An Ethical Question About Religion

Okay, because I’m chock full of ’em, here’s another conundrum for you guys to fight each other to the death over:

If two people get married and have children, but both parents have different religious beliefs, how do you think they should go about introducing their children to religion?

This could work with any combinations of religions: Christianity/Judaism, Atheism/Christianity, Shinto/Bhuddism, whatever.

My point is, won’t these children grow up constantly being taught that one of their parents is wrong if they attend services for their particular religion? And isn’t that going to cause some tension? Plus, how do the parents agree on what religion to bring the child up as?

You could say: “introduce the child to both, and let them decide,” but at the age of five or six or even ten, the child really isn’t capable of making an informed decision about something like that. (or at any age when they can still believe in Santa).

Your thoughts?

17 thoughts on “An Ethical Question About Religion

  1. Mark says:

    [Well if you are marrying someone of a different religion, obviously neither of you are hardcore followers. A christian is not going to marry an athiest unless he/she is very casual about their religion. So the best thing to do is to let your children pick their own religious beliefs when they are old enough to make this sort of decision.

  2. Dave Jag says:

    [Religion should have been a topic of discussion LONG BEFORE the parents even got married, because it is stressful on a relationship even before children are involved. My wife and I are grappling with it slightly differently because we adopted a teenager from Russia who was not exposed to it, so we have a LOT of catching up to do in just a few short years.
    Given that situation, the best you can do is to simply raise the child to recognize and believe in God, as most Americans do. God is NOT a religion, hence references to God do not violate anyone’s point of view. Well, maybe Satan’s… but you shouldn’t listen to him anyway. A nice compromise is to just raise the child with a historic view of religious events. God and His works are every much a part of world history as those of the ancient Greeks, the Roman empire, etc., so just provide the information. In fact, there are more first-hand testimonies to the life and works of Jesus and the apostles than most any event in history, so study them as such. You can even leave divinity out of if and let the child reach their own logical conclusion. If the child asks questions about how to talk to God, just be prepared and guide them through prayer.
    Another good topical approach is when the child is old enough to study U.S. History, make sure he/she knows the real foundation of the United States from the original documents (not the secular re-writes or school books). When he/she comes to realize the vast significance of God and religion in his own country, that usually lights a spark that leads them to want to understand more. At that point, he/she will probably have friends who belong to youth groups and such, so he/she will have opportunities to explore different churches and find their own path to salvation. All you can do is just keep the child receptive to it — by protecting from the “real world” — until his/her own curiosity and quest for truth kicks in. It may take decades, but we all start out fishing from that same boat: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts”.

  3. Kier says:

    [Also, a typo in the title that I can’t change. This is a first for me. Any way you can edit that yourself Dennis?


  4. Captain Planet says:

    [Also, reminder: This Blurb is getting a lot of attention and great debate. Click on the Thumbs Up at the bottom of his opening statements to let him know we like the topics he is bringing up and that we like this one especially

  5. Metacognition says:

    [This is a difficult one for me to answer. I was raised in a Christian house, but later came to my own conclusions about religion (not all of it pretty). Who’s to say how I would’ve turned out if I didn’t initially have that presence in my life? I could’ve been a better or a worse person for it, but we’ll never know. That’s part of the reason religion is such a hot topic for parents in the first place. They were raised a certain way and they turned out fine, so it makes sense to try to raise your children in a similar manner.
    I think religion should be treated in a similar fashion as some has stated before me (Cpt Planet and Rob Evans both get a nod from me). I’d treat it like sex education. Until my children ask, I won’t bring it up to them and when they do ask, I’ll try to detail out as many differing beliefs as I can without bias. If people stopped looking at religion as something that needs to be started earlier in a child’s life, it probably wouldn’t need to be such a sore topic.

  6. MitziM. says:

    [There are so many factors to this that I think it would ultimately come down to a very long conversation. One of the huge factors is which religions are being considered. Like Happy Pants said waaaay up there, most Jewish people see Judaism as a religion and a heritage. Telling a Jewish person they can’t bring their kids up that way would be like telling someone they can never tell their kid he’s puerto rican or italian or whatever. Whereas something like Christianity, by definition, is something you choose to follow. Because of that, I don’t think there is anywhere near one right answer on how to deal with this problem.

