Do Parents Have the Right to Force Religion on Their Kids?

My Southern Baptist father and WASP mom raised us kids with exposure to many religions -- I went to Catholic, Presbyterian and Jewish services with relatives and family friends -- but they invoked little religious influence. I'm technically Presbyterian and I married someone Jewish; our kids are "half and half," which so far has worked out fine in our non-denominational urban universe.

So I guess I am naturally baffled by parents who feel it is their right to "force" children to abide by their religious choices, such as an Oregon case earlier this year that attracted national attention when the Oregon Supreme Court blocked a divorced former Southern Oregon man from circumcising his 12-year-old son against the wishes of the boy's mother.

According to the Oregonian, the court ruled that the trial judge failed to determine whether the boy wanted to have the procedure -- a voice of reason here since it's obvious to me that a 12-year-old is old enough to weigh in on decisions affecting his body. The custodial parent, James Boldt, who converted to Judaism several years ago, argued that he, as the boy's father, has wide latitude to make decisions for his son. The child's mother, Lia Boldt, says that circumcision is dangerous and that her son is afraid to say he doesn't want the procedure. The court ordered the case back to the lower court trial judge to determine the boy's wishes, with a decision expected later this year.

So I wonder: Does religious freedom apply within the nuclear family? Other than tradition passed down within male-dominated cultures where wives and children were considered chattel of men, why do modern parents believe we hold the right to force our children to practice certain religious beliefs? Why don't we expose our children to multiple religions without picking one, and them let them decide for themselves as adults -- as we do with most important decisions, such as careers, spouses and where to live?

Most Western civilizations no longer force women or children to marry against their will or follow orders from the patriarchal forces in the family. Why does religion, at times, seem to be an exception? Or is sharing your religious beliefs with your children simply part of being a loving, supportive parent?

Maybe my parents, through their lack of religious beliefs, did technically "force" their near-atheism on me as a child. How could they not? Parental rights aside, do parents invariably influence their children's religion? Where does the line between influence and coercion lie? Do you have religious beliefs different from your parents's? Has your religion ever been questioned or rejected by your parents? Do you believe one of your parental rights is to choose a religion for your children?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  April 30, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Raising Great Kids
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Sorry, but I am unable to relate to this one. It is a leap to go from non-denom to circumcision. I think it is a mistake to expose your children to no religion, or to multiple religions, and ask them to choose one. Choose a religion, if any, raise your children in it, let them decide as adults which parts to keep and discard.

Posted by: cg | April 30, 2008 7:23 AM

Could you clarify? What exactly do you mean

"Why don't we expose our children to multiple religions without picking one, and them let them decide for themselves as adults?"

Practically speaking, does that mean you take your children to a different church every single Sunday, on a rotating basis, then at 18, tell them to "decide."

So let's say at the age of 18 your "kids" do decide, "I like Protestant!" Are they supposed to go to a Protestant church until THEY have children, at which point they resume 18 years of rotating churches?

Is that what you do?

Posted by: Ryan | April 30, 2008 7:31 AM

Except for very rare cases, when religion can actually impede the health and well being of children, I do think parents have a right to impose or indoctrinate children into their own religious beliefs.

Personally, after a certain age, if you press too hard, the child will most likely rebel and choose NOT to follow your belief system. But in a normal amount of exposure, kids are influenced by all sorts of beliefs handed down from their parents.

Even things like, we don't accept birthday party gifts at children's parties, we only watch one hour of TV a night, we recycle, we don't eat meat etc... are all examples of passing on one's beliefs to their children.

In limited doses, I see this as relatively harmless. American culture thrives on free thought and independence. It is not like these kids are chained into their parents religion. In fact, for Protestant Americans there is a huge amount of church shopping or choosing a denomination later in life.

I do think it can become an issue when it involves health and well being. Like the polygmaist compound in Texas. I don't care what your religion says. Sex with a 13 year old girl or boy should be illegal and those kids should be removed from the home. Telling me she wants to have sex with an adult man because she thinks it will give her some sort of glorification in the after life, is a cop out. Disgusting too.

I am also very saddened by the religions that refuse medical intervention. Lots of kids have died because their parents refused routine medical care in favor of prayer. Now, I believe in prayer too. But I believe it goes hand in hand with modern science.

Circumsion is a really tough one. Because studies show (minus the studies of Aids transmittal in Africa) that most hygenie benefits to circumsion is not necessary in a developed country. But I do understand that circumsion has deep religious and cultural roots. I think the case with the Jewish father, it is too bad he didn't convert when his child was an infant. It would have been a lot easier on his son to have the procedure done as an infant rather then 12 years old.

Overall, we are raising our kids in our own religious tradition. We will teach our children the rules and regulations of our own religion. But we will also be honest with them and say there is a lot that the church says that we frankly don't believe in. And when they are in their early teens, we expect them to make their own choice whether to be confirmed (join the church as an adult) or seek out other options. We would support any healthy soul searching that they would want to do. I think you can lead them to water but you can't make them drink.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 30, 2008 7:35 AM

powerful column today, Leslie. I never really thought about it. for me, religion is a core belief. I realize for others religion is not. I need to think about this before responding rashly. Though, rash reactions are likely to be the 'thing' today.

Posted by: dotted | April 30, 2008 7:35 AM

Not being religious myself, I don't have much to say except that I'm pretty sure that religious people truly believe that their faith is true and they want to share that with their children. It is not like picking your favorite restaurant to religious faith, it is much deeper and more important than that. I'll leave the discussion of the intersection of culture and religion (e.g., Judiasm) to others. Frankly this column seems just a bit like baiting.

Posted by: Moxiemom | April 30, 2008 7:40 AM

Leslie - do you plan to monitor this discussion and keep on track? Because I agree with moxiemom that there is HUGE potential for baiting.

I think I am with foamgnome on this one - faith and religion are part of the belief system parents pass to children. So long as it does not physically harm the child, cause harm to others, or teach hatred I can see no problems with inculturating your children in your faith. Be prepared for them to question it later and do not be offended if they choose a different path.

I am sure AB, MN, dotted, and others will be far more eloquent and thought provoking than I.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | April 30, 2008 8:04 AM

Look down and you'll see the shark as this blog just jumped the shark.

Posted by: Jumped | April 30, 2008 8:05 AM

There's a big difference between forcing one's religion on one's children and modeling faith (notice I didn't say religion) as important to one's own life and sharing that in the family.

I don't actually care if my children share my religion in the sense that they will choose to worship in the same denomination when they are grown -- I would like them to choose to share our faith, since for me it's the most important thing in my life.

But the way our faith (Evangelical) is set up, the most important moment is when an individual makes a decision to accept Jesus Christ as one's Lord and Savior. And that's actually not something you can DO on behalf of another person -- that's the whole point of the European missionary voyages to the New World and the whole history of colonialism and to some degree why the effort was flawed and failed. Ultimately, the decision to place one's trust in the Creator or not is a personal and individual decision. Not to be silly, but it's basically like that old adage about how you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

ON the other hand, my children see my husband and I modelling our faith and why it's important every day. When I'm asked to provide insight regarding peer pressure, the recent drug bust in our middle school, why girls can be so mean sometimes and a whole host of other adolescent concerns, the kids pretty much know that I think that everything you really need to know about ANYTHING is found in the Bible. So chances are that at some point in our conversation, we're going to talk about Job or Paul's letter to the ROmans or Ephesians, or how the Song of Solomon helps us to understand why sex is sacred and not something to be taken lightly. In our family, Bible commentary fits into our everyday conversations along with the article I read in the Wall STreet Journal or the recent Time magazine article. It's simply another source that we turn to when we need wisdom and information on a particular subject. I don't think that's the same as forcing my "religion" on my children -- but I think it would be equally strange to censor myself and leave it out. They have Christian and non-Christian friends, they socialize with youth group and also in other venues, and they waver on a day to day basis regarding their interest in Christian colleges. Believe it or not, sharing your faith with your children doesn't mean forbidding them to question it or requiring them to swallow it. I wouldn't want to do that and I'm also pretty sure it wouldn't work.

Posted by: another view | April 30, 2008 8:11 AM

I guess since you can't choose your parents, you can't choose their religion either. I have, in general, no problem with raising your children in your religion, unless, as stated by a PP, we're talking one that can affect your well-being (marrying at 13; no medical treatment).

When they get to a certain age, though, it's time to let them make their own choices. A good friend in HS was raised Roman Catholic, but decided in HS she did not believe in the basic tenets of the church. She told her parents she did not want to go through Confirmation, but was told she had no choice. In the end, she did it to appease them, but was upset about the hypocrisy of it (she wanted her parents to respect her choice, but she also understood that this was an important rite for the church and didn't want to demean it by participating and not believing).

I do have a friend whose father is a Protestant minister who did not have her baptized, although she attended his services every week. He wanted her to choose her own religion when she became an adult and she did (her husband's).

Posted by: pipette | April 30, 2008 8:29 AM

Leslie, the context of your topic today in terms of parents "forcing" religious practices on their children is very misleading, but I'm assuming you know that already. The circumsicion case that the court must decide has everything to do with the age at which a minor can make decisions about medical procedures that govern their own body and nothing to do with religious practices. Can a parent "make" his 12 year old get a haircut, go to church, go to school. Sure!

It works both ways too. Can a 12 year old deny cancer treatment if he is diagnosed? That's a different question. I had an HS friend who was in that situation and decided that the constant vomiting from taking chemo to treat leukemia for his last few weeks of life just wasn't worth it.

As far as a parent "forcing" a religion on their children, I not only think it is a right, it is a duty, just as it is to educate them in math, science, history... Whether a parent forces (or denies) their children's access to a particular religion, it is impossible for a participating parent *NOT* to expose them to their own personal faith. We all believe in something and if we feel it is a good thing, we share it with our kids.

And to end this rant on a personal note, I've told my kids that I don't care who they marry, just make sure a priest is there to perform the sacrament, or I won't be there to witness it.

Posted by: DandyLion | April 30, 2008 8:35 AM

The Oregon case is more about custody and who has the right to make decisions for the child in question, or at least that's how I'm reading it.

I think the religion followed and practiced in the home (if any) is absolutely something parents can, do, and should decide on for their minor children. I think it's best if parents allow a child to explore other faiths if the child wishes to do so. I was raised Catholic but none of us ended up that way -- two Unitarians and an atheist at the end of the day. :)

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 30, 2008 8:36 AM

I strongly believe in passing my cultural and religious traditions to our children. Since we are Jewish, this means educating them about Jewish history, traditions, going through bar and bat mitzva's, belonging to a synagogue. As far as exposing them to other religious, it's virtually impossible not to since Christmas and Easter are widely celebrated and they have non-Jewish friends. I hope that they will remain Jewish and marry within the Jewish faith. I will be saddened if they don't but then I hope they will marry somebody who is tolerant of their religious tradition. I certainly will not ostracize their partners. However, I am not too worried about them rebelling against Judaism because I think that our modern conservative Judaism blends well with our lifestyle. So far, they think that being Jewish is "fun". Of course, this may change when they have to study for their bar mitzva!

Posted by: dc reader | April 30, 2008 8:38 AM

A couple of comments.

First - you reference the patriarchal nature of society in general, and religion in particular. But I've heard that religion, as with many other things, is more influenced by a child's mother than father. Additionally, Judaism can only be passed through the maternal line. So if a non-Jewish woman marries a Jewish man, and they decide to raise their children in the Jewish faith, unless the mother converts before the children are born, the children will have to be converted at birth (relatively easy to do) to be considered Jews.

Second - OF COURSE parents should be raising their children with their belief system. That doesn't mean you don't expose your children to other ideas and religions. But the same way you tell your child that just because Tommy hits other kids doesn't mean it's ok for you to hit, you tell your children that this is how other religions worship/believe/practice, and this is how we do. They may still choose something different as they grow up - different religion, or different level of adherance to religious rules and rituals - but they have that heritage.

Posted by: JB in VA | April 30, 2008 8:43 AM

OT to everyone,

I posted some comments on genetic testing and the (lack of ) laws concerning these tests. I posted them on yesterday's blog.

Freida and I were very touched by your warm responses and kind comments to her (our) story.

Posted by: Fred | April 30, 2008 8:44 AM

I don't like that the one example you give of "forcing" religion is akin to mutilation. Sounds like a real bias against religion here.

