Adam van Kuik

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Should a child be able to choose his or her own religion?

Young children only believe in their respective religion because they are forced to believe by their parents. Should a child be able to choose his or her own religion? Should schools require all kids to take a world religions course in either elementary, junior high school, or high school? How would this hurt society?

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    Jul 18 2011: Instead of supporting the "teach all religions" idea, I'd rather go with "teach teach religion for what it is". Schools are there to teach facts in my opinion, not fairy tales and made-up stories.
    Teaching religion is fine, but not as an attempt to indoctrinate as currently is the case, but from a historical point of view. Don't tell kids that the Book of Genesis describes the way our world was created, tell them that it was written during a period of Jewish exile and slavery under Babylonians in order to strengthen people's faith.
    If they afterwards still wish to believe in one or another religion it's their choice.

    Of course every culture has its own impact, you can't dictate parents how to raise their children, but you can regulate the school system.
  • Jul 17 2011: On religion taught in schools: In theory, UK schools have World Religion as part of the Humanities curriculum, and tolerance is one of the key values in the Citizenship agenda
    In practice, it can be presented as 'look at what these idiots believe' or as 'do as we say, not as we do'

    Example: after a lesson in which students create a wall display on tolerance, a student is found sitting in the rain miserably eating sandwiches. On enquiry, she is not allowed in the cafeteria area with her ham sandwiches, since it is halal. I have also heard of parents evenings where no report on progress was offered by a church school, because both the child's two dads turned up. Cues such as this offered by the education system give a truer picture of what authority figures really think - not what nice things we write in our lesson plans.

    How do we get round the gap between theory and practice? Tough one. No answers, here, just expanding the scope of the question...

    Answering your question, Adam; Yes, but decisions about faith are always going to suffer from bias from school, family and community. All we can do is raise confident happy kids who can then make informed choices as adults about which faith if any they want to follow. I do approve of the movement in many mainstream faith groups to not allow youngsters to be full members until they reach an age of adulthood (eg my local Methodist church will not allow under 16s to take Communion)

    We could do worse than remove all the State references to God. Prince Charles wishes to be Defender of Faith, not THE Faith- and it's still a point of contention; Dollar bills still declare'In God We Trust'..... We cannot expect children to choose rationally in the face of such cultural pressure.
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    Aug 10 2011: Many of the "pro-choice" voices seem to actually be closer to no choice. Not that they advocate forcing a faith onto a child, rather indoctrination in un-faith. Teaching all religions equally in a historical context is a deliberate denial of any inherent spirituality. There is no easy, one size fits all answer to this. The closest one can get, is to realize that children generally don't have the type of needs filled by religion. You can avoid it altogether, or raise them in a strict religious environment, it makes no difference. As they mature as individuals, they will eventually make their own decisions. Just like you did, just like I did, just like everyone else. So my answers to the original questions are: Asking a child to choose a religion is like asking them what car they will drive when they grow up. They may have an answer now, but it wi likely change in the next ten or twenty years. By the dame token, forcing a child to embrace a set of beliefs they cannot yet fully understand is just wrong. Childhood should be a religion-free zone. Let them figure it out when they're ready. Which brings me to the second part: Religious instruction in schools should be limited to something along the lines of, "All religions are of value to those who follow them. Ad such, all are equally worthy of respect. Next subject." Lastly, the institutionalized teaching of world religions would harm society by trivializing the subject. Even school children have been taught that importance equals time. You mustn't run through the museum glancing at things as you go. You have to take the time to study and appreciate these cultural arts and artifacts. Cramming the religions of the world into a single course would send a clear message about the value our society places on them. The waste of our children's classroom time would be the greater harm.

