Faith and Religion: Freedom of Choice of Religion?

     Yet again, Facebook has provided me some fodder for an article. (These people sure don’t disappoint!) Earlier this evening, one of my Facebook friends shared the following picture, with accompanying quote from “Focus On The Family” founder Dr. James Dobson:

Freedom by Dobson?

Freedom by Dobson?

“The right of parents to select their child’s religious orientation must be protected and no teacher or administrator should be allowed to contradict what the child has been taught at home.”

     Now, I have yet to verify the veracity of this quote, whether Dr. Dobson actually uttered or penned these words, however my thoughts on this would, either way, remain as follows; Oh, I don’t think so. Since when has the term, “Freedom of Religion,” meant a parent’s right to impose a particular belief set on a child?

     Before anyone attempts to say that I’m either taking Dobson’s statement out of context, or that this was not what Dobson meant, please allow me to say this about that; the statement above is what is known as a “face value” statement, and was presented as such by the nice folks at the “Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson” Facebook page. No accompanying source citation or contextual reference was provided, so we must therefore accept the statement as it reads, and proceed from that point.

     That being said, I’d like to clear up a few other things. First off, I’m not about to sit here and advocate for parental or spiritual anarchy. Should we, as the Bible suggests, “raise our children in the way that they should go”? Certainly, by giving them all of the information that we can. We should, with all due honesty and sincerity, tell them what we are compelled to believe, and why we are compelled to believe it. We should be doing our best to instill the virtues and values in our offspring that we hold dear. We should be providing evidence and examples, and doing our level best to teach. Then, as they grow older, we should allow them to make their own choice of what to believe. We shouldn’t be telling them what to believe…doing so is pure folly.

     If parents would take this approach in the home, while at the same time acknowledging what their children may be taught while at school, and how it relates to what’s being taught in the home, then perhaps this apparent dichotomy between religion and education would be lessened. Regardless, I’m of the opinion that Dobson et. al. are engaging in some selective hypocrisy here, by using the idea of religious freedom to in fact deprive their own progeny of this very same freedom!

     When I last read my Bible, (which wasn’t too terribly long ago, in fact!) I was given the impression that when we were created, we were created in God’s image. Now, what does that mean? On the face of it, one might suppose that God somehow looks like us, and we like God, because we were “created in his image.” Oh, but indeed, my fine young readers, this simple statement has far deeper implications! I personally believe in the Trinity; God the Father, God personified in his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, and his indwelling presence, the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we have been created with not only a physical body, but also a thinking mind and a spirit. In other words, since God is a triune being, he also created us as triune beings! Within that framework of how we were made, he also gave us a unique gift; freedom of choice.

     People, God does not desire automatons. He does not compel us to blindly and automatically serve him, but gives us the freedom to either choose him, or choose otherwise. We believe something because we choose to believe it…or choose not to. Now, what was that verse we learned as kids, early on in Sunday School?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV)

     Whosoever believeth. Doesn’t say anything about having that belief chosen for you, or you choosing that belief for someone else. The Bible does say that we should raise our children in the ways that they should go, and that’s all well and good. Parents cannot however, choose what their kids will believe or not believe, any more than they can choose their hair color, their eye color, their skin tone or their blood type. Guide? Absolutely. Foist? No.


12 comments on “Faith and Religion: Freedom of Choice of Religion?

  1. FG says:

    Yes, it’s quite clear whose blog this is. It’s also quite clear what “Speak YOUR mind!” means. Unless that invitation was disingenuous, I trust you won’t choose to censor further comments merely because they might provide a challenge to your views.

    You finally came out and addressed some specific ideas with which you disagree, and I would join you in a few of your assessments. Other claims you issued constituted mere opinion, not scientific fact (the notion that a worldwide flood requires uniform global sedimentation is an assumption offered without argument or evidence, nor is such a claim a matter of empirical science).