Posted by: Arlington Dad | April 30, 2008 8:45 AM

This one kind-of hit home for me. Religion wasn't forced on me as a child, it just...was. Being born into and raised in an independent baptist church (that means they're so crazy the southern baptists are too liberal for them), there was never a question. It's just what you did. Church 3x/week (Sun morning & evening and Wed evening), plus immersion in all things churchy. That place was run by such nut-jobs, boys and girls (CHILDREN) could not swim together for fear of lust creeping up; they could not even go tubing in a river together without being fully clothed. No sinful swim suits allowed! Were there emoticons, I'd be virtually rolling my eyes.

Because of this, as you might already tell, as soon as I got to college and woke up to the rest of the world around me, I ran...as far and fast as my soul could go. Were it not for my wife, I doubt I would have ever set foot in a church again. Thankfully, she introduced me to the more tolerant side of religion as well as the way churches can benefit society in ways I could not as an individual.

Now we plan on raising our soon-to-be-born son in a regularly attended church, basically to help with orienting his moral compass as we attempt to do so as well. We will expose him to multiple religions on multiple occasions throughout his time with us and let him make his own decisions when he is capable.

Posted by: J | April 30, 2008 8:52 AM

cg said: " I think it is a mistake to expose your children to no religion, or to multiple religions, and ask them to choose one. Choose a religion, if any, raise your children in it, let them decide as adults which parts to keep and discard."

I agree completely. This coming from someone who was raised by an athiest dad who prohibited me from going to church, and a fundamentalist christian mom, who told me to hurry up and accept Christ in my life because she wanted to see me in Heaven. Obviously, I'm still confused.

Posted by: JEGS | April 30, 2008 8:56 AM

Well, I can't say that I was "forced", but I had better have been sick in bed to avoid going to Sunday School from the time I was eligible until a couple of years after 8th Grade (confirmation). I even had perfect attendance several years. And even though there was no Sunday School in the summer, I pretty much had to go to church. (I think I've written about this before.) The reason I finally got out of going was because I joined the Vol. Fire Department in my Junior year of HS and training was Sunday mornings (the Catholics got to go early Sundays or Saturday evenings)! I suppose it helped that my dad was also in the FD and skipped out on church now and then to attend his training.

Now, I go Christmas Eve only because I'm home and it pleases my mother. Yes, at 34 I still aim to please her in some areas. She'd probably lose her mind if I ever told her I don't believe in any of it and haven't for about 15+ years!

Of course, I don't mind the commercialism of Easter and Christmas and celebrate those aspects of both. And I happily cashed in my savings bonds from my confirmation (darn 18 year wait) and used them in Key West a couple of years ago.

So, I guess the point is to be careful how you deal with it. If your child doesn't want to go every week, don't make them go. And if the church is full of hyprocrites (but I suppose what religious facility isn't?), maybe find a new one (my mom "grew up" in the church that she still goes to every Sunday so there wasn't much of a choice there for me).

Posted by: WDC 21113 | April 30, 2008 9:01 AM

to WDC 21113:

In your comment you pose the question "what religious facility [isn't full of hypocrites]?"

What do you mean by that, specifically?

Posted by: Ryan | April 30, 2008 9:06 AM

I agree with DandyLion that Leslie used a very poor example. Having a child undergo a medical procedure is much different than making them go to church every week or get confirmed or bar mitvahed or whatever. She might as well have used the case where parents let their child die because they refused to allow him to receive medical treatment because it was against their religion.

As to the overall question itself, parents absolutely have the right to "force" religion on a child. It's the same as the rights they have to "force" a child to go to a particular school, to "force" a child to eat their vegetables, to "force" a child to go to bed at a certain time, and so on. That's a parent's job. Parents make the rules, and that includes what religion to observe.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 9:07 AM

My kids were taken to a conservative church from infancy until their early teens. There are positives to exposing your children to religion including reinforcement of good moral values, learning about music, participating in youth events which involves traveling, camping, community service, etc.

The Bad part about having the kids involved in religious activities was the amount of hypocrisy they were exposed to by the very people that were suppose to be leading them down the righteous path. I won't exclude myself or my kids dad from this category; we both made some dumb mistakes that went against what I wanted them to learn in church as good values. The youth leader was horrible in preaching one thing and doing another. Kids see this behavior and it is very confusing.

My young adult kids hate church now. Hate anything to do with religion. I stopped going myself. I still have faith in my own way. I still believe in prayer and hope and promise. Just bypassing the organized method of observing religion.

Do I regret taking them church. No. I do not. I did it for the right reasons and with with good intentions. I think one day they will be glad they went to church, but right now - they don't see it.


Posted by: cyns | April 30, 2008 9:12 AM

"why do modern parents believe we hold the right to force our children to practice certain religious beliefs?"


another view has hit this one out of the park.

On Leslie's column which was intended to be as absurd, insulting and provocative as possible, here are a few variations on her question.

Why do modern parents believe we have the right to force our children to:

never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking or using drugs -- or to be that driver?

believe that character counts more than possessions or outward appearance?

value education and lifelong learning?

reduce, recycle, reuse and otherwise take care of our Planet?

. . . because we believe that our values, including our religious beliefs which haven't anything to do with membership in a particular denomination, are a key part of what makes our family us, e.g., these are the values on which mom and dad agreed and they formed the foundation for our marriage and family and our life choices. They are just that important. Our kids may ultimately determine that other values should drive their life choices. That fact doesn't relieve us as parents of our responsibility for framing moral and ethical choices early and often and conveying how we've responded to them and why.

All parents since the beginning of time -- intentionally or unintentionally -- have passed their values on to their children. The only question is whether we appreciate the nature of the values we are passing on.

Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 9:24 AM

I am a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant and am highly offended you claim we lack religious beliefs and are near-atheists. Get a grip, woman. Just because we don't have the rituals, traditions and medical procedures of other religions, we certainly are not atheists. Your father was Southern Baptist? They 'lack religious beliefs?' They are the most fervant, Bible-thumping religion of them all. I went to a funeral where a Southern Baptist preacher gave the service and came away feeling this guy is nuts. His message was "God doesn't make mistakes. This could be you in the coffin. Are you ready to meet your maker?" and it certainly was no comfort to the family of the deceased.

Leslie, do not equate white Anglo-Saxon Protestants with atheists, and stop calling us WASPs. It isn't funny. Neither is 'shiksa.'

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 9:24 AM

cyns, I think you are right. I was raised in a very religious household--I would call it extreme, actually--and I absolutely rebelled for a fairly long time after I got over the guilt of not believing what I had been taught. Fast forward a few years though and I have found my faith again. I don't go to church regularly although I still love the liturgy and ritual of it--my faith is much more personal and internal now, I guess. I think I will want my kids to go to Sunday School and church just so they know the Bible stories and have a framework that they can choose to take or leave when they get older. If nothing else it will help them in English lit classes--a friend of mine was raised essentially atheist and was a very confused English major...try reading Paradise Lost with NO knowledge of Genesis. Anyway. I don't think I buy into this business of "forcing" (kind of like "clinging"--the word doesn't sit right with me) but my husband and I do believe that as parents we will have a certain obligation to expose ourchildren to some kind of religious framework, and it might as well be ours when they are little. When they get bigger that will be up to them.

Posted by: tsp 2007 | April 30, 2008 9:25 AM

I'm currently pondering this myself. I'm dating an atheist but still believe in some tenets of the faith I was raised in (Episocpalian). How does one balance this even before they are married? Is there some injustice done to a child raised in a household where their mother takes them to church on Sunday alone because we both believe in respecting each other's religions?

Posted by: canary30 | April 30, 2008 9:28 AM

I think that raising your kids within your personal belief system doesn't constitute "force" so much as other actions may, especially as the child gets older.
An immediate example sprang to mind of a friend whose parents would only pay for college if he attended seminary. he acquiesced and went for a year against his better judgment. It pretty much destroyed any faith he left and he quit after a year and worked full time to put himself through community college. Attaching strings, be they financial, emotional or otherwise to your maturing child's personal faith and beliefs seems manipulative and cruel.
While I think that making the rounds at various places of worship may not be the best way to introduce your child to spirituality or faith (possibly confusing or nonsensical if you are say, a practicing Jew), being open minded to the fact that not everybody believes the same things (and one day your child may be one of those people) and that doesn't make somebody a bad, hellbound person - that's a tactic that doesn't "force" religion on the child while still allowing for a parent to share their values.

Posted by: rva | April 30, 2008 9:30 AM

MN, I knew you could say it better than I. I think you have a grand slam as well.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | April 30, 2008 9:32 AM

My husband and I do not go to church and are not introducing religion to our toddlers any time soon. When they are older and might want to go to church or Sunday School with a friend, we will let them. We did not baptize them either - they can CHOOSE to do that later in life. I see no reason to baptize a baby in your own religion when they have no say in the matter.

Posted by: LBH219 | April 30, 2008 9:33 AM

This touches on a bit off a sore spot for me. I was raised in a very catholic family as was my husband. It was assumed that we would raise our children as Catholics and we have chosen not to. We get a lot of pressure from our families about this decision, but believe that children should be introduce to as many ideas as possible so they can decide as they grow up which path is right for them. They attend catholic mass with Grandparents on many holidays and other times just because they want to. They have all gone to pre-school at a synagogue and have had many a shabbat dinner with good family friends. We attended a Wiccan wedding ceremony recently that my oldest really enjoyed. I am currently studying Bhuddism and the girls have accompanied me to many gatherings. We stress to them that it is important simply to be good people. We talk about what religion in general offers people and answer a lot of questions. We talk about God and spirituality. We also talk a lot about tolerance of other people's beliefs and traditions, which I think is the most important thing for them to learn.

Posted by: Momof5 | April 30, 2008 9:36 AM

Could you clarify? What exactly do you mean

"Why don't we expose our children to multiple religions without picking one, and them let them decide for themselves as adults?"

Practically speaking, does that mean you take your children to a different church every single Sunday, on a rotating basis, then at 18, tell them to "decide."

So let's say at the age of 18 your "kids" do decide, "I like Protestant!" Are they supposed to go to a Protestant church until THEY have children, at which point they resume 18 years of rotating churches?

Is that what you do?

Posted by: Ryan | April 30, 2008 7:31 AM

__________________

Very well said! You're right, that's absurd. You raise your children with what the parents believe. Whether it's with one united religion, or two--what mom believes and what dad believes. But that's crazy to give them a revolving door of religions...then, how do the kids know what they believe.

Posted by: Kattoo | April 30, 2008 9:38 AM

cd writes:Choose a religion, if any, raise your children in it, let them decide as adults which parts to keep and discard.

ryan writes:So let's say at the age of 18 your "kids" do decide, "I like Protestant!" Are they supposed to go to a Protestant church until THEY have children, at which point they resume 18 years of rotating churches?

Is that what you do?

---agree with these comments, Leslie, if u dont influence yr kids on the beliefs that u feel are correct, why in the world would u trust someone else to do it for you ? do u let them watch tv or perhaps hear a comment by a friend or by chance wander past a mosque or church or temple and just happen to go in ? religion is a strong influence in many peoples lives, its not something like chewing gum where u pick a flavor every week. It baffles me why u wouldn't want to point yr kids in the right direction ?its not even about religion, its about parenting. If yr atheist, teach yr kid that, if christian go for it, if Muslim do it, but for goodness sakes dont sit on yr hands philosophising on whether you should guide/influence yr kids.

Posted by: snapplecat | April 30, 2008 9:40 AM

MN,
Your post does say it PERFECTLY as well! And I agree w/all the other posters who think Leslie's column is purposefully provacative! But you know what, this entire blog is always provacative...

Posted by: Kattoo | April 30, 2008 9:44 AM

I'm very comfortable bringing up our children in our faith, since we're Unitarian Universalists (UU). UUs do not have a creed-- the whole point is deciding what you believe. We have core moral principles but, within that, you can be a UU Christian, UU Buddhist, UU agnostic, etc. In middle school UU children spend an entire year studying other faiths, and attend services for many other faiths.

Yes, children of UUs do end up converting to other religions when they grow up. That is OK, since we respect other religions and the point is to give children a religious education and decide on their own what they believe.

