Handing over our assumptions and beliefs to our children is no longer something we can continue doing without questioning ourselves as we have done in the past. To tell a child that Santa Claus actually doesn’t exist is quite different from handing him or her over, our deepest personal beliefs we have acquired over the course of our own lives.
Today’s children are perhaps exposed to a much wider zone of influencing factors early on in their lives than ever before. Peers and classmates from a range of cultural backgrounds, television channels ranging from the evangelical to the sombrely scientific, comic books and magazines, online gaming channels to consoles, are all important sources of the necessary information that our children need to build up their world views.
What made an exclusive religious education feasible for our previous generations was an environment for cultural propagation of myths and stories necessary to support extended world views. Todays state-run educational curricula focus mostly on developing reason through the understanding of the natural sciences and secular form of the humanities. This perhaps in some ways relegates the task of ethical, moral and religious upbringing to home, making us doubly responsible to help our children avoid conflicts between our own views we hand over to them and that of the state-sponsored educational system.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
and though they are with you, and yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday.
Kahlil Gibran in ‘The Prophet’
In this context teaching atheism in many ways is the exact equivalent of bringing up a child in a Biblical tradition of reasoning: as these are positions we must adopt through our own process of reasoning and judgement. As parents our primary responsibility is to provide a stable home environment to allow our children’s intellectual development, and not to propagate our belief systems in any manner that would discourage our children to figure out their own blueprints of reason. The issue of cultural conformity is perhaps a completely different one – familiarity with one’s religious traditions can be a profoundly enriching experience even without implanting rigid theological beliefs in our children’s minds. Do we really need to tell our children about Santa Clause’s ‘definite’ state of existence, when a mysterious smile with a ‘Who knows ?’ shrug does the job equally well ?
To grow up with uncertainty in the modern world on the big questions of life and the is perhaps an essential step for our children must go through, and as parents, our ideal role is to support them through the process without interfering in their crucial process of reasoning. While it is absolutely reasonable for our children to have cultural exposure to our religious practice, as much as the exposing them to for our favourite bands or football team, coercing them to adopt the same for themselves is parentally immature. We cannot create copies of ourselves through our children, not even if they are cloned, and it is equally irrational to try and pass on to them our thoughts.
For children have their own thoughts.
We are responsible as parents to guide them properly in their chosen direction, but not to choose their direction for them in any way. However convinced we might be of the correctness of our own paths.
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