Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Are people Catholic only because of their parents?

Some hold the belief that others are only Catholic because that is how they were raised. Some commentators like Richard Dawkins have called handing on your religion to your children a form of abuse. But is this really the case? Are people simply Catholic by default? Let's examine this claim and test its veracity.

I believe there are many weaknesses in the opinion expressed above. First of all, people are free to choose whether or not to believe in the Catholic faith. If being Catholic was automatic, everyone whose parents are Catholic would also be Catholic, however, this is very far from the truth. The majority of people I know who were raised Catholic no longer adhere to any faith, at least in any practical sense.

The people who did maintain their faith are typically very strong in it. Far from just going through the motions, they live their lives according to the tenets of their faith and obey it fully. Often, they are more religious than their parents. This is not the characteristic of a "default" religion.

On top of this, there are many examples of people invesigating the claims of the Catholic Church and then becoming Catholic or Christian in general. C.S. Lewis, for example, decided to investigate all religions and beliefs, including atheism, and eventually became Christian and wrote several books on it.

GK Chesterton spent much time with ouija boards and other occult practices before eventually becoming an orthodox Catholic.

Mortimer Adler, a philosopher who co-founded Great Books of the Western World went from agnostic to Catholic.

Francis Collins, who was the head of the Human Genome Project went from atheist to Catholic.

Arnold Lunn, who actually wrote a book critical of the Catholic Church and would spend time debating converts, eventually himself converted.

Bernard Nathanson, who originally called himself a Jewish atheist and founded NARAL Pro-Choice America eventually became a pro-life Catholic.

A.N. Wilson went from writing books against religion to becoming a Catholic.

The point I'm making here by showing these examples is that many people, including high profile individuals, come to the faith through their own investigation, often times while in the process of attacking religion or Christianity. Obviously it is not because it was imposed on them by their parents.

There is another flaw with the argument that people are only Catholic because their parents "make" them Catholic by teaching them the faith. The problem is that most things people learn as children are taught to them by their parents, and many of the things they learn they continue to believe well into adulthood. The mere fact that parents teach their children certain things does not diminish the truth of those teachings. Why should we assume that what parents teach is false? In fact, the opposite would seem more true.

For example, parents teach their children many things about science, like "we breathe oxygen", "gravity makes things fall to the ground", "the Earth goes around the Sun", "that's the moon", "plants need water to grow", "eat your vegetables, they are good for you". We do not accuse parents of "indoctrination" when they teach their kids these things.

It would seem rather odd for a parent to say to a child, "I do not want to force you to believie something, therefore I will leave it up to you to decide why things fall to the ground when you release them. In fact, we will not teach you any science, math, or history, because it's best if you decide those things on your own. It would be a form of child abuse to teach you anything we believe." That would be absurd.

Some people object by saying the two are different. One is proven scientific fact, the other is made up fairy tales. But that is a biased opinion. Those who believe in Christianity believe it is true, perhaps more true than certain scientific theories. People have looked into their beliefs and have come to trust in their veracity.

In fact, the argument that we know science is true is based on a false assumption. It assumes everyone has investigated things on their own and have come to the conclusion using the scientific method that the facts being presented are indeed true. But this rarely, if ever, happens. Most people know oranges contain vitamin C because someone told them it does. They did not analyze this themselves. In fact, they would have no idea how to go about it. Yet, religious beliefs are held to a much higher standard for some reason. Many people believe scientific findings because a famous scientist or association has confirmed that it is true. A similar system exists to confirm religious statements. If a statement is made by a religious group that is seen as trustworthy and exemplifies the belief, then it is logical to believe.

On top of this, there are many more ways of confirming validity. We have many proofs for our belief in God, Jesus, the Bible, and the teachings of the church. They are not merely random teachings that we "choose" to believe, but verifiable truths. Because of this, people can come to have faith outside of the teachings of their parents.

Another problem with this assertion is a historical one. If faith can only be passed from parent to child, then the only Christians should be the twelve apostles and their children. Yet we have no evidence that they even had children, and we can see historically that there were hundreds and thousands of converts in their time. In fact, in a very short time, there were millions of Christians. Again, this would not be possible simply through passing down over the generations. Entire nations were converted, not by the sword, but by the changing of hearts. We know this because there were millions of Christians even before Christianity became legal and was in fact persecuted severely.

Also, if religion can only be passed down from parent to child, where did it come from to start with? Who was the first parent to pass down the faith to a child? We know Christianity had a definite start. To bring this to the absurd, we could say that Joseph taught Jesus, etc. (there is no etc in this case), but who taught Joseph? His father? Can we keep going back like this? If so, how does Christianity have a definite beginning? We cannot keep going back to infinity.

Because of the development, growth, and present situation of Christianity, we can know for certain that people of faith are not simply robots that believe only because their parents do. We know many, honest, truth-seeking people have come to believe in the Catholic Church by responding to faith and reason.


  1. I really liked this article, thanks for posting it =] I am a Catholic, but my mom is Protestant and my dad no longer practices faith. My mom prays when she needs something, or when she's saying thanks, but they don't really make an effort to go to church all that much. For me, I found my faith through a teacher at my high school. He is Catholic, and he would teach me all about the saints, the Blessed Mother of God, the Trinity, everything. I believe religion is definitely passed down, but those who don't have that, still strive for religion. It is being human to need religion. God made us that way. Isn't that wonderful? Keep on posting!

  2. I don't think anyone claims that religion can 'only be passed from parent to off-spring' or that faith is passed on in an 'automatic' fashion. Sure there are examples of people who have changed faith or have different faith to their parents, but if you look at the world wide picture, these examples are in the vast minority.

    How many children born in Muslim families in Islamic countries decided to become Christians? How many children born to Catholic practising parents become Hindu? Sure- there are probably a few examples, but still the fact remains that if you were shown a baby, randomly selected, and were asked to predict which religion he/she would grow up to believe in; by far the best way of doing that would be to ask what religion its parents have and what part of the world the child would be brought up in. That's it.