Posted by: Neighbor | April 30, 2008 9:45 AM

I've lost patience with adults who say the reason they don't like church or temple is because they were "dragged" there as children.

Weren't they also dragged to buy clothes, "forced" to do homework, "made" to go to bed when they insisted they weren't tired? How many adults are also resentful of these activities?

How many parents have "forced" their offspring to go to the zoo or a birthday party or on a family vacation despite a child insisting he or she didn't want to go, didn't want to go, didn't want to go?

Overriding a child's judgment and views from time to time is an essential part of good parenting. So absent practices that violate federal or state law or are clearly liable to risk a child's health, why do some people some people insist they don't want to "force" their religious views on their kids?

They can't do it anyway. Kids aren't Mini-Me's of their parents.

Beyond intangibles like soul salvation and the like, there are decent reasons to try to rear your children in your religion.

1. Kids get used to an activity that, unlike their soccer game or their scout troop, isn't all about them.

2. They see mom and dad behave around other adults.

3. As they get older, kids may realize some of the standards and values the 'rents keep harping on aren't just Mom and Dad being idiosyncratic and unreasonable. Other people hold to them also. Hearing other people openly talk about obligations to do good and how to go about it seems like something parents would want for their children.

4. The instillation of values and knowledge, religious or otherwise, require crockpot cooking, not a microwave.

5. Religion isn't a prison into which parents lock their kids. Religious training does, however, provide a base for evaluating religion in general. Every society seems bizzare from the outside.

6. If there is some sort of congregation, your kids might make friends.

7. Maybe when they decide to marry they won't be as weirded out and lost as some couples are when they realize they don't like the courthouse but they have no connection to any place of worship where they might otherwise have the ceremony.

Posted by: pisor | April 30, 2008 9:46 AM

MN, I knew you could say it better than I. I think you have a grand slam as well.


Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | April 30, 2008 9:32 AM

awwww, thanks *blushes*. Product of a Working Mother - you sell yourself short. I enjoy listening more than talking, and listening to you is particularly educational.

anon at 9:24. Are you Matt in Aberdeen? I any event, you can get your panties in a wad all you want, but at least blame Leslie only for the sins she's committed. She's never used "shiksa" on this blog. I have, and so have a few others. Nanny nanny boo boo.

Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 9:48 AM

MN - you hit it out of the park! I pondered on how to respond, but your response...especially the final line... well, I couldn't have said it better. Take a bow, my lady...take a bow.

Posted by: dotted | April 30, 2008 9:50 AM

Leslie - please don't tell me you are a Presbyterian and a "near-atheist". Presbyterians have a number of faults, which they'll mostly admit, but atheism isn't one of them!

I don't think parents can force religion o their children. Oh it may seem that way when they're little, but in the end it doesn't work.

Parents can live a life that begs to be emulated and they can see that their children are educated in the religion that they believe in. After that it's up to the child.

As a Presbyterian, and a liberal one at that, I also think you owe your child a general education. Then they can decide what they believe themselves after a critical examination of what's out there. Of course you can hope that your child's early religious education will color their choices and they won't reject God altogether.

Consider the story of the Prodigal son. He was raised a certain way and chose to reject that. His father let him go, and in fact bankrolled it. In the end he returned where he was welcomed with open arms. Not necessarily more money, but love and affection.

That is a religion worth emulating.

Posted by: RoseG | April 30, 2008 9:51 AM

I can't help but think that theres a distinction being missed between bringing up your kids in a religion (i.e. going to church/synagogue/ a mosque every week, studying the traditions) and bringing them up to hate everyone who isn't christian, or white (prussian blue would be a good example here) or whatever your belief is, and not letting them be exposed to any other thought or belief. The first I wouldn't personally do because I don't believe in a god, but as several people have pointed out is perfectly within parental rights, the second is child abuse. Pure and simple.

Posted by: Kathy | April 30, 2008 9:51 AM

Do parents have the right to "force" a child to practice their religion? Sure. Should they? I think that's open to debate. I don't see a problem with parents raising their kids in the religion that they practice (even the ones that I think are scary or severely misguided), but I do see issues where religious practice approaches abuse (forcing a 12-year-old into circumcision? Yikes!)

FWIW, DH and I were both raised Catholic; we both rejected the church when we became adults. However, we do allow DH's parents to take our daughter to church occasionally, and we will teach her the religious stories that underpin the holidays we celebrate (Christmas and Easter).

Ultimately, I'd rather have my daughter decide on her own whether she wants to practice any religion and what that religion will be. If, when she's older, she wants to explore, we'll encourage and support her. But for right now, I don't see any value in introducing her to religion when neither DH nor I believe.

Posted by: NewSAHM | April 30, 2008 9:52 AM

Well, it seems pretty logical that your view on this will hinge on your religious beliefs. If you believe in God, and believe that your faith is the one way to that God, then of COURSE you're going to insist on raising your children in that faith, because it's your responsibility as a parent. If your faith permeates every aspect of your life, then of COURSE you're going to "indoctrinate" your children in it, because how could you separate out such a core part of who you are? If your morals and values are founded in the Bible, how could you not explain that to your kids?

On the other hand, if you think there are multiple alternative paths to God, then you will likely want to expose your kids to a variety of religions, because the most important thing to you is that they find the path that suits them. If you value religion more as a family tradition, then you're likely to make sure everyone shows up for the big holidays, but not so much the rest of the year. And if you're just not really sure/doubting/may be something out there, may not, then you're not likely to put a very high priority on religious training, are you? Going to church will always be one of those "good ideas" that's on the list, but tends to slip away on a weekly basis. And you're likely going to use words like "indoctrination" when referring to people who insist on raising their kids in a particular belief.

We fall into the don't really know/family traditions categories. I'm a not-very-active Episcopalian; I was raised with no religion, came to it on my own through a friend in high school, but then fell away from regular attendance in college. My husband is a non-practicing Jew -- he was raised in all the traditions, with years of Hebrew school, etc., but as far as I can tell, hasn't set foot in temple in 20+ years. When we got married, we agreed that carrying on the family traditions was the most important aspect to both of us; from the "belief" side, we agreed that we'd expose our kids to both religions, and let them choose.

Of course, the fundamental problem is that because neither of us has a deep, compelling faith, the religious training tends to fall by the wayside. I thought we would raise our kids more Jewish -- since my family's religious "tradition" is limited to the commercial side of Christmas presents and Easter baskets, I figured my husband's family's decades-old (centuries-old, millennia-old) traditions and history would trump. But the problem is, he's in the same place I am: he might have been raised that way, but he doesn't really believe it, so while he will grudgingly celebrate Passover and Hanukkah at his sisters' houses, he won't do any of the other stuff (go to temple, sign up for Hebrew school, etc.). Ironically, I care more about passing on his family's traditions than he does -- but since it's not my religion, I don't know how to do it. And that makes me really sad, because I feel like my kids are losing out on a big part of who they are and where they come from.

Posted by: Laura | April 30, 2008 9:58 AM

Oh, man. Have fun moderating this one. Yeesh.

How's this for pragmatism: Raise your kids in your faith or lack of faith, but mor importantly, teach them to respect others.

Was that so friggin' hard?

Posted by: Bob | April 30, 2008 10:00 AM

who think Leslie's column is purposefully provacative!

Is there is something wrong with being provocative?

Posted by: Huh? | April 30, 2008 10:06 AM

I think you're overlooking one of the best things about belonging to a church/synagogue/mosque as opposed to rotating among churches. It's a community. Kids benefit from being part of a community. They can accept or reject the tenets of any given religion as they become older but most faiths offer a wonderful opportunity for families to be together and share in certain traditions. To be sure, I prefer faith traditions that honor and respect other faith traditions so kids have the freedom to seek a spiritual home of their own someday. But nothing wrong with parents making the choice for them when they're young!

Posted by: anne | April 30, 2008 10:07 AM

"Force" is such a ridiculous word to use in this case. One of the most important and inviolable responsibilities of parents is to share their value system with their children, and for a great many people, that value system is rooted in some kind of belief system, whether that's Christianity or Islam or atheism or whatever else. Not sharing the beliefs that shape your values undermines the value system you're trying to teach the children, and is thus an abdication of a fundamental parental responsibility.

Posted by: baiting | April 30, 2008 10:13 AM

The whole "expose them to a bunch of faiths and let them pick when they're old enough" philosophy annoys me greatly. It assumes you can just make a choice when you're 18 or 21, and having been exposed to a lot of different ways of doing things will prepare you well for whichever path you choose. Lousy assumption.

I chose to be an observant Jew. (I didn't have to convert, as as was "born into the tribe", but it was very much a choice for me to be Jewish.) My parents had given me the best secular education possible, and had "exposed me" to Judaism, through once-weekly Sunday school and Bar Mitzvah tutoring in how to chant the Torah portion even though I couldn't understand a word of what I was reading...and they felt that was more than enough religious education. For me, it wasn't.

I know enough to "sound out" prayers in Hebrew, and pick out words here and there, but I can't keep up with the prayers unless the congregation goes slowly. And since I can only "sound out Hebrew", without much comprehension, It's very hard for me to take a turn leading the congregation in prayer. I can't take a turn reading Torah without weeks to prepare, since my Hebrew is so poor I basically have to memorize the portion. I don't know the classical sources well enough to take a turn preparing the talk on what we can learn from the weekly portion. Yes, I'm continuing to learn--slowly--but it's a source of great frustration to be so well educated in the secular world, and to be so completely under-educated in the Jewish world. I want to be a full participant in my congregation, and I don't have the preparation for it.

Posted by: E | April 30, 2008 10:18 AM

I'm treading a fine line here because personally I'm trying to be less outwardly judgmental in my life.

You might notice that my two comments on this post were not actually statements of my beliefs but rather questions to others who wrote their own (neither of which have been answered, btw).

Anyway, I think it's important for us all to emphasize that many people attend some sort of organized worship for many reasons that go beyond pure worship and religious indoctrination. One of the main ones is a sense of community, that often families living in modern metropolitan areas do not otherwise find within their neighborhoods/subdivisions.

Additionally, I absolutely love the first point Pisor made that kids get used to a regular activity that's not all about them (unlike soccer or scouts). There are alot of great benefits of children attending organized religion. Alot of the commenters mentioned something along the lines of additional moral guidance, instilling of values. That's absolutely true.

For parents who get squeamish with the idea of "forcing religion down their throats, lighten up a little. From what I've observed and heard, most youth programs are not going on weekend retreats with kids screaming a doctrine like "There never were any dinosaurs, repent or you're or going to Hell!" (maybe some are, who knows?) But mostly it's a chance to socialize with other children who, for the most part, more or less (of course) are like minded from sound moral upbringings.

I guess my point is religion serves alot of different purposes, and to varying degrees to different families. Alot of posters on this board think that those are some great benefits for adults and children alike. And, at the risk of being somewhat judgmental, I just don't think you can get that from 18 years of church shopping. I think most people that go to church regularly don't necessarily believe that dinosaurs are a fairy tale, etc. But church and their faith are still an important part of their lives.

Posted by: Ryan | April 30, 2008 10:18 AM

Leslie----

I think you are missing a very big point here. Of course parents have a right to make a choice for their children. That is what being a parent is about. You choose where they are going to live. You choose what school they are going to go to. You choose what foods are going to be available to them to eat. You choose what forms of entertainment you will have in the house. I could go on and on.

But based on your column, if my child turns 5 and says I don't want to go to my local public school I want to go to the private school that Steve goes to, do I have to let them make that decision? To me wheere you go to school for your formal education is just as important as what religion, if any. you will be raised as. So should we able to force our educational choice on our kids?

Clearly we have the right and obligation to do what we feel is in the best interest of our children within the bounds of the law (this is why the texas polygamists cannot force marriage and childbirth on 13 year olds in the name of religion). Both of my sons were circumcised because we are jewish and my wife and I chose to continue that tradition. That is a choice a parent has a right and obligation to make. A 12 year old is a different story. He understands his body and has the ability to offer input on decisions that effect him. Forcing a 12 year old into a medical procedure that is elective would be outrageous.

Posted by: HappyDad | April 30, 2008 10:24 AM

Laura, I feel you! Neither my husband nor I are jewish, but I feel the ancient traditions are important to pass on-- I really encourage you to make your best effort to expose your kids to their father's hertiage, even if he isn't interested in doing it.

