!! just like religion. Nobody no anything. You have faith in science and I have faith in God!!!
The Big Bang is a bit of a misnomer. It was neither big nor did it go bang. But we can trace the expansion of the universe back to a singularity, where all matter and energy was about the size of a head of a pin. I’m not sure of your evolution question. We evolved out of the trees and came down because that was where all the food was from. Why would we still be living in them?
Furthermore, if you believe in evolution (as I do), you certainly cannot believe in the absurd notion of 'diversity,' or 'multiculturalism.' They both are fundamentally at odds with normal evolutionary adaptive tendencies.
Some theorize the missing link is the extra terrestrial intervention and all of the religions came to earth because of contact with them. I can't understand why people have the need to imagine anything written in holy books have to be supernatural – maybe the people at the time witnessed technology they could not explain!
every missing link creates two more gaps. It's the Nature of nature.
@Jazzman, go back to high school and take a biology class and a physics class this time.
Fail, CNN. The blurb about this on the front page has a typo: "its" is used when it should be "it's" instead.
Nobody has to be Jewish or christian or Muslim to teach common values to their kids.
That is the most stupid thing I ever heard!
Agree, our family does not practice any religion. I was raised Catholic but consider myself athiest today. My kids are very
moral and happy. They feel no void in thier lives
Indeed, religion tends to steer us away from what ought to be common values. Religion ultimately teaches that Jesus, or the prophet Muhammad, or the Talmud or whatever represent something so essentially good essentially good that it overrides other ethical imperatives.
I totally agree.
I agree with you Amy and I am Jewish. I Have no problem with people who do not find something useful in religion, I happen to find Judaism serves a purpose in my life and in the teaching of values to my children but I would never presume that would be the case for someone else. You can have morality without religion, you don't just magically become a wonderful person for subscribing to a belief system, saying so is dangerous and prevents people from doing the things within themselves that actually makes them a good moral person.
Where do you think common values, founded on morality come from- you idiot.
Once more Judaism is a dying faith. Kids today no longer interested in either being kosher or in having their offspring jewish. Jews comprise less than 1% of all faiths in the USA and the measurable number globally is less than a fraction of 001%. Translation: many who were raised to adhere to strict religious doctrines and theology are moving towards spiritual beliefs and not a dogmas of Judaism. In my opinion this is good!
My problem with the bible it teaches that immoral behavior can always be forgiven. Our prisons are full of people that believe this.
Sin *CAN* be forgiven, but that does not mean that the sinner will not have to do penance for it. My priest one time had a stranger come in and confess a murder to him. Father told him that he could not be absolved of the sin until the he went and confessed to the police. It wasn't enough just to go to confession and say he was sorry for what he had done- he had to also take legal responsibility for his crime.
that a problem with the animals that run the criminal justice system, playing god. Not with religion.
Have you consider that even though today you claim to be an atheist that teaches morality to your children your source of your own morality was a catholic up bringing?
As far as the Bible teaching forgiveness, please take the time to read it and learn that forgiveness expressed in the Bible does not mean lack of accountability. Jesus forgave the thief at the cross, but the thief still died as consequence of his actions.
Just a thought!!!
And there are plenty of people who never had Catholic upbringings who would be just as moral. Religion didn't invent morality, it just attempts to codify it. Unfortunately no one person's morality is perfect, and people get too caught up in the religious side of it to allow the natural and healthy evolution of morality.
Well written, and I actually got something from your article, but..........
I think you are intellectually hinting around about what you really want to talk about, atheism and the fact that our society is moving in that direction. You are addressing your ingrained guilt at the fact that you inherently understand that atheism is the way to go but you fel guilty about shucking the stoid traditions of your faith.
Do what I have done, embrace it and don't look back. Reality, baby, it's what's for dinner.
The reason she "hasn't figured it out yet" is because there is no reason. It makes no sense and serves no real purpose. As Richard Dawkins points out (hate his snootiness all you want, but this makes sense), raising a child in a particular religion makes about as much sense as raising a "Marxist child" or a "post-colonial child." How about teaching kids about ethical behavior and discipline instead of giving them as many ways as possible to wall themselves off from their fellow human beings?
If you simply go down through here and read the comments, you can see why religion has been the cause of wars and death on this planet for as long as we've been here.
And religion also the region the humanity has come so far...
And religion also the reason the humanity has come so far...
Even I must agree with you.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.