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The Effects of Religion on Children


Senior Paper
The project
About the author
Senior Paper

"...the reverence that parents and religious figures wish to instil becomes a chore of worship, rather than the connected experience that unites a community in spirit."


By learning basic morality, faith in a higher power, and spirituality, children seem to benefit from a religious upbringing; however, these concepts hinder a childs developmental comprehension and create a biased view that corrupts an otherwise natural innocence.


  1. Introduction.
    1. Attention getter: Quote by Innainah.
    2. Thesis.

      II.    Childrens basic morality.

    1. Disruption of childs quest for answers.
    2. Extreme actions to early teachings.
    3. Religions explicit ideas of right and wrong.

     III.     Childrens faith in a higher power.

    1. Born into their belief system.
    2. Conformity v. education.
    3. Total immersion in religion.

     IV.     Childrens spirituality.

    1. Usefulness of a connected community.
    2. Need for similarity/hatred of diversity.
    3. Complete denial of wants/needs that religion ignores.

      V.     Conclusion.

    1. Thesis proved.
    2. Attention getter: Opening quote summary by Innainah.


The Negative Effects of Religion on Childhood Development

"Before you believe in anything, science demands that it be subjected to inquiry, analysis, and proof. If something cannot be proven, it should not be blindly believed. But around the world, the educated exempt religion from the scientific scrutiny they apply to everything else" (Innaiah 1). Narisetti Innaiah, the vice president of the Rationalist Association of India, clearly states that society today values faith before scientific proof; thus, one of the most prevalent impacts in individuals livesreligionobtrudes upon reason. Religion impacts ones daily life, from the morals one learns to heed, to the faith and unity one feels for an unidentifiable source. But what if this source of faith is not natural to ones societal needs, what if through religion one damages the most innocent of allchildren? In fact, recent studies reveal that religion not only hinders childrens natural curiosity but also provides them with a moral conformity that holds captive any opposition. By learning basic morality, faith in a higher power, and spirituality, children seem to benefit from a religious upbringing; however, these concepts hinder a childs developmental comprehension and create a biased view that corrupts an otherwise natural innocence.

Within a childs early and often vulnerable years, parents teachings play a fundamental role in shaping his or her credos. In his book entitled Raising Children in a Spiritual World, Phil Catalfo, a freelance writer, states that "every time [he] mention[s] God [he] is reminding [himself] that [he] was born, live[s], and will die amid a mystery" (Catalfo 19). Moreover, Catalfo explains that "when [he] use[s] that term with [his] children, [he] is invoking something as deep as their soulsin other words [he is] inviting them to embrace the mystery (The way [he] see[s] it, they might as well get comfortable with it early!)" (Catalfo 19). This stereotypical way of thinking is predominant among the religious parents of children. Martha Fay, author of Do Children Need Religion?, explains another outlook, perhaps less biased, on the effects of religion on children. Fay clarifies that "In giving ones child a religious upbringing, one enjoys the sense that one has done the right thing and taken a well-known road. In choosing not to give ones child a religious upbringing, one takes a position of another sort, setting them on a path many of us did not discover until much later in our lives" (Fay 1). Fay brings forth a rather disturbing question. Will simply giving children a specific religion disrupt their quest for answers? Often one makes the decision rapidly and carelessly, which results in the mistreatment of a childs early developmental process, leading to the childs later confusion regarding his or her own identity.

From their confusion over their identity, children learn to take extreme actions to early teachings. "Over the ages, religions have exploited the power of the bond between parents and children, fashioning priestly infrastructures that touch every aspect of life, enmeshing families ever deeper in allegiance" (Innainah 1). Rather bluntly, Innainah argues that religion purposefully entraps the impressionable through brainwashing, starting at an early age. Although this concept seems absurd in the publics eyes, cleverly hidden behind his cynicism lies a hint of truth. Religions around the worldChristianity, Judaism, Islam, and others"touch" childrens lives usually through the ideas and beliefs taught to children from birth. However, Thomas Sowell, author of the online article "Latest Media Preoccupation: The Religious Right, explains that perhaps critics of religion, like Innainah, chose to blame the wrong party. He vehemently states that "Shameless distortions of the truth have become so common in the cultural wars of our times that no one should be surprised that the politically active religious groups are being targeted" (Sowell 1). Sowell argues that "liberals" have blamed our schools, both religious and public, for their "anti-religious teachings" (Sowell 2). Sowells arguments directly contradict those of Innainahs, however; they both agree on the fact that religion, and anti-religion, greatly impact children and their belief systems in a corrupt manner.

