Are you an open-minded secular parent who privately worries that your child will someday become religious? You’re not alone.
Some months ago, I was on a podcast talking about how children are better off being encouraged to reach their own conclusions about faith — rather than pressured into non-belief. One of the interviewers confided that, although she didn’t have kids yet, she was fairly sure she’d be upset if her kid grew up to a join a fundamentalist group. She asked me if I had an answer to that kind of anxiety.
It was a great question that I don’t think I addressed very well at the time. So I thought I’d try to rectify that now.
The truth is, it depends. It depends on the root cause of the anxiety. If you are worried about the eventual religiosity of your children, you must ask yourself: Why do I object to my child’s involvement in a fundamentalist group?
Is it because you don’t want your child to join a group that engages in unkind behavior — the subjugation of women; the demonizing of homosexuality; the use of bigotry, bullying or violence to attain their goals?
If that’s the case, my answer is this:
Spend the first 18 years of your child’s life teaching her the value of kindness, compassion, fairness, tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness. Because if you do this — and if you model it — you can be pretty certain that even if your child does gravitate toward a religious group as an adult, it won’t be one that runs counter to the core values you have taught her.
But if the problem isn’t about having your kid join a specific group that does nasty things, but, rather, is about having your kid believe things that you don’t believe to be true… well, that problem is solved differently.
That problem is solved by not having children.
There are no promises in parenting, and if we’re not willing to accept that, we ought to choose somewhere else to spend our time. Human beings aren’t meant to be molded and shaped; we can’t expect our kids to fit into little boxes. We gave birth to individuals with their own thoughts and desires and flaws and needs and fears. Their worldview is something they must be allowed to build for themselves.
Sometimes our kids make choices that disappoint or worry us. It happens. But unless the circumstances are extreme (i.e. guaranteed to hurt themselves or someone else), we would do well to breath through those moments and try like mad to genuinely support them. The more we do this, the happier we’ll be.
The happier they’ll be, too.