Do children have an obligation to follow the religion of their parents?

I view religion as a very personal (and sometimes private) thing and I believe people should be able to do what they please regarding it, starting at as young an age as possible. I know many people, however, who feel that children should be brought up in and indoctrinated with their parents’ religion.

Obviously, parents may have to take their young children to worship services with them as a matter of necessity, but what about when the kids are old enough to stay home by themselves? Should they be forced to continue going, for religious or cultural reasons? Should they be allowed to explore alternatives?

I think one of the main problems people have with accepting their children’s religion or lack of one is a belief that my faith is the only correct one, so there! If parents can get past this, what is the excuse for assuming that their kids automatically believe the same thing they do? Why is this so common?

Maybe this would be better suited to IMHO… I’m not sure.

Parents have many responsibilities to their children, on which decisions must be made on an individual basis. In other words, I can’t tell you how to raise your children. There comes a time in raising children that you have to figure that you’ve given them all you can and you have to let go. When that time is would again be up to the parents in the case of minors, but it also has to do with the child himself.

I am a very liberal Christain and yet took my children to church, Sunday school, etc. and tried not to influence them with my heretical views. Today, they are mostly in the stage of not going to church. However, my oldest is married and has joined a Southern Baptist church. You just never know. :wink:

Personally, I think in the strongest possible way that they do NOT. Because religion is about personal faith, to believe or follow a certain path just because someone else does - parents, friends whoever - strikes me as actually anti-religious.

It is vital that everyone works out their own faith and path for themself, otherwise it is meaningless.

That said, I don’t think there is anything wrong with sharing your faith with your children.

I’d be disappointed if my kids didn’t turn out to be heretics.

Oh, come on. Everyone “indoctorinates” their children. It’s impossible not to. If the parents go to church every Sunday, what do you expect them to do? Hire a babysitter every week? That’s not very practical.

My parents forced us to go to church when we were young (which I didn’t like very much) but when I got into high school, I just stopped going, and they didn’t make me.

I started going back to church regularly when I was in my 20s. My choice.

I think it’s natural and expected for parents to foist certain things on their kids, but if they do it for too long it will backfire. I think high school age is a good time to let kids make up their mind. Younger than that too, most likely. It depends on the thing, and the kid.

Let’s get realistic. Everything a parent does (well, just about everything) has has a dynamic to it. Eat meat? Feed your kids meat? You are sending them a “message” about animals and food. Don’t eat meat? Feed your kids vegetarian meals? You are sending your kids a message there too. Listen to Country Music and expose your kids to that? Same thing. Travel? Don’t travel? Read the newspaper a lot? Read Newsweek? Subscribe to Reader’s Digest? All these things teach and influence your kids something. You can’t escape it.

Religion is no different from other ethical systems in this regard. Most parents want to pass their values onto their children and, where those values are broadly acceptable to society, society expects parents to do this, and criticises those who do not. Hence we try to teach our children not to resort to violence, to be respectful of others, etc. But we go slightly further; we do not simply teach them to behave in this way, but to believe that it is right and good to behave in this way. This is, broadly, true whether parents are religious or not.

Is this “indoctrination”? If you like to call it that, it is. But virtually all parents do it, and are expected to do it. If the parents’ ethical system is religiously based, then they will seek to pass that on; likewise if their ethical system is founded on (say) secular humanism, that is what they will offer the child.

What will differ, I think, is how tolerant parents will be of children who, when they reach the age of reason, question or reject the system which their parents offer them. Some will be understanding, supportive or even encouraging of this; others will be angry, upset or challenged by it. To some extent, but only to some extent, this depends on the particular belief system which the parents have. If they have a narrow, rigid system which holds that only acceptance of very specific beliefs and values is right and good, and the children reject those values, they will be upset (because they think their children will suffer as a result) and they will be ashamed (because they will feel that they have failed their children). It also depends on the parents own personalities and characters.

Even where parents are angered by their childrens rejection of the values offered to them, I doubt that they would argue that the children owed an obligation to the parents to accept the belief system in question, as the OP asks. I suspect that they would consider that the children owed an obligation to themselves, to certain immutable values or to a god-figure but (unless the belief system involves ancestor-veneration) not to the parents.

The stereotype of parents upset by their children’s ethical beliefs is of fundamentalist religious parents upset by their children adopting different religious beliefs, or becoming indifferent to religion. Like most stereotypes, there is a good measure of truth in it. However the reverse also occurs; some parents who consider themselves liberal find themselves intolerant of fundamentalist religious views adopted by their children.

Basically, we want our children to be like us, only better. I believe this is a univeral wish. It is a difficult but important lesson to learn that our children can be unlike us, and still better.

I believe that it is absolutely necessary to experience faith on a personal, individual level, as opposed to ‘belief by proxy’ that might arise from forcibly imposing belief on them. I take my kids to church, at the moment they have simple, childlike faith; I hope this will mature into reasonable, adult faith, but there’s no way that I would want them simply to pretend that’s the case.

If anybody (like one of the Sunday school leaders for example) tells my kids not to ask the awkward questions, I’ll be having a serious talk with them.

Sometimes rocking the boat is the right thing to do.

