Religion not for Children? My Response

Yesterday I read a BlogHer blog post that really got under my skin. You might ought to check it out if you’d like to understand completely where my thoughts are coming from. Here’s the link:

Stop Inviting my Kid to Church: Religion is Not for Children

All caught up? Good.

I was 16 years old when I had an experience that solidified my certainty that God knew exactly who I was. I had always known who He was, but this experience took our relationship one step further. I knew Him… and He knew me. It’s a personal experience, one too personal to share in such a public forum, but it was real and good and validating and has stayed with me as a defining moment in my life, even 15 years later. I was prepared for such an experience because from the earliest days of my childhood I was taught about who God was. I was taught to recognize Him in the beauty of the world around me, in the love that I felt in my home, in the joy and happiness that I found in playing outside or snuggling inside. I was taught to recognize that God is everywhere, that God is love.

As a child, I was never told that if I did not believe a certain way, I was going to hell. I was never told that my friends who didn’t believe as I do were going to hell. I was never told that those who make different choices than I do, who live different lifestyles than I do were going to hell either. I was taught to be tolerant, to be kind, to be compassionate and forgiving.

I acknowledge that there is a brand of toxic Christianity that exists, that judges and belittles and demeans. I am a Mormon that grew up in the Southern United States. I have experienced such discrimination first hand. In high school, I had a boy tell me he didn’t want to date me anymore because his preacher told him I was going to hell for being Mormon. Notes were regularly left in my locker, inviting me to be saved, informing me that prayer meetings were being held on my behalf. Such gestures were particularly frustrating because I considered myself a person with a strong sense of who Jesus was and what role He played in my life.

I won’t try and tell anyone that all Christians, or all people of faith in general are perfect, but I will assert that to paint us all with one big brush–to push us all into a box of intolerant narrowmindedness, to imply that we are all scaring our children into following our footsteps with tales of fire and brimstone simply isn’t fair.

When my husband and I teach our children about God, we teach them that they have a right, even an obligation to study and pray and ponder so that they may learn for themselves. Of course, there is a level of blind obedience that exists with young children. But ultimately, each of my children will reach an age where they will have to decide for themselves what they believe. I guarantee when that day comes, they won’t have a mother standing over their head threatening damnation if they happen to choose a different path.

The thing is, I feel this way not in spite of my faith in God, but because of it. Because the God that I know is good and gracious and kind and loves us all. And that’s what my children are taught in church.

7 thoughts on “Religion not for Children? My Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am of two minds about this. I do think religion is for children so the title annoys me. However, I can find it annoying for people to invite my children to their churches especially when they don't seem to be able to take No. My older son is only 6 – I am not letting him get on a bus to go to a church that I have been to and met with the people. I was raised in one religion, currently believe the tenants of another, and am not happy with the religion that keeps inviting my so to go. I believe there is one God for all of us, but that we all don't have to worship in the same way. I'm signing this anonymous because I don't want to get into a comment or email fight with anyone over it.

  2. Paily says:

    Very interesting take. I kind of felt judged by the original author while she was complaining about being judged…I completely believe that Religion is for Children. As a general rule, societies have always been looking for explanations. That is the basis on why many religions were started. People had questions. Who is more curious than a child? Others struggled a lot to find their answers, and if I feel I have answers, I WILL share them with my kids. I do believe we need to teach a lot of tolerance and compassion. However, I would never deny the answers that I have to my children. To me that is part of teaching. That is part of parenting. People can teach what they believe, but if I can't disrespect you for teaching your children the religion of nature and museums, then please don't disrespect me for teaching my faith.Huh… I didn't realize I was so passionate about this. πŸ™‚

  3. apesjam says:

    I checked facebook right before class and I saw the title of your post and could not wait to read it! I had your mom for a seminary teacher and I can imagine that you have high respect for others. I didn't take the time to read the article (because why read something that is just going to make me mad- your response/summary is sufficient) but I think it is interesting some take the view that teaching children "religion" is indoctrinating them yet teaching them "nothing" isn't. Aren't both indoctrinations, just of different things? I wonder how tolerant children are who are raised with parents who will not teach them "religion" but who also criticize those who do.

