I didn’t read every card and hope for something topical. I just grab whatever but today’s question is a good one for an atheist blog.
Your 10-year-old has visited a relative who belongs to a small religious sect. Now the child wants to join. You don’t share their beliefs. Do you discourage your child?
Here’s perhaps a funny answer coming from an atheist:
With a caveat, however.
What kind of “small religious sect” are we talking about here? I’d suggest we sit down at the computer and do some research on the group and what motivates them. Let’s use the Baha’i as an example. I’m picking that because it’s a faith I’ve heard of but can’t recall writing about so far. And, going by my years of blogging history, whatever they’re into doesn’t tend to lend itself to bad news headlines so that’s a promising start.
The Faith’s Founder was Bahá’u’lláh, a Persian nobleman from Tehran who, in the mid-nineteenth century, left a life of princely comfort and security and, in the face of intense persecution and deprivation, brought to humanity a stirring new message of peace and unity.
Bahá’u’lláh claimed to be nothing less than a new and independent Messenger from God. His life, work, and influence parallel that of Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, and Muhammad. Bahá’ís view Bahá’u’lláh as the most recent in this succession of divine Messengers.
Always another messenger. Like there’s one for every era as cultures re-orient themselves towards different goals and ambitions.
But, I like this notion they have of promoting world unity and equality.
For a global society to flourish, Bahá’u’lláh said, it must be based on certain fundamental principles. They include the elimination of all forms of prejudice; full equality between the sexes; recognition of the essential oneness of the world’s great religions; the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth; universal education; the harmony of science and religion; a sustainable balance between nature and technology; and the establishment of a world federal system, based on collective security and the oneness of humanity.
Borrowing from Wikipedia, they also fast, avoid alcohol, drugs and gossip and have a history of persecution in Islamic countries. It’s treated as an apostasy of Islam rather than a religion in and of itself, and the government of Iran calls it a political movement.
However, the government has never produced convincing evidence supporting its characterization of the Bahá’í community. Also, the government’s statements that Bahá’ís who recanted their religion would have their rights restored, attest to the fact that Bahá’ís are persecuted solely for their religious affiliation.
Getting back to the question, I’d encourage him to think critically about the beliefs this relative holds and what he thinks is likely or not likely in terms of the truth in what this relative says. If some of it feels really hard to believe (in terms of afterlife or miracles and the like), it’s okay to be skeptical of the claims.
Did this relative take him along to a church or meeting? Did it have an okay vibe? Did any part of the experience feel weird (or scary) rather than fun? How did everyone else treat the relative? How did they treat him? What kinds of things were they saying about their beliefs? How were people reacting?
What if the sect turns out to be something more cultish and troubling the more we look into its leaders and world footprint? Well, at that point, I’d not only tell my son we won’t be letting him join it (I think he’d understand why and agree with us), but maybe the Man and I would start looking into what’s necessary for convincing this relative to walk away from the group ASAP — something I know is hard to make happen. At a Cult Help and Information site they list a lot of information, including an interview with an Exit Counsellor named Rick Ross.
the group may have a track record they’re unaware of, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or the United Pentecostal Church, where there have been ex-members who have gotten out and who have stories to tell that would lead a member to pause and question fruther [sic] commitment to the group. Re: the Jehovah’s Witnesses – there’s a wonderful book that’s been written, Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz. Very few members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been exposed to this book.
I add a link to the book for more detail.
Finishing up, I guess I’d tell my kid that religions are the same in a lot of ways and different in a lot of ways and while his dad and I aren’t believers in any particular religion for various reasons, he’ll reach an age where he can decide for himself. Maybe 10 isn’t that age, though, but it could be a good time to start doing some religious comparisons and see what can be discovered.