Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When it comes to religion, give children some space

27 Aug 2007, ST

Intense religious instruction during kid's upbringing may do more harm than good

By Tessa Wong

LAST Thursday, I took a trip down memory lane with my parents while watching Jesus Camp, a documentary film about an evangelical Christian summer camp for children in the United States.

It was like watching my whole childhood play out on the big screen as I have a similar religious background. Speaking in tongues? Check. Fervent proselytising to strangers? Check. Emotional prayer sessions? Check.

After the film, my parents and I started discussing whether bringing up children with religious traditions was ever justifiable.

They thought so, arguing that such education was not 'brainwashing', but merely teaching children how to be good by bringing them up in the ways of God.

I agreed with them on that count. After all, parents have the right to teach their children moral values, however they see fit, and religion is often seen as the best tool to achieve this goal.

I do not doubt the merits of such an education. I am grateful my parents used Christianity to instil strong moral values in me.

Yet, I feel it can get sticky when parents take things to extremes, as is sometimes the case.

The children in Jesus Camp, for example, were taught they are soldiers at the forefront of a radical 'culture war' in the US between the religious right and liberal left.

They were told, therefore, to support President George W. Bush and adopt conservative views on issues such as abortion and global warming.

This, I believe, crossed that fine line between using religion to teach good values, and indoctrinating a child with political bias.

It also illustrates how bringing up a child in a religious environment, while sometimes beneficial, also deprives him of the free will to choose what he wants to believe.

One may argue that children can exercise choice as they grow up. But with such intense drilling, how many of them actually will?

What is more, being steeped in fervent religiosity at such a young age can sometimes cause much angst and confusion in later years, as it was in my case.

For many years, I was conflicted: There were beliefs I was supposed to subscribe to, and there were the beliefs I gradually developed, independent of Sunday school.

I found I disagreed with the notion that just because something wasn't biblical, it wasn't good.

It also did not help that my early fervent religiosity was induced using slightly unethical means.

My childhood years were an emotional whirlwind. Scenes in Jesus Camp showing anguished children tearfully breaking down at prayer sessions, urged by pastors to repent for their sins, were extremely familiar to me.

Some evangelical Christians justify such pressure. They say it is necessary to teach humility and subservience to God. But I tend to see it as emotional coercion of an innocent child, with any resulting trauma possibly outweighing any good.

While using religion to mould a child is perfectly acceptable, parents should exercise a light touch and give their children room to think independently.

After all, isn't it choice that empowers children

No comments: