Saturday, February 02, 2013

Religion and Children

I was listening to a 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.


Eruesso said...

"parrot key words or phrases"

This made me think of Jesus Camp. And whenever I recall that film I always think of that one little blonde boy who questioned his beliefs. I've always wondered what happened to him.


The Arkwelder said...

I've got three kids--a six year old boy, a four year old girl, and a two year old girl. I'm trying this "crazy" experiment where everyone in the family is allowed to choose for themselves what religion they want to affiliate with, or whether they want to be religious at all. So far my boy is a professed atheist (he declared today that God is "fake"), and my four year old is a devout Christian. And it occurred to me that there really isn't a right or wrong answer. Christianity attracts a certain personality, and so does Atheism. I realized I don't really care what their respective "conclusions" are, only that they are seeking, asking, engaging the question, etc.

Paul Sunstone said...

Good post! I think you pretty much covered it. Your post put me in mind of an anecdote that James Dobson tells. According to Dobson, he was only three years old when, one Sunday, he walked up to the front of his church and, before the congregation, begged for forgiveness and salvation from the Jesus.

Dobson goes on to say he himself doesn't recall the event, but that is what he's been told he did.

I get the sense Dobson has never questioned whether he genuinely understood what he was doing -- assuming the event actually happened.

Kacy said...

I remember my own walking the aisle experience--I didn't want to do it. I hated crowds, and I hated standing in front of people, preferring to blend into the background.

My sister wanted to come forward to be baptized, and my parents told me to go with her. Well, I hated my parents' disapproval more than I hated going in front of crowds, so I went forward and did the repeat-after-me prayer.

There was always something that felt fake to me about the whole experience, and this caused a lot of anxiety for me since I was raised a Baptist. I constantly wondered if my salvation experience was real and wondered if I needed a re-do. Even after a few re-dos I always wondered if I was being sincere enough.

Now I'm raising my kids to choose for themselves. I simply don't want them to have the same sort of salvation stress that I had growing up.

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