debate this morning between the scientist, Lawrence Krauss, and a representative of the Muslim faith. Their topic was whether a belief in God is liberating or limiting. During the debate, Krauss brought up the fact that we never say a child is "conservative, liberal, or libertarian"; we never would think a 6 year old is a democrat or a republican.
Why? Because it would be impossible for a child to understand the issues involved. One needs to have a certain grasp of the politics, economics, and philosophy behind each label before one could reasonably declare themselves of a particular vantage.
However, Krauss went on to notice that we do not hold to this rationale when it comes to religion. We often say that a child is Christian, or Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu.
Yet, like with the political labels, we must know deep down that the child has no grasp of the label we have given them. We may have trained them well to parrot key words or phrases, but they simply do not have the intellectual depth or life experience to declare themselves a member of a particular religion in any meaningful way. They have no more rational ability to choose a religion than they do a marital spouse.
Still, we stay the course in this practice of labeling children. In the Christian faiths, we "encourage" our children to accept Jesus into their hearts, say sinner's prayers, undergo baptism, or declare membership in a particular church. I would assume other exclusive faiths have similar practices.
Even before I left the faith, I started to see behind the curtain of this practice. It was apparent to me that all of this excitement about Jack accepting Jesus, or Jill being baptized, was really about the parent and the religious institution. The parent wants the assurance that their child is eternally safe. The institution wants the belief ingrained in the children. Without the indoctrination of the next generation, no religion would survive.
It is also a Kodak family moment. When the child goes before the congregation to declare their belief and why they want to be baptized, there is a collective sigh from the audience. The child has no idea what they are committing to, but they do recognize the smile of approval on mom's face, and they know that when this is done they get to go out for ice cream.