Fifth Place Tie 2016 Michael Hakeem Memorial College: When it comes to beliefs, it’s a parent who decides: By Karl Yee

FFRF awarded Karl $500.

By Karl Yee

I was raised by parents who, during my childhood, were trying to find their religious identity.

They were both born in China and exposed to some Buddhist teachings, although not enough for them to declare themselves Buddhists. Eventually, they immigrated to Maryland. Moving to America, a largely Christian nation, was a major culture shock for my parents; they did not expect religion to be so influential here. Given the ubiquity of Christian churches in America, it is no surprise that my parents began exploring Christianity.

As a child, I had no choice but to follow my parents’ religious journey. At the height of their involvement with Christianity, I was enrolled in a Sunday school. My enrollment was short-lived, as my parents decided to turn back to Buddhism. While I did not understand the concept of religion, I knew that they made a change and chose one thing over another. I simply could not rationalize their decision; I could only follow in their footsteps. Despite choosing Buddhism, my parents did not become religiously active and only practiced quietly.

Parents are undeniably the major force behind spreading religion. Children rarely find religion on their own; their parents introduce them to religion. According to research by the National Study of Youth and Religion, 82 percent of children raised by highly religious parents were religiously active as young adults. In contrast, only 1 percent of teens raised by nonreligious parents were religiously active as young adults. Parents are authority figures, and children do not know any better but to listen and follow their parents uncritically. If my parents stayed with Christianity, I have little doubt that I would have become a Christian.

My confusion with religion continued to grow throughout middle school. My middle school was a melting pot of religions — there were Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Mormon students. Ironically, the exposure to many different religions is what caused me to question the entire institution. I could not help but to wonder why there were so many religions and different deities. Mormons believe in their worldview just as much as Catholics believe in theirs. What makes one religion more likely to be true or valid than the other? Is there evidence to support the claims theists make?

I asked my middle school friends why they believed in their religions, but their answers were unsatisfactory. The most common answer was a reference to a religious text, like the bible or the Quran. Children are taught to believe extraordinary claims — such as turning water into wine — without any concrete evidence, leaving them unable to justify their “beliefs.”

The problem with teaching children religion is that they are taught what to think instead of how to think. Using a religious text as evidence is nonsensical because theists try to support claims made in a book with the same book, a prime example of circular reasoning.

Religious texts are not accepted as credible or authoritative because theists have yet to satisfy the burden of proof. For example, many of the stories in the bible are purely fantastical, and there is no credible evidence supporting supernatural events that happen in the bible. Some theists try to shift the burden of proof on atheists, but atheists, by definition, do not make any claims about the existence of deities. A common misconception and important distinction to make is that atheism is not the belief that deities do not exist, but rather the lack of belief in deities. Theists, conversely, claim the existence of a deity and are thus responsible for satisfying the burden of proof.

No religion is more valid than another, as no theist has provided the necessary evidence to substantiate his or her claims. Despite the lack of evidence, religion remains a powerful force throughout the world. Unfortunately, many children are born into their parents’ religion and are taught that questioning their faith is a sin, creating an endless cycle of credulous believers.

The primary mechanism through which religion continues to survive is indoctrination. If religion were as infallible as some theists claim, there would be no need to involve children with religion while they are still impressionable.

Karl, 19, was born in Silver Spring, Md., and is attending the University of Maryland, College Park. His interests include solar energy, control systems and electrophysics.

Freedom From Religion Foundation