So a few days ago, The Wild Hunt published a post called “Question: When Do You Get to Choose Your Faith?” Intrigued, I read through my email version of the post and I have to say, it got me thinking. So I thought before I read the comments and had my opinion potentially influenced, I would leap frog off his post with a reply here.
If you have yet to read the post, Jason Pitzl-Waters is essentially asking when a child is old enough to choose a religion or make religious decision.
My thought is that it really depends on the child, but perhaps a general age range can be narrowed down. I think if a child happens to be wiser beyond their years and/or mature for their age, then let him or her make their own religious choices.
Now, that doesn’t mean the parent abandons all influence or supervision. It means the parent should educate themselves on what the child desires and then participate with the child, regardless of their own faith. A parent should be aware of who the child interacts with in a spiritual setting and who he or she is getting advice from. A parent would need to be alert for the potential–the potential, not the certainty–for harmful influences in the guise of religious personnel. All religions and faiths have them: the spiritual leaders that just don’t give you a good feeling, or who blatantly try to subvert their followers for their own ends.
But done well, I think a child could make his or her own religious choices at a fairly young age. In my own case, I knew when I was about ten or eleven years old that Christianity was not working for me. In fact, I kind of hated it. I had liked Sunday School, but when I “graduated” and started sitting in the pews with the adults, there was no way I was going to make that work for me. And I knew it. My mother allowed this to take place, allowed me to make that choice. I was, and always have been, mature for my age. For me, it made sense. And a few years later when I found Pagagnism and began researching that, this was also allowed. I was only 13. Some teenagers can make that kind of choice and be steady in it; others cannot because they haven’t reached a level of maturity to do so. Again, this doesn’t mean the parents can step back and give all the reins to the child. There needs to be some kind of supervision to make sure the child isn’t being sucked into a mind-control cult or being unduly influenced by a priest or spiritual adviser that does not have their best interests at heart.
This also means that if a child chooses not to participate in any religion, the decision should be respected. If a parent believes the child has reached a level of maturity to realize that a certain system is not working and needs to leave it, even if it means not finding another religious system, then the child should be allowed to do so.
For three years, I didn’t claim any religion or faith. I didn’t have one because in those three years, I didn’t particularly need or want one. I had outgrown Sunday School, but I had yet to find my path. I knew I wanted something, needed something, but what that was, I didn’t know at the time. So I was a “nothing” on the religious spectrum. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t think I would classify myself as a full atheist, I just wasn’t a part of any system. But if a child were to choose atheism at a relatively young age, and they seemed to have the maturity to back up the decision, then by all means, allow the child to walk his or her own path.
In my opinion, it really does come down to the maturity level of the child. I absolutely think a child of nine or ten is capable of making these kinds of decisions. Yet I also know some young adults who don’t necessarily have the maturity to make their own decisions without falling flat on their face (also known as lesson learning). So really, if a child has the maturity to back up the choice, then why not let them make the decision? It’s not as if it’s an irreversible one.