    Cheers, Winston
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      Aug 10 2011: teaching one religion also means indoctrinating in not believing in all other religions. teaching christianity is a denial of hinduism. i fail to see why would it be better to indoctrinate not believing in all religions than all but one religions.

      not teaching any of the religions is not possible in the era of the internet. so the question here is not zero versus one, but forcing one versus not forcing one.
    • Aug 12 2011: Winston, I think it DOES make a difference whether you avoid discussing religion with children or raise them in a strict religious environment. Raising a child in a strict religious environment alters that child's view of reality for years to come. The child may never learn anything meaningful about evolution, or about the many scientific theories of how life came to exist on the Earth, or how the Universe was created. I know many adults who never learned those things, although they received advanced degrees in college and are employed in respected professions. The only explanation I can think of was that they were indoctrinated as children to accept a particular religious explanation and to avoid learning anything about competing explanations.
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        Aug 12 2011: Easy; you persuade them that religious people are that way because they don't know any better. I get it all the time.
        You think Atheism has no doctrines ?

        :-)
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        Aug 12 2011: The choices exist , the chance to make a choice exist whatever someone was learned ,and this chance exist as long as more religions exist , everyone who use a bit his mind whatever was learned can make choices and good choices ............this(some from above) are just some nonsensical atheistic sayings .
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        Aug 13 2011: Eric, Krisztian

        Wish TED would let us reply to ourselves, so that we can slot-in better.

        Doctrines ;-

        Christian (C): The Universe was created in 6-days by God, a few thousand years ago.
        Atheist (A) : The Universe was created by natural forces a few billion tears ago.

        C : the earth started out as a watery ball.
        A : The earth started out as a molten ball.

        C : Life was created by God in it's present forms with the ability to adapt.
        A : Life was created as one type & evolved over millions of years, all by natural forces.

        C : Our life as humans is eternal.
        A : Our life as humans is short & we perish with our bodies.

        C : God has given us rules by which to prosper.
        A : There are no absolute rules.

        You get the idea !

        ps. Fine thanks Eric, good to hear from you again :)

        :-)
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          Aug 14 2011: merriam-webster: doctrine
          a : something that is taught
          b : a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief : dogma
          c : a principle of law established through past decisions
          d : a statement of fundamental government policy especially in international relations
          e : a military principle or set of strategies

          your statements are none of these except "a", but "a" is so broad, everything falls into it. so i can only hope you didn't bring the argument "science also has teachings" into the debate. otherwise, science has statements, theories, hypotheses and such things, but no doctrines in any meaningful sense of the word.
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        Aug 13 2011: Hi Eric

        Many Christians would disagree with my doctrines as well. The materialist scenario normally follows most of the above when depicted in natural history programs etc. I'm sure you see my point though; we all follow beliefs & doctrines of some sort.

        :-)
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      Aug 13 2011: Eric:
      -"Don't try to say that there is no affect on children in their formative years by indoctrinating them in the 'faith' of the parent" I didn't and I don't only because this is not the reality , the indoctrination don't happen in the most of the religious world excepting the fundametalist societies and families (and even there what happen shouldn't be called indoctrination) , what happen usually is just the kids learning with some religious practices and ideas , this ideas are however in their infantile stage , they don't have that power to shape something ; when it comes about practices the same thing happen .


      -''But choice is limited in all humans by beliefs, understanding and prior learning'' : yes of course , but this beliefs and understandings are specific to the adults and they ( the beliefs..) need mind , thinking , no one can have them without to think a bit, and this process of thinking excludes the subjectivism from someone's life in other words it excludes that experiences which you talk about.
      -Prior learning - this is something shaped along the people intellectual evolution , in other words this doesn't matter at all in making choices as adult (if that person have an intellectual evolution , if not it's not my problem).

      -"but the truth is there will always be vestiges of your childhood fear, beliefs and experiences lurking in even the most radical converts mind" for existing that a kid must have some really intense experiences and beliefs but this experiences or beliefs don't usually happen/exist at the most kids.
      (you talk about the weak people , weak=don't think ).
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          Aug 13 2011: lol............lol...: ("with regards to you personally...")

