Age Of Consent For Religion?

In Ireland you must be 16 before you can join a political party. The thinking is that only at this age are people mature enough to make a conscious decision about something as important as politics. At a younger age they are not capable of rational thought or fully aware of the consequences of their actions. As children their parents will simply tell them what to do. Imagine if we treated religion the same? Imagine we said people must reach adulthood before they could become a member of a religion?

I always find it ironic listening to people who are passionate about their religion. They will strongly argue that theirs is completely true, that it is based on sound principles and witnesses (some even claim scientific evidence). All of this is ironic because none of these people actually chose that religion based on its claimed supporting evidence. All of them were simply given the religion of their parents. They are members of that religion because it was the default setting at birth and they never changed it.

One of the unusual features of religion is that hardly any people convert from one religion to another. No priests seem to ask themselves, “If our religion is the best then how come almost no one has converted to it?” In fact most people know very little about other religions and don’t try to learn. So no one can say their religion is the best if they know nothing about all the others. Religion is less about a philosophy that accurately describes your beliefs about life and the afterlife, and more about which country and which family you were born into. If you were born in Ireland, you’re almost guaranteed to be Catholic, not because that religion will appeal to you, because you have no choice in the matter.

What if we let people decide for themselves? Instead of baptizing babies who consent is never asked, what if we waited until they were adults and then they choose? If the Catholic Church is so sure that it is the one true church, then people will obviously choose it. After all God will surely guide them to the right choice, right? What if people could study all religions and choose the one they most agree with? What if children are free to explore the world and develop a thirst for knowledge, instead of being threatened with Hell and filled with guilt?

Are there any benefits to raising children with religion? Probably not, as children are too young to grasp the meaning of religion. At my Communion (aged 8) all we cared about was how much money we received, we hadn’t a clue as to what the ceremony meant. Children can learn right from wrong without religion or fear of God, and it is much better if they take personal responsibility rather than doing something from fear of divine punishment. It is true that not having a religion may exclude children from some activities and religious run schools (ie. almost all of Irish schools).

Now I don’t think this ever could be implemented. Some parents would insist on forcing their children to attend church and it wouldn’t look good to have police wrestling children out of their parents’ arms outside a church. It wouldn’t work if police officers were required to stand outside a church checking peoples’ age cards (though it could be delegated like with alcohol).

The reason the Church insists on bringing children to Mass is because they know that if you get them young, you have a good chance of keeping them for life. If you tell a child something they will believe you. No matter how ridiculous or outlandish it sounds, they will believe you (this can lead to fun pranks, but I digress). If you tell children about church at the same time that they are going to school, then they will see the two as the same. They have to go there and listen to an adult, who they don’t quite understand but are told it’s good for them. By the time they are adults, religion would have become engrained into their life. Humans are creatures of habit which is why few change religions. Familiarity leads to attachment and most people who go to church do so out of a sense of tradition and habit.

Religion is less a person’s connection with God or their life philosophy and more the religion their parents forced upon them. If there was an age of consent for religion then people would choose a religion that best fits their views on life after examining them all and comparing their best and worst features. Or even better still, people may decide they don’t need any religion. In many cases, people are religious because it’s been drilled into them from their childhood when they didn’t know any better. If there was an age of consent then maybe these people will avoid the trap of religion and embrace the wonders of life for what they are.

30 thoughts on “Age Of Consent For Religion?”

  1. Dawkins has labelled this a form of child abuse. Which it is, of course, but because the supernatural is involved it’s ‘okay’, because Jesus wants you for a sunbeam” Or Allah wants you for a test pilot.

    How many kids go to Sunday school and learn the socio-political ramifications of Joshua’s genocidal campaign in Canaan?
    I know I didn’t, it was all don;t sin and meek and mild Jesus. I only ‘discovered’ Joshua later on as an adult.

  2. God, Jesus and the rest of them are used as a form of social control. In the case of God, when I discovered that Santa didn’t exist, it wasn’t much of a leap for me to question the existence of God.

  3. You are right on, brother. We could use a coming a age ceremony that involves voting, religion choice, etc. along with accepting the responsibilities of beconing an adult. The boodsuckers of our society would want this because of the potential constriction of their cash flows but that just tells us that they are on the wrong side of this.

  4. I completely agree with this post, but may I play Devil’s advocate? Catholics will certainly make mention of Confirmation. Also, their children are generally not present for Mass. Usually, until Communion, Catholic children are in Sunday school (being indoctrinated), so that when they have enough “knowledge”, they can eat Jesus. Then, some 10 years later they are Confirmed. I’m sure you’re aware, but just wanted to make note of this.

    1. Well I was raised a Catholic so I have some experience. Children actually attend Mass from birth and children from all ages can be seen on any given Sunday. I’ve never been to Sunday School and they don’t have any in Ireland so it must be an American thing. I had my Communion aged 8 and Confirmation aged 12 but I had being going to Mass long before this. So the Catholic church would certainly insist on including children in Mass even if there was an age of consent. Finally I agree that the whole “body of Christ”.

      1. Same thing in Australia. No Sunday School, just mass as soon as you can get air in your lungs, Communion, then Confirmation: Stamped, Sealed & Delivered 🙂

      2. Yes, I was raised a Catholic as well. Come to think of it, you just reminded me that we didn’t attend Sunday School until we were around 6 years old. Until then, we remained in the pews with our parents. Confirmation, at least where I am from, doesn’t occur until 15-17 years of age. I opted out of Confirmation until I was in Boot Camp. I only did so because the classes afforded me an hour away from my drill instructor each week. Well worth it; especially considering I didn’t believe in it anyway. 🙂

  5. Here in the US, you can legally drink from age 21. I think it would be more logical if we set the age of consent for religion at 21 as well, so that we have the same age limit for all mind-altering substances.

