OPINION: Faith is a choice, not an inheritance

Drawing of an uncomfortable girl holding a diya while her parents stare at her.
(Mariana Duran • The Student Life)

Religion is a part of identity that parents often imprint onto developing minds. As soon as we’re born, our guardians make a vital decision that we unwittingly must undertake as a characteristic of our existence. 

Without input, we relinquish a sacred and personal decision to our loved ones. Holidays, family functions and pilgrimages consume crucial space in our memory until what we understand as true is essentially someone else’s truth. Faith is an intimate discovery — but more importantly, it is an individual discovery. 

As someone who was raised in a Hindu household and respects the faith, I take no issue with religious upbringings. I do, however, see a problem in labeling children at a young age with something they’ve had no choice in embodying. 

In his Time article on religion, prominent atheist Richard Dawkins makes an excellent distinction between traditions that stem from faith and significant ideological opinions that have agency over your child’s everyday decisions. In accordance with his argument, I see no harm in raising our youth with rich culture and heritage. It’s when authority figures enforce personal opinions onto unsuspecting and impressionable minds that I feel it becomes an issue. Indeed, studies show that a majority of youth look to parents and other family members to tell them what is right and wrong. 

Finding our beliefs reflected in the lifestyles of our elders isn’t a universal circumstance. It’s true that some find an authentic connection with the faith they grew up in, drawn in by the combination of family creed and individual lived experience. Even though some are tied to their childhood practices, others may feel tied down by the pressure to inherit and embrace an idea that doesn’t parallel their principles. 

Studies show that we aren’t always on the same page as our parents — adults might assume our beliefs would line up with theirs, but a good portion of the time, they differ in myriad ways. It is possible that what is familiar to our family and friends can feel foreign to us. We don’t have to espouse a set of beliefs as our own if we lack a sense of adherence to them.

A tip to family and friends: Viewing individuality as rebellion is extremely damaging. It invalidates change and implies that diverging from the norm is a misguided notion. I stand by the belief that families should allow their children to breathe air untinged by biased opinions. By giving them room to decide, parents can avoid the risk of their kids feeling resentment at the prospect of having choices taken away from them. 

Questioning our beliefs inspires introspection, and I’d argue that introspection is an essential stage in putting the pieces of our identity together. Only when we ask ourselves what we believe in can we question the knowledge that we’ve been primed to accept as true. From there, we can endeavor into the identity fitting room. Maybe something about Buddhism speaks to you, or a core belief of Islam rings true in some way. Maybe you’re an agnostic or an atheist. Or maybe you have absolutely no idea what you believe in, which is perfectly alright.

Loved ones should remember that faith is a journey they cannot take for someone else. Ultimately, every individual has to experience life by themselves, because no one lives that life for them. This is why it’s imperative that we allow young people to discover their own truths. When we finally learn to accept difference, we encourage tolerance for free will and choice.

Shay Suresh CM ’24 is from San Jose, California. She loves literary fiction, folk-rock music and making Pinterest boards.

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