I have been browsing parenting book section on Amazon when my eye caught a topic of active discussions. The topic was dedicated to raising children, and the original poster presented the following question: why raise children in a certain religion when it seems much more preferable to not indoctrinate them with any religious teachings; once children are old enough, let them make the choice about which religion to follow, if any any.
Obviously, the question was presented by an atheist. (As a side note, he was quite sure that if the children are presented with such a choice without any influence from prior religious teachings or observances, they would, of course, come to conclusion that there is no G-d and all religions are phony.) Quite honestly, I had the same question growing up. I was brought up in an atheistic, at least officially, society, but during every Christian holiday saw my Ukrainian neighbors going with their children to church. I always wondered: why do they drag their children with them? Don't they realize that their beliefs are false and anti-scientific, etc, so why indoctrinate the children as well? If adults choose to believe religious nonsense - let them do it, but I felt that they should've left their kids alone.
Ok, so here's the difference. I had these thoughts when I was 12-14. I think even if I didn't become religious, I would've reached some emotional and intellectual maturity that would allow me to realize this: people who truly believe see no other alternative. And of course, now that I am on the same side of the debate, different religion, but similar issues and questions, the answer seems all too obvious to me.
But before, please let me rant a bit here. I am sick of people treating religion as some sort of personal choice, a little more serious than the choice between paper and plastic in the supermarket, but a lot less serious than the choice of profession. I have seen this time and again, across the border: from my non-religious family, my Catholic co-workers, on the Internet and, really, pretty much everywhere. When people find out that I wasn't brought up observant, the most common question is : how did you decide that being Orthodox is for you? There are many variations of the same question: when did you find yourself? what in particular appealed to you? have you considered other religions? are you doing it for your husband or to get married to him? To me, all of the above are more a statement than a question: your choice of religion was brought on by a personal preference, by something that you found appealing; there had to be something that made Judaism look attractive to you.
Initially, yes, there were things that I liked, and they made me ask the questions. But ultimately, whatever seemed attractive would not have carried me very far for very long. After all, other religions had their attractions as well. What made me commit was the realization that this is the truth, the ultimate truth, about the world, the universe, people, G-d, Creation, you name it. The truth was there. After that realization and a lot of learning and investigating, all the laws were easier to accept and follow. Because if this is THE truth, then there is no other choice. My beliefs and my actions must be consistent.
Once my colleague had told me that he would not have been able to be Orthodox. His reasoning was that there were only two days in the week-end: one for errands and the other one for social life. If one of these days would always be dedicated to Sabbath observance, when one cannot drive, do everyday work and is "stuck in the house", then the other day would be automatically dedicated to errands. So what about social life? Even though I have a big mouth, at times it is hard to give a good answer on the spot. I told him something lame, though true, about my social life never being so full after becoming observant, about community, etc., but I knew all those answers weren't good. And at the end my colleague,whom I honestly wasn't trying to convert or persuade, said that Orthodox lifestyle will never be for him. Now looking back at this incident, the answer is so simple! If I truly and honestly believe that it is against G-d's will for me to drive on Sabbath, then what's there to talk about? Between my desire to see my buddies and fulfilling G-d's commandment, commandment wins hands down! Who am I to argue with G-d, Creator of the Universe? You don't have to believe that Judaism is true to see how simple this logic is and how little sense my former colleague's statement makes. We don't have to agree on what the truth is to conclude that following what one deems to be true simply makes sense. I think this is something that anyone truly believing in any religion and G-d would understand, but I happen to know that Catholicism for this guy was just something to do if the social life allowed, a bunch of nice rituals and Christmas.
So back to the original question. Because my beliefs for me are more than just a personal choice and I am sure that they are true, I would not dare to withhold this truth from my children. Furthermore, I would feel obligated to share it with them together with the reasons for why it is the ultimate truth. So hopefully for them it won't be a matter of personal choice, but following one's conscience and behaving consistently with their beliefs and what they know to be true.