    Except, of course, opening up about it. Probably really early-on, too. If you are devout and know you want children and you know you’re with someone you’re going to be with a while, it’s probably good to bring this up in casual conversation. That way, when you’re ready to have kids it’s not a huge surprise how each person feels about it.

  7. EricaSwagger says:

    [My boyfriend is an atheist, and while I’m not a practicing Catholic, I was raised going to church (as was my bf) and I do believe in “god.” Whatever that means.

    We’ve had this discussion. I say that I want to raise my children believing in god, and if they eventually decide they don’t believe, then that’s fine.
    I think that the idea of god was created as soon as man could from the idea, as a way to keep our morals in check. One of the easiest ways to teach kids right from wrong is to tell them that god sees if they hurt others/cheat/lie, etc. It prevents them from doing “bad things” even when they think nobody can see them. That might not be the right way to go about it, but people have been doing it for centuries and most of us turned out to be perfectly fine, decent human beings. It’s harmless to tell young children that god is watching them. It helps create a sense of right and wrong.
    My boyfriend would rather tell our future children “no, god does not exist” and I just don’t think kids need to know that. I don’t see it doing any harm for them to think there is a god, but I do see it causing problems if they think there isn’t one.

    We may eventually compromise and tell our children the truth. “Mommy believes in god, and Daddy doesn’t” and let them choose for themselves.

  8. Captain Planet says:

    [I was raised by parents that were not religious, but my grandparents on my dads side (who i spent almost every weekend of the school year) were very. I’ve never seen Episcopalians as die-hard and committed as those two. My father refused to let his parents take me to church, and my mother backed that decision. Instead, when i was about 5 (as he’d done the same with my older siblings at the same age) about religion (and it took me several tries and finally spell-check to actually spell religion right). At that point it wasnt learning about christianity or Buddhism, it was about religion in society from Egyptian times to current (okay, current as of 20ish years ago). How it impacts people who believe, how it impacts people who dont, how people of differing beliefs interact (good and bad, although the slaughters its caused was a little sugar coated), etc. Then he started teaching me the fundamentals of different religions; catholic, episcopalian, kami, hindus, islam, the beliefs of the ewe people in africa, all of it. It didnt scar us, it made us make our choices more wisely. One of my siblings is a Luthern. The rest of us are a mixture of agnostic and atheist. I was young when religion started being a part of my life. I belive that, while a 5 year old cannot, and shouldnt make a decision, they should be taught about religion, the same way they are taught about manners and history. The whole ‘make their own choices’ should be valued, but give them the knowledge of, not just their parents religions, but all religions, before they are old enough to make that decision, and parents (i believe all parents, but especially ones of differing beliefs) should not take their children to regular church services, be it in a mosque, cathedral, or mud hut, until they know about religion and CAN make their own choices. If a very catholic woman wants to take her kids to church before they are 6, its not like they are really going to comprehend or agree/disagree with what is being said, so whats the point? Its like taking a new born to a Rated R movie. I’ve never been to a sunday church service, but i’ve been to weddings and funerals of the christian nature, and an islamic wedding, and at NEITHER ONE did it really make much sense, and not just the ideas behind it, but the words, sentence structure, and deliverance were very confusing. Dont make the choice for your child, until they are old enough AND knowledgeable enough, to know that the decision they are making is, in fact, the right one for them. Parents wont choose who you marry and spend the rest of your life with, they shouldnt choose which god you follow for the rest of your life.

  9. resullins says:

    [This is actually kind of a dealbreaker for me. I would never let my children be raised in the church. It’s ok if they are raised believing in God, but they will NOT be raised in church.

  10. karlos says:

    [This is why all the religions on earth need to send a respective official to an island. Then we can let them all fight to death. Whichever religion is the correct one, I’m sure their god will help them win.

  11. fast eddie says:

    [We don’t have kids so it’s easy for me to say what you should or should not do. As a non-theist I have a solid belief in science. Religion is a cheap way to establish morals and social values. All of them would prefer that you and your kids follow a particular one. The radical fractions are corrupt and bend the principals to suit their whims. Because religion is profuse in our society it’s a very good idea to inform kids about it without the bias of zealots. I’m angered that so many parents push their own beliefs down the kids throats. It’s just an easy out to explain what they aren’t intelligent enough to explain other wise.

