The Ethics of Pagan Childrearing

I just saw someone I follow named Althaea post this, and it was a culmination of qualms I have had with many of the older (usually cis women) pagans who choose to raise their children in the “pagan way”.

So let’s get into this post, keeping in mind that this is obviously my point of view and not something I’m going to actively enforce as if I were a dictator. I’m just pointing out a flaw and a danger here.

The first thing I’d like to get out of the way is the patently fake-seeming way the post is written. This tidbit in particular seems too convenient for me, but feel free to prove me wrong:

One of my teachers, upon hearing that we were raising our then 2 children in our ways, told me how she wished she had. She cried as she told me how it had done nothing but teach her son to always be searching, to never dare to commit, to persevere. It affected all aspects of his life. (And she was not the only of my older & elderly teachers/mentors who shared similar experiences.)

Another quote from her caption on her Instagram post:

I saw firsthand how raising your child with no spiritual/religious structure caused them serious harm.

This is unbelievably and patently privileged. Any gay or trans person could tell you that religious parentage in fact can do grave harms (see: conversion therapy). A Christian woman who forced her son into conversion therapy for his gayness now feels immense guilt at his suicide. So it’s dangerous to make that simplification – religion isn’t always benevolent!

Well, wait a minute, are kids healthier and better off with religion? There are studies being done on this, to which Slate has good responses:

“All that talk of snake-inspired subterfuge, planet-cleansing floods, and apocalyptic horsemen might hamper kids’ ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality—or even to think critically…’The problem with certain religious beliefs,’ according to Bloom, ‘isn’t that they are incredible (science is also incredible) and isn’t that they ruin children’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It’s that they are false.’ That’s the problem that undergirds pretty much every study about religion and happiness: Even if religion can make you happy, that happiness often requires us to buy into fantasies. It’s no coincidence that the most statistically significant mental health difference between religious and secular children arises between the age of 12 and 15, when nondevout kids go through the existential crises of adolescence while religious kids can dig deeper into their trench of piousness. This mental health bump disappears in adulthood, when religious people—perhaps because they’re operating in the real world—aren’t measurably happier or nicer than their secular brethren (unless they live in a country that favors believers and ostracizes atheists).”

So what exactly is she doing wrong?

Well, first off, teaching kids how to ward is forcing your definition of how the world works! Not everyone wards! I’ll get more into that in the next section. Secondly, perpetuating the non-critical acceptance that what you see is real (i.e. apparitions and spirits) is dangerous for mental health. If these kids ever hallucinate, they will think they are seeing spirits and won’t seek medical help first. Most importantly, there seems to be minimal choice for the kids who are raised under her.

The middle boy resists more strongly. But, he resists in a way that betrays his heart. He may choose to not participate in a celebration for our Lady but he will ask for help in crafting offerings for a Deity to Whom he’s been drawn since 3yo.

This is so weird, and even sounds untrue to me. This kid’s desire to worship someone else should be taken more seriously, on the one hand, but the reason why he even considered doing it in the first place is almost 100% because of the way his mom makes him and his siblings participate in rituals.

Religious indoctrination may involve free choice, but not the free choice of the kids. It is solely the free choice of the parents that determines what values the children will have as adults and how they will view the world.

What should she do instead?

What any pagan parent should do does not differ from what any parent should do. Acceptance of the child as they are is a place to start, instead of trying to mold them into images of yourself. Furthermore, it is a good rule of thumb to teach children to be accepting of different cultures’ beliefs. I again emphasize the need to let the children decide for themselves. Gender and religion are both incredibly intimate, individualized aspects of identity that parents should not be meddling with.It concerns me that I can already see how these children will be messed up after being raised like this, and as a fellow pagan I feel it imperative to call out this behavior. I have already met a few people raised by hippie-era Wiccans who are going off the rails with their practices and UPGs. Can we please avoid continuing that cycle?

Let them be independent, learn, and grow, gods damn it. Giving your kids space to be themselves helps them exist better in the world. I

 

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