          "It doesn't take religious fundamentalism to 'imprint' a child with a set of behaviours" It does , the usual religious people educate their children not so much in a different way from as atheists educate their kids usually .
          ''The behaviours and beliefs of the majority of humans, animals and other creatures are shaped during the formative years'' yes , I didn't deny that , I just said that for having a belief a person must think (at least a bit) a kid can't do that too much in other words a kid don't have really beliefs (they just believe their parents) ; this formative years suppose to think , means agreeing with something at a early moment and disagreeing with it at a later moment, it means evolution .This is what I said in other words and it just show that learning the kids in specific religion doesn't mean any harm to anyone.
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          Aug 14 2011: Not too bad , the first and the fourth are true , the idea of the fifth is true too ........ :)
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          Aug 15 2011: then you were lucky ...
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    Aug 2 2011: By the way, to all those who have not yet see the talk, Dan Dennett makes a great argument for teaching religion as facts and allowing children to choose for themselves in his reply talk to Rick Warren's "Life of Purpose":
    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_dennett_s_response_to_rick_warren.html

    Great talk, great message! Of course Mr. Dennett suspects - as I do as well - that almost noone would under these circumstances choose to believe.
  • Jul 24 2011: It is a parent's responsibility to teach a child to use higher level/ critical thinking skills and to be independent. Should this task be completed, choice of religion on the child's part would become a non-issue.
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    Jul 18 2011: I'm all for religious education under several conditions (in order of importance):
    1. Clarify that with all religions, with no exception, "it's a matter of faith, not a matter of knowledge".
    (If there's a guarantee the teacher has done just that, we can be sure the teacher wouldn't be the cause of any fundies and science deniers.)
    2. Contradictions between different non-controversial religious doctrines are to be as emphasized as their similarities - mention the golden rule, but also mention reincarnation vs. heaven&hell, created vs. always existing universe, etc.
    (If that and 1 are done, we can be sure there will be religious tolerance)
    3. All holy texts, without exceptions, are to be presented as "evidence for God" or better yet "the source of the belief system" (is there a religion with a holy book and no Gods? If there is, the latter would include it) rather than "the word of God".
    (If that is here, we have the seed of doubt being planted within any truth seeker)
    4. Include not just popular contemporary religions, but also popular ancient religions (Greek at minimum, ideally also Egyptian and Norse).

    I've had all throughout my elementary education (informally... the teacher taught us about religion out of the curriculum), and I think I've turned out OK. Even my peers that identify themselves as Christians and believe in God are tolerant of all faiths, and are technically "agnostic Christians". They wouldn't use the term precisely because they all understand that being religious is a matter of faith i.e. not claiming knowledge - being agnostic - by definition.
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    Jul 21 2011: Rather than choosing, parent have duty to give a path to their kids.

    when the children develop, their own understanding, and reach to the age of taking decision, they can have some analytica skills and they can further choose their religions.

    i think in school, you are talking about the inter religion studies..... i feel its good. but religions are wider area. people can study them, all of them, if they surrender all of their time for that, like in higher studies.

    islam gives education of entire religion to kids in the schools like madarsa.
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      Jul 23 2011: Is impossible to leave children by their own. Because our world is made of influences...
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    Jul 20 2011: a child!
    like in what age...........?
    he should be rational enough to select the religion
    religion is never about just liking the religion or being comfortable with this religion, it's about being convinced more, he has to think to, being convinced needs more mental abilities and experience, I guess the child lacks

    every single guy is responsible for his actions or convention
    thus age plays a major role in this way
    this what I believe
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    Jul 19 2011: By allowing children to choose religion would mean somehow teaching them not to be transparent to religion. I feel they should be taught that all religion stands equal and every religion when followed in right way is beautiful. Why change religion at any age? What to be learnt from any religion is - discipline. Spirituality, lifestyle and any other thing that may tempt to change religion is but 'your choice and not religion'.

