How Should I Present
'Religion' To My Children?
I am a young agnostic, and have recently begun to wonder about how I should present "religion" to my children. (I should mention that at this point in time, my children are completely hypothetical!)
I am openly agnostic, but I'm still growing into my skin, and I recognize that it was "more comfortable" to subscribe to organized religion than to "venture out in an angry sea."
I realize that I have time to come to terms with my belief, but would it be completely contradictory to expose my "children" to organized religion with the knowledge that they would formulate their own beliefs later?
Though I don't subscribe to organized religion, I have family members and friends who do and I can see it's value within their lives. Whether or not they subscribe to religion because it is the societal norm or because of a what they deem "something deeper", in the big picture, it has made them happy, and helped them to live fulfilling lives, even if they realize that a god figure is improbable.
If agnosticism professes to seek truth through reason and happiness through the disavowment of illusion, then as an agnostic, am I obligated to raise my "children" agnostically, or can I show them the merits of either decision while instilling in them a deep sense of self reliance and responsibility?
-Curious in Kansas
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2000 6:23 PM
My parents ignored the religion angle and things worked out just fine.
I think there is something to be said for an experience that Madalyn Murray O'Hair describes: Basically, she had, at one time, been open to allowing her children to be exposed to a religious indoctrination -- in the name of open-mindedness. Then someone asked her what she would do if she had been raised a racist, had spent years or decades overcoming this upbringing. Would she then turn around and allow her children to be exposed to a racist upbringing just for the sake of being open-minded and unbiased? No.
I think the same holds for a religious upbringing. True, there is a little to be said for certain types of religious upbringing. However, at minimum, religious faith itself has very little going for it and at most can leave one scarred for life. Thus, I would base the instruction of young ones on two things: (1) human perception and reason are very fallible; (2) human perception and reason are all we have to go on (that we can verify). As feeble as this flickering candle shines, it is the best we've got.
Organized religion, as it is usually practiced in the West, consists mostly of a well-oiled, finely tuned system of high-pressure sales tactics. Evangelists are extremely skilled at what they do. They have studied the human mind and have had millennia to test the general response to the various techniques. One must be extremely skilled in order to deflect the challenges they place before their prospective converts.
The most effective technique they have is to begin indoctrinating youngsters long before they have developed skills at critical thinking. Once this is accomplished, we have humans who have been trained to repeat various statements (religious claims) and then to assert that these doctrines are what they believe. These humans are also conditioned (in a Pavlovian sense) to fear anything that might cause them to doubt the cherished dogma.
If you want to raise kids, then you will probably spend most of your current resources (expecially your time) developing a career so that you can financially support your family. You certainly don't want to take the same route that I have taken: studying philosophy, pondering the deeper questions, and learning how to protect yourself from the wiles of the charlitains who desperately seek your loyalty. This is no way to build the financial base required to raise children -- but then, I have no children and intend to keep it that way. Without having spent time learning the various angles that the religionists present to the unwary, though, you are taking your chances when you hand your kids over to religous training. People who do not have the time or patience to study the issues as thoroughly as I have usually make a decision -- faith or reason -- and then dogmatically emphasize one or the other (or some amalgamation of both). The agnostic route is the toughest of all: it is tough to justify and it is tough to practice.
Thus, I think the best way to go is to impress upon the kids the importance of scientific method when it comes to finding out what is real and what is not, and to put off the questions raised by the religionists until the child is old enough to think for himself or herself. When I would ask my parents about God or the afterlife, they would tell me, "I don't know. I don't think there's a God or an afterlife, but nobody really knows for sure." Then they would assure me that people who do believe have their reasons for believing, just like we had our reasons for doubting. This last part, I think, kept me from becoming a full-blown bigot later on. However, the most vicious anti-religionists I've known were those who had had a religious upbringing as a youngster only to discover later that they had been deceived. I don't know how I would handle the situation if that had been my experience, so I try not to be so quick to judge the anti-religionists just like I try to be slow to judge the religionists.
As I said, agnosticism is not the easiest route to go, but to me it is the only credible position.
I call myself an atheistic agnostic because I lack a god-belief. However, will still entertain any god-claims that come my way because I know I haven't heard them all (although I am in a position to say that I have considered almost all of the god-claims out there).
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my inquiry. Your suggestions were well put. At the point where you called yourself an atheistic agnostic, I laughed, because that is what I too call myself. I liked your explanation of why you choose that terminology, because my brother (who is a theist) and I got in a long discussion about whether or not the term was an oxymoron. Just thank you for the clarification and insight.
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