    You also wrote that “religious” education has some propensity for spreading disinformation. This is a grossly prejudiced generalization, akin to suggesting that black people have a propensity for selling crack merely because you can offer some examples to that effect. Moreover, I previously warned of the common error of conflating a world-view with its adherents. Were I to point to secular darwinists who perpetrated frauds like Piltdown man, falsified peppered moth data, falsified archeoraptor data, and falsified embryo anatomy, you would rightly argue that not all darwinists were liars. (Of course, in the darwinian cases cited, such frauds were intentional and not merely a dissemination of sincerely held, even if erroneous, beliefs.)

    Elsewhere you suggested that the 1st Amendment does not protect a parents right to impose a religion on a child (and given your example about “hell”, it’s clear you believe that “imposing” a belief includes teaching those things with which you disagree). My reason for initially responding was not to debate particular propositions regarding dinosaurs or Santa Claus. My point in writing was to rebut any suggestion that (1) one can actually force another to adopt a belief, and (2) that parents have no right to indoctrinate their children in religious truth. In other words, my only reason for writing was to oppose any proposed usurpation of parental authority, not to challenge your other metaphysical commitments.

    • FG, have I censored you yet? (Only one of your comment postings has been sent to trash, it was the one in which your attempt to reply was cut off for some reason…)

      Please allow me to clarify something here; the invitation to “Speak YOUR mind!” was never meant to be translated as, “Please, think of my blog space and musings as your personal twist ties,” which you seem to have indeed interpreted them as. Perhaps a great deal of that is my fault…nobody’s perfect!

      Where exactly did I write that ““religious” education has some propensity for spreading disinformation”? I don’t recall writing that, lemme check the two articles…(insert elevator music here)…nope! What I intimated was that faith-based, home-schooling had the capability to be used towards those ends. Did I say that all parents who are engaged in the endeavor of faith-based home-schooling are using it that way? NO, I did not. I think I do know what you’ve done here, though. You’ve combined the text of my article, with the thought that I shared in comments regarding the propensity of organised religion itself to be used for ill.

      As for the first amendment, I stated that the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses were never meant to be used to justify imposing one’s personal religious beliefs on their children, whether that be through the use of implicit coercion, (e.g., the non-belief > Hell premise) or otherwise. It was meant to, in a general sense, keep the state’s nose out of religion, and religion’s nose out of the business of the state.

      As for the lack of global evidence for a global flood, here ya go!

      The Defeat of Flood Geology, BY Flood Geology – Phil Senter, Associate Professor of Biology, Fayetteville State University.

      Let’s just end this on the following thought; you stated that your “only reason for writing was to oppose any proposed usurpation of parental authority, not to challenge [my] other metaphysical commitments.” Since you found no firm “proposed usurpation of parental authority” though, you went ahead and “challenge[d my] other metaphysical commitments.” Like I said in my last comment, and I’ll quote myself verbatim, “you’re more than welcome to raise your kid(s) in whatever way you deem fit, and good luck with that.” Fair enough?

      • FG says:

        Allow me to quote from your response to me on October 10, 2013, at 7:06 pm. You wrote that the OP,

        “is about the propensity that ‘religious’ education has for the spread of disinformation, and the withholding of fact-based proofs.”

        Everyone can observe that the comment mentions nothing about “organized religion”. However, I’ve no desire to be uncharitable by disputing your intended meaning. Unfortunately, the gross over-generalization issued is not mitigated by limiting the comment to organized religion. While I could join you in pointing out problems with man-made religious institutions, it’s simply unfair to issue sweeping generalizations which collectively impugn innocent people. Anything man seems to put his hand to is sufficiently tainted with human fallibility that one can always find fault by pointing to examples of human failure.

        I won’t go into a point-by-point rebuttal to the claims made against a global flood, because it would be far too time-consuming to cover in this format, and you probably wouldn’t appreciate the book-length explanations required to do the subject justice. And rather than offering lists of books for others to read, I would encourage others to simply do their own research and come to their own conclusion. I would also encourage interested individuals to begin by familiarizing themselves with a philosophy of science and philosophy in general so they can recognize the difference between real data and subsequent interpretations of that data, and also recognize the philosophical presuppositions through which data is filtered prior to being reported as “fact”.

