Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Forcing" religion on kids?

A lot of times, the statement is made in Pagan circles that parents are not teaching their children their faith because they don't want to force their child to believe something....that they felt like religion was forced on them in their childhoods, and they don't want that for their children.

I find myself thinking that this is a false dichotomy.

Many monotheist "our way is the only way" faiths teach from that perspective....and a lot of us who came from a faith like that, from families that insisted on doing things their way, probably remember all the questions in our heads, the things that didn't sit right, the things that were just nonsensical to us. And if you were a kid like me, you remember the way you learned that some questions are just not meant to be asked....the audacity to ask things that were "inappropriate" was met with everything from shame and ridicule (in my case) to outright violence (in cases I know of).

Change is seen as bad for many of these folks - seriously, I remember the drama when the head organization of the church of my childhood produced a "new" hymnal.  20 years later, there was still a division between churches using the "old" hymnals and the "new" ones....and there probably still is to this day.

Pagan faiths are different. Categorically, qualitatively different. Worlds apart.

We're not tied to one specific way of worship, to the same songs or motions or actions every week. If a particular God or Goddess isn't really our cup of tea, we don't worship/interact/work with them much, if at all. There are few things that are "my way or the highway" sorts of deals, even within a specific tradition or group - and even in the most well organized groups, someone who says, "we can only do X for this holiday" (or God or ritual or whatever) is likely to find themselves either thrown out of the group, or with much of the existing group leaving for greener pastures.

While I suppose it's possible for us to try to shove a very specific Pagan worldview down our children's throats, I have yet to meet a Pagan who'd actually do it the way that most monotheist families seem to do - the polytheist/pantheist/panentheist/henotheist/archetypal sorts of relationships we have with Deity seem to, by their very nature, preclude that behavior.

That difference alone means that even teaching our children our own personal take on religion won't make them feel that our way is the only way, and that not doing it our way makes them a bad person. There is much less focus on fitting in with the group and following group-think as the way to get ahead. There's no shame in moving to a different faith, or even a different "congretation" within the same faith.

Because, when you get right down to it, you can't force a child believe anything - and I think those of us who came from a more forced background know this at heart, because so many of us don't believe those things we were taught. You can encourage, you can teach your way, you can bribe or threaten or cajole, but you can't reach into their little brains and flip the switches. They figure that out for themselves, and then remember how we as parents approached it, and that colors their views as they grow.

So....share with your children the things that bring you joy and peace. Show them your daily and weekly and monthly practice. Let them know that there are other options out there, and explore when they're ready to do so. And worry less about being like your parents were, because you've already stepped outside of the worldview that allowed that behavior in the first place.


  1. I so completely agree with you. I've also run into others who say (some with kids and some without) you shouldn't teach children paganism because of forcing faith on them. I think you're right that by the nature of how most of us came to paganism all parents would be careful in how they present the information to children. I'm sure about all parents will leave the door open, tell their children about other faiths and many will even take them to experience those other faiths.

    I think it's important that children know what their parents believe, and share in that until they are old enough to begin their own exploration. That way they have some ground on which to start.

  2. Thank you! I have felt this way since 1st having children.I myself did not discover my true faith till I was 26 ,it was long and resheared filled journey but one that I enjoyed and once I found that Wicca called to me it was a joyous feeling which filled me up inside! Finding your faith/religion is a very personal thing one which we all must do by listening to heart! Blessed Be )O(

  3. Say there is a way to "force" Paganism on your kids. What will they do when they are adults? Likely the same thing you did: find a faith more to their liking. And that's a good thing.

    When we share our faith (any faith) with our children, we are teaching them one very valuable lesson: that religion is an important, valuable part of life. Kids who are raised with no religion are being taught that religion and religious community is optional and irrelevant. Those kids are less likely to go out and seek for "what feels right to them" and more inclined ignore religion all together.

  4. I want to teach my children, I'm simply waiting until they are old enough to understand, and slipping bits of "historical" information in here and there. I am surrounded by a Southern Baptist and Catholic mix family and want to avoid the confrontation. Their day will come, though, and I will excitedly share.