Religions impact begins to touch childrens lives with explicit ideas of right and wrong, a religious morality that sways the early thought process. Although many individuals believe that concepts such as a childs morality and intelligence are innate, any idea regarding morality can be influenced to the point of brainwashing. "The emergence of formal operational thinking continues during adolescence with significant impact on religious thinking. A fully principled conscience is still in the making and usually does not appear until young adulthood if it appears at all" (Piaget 54). Jean Piaget, a researcher and author in the field of psychology, states that from the earliest stages of childhood, childrens surroundings impact their "operational thinking" (Piaget 55). Thus, one can conclude that the best way for religion to ensnare adults is by "reaching" them as children, in one way or another. Quite unsettling, this revolution brings up questions about ones personal faith and way of thinking. For example: has religion negatively controlled ones free choice? Is ones personality a side effect of brainwashing? Or simply, could ones individuality be a facade? After one explores these ideas one wonders how to prevent the atrocity of moral corruption that envelops society today, furthering childrens confusion regarding basic values.

Through religions intention to allow children to grasp concepts of basic morality, they force the particular religions belief of faith in a higher power, namely God, upon the impressionable. The word "faith" is defined in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language as "belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence" (Morris 321). Through this definition of faith, one can comprehend that often faith and fact are compared incorrectly, and this comparison becomes one of the positive arguments for organized religion. Innocently, of course, religion states that faith is vital for children to believe in a higher power, or source of love and hope. But, perhaps religion utilizes faith as an excuse for ensnaring children at birth into a particular belief system, then systematically preaching information too complicated for the untainted children. The convoluted, imparted knowledge becomes truth rather than concept, and thus the children lose a piece of their innocence that only conformity could greedily tear away from them. "As parents suspend their ideas about what the child "ought" to be doingand instead follow the childs signals and cuesthey begin to appreciate the childs inherent capacity for self-regulated growth" (Crain 23). William Crain, author of Theories of Development, states that a child learns a basic knowledge of the world from experience, not simply from taught knowledge. Through applying this knowledge of a childs instinctual quest for answers, one realizes that through the complacent attitude of religion the flame of passion for learning can easily be kindled from birth corrupting a childs innocence (Swindoll).

From the impact of religion at birth comes the idea of a battle between conformity and education. Devorah Felder-Levy, a cantor and Hebrew school teacher at Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, states that the main goal of teaching is for the students to "learn the goals of the day," but more importantly to use them as a "lifelong skill" (Felder-Levy). Cantor Felder-Levy concisely states there is no right or wrong answer to religion when teaching; the only appropriate way to teach religion consists of teaching values and skills that can be cultivated later in life. However, this idea, although quite honorable, has the potential for disaster. When one teaches simply to instill values, often these values can be "pushed" upon the students in a manner that gives away answers to uneasy questions. Or often the taught values state the truth or fallacy of a particular individual, rather than the religion in general, thus complicating the issue. So, how does one deal with this bevy of uncomfortable questions when trying to answer a child honestly? Is it possible to simply state ones personal belief without instilling that same belief in the mind of a child? In Roman Espejos book, Americas Youth, he states an interesting idea regarding faith and knowledge that he found in todays youth. In Isaiah, Espejo read the words "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy, and eat!" (Espejo 131). This revelation demonstrates that pure faith in the goodness of a higher power that religion teaches, and the impact of that knowledge on our daily lives. When one teaches children faith, whether it be in God, the image of a baby Jesus, or even in the world, one hopes to create an aspiring attitude towards the subject. Often faith in a higher power provides religious adults with a means of copping with tragic or unsettling events. Thus teaching these values to ones children seems more than natural, at times even imperative; however, this concept may be too advanced for a child to understand and in fact hinders their developmental comprehension of the value of faith in their lives (Habenicht 4).

During a childs early years, he or she is usually exposed to no more then "[his or her own] religion," instilled upon them at birth. Due to a childs inability to choose the appropriate religion for his or herself, the child demonstrates vulnerability to brainwashing through total immersion in a particular religion. Without knowledge of the values and concepts of other major religions, children can not "pick" the correct religion for themselves. While this task takes a much more advanced understanding of morality and conceptual ideas the clear answer becomes that until children understand the basis of many religions, it is inappropriate to solely introduce them to one. Moreover, parents can forget to mention to their children that many individuals choose to believe in no particular religion. The Geneva Conference for the Child in 1959 clearly proclaims that "everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedomswithout distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion" (Declaration of the Rights of a Child). Held in November 1959, the Geneva Conference contains ideas regarding children that still reflect the publics views. Children have the "right" to religion, any religion that they choose. This idea brings forth the question: can one consider the lack of religion a valid belief? After all, the belief in the absence of a higher power is interpreted by some as blasphemy; however, the utter faith in a higher power without proof can create a form of submissive attitude that refuses to challenge information, truth or fallacy, stated as fact. This distortion often leads to common misconceptions regarding the purpose of religion and faith in a childs life.

Children learn through their knowledge of faith and morality a form of spirituality. This spirituality often emphasizes the need for a connected religious community. Innaiah, author of Child Must be Rescued and Restored to Humanity states:

Priests encourage parents to bring their children along when they visit places of worship. Parents obey, often hoping that experiences in the temple, church, mosque, or synagogue will help children develop faith in God and to practice ethical conduct. Children are thus controlled right from birth, in all countries and in all religions. Believing parents do not merely indoctrinate their children on the virtues of their own religion. They warn their young against embracing other religions, against following their customs and beliefs. Thus are the seeds of hatred sown, directly or indirectly, in impressionable minds (Innainah 2)

Though religion, Innainah argues, priests exploit ones sense of community in order to instill conceptions of hatred upon ones children. This idea is downright frightening. Are individuals that susceptible to influence by an authoritative figure? And if so, how can one combat this abuse, without damaging a childs innocent perception of religion as a spiritual haven?