        Finally, although we disagree as to the original intent of the 1st Amendment, you’ve been more than patient with me this far, so we can simply agree to disagree and part in peace.

        Thank you, JP, for the dialogue.

        • Regarding my comment about the “OP”; I SURE DID, didn’t I? Very well, you got me there. Having misspoke, I will concede that “religious education” doesn’t always have the “propensity” to spread disinformation, but does bear that capability, just as well in fact, as any educational system, including public education.

  2. FG says:

    I addressed this issue on my wife’s blog, and if you’re interested, you can read it here:
    I’m only offering the link to avoid having to write a lengthy comment, since I already did so in the post.

    Suffice it to say that neither Dobson nor anyone else is suggesting we can force a belief on our children. Perhaps Dobson simply isn’t using precise language (which adds to the confusion), but as I argued in the post to which I linked, one cannot “force” a belief on anyone.

    • First, please allow me to apologise for not employing more concise language (which as you mentioned, contributes to confusion!) when I penned this article. When I used the word “impose,” it was with the following definition in mind;

      im·pose (\im-ˈpōz\)

      transitive verb
      a : to establish or apply by authority (impose a tax) (impose new restrictions) (impose penalties)

      As I stated within the text of the article, Dobson’s statement was presented “at face value,” so indeed, it would appear that he is suggesting that parents can, and should, choose (“select”) their child’s “religious orientation” for them. Once again, I completely disagree with both that assertion, and Dobson’s purloining of the first amendment to serve his own agenda(s).

      • FG says:

        Given that clarification, I suspect your opposition is to telling someone they must believe something upon pain of consequences. A few notes about that:

        It makes no sense to attempt to force anyone to believe anything using threats. People will hold their own beliefs no matter what others demand of them. Now, if a parent would actually punish a child for failing to confess a belief, I would join you in your protest. It’s simply unreasonable to expect someone to confess a belief against their conscience. After all, that’s called “lying”, and most parents would agree that their child ought not to lie.

        The thing is, I know of no parent telling their children they must actually believe something upon pain of consequences. On the other hand, a child may be expected to conform his behavior to a particular worldview, even if the child doesn’t believe the worldview. For example, if I believe that God told Moses that it’s wrong to lie, I may insist that my child not lie and punish him for violating that law, even if my child actually believes in anarchy. This seems reasonable enough, since it would be irrational for a parent to affirm a belief and then pretend it isn’t true where their children are concerned. Imagine how absurd it would be for a parent to believe that a bomb is in the house, and then allow his child to remain in the house simply because he, the child, doesn’t believe the bomb is there. In fact, we would say a parent is negligent if they didn’t act upon their belief and do what they believed was for the child’s good, regardless of the child’s own beliefs. The point is, if temporal dangers like bombs are important to act upon, how much more important is it to act on issues concerning the welfare of a child’s eternal soul?

        It seems the real issue is this: Does parental authority really exist or not? And if so, what are the limits to such authority?

        Those questions are not going to be answered by the Constitution (regardless of how one interprets it). In fact, those questions are more fundamental than government, because they relate to whether or not the state has any legitimate authority over men and the limits of its powers. Ultimately, one’s worldview will determine whether authority exists and from where it derives. You see, to suggest that parents cannot raise their children in some particular worldview is to place the cart before the horse. What one needs to be asking is which worldview is true, and then ask whether that worldview grants parents with the authority (or even commands them) to teach their children the truth and to insist that their children’s behavior comport with reality.

        • Needless to say, (I will say it anyway, however) we’re never going to agree on this. From your point of view, you’re right. From mine, you’re being intellectually dishonest. Here’s what I’m talking about:

          You stated above that you, “know of no parent telling their children they must actually believe something upon pain of consequences.” Oh? What do you call, “Little Jimmy, all those people who don’t believe in God like we do, will end up in hell.” (Don’t sit there and tell me that things of that nature don’t get said, you and I both know full well that they do!)

