Thursday, May 24, 2007

Do kids need religion?

I've been listening to a very interesting podcast on Motherhood Uncensored about raising kids without religion. Kristen Chase (Motherhood Uncensored) is a podcaster and blogger who says whatever is on her mind, and I've been enjoying listening to her podcasts for the past month or so. So this week, Kristen tackled some great questions about religion: do kids need it? is it possible to raise spiritual and ethical kids without it? are kids losing anything by not participating in an organized religion? etc. Kristen had some interesting guests speaking about this topic, and two of them were involved in writing a new book called Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion that sounds very interesting as well.

So I'm going to chime in here with my opinion on some of these topics. Obviously, for me, Judaism is an important element of my identity, and by choosing to send my son to Jewish pre-school/daycare and now Jewish day school, I/we have made it a priority for him, as well. There are things that drive me crazy about Judaism (see some of my other posts like this one and this one), but over all, I feel that there are enough positive things about it that I want my son to learn as much as he can about it while he is young.

One of the things I like that he is learning is that he is part of something bigger than himself. It's hard, in our society, where the focus is often on me-me-me (i.e. rugged individualism, looking out for number 1, competition, being the best, buying the best, the latest, the most in-fashion, etc....) to feel like YOU are not the ultimate be all and end all, that the community, G-d, the ethics and morals of the religion, are something older and wiser and MORE than just you. And that you are part of a people, part of a system, that is larger and deeper and more powerful than just you alone.

I feel that there will be plenty of time for him to question all of this when he is a teenager and an adult. Right now, it's great for him to learn some definitive things: we do it this way, not that way, because we are Jewish; we believe this way, not that way, because we are Jewish. Later on, he can sort it all out, and see if it works for him. But I think it's a lot to ask a kid -- well, we're not going to tell you what to believe, you decide! -- when they are just a kid! That's why I don't buy into this idea of "we'll expose the kids to all different religions and let them choose." Kids learn from their parents. If the parents say -- we don't really buy into any one religion, but we'll show you all these different ones, and then you can choose -- the kids will likely choose, as the parents have, nothing at all. And I feel that kids are missing something if they grow up without a set of beliefs, a feeling of belonging to a group, a sense of community, a sense of who they are in the world... I truly feel that it helps in life to have those things, and that kids without them are missing out.


Anonymous said...

"If the parents say -- we don't really buy into any one religion, but we'll show you all these different ones, and then you can choose -- the kids will likely choose, as the parents have, nothing at all."

Having read Parenting Beyond Belief, I think I can correct two misconceptions in your post. The book does not advocate having children decide for themselves which religion to follow, if any. The authors specifically agree with you: that's too much to ask of a child. They should decide, but not while they are children. The key is to keep kids open throughout childhood so they can then think for themselves when they are old enough to choose their orientation.

Second misconception, and an important one: secular parents have not chosen "nothing" -- they have chosen a worldview rich with meaning and purpose, full of wonder, and replete with a sense of belonging to things larger than themselves: family, community, humanity, and the interwoven web of life on Earth, among others.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, thanks!

I don't think saying no to tribal identities is the same as having no identity. We do meaningful things with our kids and instead of saying, We believe this or that or do this or that because we're [Jewish, Muslim, Baptist, etc], we say:

"We do this because we're human!"

They'll have plenty of time to choose a tribe. Or who knows -- they might just end up choosing "human"!