Over an year ago, a very good friend and i talked about having kids and the what to do when it comes to religion. Today, going back to our conversation, i found this mail that i wrote in response.
Teaching about God and teaching religion are two different things. Religions have rituals, and special formations that define them as such. I will strive to teach my kids about as many religions as possible rather than stick just to the dominant religion in my / their fathers' culture. All of these beliefs should be explained side-by-side, even including the beliefs from ancient religions now usually treated as mythology. If i favor , lets say Christianity, by taking them to church and such,then they become biased.
Bringing up kids ignorant to religion makes them easy pawns for doomsday evangelists and other weirdos. I would not encourage fundamentalism and dogmatism. I see a study of religions, from the beginning of each, how it came to be, who is Buddha, Mohamed, Hare Krisha, the seven faces of Lord Vishnu, Jesus and who these people are to their respective religions, what their significance is. We would discuss The Order, Jihads, Reincarnation, Papacy, Pilgrimism , the crusaders.
What many religions try to do is to get people who practice some other religion, to quit and join their religion. This is called "converting" someone to your religion. When you think about what these religious people believe -- for example, Christians, who believe that if you don't believe in Jesus, you will burn in hell forever after you die -- you can understand why trying to "convert" others to Christianity seems like the right thing to do, to them: they feel that, if they do not get you to convert, you are going to be sorry after you die, so they feel it's for your own good that you should become a Christian too. The problem is that some people get so excited about converting others, that they end up doing things that are unfair, like making people believe that if someone is a Pagan who worships older gods, they are really a Devil worshipper, and evil (when really, the Wiccan religion, being an Earth-loving religion, is actually quite a gentle belief system).
I like Buddhism - Buddhism is the only one I know of that will actually let you practice whatever religion you are now, and Buddhism, at the same time. This is because the Buddha taught that his followers should not just accept what others say and believe, letting everything rest on "faith" -- but they should study and consider and try things, and when they find what they believe to be true and right and they can see from watching those who are wise that it is true, and right, then they should follow that path.
I want to encourage critical thinking. which does not only apply to religion, but to life in general. I used to have a problem with the fact that my boyfriend (now ex) is an atheist. Until i got it that atheists don't attempt to base their values and principles on the commands of any gods — nor is such a foundation necessary. Atheists may rely upon any number of different foundations for morality, but a common one will be empathy for other human beings - which is shared across all religions.
Empathy for other human beings is hugely superior to basing morality on the alleged commands of an alleged deity/ religion because if a child merely learns to obey orders, then he /she won't learn enough about how to reason out moral dilemmas in new situations — a vital skill given how technologies such as the biological sciences and discoveries keep advancing and creating new explorable possibilities for us. Empathy, never ceases to be dominant and is always crucial when it comes to evaluating new dilemmas.
Religion is not necessary for explaining who we are and why we are here. I think kids are indoctrinated with religious dogmas that are contrary to reality. Why do i need to instill fear? I need to instill free thought and a thinking mind that evaluates, other than one that is frightened and coerced into beliefs. Simply because fear is what makes people do things, i don't necessarily think it's the right way around things. Let me digress a bit... Fear is what makes you not do the things you want to do in life. It's what holds you back. What forms our religious backgrounds constitutes into the people we become as adults. The fear of tribulation goes beyond hell fire and brimstones, it boils down to fear of experimentation and breaking through barriers to see what lies beyond what you know, what society has.
I will encourage my kids to go to church, synagogue, mosque, temple...all of them. I will let them see how other worship, the rituals..., why they believe what they believe, it's not about having a Sunday tradition for me to be carried on like a family name.. You taking them to church, as i said earlier, does not indicate a willingness to let them choose. It's setting them free, but having a long invisible rope around their legs. They can only get so far, before the going to church biases them into Christianity.