Yet another blog for spewing. This one may end up with a lot of religious and social content.


Religious Instruction and Teens

There has been a bit of turmoil roiling about the web about people who "teach" teens their religion. It seems as if any old Christian church is free to indoctrinate any non-believing teens that it can get through its doors, but if pagans and heathens teach teens about their religion, they get slammed by the parents as "contributing to the delinquency of a minor", "sexual predators", or "abuse of trust", etc. The argument is that this is "not fair".

If it were that simple, the argument would be absolutely correct. However, the reality is a bit different.

First, the true unfairness: Christianity is an "accepted" religion to teach kids about, even if their parents don't approve. Any suits about it would get laughed out of court, because it's ubiquitous. If a Muslim, Hindu or Pagan parent gets bent out of shape about their kid attending a Christian service, they have little recourse.

Of course, it could be, and is, argued that a service isn't "instruction". Why don't they get accused of molestation and contribution to delinquency? Because they are general thought to be "safe" - but look at the catholic priests and boys issues, even for parentally approved interactions!

However, most Christian services and instruction take place in an open, public setting. There are lots of people, lots of "upstanding" witnesses. It becomes much harder to prove misconduct in that environment. Still, very few fundamentalist/evangelical preachers ask for permission slips from their under-age attendees whose parents aren't present or members also. Bad, bad news, IMO. I'd love to see one of those deceptive religion sellers hoist on their own petard for that.

Pagan instruction tends to be one-on-one, or small group, and not public. This, then, can be twisted much more easily by a DA looking to make a name, or a parent with a control issue.

Adults who teach teens tend to be targets of overzealous prosecution, and they have a lot to lose. How would you like to be arrested, have your reputation and job ruined, be imprisoned and/or sued for everything you own, have a criminal record, and possibly to be branded a "sex offender" because you had a teen over to your house for simple religious instruction? This is also why most capable teachers won't teach teens, period. Not in any tradition where "sky clad" or "sex positive" could even be attributed to it - even if you don't say a word about it!

Now, this is not to say that adult pagans can't give information to teens. They must, however, be more careful of how they do so, to protect themselves and the community.

First, the don'ts:
  • Don't meet alone with a teen. One-on-one must wait for adulthood or parental permission.
  • Don't meet with teens in a private location.
  • Don't delve into the sex, body image, and other anti-puritanical stuff yet.
  • Don't encourage the kid to lie to their parents. The truth or silence does just as well.
  • Don't lie about your own age to teens you are working with.
Then, the dos:
  • Do ask for parental permission, in writing (see below).
  • Do invite teens to open and public events.
  • Do post informational material and resource lists on the web.
  • Do answer email and chat questions.
  • Do be willing to answer parental questions.
  • Do give the teens credit for some brains.
  • Do counsel patience for teens whose parents are averse to the entire idea, as much as it sucks.
About permission slips - here's a sample:
I, __________________________, give my permission for my son/daughter, ___________________________, to take religious instruction with ___________________________________. I understand that this instruction is pagan/heathen in nature, and is viewed by some as non-mainstream.

Signed: ________________________________________

Date: ________________ Phone Number: _______________________
A permission slip should be designed to cover the instructor's ass, the kid's ass, and the parent's ass from busybodies and nosy parkers, as well as parents. If the parent knows, and assents, you can do formal initiatory instruction. If not, well, you need to stick to what you can point to that is publicly available.

IMO, any religious instruction (sermons, schooling, "abstinence education") of minors should require a permission slip of this sort. If I had a kid, and they were being preached at or indoctrinated, I would want to know about it, and if a preacher or "witness" wanted to drag them to services, they could damn well get my permission.

If the parents don't approve, the teen is very limited as to what can be done for them. Yes, they could seek emancipation, but that has its own troubles. Having the kid lie about their activities to their parents is bad for both your ethics, and their ethical development. Sometimes, putting up with fundie indoctrination can be a test of patience and resolve.

This is where the "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" (Our Thoughts Are Free) concept comes in: a teen's parents may have control over what the teen is permitted to do or attend, but there is no moral way for them to control what they think.

If they are true jerks, they can send the teen to one of those nasty "boot camps" that break and brainwash the kid. However, that is only quasi-legal (because of the physical and psychological torture involved), and definitely unethical and immoral (a true religion doesn't convert or retain by brainwashing). Also, it can backfire horribly. I know adults who have been through those camps, and they hate their families with a passion, and suffer PTSD on top of it.

So, if the teens' parents are hostile, the best advice is for the teen to keep their views on religion to himself, attend whatever church services the parents require, and read whatever religious information is freely, publicly available, possibly at the library. It keeps the peace in the home, teaches patience, and prepares the teen for a lifetime of being a member of a misunderstood and much maligned minority religion.

© 2007 by Ravan Asteris. Permission to repost granted, provided the text is unaltered and the attribution and copyright notices are retained.