  5. I think it's you're so spot on about not being ABLE to force a child to believe in something they don't. I tried for so many years to believe as I was taught but just didn't.
    Peace and love :-)

  6. An absolutely wonderful post! And I couldn't agree with you more! We have Agnostic on one side of my family and Episcopalian on the other side. So it is a hard line to walk, allowing them experiences from both sides without the 'You Must Believe This' mentality. Thus far... I think we've been doing pretty well. But we haven't really gotten to the questions stage yet. At which point I'll point to research first. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. I disagree somewhat. I do agree children of a certain age can learn about our beliefs and decide for themselves what it is they believe in. However when you teach of your beliefs from the cradle, children tend to just go along with what the parents say without question. Then it becomes a matter of brainwashing. My DD is 10 now and learns more and more about my path everyday. I treat my faith as my personal journey that they can watch or participate in if they so choose. But I always stress that I want them to make the choice because its what they believe, not what they are told by me.

  8. "brainwashing" sounds like you think people are tying their love and approval for their child to their agreement with their belief, or somehow using force or coercion to achieve compliance.

    I really don't think that's what you mean here.

    There are plenty of Christian examples of exactly that (purity balls come to mind, for example)....but again, the very fact that our faiths allow for multiple options makes it just flat out silly to think that we're forcing our children to do it our way. Yes, they participate in the rituals and rhythms of the household, but again, that's not really forcing something on them, merely giving them a framework to work within and the stability they need to grow and thrive

  9. No that isn't what I meant. By brainwashing I mean that children have a childlike faith. They do not generally question or have the capacity yet to think and make their own decisions when they are very young. That is why I support parents who choose to wait till their kids are older to teach them about religion. Because if you start too soon they only believe what mom and dad tell them and its an ingrained lesson. By my experience, once that lesson is ingrained its hard to change opinions. Some never do question what they've been taught. Which is why I'd rather teach my daughter to think and make decisions herself. Dd and DS can learn all about what I believe when they've developed the critical thinking skills necessary to make their own choices.

  10. Ah yes, the epidemic of adults who never question anything they've been taught...

    ....which explains why so many adults are wondering why Santa didn't bring them presents last year, why there were no eggs hidden in their yard last Easter, and why the tooth fairy never brought their kids money when they put their teeth under the pillow.

    In all honesty, I disagree with you, and I doubt either of us will change each other's minds. There's nothing in what I originally said in the post that says anything about age, just about the ability to force a child to believe. Teach what's age appropriate, and as they grow, so will your explanations and their understanding.

    I still maintain that the very nature of our faiths - the fact that we worship different Gods and Goddesses, that we welcome others to worship with us who may not honor those same Gods, or even Gods in the same pantheon, the fact that we go out of our way to be tolerant of others - those things leave the door open to explore in ways that monotheistic faiths don't.

    Kids learn. It's what they do, what their brains are meant to do. Unless we actively oppose that and actively quash attempts to question and explore and grow. I just don't think you can get there (in terms of religion) coming from a Pagan starting point.

  11. You didn't mention age. I did!

    I do agree children of a certain age can learn about our beliefs and decide for themselves what it is they believe in. However when you teach of your beliefs from the cradle, children tend to just go along with what the parents say without question.

    Key words there are "from the cradle". I agree kids can learn. I just think you should wait until they are a bit older and have developed critical thinking skills necessary to decide for themselves.

    If you don't believe some adults never question religion, then you really are not paying attention.

  12. In terms of fundamentalists who appear to never question anything, though, the situation is far more complicated than just thinking and questioning what they've been taught.

    They have been taught there is only one God, and only one way to worship that God. The love and approval of their parents depends on following that belief unquestioningly, and they've seen what happens to those who choose not to believe. All friends (or at least, all the friends their parents approve of) usually follow the same beliefs. Look up some of the folks who've left polygamist Mormon groups for example, or folks who've left Quiverfull churches - they lose everything by leaving. *THAT* is brainwashing.

    And again, I believe it's next to impossible for us to do the same to our kids. The whole concept of "it must be my way" just doesn't work.

  13. I'm not talking about fundamentalist groups though. I am talking about your run of the mill religious person who just takes for granted that their children will follow in their footsteps.

  14. I am a Christian, but I think I can understand part of where you are coming from. When my daughter was sick with brain cancer I became disillusioned with church politics and church people worrying about such pointless things as what to make for next Sunday's potluck while my daughter was dying in the hospital. Church people also do not understand or tolerate my daughter's disabilities either. So I have decided to ditch church for worshiping God in my own way at home.