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I have always believed that people should have the right to believe what they want and do what they want to and with their own bodies so long as no harm to others was involved. As I experienced more of the world I realized that this a lot more difficult than I would like it to be. What if a person’s religion required them to preach to non-believers? It infringes on the non-believers rights, but it also infringes on the religous person’s rights to practice his religion as required. It gets complicated.

One area that I am really struggling with is children. Adults have the ability to make a conscious decision one way or another as to what to believe and how to behave. Children are often born into a religion and indoctrinated with it. Not only is this the more common way to raise a child, it is also viewed as the “right” one (at least in the areas I’ve grown up).
I remember telling someone else’s parent about how much I loved the way my grandmother had brought up my mom. My grandmother had insisted my mom and her brothers learn about different religions and go to different places of worship regularly so as to gain an understanding of the different religions surrounding them. When my mom told me about this upbringing I was really happy; it seemed like a great way to bring up a child: open-minded, educated about how others live, and open to new experiences.
This was not the view of the particular person I told. Her response was “what a shame she never grew up with a faith, or a “family” and with no real firm foundations for belief”.

I had never even thought of it that way. To me, the way my grandmother raised my mom was fantastic and I couldn’t think of anything wrong with it. Had my mother or her brothers decided they belonged to a particular faith and chosen to follow it my grandmother would have no objections. It wasn’t about stopping them having one religion, it was about educating them to choose their own.

The view of my friend’s mother is indicative of much of the rest of the US: it is the parents’ job to raise the child within a faith, to ensure he/she has a solid faith-based foundation from which to make moral decisions. Religion and moral decisions are a topic for a whole other blog post. But the issue I have at present is with the indoctrination of children into a particular faith because the parents believe it.

In some cases, the raising of ones child in a given faith can actively reduce a child’s options in the future. Some faiths (in the US at least) tend to require home schooling, or removal from certain sections of the education system. If you are brought up in an environment in which you live only between home and church, and you are only taught what your parents want you to know, how are you supposed to make your own choices?

I am worried about all the children brought up in these environments. Some of them are happy I am sure, but what about those who are not? What choices do they have? An Amish child, for example, has very little chance to leave. Should he/she want to leave, s/he loses all contact with those they grew up with, he/she is thrown out into the world without much understanding of “the outside” and no one to turn to when they need help. Leaving home to go to college was hard enough, and then I been taught what to do and I had my family and my friends to turn to for support. What about those without anyone to turn to and an education and understanding of the world that doesn’t match the general teachings?
At what point does this type of religious upbringing become cultish? Our children become trapped in a way of life, a way of thinking and understanding that they can’t leave because they don’t know how.
Incidentally, this is also a serious women’s issue because many of these cultures still believe the women’s place is at home, that a woman shouldn’t work or be taught about the world. It is a system that makes it impossible for women to break free because they aren’t brought up with the tools to survive.

I don’t know what the solution to this is because I do think that parents should be allowed to share their religions with their children, but I am worried about the way in which that is done. Ideally we would have a completely secular education that taught about all religions, but that seems to go against some religions. There’s seems to be no way to allow everyone the chance at religious freedom (although, one could ask whether a person should receive this type of religious freedom if their religion results in a lack of freedom for another).

What do you think? Should parents be able to raise their children how they please with regards to religion? If so, does this extend to education? [The blog that starting me thinking on this topic talks about how home-schooling is banned in Germany to ensure all children have equal education opportunity]
When does a religion become cult-like, trapping its members in because it does not provide them with the knowledge to leave if they wanted?