As the father of a 13-year-old self-proclaimed Satanist, I can honestly say I’m proud of my son Noam. His beliefs are at once jokingly provocative and seemingly serious. He says that he doesn’t believe in God, but does believe in Satan, “because Satan is cooler. And if you think about it Satan is actually ‘good’ because he’s punishing bad people, right?” He’s got a point. To me his Satanism is like a person trying on a wild-looking hat out in public, to see what the reactions will be.
That said, Tamara, my son’s mom, no doubt contributed to Noam’s professed beliefs. He was raised on a steady diet of Tim Burton films, like Nightmare Before Christmas, and horror classics that cherish the macabre. Noam’s favorite toy at age three was a doll named “Spooky” that looked like a bit like chubby vinyl black teddy bear with a simplified skeleton printed on its front.
For at least a year, Noam also towed around a two-foot long creepy-looking Frankenstein monster doll with a grotesquely large head, its veins popping out left and right. At three-years-old, the doll was practically the same size as he was. At 13, he now has a tendency to draw zombie clowns and multi-horned devils. So should I really be surprised when my son announced his Satanism? At least he is showing conviction, right?
Tamara is also the daughter of a Jehovah’s Witness. She wasn’t raised that way – her mom converted only a few years ago, possibly at the behest of Tamara’s grandmother who has been a Jehovah’s Witness for decades. I bring that up because it’s interesting to witness, if you will, the disruption, variety and rediscovery of beliefs all in one extended family. Tamara and her partner Jim – Noam’s stepdad – do not practice any religion. But as far as I know they both believe in God, just not organized religion. And Noam spends the majority of the time living with them.
I came into my own non-religious or atheistic tenets at around the same age as Noam is now. As I studied for my Bar Mitzvah I questioned the fantastical stories of the Torah. The tales are such an intrinsic part of Jewish life that they are retold year after year, holiday to holiday, and every day in between. After years of Hebrew school, in which I barely communicated with the rabbi, I distinctly recall wandering up the synagogue’s back stairwell toward the offices to speak with him. I remember walking down the dimly lit office hallway, where the tiled floors were angled so that they pointed toward Jerusalem. The rabbi, a kind but distant man, invited me in and asked me what I had on my mind. I wondered, “in the Torah it says that the flood that Noah escaped killed everyone else in the world. Does that mean we descend from Noah and his wife, not Adam and Eve?” He answered, “well, probably at that time it felt like the whole world was flooded, but it was just the area around Israel. Besides, they are just stories that are told, they are metaphors.” “Oh,” I said. While I went on to do my Bar Mitzvah, my nonbelief was solidified the day I finally had the courage to question the rabbi.
I can only imagine that this disjuncture of shared beliefs within a family system is increasingly common in an era when co-parenting or split parenting is prevalent. With that in mind, I admire Noam’s questioning, searching and playfulness as he discovers the world around him and what beliefs he will hold onto as “the truth.”
Fivel Rothberg is a father, media maker, producer, educator and activist who received his MFA in Integrated Media Arts at Hunter College. He is currently finishing a short documentary about being a father and addressing abuse in his family.