          Tell me something, FG; when you were a child, did you believe in Santa Claus? If so, at what point did you stop believing, and / or come to the realisation that Santa Claus was not a real person?

          • FG says:

            I trust that readers can judge for themselves who is being intellectually dishonest.

            Everyone can go back and read what I wrote, and it’s quite clear what I meant by administering “consequences” for disbelief. I quite explicitly referred to a parent who administers any such consequences. It adds nothing to the credibility of your position when misrepresenting me by raising the doctrine of hell.

            As for the doctrine of hell, it appears your real disagreement has less to do with parents who teach it, and everything to do with the veracity of the doctrine itself. After all, if it were true, one could hardly have a legitimate complaint against teaching the truth.

            So it appears the OP was really all about your personal disbelief in hell and/or other doctrines you happen not to like. It would have saved us all time if you simply came out and said this rather than using the welfare of children as a pretext to promote the state’s usurpation of parental authority.

            Finally, it’s not at all clear what relevance Santa Claus has to the issue of a parent’s authority to impart truth to his child. Perhaps you can explain this to us.

          • In all honesty, I almost didn’t approve that last reply. Since the masthead at the top of this blog reads, “The Cybersattva” and not “FG’s Blog,” I was seconds away from “cutting your mic,” as it were, since you seem unable or unwilling to honestly and directly answer even the simplest question…but that just wouldn’t be fair. Please note however, that this looks to be the final go-around on this, as again you seem more interested in psychoanalysing me, twisting my words and misrepresenting my own belief set, than engaging in an honest debate.

            The “OP” as you put it, is about the propensity that “religious” education has for the spread of disinformation, and the withholding of fact-based proofs. How many centuries went by after Galileo Galilei and Copernicus firmly established the heliocentric model, before parents taught their children the truth, instead of clinging to the lie that the Earth was at the center of all of creation? How many parents raised their kids to believe that dinosaur fossils were either a “lie of the devil,” or a “test from God”? (Please don’t fall back on the “I know of no parent who has taught…” line again, that one has been played out already.)

            The same things are happening in this, the 21st century. Kids are being taught that the earth is only 6,000 years old, and being given no proof of this, other than the Bible. They’re not being taught the theories of Evolution, or even Intelligent Design. Nope, just that we sprang up from the ground, fully-formed, in the Garden of Eden. They’re being taught that Noah’s worldwide flood is a fact, despite the lack of uniform, global sedimentation signatures that would have been left if it were a fact.

            I’m not even going to go into that bit about “using the welfare of children” that you posited above, due to the (at this moment) strong potential for devolving into sheer retributive vitriol on my part. Just know that you’re wrong about that, and leave it lie.

            FG, you’re more than welcome to raise your kid(s) in whatever way you deem fit, and good luck with that.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re saying that children should be afforded the same decision-making opportunities as adults. If that were the case, why are parents responsible for their children’s actions until they are 18? We as parents are to guide our children in the way WE think they should go. That is our God-given job. Once they are mature enough, they will make decisions regarding their own beliefs, which may or may not agree with their parents. I agree with Dr. Dobson in that I know what’s best for my child and I don’t want some other adult telling them otherwise and contradicting what I am teaching my child. It is only confusing to the child as to who is right: parent or teacher? As long as I am physically, emotionally, and financially responsible for my child, I will also be spiritually responsible for them as well.

    • Mrs. Williams, please first allow me to apologise for not being clear on this. Apparently, I fell somewhat short of the mark…

      The first portion of Mr. Dobson’s quote would seem to suggest that we as parents, should be able to choose whether our child believes in God or not, and the specifics of that belief. Reading through your statement, I see absolutely no reference to that concept in your comment. In fact, I get the sense that you’re in complete agreement with what I’ve posited in my article, that we should guide our children, then allow them to choose their own spiritual path once they’ve reached the age of being able to do so.

      I hope this clears things up, and that we’ll both continue down the road of being the best parents that we can possibly be.

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