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Children, Choosing Their Religion - NYTimes.com


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In Andrew Solomon’s book “Far From the Tree,” he highlights the distinction between vertical identity, which travels down from parent to child, and horizontal identity, which is specific to an individual within the family. Italian heritage is a vertical trait in my family; being gay is horizontal in his.

“Parents,” Solomon writes, “are constantly struggling with children who are alien to them in some profound way.” One thing I see in the fear that parents who don’t practice an organized religion are failing to “give” their children that identity is a need to shore up the vertical — a fear that without a shared religion, a child will fail to feel a connection to her family and her history.

That connection, though, can be found in different places. It can be found instories of family history and family resilience shared around a dinner table, or in a sport, a hometown or a cause. There are many ways to deepen a vertical connection. What matters is to find and strengthen those things that are important to your family rather than regretting those things that have worked for other families in other times.

One message of “Far From the Tree” is that every child is alien in some way. Parents need to release our grip on the vertical and recognize that finding or embracing those horizontal identities is crucial to our children. As important as the family identity is, we need to leave room for the identities — religious or otherwise — that we don’t “give.” As a teenager, I found my own way into several close-knit groups of teenagers like the one Ozment visits in the Unitarian church. One was a religious group that probably wasn’t what my parents would have chosen — but they rolled with it, just as they rolled with my passion for theater and forensic debate.

We need to leave room for the identities that we don't "give" ...

That seems like a very American attitude toward religion.

how so? 

Most people I've met from elsewhere don't want their kids to choose a religion.

They want their kids to keep the religion they teach the kids.

I agree.  The trend in America currently is that more people are opting out of religions, so families are looking to find ways of having positives family traditions that are not tied to the old family religious activities.  What the hell is an Easter celebration if you do not believe in Jesus's zombiehood?  Christmas Junior? 

A time for candy! And colored eggs!!

America is a great experiment. We believe it doesn't matter where you're from or what you're born into: you make your own choices in life.

That's a cultural idea that could spread over the coming centuries, especially as American movies and television are viewed worldwide. (The central theme of most Disney movies is Be Yourself, even if that's not what your parent(s)/society want you to be!)

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