Spirituality is a really personal thing. Whether someone chooses to practice an organized religion or simply identify as spiritual in another way, that decision should be fully up to them. Personally, as someone who was both blessed by a Jewish rabbi and baptized by a Catholic priest in infancy, I’ve always felt a sense that I was in a way given my religious and spiritual identity through inheritance. While I don’t fault my parents for doing this, and I know that it was a decision made out of love for me, I do wonder how much this influenced my views on religion. Ideally, everyone should be given a chance to mature and become the person that they are before they make any devotions to specific religious or spiritual practices.
Firstly, when you’re given a religious identity at a very young age, the meaning is entirely for people around you. If a person grows up and disagrees with the values and beliefs of the belief systems that were put upon them, it becomes their responsibility to separate themselves from that system. It also pigeonholes them religiously more generally, as the options are all change-oriented instead of choice-oriented: Convert to a different religion, become atheist or something along those lines. If that same person is given the ability to grow up and then choose how they want to express their spirituality, there is no need for the step of having to give something up before choosing what’s right for them.
To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with family and friends of a child expressing their own beliefs to that child. Just as with every other type of socialization, maturing is all about observing and experiencing the world around oneself, and making decisions about what kind of person one wants to be based on the knowledge gained from this, and if someone finds comfort within a certain religion or spiritual practice, they should absolutely practice what makes them comfortable. However, the key here is that it should be their choice.
In the name of applying their religious beliefs onto their child, many parents have their children undergo rites and traditions without any chance for the child to consent, like baptism or circumcision of infants. The latter does have legitimate health benefits, but according to the Mayo Clinic, the downsides of not doing it “are not only rare, but avoidable with proper care.”
In conclusion, the concept of passing one’s religious or spiritual practice automatically onto one’s children creates some very moral gray areas. Religious identity is not like ethnic identity where there are tangible reasons why it gets passed down, and while some ethnicities do oftentimes go hand-in-hand with certain religions, it is not fair to children to assume that they will take up the same religious mantle as their family members who came before.
An individual’s spiritual or religious identity should come to fruition on their own terms, when they are ready. I personally consider myself to be agnostic, as I’ve had the opportunity to experience many different religious traditions, but I’m still yet to find a belief system that I truly resonate with. In all actuality, I may never find one, and that’s okay. It won’t affect anyone else if I don’t, just like it won’t if I do. Agnosticism, while it should be a rather inoffensive stance to take, does have its fair share of negative stigma, and that just should not exist. The state of not being sure how one identifies themselves spiritually should be a state that all begin their lives in, so in a way all people should start off as agnostic.