The Dark Side of Religiously Indoctrinated Children
Religion is such an immensely controversial and personal topic. For some, their belief in a higher power affects every aspect of their personalities and lives. In many non-western countries, religion is completely intertwined in their government, school, and legal systems. I live in one of those countries. I'm also an atheist. You can see how this would be a problem for my family and I.
I wasn't always a non-believer. I grew up in the Islamic faith and was a devout Muslim until 19 years old. For me, my religious beliefs and customs were an integral part of who I was as a person. There are still many habits and instincts ingrained in me that are deeply rooted in the religion. They've just become a part of me and I doubt that will ever change. I've reached a point where I've separated these from the religion itself.
A real struggle with raising children in a place full of religion is the indoctrination. My 8 year old son goes to public school, and they are required to participate in a morning prayer, a prayer before lunch, and an evening prayer...every day! If one of the kids chooses not to say the prayers, they are ostracized by everyone. This practice isn't exclusive to the school my son goes to...no...almost every school in the country does it! I want to teach my children that they can think religion through, and choose their own path. I will support them no matter what they choose! Yet this becomes frustratingly difficult when they are made to pray 3 times a day at school, starting from the age of 5. My son comes home repeating many of the phrases and words he learns in school, and figuring out if he truly believes them or is simply regurgitating what he hears is nearly impossible.
Above are actual pictures of my son's public school handbook.
There have been a few instances of his peers bullying him over religion. He was called names and made fun of for saying he doesn't believe in a God. There was one particular incident that really upset him: he came home from school in tears and shaking...because some of his classmates told him that "tattoos are for the Devil!" My husband and I both have multiple tattoos...and my son was down-right terrified that mommy and daddy were secretly Devils. How does a parent deal with that? I comforted him and explained that what he was told isn't true. I then reached out to all the parents of the class, who proceeded to brush me off. Should I have taken this higher up the ladder? I couldn't. The school Principal leads all the prayers. So we're stuck in this with no real options. Less than 2% of the population in this country is atheist...compared to the 32% of the USA population not believing in a God. Just think about that for a minute!
Trying to continuously undo the damage of the close-minded, hateful, and skewed religious rhetoric that my kids are exposed to is overwhelming! I'm trying to raise kind, loving, accepting, and happy kids. Peers and classmates have such a deep and massive effect on a young developing child, so countering that at home is a challenge. Teaching my kids critical thinking skills and the ability to form their own opinions is crucial for them to grow into their own.
How do we address and fix an on-going issue that has no real or tangible solutions? What steps can be taken to raise caring children when they are exposed to discrimination and hate every day?