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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Difficult Conversations: Should we teach religion to our children?

So, the question is, why do we want children to have strong religious beliefs? Is it for inculcation of the right morals and values? Or to motivate the child to strive for achievement of the ideal self? Or for preserving our cultural identity?

Written by Tanu Shree Singh |
Updated: October 4, 2018 12:33:09 pm
teaching religion to kids Don’t force religion on your child. (Source: Getty Images)

Most of us force our religious ideas on children without giving them much opportunity to explore. An exclusive focus on a single religion could be more harmful than no exposure to any religion.

By Tanu Shree Singh

The boys, at best, are sceptical of religion. They have their theories about how things go about including an outlandish one-we could all be inside a virtual reality game. While they were growing up, I never used religion as a tool to scare them or preach to them. We never went to temples unless there was some historical significance attached. They did get to see a lot of places of worship simply to appreciate the diversity in belief systems.

The boys are 15 and 17 years old now. They are sensitive, caring young men who do not function out of fear of God. Perhaps, someday, they would turn to religion for comfort. Or perhaps they would not need to. Today, however, I do not see any lack of moral fabric, values or character strengths in either.

So, the question is, why do we want children to have strong religious beliefs? Is it for inculcation of the right morals and values? Or to motivate the child to strive for achievement of the ideal self? Or for preserving our cultural identity? Whatever the reason, most of us force our religious ideas on children without giving them much opportunity to explore. I feel that exclusive focus on the beliefs and practices of a single religion to the exclusion of others, can be more potentially harmful than no exposure to any religion. In December 2014, Vivaan came back broken-hearted from school after the chilling Peshawar massacre. One of his classmates had casually dismissed the killings as something that happened to Pakistani Muslims. My son has no religious education, and he came back in tears; the other child showed no empathy because it had happened to kids who were not of his faith.

I grew up in a home where my mum spent half her time trying to trace me in the neighbourhood, where I’d disappear to play in the evenings, and the other half trying to get me to study. She never told me to light an incense stick. Papa was mostly found in the folds of a newspaper when he was home. Sundays were spent playing the game of Boggle that came in the newspaper. He taught me how to change an electrical fuse, plugs, anything with wires, and to never come home crying. Religious education was not on his agenda either.

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My family miserably failed their task of moulding me into a Hindu, let alone an insecure one who is intolerant of others, wants every movie or book that dares to question the religion banned, never questions rituals, and dreams of converting the world while garlanding the revered cow who just downed a polybag with the rotting food from the garbage dump.

Since we have not embraced a single faith as the directives by which we live, the boys are curious about different religions, respectful of people regardless of their faith, and relentlessly question prejudices. Are these not important values for the generation that is coming of age in a world continuously being torn apart on religious lines?

I cringe each time I see self-appointed advocates of any religion spewing venom at others. I cringe because I can see the power games behind the divisive lines, I cringe because there is hatred splattered on each turn of the newspaper, but mostly, I cringe at being able to see all this. For a lot of people cannot see it. They see it as a bid to protect their religious identities. I see it as an attempt to stifle everything that is humane. They see the likes of me as hypocrites, traitors, blind sympathisers, and an embarrassment to our ‘own’ religion. I see us as what we should be—humans.

Long back, while going for one of the younger one’s PTM, I was dreading a long list of complaints about academics and stray fights. Instead, the teacher asked, “Do you not believe in God?”

“Eh?” I was definitely not expecting a theological debate.

“Last week, during assembly, Vivaan refused to fold his hands saying that he doesn’t believe in God. So I was wondering if you teach him…”

“He has independent beliefs. That is his business, not mine,” I cut her short.

And all these years later, I am glad. I am glad that I let it remain his business. For I do not know about the kids forcibly keeping their eyes tightly shut while mouthing prayers they do not understand, but this boy without knowing how to offer prayers, is perhaps more spiritual than someone much older.

(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Views are personal.)

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