William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On The Religious Indoctrination Of Children

I commented (August 2007):

As a practical matter, there is no workable way to stop LDS parents from bringing their children to LDS chapels, Catholic parents from bringing their kids to mass, Baptist parents from bringing their children to revivals, atheist parents from forbidding their kids to go to any church, or Muslim parents bringing their kids to mosques. We will always have disagreement about other people's beliefs, or lack thereof, and it will always be disappointing that millions (or billions) of kids are raised with beliefs that we disagree with. Most people, it seems, stick generally with what they were taught and tend to be skeptical or even totally closed off about considering differing views. But the only way to get around that on an institutional level is to invade the autonomy of individual families to exercise their private discretion in these matters to a reasonable extent. Inasmuch as I would not want the government to tell me I either must or may not teach my children my beliefs, so I would not advocate the government doing so with other families whose beliefs differ from my own.

All that being said, I strongly believe on a moral level that parents need to be sensitive about not unduly preventing a child from being open to full and fair consideration of all of the philosophies that are out there. Loyalty to a set of beliefs should only be as strong as reason dictates given the evidence available. All too often, the reason a person refuses to give new evidence and argument fair consideration is the LOYALTY to family, friends, and tradition, rather than logic and reason. This doesn't mean that we have to be silent and not share our own opinions. There are some aspects of morality that are so settled that we have an obligation to instill them in our kids to the best of our ability (i.e., don't murder, be generous and loving, seek knowledge, etc.) But as children start to reach a certain age, we need to start telling them that what we are teaching is our opinions that we have reached though our own life experiences. I want my kids to know that, even if they ultimately reach different conclusions than I have on various subjects, I will be supportive of them as long as they have put forth a sincere effort to consider all the evidence and arguments before them, bearing in mind that a certain degree of self-sacrifice is necessary to acheive maximum happiness. If it ever turned out that I was wrong in my own convictions and beliefs, the last thing I'd like to have hanging over my head is my having drowned out my own children's conscience and reason in favor of loyalty towards me or a group of people.

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