Many parents feel the need to instill in their children some kind of religious faith, and most often, it centers on the same religious teachings they were raised with. While there are some adults that have left the religion of their youth behind and adopted a faith that is more in keeping with their own world views and personal beliefs, most of us tend to give credence to the branch of religion that we were raised with, passing it on to our own kids. That said, many people also feel that religious tolerance is important; even though we follow a certain faith, we don’t feel that other people should be precluded from making up their own minds about religion just as we have. In fact, this country was founded on this very principle as the Puritans fled the religious restrictions they faced in England, hoping to find the freedom to practice, unhindered, in the “new world”. But teaching kids to respect other religions is not always an easy undertaking, especially when others within your own religion might teach them otherwise. Here are just a few tactics you can employ, though, in order to ensure that your children are raised to practice religious tolerance.
The first thing you can do is introduce your kids to other religions, and there are many. You don’t necessarily have to take them to rival religious services or make them read the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, or other theological texts, but you can give them an overview of other religions that operate throughout the world, as well as what their basic belief system entails. You may have to engage in some study time yourself in order to prepare for such conversations with kids, and what you’re likely to find is that many religions operate under similar tenets. They teach followers that a religious life is one in which we obey civil and social laws and practice charity and acts of compassion towards those less fortunate than ourselves. In most cases, there is some type of reward for such behavior, either in life (enlightenment, for example) or after death (heaven).
But understanding other religions and seeing the similarities that tie us all together regardless of the particular path our faith follows is only the first step in fostering religious tolerance. You also have to make kids understand that they’re going to hear hateful things. They’re going to come across people who feel that there is only one correct way to worship and only one faith worth believing in. As a parent, it can be difficult to allow your kids to be exposed to such negativity. But they can either find it on their own or you can use such examples as a lesson in how not to behave. Take the Westboro Baptists Church, for one. You want to let kids know from the start that the type of activities these people engage in (protesting at military funerals) is absolutely hateful and not at all in the spirit of religious tolerance. It is also antisocial and potentially even dangerous.
Of course, you could take your lessons a step further. If you want to lead by example, you might ask friends who practice other religions if your family can join them at a service so that your kids can experience how other faiths operate. Or you might encourage members of multiple religious groups in your city to participate in a joint charity event of some sort, showing that people from diverse religious backgrounds can work together for positive results. We’re all basically the same, regardless of our religious beliefs, but teaching little angels to be tolerant is not always easy. Your best bet is to practice what you preach. When your kids see how you behave, they’re a lot more likely to take your lessons to heart.