You may want to look at joining a Unitarian church-- often they have many interfaith couples so there is significant support for those families and the minister is fully educated about the various religious traditions. Good luck!

Posted by: dc mom | April 30, 2008 10:28 AM

I am the product of a Jewish, non-practicing father and Catholic mother. I was raised Catholic but my mother (the Catholic) also made sure we had some familiarity with Jewish practice as well.

I am currently agnostic. I do wonder if I had been raised Jewish, if I would have remained more deeply involved in religious life. I like the fact that Jews don't believe they need a "translator" (ie, the Catholic priest) between them and the words of God. Jews believe anyone can study and learn the will of God themselves. Catholics have a whole layer of bureaucracy between them and God, seemingly -- the Pope, the priest, etc. -- to let them know what the will of God is.

On the other hand, I don't support many Jewish synagogues in their unconditional support of Israel.

No religion is perfect, which perhaps I haven't come to terms with and that's why I don't practice. I'm not sure.

But we have 2 children and I do not plan to give them religious training, but I don't plan to shield them from it either. It's good to know the stories and beliefs of the dominant religions out there.

One thing I do mourn is the loss of a ready-made community. Although I never really felt much part of the community that was my church growing up. I actively disliked much of the sheep mentality and hypocrisy that I saw in that church community (although altogether very nice people -- just not right for me).

Posted by: R | April 30, 2008 10:30 AM

Actually, while both my DH and I definitely had religion in our lives, we didn't have as much as we do now - I think my husband had more that I did, actually.

But we have created more rituals for the family (lighting candles on friday nights - having a friday night dinner together, etc - don't know what's going to happen when they want to go to football games *sigh*). And we all really enjoy them. We are much more involved than my parents were in our synagogue. We are there quite a bit, and know the families well (it helps that many of them live in our neighborhood, so my son is in school with many of them). That is creating a community. How does one create a community by doing something different every weekend? By not 'choosing' something and sticking with it?

I do definitely think that I can 'force' my children *now* to be Jewish. Of course, as they grow older, they will have to make their own decisions - but that's true with regard to judaism and with regard to anything else they do. As children grow up they get to make more of their own decisions. I would hope that they would choose to be jewish, but I can't force them. When they are adults, they can hardly be forced to do anything.

I do remember when my sister was on a phone call with someone, and when she got off my mom was completely angry with her, and finally said that my sister could not date that boy. It was a definite argument - and the thing is that it's not like anyone said anything to us about dating non jews ever. It was so strange. She was in high school at the time, and I believe she ended up dating him anyway without telling my parents, but when she left for college, of course, she could date whoever she wanted.

But absolutely, I can say what my kids can and cannot do when they are living in my house. How I do this will determine what they do when they are no longer living with me, of course.

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 10:31 AM

Ironically, I care more about passing on his family's traditions than he does -- but since it's not my religion, I don't know how to do it. And that makes me really sad, because I feel like my kids are losing out on a big part of who they are and where they come from.

Posted by: Laura | April 30, 2008 9:58 AM

Laura, Does your husband have siblings who are local and might be interested in taking on this educational/instructional role with your kids? I can imagine that most siblings and relatives won't interfere in or contribute to religious instruction or "tradition" instruction, but they might be delighted to do so if you invited them to assist. Just a thought.

Like you, I value handing down traditions and otherwise grounding our children in who they are and where their people come from. I suspect there are one or two people in your husband's family who similarly value that shared heritage.

(back at ya, dotted).

Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 10:32 AM

I am sure this comment will get deleted but I will post it anyways.

I believe Leslie's lack of faith in anything, whether is be religion or herself, is the reason for many of her uninformed columns and judgementals posts.

There, I said it.

Lecturing people on "forcing" religion on their children that has no faith is not only absurd, but disrespectful.

Last thought: You can lead a horse to water but you can not make him drink. Lead your children to you values and beliefs and hope that they stick, but there are no givens in life.

Posted by: Get Real | April 30, 2008 10:32 AM

Where did this other "Ryan" come from? I've been posting here much longer as "Ryan" and then suddenly, today, I start reading this blog and see this guy "Ryan" posting all over the place.

Just to let everyone know, all the other posts today have not been from the real "Ryan". It's some impostor who needs to change his name.

Posted by: Ryan | April 30, 2008 10:38 AM

Laura: i definitely understand. Many of my jewish friends married non jews and many of my non jewish friends married jews (oddly enough).

It is definitely not the best situation - but realistically, Judaism wasn't all that important to him or he wouldn't have married a non jew - or he might have made a bigger deal of it before you were married or something else.

I have a friend who got married in her late 30s. She wanted to find someone to marry her and her non jewish fiance. There aren't that many out there that do that - really - and she was having trouble finding someone. But it wasn't that important to her, or she wouldn't have chosen to marry someone who wasn't jewish. (and don't get me started that she was still blaming her parents - in her late 30s - that her jewish education wasn't what it should have been to enable her to marry someone jewish (!)).

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 10:39 AM

Where did this other "Ryan" come from? I've been posting here much longer as "Ryan" and then suddenly, today, I start reading this blog and see this guy "Ryan" posting all over the place.

Just to let everyone know, all the other posts today have not been from the real "Ryan". It's some impostor who needs to change his name.

WHOAAA!!! I didn't realize it was a closed club. I just kind of stumbled upon it this morning (work is particularly slow this week).

How does "Ryan2" work for you?

Posted by: Ryan2 | April 30, 2008 10:43 AM

Laura: I have seen the jewish federation around here have programs for non jews who have married jews and they are raising their kids as jews. You may want to contact the local federation and see if they either have programs like that there, or can put you in touch with others like you.

My neighbors down the street are also intermarried. I was there a week or so ago and she was preparing a seder for her in laws who were coming into town. It was really sweet (she even made a brisket! I've *never* made a brisket!).

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 10:43 AM

Dear Canary30 -

You wrote "Is there some injustice done to a child raised in a household where their mother takes them to church on Sunday alone because we both believe in respecting each other's religions?"

Girl, you need to meet my sisters. Husbands sleep in on Sundays. Moms and kids go to church. Each of these moms has taught Sunday School at one time or another. Most of the kids attended Sunday School through confirmation (Lutheran), some kids dropped out sooner. The moms admit to wavering between regular attendance, and irregular attendance. The one with the best attendance still belongs to the congregation that we grew up in, which may be why she is the most active of the lot. The dads turn up at church for big events - baptism, confirmation, weddings, funerals, Christmas programs. Everyone is fine with this.

My DH, DD, and I don't go to church unless we are visiting my sisters and there is some big event. DD is being reared in a mostly secular humanist atheist environment, but this doesn't seem to bother her. She's never asked "what are we mom?", maybe because we don't move in circles where people are all het up about the issue, or maybe because she's figured out that she gets to sleep in on Sundays.

Whatever works out for you and your DH will work out for you and your kids.

Posted by: somewhere in Rockville | April 30, 2008 10:44 AM

I'm a practicing Catholic who hopes to get it right someday. I did rebel against the church in my early 20s, but returned with a stronger faith. Had I not been "forced" (terribly worded!), I don't know if I would have gained the faith I have. Children learn what they see, and I saw strong faith in God and the Church in my family, not hypocrisy.
From a medical perspective, there are actually very few children who die because of a parent's belief in prayer. It's easy to get a judge to grant medical power of attorney for procedures for minors.
The earlier posters are completely correct that the issue in Oregon is not about religion, but custody and consent. The child could have been granted emancipated minor status for medical decisions in that case, and could have been free to make the decision on his own. This is even done in some oncology cases, when a teen and parents are in conflict over a cancer treatment plan. However, it is rare.

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 10:53 AM

One more thing -- Leslie, I felt a bit from the way you framed the debate that you're implying that somehow once you're an adult you're done growing spiritually. THen you're the adult and your role is to force/compel/explain your religion (or faith) to other people who are younger and less experienced than yourself.

Actually for me one of the greatest things about sharing my faith with my children is that it's an area where we can grow, learn and question together. That is particularly true as they get older. I love it when adults get up in front of our congregation and talk about mistakes they've made and lessons that they've learned and areas where they're still growing. And sometimes I get really uncomfortable when my kids manage to turn the conversation around and call me on my own less than Christian behavior. But I think you've got it wrong if you're coaching the whole conversation in such hierarchical terms. In a real faith community, everyone learns, everyone grows and everyone can occasionally admit they're wrong. It's not really a case of the learned indoctrinated the less-learned. We can all learn from each other, no matter how long we've been practicing our faith.

Posted by: Another view | April 30, 2008 10:58 AM

I respect the right of every individual to believe in whatever they want, as long as they are not hurting anyone. Having said that, the religion I was raised in, or should I say "forced" into, it seemed to me from a very early age to be an easy way for my parents/elders to discipline me and keep me in line. How? You better do this, or you better NOT do that or else God will be mad at you and you will go to Hell. I do realize that not all religions preach this tenet but this was my experience growing up.

You can teach a child respect, love, discipline and morals without resorting to this malevolent God paradigm. Overall I do feel I turned out to be a fairly decent human being despite my religious upbringing and not because of it.

Parents can choose to raise their children within a religious context and that is their right. But don't be foolish enough to think it will innoculate your children against the evils of the world (there were plenty of teen pregnancies in the choir, church camp, etc.). Only you, and not the big man in the sky can teach your child values.

Posted by: gracep117 | April 30, 2008 11:00 AM

In a real faith community, everyone learns, everyone grows and everyone can occasionally admit they're wrong. It's not really a case of the learned indoctrinated the less-learned. We can all learn from each other, no matter how long we've been practicing our faith.

Posted by: Another view | April 30, 2008 10:58 AM


Well said. One's faith journey does not produce top-down instruction.

Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 11:05 AM

I am not sure if parents have the right to force their religion on their children. If the two parents have a different religion or different ideas about what to teach their children about religion, I suppose that would be a point of contention between the parents. But if both parents have very similar or identical religious beliefs, I don't know how they could not influence their children. So for a child in the custody of two parents who agree for the most part, who is well cared for, loved, not under any kind of abuse, is that force?

For many people, their religion is the basis of their core beliefs and values and a vehicle (often the primary means) through which they teach their children morals and values.

Ideally, I'd hope that they would also teach their children to have an open mind and to question the status quo and to make up their own minds after examining all the evidence. However, clearly many people believe that their religion is the one right way to live or worship so they may push a little stronger.

My parents believe their religion is the one true religion very strongly. I think they believe it too strongly. I'm no longer in that religion. Ironically, the religion sometimes says things like 'examine your faith' and 'study to make sure of what you believe'. But by religious doctrine, they attempt to exclude certain evidence and the ideas of certain people from consideration by calling it apostasy. That's kind of the point where I started breaking with the beliefs my parents taught me. If I am to defend what I believe, why would I not consider all evidence for and against what I believe? Certainly, for some people, their beliefs are more about faith than facts and maybe a lot more important personally than being supported rationally. But ironically, the religion I was raised in pretended to be supported by facts, but certain facts are out of bounds and not to be considered.

I don't feel that my parents forced their religion on me. They taught me what they believed, but in the end it always felt like my choice (and that's the way it was presented though the choice was our religion, good, anything else, bad) and even though as a child I was working from a very limited set of facts. But I don't necessarily think limiting exposure to knowledge is a bad things for parents either. Parents have some right to limit what their children are exposed to. Maybe their children are not ready to Playboy articles or Roots or a book on the rituals of worshiping Aztec gods.

So I think parents are well within their rights to raise their children within their own set of beliefs. But hopefully, they'll also raise them to have the ability to think critically and evaluate all available evidence. They can limit exposure to certain things, but they should realize eventually as adults, they will have access to everything you keep from them. Hopefully, adults ask themselves why they believe certain things. If you believe it just because your parents taught you that or just because it is a nice comfortable thing to believe, there is certainly nothing wrong with that, as long as your beliefs don't interfere with someone else's freedom. On the other hand, if you think there is something factual to back up your beliefs, perhaps you should check those facts.

