Religion By Default - Is It Fair?
Article ID: 12714
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: January 4th. 2009
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For a long time there has been a tendency for young people to be lulled into the local default religion without question; but in today’s society, with the Internet, more travel links and an ever-increasing cultural diversity in cities, physical isolation should really no longer be a barrier.
I am a teenager living in a small village in the heart of rural England, and around here, like most places in England, its Christianity or nothing. There’s the Protestant Church, the Methodist Church, or you can hop in the car to the nearest Catholic Church ten miles away. Predictably, there isn’t a sniff of anything other than some branch of Christianity, which I never questioned until fairly recently.
For the last few years I’ve been finding my feet with Wicca, a religion that I find much more fulfilling than Christianity. I had gone to Church with my mum every Sunday for as long as I could remember; I never believed in ‘God’, it was more a social gathering with friends from the village for me. I believed in God when it suited me, when we were all told to pray together, or when I wanted help from God. For a while, amongst us youngsters, as the workload at school increased and other commitments emerged, Church became less and less convenient and the young people stopped going; but they did come back eventually.
Last Christmas, I tagged along to the usual Church Nativity (otherwise I would’ve been stuck in the house on my own on Christmas Eve) , and my mum was busy helping backstage so I kinda hung around. There were rapidly diminishing numbers of children to perform the play, so the people who had been doing it for years – the people my age – filled in the gaps. Most of them still went to Church regularly, and a whole bunch of them had been recently confirmed into the faith (there had been a fair bit of pressure to do so.)
As they acted out the play, I began to look in more and more disbelief at the young people the Church had now acknowledged as adults. Certainly, none of them had chosen Christianity as the belief system they wanted to follow, and it led me to wonder… surely they couldn’t ALL be satisfied with the default religion they’d blindly been led by the hand into. I found it quite baffling.
What was the reason for it? Are they genuinely satisfied with what everyone else around them believes, or can they not be bothered to seek out another religion more befitting their personal beliefs? As much as I liked all the people in my local Church, discovering Wicca was like a breath of fresh air – the idea of the force of nature ITSELF calling the shots suddenly seemed so obvious; to me it made Christianity look quite man-made in comparison.
In the school curriculum in England, other major religions such as Judaism, Islam and Buddhism are lightly brushed over in the lower years, but for the GCSE exams at 16, in my school and I’m sure many others at least, Christianity was the only religion covered. I had a very open-minded Religious Studies teacher and he encouraged us to talk openly about our beliefs; to my dismay it seemed that no-one out of my class of 22 had ever even heard of Wicca, and very few out of my year group – of those who had, most of them had some rather prejudiced ideas.
It seemed that for most of the people in my RS class, religion in general hadn’t really occurred to them, although they sometimes left the class thinking, “Oh, perhaps I should be a good person and go to Church.” The rest were all Christian because, like me, they had gone to Church every Sunday from an early age ‘because it’s the right thing to do.’
But the most dismaying thing by far was the large number of people in my year group who class themselves as atheists simply because they reject Christian ideas about God, and Christianity appears to be all that’s going for them. (There’s some light at the end of the tunnel about this, though – one of these ‘atheists’ is now exploring Buddhism, which is great.) Similarly, if children are brought up within a devout family of any religion, even if they live in a multicultural area, it’s more than likely that they wouldn’t dream of converting to another religion, even if they feel trapped in the family’s religion.
I once read that ‘religion is constricting, but spirituality is freedom’, which makes a lot of sense to me. My mum, a Christian, once told me that everyone needs a faith; everyone needs something to hang on to in his or her darkest hour and they need a path by which to reach God, whichever path they choose. I think it’s a very good point and I stand by it.
What I like about Wicca as opposed to monotheistic religions is the fact that spirituality is encouraged more than religion; exactly what to say, what to do and what to think isn’t dictated by books or people, and the individual is allowed to develop creatively at their own pace in their own way. I think it encourages peace and harmony and avoids the all too common pernickety rows between factions of religions because they do things ever so slightly differently. I neither advertise nor hide my faith, which I think is how it should be.
So do you think it’s fair that a religious belief system should be dictated to children from a young age, the particular religion depending on where they grow up? Or do you think that a single religion per community brings people together, and children would only be confused if they were bombarded with many different conflicting ideas?
Does the default religion of an area restrict people or support them?
I think that it’s probably a good idea to raise a child within a religion, but when they reach an age where they are developing ideas for themselves they should be given more choice. Perhaps there is a barrier of fear surrounding other religions, or cultural barriers; but who says you have to live in a certain country or speak a certain language to follow a religion?
I once read, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” While I recognize that Wicca, Paganism and other alternative paths are not for everyone, I think that in an ever-changing world, young people should be given the chance to seek out a belief system that suits them without the hassle that seems to affect so many people.
People shouldn’t have to aimlessly follow something they don’t believe in to please others, and I think it should be made easier for young people to access information for example through school and their local community. I think it’s about time we emerged from the dark ages and embrace, rather than reject, freedom of choice in a multicultural society.
Sophie Horrocks, Southeast England.
Location: Madrid, Spain
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