A true fan. From birth.

I love sports. I love hockey. I really love the Montreal Canadiens. I want my 6-week-old daughter to love the Canadiens too – the way I do.

From this moment on, I am going to dress her in only Habs-themed clothing. She will be allowed only to wear red-white-and-blue, CH-logo-emblazoned clothes, specifically a replica hockey jersey, padded shorts and high striped socks. Every day of the year. For casual events and for formal ones, whether it is cold, warm, or hot outside, every piece of clothing she owns and wears will be the same. Don’t worry, I’ll buy her 7 or 8 of each so she always has a clean set.

Why will I do this, you ask? Obviously, because the Habs are the best. It’s the truth. My family, friends, teachers and peers all told me so. I was taught that they were the only team worth cheering for and that all other teams and players are less important. Some say others shouldn’t even exist.

Some people out there like other teams or show their love for the Canadiens in other ways, or like the Canadiens less than we do, but they’re all wrong. I will teach her that anyone who doesn’t idolize the Habs the same way we do is wrong and needs to be taught what is right. We will live in a Canadiens-fans community, she will go to a school where all of her classmates agree with our way of supporting our team, and she will only befriend people who share our viewpoint. If she walks down the street and a Bruins fan says hello to her, she will know to ignore them; to pretend they don’t even exist.

On game days, she will stay at home with me and we will spend the day preparing for the upcoming game. We will study the team’s statistics from past seasons, discuss the awesome exploits of past Canadiens’ superstars, and share our interpretations of what coaches from the past would say that the current team should be doing differently. Of course, game nights will be spent in front of the TV with me, even if she is invited to spend the night with someone else.

And when the Canadiens win, we will all say together “thank Maurice Richard!” If they lose, we will blame him. Why not? It had nothing to do with the 40 players on the ice!

Okay. I can’t do this anymore. How would you describe “my” actions above? Unbelievable? Shocking? Ridiculous? Obnoxious? Autocratic? Abusive? Controlling? All of the above, maybe?

Well, if you substitute the Canadiens’ references for religious ones, the above story describes the actual day-to-day lives, core beliefs, and real actions of hundreds of millions of people every day, in every country around the world. Today’s organized religions have people acting crazy and believing that there is a divine reason for their behaviour. And I didn’t even touch on the ultra-extreme religious views.

There is proof all around. Muslim women covered head to toe and Jewish women wearing wigs in public. Religious Jews, from very young ages through adulthood, wearing black hats, white shirts, black pants and jackets, every day, even in the dead of summer. Christians making the sign of the cross and crediting/blaming god for their successes/failures. Many religions observing a weekly holy day where certain rituals are obligatory and automatically performed while others are forbidden (ironically, I write this on a Friday night, giving me almost 24 hours before many religious Jews will notice. In the interest of full disclosure, I will publish the link on Saturday night again.) Nearly every religion observes “holy days” to commemorate something that happened in the past, sometimes 5000 or more years earlier that has little-to-no relevance in today’s drastically different world. And I can go on, and on, and on.

Most of us will agree that brainwashing is unacceptable, yet somehow the vast majority of people implicitly or explicitly support (or at the very least, wilfully ignore) religious brainwashing that happens all around them. The religious even preach it with the hopes of converting others to their ways.

To be fair, one must seek to understand what is behind these people’s actions while questioning them. Often, the answer is quite simple. This is the only way of life that they know. The way they are raising their children – the way they control every action and every thought and dictate every belief that their children have is the exact same way that they were raised, controlled, and dictated to. It is a vicious cycle that desperately needs to be broken. Quickly.

This is the way these people were taught to be. It was the only acceptable way. If they were never exposed to any other way, how are they to be able to choose anything different, to be aware that there is anything else to choose?

As I say that, my logical readers understand that the actions I describe are ludicrous while religious people ask what the problem is and call me intolerant, ignorant, disrespectful and more. Why do children need choice, they ask? They need to be told what to do, what to believe, how to act. There is only one right way to live, one right set of beliefs to observe, according to them.

The child learned the only way from their parents who learned it from their parents and so on. Choice be damned. And instead of teaching that respect is something to be earned, religions teach “respect of your elders” as a religious edict, something that is not questionable. Thus, a child equates “respect” with “doing what mommy and daddy tell you to do” from a very early, impressionable age, exacerbating a fear of disobeying their parents and, by extension, these controlling, abusive religious orders.