Posted by: PersonL | April 30, 2008 11:05 AM

another view: true true true!!! Yes, there are plenty of religious rituals for children, but realistically, most of what you learn you learn as adults. I learned the 'kids' version of things, and now as an adult, I find my religion that much more rich that I am learning the 'background' if you will to the things that we were taught (or not taught, for much of it, in my case) as kids.

Like why we cover the challah bread on friday nights (so as not to upset/embarrass it - really) - why we cover our eyes when we light the candles on friday nights (cause we can't do the activity til after we say the prayer, but we are forbidden to do the activity on shabbat...).

It's so fascinating to learn that every little ritual has a story behind it, no matter what. And having not learned much of it as a kid, I'm learning many of the rituals as my kids are and also learning the reasons behind them (kinda like when you learn upper level mathematics, some of the lower level algebra you know makes so much more sense).

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 11:09 AM

"I'm a practicing Catholic who hopes to get it right someday. I did rebel against the church in my early 20s, but returned with a stronger faith. Had I not been "forced" (terribly worded!), I don't know if I would have gained the faith I have."

That is exactly it for me too, babys1--well put, thanks. I particularly love the part about "hoping to get it right someday"...

Posted by: tsp 2007 | April 30, 2008 11:11 AM

and i feel an obligation about passing my religion on to my children. Just do.

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 11:12 AM

Parents "force" everything on their children. Children grow up, and decide how to use what was "forced" on them. Some reject neat houses and organic produce, while others embrace good posture and evangelism. It's called Free Will.

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 11:13 AM

Thanks tsp - no one would mistake me for a saint, that's for sure! I'm grateful that my faith allows me to be the imperfect person I am, and forgives me sacramentally on a regular basis.

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 11:14 AM

we are "forcing" our kids to support themselves when they grow up. Is that bad, too?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 11:20 AM

pisor -- that was great. I'd love to print that in the church bulletin!

Posted by: Arlington Dad | April 30, 2008 11:23 AM

(Mostly) good discussion here, especially given that religion is a passionate subject for so many.

I respectfully ask those of you going after me to blunt your swords a bit...the subject is provocative, but I wasn't trying to be offensive.

The Oregon case is an extreme one, but the father is using religion as his reason to advocate for his son's surgery, so I think it's a good, albeit alarming, example of a parent "forcing" religion on a child when he may not want it, as his mother attests.

In terms of the question of my own religious beliefs and affiliations, one of the interesting aspects of being born in America is that you may have a religious identity that doesn't mean much to you on a daily, practical level. Although I self-identify as Presbyterian, because it was the church I was baptized in, I can't tell you much about Presbyterian beliefs and I certainly don't represent the faith.

HappyDad -- I see parenting differently. My job is to put broccoli on their plate. Not to force them to eat it.

Same with all of my values, including my approach to religion and spirituality. I want to introduce my children to my beliefs, but let them develop their own as they live and evolve separate from me.

Posted by: Leslie | April 30, 2008 11:28 AM

Oh, man. Have fun moderating this one. Yeesh.

How's this for pragmatism: Raise your kids in your faith or lack of faith, but mor importantly, teach them to respect others.

Was that so friggin' hard?

Posted by: Bob | April 30, 2008 10:00 AM

__________________________________

Well said, Bob!

Posted by: DCD | April 30, 2008 11:31 AM

OK, one more provacative question: What's the difference between a religion and a cult? At some point, every religion was a cult that got a foothold in society.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 11:36 AM

to WDC 21113:

In your comment you pose the question "what religious facility [isn't full of hypocrites]?"

What do you mean by that, specifically?

Posted by: Ryan | April 30, 2008 9:06 AM

Is there really an explanation needed? There are hypocrites all over -- schools, politics, religious places, etc.

If you're implying that I was implying that all religions are made of nothing but hypocrites, then that is NOT what I meant.

I didn't want to site examples because that's not the intent of my posting or of this blog.

But I will add some: the church my mom belongs to (and I guess technically I do as well, I just don't go when I'm home) had a woman minister some years back who was divorced with a teenage son and she outright hated men! Hello!? That's not something one says (yes she SAID it) at meetings. My father (as I'm sure others were) was deeply offended as he had been on a couple of church committees at the time and stopped going for a very long time after that. There's the couple where the husband -- overweight, chain smoker -- had a heart attack and blamed it on the current minister (she's a Chinese woman). So, they left the church. Maybe that last one is more racist. There's also the minister who did my parents wedding and moved his family to VA shortly thereafter only to leave them because he found another, younger woman! I don't know, but to me going to church (and being a minister!) and being all nicey-nice when you're not is a little on the hypocritical side.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | April 30, 2008 11:52 AM

Leslie, the unstated assumption in your post is that raising children without religion is somehow less of a value judgment than raising them with religion, and that's not true. As other commenters have pointed out, parents inculcate their children with their value systems in myriad ways every day. Acting like this process only becomes an issue when religious parents engage in it strikes me as a huge blind spot.

Posted by: tomtildrum | April 30, 2008 11:53 AM

Your choice of "cult" over "sect" or belief system indicates your desire to apply a perjorative term to belief systems you disdain.

As per the Merriam-Webster online dictionary , there are five different definitions of the word "cult."

1. Formal religious veneration
2. A system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of adherents;
3. A religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: its body of adherents;
4. A system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator;
5. Great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book).

Your premise -- that every religion was a cult that got a foothold -- is incorrect. Some religions, e.g., Lutheranism, for example, stemmed from a rejection of the then-only game in town, the Roman Catholic Church. Other religions trace their origins to being a sect of an already established religion.

Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha, who was born in 563 BC in the ruling Kshatriya family of the Lichhavi tribe in Lumbini, in the foothills of Nepal. His father was the chief of this tribe. It was prophesized that Gautama (who was named Siddharth) would become a saint and renounce the world. At age 35, he attained enlightenment and became known as Buddha. Following Buddha was never a cult and Buddhism was not a sect of some other religion.

The more you read, the more you learn, the more precise you become in discussing the beliefs of others. Terms like "cult" don't often shed much light on the topic.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 11:53 AM

@somewhere in Rockville:

Thanks! Its good to know its working for someone else out there.

Posted by: canary30 | April 30, 2008 11:59 AM

L: "My job is to put broccoli on their plate. Not to force them to eat it."

How dare you force your food choices on them! Why don't you expose them to multiple vegetables without picking one?

:-)

Posted by: tomtildrum | April 30, 2008 12:04 PM

"Why don't we expose our children to multiple religions without picking one, and them let them decide for themselves as adults?"

This question is so foreign to me. I view my religion as no different than my ethnic background. I could say I'm from a different ethnic background, but that wouldn't change anything. I was born a Catholic, however, my parents always gave me the sense you shouldn't believe everything any organization tells you -- don't forget to question.

However, I am very grateful I was given the gift of faith and religion. It has given me much solace during rough times and joy during the good times. I can't imagine not giving that to my own children. It is another tool (not a crutch) to deal with life.

Posted by: S1234P | April 30, 2008 12:06 PM

MN: thanks

another view makes a good point that faith is not hierarchial and children can help us examine our own faith. I have a friend with leukemia who is raising her adopted daughter in her faith. As they go through the cancer "journey", it raises all kinds of questions for her daughter about faith, god, unanswered prayers...

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | April 30, 2008 12:07 PM

"unanswered prayers"

Why do we treat "no" as if it is not an answer?

We don't do that in any other area of our lives, but somehow we blame G-d for not answering when s/he has answered quite clearly but we won't hear.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 12:17 PM

But the oregon case seems to be about the dad changing the rules in the middle of the game - the kid's *12* years old, for goodness sakes. He seems to want to just stick it to the ex, using his son in the meantime. A horrible horrible thing that seems to have NOTHING to do with religion - the kid isn't Jewish, wasn't raised Jewish, is *12* years old.

I have a friend who decided to become more religious after the kids were grown. So she started to observe the sababath, walk to synagogue, keep kosher. Her DH did *not* sign up for that. He was supported, and only eats his bacon cheeseburgers as take out and uses paper plates. But they figured out what worked for them - their kids are all grown, and jewish, in their own ways, and 'go along' with mom when they're visiting, but again, they weren't raised in that way. It's interesting to watch how they are working it out.

I read a book a while back about a woman who did about the same thing - where she basically became more religious after the kids were older (I think teens). So she expected them to be around for shabbat dinner on friday nights, but couldn't imagine forcing them to observe the sabbath with her in her 'new' way since it was all new to them. I think kids don't realize how parent's beliefs can change - but realistically, at a certain point - a child is no longer a 'tabula rasa' and you can't just change the rules or the kids are going to rebel...

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 12:25 PM

Kids don't realize that their PARENTS can change. One of the best lessons they can learn is that we are not done learning, developing, reevaluating, either. You can no more put parents in a time capsule then you can guarantee that your kids will take all your lessons to heart.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 12:33 PM

Why do we treat "no" as if it is not an answer?

We don't do that in any other area of our lives, but somehow we blame G-d for not answering when s/he has answered quite clearly but we won't hear.

Posted by: | April 30, 2008 12:17 PM

In the example I mentioned my friend used her daughter's questions as a teaching point about God, free agency, the consequences of actions and that God is not the dispenser of answers to prayers.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | April 30, 2008 12:34 PM

thanks, 11:53 AM. I was on my way to the dictionary when I spotted your outstanding post. The use of inflammatory terms only puts one's back up.

1217: "No" is an excellent answer, and one used too infrequently by parents. Isn't it nice that God provides such as good example of how and when to use it? Too bad we don't emmulate Her more!

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 12:45 PM

I guess this is a core belief like any other. And, so long as the children aren't being harmed, I don't have a particular issue with it. Though, I do admit to not being able to relate.

I was raised Catholic on all sides. I did catholic school, all the sacraments, etc. But, I have to say, it was mostly b/c there was no other options offered. Literally. This was it. I never really thought about it. Everyone around me was Catholic. My parents didn't give me a choice. I just did it.

Fast forward many years and I am not practicing at all. I don't consider myself part of the church.

So, you can expose and try to force it, but ultimately it is up to the children (when old enough) to make their own, independent decision. Some will choose to stick with their parents beliefs; some won't. Hopefully, the parents respect their choice-even if they don't understand or agree with it- either way.

Posted by: Jen | April 30, 2008 12:47 PM

emulate - mea culpa!

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 12:48 PM

Leslie----

Since you singled me out specifically in your 11:23 response, I thought I should respond.

You said....HappyDad -- I see parenting differently. My job is to put broccoli on their plate. Not to force them to eat it.

That completely misconstrues what my statement was. I never said I, or any parent, should force their kid to eat broccoli or any specific food. I made the point that we as parents choose what food will be an option for our kids to eat. If we choose to eat organic, or eat vegetarian, or not eat pork, we are making that decision for our children too because that is all that will be available to them. Particularly when they are under 10 and do most everything with their parents.

As parents we make a decision to eat a certain way or to go to certain schools and when your child gets older, 15, 16, 17 etc., then they can start to make some of those decisions for themselves. But in no way did I ever say that as parents it is our job to "force" our kids to eat broccoli, which you used as a means to say I was saying we can force our kids to observe a certain religion. Please make sure you get the argyment right before trying to use it as an example.

As parents we choose what religion is an option, just like we choose what food is an option, what school is an option and where we live. If not, when your 6 year old jewish child says I want to celebrate christmas and go to catholic school do we just say yes so we are not forcing anything on our kids? What would answer be to that question from your child?

Posted by: HappyDad | April 30, 2008 12:53 PM

My parents got very religious as they got older. First my mother (and my father was really embarrassed by it), then she passed awy, and 10 years later he is supereligious, and travelling to the monasteries. Weird.
I myself never was into organized reigions. It's interesting to read about various spiritual practices and visit places, but do I really have to believe that I'm consuming Christ's blood in the Catholic church? Or make tithing commitment? I'm definitely not planning to push religion on my children. There are better ways to spend the weekend than going to church.

Posted by: FindYourOwnWay | April 30, 2008 12:54 PM

Do I have the right to choose a religion for my children? I think I have the *obligation* to choose it. I was raised Protestant, but wandered away in my late teens and early twenties. All along, my mom (who doesn't practice anything specific these days) said "that's fine, but when you get married and have kids, you have to pick something and take the kids - it's not fair to raise them with nothing." And I completely agree with her.