It all depends on what you believe I guess. I’m a Catholic and I’ve been brought up that way (17 yrs. old) by my parents. When I asked them one time why I had to go to church and stuff with them, they answered that it was their duty to bring me up with the religion because it was something that is expected (by God I’m assuming). Apparently whatever I do after I leave for college is my own business, but at least they took care of their own responsibility. :slight_smile:

In my faith, children are not allowed to make their declaration (it’s kinda like being baptized) until they are 15 years old. This is considered the age of spiritual maturity, and “independant investigation of the truth” (as the Book words it) is an integral part of the religion. One of our holy writings says you should “see with your own eyes, not the eyes of your father, and hear with your own ears, not the ears of your neighbor”. So when my oldest daughter came to me and said she had decided to make her declaration, I sat her down, made sure she understood the obligations involved, what would be expected of her, etc. and asked her if she was sure this was what she wanted. I will be honest, and say I was pleased when she said yes, but if she had said she wasn’t sure yet, or needed to investigate some other things, I would have been proud of her intelligence and independence.

I went to church with my brother and parents every Sunday until I was 17 – early on I was made to go because it wouldn’t have been practical for me to stay home (when I was particularly young, but I didn’t really have any objections to going at that point), but my parents insisted that I still attend even after I broke with the Church around the age of 14 or 15 (“As long as you live in this house, you’re expected to attend Church with us”). This struck me as a fairly stupid rule, but I just shrugged my shoulders and went along with it, because it didn’t seem worth having a fight over my having to go to Church for one hour a week (it’s not like I had something especially important going on during Sunday mornings that I was being made to miss). I’m not sure why they made this rule, but presumably my parents were trying to save my soul or something. After a couple years of this they realized that this wasn’t a particularly effective method of saving my soul (and I think they began to question whether my soul really needed saving after all, since it’s not as though I was boozing it up and listening to Death metal or whatever have you), so I was no longer obliged to attend Church with them. We don’t really discuss religion with each other (since it seems to make them a bit uncomfortable), so we get along just fine and dandy.

All is not lost!

[ul]:cool: [sup]And that does just include religion.[/sup][/ul]

[ul]:cool: [sup]And that does not just include religion.[/sup][sub]Sorry[/sub][/ul]

Good points, but I have to say I consider teaching religion as very different from teaching ethics. It is possible for the two to be independent of one another. And I think that there is something wrong with NOT encouraging kids to think for themselves on this issue.

…and I was kind of hoping to hear an argument from someone who thought that children do have such a responsibility. Anyone? I’ve read a few posts on this board that seemed to demonstrate that point of view.

(In case anyone’s interested, I’m 17 and my parents have been forcing me to go to church my entire life, even though I’ve been an atheist for 5 years. I do have a problem with that, and it’s based on more than my lack of desire to waste three hours each week.)

I think that it’s a decision for parents. So long as they are peaceful and honest, of course.

It might be quite difficult to separate them if your ethics are based on religious teachings. Especially since children have an annoying tendancy to ask : “WHY?”.

Follow a religion (by which I assume you mean “have the same religious beliefs”) - no.

Even though I hope that if I do have children, that they will follow the same religion that I do, it certainly is not a moral obligation that they would do so. In fact, believing just because I believe is not at all what I want for them.

Adhere to certain religious practices - maybe.
I’m going to a certain bible study tonight, partially to make my mother happy.
I don’t really like it, it annoys me more often than not, but I have no strong moral objections (one weak moral objection) and a pathetic practical objection.
So I’m going. (I wouldn’t if there were strong moral objections, or more weak moral objections than I’ve got).

I guess what I’m saying is that the child shouldn’t change his thoughts or beliefs based on the parents’ beliefs - but, providing that the action is morally neutral to the child, there is an argument to be made for changing his actions.

As far as the “obligation” issue goes (in my religion, anyway), it’s my understanding that you can’t inherit salvation or have it forced on you. I’m not a Christian because I was born to Christian parents, but because I “got saved” myself. My upbringing was no doubt an influence on my decision, but it’s still between me and God, not my folks. I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, I will certainly bring them to church, teach them about what I believe, and encourage them to believe it too. (Does that constitute “indoctrination”?) I will also encourage them to think and ask questions about everything, including religion – reason and faith are not opposites, and if Christianity is true then a Christian should never be afraid of an honest search for truth.

OK, in light of this I think that the question is not so much “do children owe their parents an obligation to believe what the parents believe?” to which I think all contributors have said “no”. Rather it seems to be “do children owe their parents an obligation to observe the religious practices which their parents observe (at any rate while they are still dependent on their parents and living at home)?”

The answer to that one is not so clear-cut. Many religious practices require to be observed collectively, at the level of the family or the community, rather than individually. For instance, if I am growing up in a Jewish home, the Jewish nature of the home cannot really be maintained without at least my grudging assent and co-operation. So long as I live there, it is reasonable of my parents to require that assent and co-operation, even if I do not myself see the value in living a Jewish way of life.

A similar, if less strong, case can be made in relation to at least some Christian denominations. Communal celebration of Christianity is important – that’s the whole point of the Eucharist – and opting out is a decision which has implications not just for the individual, but for the community. On the other hand Christianity does place great store on an individual act of faith, much more so than Judaism. For that reason I would be slow myself to force an adolescent child who lacked any kind of faith to go to church, but I can understand the position of parents who feel that their children are not yet independent, and that this is a decision which they should not yet be allowed to make unilaterally.

Oh, and one more thing. You can teach ethics independently of religion, but only if the ethical system you are offering is wholly non-religious. And, of course, if the parents are themselves religious, the ethical system they will offer is almost certainly founded on religious beliefs and principles. So they cannot divorce ethics and religion, and should not be expected to.