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Suppose Objectivist parents raise their child in an Objectivist household, but upon becoming an adult he/she decides to embrace Christian fundamentalism (or any other religion), how would you deal with that relationship?

asked Oct 20 '10 at 13:47

Tammy's gravatar image

Tammy ♦♦
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edited Oct 20 '10 at 14:12


I've definitely considered the fact that my children are going to make choices in their lives that I don't agree with, or even consider harmful to their lives. It's something most parents have considered, I think.

If one or more of my children became religious, I would be severely disappointed, no doubt about it (as disappointed, I think, as my mother is in the fact that all three of her children are now atheists).

I think our relationship would certainly be affected by such a choice, but I hope that we'd find other values we can share so that our relationship does not dwindle down to nothing. And I also hope that we'd be able to discuss our differences in a kind and rational way. I am further aware of the possibility that the relationship might have to end, which is heartbreaking to consider.

Their choices in the future (and many of their choices now) are not under my control, so I choose to focus on my part, the things that are within my control. As long as I am doing my best and behaving virtuously, then I'll be able to handle whatever possible future disappointments may come.

To that end, I am consciously working to establish the kind of healthy relationship with my children while they are still young that will become a good foundation for a new kind of adult relationship with them later. I'm also sharing with them the ideas that I think are essential to living a happy, rational life, and modeling for them my own best efforts at living that happy, rational life.

It's the best I know how to do for our future relationship now, and I accept the possibility that they may make choices I disagree with. Should they choose to become religious as adults (or do something else I believe strongly to be wrong and harmful), I know I will have done my best while they were under my direct care and influence.

answered Oct 26 '10 at 15:36

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rationaljenn ♦
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edited Oct 26 '10 at 15:46

I would respond initially by following the same method that I have followed throughout my own child's life so far: I would ask the child what religion actually means to him or her, why he or she believes in it, what is the scope of the belief, where does it lead in action, and so on. I would want to let the child explain his or her motivation, and why he or she has decided to abandon reason -- if that's what being religious means to my child. I would want to help my child to see the whole picture of what man's life objectively depends on. What I would do next would depend on the precise nature of my child's affinity for religion and aversion to reason.

Here is a broader description of how I strive to apply Objectivism to the challenges of child raising in general. It is my answer to the question: "How does trade apply to children?"

(a) Children, by their nature and depending on their age, are not entirely autonomous. They cannot survive on their own, but must rely on help from adults. Furthermore, children come into the world by the choice of adults. Those adults thus have a rational obligation to accept the consequences of their choices, including the parenting responsibilities that apply toward their children.

(b) The long-range goal of child-raising should be to encourage and support the child's development of independent rational judgment, emphasizing basic reality orientation as a firm base for any later development of imaginativeness and/or social interactions.

(c) As developing humans, children should be dealt with by trade, to the maximum extent possible and reasonable for the child's age and developmental state. Children should be taught and encouraged to respect others as fellow rational individuals, to respect others' property, to deal with others by rational persuasion and trade rather than by any form of physical force or self-sacrifice -- and, above all, to appreciate whatever values they receive from others (both material and non-material) and to fulfill any commitments they may have agreed to perform in return.

(d) But children must also accept discipline from their parents when it is rationally needed, such as when the child is initiating physical force against others, or doing something hazardous to himself or others, or seriously mistreating property (even property considered to be his own), or being obnoxiously loud or rude. Parents need to establish consistent, rational rules and explain them to their children when needed, along with appropriate, consistent enforcement.

(e) Discipline has many forms. Simply withholding "privileges" for awhile can often be enough, especially when the overall relationship is positive, involving mutual respect, trade and parental generosity of time and attention toward their children.

(f) Children should also be taught when and how to deal with physical force initiated against them by other children. Children as well as adults need protection from physical force, and adult supervisors ideally should intervene promptly in issues of bullying, fighting or serious verbal abuse among children. When such supervision is lacking, it becomes vastly more difficult or impossible to define a proper course of action for children who become victims of physical force.

(g) With mutually respectful trade, including practical guidance from adults when children want it (as they normally do sooner or later), children can be a highly rewarding source of enjoyment for their parents as they grow and develop.

My own child is not yet an adult, and I have no control over the choices my child will make as an adult. But I certainly find it encouraging to see the total context and level-headed outlook that I have endeavored to help my child develop. I may well be in for a bitter surprise during and after my child's college years -- it certainly happens -- but we'll see. I've done everything I can think of to help my child to see independently what it takes to live productively and happily, and why any form of religious belief falls short.

answered Oct 21 '10 at 01:21

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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I enjoyed reading your ideas on childrearing (and generally agree, though I disagree with some of your approach). However, much of your answer is not relevant to the question. Perhaps you can edit it, and put your childrearing remarks into an answer to a more relevant question.

(Oct 21 '10 at 18:32) rationaljenn ♦ rationaljenn's gravatar image

I readily acknowledge that much of my answer would be a good answer in itself to a somewhat different question. It fits very well, for example, in a series of questions that I have often thought about over the years, including: What is the essence of the right way for man to live, and what makes it right? How does a producer and trader view others? Should he strive to show "concern for others"? How does trade apply to children? How does a producer view the physical world in which he lives? For a rational valuer, what is the ultimate aim of human action and ethics? And so on. Sooner or later, I will probably post separately on each of these, perhaps starting with: What is man, fundamentally speaking? Is he an independently sovereign individual, or a helplessly dependent pawn of society and/or deity?

For the present question, I realized as I was formulating my answer that the issue of context was essential, and that my own context would not be very clear without substantial elaboration. Whenever any child goes seriously astray as an adult, it is bound to call into question the whole context of how the child was raised, what may have prompted the child to follow a self-destructive path, what alternatives the child saw or failed to see, and so on. Ultimately one's decisions in life come down to one's own free will, one's own focus on reality and one's actual and potential place in it. The total context of what the child learned and experienced as he or she was growing up can provide a huge boost or a crippling hindrance -- along with the personal determination and sheer will that must come from within.

(Oct 22 '10 at 02:33) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image
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Not living one's life for another or expecting another to live his or her life for you includes allowing them to make their own decisions on what they choose to believe or not believe. I find religions to be interesting fantasies and silly inventions to explain the universe. One of my children agrees with me and one is an active Christian. I love and respect both of them for their individuality and their ability to make their own decisions and not be intimidated by my thoughts. As a result, we can have interesting discussions.

(Oct 22 '10 at 18:32) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image
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Asked: Oct 20 '10 at 13:47

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Last updated: Oct 26 '10 at 15:46