    Why not give them a choice? - If they need it they will ask you for it but you giving it to them may teach them to distinguish religion and base greater things in life on religion at a tender age. Its better they be taught love, respect and transparency for all religions... someday they may teach us all !!!
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    Jul 18 2011: Children don't need to make major decisions - that's what parents are for.
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      Jul 18 2011: so parents have to decide the child's religion?
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        Jul 18 2011: They don't have to do anything. Personally, I don't see the need to even discuss religion with kids.
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          Jul 18 2011: yeah, kids are like biorobots. food goes in, good marks come out. they lack the power to think, so why bother? let them memorize multiplication tables.
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        Jul 18 2011: Rote learning has its place. Sometimes it's known as practice. I don't think kids work the way you are suggesting but, depending on the age of the child, they require a certain amount of guidance from parents (adults) simply because of the gaps in their knowledge, understanding and life experience. Religion, in my opinion, is an adult preoccupation and to put it on kids at too young an age is not a good thing. I've seen it in the classroom (some parents still cling to tradition) and have had a good smile watching the Religious Instruction teacher squirm under the direct and simple questions kids have about God. No satisfactory answers ever forthcoming.
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      Jul 18 2011: you said: children should not choose religion, this is what parents are for. you didn't say adults, you said parents. your later statements seem to mask it, so i ask directly: do you think that it is the parents' responsibility to choose a religion for their children? yes or no.
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        Jul 18 2011: Parents can teach their kids whatever they see fit. If they feel the need to associate with a particular religion, then they'll probably feel a responsibility to lead their kids that way.

        Personally I don't 'teach' my kids a religion. If they bring up concepts like where do you go after death, we talk about all the different things people believe, including what I believe and what they think, but they are young and so I tend to keep it simple.

        Hopefully, when they're older, if they feel the need to formally identify with a particular religion, then they'll also feel free to choose which one.
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          Jul 19 2011: so basically you disagree with your own statement about choosing religion is the parents' job. then why have you stated it?
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        Jul 19 2011: Yes, it is the parent's choice.

        I don't agree that this should take the form of one religion as the gospel truth but that's my approach to religion and an approach that I will teach my boys. When the topic is raised by them.

        It's my opinion, not someone else's and in the same way that nobody can tell me what I should be teaching my boys, neither do I have a right to insist on my version of religious belief being taught by others.

        Technically, I suppose I'm teaching an attitude towards religion rather than teaching a specific set of religious beliefs but it boils down to the same thing, I think.

        Once the child is a man, it's up to him. If they feel the need to believe in just one version, then I hope that it will take them to a higher state of being/consciousness.

        I'm certainly not teaching an Anglican belief simply because my parents brought me up that way, although it probably comes through without me realising it.
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    Jul 17 2011: I believe educating children so young in religious doctrine is unacceptable.
    Religion steals from the intrinsic nature of love.
    If you say " don't do this because god is watching"
    that is a warning , a caution sign you'll never see , hear or feel..
    If we teach them the incredible resource that are ideas and creativity
    there would be an abundance like there never before.
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    Aug 5 2011: I remember being really frustrated with my parents. I had figured out that I was really complex, & that the world around was complex as well. When I asked them what I was, & what I was doing there, they had no idea. They were good people, but had never thought about such things. I was probably about 10.
    I didn't want to know about religion, I just wanted answers. I think that this is the key; just answer the questions . If the parents go to church/mosque/temple etc. then obviously they must be ready to justify that. Children are inquisitive & always ask the awkward questions.
    I was collared by an 8yr old the other day who wanted to know how many bits god was in. She had never been taught about the Trinity (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit), but had figured out that something was afoot. So I squirmed & told her what I thought. She took that on board, & said something to the effect "I thought it had to be something like that", & went on her way happy. We have to answer their questions, but beware, they can see right through a lie. Only later on, in the teens when peer pressure comes to bear do they get hardened.

    :-)
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    Aug 4 2011: Nope Adam , a kid don't have too much mind , a kid can't think maturely to can choose his/her religion , and the actions of a kid usually don't influence the society so much for having a 'hurt' implication on it............ so " Should a child be able to choose his or her own religion? " NO ......... a clear NO.
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    Jul 18 2011: the title question can't be serious. what would that mean if we say "children should not be able to choose religion"? it just makes no sense to me. not even possible, religion can not be forced, beliefs can not be imposed. only behaviors can be.

    about teaching religions in school: that is wise, in my opinion. but i think it should not be decided on country/state level. we live in the age of the internet. schools should teach structured knowledge, and not world view. world view can be shaped by one's own inputs and social environment.