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.