It was downright refreshing to read this essay Wednesday, written by a popular Chinese Taoist priest and arguing against the conversion of children to his own religion.
Priest Liang Xingyang, who is well-known for his sometimes unorthodox political stances, wrote about a conversation he’d had with one of his followers for the website The Sixth Tone under the headline: “Why Taoism Isn’t Suitable for Children.”
“I believe becoming a follower of Taoism is something that a person needs to decide on their own,” Xingyang wrote, “and I can’t accept an adult forcing a young, unsuspecting child into the religion.”
Xingyang’s relatively freethinking position is not one generally espoused by Western religious leaders — most of whom actively support baptisms, circumcisions and religious schooling for young children.
As a Taoist priest, one of my main responsibilities is the spreading of the Taoist faith and culture. Several days ago, one of my disciples told me that she had decided to formally convert her 5-year-old child to Taoism.
Those not acquainted with the Taoist faith might assume I would be happy with this news. After all, there would soon be another Taoist disciple in the world, and the religion would continue being passed from generation to generation. But in reality, I was furious.
He went on to say that Taoism requires making a commitment to a number of special rules, rituals and dietary restrictions. “There is a lot you need to give up” for the faith, Xingyang said. “Taoism requires sacrifice and clarity of mind, and it’s something that a person shouldn’t enter into until they’re old enough to give consent.”
He emphasized that his opinion was not borne out of a half-hearted commitment to Taoism, but rather a whole-hearted commitment to children.
I am an enthusiastic advocate of Taoism. I do everything in my power to introduce the religion to anyone I can. I even encourage introducing Taoism to young children as well by having them visit Taoist temples, experience the Taoist lifestyle, and observe our rituals… However, if the child is either unwilling or too young to coherently decide what he or she wants, we should not force them to join the faith — which requires them to follow a strict set of rules on how to live their lives.
I realize that not all religions require the same level of sacrifice as Xingyang’s brand of Taoism — and that his views are motivated by the many requirements of his particular faith. But I would love to think that someday all religious leaders will adopt this perspective. Being ardently religious need not translate to the wholesale inculcation of children into that religion.
I have no problem with people adopting religious worldviews, rituals and beliefs into their lives. But I think our children should get to decide for themselves whether to adopt religious worldviews, rituals and beliefs into their lives.