Fast forward a few years, when I met my spouse and chose Judaism. He is Jewish, and being a Jewish man is very important to him, but it was my idea to convert. I was nervous telling my folks - not sure how they'd take it. My mom was relieved - she was so happy that my husband and I would have that common set of beliefs to share and build our lives around. My dad and stepmom were hilarious - they said, in pretty much this many words "oh cool, we'll have JEWS in the family!" They absolutely loved our Jewish wedding, and like asking me questions about our holidays as they come up.

After all the work and energy I put into centering myself in being a jew, I can't imagine raising my children to be anything else. I want it to be something they are proud of, something that helps define who they are as people. Our home is a Jewish home - from the mezuzot on our door frames, to the ketubah in the hallway that proclaims (among other things) that we vowed on our wedding day to raise our children in the Jewish faith, to the shabbat candlesticks on the table, to the long shelf of books about Judaism in our home office. I make challah every week. We go to services as often as we can (usually about twice a month, work-depending). This isn't just a thing we do, but part of who we are. How could we possibly withhold that from our children?

On the Oregon case, the article I just skimmed seems to indicate that the father wants this done because his son is also converting. Whoa. I'm not sure what rabbinical guidance he's receiving on this, but most reform and conservative rabbis let men convert with a symbolic circumcision - a moyel comes and takes a drop of blood, rather than the whole deal. Weird.

For E: have you considered taking your synagogue's basic Judaism class? When I took mine, there were more born-jews in the class than jews by choice. So many people with your experience, who wanted to learn more about their religion. Something to think about.

Posted by: law_bela | April 30, 2008 1:00 PM

Re: atlmom @ 12:25.

It strikes me that a parent bringing God into her life like that should help her children adjust in much the same way as a single parent with a serious new SO. Even if he is the Almighty, you can't just shove the new guy into their lives and assume that they're immediately going to love him as much as you do.

Posted by: tomtildrum | April 30, 2008 1:03 PM

"From what I've observed and heard, most youth programs are not going on weekend retreats with kids screaming a doctrine like "There never were any dinosaurs, repent or you're or going to Hell!""

I think (hope) that overall, you're probably right. But there is some scary stuff out there.

There's a very interesting documentary called Jesus Camp that follows a season in an evangelical/charismatic sect where it pretty much exactly what you were saying. At one point, the camp's leader had an audience of kids from about 6-12, and she yelled at them for being hypocrites for reading Harry Potter or doing any number of other benign things. By the end, half the kids were sobbing. Another night, they gave the kids hammers and had them smash mugs that represented enemies of the church ("government" being one of them). The constant theme pounded into the heads of these children was that America's at war (no, not in Iraqu, but with itself), and that they are warriors of Christ who need to be willing to die for their faith.

I'm working on the assumption that this was not a mainstream church, and that a relative few kids are being exposed to this kind of violence and manipulation in the name of god. But boy, was it rough.

Posted by: NewSAHM | April 30, 2008 1:04 PM

tomtildrum, well said! We all know what happens to those who fall head-over-heels in lust rather than love. The relationships fail more often than not. And God can be overwhelming - although that is one of Her best features, in my book.

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 1:08 PM

I wouldn't base your views on any belief system on the biased and very political product of Hollywood.

Bringing up Jesus Camp in this conversation is akin to saying that you're a little nervous about traveling to Turkey because you watched Midnight Express and those prison scenes got to you.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 1:13 PM

NewSAHM,

Appreciate the comment. I'm sure there are camps like that. The documentary actually sounds pretty entertaining, maybe I'll check Netflix. Actually, there was a Law and Order rerun I saw not too long ago that was based on a similar theme, haha.

Posted by: Ryan(2) | April 30, 2008 1:21 PM

Kudos to another view and MN - I agree completely with your posts. Even as someone who has had a pretty healthy skepticism of organized religion throughout my life, I find it absurd to frame this as a matter of "forcing your religion on your children." It's about sharing your values, your faith, your community, the principles that organize your life. We all do that, or strive to, whether in the form of organized worship or not. I can't imagine expecting or asking a parent to refrain from sharing something so fundamental to who they are with their child. Whether the child reciprocates that belief is another question, and it's sad when religious differences end up dividing parents and children. But how you deal with it when your child ultimately chooses differently than you seems to me to be a different question than do you share your beliefs as you raise them.

Posted by: LizaBean | April 30, 2008 1:22 PM

Funny thing is, when I told people that I met my DH at a jewish singles camp weekend, they were intrigued. I tried to tell her it's nothing like what she told me about those types of retreats were for Christians. The Jewish singles ones basically have some stuff going on that's religious for those who want it - but realistically, they are trying to get young single JEWS together, so they hopefully might marry each other, rather than marrying out. So there was none of that forbidding people from being in other people's tents, etc.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 1:24 PM

Thanks for the helpful suggestions. In fact, we are using some of them -- we do holidays with his sisters, she used to go to a JCC preschool when we lived out west, etc. I guess I'm just frustrated that it's all falling on me, since it's HIS traditions I'm trying to pass on -- for ex., when we were looking for a new school, he dinged a Jewish school sight-unseen because it was the "wrong way" around the beltway. So basically, I'm doing what I can on my own, and dropping the rest. I found a Jewish summer camp through his sister, and basically said we're doing this unless you can come up with something better; he said fine. And I'm looking forward to her riding the bus home with her cousin on Fridays and doing Shabbat at my SIL's house. But I feel bad, because there we were at Passover, and two cousins are doing the 4 questions in Hebrew, and my girl was sad because she could only do the English translations.

atlmom, I am laughing at your 10:43 post, because that is SO me -- I call myself Jewish by food. :-) The first thing I did after I got married was figure out how to make matzo balls and latkes -- I even made a brisket, before my husband bothered to tell me he always hated it! But overall it worked: now he likes my latkes better than his mom's (shhh -- don't tell her!). I figure the food traditions I am at least qualified to pass down.

On a completely different issue, NewSAHM makes a good point. Generally, a lot of the churches in this area are quite a bit more liberal and tolerant than a number of churches in other parts of the country. I'll never forget the visit to my grandma's church, where the minister lectured on "the evils of the letter 'S'" -- sex, sin, etc. I spent the whole time thinking "soap! scriptures!" And I never even knew there were still mainstream religions that believed that dancing was a sin until I went to Texas for school. So I think we get a much larger proportion of the "any religion is ok" types up here than you'd necessarily see in other areas of the country.

"Even if he is the Almighty, you can't just shove the new guy into their lives and assume that they're immediately going to love him as much as you do."

Excellent!! :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 30, 2008 1:27 PM

But how you deal with it when your child ultimately chooses differently than you seems to me to be a different question than do you share your beliefs as you raise them.

Posted by: LizaBean | April 30, 2008 1:22 PM

spot on, LizaBean. That is a more interesting, and nuanced, question.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 1:29 PM

For law_bela:

I've _taught_ Basic Judaism, and mentored converts in learning practical halachah. And read book after book, and I study with my rabbi weekly. It doesn't make up for not having a solid reading knowledge of Hebrew, a passing familiarity with Aramaic, and a strong foundation in midrash, Rashi, the classical commentators, etc.

You can pick up basic knowledge as an adult, but learning enough to be a full contributor to a learned congregation of Jews is something that is much, much, easier if you start as a kid (I'm thinking of Hebrew language ability in particular).

Posted by: E | April 30, 2008 1:33 PM

Laura - for your Judaism by food experience(which I *totally* understand :) ), here's my tip for incredible matzo balls: use seltzer/club soda for the liquid instead of water when you are making the batter. The difference is really something.

Posted by: law_bela | April 30, 2008 1:35 PM

Laura: my mom grew up with basically no religion. It was YEARS later when I found out the same was true of my aunt. So I went to two seders every year, ours and my dad's brothers, and they were exactly the same, so I thought that's how passover was. Well, years later, I found out the truth - that both my mom and my aunt had learned everything about the food from my grandmother!!! Funnier still, since dad was ashkenazie and mom was sephardic - but we had basically all ashkenazie food for our seder (mom found a recipe for sephardic charoset and would make it but that was about it).

So I do remember clearly coming home from religious school and my mom asking me all sorts of things - funnily enough - wanting to know all the stories, etc, and I realized many many years later that she didn't know all of it. Okay, none of it. I really don't remember her being anywhere near interested in what I was doing in regular school.

Laura - there are all sorts of places to educate the kids, though, you can look into joining a synagogue, but there might be other ways to get them educated. Yes, one more thing to look into - when you see that DH doesn't seem so interested.

My sister married someone who had been raised orthodox. He threw it all out the window. He didn't do anything Jewish (then oddly enough, wanted to marry someone Jewish). But we hadn't been raised that way, so it was interesting when she would teach him things as in - sure, let's just use the regular dishes on passover. He had been taught there was only one way to do anything - and she taught him that it didn't have to be so strict. And basically, anything jewish they do is kinda her doing for the most part. Of course, he is the one who has more education than any of us - but she is the one who makes sure that they are having a seder and that they have everything, or that the kids are in religious school, or whatever. So it's not the same, but similar in ways. I guess it always falls to the woman (kidding!).

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 1:38 PM

Posted by: law_bela | April 30, 2008 1:35 PM

Thanks! I still remember my first Passover in the family -- the day before, I made about six batches of matzo balls to make sure I had the recipe just right. Boy did we eat a lot of rejects for the next month! Luckily, my husband loves matzo balls, and has fairly low standards. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 30, 2008 1:39 PM

"I guess it always falls to the woman (kidding!)."

Ahhh, so maybe he IS carrying on the family tradition after all. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 30, 2008 1:41 PM

E: Definitely true, but still - I learned to read torah only a few years ago (bat mitzvahed with a haftarah - but even then, I couldn't tell you the tunes!). I know how to read and write hebrew, but am certainly not conversant. Read as in actually read - but don't know what most of the words actually mean. So, good for you to be doing all you can.

Laura: wow - did your daughter stay quiet enough for her cousins to sing the four questions? :)

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 1:41 PM

"Laura: wow - did your daughter stay quiet enough for her cousins to sing the four questions? :)

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 1:41 PM"

Hah! You got me there! Actually, no -- that was when she was leaning over to me looking very sad and asking when she would get to do something. But at least she whispered. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 30, 2008 1:43 PM

My matzo balls came out very dense this year. I put the pot on simmer for a while, but it wasn't boiling, I think that was the problem. *sigh* they actually weren't bad, they were moist enough to eat - but they were hard to cut. The kids loved them, though... :)

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 1:43 PM

"I wouldn't base your views on any belief system on the biased and very political product of Hollywood."

Agreed. I'm just pointing out that scary things do exist out there. It doesn't mean that I think most (or even many) churches are like that.

Posted by: NewSAHM | April 30, 2008 1:47 PM

atlmom - I've had them come out that way! My husband has approximately the same standards as Laura's, so he didn't care but I was pissed. The less you handle them in shaping the balls, the less dense they'll be. I can never make the time to go find actual schmaltz, so I also dump a wad of butter in the water as it starts to boil.
[thus endeth my dissertation on joo chew]


E: fair enough, I misread where you were coming from in your first post.

My husband feels the same way about his Hebrew, so we bought Rosetta stone. So far so good. Yes, it is easier if one has decades of experience to build upon, but surely a learned congregation of Jews has room in the conversation for people of different backgrounds and experiences. The desire to learn and ask questions is the point, imbo, since no one will ever be at any kind of finish line in their understanding, right?

Posted by: law_bela | April 30, 2008 1:54 PM

I'm currently pondering this myself. I'm dating an atheist but still believe in some tenets of the faith I was raised in (Episocpalian). How does one balance this even before they are married? Is there some injustice done to a child raised in a household where their mother takes them to church on Sunday alone because we both believe in respecting each other's religions?

Posted by: canary30 | April 30, 2008 9:28 AM

Hey canary - it definitely should be part of your pre-marriage talks. I am from a "mixed" marriage (my Dad is Russian Orthodox and my Mom Roman Catholic), but I am a practicing Catholic. My husband (at the time we were engaged) was a sometimes going Methodist. He agreed however to be married in the Catholic church with me and went through all of the Pre-Cana marriage preparation. I believe this has made our marriage so much stronger, and led my husband back to his church and his faith.

