The Bible’s Viewpoint
Should Children Choose Their Own Religion?
FROM the moment a child is born and through his adolescence, parents make choices for their child. At the same time, a wise parent knows when to be flexible, considering whenever possible what the child would prefer.
Yet, how much freedom of choice to give a child may present a challenge to parents. While it is true that children can make right choices and benefit from a measure of independence, it is likewise true that they can make wrong choices, which can result in tragedy.—2 Kings 2:23-25; Ephesians 6:1-3.
For example, children will often choose junk food over nutritious food. Why? Because at an early age, they are unable to make sound judgments on their own. Would it be wise for parents simply to allow their children free rein in the matter, hoping that eventually they will choose nutritious food? No. Rather, parents must make choices for their children with their offspring’s long-term interests at heart.
Therefore, parents rightly make choices for their children regarding food, clothing, grooming, and morality. But what about religion? Should parents make that choice as well?
Some would argue that parents should not force their religious convictions on their children. In fact, over 160 years ago, some who professed Christian beliefs advanced the idea that “children ought not to be taught religion for fear of having their minds biassed to some particular creed, but they should be left to themselves till they are capable of making a choice, and choose to make one.”
However, this idea does not harmonize with the Bible’s viewpoint. The Bible emphasizes the importance of instilling religious beliefs in children from birth. Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.”
The Hebrew word translated “boy” embraces the age from infancy to adolescence. Regarding the importance of early learning, Dr. Joseph M. Hunt, of the University of Illinois, U.S.A., said: “It is during the first four or five years of life that a child’s development is most rapid and most subject to modification. . . . Perhaps 20 percent of [his] basic abilities are developed before his first birthday, perhaps half before he reaches four.” This merely underlines the Bible’s inspired counsel that it is vital for parents to give wise direction early in a child’s life, training him in God’s ways.—Deuteronomy 11:18-21.
Outstandingly, the Scriptures direct God-fearing parents to instill in their children a love for Jehovah. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force. And these words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” The Hebrew verb translated “inculcate” carries the idea of sharpening an instrument, as on a whetstone. This cannot be accomplished with a few strokes but must be done diligently, again and again. The New English Bible renders the Hebrew verb “repeat.” Plainly, “inculcating” implies leaving a lasting impression.—Compare Proverbs 27:17.
Hence, true Christian parents ought to take seriously their obligation to impress their religious convictions upon their children. They cannot rightly abdicate this responsibility by allowing their children to choose for themselves. This would include taking their “little ones” to meetings. There the parents can sit alongside them and help them to appreciate the spiritual benefit that a united family can gain through paying attention to Scriptural discussions and participating therein.—Deuteronomy 31:12, 13; Isaiah 48:17-19; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15.
The Parental Responsibility
Simply telling a child to eat something because it is nutritious does not mean that the child will enjoy it. Thus, a wise mother knows how to make these essential foods as appetizing as possible in order to appeal to the child’s taste. And, of course, she prepares food in a manner that conforms to the child’s ability to digest it.
Similarly, a child may at first balk at religious instruction, and a parent may find that trying to reason on the matter does not work. However, the direction from the Bible is clear—parents must do their best to train their children from infancy. Therefore, wise parents make religious instruction palatable by presenting it in a way that appeals to the child, taking into consideration his ability to absorb it.
Loving parents feel keenly the obligation to provide the necessities of life for their children, and in most cases no one knows a child’s needs better than the parents. In harmony with this, the Bible confers the primary obligation of providing physically as well as spiritually on the shoulders of the parents—the father in particular. (Ephesians 6:4) Thus, parents are not to shirk their responsibility by seeking to shift the obligation to someone else. Although they may take advantage of assistance offered, this would supplement, not replace, the religious education from the parents.—1 Timothy 5:8.
At some point in life, each individual decides what religious beliefs he will observe, if any. If Christian parents take personal responsibility for giving their children religious instruction from an early age and if they use this time instructing them to reason on the basis of sound principles, the choice the offspring make later in life will more than likely be the right one.—2 Chronicles 34:1, 2; Proverbs 2:1-9.
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The Doré Bible Illustrations/Dover Publications, Inc.