Religion and children

Religion and children

Children usually acquire the religious views of their parents, though they may also be influenced by others they communicate with such as peers and teachers. Aspects of this subject include rites of passage, education and child psychology, as well as discussion of the moral issue of religious education of children.


Rites of passage

A Roman Catholic infant baptism in the United States.

Most Christian churches practice infant baptism[1] to enter children into the faith. However, some form of Confirmation is then a ritual when the child has reached the age of reason and voluntarily accepts the religion. Ritual Circumcision is used to mark Jewish and Muslim infant males as belonging to the faith. Jewish boys and girls then confirm their belonging at a coming of age ceremony known as the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah respectively.


A parochial school (US) or faith school (UK), is a type of school which engages in religious education in addition to conventional education. Parochial schools may be primary or secondary, and may have state funding but varying amounts of control by a religious organization. In addition there are religious schools which only teach the religion and subsidiary subjects (such as the language of the holy books), typically run on a part time basis separate from normal schooling. Examples are the Christian Sunday schools and the Jewish Hebrew schools. Islamic religious schools are known in English by the Arabic loanword Madrasah.

However, religion may have an influence on what goes on in state schools. For example, in the UK the Education Act 1944 introduced the requirement for daily prayers in all state-funded schools, but later acts changed this requirement to a daily "collective act of worship", the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 being the most recent. This also requires such acts of worship to be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character".[2] The term "mainly" means that acts related to other faiths can be carried out providing the majority are Christian.[3]

The creation-evolution controversy, especially the status of creation and evolution in public education, is a debate over teaching children the origin and evolution of life, mostly in conservative regions of the United States.

In France, children are forbidden from wearing religious symbols at school.

Religious indoctrination of children

Several authors have been critical of religious indoctrination of children, such as Nicolas Humphrey,[4] Daniel Dennett[5] and Richard Dawkins.[6]

Labeling of children as religious

Dawkins has been particularly critical of the unquestioned labeling of children with their parents' beliefs. He describes the caption of a picture in the Independent of a school nativity play, where four year olds playing the Three Wise Men are described as "Shadbreet (a Sikh), Musharaff (a Muslim) and Adele (a Christian)".[6] He describes the caption as grotesque, and makes his point by asking the reader to imagine the caption reading "Shadbreet (a Keynesian), Musharaff (a Monetarist) and Adele (a Marxist)".[7] He suggests there is little controversy over such labeling because of the "weirdly privileged status of religion".

Dawkins suggests saying "child of Christian parents" rather than "Christian child",[8] and hopes that the phrase will also make children aware that belief is not something that is inherited automatically like eye colour; that they do not have to follow in the religious footsteps of their family. He has tried to raise people's consciousness of this matter, and hopes that phrases like 'Christian child', 'Muslim child', or 'atheist child' will "grate like fingernails on a blackboard".[6]

Religion as a by-product of children's attributes

Richard Dawkins proposes that religion is a by-product arising from other features of the human species that are adaptive.[6] One such feature is the tendency of children to "believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you" (Dawkins, 2006, p. 174). He compares children's gullibility with the tendency of moths to fly towards a flame, a similar rule of thumb. Using distant light from the night sky for navigation works most of the time, but can still fail catastrophically, as happens when they spiral into a nearby flame.

The psychologist Paul Bloom sees it as a by-product of children's instinctive tendency toward a dualistic view of the world, and a predisposition towards creationism.[6] Deborah Kelemen has also written that children are naturally teleologists, assigning a purpose to everything they come across.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents
  2. ^
  3. ^ Catholic Education Service
  4. ^ Humphrey, Nicolas (1998). "What Shall We Tell the Children?". Social Research 65: 777–805. "Children, I'll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people's bad ideas – no matter who these other people are." 
  5. ^ Dennett, Daniel (2006). Breaking the Spell. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-03472-X. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 406. ISBN 0-618-68000-4. 
  7. ^ Or alternatively "Shadbreet (an Atheist), Musharaff (an Agnostic) and Adele (a Secular Humanist)" (Dawkins 2006, p. 338)
  8. ^ "The is no such thing as a Christian child" (Dawkins, 2006, p. 3)
  9. ^ Kelemen, Deborah (2004). "Are children "intuitive theists"?". Psychological Science 15 (5): 295–301. 

External links

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