The way we work our weekends is I go to Mass Saturday night and we together go to his church Sunday morning. We unfortunately due to medical issues will probably never have our own biological child, so we've been looking into foster/adoption programs and the religious issue comes up there as well as to how to respect the raising of that child in their own religion.

It is a tricky balance, but in my view it is worth it to share the faith together.

Posted by: amwhite | April 30, 2008 2:02 PM

The desire to learn and ask questions is the point, imbo, since no one will ever be at any kind of finish line in their understanding, right?

It's what you learn after you know it all that counts - Earl Weaver, Orioles & Baseball Hall of Fame manager!

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 2:03 PM

One concern is that if you do not give your children any religious values, someone else may do it for you, in a way you don't care for.

Good friends of ours let their 11-year-old daughter go on a weekend retreat with Wyldlife, which is the middle school version of Young Life.

What happened there was nothing short of brainwashing. They spend the first 45 hours of the retreat having all these wonderful bonding moments and building up all these peer relationships. Then in the last 3 hours, after they feel so connected with the other kids and (being 11) wanting to please them, they sit them down and tell them all about how they're going to hell unless they accept this particular version of Christianity. Then they say that their parents are misled/ guided by Satan and will try to undermine the girl's newfound belief in Jesus. Thus, any attempt that my friends try to reason with their daughter is seen as subversion. Very cultlike.

This poor girl is so broken up and confused, no longer trusts her parents, and is now in fear of her immortal soul.

They target only the most popular kids, so that being in Wyldlife is "cool."

Posted by: Anon this time | April 30, 2008 2:29 PM

Well, I don't have time to wade through all the responses, so I'll try to be brief.

I prefer to view it as modeling beliefs. Or walking the talk. Whatever it may be.

We attend church, but the one that my husband favoured was (ahem) pretty heavy-handed on the "Obey the Husband because he is Better than You" line. Which does NOT work in our household because he's mentally ill.

So, we found something else.

Amusingly enough, he is the one who suddenly became all gung-ho on God/religion "saving" our marriage, family, etc. But I'm the one who find herself chivvying the kids (and him) out of bed, into the car, trundling off to the services. This is funny because quite frankly, I don't care one way or the other about whether there is or is not a God, what religion is the "right" religion, etc.

Maybe there is "music beyond the spheres", but I don't hear it. Nor do I feel as though I'm missing out on anything.

Yet, when a friend's father died, I sat shiva with her. When someone's child is baptized, I attend. I'm a two-fer godmother too.

I expect all kids to question and argue, well, EVERYTHING, with me. Eventually. I'm not afraid of my kids making very different choices than I have. I doubt they'll turn out too badly.

There's a lot of hard work and some luck involved with raising children. I try not to rely on either.

I hope everyone is doing well.

MM

Posted by: maryland mother | April 30, 2008 2:34 PM

http://www.younglife.org/AboutYoungLife/StatementOfFaith.htm

Above is the link to the YoungLife statement of faith - in the event that, like me, you deduced that theological concepts conveyed playing, "Rumor" typically lose something in the process of inaccurate repetition.

OTOH, I agree with anon's first sentence wholeheartedly. Nature abhors a vacuum. If your child is 11 and you haven't thought to discuss any issues of spirituality - one way or another - and you send your child to a worship experience of any faith without first checking out the presiding group's statement of faith and belief, or otherwise obtaining any information about the theological perspective to be conveyed, you shouldn't be surprised if your child gets a bit confused. With what tools for evaluation have you armed her?

You might also ask what other philosophical and real-life topics you've left entirely unaddressed: sex? the environment? military service? political activism? education debt? having pets spayed? Rest assured someone else will provide a perspective on those topics with which you might not agree.

Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 2:39 PM

Babsy1's baseball reference reminds me that this issue doesn't just arise in the religious arena. What if your spouse (or worse, your ex) is a committed fan of a team that is evil? Can he or she insist on raising your child to be a Cowboys fan, for instance?

Posted by: tomtildrum | April 30, 2008 2:44 PM

Can he or she insist on raising your child to be a Cowboys fan, for instance?

Posted by: tomtildrum | April 30, 2008 2:44 PM

Absolutely not. One would think this would be a deal-breaker discovered prior to the third date. I ask you, what decent woman would sleep with a Cowboys fan?


Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 2:51 PM

Well MN and Working Mother said what I pretty much believe.

Yes, parents can expect their children to behave well and follow certain rituals of behavior. The "You live under my roof, so you will eat these vegetables/get dressed and go to church" works just fine. I fully agree it is a vital part of parenting to teach their offspring what behaviors are considered appropriate, the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, and how most people will disagree with them at some point for various reasons all their lives.

The issue with religion of course is that so many religious actions require inner acceptance in order for it to be meaningful- and if one is done without the other, then it's not just an empty action, it's considered an offense AGAINST the religion.

So parents use all sorts of bad manipulations and force to try and reconcile these together. This of course negates the concept of free and informed choices (though helps a religions census count).

Religious indoctrination is one of the prime examples of how most parents do not REALLY want to raise independent thinking good judgement making adults. They want semi-clones.

Again, expecting your children to behave well and learn the rules and understand the reasoning behind them is fine, even if this includes religion.

But doing anything that removes or compromises their free informed choice as an adult is IMO wrong, and negates the point of having a religion to begin with.

Posted by: Liz D | April 30, 2008 3:07 PM

"Can he or she insist on raising your child to be a Cowboys fan, for instance?"

No. This is grounds for divorce.

We came close: DH is a Giants fan, while I'm a Redskins fan. But we made it through that struggle, because we both agree that our favorite team is whoever's playing the Cowboys. ABD, baby.

Posted by: Laura | April 30, 2008 3:07 PM

It is extremely important

In Christianity at least you are talking about the salvation of your childs soul. I am doing everythnig in my power to ensure my child will become a Christian

In the end I know it will be a personal decision that my child makes but that won't stop me from impacting that decision anyway that I can.

Posted by: no brainer | April 30, 2008 3:09 PM

It's just so hard to teach children a meaningful hatred of the Cowboys when every media outlet in the western world regularly genuflects before Tony Romo.

Posted by: law_bela | April 30, 2008 3:11 PM

I'm a decent woman (and a Cowboy's fan) married to an Eagles fan. We just don't watch that particular game together.

Also helps that we both loathe the Redskins though we live in the DC area.

Unfortunately it looks like our kids are going to grow up to be Redskins fans.

Posted by: Cowboys Fan | April 30, 2008 3:15 PM

It's just so hard to teach children a meaningful hatred of the Cowboys when every media outlet in the western world regularly genuflects before Tony Romo.

Posted by: law_bela | April 30, 2008 3:11 PM

Stay strong, law_bela. You have only to surround your children with Redskin fans of a certain age and a meaningful hatred of the Cowboys can be achieved. The man dates Jessica Simpson. This provides a teachable moment for your kids on the difference between a smart quarterback and a dolt, LOL.

Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 3:33 PM

What if your spouse (or worse, your ex) is a committed fan of a team that is evil? Can he or she insist on raising your child to be a Cowboys fan, for instance?
-----------------------------------------

Don't know about the Cowboys fan, but a damn yankees fan is where I draw the line!

Posted by: Angel Fan | April 30, 2008 3:52 PM

MN you are on fire today! Quit making me laugh in a cubicle environment ;-)

Long before she agreed to be the First Lady of CA, Maria Shriver was quoted as saying she agreed to marry Arnie in sickness and health and that [Republican] politics was his sickness. I think that can be extended to the hated Cowboys, being a Terps fan, the Yankees, Red Sox -- pick your poison. Personally I draw the line at dating a Tarheel fan.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | April 30, 2008 3:57 PM

Of course parents can "force" religion on their children--it's an education. Force really isn't an appropriate word though--exposure by teaching in Sunday School, worship, and by example in daily life seem to be more appropriate. Once they are adults, they have the foundation, and they can accept it, wander away for a while, or reject it. The education/foundation is there for them, regardless of what they ultimately do.

When I taught junior high English back in prehistoric times (bc--before children), I was shocked at how many of my students (in Montgomery County) did not have basic knowledge of some of the biblical stories. I had to explain many literary references that they otherwise would not have understood. Having been raised in the Bible Belt of the Deep South, I just assumed that everyone knew who Moses was or how the story of creation in Genesis was similar to creation stories from other cultures in the ancient world. (I would not be able to discuss such things today, I'm sure.)

Fellowship with like-minded people with whom we developed relationships over many years, as did the boys, is also a wonderful and added benefit. Yes, there are hypocrites. Kids are amazingly adept at figuring out the sincere ones from the hypocritical ones. Another good skill. :)

Anyway, it is important to impart your values to your children, and our Protestant church education and the examples we tried to set in our daily lives are part of the boys' foundations. How they choose to use that in their adult lives is up to them, but they were not denied what we feel is an important part of their upbringing. I'm sure that it can be done in a nonreligious environment, but the literary references will still be hard to understand if they don't have familiarity with the stories. Just my opinion.

Posted by: Lynne | April 30, 2008 3:58 PM

I was born in big D, but find baseball much more satsifying. I live in a city which routinely hosts the SuperBowl, but I find spending the day at Bloomie's is a better use of my time! Still, one cannot deny that Roger Staubach was a major stud and role model.

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 4:01 PM

And I'm a more than decent woman who happily sleeps with a Cowboy! Yankees are a different story, and I broke my engagement to a Redskins fan! He was not to be trusted.

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 4:05 PM

babysy1, you mean Yankee fans, right? Or did you mean to slur those brought up in the entire region, LOL?

I'll agree that Roger Staubach, Emmitt Smith and Tom Landry were gentlemen to be respected - despite their horrifying choice of employers. A man's gotta take care of his family.

Product of a Working Mother - I had to close my door today when I started to read some of the comments on Liz Kelly's Celebritology blog. I like to think I'm paying it forward, but I am concerned about this Yankee comment, LOL.

Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 4:08 PM

I'm sure that it can be done in a nonreligious environment, but the literary references will still be hard to understand if they don't have familiarity with the stories. Just my opinion.

Posted by: Lynne | April 30, 2008 3:58 PM

Aren't you assuming the Judeo/Christian tradition? What if you are raised a devout Hindu or Buddahist or Shintu or Shikh or.... They are still being raised in a religous envirnoment, but not have the literacy references you are talking about.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 4:10 PM

"My husband and I do not go to church and are not introducing religion to our toddlers any time soon. When they are older and might want to go to church or Sunday School with a friend, we will let them. We did not baptize them either - they can CHOOSE to do that later in life. I see no reason to baptize a baby in your own religion when they have no say in the matter."

Clearly, if religious practice isn't important to you or your husband, it makes sense that you wouldn't "force" it on your kids, and that you wouldn't baptize them. I have plenty of respect for those of different faiths, or even of no particular religious faith at all, but much less for those who don't really believe in Religion X, but have no shame about partaking of its rituals just because they're pretty.

However, for denominations that do baptize babies or young children, the fact that they're not old enough to choose it for themselves is exactly the point. Baptism is a public commitment to God and one's faith community that you intend to raise your child in this particular faith. In some denominations, mine (PCUSA) included, there's a corresponding commitment on the congregation's part to support both the parents and the child in this effort.

Posted by: HazelinNY | April 30, 2008 4:10 PM

HazelinNY, well said.

Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 4:25 PM

okay...all tongue in cheek until the Tarheel comment by Product. You need enlightenment. Which of course leads by to discussions of God (so what do you know? On topic even)... If God isn't a Tarheel fan, then why is the sky Tar Heel Blue?

and what happens if one of the remaining two in the house go to NC State or, gasp, Duke? oh the horrors.

Posted by: dotted | April 30, 2008 4:45 PM

To anonymous at 4:10 PM, yes, I am assuming a Judeo-Christian tradition. After all, I taught in the United States in a suburb of the nation's capital. So, a Judeo-Christian tradition is pretty prevalent here. We do have more and more people here from Asia, so of course their traditions are different. Thus, their literary traditions and references would be different. Most good teachers would welcome the input from those students from other backgrounds, particularly if the literature being studied has a reference from the culture that we might not "get". I would certainly have welcomed such input because I think it broadens us all when we learn about other cultures and their religions.

