Does Your Toddler Believe in God?

children and spiritualityMy sister took a grande family vacation this summer in the South of France (tough life, huh?) and popped into a particularly inviting crumbing church that looked like it was constructed some time in the Middle Ages. When in Europe, such pit stops are necessary.

Neither she nor her husband are religiously inclined in the slightest, so imagine her surprise when her 3-year-old son looked at her with wonder in his eyes and whispered, “El Señor.” That’s the Spanish word for Jesus.


My sister was dumbfounded. “Who talked to him about ‘El Señor’?” she wondered, “his Spanish grandmother?” Very unlikely given that she’s a sworn atheist. Where, then, did he pick up such reverence for what was, for all intents and purposes, an old stone building?

Now, I’m what you’d call an agnostic. I’m not going to write God off, but I’m certainly not going to throw myself at the altar. How then has my 22-month-old son picked up religious leanings similar to those of his cousin? An old lady who lives across the hall from us has a giant prostrated Jesus hanging on her wall and my son loves it. I find it all a bit grim and macabre but sometimes my child -- my spawn, the fruit of my a-religious loins -- knocks on her door just to check it out.

This extends to any and all Jesus and Mary iconography. Every time he sees a crucified Jesus or devastated Mary, he stops and reflects ... like, all solemn and stuff. I nurture my son’s spiritual interests by stopping into churches every now and then, if only because I get such a kick out of watching his open-mouthed oohs and aahs. Plus if we’re on a walk and he has a stroller meltdown, the fastest way to chill him out is to take him into a church. We live in an old European city so there’re at least three per block.

Remember that book The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired Into Our Genes by geneticist Dean Hamer? It caused quite a stir and I, too, was skeptical at the time. Hamer hypothesized that human beings are genetically predisposed to being religious, spiritual, or mystical beings. Looking at my own relationship with organized religion, in particular, and spirituality in the greater sense, I really have no idea where my son is getting these oohs and aahs from. The same goes for my nephew.

Maybe they’re in cahoots.

Or many there’s something to this whole God gene after all.

Tell me your thoughts ... are your toddlers naturally religious? And what role does religion play in your household?  


Image via AlicePopkorn/Flickr

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