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Religion and children

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Title: Religion and children  
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Subject: Religion and children, Religious education, Islam and children, Creation and evolution in public education, WikiProject Sociology/Cleanup listing
Collection: Religion and Children
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Religion and children

Children usually acquire the religious views of their parents, although they may also be influenced by others they communicate with such as peers and teachers. Aspects of this subject include rites of passage, education and child psychology, as well as discussion of the moral issue of religious education of children.

The Children and Parents area in the Priory Church of St Mary, Totnes, Devon, UK


  • Rites of passage 1
  • Education 2
    • Religious education 2.1
    • Prayer in school 2.2
    • Teaching evolution 2.3
    • Display of religious symbols 2.4
  • Religious indoctrination of children 3
  • Child marriage 4
  • Health effects 5
  • Medical care 6
  • Religion as a by-product of children's attributes 7
  • Islam and children 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Rites of passage

A Roman Catholic infant baptism in the United States.

Most Christian churches practice infant baptism[1] to enter children into the faith. Some form of confirmation ritual occurs when the child has reached the age of reason and voluntarily accepts the religion.

Ritual circumcision is used to mark Jewish and Muslim and Coptic Christian[2] and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian[3] infant males as belonging to the faith. Jewish boys and girls then confirm their belonging at a coming of age ceremony known as the Bar and Bat Mitzvah respectively.


A young Muslim couple and their toddler at Masjid al-Haram, Makkah, Saudi Arabia.

Religious education

A Sunday schools and the Jewish Hebrew schools. Islamic religious schools are known in English by the Arabic loanword Madrasah.

Prayer in school

Religion may have an influence on what goes on in state schools. For example, in the UK the Education Act 1944 introduced the requirement for daily prayers in all state-funded schools, but later acts changed this requirement to a daily "collective act of worship", the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 being the most recent. This also requires such acts of worship to be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character".[4] The term "mainly" means that acts related to other faiths can be carried out providing the majority are Christian.[5]

Teaching evolution

The creation-evolution controversy, especially the status of creation and evolution in public education, is a debate over teaching children the origin and evolution of life, mostly in conservative regions of the United States. However, evolution is accepted by the Catholic Church and is a part of the Catholic Catechism.

Display of religious symbols

In France, children are forbidden from wearing conspicuous religious symbols in public schools.

Religious indoctrination of children

Many legal experts have argued that the government should create laws in the interests of the welfare of children, irrespective of the religion of their parents.[6] Nicholas Humphrey has argued that children "have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people's bad ideas," and should have the ability to question the religious views of their parents.[7]

"Parents' religion and children's welfare: debunking the doctrine of parents' rights, Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer spoke of the subject in 19th century:

"And as the capacity for believing is strongest in childhood, special care is taken to make sure of this tender age. This has much more to do with the doctrines of belief taking root than threats and reports of miracles. If, in early childhood, certain fundamental views and doctrines are paraded with unusual solemnity, and an air of the greatest earnestness never before visible in anything else; if, at the same time, the possibility of a doubt about them be completely passed over, or touched upon only to indicate that doubt is the first step to eternal perdition, the resulting impression will be so deep that, as a rule, that is, in almost every case, doubt about them will be almost as impossible as doubt about one's own existence."
— Arthur Schopenhauer, On Religion: A Dialogue

Several authors have been critical of religious indoctrination of children, such as Nicolas Humphrey,[8] Daniel Dennett[9] and Richard Dawkins.[10] Christopher Hitchens and Dawkins use the term child abuse to describe the harm that some religious upbringings inflict on children.[11][12] A. C. Grayling has argued "we are all born atheists... and it takes a certain amount of work on the part of the adults in our community to persuade [children] differently."[13]

Dawkins has written a children's book that seeks to convince them of what he deems to be the fallacy of various religious teachings[14] and states that he is angered by the labels "Muslim child" or "Catholic child". He asks how a young child can be considered intellectually mature enough to have such independent views on the cosmos and humanity’s place within it. By contrast, Dawkins points out, no reasonable person would speak of a "Marxist child" or a "Tory child."[11] He suggests there is little controversy over such labeling because of the "weirdly privileged status of religion".

