When Should Our Children Be Asked About Their Religious Or Spiritual Beliefs?

Should they be? Should they? It’s a difficult question that deserves a definitive answer.

I’m sitting in a nice resort in Chesapeake bay. Before me, the sun is setting and the sky is glorious. If there were no Muzak and the fountains were turned off, this would be magical. And if it were in Kenya, everyone would gasp at the silence and the beauty. But I’m in Maryland, and I have to make an effort to notice how beautiful the setting is. The assault on my senses is so dense that the rest need to be woken up.

I’m driving up the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the National Security Agency which has been turned into what appears to be a bunker. Inside, it’s an underground space where I’ve heard people whisper behind locked doors. The lights flicker as they try to shield one another from the light leaking out through the vents. One side of the room is a long hall that leads to two elevators where I’m met by the mysterious leader, who wears a red tie and is in the habit of holding his hand over his eyes. He looks more like a secret agent dressed up as a schoolkid than somebody entrusted with top secret information. He has a big, thick beard and wears a tie that’s black as pitch or black as tar (which is blacker than the pitch in the tunnel behind him–which, by the way, he has a big pile of). He looks like he wants to puke but can’t.

In front of me, there are people. There are also two giant green tubes that make the room look like an aquarium, all the way down to the floor and up through some massive window and the rest of the tunnel.

He pulls me into a room, turns off the lights and starts making us sit down on the floor of a vault. He asks some questions about what kind of books I read, what kinds of music I liked as a kid, what I’ve read lately, whether I’m religious, and I tell him what I’ve read and what I’ve read lately. I can think of few things we wouldn’t mind knowing about each other.

The leader smiles at me and turns red. He then tells me that I can’t leave without looking at a large chart. I stand up and do what needs to be done on this chart. He tells me that I can return the chart (without it being burned) if I give him “proof of repentance”–I don’t have to give him a reason for that, it’s more about my perception of him, not the reason itself. He asks me again about why I’m here and when I say that I’m attending a “religious retreat” that he says, “That’s not it,” and then points to the chart and makes some more demands. I tell him I’m sorry for disturbing him, that it was stupid of me–because I’ve never met anyone who is actually so different from the way I was at age five.

I give him back the chart in silence, telling him, “So, whatever I’m going to do, you can’t keep interrupting. I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m kind of new here. I don’t know what else I should really apologize for.”

He looks at me and sighs. In the background, the voices of people are clearly audible. His voice says that he’ll consider my offer after I return his “proof of repentance” and sends me off.

Back in my room, I have to get up and stretch because I have a headache. But I’m glad that I was able to do that. I can feel a calm in my soul that I haven’t felt in weeks.