I believe that every parent begins with an absolute minimum of respect owed to them for raising their child – say, less than 1%. The other 99%+ must be earned by the parent’s actions.  I also believe it is crucial to raise a child TO question what they are told, NOT to follow blindly – as religion requires in order to grow the way it has. If one cannot rationally, authentically, and critically justify a behaviour, belief, action, or other part of their life, I submit they should be questioning it and, potentially, dismissing it in favour of something of their own design or creation.

The result of religion’s current existence, as we know it, is a critical mass of people who act in a certain way because they are told to, without knowing who told them to, why they are to do what they are told to do, and without any say in the matter. Concretely, we see religious Muslim women wearing headscarves, a garment intended religiously to symbolize that religion’s belief in modesty and that they should not be dressing in a way to attract the glance of strange men, yet many of them wear eye and face makeup which does exactly the opposite.

We must learn, and subsequently teach our children, to choose, to observe, to analyze, to consider context, to understand ourselves and others, to relate to others regardless of who they are, where they are from, what they believe, what language they speak, what clothing they wear, or even what team they cheer for – even if it is Boston or, worse, Toronto. <couldn’t resist>

We must teach our children (and everyone, really) to respect those who think differently than we do. (WAIT!)

We must teach our children (and learn ourselves) that questioning, critical thinking, and pointing out hypocrisy is NOT, on its own, disrespectful.

We must learn and teach that being open to being questioned and, when necessary, called on our proverbial “shit” is a worthwhile exercise to welcome with wide open arms and not run away from.

Finally, we must learn and teach that we have the right and power to make choices for ourselves and, more importantly, the responsibility to empower those who don’t have that right – to gain it.

Children should not be seen as a piece of clay to mold into a clone of ourselves, but rather as a potter who should be nurtured and taught to forge their own path, at their own, individual pace, one step at a time. As it relates to raising children, please consider that there is no greater honour for a parent than to see their child succeed – at a life of their design, not the parent’s.

*** This post is dedicated to my beautiful 6-week old baby girl. I am committed to helping you create a life of your design – and loving it to its fullest. I love you, sweetheart. ***

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7 Comments

  1. Remember ALL cultural values, including open-mindedness and respect for others, are relative. There is no absolute right and wrong because, outside the context of culture, there are NO moral values. Morality is the product of culture and no culture is right nor wrong, except that the values that exist in our accepted culture seem right to us.

    For example, there is no gender equality in nature; it just seems right in our culture.

    So do not proselytize the belief system of your culture without realizing that it is only right for you and your chosen group. The view that the western judeo-christian-scientific view of the world is correct is ethnocentric at best and narrow minded at worst.

    For the record I live in Canada , love our cultural values, and believe they are the best in the world and think everyone on earth should live like us, but I do this in the full knowledge that I am no different than every other group that would do the same for their value system. I am a cultural chauvinist, and accept that.

    And yes, the bleu blanc et rouge transcends all else !

    • Nick, thank you again for your comments.

      You are right that cultural values are relative, and I am not condemning those who *freely* choose their beliefs for themselves. I am, however, criticizing, judging, and generally calling out those who impose their personal views (or worse, the views that were imposed on them) on others – denying these “others” the ability to choose for themselves. Coupled with an explanation of “god said so” or “you must obey”, this is very dangerous.

      I appreciate your apparent self-awareness. Like I mentioned, I do believe that we need to stand for those who are not afforded the right to choose for themselves. If, given true FREE choice, which includes clear access to alternative ways of life without fear of reprisal, and they choose not to take part, then we have heard their voice. But I cannot justify standing idly by, shrugging, saying “that’s not my problem”, especially when they live a subservient lifestyle to the benefit of those who promote that way of life. These people’s “community” does not encourage nor allow them to stand up and question their circumstances, so it is up to us to offer them the options they are being denied.

  2. Very eloquent, Mark. You bring up some excellent points. I want my kids to share my beliefs, but I don’t shove it down their throats. I think generally speaking, being a moral person is more important than being a religious person, because you can observe all your religious holy-days and still be a jerk.

    • Kristina,

      First of all. Thanks. Appropriate tongue placement. 🙂

      For over 15 years now, I’ve said that “it’s more important to be a good person than to be a good Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever.” You’re absolutely right. Not only *can* religious people observe their days and be a big jerk, many ARE – as if their respect for “god” exonerates them from the need to respect their fellow human being.

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