Teaching Your Child Religion: An Illustration of “Why Not”

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A reader brought this Facebook post to my attention this evening. I’ve altered it slightly to adjust punctuation and tense for the sake of fluidity. Regardless of my changes, this line of thought is one I hope all parents consider at one time or another. Below the quoted post are my interpretations of the questions and my immediate responses to each.

“I’ve often questioned the merits of religion; in fact, I think about it daily. I wonder how [much] better a person I [would] be if I feared my eternal soul’s destiny [and chose] the path of righteousness compared to how much I love my fellow beings now. And, I also wonder what I should teach my own son – my son who already has so much compassion in him as a toddler that he [would] put his own needs aside to ask if you’re okay if you show the slightest bit of agony. Why would/should I add fear to [his world]?” – Facebook User

Here’s my stab at it:

Question: Would fear for eternal damnation of your soul motivate you to be a better person?

Response: This is an easy one. If you are easily motivated by intimidation, the answer may be yes. Look at your lifestyle now, and think about your behaviors and actions and the things that compel you to behave and act in those ways. If you only show up to work because you’re afraid of getting in trouble, than your motivated by fear; if you show up because you’re a part of a team and enjoy supporting the collective efforts of your peers and superiors then fear is not your primary motivator.

Likewise, if you pay your taxes on time out of fear for future financial hardship and imprisonment, then again motivation by fear may be for you; if you find yourself feeling compelled to pay your taxes for the betterment of your fellow man and your country, then, again, fear may not be your best motivator.

After analyzing a few of these sorts of lifestyle choices, it should be plain to see whether or not you’d benefit from being frightened of a cosmic bully in your day to day life.

Question: Should you lie to your child about the existence of a trio of celestial jewish zombies, each existing in parallel dimensions and in different, inexplicable forms? And, further, should you threaten your child with truly egregious and unimaginable torments and eternal injuries in order to destroy your child’s innate sense of rationality and logic as a means to control him/her?

Response: Well, this one seems rhetorical, doesn’t it? Let’s pretend it’s not.

When a child is in its most formative, most impressionable years, it would be absolutely devastating for the child to realize that their parent is liar. Therefore, children excuse parents’ lies without a second thought and justify those lies in their minds as a defense mechanism warding off insecurity in their uncontrollable life situations.

You see, a child is helpless. A child is at the most utter mercy of those who’ve had the fortune of deciding to produce one and raise it. The child cannot leave if its living conditions are poor, nor can a child fight back (physically, emotionally, verbally, etc). No, the child is stranded to the situation into which it is born. As such, it would seem that the most valuable information to share with a child would be truths and principled concepts.

To illustrate this point I submit this analogy:
Imagine one afternoon; you’re volunteering at a retirement home filled with really, really old people, most of whom have dementia. Now imagine you enter the room of an elderly woman with Alzheimer ’s disease. Her name is Hazel. She’s 5’2”, her short, curly hair is silver, and she looks perfectly content – perfectly comfortable as she rocks back and forth in her chair by the extra-tall window overlooking the courtyard between the retirement home and the building next door. Hazel smiles at you, and in a voice shockingly peppy she says, “Good morning!” and raises her cup of coffee as if to give you cheers.

Before you can respond, one of the hospice-workers brushes by you and confronts Hazel. He kneels down in front of her and says, “Hazel, are you allowed to drink coffee after Three O’clock?”

Hazel looks away from you, slowly making eye contact with the employee. She sheepishly responds to his question, “Uh…I think I can have some coffee.”

“No. You can’t!” the caregiver says raising his voice, “there’s an invisible, venomous snake on your head! You can’t see it, you can’t tough it, it has no smell, it doesn’t make a sound, but if you have even one sip of coffee after Three O’clock the invisible snake with bite you, and you’ll shrivel up into a little dried out ball and nothing will save you! You’ll live for only a few moments of excruciating pain throughout your entire body and then you’ll choke to death on your own blood and vomit!”

Hazel bursts into tears and mutters pathetically, “Alright! I’m sorry! Please, take it.” She moves the cup toward him in her quivering hand.

The caregiver gently takes the cup of coffee away from Hazel and pats her on the head. “Good girl,” he concludes. Then he walks past you and out of the room.
The End

This sounds like a ridiculous, ludicrous line of behavior. It’s nearly unimaginable to any sane person. One would have to be so incredibly irresponsible, grotesquely controlling, and insidiously egocentric to stoop to such a shameful level in order to control a person so helpless – a person so dependent. A person would have to be absolutely, unapologetically mentally sick. Yet, when it comes to children, it happens every day.

Babies are born with instincts, and those reactive behaviors need to be guided and shaped by parents throughout their childhood in order to produce a clear-thinking, strong-willed, upstanding member of society. To purposely stray from this responsibility as a parent, and purposefully exploit a child’s trust with the intention of frightening the child into behaving unnaturally is despicable.

I know that some people subject their children to the abuse of religious indoctrination coming from a place of warped reality, and supposed love. Those people usually have been abused themselves, and have been, quite literally, brainwashed by their family, and/or peers. They are not clear thinkers; they’re conformists who make their decisions based first on intimidation from the state and their gods. A sane parent wants nothing like this for their child.

I suggest parents spend large amounts of time in quality thought in order to realize a set of guiding principles that they believe will truly lead to success (but what is successsssss???). Yeah – that type of thought. And, once a parent has found their own set of guiding principles, their own philosophy, they ought to apply it to their own life and make sure it’s effective and reasonable. Only then should a parent consider teaching their child about depth in life. By doing so prior to figuring it out for themselves, parents are apt to do more damage than good. And, of course, to take the easy route and resort to teaching ancient, mistranslated (hundreds of times over), ooky-spooky, crazy-ass-invisible-terrorist-with-a-list-of-demands-and-sorcerer-powers principles is certainly about the worst thing a parent can do to their child’s fresh, sponge-like mind.

This is getting a bit lengthy for a Facebook response, so I’ll leave it here. Like you, Mr. [Smith], I do not wish to offend anyone; however, I, on the other hand, am not opposed to it.
– Pcoast

For a deeper look into the perils of religiosity I highly recommend you read my article, “Why Your Religion Matters To Me and Others” @