Wellness & Fitness

Is religious upbringing good for your children?


A man and a child at a place of worship. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Qn: What is the ideal age to introduce children to religion without exposing them to the risk of brainwashing?

Richard Dawkins was born in Nairobi in March 1941. At the age of eight years, his parents went back to England. They were farmers, and committed followers of the Anglican Church. As he grew older and became a teenager, Richard drifted away from the ways of the church and by the time he studied at Oxford University he had left the ways of the Anglicans and was a self confessed atheist. For many years, he held the position of Professor for the Public understanding of science. This was a chair established in Oxford for the promotion of science among lay people.

In 2006 he published “The God Delusion”, a book that became an instant best seller. The answer to your question is to be found in page 366 of his book, in a chapter titled, Childhood, Abuse and Escape from religion. In a classic passage where he quotes from the lecture by a fellow don, he states, "Children, I'll agree, have the human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people's bad ideas, no matter who these people are."

He goes on to conclude, "In short, children have a right not to have their mind saddled by nonsense and as a society have a duty to protect them from it". That is the simple and clear answer from one of the greatest thinkers of the last century. Another great actor in the same century was Karl Marx who famously held that religion was the opium of the masses.

My teachers in medical school in the early seventies were from the same school of thought. To our amazement, people whose ancestors had come to Africa with a Bible in one hand and a gun on the other were telling us that God and his agents here on earth had no role in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. We took that as gospel truth but as happens in life, we grew older and now we know better.

The World Psychiatric Association has recently published a position paper on religion and spirituality and mental health. In essence, this most respected body has recognised that the spiritual life of human beings is important and must be taken into account during all interactions with care providers. Central to this declaration is the requirement that a persons' spiritual belief be respected at all times.

This consensus position is supported by a number of scientific publications that show conclusive evidence of the importance of spirituality. We have therefore come full circle from being contemptuous of spirituality to full acceptance of its centrality in human life. A recent search of all medical scientific papers published since 2013, showed a total number of 3,778 showing the great interest by the doctors.

So, not only does spirituality affect the physical outcomes in cancer patients, the quality of life is also better. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, President Uhuru Kenyatta, urged Kenyans to pray to God to help us deal with the enemy that was on its way to us. Some heeded the request while others argued that God has no role in the battle with viruses. In a free country such as ours, the two groups were respected in their diametrically opposed views in accordance with the constitution of Kenya.

It has been argued by other experts that views about spirituality are futile and unlikely to go away any time soon.

It is clear that from the beginning of time, God in one form or another has been present in the lives of human beings. For some, God was in the form of fire, for others the sun was worshipped and in Kenya God lived on the mountain from where he managed the affairs of his people.

So, some people argue that it is man who creates God to enable him give meaning to this wonderful planet we live in. For others only God in heaven could have created such wonder. As they say, only God knows which of them is right.

Whatever answer we give you here today, about the right time to teach children spiritual ways, we will face legitimate challenge from opponents of one or other view. Not surprisingly, we will accept the old advice that tells us that politics, sex and spirituality are best kept private.

That said, there are millions of men and women who have no problem believing in the ways of science and at the same time believing in God.

In the circumstances, and accepting the structure of our society, the privilege of brain washing your child belongs to you as the parents and to nobody else. All you have to choose is the age appropriate language to do it in! Sadly for some parents, as the children become teenagers, they have their own ideas and so whatever “brain washing” was done in early childhood is of no effect.