Growing up, my father carefully laid out The Kalam Cosmological Argument to demonstrate how a Heavenly Father was necessary to the workings of The Universe.
My mother took me aside and showed me all of the apologetics to show how literal horses, and steel swords weren’t really necessary to the historicity of The Book of Mormon.
The Sunday School teachers introduced us to all of the evidence for The Exodus and explained out secular archaeologists were merely covering up the truth. They taught how The Egyptians never recorded any failures or reversals.
My grandparents taught me how even a single digit in a thousand zeros in a certain cosmological value would mean that our universe would tear itself apart.
That’s why I believed.
I would suppose that no one has had that experience as a child. We do not believe in a god, or savior, or a bible, or a qu’ran, or a book of mormon as children because our parents, grandparents, and religious leaders make good arguments. Children believe because children have evolved to believe authority.
In general, this is a good thing. There are some things that children should not learn from evidence or experience; “That’s hot.” “That’s sharp.” “That’s poison.” “That car will kill you if it hits you.” Children assume that parents are correct.
They also assume, however, that parents are correct when they tell them there is a God. The Bible is The Word of that god. That Mohamed spoke to Allah. That Joseph Smith took gold plates from the ground and translated them. That they will be healed through prayer, or a blessing. All of this they, quite naturally and understandably, accept without evidence. They don’t demand good arguments for the existence of a spaceless, timeless, immaterial creator. They don’t know enough to ask for secular evidence for the history of The Scriptures.
Children are told these things are true. They believe it. They are told they will be rewarded for their belief and faith. They are told they will be punished for their doubt and questions. Then, they are rewarded when they demonstrate their belief and faith, through praise and even awards. They are punished when they demonstrate any doubt, with rebuke and disappointment and even real punishment.
As an LDS child, I was richly rewarded for demonstrations of faith. Given praise for answering questions in class. Given parts in church presentations. I earned my ‘Faith in God’ and ‘Duty to God’ awards. I was put in positions of authority in my classes and over church events. I felt powerful and confident in my faith.
When I began to doubt and turn away from faith, I felt rebuke from my parents, teachers, and church elders. I remember the visit of one beloved couple from my ward after I had not been at church for several weeks. They came to tell me how disappointed they were in me. To tell me how happy I used to seem in church. How promising a servant of The LORD I had been. Couldn’t I just have faith?
No, I couldn’t.
If religious beliefs were based on good reasons, on good evidence, on good arguments, and if the arguments for any one faith were more convincing than the arguments for another, wouldn’t we have a much more mixed religious culture?
That’s not what we see. Children across The United States will likely be Christian. Children in Utah are likely to be Mormon. Children in Saudi Arabia will be Muslim. Children in India will be Hindu. Children in Israel will be Jewish. Are they basing their belief on critical thinking? On good arguments for why Mohamed is a prophet, but Joseph Smith was not? On why Jesus was not really the Messiah, but who is still to come? On why the morality of The Book of Mormon/The Bible/The Qu’ran/The Torah is superior to The Torah/The Qu’ran/The Book of Mormon/The Bible?
Or, are they merely taking the word of their parents?
Instead of teaching children what to believe, it would be more honest to teach children how to think critically and allow the arguments for religion and god and scripture succeed or fail on their own merits.
I think we know why the religious don’t use that method.
“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word.” – William Shakespeare, Iago, Othello