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Is It Important That Children Come To Embrace The Faith Of Their Fathers? Or Should They Be Encourag


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Rabbi REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

Yes. And yes.
But before we exp
lore this, did you purposely leave out mothers? I hope not. There are many children in one-parent families, wherein that one parent is a mother. Your question is certainly pertinent to that scenario, i.e., to the embrace of the mother’s faith.

Back to your question. It is important that children embrace the faith of their parents, and it is likewise important that they be encouraged to make up their own minds.

These two alternatives are not, as your question suggests, mutually exclusive opposites. Instead, they are complementary. It is in no one’s ultimate interests to force religion of any sort on anyone. It is crucial that religion be happily embraced. For that to happen, for there to be an embrace, ideally there must be a preceding choice.

But how can that choice be made? In an ideal situation, the choice is made almost automatically by children who experience the warmth, the integrity, the wisdom, the meaning, of a specific faith, and therefore make up their minds to follow said faith.

Parents who live faith with warmth, integrity, wisdom and meaningful purpose, set a vibrant example for their children, who then choose, who make up their own mind to continue the family tradition. They may not even be consciously aware they are choosing, but choosing they are. And effective parents will naturally share the beauty of their faith with their children, will encourage them to ask the “why” questions and then offer intelligent, if not compelling responses.

Parents have the first “crack” at influencing their kids, and though we hear so many stories of children running wild and as far away from their parents as they can, most children yearn for a strong parental connection and thrive in an atmosphere of profound love.

If the children feel that the love package includes a faith expression that truly enhances their lives, why would they choose any alternative?

Rev. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa.

There are two aspects to this question: the first involves the right to choose one’s own faith and the second involves the necessity of providing children with enough information to make an informed, free choice about which faith to practise. The Catholic Church asserted at the Second Vatican Council that: “ ... the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (DH n.2). But before we can make a choice about what religion, if any, we wish to adhere to, we need an informed context out of which to make a decision. I have often heard parents say that they do not practise any faith with their children in order to avoid influencing their decision later in adult life about which religious beliefs to hold. The problem with this approach is the children who have no exposure to any religious beliefs and grow up lacking even a framework to use even to investigate different faiths. Furthermore, the parents are sending an implicit message to their children that all religions are equally unworthy of their attention. Adult Catholic parents have a responsibility to bring their children up in the practice of their Catholic Christian faith, which is made clear to them when they marry in the Catholic Church. But ultimately, we all must respect each other’s right to choose our own faith practices when we are mature enough to make that decision for ourselves.

Rev. RICK REED is senior pastor at the Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa.
It depends on whether you see religious faith as a matter of personal preference or ultimate reality.

If the various religious faiths are like different colours of paint, then belief is simply a matter of personal preference. In this case, parents should let children pick the shade of faith they find most appealing. However, if religious faith is actually about ultimate reality, we’ll need a different approach.

If spiritual realities are as valid and enduring as physical ones, parents can’t afford to be unconcerned or uninvolved. Parents understand that physical realities are not matters of personal preference. The law of gravity is not only true for some people; it’s valid for all. Why should spiritual realities be any different?

Embracing a religious faith is not like choosing a favorite colour of paint; it’s about aligning your life to the contours of reality. For this reason, parents should intentionally seek to pass on their faith to their children. But before they can do this, parents must be convinced about their own religious faith.

Even a cursory study of the world’s religions reveals they differ significantly in their views of God, salvation and the afterlife. This wide variance in foundational beliefs means that all religions are not essentially the same. Further, all religious beliefs cannot be equally right. So parents need to investigate their own faith before they try to pass it on.

Christians welcome this kind of honest inquiry. That’s because Christians are convinced that those who take an honest look at Christ and His teachings will come to hear the ring of truth in His words. More than that, they will come to see the love of God in Christ’s death and resurrection. Those who choose to trust in Christ will discover they have a faith worth passing on.

KEVIN SMITH is on the board of directors for the Centre for Inquiry, Canada’s premier venue for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers.
The famous Jesuit quote “give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man” could easily be attributed to Jean Piaget, often called the father of cognitive development. Dividing mental growth into four stages, he explained that between the ages of two and seven, children develop magical thinking. This is when, with eyes wide open, they begin to believe in monsters, the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. I find it interesting that at this age, when they are least likely to think for themselves, they are introduced — indoctrinated even — into their family faith.