Posted by: Lynne | April 30, 2008 4:45 PM

HappyDad -- Not sure if you are still around, but to continue our discussion: if I were vegetarian, I wouldn't "force" my children to be vegetarian. (I actually have friends who do, and I think it's weird.) Ditto on politics: my kids, as young as they are, have made their own choices about which presidential candidate to support, independent of my choice.

Of course it's inevitable that I influence my kids. And I want to -- when it comes to values. However, I see their religion, sexuality, politic leanings, choice of career, etc, to be separate from the rubric of "values." It's interesting -- and not surprising -- that so many people see religion differently. Eg, as a specific religious tenet their children need to observe in order to be a seamless part of the family. I don't see it that way.

Posted by: Leslie | April 30, 2008 5:06 PM

Well, see all someone had to do was put it in a sports context. I always supported Wisconsin, am dating an Ohio State fan, and am perfectly happy to now root for Ohio State. Except for the day of the Ohio State-Wisconsin game. I suppose if we can work that out, religion should be easy. After all, he's not a Cowboys fan... :)

Posted by: Canary30 | April 30, 2008 5:21 PM

Hmm...only an Ohio State fan, not a Cowboy's fan. That's like saying "it's okay, he only throws rocks at ugly animals, not cute ones."

:)

Posted by: law_bela | April 30, 2008 5:48 PM

Wow, a lot of good thoughtful commentary today, and little to no flaming. Light without heat!

I really don't have much to add - the literary references is about the only thing. Our family is Wiccan, so our kids don't automatically get the Christian/Biblical references either. DH and I tell them the stories, as stories. Some of them are really good! We also do this with our own traditions, stories of the Holly King and the Oak King at Yule, or the May Queen and Jack-in-the-Green at Beltaine - had a lovely Maypole last week end.

We also read other religions' sacred texts and share those stories with our children. I don't think it's possible to have too many cultural references.

We don't care if our children choose to be Pagan or Wiccan, or something else when they grow up. What we care about is that they treat others with respect and kindness - tolerance taken to its logical end point.

Posted by: Sue | April 30, 2008 6:06 PM

As a Tarheel fan, I heartily agree with dotted. My DH sometimes roots for Duke, but less these days.

Being a Penn State fan, it was okay to marry a UGA fan - in fact, they may not play again for decades. So we're good to go. Couldn't have married a Notre Dame fan, but that works out well, since most of them are catholic, I suppose...;)

But Leslie: how could you force a meat eating diet on your kids? I mean, isn't it cruel to force them to eat animals? ;) it goes both ways. If you are deeply committed to vegetarianism for your reasons, then how could you possibly not raise your kids as vegetarians? If you think it's wrong to eat meat, then how could you allow your kids to eat meat? It's similar to keeping a kosher diet, right? If that's what you believe, and that's how your house is set up (as ours is) then how could you do something different? Wouldn't that be compromising your principles?

I mean, I don't eat meat, but I don't have problems with others who do - so the kids have some meat in their diet. I will buy it, but not cook it, so we do not have much meat eating meals in the house. When we go out, tho typically everyone eats chicken (but me). Which is fine with me. We are also teaching the kids about being kosher and keep a kosher home. Since we're mostly vegetarians, there isn't a huge distinction, but the kids know about the different dishes we have, and definitely learned a lot this passover when we brought out the different dishes and used different pots, ate different food. Yes, my son was sad when he didn't get a cupcake on someone's birthday, but he also learned from it - a teachable moment. I mean, really, in his lifetime, he'll eat enough cupcakes (he had two on his birthday cause another kid in his class has the same birthday).

So either you have a commitment to something or you don't. And if you do, then wouldn't it be incumbent upon you as a parent to teach that to your kids?

I had a friend who decided he wanted to be orthodox, and his family was jew - ish. So it caused some friction in his house. The rabbi even said to him: to keep peace in the house (shalom bayit) just go with the flow and deal with whatever you have to deal with even if it's eating on nonkosher plates, or eating non kosher food. Do what you need to do until you can have your own house, etc.

Posted by: atlmom | April 30, 2008 6:20 PM

"However, I see their religion, sexuality, politic leanings, choice of career, etc, to be separate from the rubric of "values.""

Forget religion for a moment. How can sexuality, political leanings and choice of career be separated from values and value-judgments?

Don't you believe that certain values underlie the choices of a son or daughter who (take your pick) (a) is a virgin or has upwards of 600 different sexual partners by the age of 23, (b) votes consistently Libertarian or consistently Democratic, or whose life goal is to be a lobbyist for (c) the coal industry or the National Education Association? The point is not that one or more are "bad" choices. They are choices that evidence strongly held values.

We don't always get to choose a career we want, e.g., sometimes we made the best career or job we could out of the choices we had. On the other hand, our sexuality (subject to life events prior to adulthood involving predatory adults) and politics are entirely a reflection of our values, if anything is.

Posted by: MN | April 30, 2008 6:32 PM

"However, I see their religion, sexuality, politic leanings, choice of career, etc, to be separate from the rubric of "values.""

So what, exactly, do you see as being "from the rubric of values"? And how do you impart your values if not by discussing these issues and modeling your beliefs about them? And how is that different from what others are saying here?

I am totally perplexed by your understanding of values, and of "forcing" other to adhere to them versus raising your child based on your values, whether they include religion or not.

Posted by: LizaBean | April 30, 2008 6:41 PM

I, too, am a little mystified by this idea of values that are separate from the things in Leslie's list. And by describing the process of imparting values to one's children as "forcing" them upon them. These are your kids, not dinner guests. Why so much walking on eggshells? I am much more concerned with teaching my children the reasons why we vote the way we do than with offending them because we're Republican.

Posted by: law_bela | April 30, 2008 6:47 PM

"I am much more concerned with teaching my children the reasons why we vote the way we do"

Exactly. Maybe the difference is if you think of "values" as being tied to end results, rather than being the principles that underlie your decision-making and animate your choices.

Posted by: LizaBean | April 30, 2008 7:57 PM

Does anyone realize that Leslie just sorta makes it up as she goes along? Her values discussion is not only strange but based on nothing:

"However, I see their religion, sexuality, politic leanings, choice of career, etc, to be separate from the rubric of "values"

How does one go through life with no value system to speak of and proudly teach their children that nothing is linked to values?

Honestly, the more I read by Leslie, the more perpleced I become. She is obviously smart enough to accomplish a level of professionalism that is earning her money and continued work, but she is somewhat vapid and void of anything of substance. I submit that this speaks to not only our culture, but this blog, to which I occasionally contribute. I will check back and continue to shake my head.

Posted by: Get Real | April 30, 2008 8:14 PM

If your religion is important to you and it adds value to your life -- and to some of us it is invaluable to our lives -- then loving your children means sharing your faith with them. Why deprive them of something so priceless? It would be like depriving them of food or shelter or oxygen.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 9:59 PM

Leslie, it is obvious that you strongly believe in the equality of women and men and also believe in high professional achievement for women. I would guess that this is what you also teach your children. Even though your daughters may grow up and decide to choose a different lifestyle (throwback to a 50's woman), you are teaching them what you believe and not leaving it up to them to choose later.

The same is true of religion. People who have a strong sense of religion feel that it is something they should pass on and teach their children. It is no more "forcing" religion on their children than you are "forcing" careerism on your daughters. It is raising the children in something you believe to be vital.

There is always something to be said for "our house, our rules" when it comes to families. If your children decide at 16 that their boy/girlfriend should move in and share their room, should you let them do it because you don't want to force your morals and they should choose their own? I think not. Most parents would say "our house, our rules." And the same goes for religion. The parents decide which religion, if any, the children will be raised in, and the children can do what they wish when they become adults.

I was raised Catholic and was forced to go to Mass, but I was also forced to go to school, and forced to go on family visits when I would rather be with friends, and forced to go on family vacations when I was a rebellious teen and didn't want to do anything with family. When I became an adult, I could decide about religion, continuing education, travel, whom to spend time with, etc. Until that time, it was absolutely the parent's right and responsibility to make decisions for the family.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2008 10:38 PM

Now, now, you Redskins and Tarheels fans. You all need to calm down and accept the fact that you have been bamboozled. The Cowboys had more class and more championships, and the Wahoos will always be smarter. Repeat after me, Oohm, Oohm, Oohm. See, Buddhism is good for something. And let the force flow into you, until you recognize the truth.

Posted by: babsy1 | April 30, 2008 10:48 PM

Huh?

Posted by: Great Questioner | May 1, 2008 12:42 AM

babsy1, now that I know you're a Wahoo fan, I can almost ignore your unfortunate passion for that Texas team.

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 9:39 AM

Ryan2 works fine. Thanks!

Posted by: Ryan | May 1, 2008 10:37 AM

Wow. Just, wow.
What on earth was meant by this statement?
"Other than tradition passed down within male-dominated cultures where wives and children were considered chattel of men, why do modern parents believe we hold the right to force our children to practice certain religious beliefs?"
I am not religious at all and was not raised in a religion. But this does not prevent me from understanding that SOME people are and that this does not by default make them patriarchal tyrants forcibly indoctrinating their children into their faith.
What on earth were you thinking when you wrote this entry? OF COURSE it is fine for parents to raise their children in their religion, if they feel that it is an important value to pass down, just like any other value. When it crosses the line into destructive is when parents refuse to accept a child's decision to veer from that faith. And, making disparaging remarks about other people's faith.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 1, 2008 11:00 AM

It seems many fail to realize the malignant ways parents push religion on their kids. Of course setting an example of your faith to your kids is benign, and making them go to church on Sunday or pray before a meal is harmless. But remember that generalizations of parent's rights will blanket underlying problems that are between radar detection. I was forced to go to church 3 times a week (2hrs each) and witness to total strangers once a week--I didn't have time for the loads of high school homework I was given. The 'choice' my parents gave: either pick church and get only some work done or do all homework and no church. If I chose homework, then I was told I could move out since I wasn't following their religion. That's not a choice.Also, the scripture stating to not spoil the child and use the rod was used as reasoning for spanking at 14-got a broken finger on that one. What do social workers say: As long as the kid has a roof over their head and is being fed and sent to school, then the child can do nothing legally to get in a better home. My parents finally refused to sign the schoool permission form allowing me to take college prep courses (why would i want to do that when the end of the world is near?!) and I had to move out at 15 just to get a good education. DO NOT FORCE YOUR KIDS TO TAKE ON YOUR RELIGION. Just because there aren't laws against this doesn't make it right.

Posted by: HollyB | May 1, 2008 12:27 PM

Oh come on, HollyB. There's an ocean of difference between parents teaching children their religion and the abuse you describe. And of course it's wrong to abuse your children. The point 149 other comments have made before you is that there is nothing inherently abusive or wrong in raising your children with some form of religion.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 1, 2008 2:09 PM

I think my points would have come off more accurately if I had put quotes around "forcing" because I do so that raising someone in your religion is not necessarily "forcing" them anymore than we "force" our children to go to school. Or perhaps I should have found a more subtle, accurate verb. Thanks, everyone -- good, interesting, lively, civilized discussion.

Posted by: Leslie | May 1, 2008 5:24 PM

Wow, what a great topic. Before I read other comments and become influenced or discouraged, let me comment. Both my husband and I thought that we would let our kids decide what religion to "be". But as they started school, we realized that we had to give them some kind of education on religion. How can you decide as a kid without knowing anything about it? I was a 'lapsed' Catholic, but that's all I knew. We decided to raise the kids Catholic. I call myself a born-again Catholic now. It's my community and where I have decided to concentrate my 'service' hours. (Yes, I do have a life outside of church) My oldest son is about to be Confirmed on Saturday night and he is so good about it. I feel that we've taught them one religion, but I'm hoping that if they do decide to go to another religion when they are adults, that I'll be okay with that. At least we gave them a background from which to live their lives.

Posted by: Mary | May 1, 2008 10:01 PM

I was raised as a observant catholic; got married, fathered five children, raised them lukewarm catholic, then decided to practice artificial birth control against my Church preaching. I did a lot of reading on Religions, discovered evidences in favor of the evolution and against creation, discovered that He never existed, was invented out of necessity of those times. Left the Church, became atheist. One of my son married an atheist, they are not imposing any belief to them and it works fine.

Posted by: thishowiseeit | May 1, 2008 11:15 PM

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