  6. Interesting post. My first thought is one of amusement; being as it seems painfully obvious to me. Organized religion was for centuries – just about as political as you can get. By this I mean, their word was final and absolute. No ruler made decisions without the “church” in mind, or the “church” dictating policy. The Catholic church was a stroke of genius. Barely a corner of the earth remains untouched by their influence. The Vatican sits on more plundered wealth than I can even contemplate – all in the name of God.
    Back on topic before I start ranting. Anyone who doesn’t think the Catholic church in Ireland had a hand in the decision regarding political parties, is kidding themselves.

  7. Good post Robert.
    Would religion survive age of consent? I highly doubt it.
    The Jesuits I hear say give us a child at 7 and we will give you a man or something close to that. They will mold you to a not thinking person, you become the pope’s parrot1

  8. As sound as your argument seems, you’re aspiring for something rather unrealistic and potentially problematic; religion cannot be compared to some political parties; each religion believes it’s absolutely the right one and adherents of other religions are ‘sinners’, or going to hell in certain cases. Politics isn’t as stubborn

    And even if a child was able to freely choose his or her religion, let’s face it: social pressure, especially parental, could heavily influence the decision anyways. Anyhow, no one would agree to this, even though many children today are unfortunately being indoctrinated by their inherited religion’s dogma.

    The world, simply, is not ready for an age of consent for religion. Maybe in a few decades, but certainly not today. Religion is a controversial issue that needs to be dealt with gradually and precociously.

    1. I know religion would never agree to this, unfortunately. All I can do is dream. I’m sorry if I didn’t make it clear but I meant people to wait til the age of maturity before choosing a religion. Obviously children would be too easily swayed and influenced.

  9. Hmm, obviously politically it’s not viable now but it’s firstly a lovely thought and also a useful piece of rhetoric.

    Furthermore it’s also where the likes of the repulsive Dawkins might better focus their atheistic efforts.

  10. Hmm, obviously politically it’s not viable now but it’s firstly a lovely thought and also a useful piece of rhetoric.

    Furthermore it’s also where the likes of the repulsive Dawkins might better focus their atheistic efforts.

    Thank you, this article made me smile.

  11. Delighted to hear the perspective of an Irish atheist!
    It’s true, I had no choice in being raised Protestant – and I was manipulated by fear into becoming a “born-again”; but then I spent some time in Ireland(lovely, lovely, Cork – how I miss her), and when I came home, I converted to Catholicism. Suffer the children, indeed!
    None of that would have happened though, if I was given the choice, as a child, to be good and kind for the sake of goodness and kindness, and not forced into religion.
    Lucky for my son that I’m an Atheist now, who isn’t afraid of free thought!

  12. Christenings are infant exorcisms. I am still amazed and disappointed at how people/parents in Ireland are still getting their children initiated into their religious cult. ( I emigrated in the 60s and thought things would change quicker)
    Of course, this includes most of my relatives despite the fact that all siblings are now atheists! The younger generation tell me they do it because of schooling and the hassle involved if they don’t.
    When will these people take a stance together before the crunch time of first baby christening? It has to all happen beforehand by young people/couples sorting this out and telling their parents/family of their sincere position.
    Of course, we also have a similar situation in Britain with parents going to church to get their children into the selective, snobbish CofE schools.

    As a humanist celebrant I conduct many naming ceremonies which welcomes/formally names a child and allows them to make up their own mind about what they believe when they are older. The parents/grandparents/ oddparents etc contribute and they are poignant and fun as they are all about unconditional love, families friends etc – the big important things in life. I specialise in the 2 in1 naming /Wedding Ceremony for the hassle-free cheap alternative for modern couple!

    It’s people like you Robert that will have to take up the baton on this and I am sure you will find a lot of support from many of the older generation.
    Good luck.

    Jeanne Rathbone

  13. It’s interesting, I was thinking about something like this the other day. Among the dozens or hundreds of books I’ve read on Buddhism, there was ONE that had a whole chapter on why NOT to include your children in your meditation practice. The author gave a variety of reasons, including that children are too young to understand the applications of meditation, it may detract from the natural things children are supposed to do (including running around like little monkeys), etc. It would also possibly deprive them of the value of freely *choosing* the intellectual, philosophical, and (if applicable) spiritual or religious path they may want to take.

  14. Also, along the same lines — while I would oppose any government implementation of an “age of consent” for religion, I think it might be a good voluntary thing. It could be a powerful gesture for a church or group of churches to publicly put into force their own age of consent requirement, as an acknowledgement that they DON’T want to brainwash little kids.

    Of course, what are the odds of any mainstream church doing such a thing? Virtually none, because the unstated purpose generally IS to brainwash little kids.

    1. Agree. The churches know that unless they get them when they’re young, they never will. So they would never agree to something that was completely against their interests like a voluntary age of consent.

  15. Age of consent for religion will never be implemented, that’s for sure, and that’s because religion is considered by many to be a part of education and culture. While I cannot agree with this statement 100%, I should certainly say that it takes a lot of knowledge, curiosity and willpower to become a true atheist, to become responsible for your own actions and to question the information you are being fed rather than simplifying everything and saying that God knows better.

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