When priests and other religious figures begin to teach the idea of one true religion, they often manipulate childrens basic spiritual beliefs, embracing a need for similarity and often disdain, or even hatred, for diversity. In the anonymous article, "Helping Children Develop a Sense of Identity," the author states that a "group identity" is usually used to identify or define who is "like us" ("Helping Children Develop A Sense of Identity"). After children discover the differences in people, religious and otherwise, they begin to question the "normality" of themselves, seeking to create a atmosphere of "total equality," states Donna Habenicht, the director of the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology (Habenicht 2). Thus, the teaching of a spiritual similarity between the righteous can mislead children into the credo that anything other than their beliefs is a misguided outlook on life. More importantly, this view can corrupt the natural instinct of first born children to accept their surroundings in an unbiased manner. When children are taught that, spiritually, some people are "better" than others, this clouds their personal judgement, and provides an easy excuse to harbor resentment for anything that they can not comprehend, hindering childrens curiosity and creating a biased view.

After their need for similarity develops, children begin to rely spiritually on religion for specific wants and necessities that religion can not fulfill. Children often seek a safe environment for their prayersfor example a synagogue. Geoffrey Salkin, a columnist for the magazine Reform Judaism, states his opinion of the importance of prayer for adults and children alike. Salkin states that he is "not suggesting that parents and children sit rigidly in the pews like the "frozen chosen," that would simply be atrocious, but rather that "[parents] take some concrete steps to involve children, in particular, and still maintain the sanctity of [their] worship" (Salkin 80). Salkin emphasizes the importance of religious activities for children because it helps them develop their spirituality. In complete contrast, Brendan Powell, an artist, wishes to teach children about spirituality through Genesis stories with legos. But the idea of someone instructing children on their beliefs who "one day while sitting at Taco Bell, [had his] bean burrito burst into flames and heard the voice of God ordering him to illustrate the Bible in colorful interlocking blocks" is quite disturbing (Vo 1F). Today, spirituality is not individualized for the specific needs of a child; rather, it is generic, and often monotonous. Thus the reverence that parents and religious figures wish to instill becomes a chore of worship, rather than the connected experience that unites a community in spirit. Moreover, through the process of shaping childrens youth, one ignores the childrens particular feelings and ideas, putting the education of a higher power above childrens need for a prior and in-depth explanation of societal beliefs, taught through religion.

When one teaches a child about religion, one should consider the profound implications that decision will have on the childs entire life. By learning basic morality, faith in a higher power, and spirituality, children seem to benefit from a religious upbringing; however, these concepts create a biased view that corrupts an otherwise natural innocence. Religion disrupts a childs early quest for answers, takes extreme actions to early teachings, and explicitly explains complicated concepts of morality. Children are born into a particular religion that shapes their credos, encourages conformity before education, and ends in their total immersion, creating a communal faith in a higher power, rather then an individual yearning for knowledge. After childrens faith is manipulated, religion instills the concept of connected community, emphasizing the need for similarity, which leads to the hatred of diversity, and ignores childrens desires and necessities. How can one let this corruption envelop society? Simply, through "blind belief," man encourages his own ignorance (Innainah).

Works Cited

Catalfo, Phil. Raising Spiritual Children in a Material World. New York: Berkeley

Publishing Group, 1997.

Crain, William. Theories of Development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Declaration of the Rights of a Child. Online. September 1, 2003. Available:

Espejo, Roman. Americas Youth. Michigan: Gravenhill Press, 2003.

Fay, Martha. Do Children Need Religion? New York: Random House, Inc., 1993.

Felder-Levy, Devorah. Personal Interview. September 28, 2003.

Habenicht, Donna. Religious Growth and Salvation During Childhood and Youth.

Michigan: Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology Andrews

University, 2001.

"Helping Children Develop a Sense of Identity." Big Chalk Library Online. September 1, 2003. Available:

Innaiah, Narisetti. Child Must be Rescued from Religion and Restored to Humanity.

Online. September 25, 2003. Available:

Morris, William. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Boston:

Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.

Piaget, Jean. The Origins of Intelligence in Children. New York: International

Universities Press, 1952.

Salkin, Jeffrey. "ShhhIts a Sanctuary." Reform Judaism. Winter 2003: 80.

Sowell, Thomas. Latest Media Preoccupation: The Religious Right. Online.


Swindoll, Charles. Growing Wise in Family Life. Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press,


Vo, Kim. "The Bible, Brick by Brick: Genesis Stories Illustrated in Legos." San Jose

Mercury News. November 22, 2003: 1F, 6F.

"Today, spirituality is not individualized for the specific needs of a child; rather, it is generic, and often monotonous."