[Week 7 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Can you distinguish between these three things: Religion, Morality, and Faith? Sure, to some extent they overlap, but the differences are important. For this article, I want to talk about religion.
Any religion is a system of behaviors that are considered necessary to both prove and act out a person’s real or supposed convictions about the meaning of life. At best, religion is evidence of internalized truths. At worst, religion is a way to manipulate people’s fears.
Religion is often associated with ritual. Sometimes the rituals begin as honest ways to encourage good behavior. Sometimes they are are efforts to honor or remember something. Other times, rituals are simply a way to make people feel they are doing something acceptable or a way to control the behavior of others.
What are your religious tendencies?
What is key to understand is that rituals are an outward action that can be easily performed. That is, going through with a ritual cannot be assumed to be associated with what is going on in the heart. On top of that, most rituals are not integrated with the nuts and bolts of living. We do not need rituals to be kind or to prepare our food, for example.
Many people think of religion as having to do with reverencing a god or acknowledging the divine. However, people can be religious about anything they are devoted to. If they exhibit an obedience to a creed, they are religious.
In some ways, the idea of religion is a matter of degree. Most people would say that brushing their teeth every day is a good thing. It takes on a religious nature when a person does it to be viewed as good or to appease a supernatural power.
Why religion causes trouble sometimes
People tend to have two extreme reactions to religion as they define it.
- They think it is ridiculous
- They think it is necessary
Those who are disdainful of religion see it as both empty and abusive. Because of keeping the definition narrowed to what purportedly worships a god, they are often conveniently blind to the religious elements of their own world view.
When people see religion as necessary, they tend to want to impose their version of it on everyone. Too often, they interpret adherence to religion as a sign of character and opposition to it as a threat to social interactions.
Parenting versus Religion
A parent who wants a good relationship with his or her child needs to be cautious about how they apply religion to life. Children will sense if a parent is shallow or disingenuous about such practices. They will almost always question the meaningfulness of boring or tedious rituals.
In some ways, religion needs to be categorized the same way as rules, as I discussed in week 3. Is there anything moral about a ritual? Is it immoral to not participate in a certain ritual? Then, we might as well also ask, “who made it a ritual?” and “how much would not following it affect anyone?”
People are creatures of habit to one degree or another. For many people, there is a certain comfort in the repetition of familiar actions. It brings a sense of completion or the actions are associated with people they love. There is nothing inherently wrong with this.
The illusion of unchanging ritual
According to my dictionary, the word has grown from a combination of Greek and Latin that originally meant something about “binding together” or “collecting.” It is very similar to traditions, which are “customs handed down.”
What can be easy to forget is that while these definitions imply unchanging, there is actually nothing consistent about traditions or rituals. Just like language, rituals change with time, no matter how hard someone tries to cling to them. Parents need to keep this in mind when trying to decide how important religion and its rituals are.
Legalism versus Love
A very strict following of religious ritual is often described as legalistic. If a parent is insistent to this level, whether by discipline or social manipulation, a child will often lose respect for the parent. Unfortunately, if there is any truth associated with the parent’s beliefs, those will probably suffer as well.
There may be some instances, in some societies, where teaching a child to appear acceptably religious may have its survival value. Still, a child who knows he is loved and accepted regardless of ritual will have a confidence in his parents. This confidence will be a better bond than any ritual can be.
If parents decide to have the family participate in certain religious activities, it is reasonable to teach the children polite behavior for the setting, according to their ages and mental maturity. Where it will almost certainly break down is if the parents respond to childish actions or choices with more concern for their own inconvenience or reputations. Parents responding like this are usually flailing for control or brutal because they are only reacting based on their own needs.
What are your religious goals?
Religion as practiced by many, whether associated with the supernatural or not, is often an attempt to appear humble while actually drawing attention to oneself for doing “the right thing.” Children may imitate this at the same time that they see right through it. Parents who are truly humble, will not need rituals to prove it.
The Bible speaks of true religion as actions which treat our fellow humans well. Jesus himself berates religious figures for using religion to oppress others. Parents will benefit from applying these same principles to how they treat their children in relation to religion.