March 5, 2014

Imposing Religion on Our Children

Circumcision, 1724, from Juedisches Ceremoniel
Circumcision, 1724, from Juedisches Ceremoniel (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)
Richard Dawkins generated quite a bit of controversy for suggesting that the religious indoctrination of children is abusive. I have previously explained that I tend to agree that it is abusive for parents to impose their religious beliefs on their children, and I have written about how being compelled to attend church after a certain age felt abusive at the time. In this post, I'd like to take a brief look at two related subjects about which I have not written much: circumcision and baptism.

I was circumcised as an infant. I was not given any choice in the matter. It was done to me without my consent or understanding of what was happening to me. Strangely, I don't remember ever asking my parents why they did this to me. I suspect that their answer would be that it was tradition and that everyone they knew was circumcising their male children at the time, but I'm really not sure. Perhaps they had other reasons.

I was also baptized as an infant. Again, I was not given any choice in the matter. This was done to me without my consent or understanding of the meaning or significance of the ritual. In this case, I do remember asking my parents about it years later. I was told that this was done to protect my "soul," although I have since gathered that this was maybe 20% of the reason at most. The other 80% was almost certainly to appease my religious grandparents. My parents were religious at the time - much more than they are today - but I know they faced considerable pressure from my grandparents to be even more so.

Circumcision, as far as I know, is irreversible. Maybe there are some surgical procedures designed to repair some of the damage, but that is not something I'd seriously consider. I've never had any complaints with the result or considered myself damaged by the procedure. My baptism, contrary to what some Christians believe, certainly was reversible and has in fact been reversed. I don't mean that I went through some sort of official de-baptism ritual, although I suppose such things exist. I just mean that I have since rejected religious belief. If some Christians want to believe that my "soul" is still somehow affected by this early baptism in spite of what I have become since that time, so be it.

I understand that it is natural for a parent to want his or her child to share his or her values. I just wish it wasn't so natural for the same parent to force his or her values on a child in these ways. I am not mad about my circumcision or my baptism; I am more disappointed than anything. I certainly would have preferred that these decisions had been mine to make. I wish that my parents had taught me their values but allowed me to make my own decisions in these areas.

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