On several occasions Dawkins has also made the controversial claim that sexually abusing a child is "arguably less" damaging than "the long term psychological damage inflicted by bringing up a child Catholic in the first place".[11]

Child marriage


Latter Day Saint church founder Joseph Smith married girls as young as 13 and 14,[20] and other Latter Day Saints married girls as young as 10.[21] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints eliminated underaged marriages in the 19th century, but several fundamentalist branches of Mormonism continue the practice.[22]

Health effects

A study of 2604 US children ages six to nineteen found positive correlations between physical and psychological health and religious affiliation and/or church attendance.[23] This included 272 children whose parents (children 6–9) or the children themselves (12–19) expressed no religious affiliation. However, of this group, 22% state that religion is important and 35% attend church. The study found children ages six to nineteen who attend religious services are at lower risk of suicide or suicide attempts, as well as alcohol and drug use and dangerous sexual behavior. Some religions prohibit blood transfusions, vaccinations, contraception, and abortions, which may lead to adverse health consequences. Membership in religious groups can moderate unhealthy behavior, provide social support, and enhance marital or financial prospects, and strengthen family bonds if the religion is shared by the whole family. Religions can also help both adults and children with self-esteem, as well as provide meaning to life and reduce anxiety, but can increase guilt over perceived misdeeds. Thus it is not clear whether this positive association is because of a positive effect of religion on health, an effect in the other direction, or an as of yet unknown lurking variable.[23]

85 percent of religiously affiliated children are healthy overall, as opposed to 79 percent of non-affiliated children. 79 percent of religious children are deemed psychologically healthy compared to 73 percent of non religious children. 85 percent of children who attend church at least weekly are healthy and 83 percent of those who seldom or never attend are healthy. For psychological health the numbers are 82 and 74 percent respectively.[23]

62 percent of children say religion is important to them, 26 percent say it's somewhat important, and 13 percent say it's not important. 81 percent of those who view religion as important were found to be healthy and 65 percent of the not important group were healthy. There was no difference found among the various religious denominations in regard to health. The positive correlation between religion and health was strongest for 12-15 year olds. Overall religious belief and participation have the same positive health association as being breastfed or having a mother who went to school 2.2 years longer than one who didn't. They have half the health benefit of living with both parents. Whether this association is a causal relationship in either direction (religion to good health or good health to religion) remains to be seen (see Correlation does not imply causation).[23]

Medical care

exorcism, by Goya

Some religions treat illness, both mental and physical, in a manner that does not heal, and in some cases exacerbates the problem. Specific examples include faith healing of certain Christian sects, the Christian Science religion which eschews medical care, and exorcisms.[24][25]

Faith based practices for healing purposes have come into direct conflict with both the medical profession and the law when victims of these practices are harmed, or in the most extreme cases, killed by these "cures."[26][27][28] A detailed study in 1998 found 140 instances of deaths of children due to religion-based medical neglect. Most of these cases involved religious parents relying on prayer to cure the child's disease, and withholding medical care.[29]

Jehovah's Witnesses object to blood transfusion primarily on religious grounds, they believe that blood is sacred and God said "abstain from blood" (Acts 15:28-29).

Religion as a by-product of children's attributes

Dawkins proposes that religion is a by-product arising from other features of the human species that are adaptive.[10] One such feature is the tendency of children to "believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you" (Dawkins, 2006, p. 174).

Psychologist Paul Bloom sees religion as a by-product of children's instinctive tendency toward a dualistic view of the world, and a predisposition towards creationism.[10] Deborah Kelemen has also written that children are naturally teleologists, assigning a purpose to everything they come across.[30]

Islam and children

See also


  1. ^ Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Catholic Education Service
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^ a b c
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b c d Religion and Child Health B. R. Chiswick & D. M. Mirtcheva (2010) IZA, Bonn
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^

External links

  • Love Thy Neighbor: The Evolution of In-Group Morality By John Hartung Skeptic, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1995. Includes the responses of Israeli children to the account of the Battle of Jericho in the Book of Joshua.
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