While I wouldn’t go so far as religion critic Richard Dawkins, who declares that this is a form of child abuse. I have met many religious refugees who possess enough damaged goods to make me reflect on this. We are all born atheist, and depending on their religion of choice, some parents do put the fear of the gods into us.

How about a different approach: one that encourages independent thinking and fuels a child’s curiosity to learn.

After relieving their fears of gremlins under the bed, an enlightening nighttime story would include not only passages from your holy book, but a quick education in world religions 101. Tell them about Buddhism, one of the worlds oldest religions. Describe the Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Relive the interesting life of Muhammad. These stories are equally fascinating, even as the fiction I consider them to be. No course is complete without a discussion of non-belief, as it is rapidly becoming a voice among equals within our secular society.

Tell your child that people have different gods to worship while others live contented and fulfilling lives without one. Explain that humans ask the same big questions about life yet seek answers in different ways.
They are not the children of god; they are unique individuals with independent minds and it would be selfish of us to ignore that.

JACK MCLEAN is a Baha’i scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of spirituality, Baha’i theology and poetry.
Three important principles bear on today’s question: the duty of parents to give their children a moral and spiritual education; the freedom of individual conscience; the independent investigation of the truth. These principles do not really clash, but may be seen to work harmoniously together.

Any parent who practices her/his faith tradition will naturally want to pass on its benefits to the children. Baha’i scripture reminds parents not to neglect the spiritual education of their offspring. Prayers are memorized in earliest childhood. Teaching is by precept and example. Youngsters attend children and junior youth classes which include a wide variety of topics, including Baha’i history, the teachings of the world’s great religions, challenging contemporary moral issues and literacy skills. Practical service projects accompany instruction; learning is followed by action.
In exposing children to the teachings of the Baha’i faith, parents and educators must show patience and wisdom. Coercion is not permitted. Care must be taken to make instruction enjoyable through well-planned social activities. Summer camps are offered to junior youth.

The exhortation to educate children spiritually is given to enable them to grow up happy and well adjusted, and to empower them to successfully meet and overcome the severe tests and challenges of life in a society that has largely forgotten God. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá reminds us that true happiness is based on spiritual behaviour and the practice of virtue. The foundation is laid in childhood. Without a moral and spiritual compass, the children and youth of today and tomorrow will find themselves seriously disoriented.
But in the final analysis, whether the youth accepts the faith of the fathers/mothers is left to personal conscience. Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i faith, has indicated that at the age of 15, youth must take responsibility for their own spiritual maturity. The Universal House of Justice has clarified that the youth “ … is responsible for stating on his own behalf whether or not he wishes to remain a member of the Baha’i community” (Dec. 12, 1975). This is done simply by verbal declaration and is a cause for celebration.

ABDUL RASHID is a member of the Ottawa Muslim community, the Christian-Muslim Dialogue and the Capital Region Interfaith Council.
A child is a precious gift bestowed on us by our Creator but it is also a trust that entails certain obligations on our part. Protection and nourishment of the offspring is common to all animals. The distinction of human beings lies in their moral consciousness. It is this unique human faculty that demands parents must develop through example and instruction.

As the child grows, the protective component of love is gradually changed to the development of a unique, strong and well-balanced physical, intellectual and moral personality.

We are fortunate to live in a country where it is easy to discharge parental responsibility for health and education of children irrespective of our financial position. This allows us to devote our efforts towards the much more important task of raising children who will not only be efficient and productive members of the society in an economic sense, but who will also strengthen the moral fibre of the society.

Parents want to do the best for their children. Faith is not just a matter of belief and worship; it is contains a moral code par excellent. To most parents, faith is an important source of both receiving good and doing good. It will indeed be irresponsible to leave children in a vacuum on this aspect of life.

When Prophet Abraham had to leave his birth place, he prayed for a child: “O my Lord! Bestow upon me a gift of the righteous” (37.100). Later, Prophet Zachariah cried out in old age: “O my Lord! Leave me not without offspring though Thou art the best of inheritors” (21.89).

