DISCLAIMER: This reflection is about understanding the historical roots of judgment in our society and in parenting. It is NOT a criticism of anyone’s religion, or of religion in general.
A brilliant 9 year old boy recently reflected to his Mum that “organized religion is like traditional parenting for adults”. I’m consistently amazed at the wisdom of young people, and this observation really got me thinking about where our values originate.
Having grown up in America, and now having lived many years in Australia, I am most familiar with the Judeo-Christian framework, but I suspect it is true of many (most?) religions that they provide a structure of what people should or should not do. In our western traditions, we are essentially provided a list of rules to follow, and the general theme is that we are blessed if we follow these rules, and damned if we do not.
It is not difficult to see how this sort of structure translates to parenting. As adults, our religious dogma (eg – the Bible) tells us what the rules are, and we learn that someone way more powerful than us will reward us if we follow those rules, and punish us if we don’t. As children, the rules are laid down by our parents, and they dish out the rewards or punishment.
Having externally imposed rules, in some ways, is comforting. We don’t have to decide what is the right thing to do – we can just follow someone else’s rules. Unfortunately, it inevitably happens at some point that those values don’t comport with our own wishes/impulses, and while it is our choice to be “true to ourselves” and accept the consequences, we more often make the choice of capitulating to the powerful and silencing our inner voice.
What is the result for society? We have a world of adults who are mostly compliant, but not very happy. People are “outer-directed” (listening to external norms) rather than “inner-directed” (listening to themselves), and it manifests in a (mostly) orderly world, but one where there is a gigantic international market in psychotropic drugs, because SO many millions of people are depressed and anxious.
What is the result for children? We have a world of children who are also mostly compliant, but are many (most) of them are “on track” for being tomorrow’s market for those psychotropic (not to mention illegal) drugs?
Our Judeo-Christian traditions have taught us that someone more powerful than us makes rules and we either obey, or we are punished. Our traditional style of parenting is that parents make rules and children either obey, or are punished. I thought that 9 year old was brilliant the first time I heard what he said, but upon reflection it feels more and more ‘spot on”.