E2 contains a fair number of write-ups describing how damaging religious upbringing can be to children. Putting aside the spiritual pros and cons for a moment, I'd like to address the cultural benefits that accompany involvment in a religious tradition...

Although it is true that no two humans know exactly the same things, they often have a great deal of knowledge in common. To a large extent this common knowledge or collective memory allows people to communicate, to work together, and to live together. It forms the basis for communities...

~ E.D. Hirsch, Jr. et al, The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, p. ix.

A great many people in this country (and the world, for that matter) are raised within some religious tradition, and many in this country have had the experience of going to church/ synagogue /mosque /Sunday school / Hebrew school / confirmation classes etc. We experience the rituals—dressing up, going to the place of worship, listening to the same words spoken week after week, learning the songs and prayers, watching how the adults behave. We develop at least a passing acquaintance with the religious texts. We have, in many cases, early exposure to the hypocrisy of adults as we listen to their words and then see the conflicting actions in their daily lives.

Being raised as part of a religious tradition provides people with that sense of belonging that is so important to us as social animals. Many people participate in religious activities for the feeling of fellowship that it gives them, rather than for spiritual reasons. Even if, by the time children hit puberty, they have rejected the tenets of their faith, they have been part of a community. They have become reasonably fluent in the phenomena of religious faith. That is valuable. Having that history, knowing that background, adds to one’s cultural literacy.

Think about it: children can be raised without TV, and they’ll be better off in the sense that they learn other, more creative uses for their time, but what happens when everyone at school is talking about The Simpsons?

Whether children reject their parents’ religion entirely or find themselves returning to it by the time they have kids of their own, they have a jumping-off point. Being raised within a religious tradition makes them more well-rounded individuals. They have a background that they can use that just might help them to understand people of other faiths.

Knowledge is power. Besides, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

Tallman has pointed out that Neal Stephenson has summed this up nicely:

"... if you are raised within some specific culture, you end up with a basic set of tools that you can use to think about and understand the world. You might use those tools to reject the culture you were raised in, but at least you've got some tools."


Obtaining religious literacy as an adult:

  • Read.(Surf the net, visit a library, check out the local college bookstore.) Find religious texts and see what they really have to say.(Maybe even take a comparative religions class at your local university...)
  • Talk to people. Ask them about their experiences. I know the ban on talking religion and politics, but I'm sure you could do this politely.
  • Branch out. Go to services in other faiths. Attend weddings, baptisms, bat mitzvahs, even funerals...attend Quaker meeting, visit a mosque, go to a revival. You might just find some common ground--or at least material for a good story.
  • Keep an open mind. Draw parallels between your own life experience and what you see, hear about on the news, etc. Investigate the unfamiliar.

Following a conversation with vruba on unschooling, I find that my feelings about public school mirror what I've said about organized religion. In large part, it's about the social experience; it's all about finding common ground.

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