BALPREET SINGH is legal counsel and acting executive director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.
Spirituality and religion are deeply personal. While parents have a duty to provide their children a spiritual foundation and education, the ultimate decision on which spiritual path to follow is an individual one.
Being a Sikh is not something that can be inherited through family or bloodlines. One must choose to be a Sikh. While Sikh parents strive to bring up their children with the faith’s three key values of remembering God, earning an honest living and sharing with others, each child must make a conscious decision to live the Sikh lifestyle. Individuals choose to formally adopt the Sikh faith by receiving Amrit or initiation and this takes place whenever a person feels ready to make that commitment, whether it is as a youth or later in life.

When I was a child growing up in rural Ontario, my parents were afraid that it would be difficult for me to stand out as the only Sikh in school. They felt it would be easier if I didn’t wear the main identifiers of the Sikh faith which are uncut hair and turban. As I grew older and learned more about my faith, including the significance of long hair as marker of Sikh identity and accepting God’s will, I decided to grow my hair. By the time I had reached Grade 11, I realized that I loved the spiritual values of the Sikh faith and felt they were an essential part of who I wanted to be. I chose to receive Amrit and feel it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My parents have not yet chosen to be initiated themselves. Perhaps one day. So while parents may hope their children embrace the faith of their fathers, this is a choice that the children themselves have to make.

Rev. KEVIN FLYNN is an Anglican priest and director of the Anglican studies program at Saint Paul University.
My first inclination is to suggest it’s likely a matter of the faith of foremothers. For better or worse, women carry most of the responsibility in our culture for passing on religious traditions.
That said, let’s recall that only a few generations ago, and still in traditional societies, such a question would be met with surprised disbelief. The expectation would be that of course children would grow up being embraced by and embracing the faith of the family and community around them. Only recently have people come to think that of religious faith as a discrete part of life, a kind of take-it-or-leave-it piece, to be received or rejected by a sovereign individual. We do not leave it to our children to decide whether they should be loved, fed, clothed, housed, educated and so forth. We owe these things to children because we desire their well-being. Why should faith be any different?

To be sure, everyone, at some point in their lives, must decide whether or not to make the faith they were born into their own. But everyone will have a faith, whether religious or not. Believing parents will hope their children have commitments beyond simply being obedient consumers.
We will have done our job when our children, growing up, have a clear understanding of what it is they are invited to commit to as adults. If they are to choose, they will have had a lived experience of what it is they are deciding for.

All of this is far more challenging than crude attempts at indoctrination, because it demands the best of us at all times. In the end, it will be the quality of our lives which determines whether our children, or anyone else for that matter, see Christian faith as attractive and life-giving.

RAY INNEN PARCHELO is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.
Good parenting, in this case Buddhist-inspired parenting, would recommend an inclusive approach. On the one hand, Buddhism is built on the wisdom and efforts of our predecessors. Their insight, example and teaching, are our first source of understanding. Thus, we and all newcomers need to start with our Dharma-ancestors and traditions. On the other, we deeply value the uniqueness of personal experience. Therefore, each of us must find resolution in this moment and historical setting.

Be they to our own children or newcomers “born into” our faith family, we ought allow and encourage them to explore and benefit from the depth and richness of our faith. Buddhist literature includes the Jataka tales (stories of the Buddha’s prior lives), simple fables illustrating beginner-level lessons. Our practices can offer simple acts of faith, such as chanted prayers or family offerings. Our tradition is replete with countless symbolic representation able to match the aspirations of children, such as the Mizuko figure of Japan. Anyone is welcome to find their own place to start and continue to be challenged as their spiritual life, as their physical one, grows and matures. Buddhism recognizes that, as our spiritual journey matures, we each must practise in a way that expresses our own personal understanding of the Way. In Tendai Buddhism (my own tradition), for example, we learn to embrace the full spectrum of teaching — meditative, devotional, philosophical, ritual and so on. At different life-stages, we can focus on and deepen any practice as it may foster our growth.

We would be naive to pretend our children will always remain within the faith family. Of course it is possible they will choose a non-participating relationship. We are taught that whatever choice we make has its spiritual consequences, ones which can accelerate or delay spiritual growth. Most Buddhists will understand that to be free we must be free to make mistakes. We disrespect our children if we deny them the opportunity to grow through membership in our faith family, but also if we disrespect their choice to turn away from the Way.



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