NOTICE: Faith is a choice, not an inheritance
Religion is a part of identity that parents often imprint on developing minds. From the moment we are born, our guardians make a vital decision that we must unwittingly take as a hallmark of our existence.
Without input, we abandon a sacred and personal decision to our loved ones. Holidays, family functions and pilgrimages occupy a crucial space in our memory until what we understand to be true is essentially someone else’s truth. Faith is an intimate discovery – but more importantly, it is an individual discovery.
As a person who was brought up in a Hindu family and who respects the faith, I do not dispute religious education. However, I see a problem with labeling kids at a young age with something they haven’t had a choice to embody.
In his Time item On religion, prominent atheist Richard Dawkins makes an excellent distinction between traditions that flow from faith and important ideological views that influence your child’s day-to-day decisions. In line with his argument, I see no harm in raising our young people with a rich culture and heritage. It’s when authority figures impose personal opinions on unsuspecting and impressionable minds that I feel it becomes a problem. Indeed, studies show that a majority of young people look to parents and other family members to tell them what is right and wrong.
Finding our beliefs reflected in the lifestyles of our elders is not a universal circumstance. It is true that some find a genuine connection to the faith in which they grew up, drawn to the combination of family belief and individual lived experience. Even though some are linked to their childhood practices, others may feel pressured to inherit and embrace an idea that does not match their principles.
Studies show that we are not always on the same wavelength as our parents – adults might assume that our beliefs would align with theirs, but a good deal of the time they differ in so many ways. It is possible that what is familiar to our family and friends may seem foreign to us. We don’t have to espouse a set of beliefs like ours if we don’t feel like we are adhering to them.
A word of advice to family and friends: Viewing individuality as rebellion is extremely damaging. It invalidates the change and implies that deviating from the norm is a wrong notion. I maintain the belief that families should allow their children to breathe air free from biased opinions. By giving them discretion, parents can prevent their children from resenting the idea of having choices taken away.
Challenging our beliefs inspires introspection, and I would say introspection is an essential step in putting the pieces of our identity together. It is only when we ask ourselves what we believe in that we can question the knowledge we have been prepared to accept as true. From there, we can tackle the Identity Dressing Room. Maybe something about Buddhism speaks to you, or a core belief in Islam somehow rings true. You may be an agnostic or an atheist. Or maybe you have absolutely no idea what you believe in, which is perfectly fine.
Loved ones should remember that faith is a journey they cannot take for someone else. Ultimately, each individual must experience life for themselves, because no one lives this life for them. That is why it is imperative that we allow young people to discover their own truths. When we finally learn to accept difference, we encourage tolerance for free will and choice.
Shay Suresh CM ’24 is from San Jose, California. She enjoys literary fiction, folk-rock music, and doing Pinterest boards.