  12. Missy says:

    [Nice one. Hmmm. Honestly, I have no idea. It depends on how strongly each parent feels about their religion, I suppose. Best-case-scenario: parents have different religious views on a personal level, but are open to other religions and can raise their child with that in mind. The kid will be exposed to both and the parents will be cool if the kid picks one of the two or finds another he/she identifies with better. In a perfect world, right?

  13. Happy Pants says:

    [Ok, seriously now. This is something I think the parents need to seriously consider before having children, or before even thinking of having children. If neither parent really cares about religion, it’s easy: bring the kid up agnostic or atheist. If one parent cares and the other doesn’t, bring the kid up in whatever religion the one parent cares about. If both care, it’s going to be tough.

    As far as religious beliefs go, you can’t belong to two religions at the same time. You just can’t. You can bring a kid up celebrating every holiday there is, but celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah does not make the kid both Christian and Jewish. It makes the kid lucky to get two sets of presents, latkes, AND a Christmas tree.

    Personally, I want my kids to be brought up in my religion (Judaism), at least until they’re teenagers, and then they can choose their own way. The chances of me finding, falling in love with, and marrying someone in my religion aren’t terribly promising, so I’ll probably have to have the religion conversation at some point. I’m not that religious, but that’s one of my deal breakers. I think it’s important for my kids to know their culture and ancestry, and that can’t happen if they go to Hebrew school one week and Bible school the next. I’m sure we’ll celebrate secular holidays, or at least the secularized Christian ones, but as far as religion goes, you just can’t belong to two different religions.

  14. LMcMack says:

    [This is a question for which there is really no answer, as there are far too many variables. However, I can share a bit of my own experience. My grandparents on one side are/were devout Catholics. On the other side, my grandparents were never part of any religion that I knew of.

    On the Catholic side, their children (my father and his siblings) were raised in the Church. Only one of them is still Catholic, and most practice within the Episcopalian sect. On the non-religious side, my aunt is full-on Wiccan, and my mom and other siblings simply don’t participate in any religion at all.

    Is any of this wrong? Imagine as a child, being exposed to all of these cultures. I’ve sat through mass, through Wiccan ceremonies, and through Baptist, Methodist, and other branches of Christianity’s services. Sure, it was confusing. But it was also kind of fascinating. What it resulted in, for me, was a disbelief in “organized” religion. I found that no matter which service I attended, many of the fundamental issues remained the same. I found there were truly good people in every community. I felt comfortable with my own idea of religion, such as it was, and certainly went through a period of non-belief. I think it all came together to form who I really am, and what that is today is a person who respects all religions, but practices none. What I do practice are the teachings that so many religions have in common: do unto others, live with love in mind, etc. And yes, I do pray and believe in God – when there was a time I was understandably doubtful.

    I think that, no matter how you decide as parents to approach the issue of religion, your children will find their own way. They may follow in your path, or choose a different one. In these times, I find there is much more acceptance of others’ beliefs than there was, say, 100 years ago. Our outlook and methods of raising our children should evolve to match this.

    That said, I also feel that when one parent feels strongly about their religion, that is going to be the logical choice when considering how to raise your child. Most people that are truly devout will consider religion a fundamental issue, and any major differences of opinion between partners will often be a deal breaker. I see much success with blended families and ideals, but it will only work if both parents support it. And if a particular religion is truly important to a parent, it should form the basis of the child’s discovery of their own path.

  15. Solstice says:

    [This is a tough question, and I don’t really have an answer. My thoughts would be that if one parent feels more strongly about religion than the other parent, or if one parent actively practices and the other doesn’t, then the more active parent should be allowed to teach their child about their religion and raise them in that way. Or, you could try to blend the religions – where I grew up, it was common for kids to celebrate both Jewish holidays and Christian holidays. But I feel there really isn’t any easy answer for this question.

  16. RobertEvans says:

    [It should ALWAYS be introduced as a choice, and a choice that no small child is mentally capable of making. Think of religion-ed the same way you think of sex-ed. It’s an important part of life, and one your child will eventually need to make some serious (hopefully well-informed) decisions about. But kids are too young to be having sex and they’re also too young to be identifying with an ideology they can neither understand nor truly appreciate.

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