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Do You Need God To Help Raise Your Child?

Photograph by Twenty20

There was no God at my wedding. We both felt it was just too complicated.

With my secular Jewish background, and my husband's practical rejection of his Catholic one, the thought of finding both a rabbi and a priest who would work for us seemed like a headache we really didn't need. Also, it seemed slightly dishonest. We weren't members of any synagogue or church, and we weren't planning on joining one just so we could get married there. So, no God.

It was the first time the question of religion had seriously come up in our then seven-year-old relationship. My family's Judaism primarily consists of a Passover gathering once a year and possibly lighting a menorah next to the Christmas tree. My in-laws were welcoming and quietly relieved that I had replaced my husband's previous girlfriend who was a Buddhist.

RELATED: How I Dealt When My Son Rejected Our Faith

But when our daughter was born, the question returned. Should we baptize her? My husband wavered. He remembered the good things about his years of Sunday school. The community. The structure. He made joking references to Limbo, and how he would be lonely in heaven someday without the two of us. I laughed and shot back, "Are you sure you're still going to heaven after all the premarital sex we had?"

God was not a part of our lives. We said no prayers, attended no services. We had our own, strong framework for morality, ethical ideas we deeply believed in and hoped our child would share. Where was the need for God?

It was the same question my grandparents had asked 70 years ago when they both rejected their devout Jewish upbringing. My grandmother refused to take part in any organized religion, alarmed by what she saw as institutional sexism and the suppression of individual views. (This was after they kicked her out of Hebrew school.) She found her own God in the love between people, in kindness and generosity. And she never wanted her children to feel labeled or excluded. "Why join the Jewish country club?" my grandmother asked after moving from New York City to the suburbs in 1953. "It's just as snobby as the one where Jews aren't allowed."

My husband is realizing now that maybe being raised with God leaves a mark that years without church can't completely erase.

My husband's issues with Catholicism were much the same. It was in his nature to question authority, to ask why he was being told to judge or hate others. He couldn't accept the Pope as an infallible source of God's disapproval about homosexuality or contraception. And when the appalling revelations came out about Catholic priests sexually abusing children with the full knowledge of church hierarchy, it was the final straw. He gave up debating with his priest and left in disgust.

But becoming a parent is kind of like being in therapy. You know, all those childhood issues that you thought you dealt with years ago? They start showing up again and punching you in the stomach.

My husband is realizing now that maybe being raised with God leaves a mark that years without church can't completely erase. He misses the Catholic community in his small town, its warmth and kinship. Living so far away from both of our families, he wonders if our daughter will feel that same security with our loose network of friends scattered around Los Angeles. I remind him that I grew up in New York City where community is the people you make eye contact with at your subway stop. I don't know community. And I don't know God.

RELATED: Why I Make My Kids Go to Church

But I know how I felt at our wedding. It was like being lifted up by love, being so completely surrounded by caring and kindness that nothing could ever hurt us. During the ceremony, we asked our guests to recite a pledge to support us in our new married life, and I think it was about as close to a prayer as I will ever get.

We pledge to unite

in love and support

For Sarah and Benjamin.

May they be happy.

May they be healthy.

May their home be a refuge

from the storms of life.

In times of ease and joy will you join with them in celebration? We will!

In times of difficulty and struggle, will you offer them the best of your care and counsel? We will!

If God could make my daughter feel like that, I might just have to give him another shot.

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