Saturday, 13 June 2009

Raising religiously tolerant children

Following on from an earlier blog describing why I am an atheist, I would like to follow that up by advocating why I think all children should be raised as atheists.

It is more correct and reasonable to teach children about the different religions, what they represent, and their beliefs, against the backdrop of atheism. Atheism is the absence of religion, so a child raised as an atheist is much more likely to make an informed choice in relation to religion when they are ready to do so. By raising a child under the doctrine of a specific religion, the parent has already made that decision for them. They have effectively taken away the child's decision as to which religion (if any) they should follow. While it is possible for a child to choose another religion in later life, this is far less likely than if the child had been raised as an atheist.

Children who are raised following a specific religion, will be bombarded with religious messages, dogma, ceremonies, festivals and other associated rituals that belong to their parents religion. A child raised in such circumstances hardly stands a chance of making their own decision. By the time they are old enough to understand about religion, and to make their own choice, it is probably far too late. After years of being raised under the religion of their parents, who have subconsciously and consciously exerted great influence on their child's religious upbringing, they will be unable or incapable of making a truly informed decision about their choice of religion.

By raising a child free from religious indoctrination, where no single religion is followed, but instead they are all taught in equal measure, then the child is much more likely to choose the religion (or lack of it) that is most suitable and appropriate to them as individuals. To raise a child under a specific religion, and then claim that they are free to make their own choice later on in life is a false claim. It is far more difficult for a child to break free from the shackles of their parent's religion.

To refer to a child as a Socialist child, or a Marxist child is obviously wrong. Yet it is perfectly acceptable to refer to a child as being a Christian child, or a Muslim child. Religion seems to make an exception of itself when it comes to labelling children.

Religion is divisive. It teaches children to respect their own religion above the others, that only their religion has the answers, that other religions are wrong. By raising a child as an atheist, but teaching them about the other religions in equal measure, is surely the most sensible and appropriate way to raise a child.

I have been an atheist for many years. I have explained my reasons to my eldest child, and will do the same to my youngest when they are old enough to understand. At no point have I ever forced my views about religion onto my children. I would much prefer my children made such decisions for themselves. To raise a child that can think for themselves, then you have to step back, and let them make decisions such as their choice of religion for themselves. If you force your own religion onto your child, then don't be surprised if your child is incapable of making their own choices later in life.

Surely it is far better to let your child make their own choices, even if you disagree with them, than to force your own choices onto them.

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