  4. Carrie says:

    I tried to read the article with an open mind even knowing your take on it, and I do agree with you. One thing I noticed is the fact that the author did say she is open to letting her child choose their own way without pressure. I have to beg to differ….when we raise our kids…we raise them in our belief system. I want to raise my children in my own faith and hope that they follow because it is how I believe they can truly be the happiest. I think all parents do the same even if they try not to. It is impossible to not exert your personal beliefs on your children. It's how we live…what we do…what we teach either by example or words. In fact, saying that your children should not have religions recommended to them by others is again, giving that personal belief to them because you are saying that everyone else is wrong and they are wrong to do that. That said, if someone invites my kid to their church,I am not offended and I teach my kids not to be. When my daughter was about 7 she told me that all of her friends don't believe in God. I wanted to go into a huge preachy session because I wanted to protect her and hope that she had learned all I wanted her to in those short 7 years…but instead…I told her that it was okay for them believe whatever they wanted or what they were taught and that we love everyone the same. I said, "well, what do YOU believe?" and she had the opportunity to ponder that for herself. I really do think that is how it should be done–that we admit that we DO raise our children to believe what we do–and honestly hope that they choose that path…and yet, love them regardless. Gosh this is a long comment…but to wrap it up… as the article recommends…telling people to leave your kids alone because you don't believe what they do is showing your children that they don't have the ability to stand on their own. It's life. It's human nature to want to share what you believe. You have the choice to accept it or not. And as we teach our children what we believe regarding religion, teach them that what others believe is okay, too.

  5. Kazzy says:

    Amen, Sister! I had a friend in college that said her parents chose not to practice either of their religions while she was growing up so that she could make her own choice. Based on what??? We need to teach and encourage our children in our family, and learn to have constructive discourse with people of other faiths. No blaming, or saving, when they are kids. Innocent love of God.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Having completely raised my children, and having grown-up in a different religious atmosphere than I am currently in (Mormon); I have seen how both sides of the discussion has affected children. My children were raised in the Mormon church, I was raised in a sort of religious home, where I was taken to church as much or not as my parents decided. I was as active in activities as my parents could get me to them, but I was never pressured as to my belief choices. I have cousins though who were raised in a bi-religious home and they were not taught any religion. They have beliefs, but they are not active an any religion. Our choices do affect and teach our children. My choices has affected the choices my children have made. I can see it, even though they can't. I also have seen how the action and choices have affected my cousin's actions and choices. Children are sponges. They see Mommy and Daddy doing something, they want to do it too. They hear something that Mommy or Daddy say, they want to believe that they are absolutely right. Religion is taught by what we do or don't do as our children grow up. Children learn from our words, actions and examples. Faith comes when children find for themselves their beliefs and personal testimonies of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We affect them though, and their choices are made partially by our example and what they have heard us say as parents. Forming their own opinions and making their choices as to belief, they are definitely influenced by their childhood experiences. Proverbs 22:6 says: "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it."We are the products of our parents' examples and teachings. We do make our choices, we do have our agency, but, we learned at our parents' knees. Say no to those who ask with their sincerity, but ask them too with sincerity to leave you and your family to please worship how you wish to worship.

  7. Anonymous says:

    All knowledge is learned. All of it. Nobody is born with religion. Religion was created by man, usually made up of parts from other religions. As societies fall by the wayside in history, so do their belief systems, including their myths. Remember how the Greeks believed in Zeus and the gods on Mount Olympus? No different than a people believing in Jesus or Buddha or any other myth story. Case in point, your story about having "felt" god at a young age. You would not have had any god "to feel" had your parents not told you exactly what this god was, what he was supposed to have done, and how you should even feel about him. So all of this "knowing" him you feel. What exactly do you know of Jesus? There isn't even a physical description of Jesus in the bible. Yet we have hundreds of years of recycled imagery of this man with a beard and long hair, copied and re-copied by artists since the renaissance.This phenomenon is no different anywhere else on the planet. So, while you were having your personal moment as a child, somewhere in India a child was having a similar experience dreaming of Buddha, a child in Saudi Arabia was dreaming of Mohammed, etc. There are billions of people out there who believe in different gods than Christians do. So, this big point about teaching/not-teaching our kids about religion is meaningless. Because you're going to teach them it anyway, just as your parents taught you. And it will get as intertwined with their love for you as anything else you teach them…your family jokes, your favorite meals, how your family likes to vacation, etc. So, it's absolutely silly to say that in 15 years when they decide the religion is not for them that you'll just be fine with that. Chances are they will either be too guilty to bring the conversation up, and you will take the news as their rejection of how you raised them, which of course will result in family strife, just as it does in every family.What always gets left out of these discussions is that no one stops to take the time to see the similarities here with other cultures. It always becomes some "personal" story about how some mythical being spoke to you, and just you. If you had some vision of this mythical being, good for you. The trouble is that now you are going to pass it on to your child, and await them to tell you that they had one too. There are plenty of psychological theories to explain why you as a child had the "vision" you had, and why your child will now have one too (see: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc.).

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