Generations: belief systems

I was reading an article by Jenny about the possibility of your kids choosing to follow a religion that is entirely different from your set of beliefs.

I’m pretty sure that this comes up with every parent, and has been going on for a long time. The phases that kids go through as far as trying to find their identity socially, and trying out lifestyles of friends that they make along the way, and out of just plain rebellion just seem to call out for trying on psychological and religious worldviews that seem to counter what has been set forth in the home… Especially if it is done rigidly.

We are entering the second generation of kids that will have our highly advanced mass communications available. It was a big huge deal when my dad was young to know someone who had their own television set, even though there were only three channels, and those only broadcast a signal for a few hours a day. Now there are hundreds of 24/7 channels, movies, recorded programs, and the the whole digital gold mine of the internet. If someone has thought or believed something, you can bet that there is something out there, and it’s a billion percent easier to find and explore than it would have been 40, 30, 20, or even ten years ago.

When the kids decide to explore another religion (and they WILL), I would say that it’s a good idea not to overreact. As long as they aren’t hurting themselves or others, it’s a good exercise. If you are incredibly strict about your belief system at home, this will not deter the kids in the least. It will only make them careful to hide it from you. I’ve seen that one a million times, and that was back in the youth of my generation.

When I’m thinking of these kinds of questions, I try to remind myself of my primary function as a parent. That helps to keep things in perspective. That primary function is to nurture them, and to help them attain all the skills that they will need when they are on their own in life.

If they are not allowed to explore themselves or their environment, they will not be able to grow. Simple as that. I hope that all of your kids at least read about other belief systems.

It’s funny that this comes up, because as the holiday displays show up all over the Retail Kingdom, My girls have started asking questions about different holidays that they are hearing at school…. and I have been using these questions as a launching board into (very brief) overviews of different beliefs. Thursday evenings’ discussion was on the ride home, after K asked, “Do we celebrate, um… Hanukkah?” I know a lot of parents whose answer would either be a simple “No”, but I take these as good opportunities for growth for the both of them.

Compulsary understanding?

In the American culture, we are so afraid to talk about religion, that all of us end up suffering. In turn, Americans have very narrow views, based on assumptions, glossed-over definitions, and agendas put forth by extremely small handful of people each of us trust for spiritual guidance.

Americans fail at religion

When I was in high school, there were a lot of kids who were very confused about their spiritual lives, and then there were a lot of them who were happy and spiritual, but talking with any of them for a length of time, and it was obvious that they were just as confused. They put forth a Cheshire cat grin, and regurgitated things that they had heard at church, but inside, they were very unsettled.

My first college course was on comparative religions, and I gained a lot of insight. The USA Today article mentions making classes like these part of school curriculum. If these classes are taught with some tact, it could be highly beneficial to everyone. More knowledge never hurts.

The BBC compilation

There is a fine line to draw when offering a class like this at a public school. Public schools have to be quite gun shy, but communities can do this. individuals can find all of the information freely. Church groups can as well. The first issue that comes to mind is the immediate negative discussion about covering one religion over another, or one more completely than another.

That is exactly why the class setup is important. When I took the class in college, our textbook was The World’s Religions by Huston Smith. Huston Smith has been writing books on comparative religion since at least the mid ’50s. It’s an excellent book, well researched, and makes for a good overview over the span of 10-12 weeks as a study. My local library has four copies available, and I still have my copy as well.

There are tons of people out there who have an agenda for their own beliefs, and think that any study of any other belief “would detract from the study and application of our faith” blah blah blah…. It should be obvious that anyone who is confused in their faith would benefit from the study. Anyone who is devout in their faith would benefit from understanding objectively what it is that they believe, and how that differs from other religions and sects. Everyone should have an idea of the beliefs of all the major religions. comparing and contrasting with beliefs outside our own, we often can generate perspective and questions we would have otherwise missed.


This is a high-level overview, and ignores a lot of variables, but it’s really interesting, nonetheless.

More statistics
More high-level overviews

There really should be a more open discourse on world beliefs within any belief structure. An honest, structured view would allow those who are lost a way of gaining perspective. You can’t have the fear that one of your pupils might decide that they belong with another faith — it’s part of their own personal spiritual journey, which is so much more important than gaining numbers of adherents for your own faith.